Cicero — To Anselm — The Fathers — Seneca Pliny Tacitus — God to the early Fathers — Common consent in the individual and the race — Cicero — Irenaeus Tertullian Chrysostom Arnobius Clement of Alexandria Lactantius Cyril of Alexandria Julian Gregory of Nyssa and others Athanasius — Reid religion superstition — The Bible — F. C. Baur — Anselm — His argument — The College Essay of 1838 — Dr. Fleming — Illustrations from the essay — Gaunilo — Mr. Lewes — Ueberweg Erdmann Hegel — The Monologium — Augustine and Boethius — The Proslogium — Finite and infinite — What the argument really means — Descartes — Knowledge and belief.
Gifford Lecture the Tenth.
WITH Cicero we reached in our course a most important and critical halting-place. As we have seen he is even to be regarded as constituting in respect of the older proofs the quarry for the argumentation of the future. Henceforth his works indeed are a perfect vallée de la Somme not for celts flint-axes but for topics of discourse. We have still in the general reference otherwise to wait those thousand years yet before Anselm shall arrive with what is to be named the new proof the proof ontological and during the entire interval it is the Fathers of the Church and their immediate followers who in repetition of the old or suggestion of the new connect thinker with thinker philosopher with philosopher pagan with Christian. Before coming to Anselm then it is to the Fathers that we must interimistically pass. A word or two may be found in some few intervening writers as Seneca perhaps or Pliny or even Tacitus; but the respective relevancy is unimportant. Seneca is a specious writer with a certain inviting ease as well as a certain attractive modernness of moral and religious tone about him all of which probably he has to thank for the favour that made him an authoritative teacher during many centuries. But his lesson is seen pretty well now to be merely skin deep and he is accordingly I suppose on the whole for the most part neglected. Dr. Thomas Brown I fancy is about the last writer of repute that takes much note of him. Brown ore rotundo does indeed declaim at considerable length too in Seneca's glib loose Latin from his very first lecture even to his very last; but then we must consider the temptation as well of the convenience it may be as of the ornament. Aulus Gellius assigns to Seneca a diction that is only vulgar and trivial and a judicium that is but leve and futile. He is in place here only in consequence of the frequency with which he recurs to the idea of God: “Prope a te Deus est tecum est intus est; Deus ad homines venit; immo quod propius est in homines.” That is not badly said but is it more than said? One reflects on Seneca's laeta paupertas of speech while in midst of the luxury of fact and on the consequent meek self-sacrifice with which he expatiates on the posse pati divitias! The elder Pliny is as his time is quite philosophical in regard to the gods; but he is evidently deeply impressed by the spectacle of the universe of which there can be but one God he thinks; who is “all sense all sight all hearing all life all mind and all within himself” and that in terms at least is the One Personal Omniscient and Omnipotent Deity whom we ourselves think. Tacitus is later than Pliny and his judgment is in uncertainty he admits whether the affairs of mortals are under the determination of a Providence or at the disposal of chance. The chapter the 22nd of the sixth book of the Annals is a remarkable one.
What strikes us first in the early Christian writers in this reference is the frequency with which they employ that argument that is known as the Consensus Gentium. Nor is this strange. There came to these pagans with Christianity then the awful form of the majestic Jehovah I Am that I Am whom German and French writers have taken of late degradingly I suppose familiarizingly to call Jahve. But under whatever name He came for the first time then to those we call the ancients as the Almighty God of this vast universe the Creator Maker Sustainer and Preserver; the power that is for ever present with us to note and know to bless or to punish. This was the one great mightiness the mystic here and now present awfulness with whom to overwhelm to crush and destroy the early Christians confronted the loose rabble of the polytheistic deities the abstract null of Neo-Platonic emanation and the gloomy daemons of the wildly heretical Gnosis. This was He of whom Job spoke of whom the Psalmist sung with whose wrath the Prophets thunderstruck the sinner. That this God was that this God alone was there was on the part of the Fathers a universal appeal as well to the common experience of the nations historically as to the very heart and inmost conscience of the natural man. Cicero was quoted in many texts as that among men there is no nation so immansueta and so fera as not to know that there is a God. This is a truth which seems to have been insisted on by all the Fathers from the first to the last. Man they say is in his nature endowed by the Creator with such capabilities and powers that as soon as he attains to the use of reason he of himself and without instruction recognises the truth of a God and divine things and moral action. That is the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John i. 9). “All know this” says Irenaeus “that there is one God the Lord of all; for reason that dwells in the spirit reveals it.” Tertullian has a remarkable work named De testimonio animae naturaliter Christianae (Of the testimony of the soul as naturally Christian) in which there occur many striking passages in regard to the testimony of the soul itself as even from the first and by mere nature Christian. He calls it “an original testimony more familiar than all writing more current than all doctrine wider spread than every communication greater than the whole man. … The conscience of the soul is from the beginning a gift of God” and that there is a God is a “teaching of nature silently committed to the conscience that is born with and born in us.” God from the beginning laid in man the natural law says Chrysostom. Arnobius asks “What man is there who has not begun the first day of his nativity with this principle; in whom it is not inborn fixed almost even impressed upon him implanted in him while still in the bosom of his mother?” “Among all mankind” says Clement of Alexandria “Greek or barbarian there are none anywhere upon the earth neither of those who wander nor of those who are settled that are not pre-impressed with the conviction of a supreme being. And so it is that every nation whether in the east or opposite in the west in the north or in the south has one and the same belief from the beginning in the sovereignty of Him who has created this world; the very utmost of whose power extends equally everywhere within it.” “Man cannot divest himself of the idea of God” is the averment of Lactantius; “his spontaneous turning to Him in every need his involuntary exclamations prove it:—the truth on compulsion of nature bursts from his bosom in its own despite.” To Cyril of Alexandria τὸ ϵἰδϵ́ναι θϵόν the knowing of God is ἀδιδακτόν τι χρη̑μα καὶ αὐτομαθϵ́ς an untaught thing and self-acquired; and he even quotes the Apostate Julian to the effect that the proof of this is the fact that “to all mankind as well in public as in private life to single individuals as to entire peoples the feeling for divine things is universal; for even without teaching we all believe in a Supreme Being.” Gregory of Nyssa Eusebius of Caesarea John of Damascus Jerome—in short it is the common doctrine of the Fathers of the Church and their followers that belief in the existence of God is in man innate; and among them Athanasius in so many words directly declares that for the idea of God “we have no need of anything but ourselves.” So far then I think we may admit that we have sufficient illustration of the argument for the existence of God—it can hardly be called proof—that depends on the common agreement of mankind nationally and individually and is frequently expressed by the Latin brocard: Quod semper quod ubique quod ab omnibus. It is hardly a proof as I say; but as an argument it has its own weight; and as Reid says “A consent of ages and nations of the learned and the vulgar ought at least to have great authority unless we can show some prejudice as universal as that consent is which might be the cause of it.” And here of course the tendency to a belief in the supernatural on the part of mankind may be adduced as precisely such a prejudice; but the question remains is not such tendency precisely the innate idea—only perhaps not always in the highest of its forms? That as an argument it should have possessed the full acceptance of the Fathers is only natural; for there in their reading it was ever before them: the intense Godwards of the Bible as on every page of it. For that indeed is it estimable: that to all mankind is its fascination and its irresistible and overpowering charm. But be it as it may with the argument from the consensus omnium as being the vox naturae if it was from the Bible that the Fathers were led to it there was about equal reason for their being led by the same authority to the other arguments; as that from design especially. Why to that innumerable passages of the grandest inspiration were perpetually before their eyes or ringing in their ears. It were out of place to quote such passages at any length here; but I may remind you of such exclamations in the Psalms as: “How manifold are Thy works! in wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches: who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment; who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain; who maketh the clouds Thy chariot; who walketh upon the wings of the wind.” “Whereupon are the foundations of the earth fastened? or who laid the corner-stone thereof when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” With such expressions as these before their eyes as I say or ringing in their ears it was impossible but that the Fathers of the Church should think of the wonders of the creation. Ferdinand Christian Baur points out as though indeed they (these proofs) were but beginning then that in many the usual expressions of the Fathers elements may be seen to show themselves towards the development of both arguments the cosmological as well as the teleological. And he directly quotes in evidence passages from Tertullian Irenaeus Theophilus Minucius Felix Athenagoras Lactantius and others. But there are a great many other ecclesiastical writers than those mentioned by Baur who give their testimony to the arguments for the existence of God. One might quote at great length in this reference but time fails and I must pass on.
Though it is perhaps possible to find matter of suggestion elsewhere especially in Augustine I proceed then at once to Anselm of Canterbury as alone responsible for the proof that bears his name. This the ontological proof as it appears in Anselm's own Latin I translate thus:—“That there is in the understanding something good than which a greater cannot be thought—this when heard is understood; and whatever is understood is in the understanding. But assuredly that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot he in the understanding alone: for if that than which no greater can be thought were in the understanding alone then plainly than that (than which a greater cannot be thought) a greater can be thought—that namely which is such also in reality. Beyond doubt there exists then something than which a greater cannot be thought both in the understanding and in reality.”
I hold in my hand a little essay of my own entitled “An estimate of the value of the argument à priori” a little optional essay it was written for and read in the Moral Philosophy Class Glasgow University in the winter of 1838. Dr. Fleming the Ethical Professor at that time was not a man of large culture either ancient or modern; and with the literature of this present century chiefly poetry and romance as at first it was he was on the whole perhaps not specially sympathetic. His literature rather as I think we may say was Pope and Goldsmith Hume and Robertson; Samuel Johnson and Dr. Hugh Blair; and his philosophy in the main that of Reid Stewart and Brown at the same time that his favourite writer of all perhaps philosophical or other was David Hume. Dr. Fleming was a very acceptable professor a man of eloquence judgment and taste and taught well; but somehow one did not expect to hear of Anselm at his hands. His Student's Manual of Moral Philosophy shows however that the notice of Anselm was no peculiarity of the one session but belonged in all probability more or less to all. In that particular session the form in which it was given to us appears to have been this: “Our notion of God is that of a Being than whom nothing can be greater; but if His existence be only in our intellect there is room for the existence of a Being greater (by the addition of reality) than the One of whom we have the notion that He is infinitely great; which is absurd. God has therefore a real existence.” That indeed comes pretty well to the same meaning as what I have translated. The essayist remarks of it: “With respect to Anselm's argument it is indisputably a mere sophism a cunningly-entangled net but still one which it is possible to break through.” And then he continues: “But though its nature be such it may not be altogether useless to be able to expose its fallacy. Let us try for example if we cannot concoct an argument in appearance just as conclusive as Anselm's and yet evidently absurd. When Milton attempted to describe the Garden of Eden he attempted to portray the most perfect paradise his mind could conceive. Milton's notion then of Eden is that of a garden than which nothing can be more perfect; but if the existence of Eden be only in Milton's intellect there is room for the existence of a garden more perfect than that of which Milton has the conception; which is absurd. Milton's Eden has therefore a real existence. Again when Thomson conceived his Castle of Indolence his conception was that of a scene than which nothing could be more lazy languid and indolent; but if the existence of this scene be confined to his intellect there would be room for a scene still more lazy languid and indolent (as it might have a real existence) than that of which he has the notion; which is absurd. Therefore there is a Castle of Indolence.” “The fallacy lies in the forming the conception of something superlative and yet leaving out one of the notions necessary to render it superlative.” I quote this for the purpose of showing that if I now view Anselm's argument somewhat otherwise than I did then it cannot be for any want of the usual and reputed common-sense and correct understanding in its regard There is no book now which tells us anything of Anselm but tells us as well of Gaunilo or Gaunilon. “Gaunilon” says Mr. Lewes “pointed out the fundamental error of Anselm in concluding that whatever was true of ideas must be true of realities.” This indeed was so clearly the whole state of the case to Mr. Lewes that that remark appears enough to him and he does not condescend to repeat Anselm's argument at all. Prantl too seems very much of the same mind as Mr. Lewes. In a note he does indeed give the argument; but he adds “and so on in a current crude confusion of thought and being;” while in the text he writes of it thus: “It exhibits to us only the spectacle of the grossest self-contradiction made possible by the attempt to prove precisely subjectively the most perfect objectivity. But the absurdity of the enterprise was quite clearly seen into by Gaunilo who alleged that the proof was equally applicable to the existence of an absolutely perfect island.” Gaunilo was a certain Count do Montigni who had retired late in life and disgusted by feudal failures into the convent of Marmoutier near Tours. Every reader of philosophy knows about Gaunilo and his island now. It is certain however that the essayist who opposed Milton's Eden and Thomson's Castle of Indolence to the argumentation of Anselm had still many years to wait before he should know that there had been any such man as Gaunilo. Indeed I am very much inclined to believe that Gaunilo was at that time a perfectly unknown name almost to everybody perhaps to the professor himself.
Ueberweg seems to be of the same opinion in regard to the entire argument of Anselm. “The notion of God” he says “which in the Monologium Anselm arrives at cosmologically by a logical ascent from the particular to the universal he endeavours to make objectively valid in the Proslogium ontologically by mere development of the notion thereby demonstrating the existence of God from the simple idea of God; for he was dissatisfied that as in the method of the Monologium the proof of the existence of the absolute should appear dependent on the existence of the relative.” As is easy to understand Ueberweg has little favour for the idea of actually extricating real existence out of ideal existence things there without out of mere thoughts here within: he sees very clearly the absurdity of sacrificing one alleged maximum to another alleged maximum because after all the allegation is false and what is alleged in the one case is not a maximum. His words are: “The absurdity of comparing together two entities one of which shall not exist but only be thought while the other shall both be thought and exist and so inferring that this latter as greatest must not only exist in thought but also in reality!” Generally is Ueberweg's perfectly cogent remark here: “Every inference from definition is only hypothetically true with presupposition that is of the actual existence of the subject.”
There cannot be a doubt then of the correctness of all these views in their hostility to the argument of Anselm. It is hard to believe however that any mere absurdity and for nothing but the curiosity of it should have been distinguished beyond all others such by the unexampled honour of such enormous reference. Accordingly as Erdmann puts it there is already a turn given to it towards a more respectable significance. Alluding to the Monologium as preliminary to the Proslogium and to the cosmological result of the former as preliminary to the ontological operation of the latter Erdmann writes thus: “The resultant notion of God is now applied by Anselm in behoof of the ontological proof for the existence of God which he has developed in his Proslogium the further title of which is Fides quaerens intellectum faith in search of an understanding for itself. Referring to the first words of the 14th Psalm he would prove to the fool who says in his heart There is no God that he contradicts himself. He assumes for this only the single presupposition that the denier of God knows what he says and does not give vent to mere meaningless terms. Assuming him to understand by God that than which nothing can he thought greater and assuming him also to admit that to be both in the intellect and in fact is greater than to be in the intellect only then he must likewise admit that God cannot be thought not to BE and that he has therefore only thoughtlessly babbled. And just so also is Anselm perfectly in the right when he replied to the objection of Gaunilo in his illustration of the island namely that what he (Anselm) started from was not something that is greater than all but something than which nothing can be thought greater and that he had thereby brought the fool into the necessity of admitting either that he thinks God as actually existent or that what he says he does not think.” If this account of the matter be followed out I doubt not most people will feel inclined to allow Anselm a greater amount of sense than in this particular instance he has hitherto got the credit of. His reply in fact in that sense is utterly irresistible. You say there is no God; but if you think what you say then God is. If you think God necessarily as that than which nothing can be greater then God is: God is a God thought not to BE were no God: give such an import to it then the notion of God were no notion of God. It is very probable that Erdmann has touched the very kernel of the nut here. Kant does not come into consideration at present as his place is among the opponents of the proofs and characterization in his case is still distant. As for Hegel Anselm's argument comes to be mentioned by him a great many times and always with the greatest respect. He actually says at page 547 of the second volume of his Philosophy of Religion: “This argument has been found out only first in Christendom by Anselm of Canterbury namely; but since then it has been brought forward by all other later philosophers as Descartes Leibnitz Wolff always however with the other proofs though it alone is the true one.” This nevertheless is not as one knows the common opinion; as indeed I find not badly put in this little old essay of fifty years ago the concluding words of which are these:—“Such then is our estimate. And we think ourselves entitled to conclude that the value of the à priori argument is in comparison with that of the à posteriori insignificant. It is needless to make use of a weak evidence when we can get a stronger. Why should we attempt to read by the light of a candle when we may open our shutters to the sun?” Evidently therefore it will require us to look at Anselm's argument in a very peculiar manner before we shall be able in opposition to the current opinion to endorse that of Hegel. Hegel in fact will not satisfy many readers in these proofs of his for the existence of God. They seem so diffuse so vague so indefinite; even to abound so in repetitions in circumlocutions in strange clauses out of place or insusceptible of any meaning in their place—in short so confused dry colourless and uninteresting that one wonders if it be possible that there ever was found a class of young men able to listen to them. I do not suppose it can be denied indeed that it is impossible to find in all Hegel more slovenly writing than in these Beweise that constitute pretty well the latter half of the second volume of the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. Words seem thrown down again and again just at a venture: as they came they were taken no matter that they looked more or less ineffectual perhaps. We seem to have before us in fact a marksman who has indeed a mark in his view but who fires at it always carelessly and often almost as though intentionally widely. Nevertheless ever here and there grains are to be found by an eye that shall look long enough and deep enough; and they are not wanting in what concerns Anselm.
But in the method of Anselm an essential preliminary to the Proslogium is the Monologium; the reasoning of which is in a certain modified way cosmological. The fulcrum of it lies in what the act of predication is found to involve. Things similar have a common predicate which common predicate obtains less or more according to the individual condition of each. Each as participant then in what is common to them all presupposes that in which it is participant. What is good presupposes the Good; what great the Great; what true the True; what beautiful the Beautiful etc. But all things also are: they all participate in Being; and they therefore all presuppose Being. Being as Being highest Being truest Being best Being supreme Being perfect Being absolute Being is the one universal presupposition. Relatives only prove an absolute. All that relatively is only is through that which absolutely is—which withdrawn all falls all disappears. This is the teaching of Augustine as well; and Anselm exclaims it must be “most certain and clear to all who are only willing to see.” Further there cannot be a plurality of absolute beings; for even if there were many they must all participate in a common absolute Being which is therefore one and single and alone by itself. “This highest nature” says Anselm is “per se ipsam et ex se ipsa: all other things are not through themselves but through it and not from themselves but from it.…Then since it were wickedness to think that the substance of the most perfect nature is something than which something else were in any way better that most perfect substance must itself be.” In this way evidently we have a complete introduction to what is regarded as the proper argument of Anselm. We have here that is completely formed what that argument starts with as the notion of God the notion namely of that than which there cannot possibly be a greater. In the Monologium Anselm puts the case at full length; but the same strain is to be found in Boethius as well as in Augustine. Boethius held namely that negation as such equally presupposes affirmation as such; and that consequently imperfect things being there must of necessity be a highest perfect; and in such wise that the perfection were no mere predicate but the very essence substance and nature. Anselm then having made good in the Monologium this notion of a most perfect being as in Augustine and Boethius proceeds somewhat thus in the Proslogium to secure his notion reality. “Thinking of my opusculum the Monologium” he says “which I had put forth as an example of meditation on the reason of faith and considering that it was made up of a concatenation of many arguments I began to ask myself if it were by chance possible to invent a single argument which to prove itself should stand in need of no other and which alone should suffice etc. etc. I have written this little book which I have named Proslogium that is alloquium Dei.” He then begins his book by an actual prayer to God in its reference and in the same way at the conclusion of his argument he gives “thanks to Thee because what by Thy gift I first believed I now by Thy illumination so understand that if I were unwilling to believe I should not be able not to perceive.” In fact Anselm it appears had long anxiety and no rest day or night for the thought of proving by a simple argument that whom we believe exists fearing for long that it was mere temptation of the devil to propose to establish by reason the things of faith but rejoicing at length in his success through the grace of God. We cannot but see then that this was a most serious matter to Anselm and that he conceived himself in the end to have accomplished only what was a true and genuine work under the approbation and through the inspiration of the Deity Himself. His reply to Gaunilo indeed makes all this only the plainer; and it too must be pronounced in its own way and in what it aims at not only genuine but successful. Anselm needed no Gaunilo to tell him the difference between ideality and reality. His own words are these: “It is one thing that there is something in the intellect and another thing to perceive that it is. For when a painter prefigures in thought the image of what he is to do he has indeed that image already in intellect but he does not yet perceive that it really is because he has not yet made it; but when he has painted it then he both has in the intellect and perceives as existent what he has done.” That Anselm was broad awake then to the usual distinction must be held as a matter absolutely beyond doubt; and there can consequently be no means of saving his intelligence in the matter of his argument but by the supposition that he assumed the distinction in question to be plainly inapplicable to God who was a Being not finite as an island or a garden or a castle—but infinite. God was no object for the senses like the picture of the painter: God was the infinite substance that is of all that is. That indeed is the burden of his argument. At the same time it is certain that as a formal syllogism it is faulty and inadequate. The major premiss in fact already by presupposition contains within it the whole case. Its subject is that which is reallest that which is most perfect; but that subject cannot be reallest or most perfect unless it is. To compare a part of the notion with the whole notion cannot possibly give the real existence which the notion by presupposition already has. At best considered as a syllogism it has all the cogency it can have when put as Erdmann puts it who expressly says “Precisely by the quite subjective turn which Anselm gives his proof is its value greater than in the later forms of Wolff and others.” That word “subjective” here is the merit of Erdmann. Anselm is supposed to speak to the fool who says in his heart There is no God and twits him with self-contradiction. When you say God you name that than which nothing can be thought greater: you understand as much; but you still say it has no existence; but if it has not existence it is not greatest and you have contradicted yourself. That is the truth of the matter then. To think God—truly to think God we must think Him to exist. Existence is an element in the very notion of God; or with God notion and existence are inseparable. Existence is involved in the very thought of God—flows and follows from His very nature and essence. That is the very idea of God—viz. that He is. We cannot think God unless we think Him to be. To say it is only an idea contradicts the very idea that it is for that idea is that God is. The idea of what is most perfect of what is reallest is the idea of God take that idea as a rule and compare with it what shall be thought but not be why plainly as much as this is not enough; it falls short and fails. Or to say the same thing otherwise we admit the notion of God the idea of God to be the highest possible notion the highest possible idea; but if it is the highest then it is. Examine ourselves as we may that we find to be our own actual subjective condition: our own actual subjective condition is precisely that notion precisely that conviction. The syllogism of Anselm then is but an explication an analysis of our own state of mind; it is there simply to bring home to us what our own thought amounts to. In a word God is not something that can be thought and yet thought not to BE. That is a contradiction—that is a contradiction of thought itself; and that really is the thought of Anselm. That is the sublimest thought of Descartes also and that is the very first word of modern philosophy—this namely: God is that whose nature cannot he conceived unless as existent: the very notion of God includes and implies the being of God: Deus causa sui est—God is His own cause. It has been objected in blame to Anselm that as regards the two polar elements Knowledge and Belief he has given the precedency to the latter to belief; but we may remind ourselves that “As the earth must be loosened for the reception of the seed so must the heart be softened (by Belief) for reception of the truth (in Knowledge).” And really there is after all no harder heart than that of your sceptic—no shallower soul than that of him whose enlightenment is a sneer. That as it is the lesson of Augustine so it is the lesson of Anselm to whom the thought of God means the being of God. And with that word in our ears we may well conclude this part of the course.1
From the book: