Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Anselm of Canterbury, aka Saint Anselm or Archbishop of Canterbury NULL

Italian Benedictine Monk, Philosopher, Prelate, Archbishop of Canterbury

"I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand."

"If that than which no greater can be conceived were only in the understanding, there would be something still greater than it, which assuredly is impossible. Something, therefore, without doubt, exists than which no greater can be conceived, and it is both in the understanding and in reality."

"I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this too I believe, that unless I first believe I shall not understand."

"Since all justice is rightness, the justice, which brings praise to the one who preserves it, is in nowise in any except rational beings… This justice is not rightness of knowledge, or rightness of action, but rightness of will."

"Truly there is a God, although the fool has said in his heart, There is no God. AND so, Lord, do you, who do give understanding to faith, give me, so far as you knowest it to be profitable, to understand that you are as we believe; and that you are that which we believe. And indeed, we believe that you are a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. Or is there no such nature, since the fool has said in his heart, there is no God? (Psalms xiv. 1). But, at any rate, this very fool, when he hears of this being of which I speak –a being than which nothing greater can be conceived –understands what be hears, and what he understands is in his understanding; although he does not understand it to exist. For, it is one thing for an object to be in the understanding, and another to understand that the object exists. When a painter first conceives of what he will afterwards perform, he has it in his understanding, but be does not yet understand it to be, because he has not yet performed it. But after he has made the painting, be both has it in his understanding, and he understands that it exists, because he has made it. Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater. Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality."

"Amidst Your blessedness and light, 0 Lord, You are still hidden from my soul. Therefore, my soul still dwells in darkness and in its own unhappiness. For it looks in all directions but does not see Your beauty. It listens but does not hear Your harmony. It fills its nostrils but does not smell Your fragrance. It tastes but does not savor Your succulence. It feels but does not detect Your softness. For in Your ineffable manner, 0 Lord God, You have these [features] within You; and You have bestowed them, in their own perceptible manner, upon the things created by You. But the senses of my soul have been stiffened and deadened and impaired by the old-time infirmity of sin."

"O Lord: my heart is made bitter by its own desolation; sweeten it by Your consolation. I beseech You, 0 Lord, that having begun in hunger to seek You, I may not finish without partaking of You. I set out famished; let me not return still unfed."

"[Anselm’s Proof God exists] God exists in our understanding… This means that the concept of God resides as an idea in our minds… God is a possible being, and might exist in reality. He is possible because the concept of God does not bear internal contradictions… If something exists exclusively in our understanding and might have existed in reality then it might have been greater… This simply means that something that exists in reality is perfect (or great)… Something that is only a concept in our minds could be greater by actually existing. Suppose (theoretically) that God only exists in our understanding and not in reality. If this were true, then it would be possible for God to be greater then he is… This would mean that God is a being in which a greater is possible. This is absurd because God, a being in which none greater is possible, is a being in which a greater is possible… Herein lies the contradiction… Thus it follows that it is false for God to only exist in our understanding. Hence God exists in reality as well as our understanding."

"And so—since the conclusion of your syllogism (viz., that a stone is in no respect a man) is certain—you seem to me earlier to have obscured by your clever explanations the conclusion of my syllogism (a syllogism which is in every respect similar to yours). Hence, I now understand why you said that I have correctly understood but have not paid careful attention. For I correctly understood what you meant when you spoke to me, but I did not pay careful attention to the point you were making, because I did not realize how [what you said] was misleading me."

"Because nothing is true except by participating in truth; and so, the truth of something true is in that true thing. But the thing stated is not in the true statement, and thus must not be called its truth; rather, it must be called the cause of the statement's truth. Therefore, it seems to me that the truth of the statement must be sought only in the statement itself.."

"[And, most clearly, this Spirit is the one] from whom alone good fortune is to be hoped for, to whom alone flight from adversity is to be taken, and of whom alone supplication is to be made for anything whatsoever. Truly, then, this Spirit not only is God but is the only God—ineffably three and one."

"[The Devil] freely lost the will which he had. And just as he received the possession of it for as long as he had it, so he was able to receive the permanent keeping of what he deserted. But because he deserted, he did not receive. Therefore, that which he did not receive to keep because he deserted it, he did not receive not because God did not give it, but, rather, God did not give it because he did not receive it."

"Although I tacitly admonished you to pay attention to what you hear, nevertheless I did not, it appears, do so in vain. For although you prove sophistically that no/nothing expert-in-grammar is a man—doing so by means of the consideration that being (an) expert-in-grammar is not identical with being a man—nevertheless this proof will be profitable to you when you will behold exposed in its fallaciousness the sophism which is deceiving you under the guise of correct reasoning."

"As for his claim, then, that the three persons are three things: he wants it to be interpreted either in accordance with three relations (i.e., in accordance with the fact that God is spoken of as the Father and the Son and the spirit who proceeds from the Father and from the Son) or else in accordance with that which is called God [i.e., in accordance with God's deity]. Now, if he is saying that the three relations are three things, he is saying it superf luously."

"But when a sinner is beaten by one whose prerogative it is not, then a beating both ought and ought not to be, since the sinner ought to get a beating but the other man ought not to give a beating; and so the action cannot be denied to be both right and not right."

"But if you consider existing things: when they pass to not-being, God does not cause them not to be. For not only does no other being exist except by His creating, but also a being cannot at all remain what it was made except by His conserving. Therefore, when He ceases to conserve what He has created, then that thing which existed returns to not-being, not because He causes it not to be but because He ceases to cause it to be."

"By whose evil will it is committed (concipitur), it ought not to be. In this way, then, the Lord Jesus ought not to have undergone death because He alone [among men] was innocent; and no one ought to have inflicted death upon Him; nevertheless, He ought to have undergone death because He wisely and graciously and usefully willed to undergo it."

"But to question whether or not [the rational soul] will enjoy Supreme Beatitude endlessly would be very foolish. For while enjoying this Beatitude [the soul] cannot be tormented by fear or deceived by a false security. Nor having experienced the need of this Beatitude can [the soul] keep from loving it. Nor will Supreme Beatitude forsake [a soul] which loves it. Nor will there be anything more powerful which will separate it and the soul against their wills. Therefore, any soul which once begins to enjoy Supreme Beatitude will be eternally happy."

"But this nature which is thus superior is singular—or else there is more than one nature of this kind, and they are equal. Assume that they are many and equal. Since they cannot be equal through different things but [only] through the same thing, this one thing through which they are equally so great either is the same thing which they are (i.e., is their essence) or else is something other than what they are. Now, if it is nothing other than their essence, then just as their essences are one rather than many, so too the natures are one rather than many. For here I am taking the nature to be identical with the essence. On the other hand, if that through which these many natures are equally great is something other than what they are, surely they are less than that through which they are great. For whatever is great through something other [than itself] is less than that [other] through which it is great. Therefore, they would not be so great that nothing else is greater than they."

"Disasters teach us humility."

"For these three persons have their will or power not in accordance with their relations but in accordance with the fact that each of the persons is God."

"For that which does not exist by anything's making or from any material, or that which did not come to exist by any assisting [factors] seems either to be nothing or, if it is something, to exist through nothing (per nihil) and from nothing (ex nihilo)."

"Faith seeks understanding. I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand."

"God hath promised pardon to him that repenteth, but he hath not promised repentance to him that sinneth."

"God is that, the greater than which cannot be conceived."

"For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe-that unless I believe I shall not understand."

"God often works more by the life of the illiterate seeking the things that are God's, than by the ability of the learned seeking the things that are their own."

"How vast that Truth is in which resides everything that is true and outside of which there is only nothing and what is false! How immense [that Truth] is which beholds in one spectrum all created things and beholds by whom, through whom, and in what manner [all things] were created from nothing! What purity, what simplicity, what assurance and splendor are present there! Surely, [these] surpass what can be understood by any creature."

"Hence, something than which a greater cannot be thought exists so truly that it cannot even be thought not to exist. And You are this [being], 0 Lord our God. Therefore, 0 Lord my God, You exist so truly that You cannot even be thought not to exist. And this is rightly the case. For if any mind could think of something better than You, the creature would rise above the Creator and would sit in judgment over the Creator—something which is utterly absurd. Indeed, except for You alone, whatever else exists can be thought not to exist. Therefore, You alone exist most truly of all and thus most greatly of all; for whatever else exists does not exist as truly [as do You] and thus exists less greatly [than do You]. Since, then, it is so readily clear to a rational mind that You exist most greatly of all, why did the Fool say in his heart that God does not exist?1—why [indeed] except because [he is] foolish and a fool!"

"I believe in order that I may understand."

"I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created your image in me, so that I may remember you, think of you, love you. But this image is so obliterated and worn away by wickedness, it is so obscured by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do, unless you renew and reform it. I am not attempting, O Lord, to penetrate your loftiness, for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it, but I desire in some measure to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that "unless I believe, I shall not understand.""

"I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created your image in me, so that I may remember you, think of you, love you. But this image is so obliterated and worn away by wickedness, it is so obscured by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do, unless you renew and reform it. I am not attempting, O Lord, to penetrate your loftiness, for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it, but I desire in some measure to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that "unless I believe, I shall not understand.""

"I have written the little work that follows... in the role of one who strives to raise his mind to the contemplation of God and one who seeks to understand what he believes"

"Just as something has been found to be supremely good inasmuch as all good things are good through some one thing which is good through itself, so it follows necessarily that something is supremely great inasmuch as whatever things are great are great through some one thing which is great through itself. I do not mean great in size, as is a material object; but [I mean great in the sense] that the greater [anything is] the better or more excellent it is—as in the case of wisdom. Now, since only what is supremely good can be supremely great, it is necessary that something be the greatest and the best, i.e., the highest, of all existing. Therefore, since the truth altogether excludes [the possibility of] there being a plurality through which all things exist, it must be the case that that through which all existing things exist is one thing.."

"Let us see, then, how extensive the truth of signification is. For there is a true or a false signification not only in those things which we ordinarily call signs but also in all the other things which we have discussed. For since someone should do only what he ought to do, then by the very fact that someone does something, he says and signifies that he ought to do it. Now, if [morally speaking] he ought to do what he does, he speaks the truth. But if [morally speaking] he ought not [to do what he does], he speaks a lie."

"Let me seek thee in longing, let me long for thee in seeking; let me find thee in love, and love thee in finding."

"My God, I pray that I may so know you and love you that I may rejoice in you. And if I may not do so fully in this life let me go steadily on to the day when I come to that fullness . . . Let me receive That which you promised through your truth, that my joy may be full."

"No one will have any other desire in heaven than what God wills; and the desire of one will be the desire of all; and the desire of all and of each one will also be the desire of God."

"No created being has anything from itself. For how could a thing which does not exist from itself have anything from itself? Moreover, if there is not anything except the one who has created and the things created by Him, it is clear that nothing at all can exist except the one who has created and what He has created."

"Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand."

"Now, what you say about glass happens the way it does because when sight passes through a body which has the color of air, it is no more prevented from receiving the likeness of the color it sees beyond the glass than when it passes through the air. [And this is always the case] except insofar as the body it passes through is denser or darker than air."

"O God, let me know you and love you so that I may find joy in you; and if I cannot do so fully in this life, let me at least make some progress every day, until at last that knowledge, love and joy come to me in all their plenitude. While I am here on earth let me know you fully; let my love for you grow deeper here, so that there I may love you fully. On earth then I shall have great joy in hope, and in heaven complete joy in the fulfillment of my hope."

"So even the Fool is convinced that something than which nothing greater can be thought is at least in his understanding; for when he hears of this [being], he understands [what he hears], and whatever is understood is in the understanding. But surely that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot be only in the understanding. For if it were only in the understanding, it could be thought to exist also in reality."

"Often you weep over our sins and our pride: tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement. You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds: in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us. Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life: by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy. Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness: through your gentleness we find comfort in fear. Your warmth gives life to the dead: your touch makes sinners righteous."

"Since we believe that God is truth,2 and since we say that truth is in many other things, I would like to know whether in whatever things it is said to be we ought to affirm that truth is God. For in your Monologion, by appealing to the truth of a statement, you too demonstrate that the Supreme Truth has no beginning and no end."

"Since, then, what has been ascertained commends itself, it is agreeable to investigate whether this Nature and all that is something exist only from this Nature, even as they exist only through this Nature. Clearly, we can say that what exists from a thing exists also through it and that what exists through a thing exists also from it. For example, what exists from a material and through a craftsman can also be said to exist through a material and from a craftsman. For through both and from both (i.e., by both) it has its existence, even though it exists through a material and from a material in a way other than [the way it exists] through a craftsman and from a craftsman. As a logical consequence, then: just as through the Supreme Nature all existing things are what they are (and, thus, this Nature exists through itself, whereas [all] other things exist through something other [than themselves]), so all existing things exist from the Supreme Nature (and, thus, this Nature exists from itself, whereas [all] other things exist from something other [than themselves])."

"Then, since [Satan] cannot be called just or unjust merely because he wills happiness or merely because he wills what is fitting (for he would will these of necessity), and since he neither can nor ought to be happy unless he wills to be happy and wills justly, it is necessary for God to make both wills so agree in him that he wills to be happy and wills justly.."

"Therefore, a statement has one correctness and truth because it signifies what it is designed to signify; and it has another correctness and truth because it signifies what it has received the capability of signifying. The first of these correctnesses, or truths, belongs variably to the statement; but the second belongs to it invariably."

"There may be someone who, as a result of not hearing or of not believing, is ignorant of the one Nature, highest of all existing things, alone sufficient unto itself in its eternal beatitude, through its own omnipotent goodness granting and causing all other things to be something and in some respect to fare well. And he may also be ignorant of the many other things which we necessarily believe about God and His creatures. If so, then I think that in great part he can persuade himself of these matters merely by reason alone— if he is of even average intelligence. Although he can do this in many ways, I shall propose one [way] which I regard as the most accessible for him."

"Therefore, since it is certain that if compared with one another all good things are either equally or unequally good, it is necessary that all [good] things are good through something which is understood to be identical in [these] different goods—although at times, ostensibly, some things are said to be good through something else."