Converging and Convincing Proof of God: Perfection is Real
if we can conceive of God in this way, then Anselm's proof "rules out the possibility of intelligently denying God's existence."
Only a fool--if he can conceive of the concept "that than which a greater cannot be thought" in his mind--can also set his face against such a concept existing in reality, in other words having a basis in experience as a whole. He would be placed in the quandary of admitting perfection has a basis in reality and denying perfection has a basis in reality. As Aidan Nichols puts it: "It does not make sense to deny the purchase on reality of the language of unsurpassable perfection."
Aidan Nichols explains why the language of perfection suggests the reality of perfection. Language dealing with external objects (say, for example, an apple) participates in a "shared public realm," in other words, something outside the self. Otherwise, we would not be able to communicate with each other, for language, if not about something outside of us, would be meaningful only to one's self. But it's clearly not.
When we use a word such as "apple," it has a meaning for us, but it also has a public meaning, a conventional meaning, and one that it based upon reality. Otherwise, our friend would not understand what we mean by "apple" if we asked him for one. He understands what we mean by "apple," and he understands it as something real, because that shared concept of "apple" has a basis in reality.
Suppose, however, that we use the word "squared circle." Such a word has no meaning to us, nor a public meaning, nor a basis in reality, though the individual references in the word by themselves, "square" and "circle," do. If we asked our friend for a "squared circle" he would not be able to understand what we meant, and would probably think us insane since we are asking for something that has no basis in reality.
Words can also be used in a manner that exploits their basis in reality, though they do not deal in real things. For example, if we refer to mythical "unicorns," what we do is paste together words and therefore concepts that are based upon reality but which are put together to mean not something nonsensical, but only something unreal. Thus a unicorn is a "white" "horselike creature" with a "single straight horn" projecting from its "forehead." It is a fictitious patchwork of things which, separately, have a basis in reality.
Is the language "that than which no greater can be conceived"--the language of absolute perfection--the language of apples, of square circles, or unicorns?
According to Aidan Nichols, "Anselm shows how our capacity to use the language of absolute perfection makes it unintelligible to deny that such language opens out onto the realm of the real." In other words, talk about absolute perfection is the language of apples, not of square circles or unicorns.
The philosopher Heidegger referred to language as the "house of being," das Haus de Seins. If language is the "house of being," then the language of perfection--that than which nothing greater can be conceived--resides in the center of that "house of being," like Christ the Pantokrator, the maker of all things, sits on his throne.
St. Anselm, of course, realized that this concept that existed in reality--that than which nothing greater can be conceived--was a person, and had a name. This he knew by faith before he ever starting thinking about it. But the proof he gave of God is based on reason alone, and for it he worked backwards as it were, from faith to reason. His proof is therefore a priori, and not a posteriori, as most proofs of God based upon reason are. This was true to his motto fides quaerens intellectum: faith seeking understanding.
St. Anselm went from faith and from prayer to reason in a sort of existential continuum. But there is no reason that one cannot take his proof and step up by the use of reason alone to see that it is reasonable to say that God exists, and then from that threshold to take the further step further by an act of faith and prayer and believe in the God who became man.
"Lord, you are then not only that than which nothing greater can be thought; you are something greater than it is possible to think about. For since it is possible to think that this could exist, if you are not that thing, then a greater than you can be thought; and that will not do. . . . . And this is you, O Lord our God. You therefore so truly are, O lord my God, that you cannot even be thought not to be."
"The God who is the Lord of the Church is also the God of the inquiring mind," says Aidan Nichols. This linking of St. Anselm's ontological proof of God with the God Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, and Jesus Christ echoes the words of Blessed John Paul II in his encyclical on the relationship of faith and reason, Fides et Ratio: "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth."
Like St. Anselm, let us rise up to God--that than which nothing greater can be conceived--with two wings.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: illative sense, God, natural theology, proofs of God, St. Anselm, Ontological Proof, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
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