from The Devotions of St. Anselm (1903)
translated by Clement Webb
Anselm spent much time in his writings attempting to prove the existence of God through logical, rational thought. Below are writings that indicate, again, that concept of God being that “which we cannot conceive anything greater”. It might be interesting to compare these thoughts, found below, with modern thoughts about the universe and the divine.
On the occasion of Stephen Hawking’s death many news media issued comments about Hawking’s ideas concerning heaven and the concept of God.
Therefore, O Lord, who grantest to faith understanding, grant unto me that, so far as Thou knowest it to be expedient for me, I may understand that Thou art, as we believe; and also that Thou art what we believe Thee to be. And of a truth we believe that Thou art somewhat than which no greater can be conceived. Is there then nothing real that can be thus described? for the fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.
Yet surely even that fool himself when he hears me speak of somewhat than which nothing greater can be conceived understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding, even if he do not under stand that it really exists. It is one thing for a thing to be in the understanding, and another to understand that the thing really exists.
For when a painter considers the work which he is to make, he has it indeed in his understanding; but he doth not yet understand that really to exist which as yet he has not made. But when he has painted his picture, then he both has the picture in his understanding, and also understands it really to exist. Thus even the fool is certain that something exists, at least in his understanding, than which nothing greater can be conceived; because, when he hears this mentioned, he understands it, and whatsoever is understood, exists in the understanding. And surely that than which no greater can be conceived cannot exist only in the understanding. For if it exist indeed in the understanding only, it can be thought to exist also in reality; and real existence is more than existence in the under standing only. If then that than which no greater can be conceived exists in the understanding only, then that than which no greater can be conceived is something a greater than which can be conceived: but this is impossible. There fore it is certain that something than which no greater can be conceived exists both in the under standing and also in reality.
Not only does this something than which no greater can be conceived exist, but it exists in so true a sense that it cannot even be conceived not to exist. For it is possible to form the conception of an object whose non-existence shall be inconceivable; and such an object is of necessity greater than any object whose existence is conceivable: wherefore if that than which no greater can be conceived can be conceived not to exist; it follows that that than which no greater can be conceived is not that than which no greater can be conceived [for there can be thought a greater than it, namely, an object whose non-existence shall be inconceivable]; and this brings us to a contradiction. And thus it is proved that that thing than which no greater can be conceived exists in so true a sense, that it cannot even be conceived not to exist: and this thing art Thou, O Lord our God! And so Thou, O Lord my God, existest in so true a sense that Thou canst not even be conceived not to exist. And this is as is fitting. For if any mind could conceive aught better than Thee, then the creature would be ascending above the Creator, and judging the Creator; which is a supposition very absurd. Thou therefore dost exist in a truer sense than all else beside Thee, and art more real than all else beside Thee; because whatsoever else existeth, existeth in a less true sense than Thou, and therefore is less real than Thou. Why then said the fool in his heart, There is no God, when it is so plain to a rational mind that Thou art more real than any thing else? Why, except that he is a fool indeed?
The Devotions of St. Anselm (1903)
translated by Clement Webb, British academic; Oriel Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion