From Ancient and Medieval Philosophy: Essential Selections, by James Fieser

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Copyright 2016, updated 12/1/2016




Lives of Early Medieval Philosophers

Pseudo-Dionysius: Mystical Theology

Boethius: Consolation of Philosophy

Anselm: Proofs for God’s Existence

Peter Abelard: Morality and Intention




Life of Pseudo-Dionysius (fl. late 5th cn. CE) (Stockl, Handbook)

The blending of Neo-Platonic with Christian notions is carried to the highest point in the writings attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite. The works of this author which have come down to us are a treatise On the Divine Names, the Mystical Theology, and the books On the Celestial and Ecclesiastical Hierarchies, as well as ten " Letters." Other writings of the same author, to which allusion is made in the works we have quoted, among which is a Symbolic Theology, have been lost. Critics are now agreed that these writings are not the work of the Dionysius the Areopagite, of whom mention is made in the Book of Acts, but of an anonymous writer who lived, most probably, in the latter decades of the fifth century, and who published his writings under the name of St. Dionysius, to secure them a greater notoriety.


Life of Boethius (480-524) (Stockl, Handbook)

Boethius Senator of Rome, who flourished under Theodorus, King of the Ostrogoths, and whom the accusations of his enemies consigned to long captivity and finally to death, did much to preserve the learning of the ancients and of earlier Christianity. He translated the logical works of Aristotle, with the Isagoge of Porphyry, on which he wrote a commentary. He also wrote a commentary on Cicero's Topics. The aim of Boethius in these writings was purely instructive. He transmitted the achievements of earlier philosophers, in the form most easy of understanding. The genuineness of the treatise On the Trinity is disputed. His most important work is the book The Consolation of Philosophy, composed by him while in prison. It is classical in style, and is written partly in prose and partly in verse. Its contents may be described as a kind of Theodicy or Natural Theology.


Life of Anselm (1033-1109)

Anselm was born at Aosta, in Piedmont, in the year 1033. He was brought up in Christian piety by his mother Ermenberg and entered the monastery of Bee in Normandy in 1060 at the invitation of Lanfranc. He became prior, and ultimately abbot of the monastery. Here his time was divided between the duties of his office and the literary work which had become a necessity of his life. It was at this period that he composed his best works. In 1093 he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, and from this time forward devoted himself, very often in conflict with the English Kings, William Rufus and Henry II., to the reform of the Church in England on the lines laid down by Gregory VII. He died in 1109.


Life of Peter Abelard (1079-1142)

Abelard was born about the year 1079, in the village of Palais, in Bretagne (from which came his nickname Peripateticus Palatinus). He studied under Roscellin, William of Champeaux, and Anselm of Laon, and distinguished himself by his remarkable dialectical acuteness and readiness. At an early age he began to teach at Paris, where, in a short time, his fame became so great that men flocked from all parts of Europe to become his pupils. His pride grew with his greatness, to such extent that, as he admits himself, he regarded himself as the only philosopher of his day. But this pride was followed by a fall. His immoral relations with the niece of Canon Fulbert—the celebrated Heloise—and the vengeance which her relative took upon him for the injury done her are well known matters of history. After his mishap, Abelard retired to the Abbey of St. Denis, and began a course of theological lectures. His success was as great as before. But his excessive rigor made him enemies, and when, further, in 1121, his Introductio ad Theologiam, was condemned by a synod at Soissons, he was obliged to leave St Denis. He withdrew to the neighborhood of Nogent-sur-Seine, where he erected an oratory, which he called Paraclete. Here, again, a large number of pupils gathered around him, and he continued to lecture as before. A little later (1126) he was elected abbot of St. Gildes de Ruys, in his native province, but he did not long occupy this dignity. In 1136 he returned to Paris, and resumed his functions as teacher. The erroneous doctrines which he continued to propound at last roused St. Bernard against him. His cause was judged at the Synod of Sens (1140), and judgment pronounced against his unorthodox theories. He resolved to go to Rome to defend himself there, but on his way he was persuaded by Peter the Venerable to stop at Cluny. Here he died in the year 1142.




Union with God by Entering Divine Darkness (Chapter 1)

Most exalted Trinity, you are the Divinity beyond all knowledge, whose goodness passes understanding, who guides Christians to divine wisdom. I pray that you direct our way to the summit of your mystical oracles, which are completely incomprehensible, completely lucid and completely exalted. [At that summit], the simple, pure and unchangeable mysteries of theology are revealed in the darkness which is clearer than light, and in that silence in which secret things are hidden. It is a darkness that shines brighter than light, that invisibly and intangibly illuminates with splendors of inconceivable beauty the soul that does not see. Let this be my prayer. But, Timothy, by diligently giving yourself to mystical contemplation, you must leave the senses, the operations of the intellect, all sensible and intelligible things, and things that exist and do not exist. In this way, to the extent that you can, you may ascend to union with Him who is beyond all knowledge and all being, through ways that are [equally] beyond knowledge. Thus, in freedom and abandonment of everything, you may be carried, through pure, entire and absolute removal of yourself from all things, into the supernatural radiance of the divine darkness.

            But see that none of the uninitiated hear these things, I mean those who cling to created things, and suppose that nothing exists in a supernatural manner, beyond nature. They imagine instead that by their own natural understanding they know Him who has made darkness His secret place. But if the principles of the divine mysteries are beyond the understanding of these people, what is to be said of those who are even more uninstructed, who call the absolute First Cause of all according to the lowest things in nature, and say that He is in no way beyond the images which they fashion after various designs. They would declare and affirm that in Him is the cause of all, and in Him is all that may be predicated positively of created things. However, they might more properly deny these predicates to Him, as being far beyond everything. They would hold that here denial is not contrary to affirmation, since He is infinitely beyond all notion of deprivation, and beyond all affirmation and negation.

            Brother Bartholomew says that Theology is both much and very little, and that the Gospel is great and plentiful, and yet short. His sublime meaning is, I think, that the beneficent cause of all things says much, yet says little, and is altogether silent, as having neither [human] speech nor [human] understanding. For, He is essentially beyond all created things. He reveals Himself unveiled as He truly is only to those who pass beyond everything that is either pure or impure. They must rise above the highest height of holy things and abandon all divine light and sound and heavenly speech. They then are absorbed into that darkness where, as the Scripture says, He truly is, who is beyond all things.

            It was not without a deeper meaning that the divine Moses was commanded first to be himself purified, and then to separate himself from the impure. After all this purification he heard many sounds of trumpets, saw many lights casting many pure rays. He was then separated from the multitude and together with the elect priests came to the height of the divine ascents. Yet so he did not reach the presence of God Himself. He did not see Him [since He cannot be looked upon], but instead saw the place where He was. This, I think, signifies that the divinest and most exalted of visible and intelligible things are, as it were, suggestions of those that are immediately beneath Him who is beyond everything. By this the presence of Him who passes all understanding is shown. It stands, as it were, in that spot which is conceived by the intellect as the highest of His holy places. Then they, who are free and unhindered by all that is seen and all that sees, enter the true mystical darkness of ignorance, from which all perception of understanding is excluded, and dwell in that which is intangible and invisible. They will be completely absorbed in Him who is beyond all things, and no longer belong to anything, neither to themselves nor to another. Rather, they are united in their higher part to Him who is wholly unintelligible. By understanding nothing, they understand Him in a manner that is beyond all intelligence.


See Divine Darkness by Asserting Divine Attributes, then Denying them (Chapter 2)

We desire to dwell in this most luminous darkness. Without sight or knowledge, we desire to see that which is beyond sight or knowledge, by means of that very fact that we do not see do not and know. By the denying of all that is natural [in our conception of Him], we truly see, know and praise Him who is beyond nature in a manner that is beyond nature. It is just as someone might make a statue out of the natural stone by removing all the surrounding material which obstructs the sight of the shape lying concealed within it, and by that removal alone reveal its hidden beauty. It is necessary, as I think, to make this removal in a manner precisely opposite to that in which we deal with the Divine attributes. For we add [the Divine attributes] together, beginning with the primary ones, then passing from them to the secondary ones, and eventually to the last ones. Here, though, we ascend from the last to the first, by then denying all those attributes. By doing so, we will unveil and know that which is beyond knowledge, and which in all things is hidden from our sight by things which can be known. We will then see that supernatural darkness which is hidden by the light that is in created things.


Affirm Attributes, Highest to Lowest, then Deny them, Lowest to Highest (Chapter 3)

In my Outlines of Theology I previously showed those matters which are properly the subject of positive theology. I showed [regarding the theological attributes of God] in what sense the holy divine nature is one, in what sense three, in what sense Fatherhood and Sonship apply to it, and what the doctrine of the Holy Ghost signifies. I showed how from the uncreated and undivided good those blessed and perfect Lights came forth, yet remained one with the divine nature, with each other, and in themselves, dwelling coeternally, and undivided in their transmission. I showed how Jesus, though immaterial, became material in the truth of human nature. I showed other things taken from Scripture we have expounded in the same place.

            In my Book of Divine Names I further showed [regarding the philosophical attributes of God] how the words good, existence, life, wisdom, virtue, and other names spiritually applied to Him. Finally, in my treatise on Symbolical Theology I showed [regarding human metaphors about God] what names have been symbolically ascribed to Him from sensible things. I discussed what is symbolically meant by descriptions of His form, figure, limbs, instruments, location, dress, fury, anger, grief, drunkenness, oaths, curses, sleep, waking, and other types of sacred and symbolical terminology.

            I think you will have understood why the last are wordier than the first, that is, why the exposition of theological doctrine and the explanation in the Book of Divine Names are necessarily shorter than the treatise on Symbolic Theology. For, in proportion as we ascend higher, our speech is narrowed to the limits of our view of the purely intelligible. So now, when we enter that darkness which is beyond understanding, we pass not merely into brevity of speech, but even into absolute silence, and the negation of thought.

            Thus, in these other treatises, our subject took us from the highest [type of divine attributes] to the lowest, and in proportion to this descent our treatment of it extended itself. Now, however, [with our denials] we rise from beneath to that which is the highest, and accordingly our speech is restricted in proportion to the height of our ascent. When our ascent is finally accomplished, language will cease altogether, and we will be absorbed into the ineffable.

            You may ask why we add in the first and begin to remove in the last. The reason is that when we affirm that which is beyond all affirmation, we must compare it with that which is most nearly related to it, and we are therefore compelled to make a hypothetical affirmation. But when we deny that which is beyond all denial, we must also distinguish it from those things that are most remote from it. Is not God more like life and goodness than air or a stone? Must we not deny more fully that He is drunk or enraged, than that He can be spoken of or understood?


Denial of Metaphors: God cause Sensible Things but is not Part of Them (Chapter 4)

[Concerning human metaphors about God], we say that the cause of all things, who is himself beyond all things, is  neither without being nor without life, nor without reason nor without intelligence; nor is He a body; nor has He form or shape, or quality or quantity or mass; He is not localized or visible or tangible; He is neither sensitive nor sensible; He is subject to no disorder or disturbance arising from material passion; He is not subject to failure of power, or to the accidents of sensible things; He needs no light; He suffers no change or corruption or division, or privation or flux; and He neither has nor is anything else that belongs to the senses.


Denial of Philosophical and Theological Attributes (Chapter 5)

Again, ascending, [concerning philosophical attributes of God], we say that He is neither soul nor intellect; nor has He imagination, nor opinion or reason; He has neither speech nor understanding, and is neither declared nor understood; He is neither number nor order, nor greatness nor smallness, nor equality nor likeness nor unlikeness; He does not stand or move or rest; He neither has power nor is power; nor is He light, nor does He live, nor is He life; He is neither being nor age nor time; nor is He subject to intellectual contact; He is neither knowledge nor truth, nor royalty nor wisdom; He is neither one nor unity, nor divinity, nor goodness; nor is He spirit, as we understand spirit.

            Finally [concerning theological attributes of God] He is neither sonship nor fatherhood nor anything else known to us or to any other beings, either of the things that are or the things that are not; nor does anything that is, know Him as He is, nor does He know anything that is as it is. He has neither word nor name nor knowledge; He is neither darkness nor light nor truth nor error; He can neither be affirmed nor denied; nay, though we may affirm or deny the things that are beneath Him, we can neither affirm nor deny Him; for the perfect and sole cause of all is beyond all affirmation, and that which transcends all is beyond all subtraction, absolutely separate, and beyond all that is.




Boethius in Prison, writing Gloomy Poetry Inspired by Muses (Book 1)

My work was previously devoted to pleasant songs, and all my labors then were bright. But now in tears I am compelled to turn to sad refrains. Thus my injured Muses guide my pen, and gloomy songs make heartfelt tears fall on my face. Then no fear could so overcome to leave me companionless upon my way. The Muses were the pride of my earlier bright-lived days, but in my later gloomy days they are the comfort of my fate. For accelerated by unhappiness, age has come upon me without warning, and grief has set within me the old age of her gloom. White hairs are scattered prematurely on my head, and skin hangs loosely from my worn-out limbs.

            It is fortunate when death does not push itself upon men in their pleasant years, yet comes to them at the often-repeated cry of their sorrow. It is unfortunate when death turns away from the unhappy with so deaf an ear, and will not cruelly close the eyes that weep. It is detrimental to trust to Fortune's inconsistent bounty, and while she still smiled upon me, the hour of gloom had almost overwhelmed my head. Now that the cloud has put off its attractive face, without hesitation my life drags out its wearying delays.

            Why, my friends [i.e., the Muses] did you so often flatter me by telling me that I was fortunate? For he who falls low had never stood firm to begin with.


Lady Philosophy appears and Chases the Muses Away (Book 1)

While I was pondering this way in silence, and using my pen to set down so tearful a complaint, there appeared standing over my head a woman's form. Her appearance was full of majesty and her eyes shone as with fire and in power of insight surpassed the eyes of men. Her color was full of life, and her strength was still intact though she was so full of years that none would ever think that she was subject to such age as ours. One could doubt her varying tallness, for at one moment she repressed it to the common height of a man, at another she seemed to touch the very heavens with her crown. When she had raised her head even higher, it even pierced the sky and disoriented the sight of those who would look upon it. Her clothing was made of the finest thread by subtle workmanship woven into one indivisible piece. She made this with her own hands, as I afterwards learned by her own showing. Its beauty was somewhat dimmed by the dullness of long neglect, as is seen in the smoke-grimed [wax death] masks of our ancestors. On the border below was embroidered the symbol Pi, and above that a Theta [for practical philosophy and contemplative philosophy respectively]. Between the two letters the rungs of a ladder were delineated, signifying that ascent might be made from the lower principle to the higher. But violent men had torn this garment and snatched whatever threads from it that they could. In her right hand she carried books, in her left waved a scepter.

            When she saw that the Muses of poetry were present by my couch giving words to my sorrow, she was displeased. Her eyes flashed fiercely at them, and she spoke.

            Philosophy: Who gave permission to these seducing mimes to approach this sick man? They never support those in sorrow by any healing remedies, but rather always cultivate sorrow by their soft and weakening poisons. These are the ones who smother the fruit-bearing harvest of reason with the barren thorn bushes of the passions. They do not free the minds of men from disease, but accustom them to it. I would think it less serious if your allurements drew me away from some uninitiated man, as happens in the common herd. With such person my labors would not at all be harmed. But this man has been nourished in the principles of Eleatic and Academic [philosophers], and this is the person that you attack? Away with you, Sirens, who seductive towards destruction! Leave him to me to be cared for and to be healed. . . .


Boethius is One of Many Oppressed Philosophers (Book 1)

In this way the clouds of grief scattered. Then I breathed again and engaged my mind in taking notice of my physician's appearance. When I turned my eyes towards her and fixed my gaze upon her, I recognized my nurse, Philosophy, in whose chambers I had spent my life from earliest manhood.

            Boethius: Mistress of all virtues, why have come down from heaven above to visit my lonely place of banishment? Is it that you, as well as I, may be harassed and made the victim of false charges?

            Philosophy: Should I desert you, my nursling? Should I not share and bear my part of the burden which has been laid on you from spite against my name? Surely Philosophy never allowed herself to let the innocent go upon their journey without a friend. Do you think that I would fear insults or that I would be terrified as though they were a new misfortune? Do you think that this is the first time that wisdom has been harassed by dangers among men of shameless ways? In ancient days long before your time, with Plato did we not fight many great battles against the recklessness of folly just as nowadays? Though Plato survived, did not his master, Socrates, win his victory of an unjust death, with me present at his side? After him, the followers of Epicurus, then the Stoics and still others, tried their best to seize his legacy. In spite of all my cries and struggles, they dragged me as though to share me as plunder. They tore my robe which I had woven with my own hands, and snatched away the fragments of it. When they thought I had completely yielded myself to them, they left. Since among them were to be seen certain signs of my outward bearing, others ill-advised thought they wore my robe: Thus, many of them were ruined by the errors of the herd of uninitiated. You may not have heard about the exile of Anaxagoras, or the poison drunk by Socrates, or the torture of Zeno [of Elea] which were all in foreign countries. But you may know about Canius, Seneca, and Soranus, whose fame is great and lasting. Nothing else brought them to ruin except that, being raised in my ways, they opposed the desires of unscrupulous men.


Philosophy Reminds Boethius of his Previous Good Fortune (Book 2)

Boethius: Then for a while she held her peace. But when her subtle silence prevented my thoughts from straying, she began to speak.

            Philosophy: If I have thoroughly learned the causes and the manner of your sickness, your former good fortune has so affected you that you are being consumed by longing for it. This change of condition, which you continually reflect upon, has overwhelmed your peace of mind. I understand the innumerable tricks of fortune. I know how she is so friendly and alluring to those whom she tries to deceive, until she overwhelms them with grief beyond bearing, and then deserts them when least expected. . . .

            Now will I argue with you using these few words which Fortune herself might use, and please consider whether her demands are fair. "Why" she might say, "do you daily accuse me with your complaining? What injustice have I brought upon you? Of what good things have I robbed you? Choose any judge you like, and argue with me before him for the right to hold your wealth and honors. If you can prove that any one of these truly belongs to any mortal man, I will immediately grant that these you seek to regain were yours. When nature brought you out from your mother's womb, I received you in my arms naked and bare of all things. I cherished you with my gifts, and I brought you up all too kindly with my favoring care (for which you now are hostile against me). I surrounded you with glory and all the abundance that was mine to give. Now it pleases me to withdraw my hand: be thankful for the enjoyment that you had, which I only had loaned you. You have no just cause of complaint, as though you had really lost what was once your own. Why do you complain about me? I have done no violence to you. Wealth, honors, and other such things are within my rights. They are my handmaids, they know their mistress, they come with me and go when I leave.” . . .

            If Fortune would thus defend herself to you, you would have nothing, I think, to argue on the other side. But if you have any just defense for your complaining, you must put it forward. We will grant you the opportunity to speak.

            Boethius: Those arguments are appealing and are clothed with all the sweetness of speech and of song. When anyone listens to them they are delightful to hear, but only for so long. The wretched have a deeper feeling of their misfortunes. Thus, when these pleasing sounds fall no longer upon the ear, this deep-rooted misery again weighs down the spirit.

            Philosophy: That is true. For the arguments I have been using are not designed as remedies, but as pain killers only, to alleviate in some degree that persistent grief that refuses to be cured. When the time comes, I will apply treatments that will penetrate more deeply. But in the mean time, so that you may not consider yourself the most miserable of men, remember how great was your former good fortune. I will not describe how, when you lost your father, men of the highest rank received you into their care, or how you were chosen by the chief men in the state to be allied to them by marriage, and you were dear to them before you were ever closely related (which is the most valuable of all relationships). . . .

            Boethius: Cherisher of all the virtues, you speak the truth, for I cannot deny my rapid successes and my prosperity. But it is precisely these memories that torment me more than others. For of all suffering from Fortune, the unhappiest misfortune is to have known a happy fortune.

            Philosophy: But, you are penalizing Fortune for your mistaken expectations, and with this you cannot justly consider them the source of your present situation. If you are still captivated by this empty name of Fortune's fluctuating gift of happiness, you must listen while I remind you of what a large portion of the gifts of Fortune is still yours. You have already possessed that which is the most precious among all Fortune's gifts, and these are still safe and unharmed within your possession. Accordingly, while you retain these greater gifts, you will never be able to justly accuse Fortune of unkindness. Firstly, your wife's father, Symmachus, is still living and healthy. What more precious glory has the human race than him? Right now this man (who is wholly made up of wisdom and virtue) is mourning for the injustice you suffer, because your worth is undiminished and your life still valuable. Further, your wife is also alive, a woman with a sweet nature and purity of manners. In a word, she is the true resemblance of her father. . . .


The Fleeting Nature of Fame  (Book 2)

Boethius: You know that the empty pride of this world has had little influence over me. But I wished for some participation in public affairs to exercise my virtue, so that it would not grow weak through inactivity, and die away unrecognized.

            Philosophy: I agree that there is one thing which can attract minds that are naturally gifted, yet are not led by perfection to the highest levels of virtue. That thing is the love of fame and reputation for performing great services to one's country. But think more about it and see that it is in fact a small thing of no value. As you have learned from astronomers, the whole circumference of the earth is only like a point when compared with the size of the heavens. That is, if you compare the earth with the circle of the universe, it must be considered as having no size at all. As you have learned from the demonstration of Ptolemy, of this tiny portion of the earth only one-quarter of it is inhabited by living beings known to us. If from this fourth part you subtracted the space that is covered by sea and marsh, and all the vast regions of thirsty desert, you will find but the smallest space left for human habitation. Do you think about establishing your fame and publishing your name in this space, which is only a point within another point so closely circumscribed? What greatness or magnificence can fame have which is confined by such close and narrow bounds? Further, this narrow enclosure of habitation is peopled by many races of men which differ in language, in customs, and in their whole manner of living. Owing to difficulty of travelling, differences of speech, and rareness of any interaction, the fame of entire cities cannot reach them, much less the fame of men. Has not Cicero written somewhere that in his time the fame of Rome had not reached the mountains of the Caucasus, though the Roman Republic had already well grown and struck awe among the Parthians and other nations in those regions? Do you see then how narrow and closely confined must be that fame which you wish to extend more widely? Can the fame of a Roman ever reach parts to which the name of Rome cannot come?

            Further, the manners and customs of different races are so little in agreement, that what is considered praiseworthy among one people may be punished by another. Thus, it may not be to a man’s advantage in many lands to make his name known, even though he takes pleasure in a glorious fame. Consequently, each man will be content if his fame travels throughout his own countrymen, and the immortality of his name will be bound by the limits of one nation. But consider how many men, the most famous of their times, are wiped out by oblivion because no man has written of them. But do writings even preserve the remembrance of men forever? Are not the best compositions, along with the names of their authors, obliterated by time, and lost in oblivion? But you suppose, perhaps, you will secure immortality for yourself if you can transmit your names to future ages. But if you think about the unending length of eternity, what enjoyment do you find in the long endurance of your name? For though the lapse of an instant is only a tiny proportion when compared to ten thousand years, nevertheless there is a definite ratio between the two since both are limited spaces of time. But even ten thousand years, or the greatest number you choose, cannot even be compared with eternity. There will always be ratio between finite things, but between the finite and the infinite there can never be any comparison. Thus, however long drawn out may be the life of your fame, it is not even small, but it is absolutely nothing when compared with eternity. You do not know how to act properly aside from the whims of popular opinion and for the sake of empty rumors. Thus the excellence of conscience and of virtue is left behind, and you seek rewards from the gossip of other men. . . .


Ill Fortune better than Good Fortune (Book 2)

But do not think that I would urge relentless war upon Fortune. There are times when her deception of men has certain merits, I mean when she reveals herself, unveils her face, and proclaims her ways. Perhaps you do not yet understand what I mean. It is a strange thing that I am trying to say, and for that reason I can barely explain myself in words. I think that ill fortune is of greater advantage to men than good fortune. Good fortune is always lying when she seems to show favor to someone through an appearance of happiness. Ill fortune is always true when by her changes she shows herself inconstant. The one deceives; the other edifies. The one by a deceitful appearance of good things chains the minds of those who enjoy them: the other frees them by a knowledge that happiness is so fragile. You see, then, that the one is blown about by winds, is always moving and ever ignorant of its own self; the other is sober, always prepared and ever made provident by the undergoing of its very adversities. Lastly, good fortune draws men from the straight path of true good by her fawning: ill fortune draws most men to the true good, and holds them back by her curved staff. . . .


Proof for God: The Existence of Good things implies a Highest Good that Causes Them (Book 3)


When she finished her song, its soothing tones left me spellbound with my ears alert in my eagerness to listen. So a while afterwards I spoke.

            Boethius: Greatest comforter of weary minds, you have cheered me both with your deep thoughts and sweet singing. I will no longer doubt my power to meet the hardships of Fortune. So far am I from terror at the remedies which earlier you told me were sharper, but I am now longing to hear them, and eagerly I beg you for them. . . .

            Philosophy: Since then you have seen the form both of the imperfect and the perfect good, I think I should now show you where lies this perfection of happiness. Regarding this I think our first inquiry must be whether any good of this kind can exist in the very nature of a subject. We must not let any useless form of thought make us miss the truth of this matter. There can be no denial of its existence, and that it is as the very source of all good. For if anything is said to be imperfect, it is held to be so by some loss of its perfection. Thus if in any kind of thing a particular seems imperfect, there must also be a perfect specimen in the same kind. For if you take away the perfection, it is impossible even to imagine from what could come the so-called imperfect specimen. For nature does not start from degenerate or imperfect specimens, but starting from the perfect and ideal, it degenerates to these lower and weaker forms. If then, as we have shown above, there is an uncertain and imperfect happiness to be found in the good, then there must doubtless be also a sure and perfect happiness therein.

            Boethius: Yes, I said, that is quite surely proved to be true.

            Philosophy: Now consider where it lies. The universally accepted notion of men proves that God, the fountain-head of all things, is good. For nothing can be thought of better than God, and surely He, than whom there is nothing better, must without doubt be good. Now reason shows us that God is so good, that we are convinced that in Him lies also the perfect good. For if it is not so, He cannot be the fountain-head; for there must then be something more excellent, possessing that perfect good, which appears to be of older origin than God: for it has been proved that all perfections are of earlier origin than the imperfect specimens of the same. Thus, unless we are to prolong the series to infinity, we must allow that the highest Deity must be full of the highest, the perfect good. But as we have established that true happiness is perfect good, it must be that true happiness is situated in His Divinity.

            Boethius: Yes, I accept that; it cannot be in any way contradicted.

            Philosophy: But, I beg you, be sure that you accept with a sure conscience and determination this fact, that we have said that the highest Deity is filled with the highest good.

            Boethius: How should I think of it?

            Philosophy: You must not think of God, the Father of all, whom we hold to be filled with the highest good, as having received this good into Himself from something outside of Him, nor that He has it by nature in such a manner that you might consider Him, its possessor, and the happiness possessed, as having different essential existences. For if you think that good has been received from without, that which gave it must be more excellent than that which received it; but we have most rightly stated that He is the most excellent of all things. If you think that it is in Him by His nature, but different in kind, then, while we speak of God as the fountain-head of all things, who could imagine by whom these different kinds can have been united? Lastly, that which is different from anything cannot be the thing from which it differs. So anything which is by its nature different from the highest good, cannot be the highest good. This we must not think of God, than whom there is nothing more excellent, as we have agreed. Nothing in this world can have a nature which is better than its origin, thus I would conclude that that which is the origin of all things, according to the truest reasoning, is by its essence the highest good.

            Boethius: Most truly.

            Philosophy: You agree that the highest good is happiness?'

            Boethius: Yes.

            Philosophy: Then you must allow that God is absolute happiness?

            Boethius: I cannot deny what you put forward before, and I see that this follows necessarily from those propositions.

            Philosophy: Consider, then, whether it is proved more strongly by this too: there cannot be two highest goods which are different. For where two good things are different, the one cannot be the other; wherefore neither can be the perfect good, while each is lacking to the other. And that which is not perfect cannot be the highest, plainly. Therefore if two things are highest good, they cannot be different. Further, we have proved to ourselves that both happiness and God are each the highest good. Therefore the highest Deity must be identical with the highest happiness.

            Boethius: No conclusion could be truer in fact, or more surely proved by reason, or more worthy of our God.


Free Will consists of Reason’s Power to Reject Vice from Ignorance and Passions (Book 5)

            Boethius: I have listened to you, and agree that it is as you say. But in this close sequence of causes [in the natural world], is there any freedom for our judgment or does this chain of fate bind the very feelings of our minds too?'

            Philosophy: There is free will. Nor could there be any reasoning nature without freedom of judgment. For any being that can use its reason by nature, has a power of judgment by which it can without further help decide each point, and so distinguish between objects to be desired and objects to be rejected. Each therefore seeks what it deems desirable, and runs from what it considers should be shunned. Thus, all who have reason have also freedom of desiring and refusing in themselves. But I do not say that this is equal in all beings. Heavenly and divine beings have with them a judgment of great insight, an imperturbable will, and a power which can affect their desires. Human spirits must be more free when they keep themselves safe in the contemplation of the mind of God; but they are less free when they sink into bodies, and less still when they are bound by their earthly members. The last stage is mere slavery, when the spirit is given over to vices and has fallen away from the possession of its reason. For when the mind turns its eyes from the light of truth on high to lower darkness, soon they are dimmed by the clouds of ignorance, and become confused through ruinous passions; by yielding to these passions and consenting to them, men increase the slavery which they have brought upon themselves, and their true liberty is lost in captivity.


Conflict between Free Will and Foreknowledge (Book 5)

            Boethius: Again I am thrown into yet more doubt and difficulty.

            Philosophy: What are they, though I have already my idea of what your trouble consists?

            Boethius: There seems to me to be an incompatibility between the existence of God's universal foreknowledge and that of any freedom of judgment. For if God foresees all things and cannot in anything be mistaken, then that, which His Providence sees will happen, must result. Thus, if it knows beforehand not only men's deeds but even their designs and wishes, there will be no freedom of judgment. For there can neither be any deed done, nor wish formed, except such as the infallible Providence of God has foreseen. . . .

            How, too, would God's Providence be better than man's opinion, if, as men do, He only sees to be uncertain such things as have an uncertain result? But if there can be no uncertainty with God, the surest source of all things, then the fulfilment of all that He has surely foreknown, is certain. Thus we are led to see that there is no freedom for the intentions or actions of men. For the mind of God, foreseeing all things without error or deception, binds all together and controls their results. When we have once allowed this, it is plain how complete is the fall of all human actions in consequence. It is pointless for rewards or punishments to be linked with good or bad, for there is no free or voluntary action of the mind to deserve them. What we just now determined was most fair [regarding rewarding good and punishing evil], will instead prove to be the most unfair thing of all, namely to punish the dishonest or reward the honest. For, their own will does not put them in the way of honesty or dishonesty, but the unfailing necessity of development constrains them. Thus, neither virtues nor vices are anything, but there is rather an indiscriminate confusion of all rewards and punishments. Nothing could be more vicious than this. For, if the whole order of all comes from Providence, and nothing is left to human intention, it follows that our crimes, as well as our good deeds, must all be held due to the author of all good.


God’s Eternality Consists of being Outside of Time (Book 5)

            Philosophy: This is the old complaint concerning Providence which was so strongly argued by Cicero in Of Divination, and you yourself have often and at length questioned the same subject. But so far, none of you have explained it with enough diligence or certainty. The cause of this obscurity is that the working of human reason cannot approach the directness of divine foreknowledge. If this could be understood at all, there would be no doubt left. . . .

            The common opinion, according to all living men, is that God is eternal. Let us therefore consider what is eternity. For eternity will, I think, make clear to us at the same time both divine nature and divine knowledge. Now, eternity is the possession of endless life whole and perfect at a single moment. This will appear more clearly if we compare it with temporal things. All that lives under the conditions of time moves through the present from the past to the future; there is nothing set in time which can at one moment grasp the whole space of its lifetime. It cannot yet comprehend to-morrow; yesterday it has already lost. In this life of to-day your life is no more than a changing, passing moment. As Aristotle said of the universe, so it is of all that is subject to time; though it never began to be, nor will ever cease, and its life is co-extensive with the infinity of time, yet it is not such as can be held to be eternal. For though it apprehends and grasps a space of infinite lifetime, it does not embrace the whole simultaneously; it has not yet experienced the future.

            What we should rightly call eternal is that which grasps and possesses wholly and simultaneously the fullness of unending life, which lacks nothing of the future, and has lost nothing of the fleeting past. Such an existence must be ever present in itself to control and aid itself, and also must keep present with itself the infinity of changing time. Therefore, people who hear that Plato thought that this universe had no beginning of time and will have no end, are not right in thinking that in this way the created world is co-eternal with its creator.  For to pass through unending life, the attribute which Plato ascribes to the universe is one thing. But it is another thing to grasp simultaneously the whole of unending life in the present. This is plainly a peculiar property of the mind of God.

            Further, God should not be regarded as older than His creations by any period of time, but rather by the peculiar property of His own single nature. For the infinite changing of temporal things tries to imitate the ever simultaneously present immutability of His life. It cannot succeed in imitating or equaling this, but sinks from immutability into change, and falls from the single directness of the present into an infinite space of future and past. Since this temporal state cannot possess its life completely and simultaneously, but it does in the same manner exist for ever without ceasing, it therefore seems to try in some degree to rival that which it cannot fulfil or represent, for it binds itself to some sort of present time out of this small and fleeting moment. But inasmuch as this temporal present bears a certain appearance of that enduring present, it somehow makes those, to whom it comes, seem to be in truth what they imitate. But since this imitation could not be enduring, the unending march of time has swept it away, and thus we find that it has bound together, as it passes, a chain of life, which it could not by enduring embrace in its fullness. Thus if we would apply proper epithets to those subjects, we can say, following Plato, that God is eternal, but the universe is continual.


Divine Foreknowledge Consists of Seeing All things in a Single Glance (Book 5)

            Philosophy: All judgment apprehends the subjects of its thought according to its own nature. Now, since God has a condition of ever-present eternity, where His knowledge, which passes over every change of time, embracing infinite lengths of past and future. Thus, his knowledge views in its own direct comprehension everything as though it were taking place in the present. If you would weigh the foreknowledge by which God distinguishes all things, you will more properly view it as a knowledge of a never-failing constancy in the present, rather than a foreknowledge of the future. Thus, Providence is more rightly to be understood as a “looking down” than a “looking forward”, because it is set far from low matters and looks down upon all things as from a lofty mountain-top above all.

            Why then do you demand that all things occur by necessity, if divine light rests upon them, while men do not make necessary such things as they can see? Because you can see things of the present, does your sight therefore put upon them any necessity? Surely not. If one may not unworthily compare this present time with the divine, just as you can see things in this your temporal present, so God sees all things in His eternal present. Accordingly, this divine foreknowledge does not change the nature or individual qualities of things: it sees things present in its understanding just as they will result at some time in the future. It makes no confusion in its distinctions, and with one view of its mind it discerns all that will come to pass whether of necessity or not. For instance, when you see at the same time a man walking on the earth and the sun rising in the heavens, you see each sight simultaneously, yet you distinguish between them, and decide that one is moving voluntarily, the other of necessity. In like manner the perception of God looks down upon all things without disturbing at all their nature, though they are present to Him but future under the conditions of time. Accordingly, this foreknowledge is not opinion but knowledge resting upon truth, since He knows that a future event is, though He knows too that it will not occur of necessity.


Actions are Free when Viewed in their Own Nature, but Necessitated when Viewed from God’s Knowledge (Book 5)

Suppose you answer, “What God sees about to happen, must happen, and that what must happen is bound by necessity”. You then lock me down to the word necessity, and I will grant that we have a matter of most firm truth. But it is one to which scarcely any man can approach unless he be a contemplator of the divine. For I will answer that such a thing will occur of necessity when it is viewed from the standpoint of divine knowledge. But when it is examined in its own nature, it seems perfectly free and unrestrained. For there are two kinds of necessities, where one is simple, for instance, a necessary fact, "all men are mortal". The other is conditional, for instance, if you know that a man is walking, then he must be walking: for what each man knows cannot be otherwise than it is known to be. But the conditional one is by no means followed by this simple and direct necessity, for there is no necessity to compel a voluntary walker to proceed, even though it is necessary that, if he walks, he should be proceeding. In the same way, if Providence sees an event in its present, that thing must be, though it has no necessity of its own nature. God looks in His present upon those future things which come to pass through free will. Therefore if these things are looked at from the point of view of God's insight, they come to pass of necessity under the condition of divine knowledge. If, on the other hand, they are viewed by themselves, they do not lose the perfect freedom of their nature. Without doubt, then, all things that God foreknows do come to pass, but some of them proceed from free will. Even though they result by coming into existence, they nevertheless do not lose their own nature, because before they came to pass they could also not have come to pass.

            "What then," you may ask, "is the difference in their not being bound by necessity, since they result under all circumstances as by necessity, because of the condition of divine knowledge?" This is the difference, as I just now put forward: take the sun rising and a man walking; while these operations are occurring, they cannot but occur: but the one was bound to occur before it did; the other was not so bound. What God has in His present, does exist without doubt; but of such things some follow by necessity, others by their authors' wills. Thus, I was justified in saying that if these things be regarded from the view of divine knowledge, they are necessary, but if they are viewed by themselves, they are perfectly free from all ties of necessity. This is just as when you refer anything to reason which is otherwise clear to the senses: it becomes general truth, but it remains particular if regarded by itself.

            "But," you will say, "if it is in my power to change a purpose of mine, I will disregard Providence, since I may change what Providence foresees." To this I answer, yes, you can change your purpose, but the truth of Providence already knows in its present that you can do so, whether in fact you do so, and in what direction you may change it. Therefore you cannot escape that divine foreknowledge. It is just as you cannot avoid the glance of a present eye, though you may by your free will turn yourself to all kinds of different actions.

            "What?" you will say, "Can I by my own action change divine knowledge, so that if I choose first one thing, then another, Providence too will seem to change its knowledge?" No, for divine insight precedes all future things, turning them back and recalling them to the present time of its own unique knowledge. It does not change, as you may think, between this and that alternation of foreknowledge. It is constant in preceding and embracing by one glance all your changes. God does not receive this ever-present grasp of all things and vision of the present at the occurrence of future events, but from His own unique directness. From this also is that difficulty solved which you laid down earlier, that it was not worthy to say that our future events were the cause of God's knowledge. For this power of knowledge, ever in the present and embracing all things in its perception, does itself constrain all things, and owes nothing to following events from which it has received nothing. Thus, therefore, mortal men have their freedom of judgment intact. Since their wills are freed from all binding necessity, laws do not set rewards or punishments unjustly. God is ever the constant foreknowing overseer, and the ever-present eternity of His sight moves in harmony with the future nature of our actions, as it dispenses rewards to the good, and punishments to the bad.

            Hopes are not pointlessly put in God, nor prayers in pointlessly offered. If these are proper, they will be answered. Turn therefore from vice and embrace virtue. Raise your soul to upright hopes, send up on high your prayers from this earth. If you would be honest, great is the necessity urged upon your goodness, since all you do is done before the eyes of an all-seeing Judge.




Proof for God from Absolute Goodness (Monologium 1)

Suppose that a person, either from ignorance or unbelief, has no knowledge of the existence of one Nature which is the highest of all existing beings, which is also self-sufficient in its eternal blessedness, and which, through its omnipotent goodness, confers upon and effects in all other beings the very fact of their existence, and the fact that in any way their existence is good. Suppose also that this person has no knowledge of many other things, which we necessarily believe regarding God and his creatures. Nevertheless, that person may still believe that he can at least convince himself of these truths in great part, even if his mental abilities are very ordinary, by the force of reason alone.

            Although he could do this in many ways, I will adopt one which I consider easiest for such a person. For, since all desire to enjoy only those things which they suppose to be good, it is natural that this person should, at some time, turn his mind's eye to the examination of that cause by which these things are good, which he does not desire, except as he judges them to be good. Thus, as reason leads the way and follows up these considerations, he advances rationally to those truths of which, without reason, he has no knowledge. If, in this discussion, I use any argument which no greater authority gives, I wish it to be received in this way. However, on the grounds that I will see fit to adopt, the conclusion is reached as if necessarily, yet it is not, for this reason, said to be absolutely necessary, but merely that it can appear so for the time being.

            It is easy, then, for one to say to himself: Since there are goods so innumerable, whose great diversity we experience by the bodily senses, and discern by our mental faculties, must we not believe that there is some one thing, through which all goods whatever are good?  Or are they good one through one thing and another through another? To be sure, the answer is most certain and clear for all who are willing to see. Consider those things that are said to possess any attribute in such a way that in mutual comparison they may be said to possess it in greater, or less, or equal degree. Those things are said to possess it by virtue of some fact, which is not understood to be one thing in one case and another in another. Rather, it is the same in different cases, whether it is regarded as existing in these cases in equal or unequal degree. For, whatever things are said to be just, when compared with each other, whether equally, or more, or less, cannot be understood as just, except through the quality of justness, which is not one thing in one instance, and another in another.

            Since it is certain, then, that all goods, if mutually compared, would prove either equally or unequally good, necessarily they are all good by virtue of something which is conceived of as the same in different goods, although sometimes they seem to be called good, the one by virtue of one thing, the other by virtue of another. For, apparently, it is by virtue of one quality that a horse is called good because he is strong, and by virtue of another quality he is called good because he is swift. For, though he seems to be called good by virtue of his strength, and good by virtue of his swiftness, yet swiftness and strength do not appear to be the same thing.

            But if a horse, because he is strong and swift, is therefore good, how is it that a strong, swift robber is bad? Rather, then, just as a strong, swift robber is bad because he is harmful, so a strong, swift horse is good, because he is useful. Indeed, nothing is ordinarily regarded as good, except either for some utility (for instance, safety is called good, and those things which promote safety) or for some honorable character (for instance, beauty is reckoned to be good, and what promotes beauty).

            But, since the reasoning which we have observed is in no way refutable, necessarily, again, all things, whether useful or honorable, if they are truly good, are good through that same being through which all goods exist, whatever that being is. But who can doubt this very being, through which all goods exist, to be a great good? This must be, then, a good through itself, since every other good is through it.

            It follows, therefore, that all other goods are good through another being than that which they themselves are, and this being alone is good through itself. Hence, this alone is supremely good, which is alone good through itself. For it is supreme in that it so surpasses other beings, that it is neither equaled nor excelled. But that which is supremely good is also supremely great. There is, therefore, some one being which is supremely good, and supremely great, that is, the highest of all existing beings.


Anselm’s Motivation behind the Constructing the Ontological Argument [Proslogium, Preface]

At the kind request of certain brothers, I published a brief work [the Monologium] as an example of a meditation on the grounds of faith, in the person of one who investigates, in a course of silent reasoning with himself, matters of which he is ignorant. But after considering that this book was knit together by the linking of many arguments, I began to ask myself whether there might be found a single argument which would require no other for its proof than itself alone. By itself this might suffice to demonstrate that God truly exists, and that there is a supreme good requiring nothing else, which all other things require for their existence and well-being, and whatever we believe regarding the divine Being.

            I often and earnestly directed my thought to this end, and at times that which I sought seemed to be just within my reach, while again it wholly evaded my mental vision. Eventually, in despair I was about to give up, as if from the search for a thing which could not be found. I tried to put aside this thought to avoid busying my mind to no purpose, and distracting myself from other thoughts, in which I might be successful. But more and more, though I was unwilling and avoided it, it began to force itself upon me, with a kind of insistence. So, one day, when I was exhausted by resisting its insistence, in the very conflict of my thoughts, the proof of which I had despaired offered itself, and I eagerly embraced the thoughts which I was strenuously repelling.

            I considered that what I rejoiced to have found would, if put in writing, be welcome to some readers, of this very matter, and of some others. Accordingly, I have written the following treatise, in the person of someone who strives to lift his mind to the contemplation of God, and seeks to understand what he believes.


The Ontological Argument: There must exist a Being than which Nothing Greater can Exist  (Proslogium, 2)

Lord, as you give understanding to faith to the extent that you know it is profitable, please allow me to understand that you are as we believe, and that you are that which we believe. 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 14:1). But, in any event, this very fool, when he hears of this being of which I speak (a being than which nothing greater can be conceived) understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding; even though 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 he does not yet understand it to be, because he has not yet performed it. But after he has made the painting, he 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, that than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. Undoubtedly, 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, and this 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 no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.


God Exists Cannot be conceived Not to Exist (Proslogium, 3)

It undoubtedly exists so truly, that it cannot be conceived not to exist. For, it is possible to conceive of a being which cannot be conceived not to exist; and this is greater than one which can be conceived not to exist. Hence, if that than which nothing greater can be conceived, can be conceived not to exist, it is not that, than which nothing greater can be conceived. But this is an irreconcilable contradiction. There is, then, so truly a being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist, that it cannot even be conceived not to exist; and this being you are, Lord, our God.

            So truly, therefore, do you exist, Lord, my God, that you cannot be conceived not to exist, and rightly so. For, if a mind could conceive of a being better than thee, the creature would rise above the Creator; and this is most absurd. Indeed, whatever else there is, except thee alone, can be conceived not to exist. To you alone, therefore, it belongs to exist more truly than all other beings, and hence in a higher degree than all others. For, whatever else exists does not exist so truly, and hence in a less degree it belongs to it to exist. Why, then, has the fool said in his heart, there is no God (Psalms14:1)? For, it is so evident to a rational mind that you exist in the highest degree of all. Why [would someone doubt this], except that he is dull and a fool?


God can Conceived not to Exist Verbally, but not in Reality (Proslogium, 4)

But how has the fool said in his heart what he could not conceive; or how is it that he could not conceive what he said in his heart? since it is the same to say in the heart, and to conceive.

But, if really, nay, since really, he both conceived, because he said in his heart; and did not say in his heart, because he could not conceive; there is more than one way in which a thing is said in the heart or conceived. For, in one sense, an object is conceived, when the word signifying it is conceived; and in another, when the very entity, which the object is, is understood.

            In the former sense, then, God can be conceived not to exist; but in the latter, not at all. For no one who understands what fire and water are can conceive fire to be water, in accordance with the nature of the facts themselves, although this is possible according to the words. So, then, no one who understands what God is can conceive that God does not exist; although he says these words in his heart, either without any or with some foreign, signification. For, God is that than which a greater cannot be conceived. And he who thoroughly understands this, assuredly understands that this being so truly exists, that not even in concept can it be non-existent. Therefore, he who understands that God so exists, cannot conceive that he does not exist.

            I thank you, gracious Lord. I thank you because what I formerly believed by you bounty, I now so understand by your illumination, that if I were unwilling to believe that you do exist, I would be unable not to understand this to be true.


God’s Attributes (Proslogium, 5)

What are you, then, Lord God, than whom nothing greater can be conceived? But what are you, except that which, as the highest of all beings, alone exists through itself, and creates all other things from nothing? For, whatever is not this is less than a thing which can be conceived of. But this cannot be conceived of you. What good, therefore, does the supreme Good lack, through which every good is? Therefore, you are just, truthful, blessed, and whatever it is better to be than not to be. For it is better to be just than not just; better to be blessed than not blessed.


Gaunilo’s Criticism: The Lost Island Parody Argument (On Behalf of the Fool, 6, 7)

It is said that somewhere in the ocean is an island, which, because of the difficulty (or rather the impossibility) of discovering what does not exist, is called the lost island. They say that this island has an inestimable wealth of all manner of riches and delicacies in greater abundance than is told of the Islands of the Blest. Having no owner or inhabitant, it is said to be more excellent than all other countries, which are inhabited by mankind, in the abundance with which it is stored.

            Now if someone would tell me that there is such an island, I would easily understand his words, in which there is no difficulty. But suppose that he went on to say, as if by a logical inference: “You can no longer doubt that this island which is more excellent than all lands exists somewhere, since you have no doubt that it is in your understanding. For, it is more excellent not to be in the understanding alone, but to exist both in the understanding and in reality, for this reason it must exist. For if it does not exist, any land which really exists will be more excellent than it; and so the island already understood by you to be more excellent will not be more excellent.”

            If someone would try to prove to me by such reasoning that this island truly exists, and that its existence would no longer be doubted, either I would think that he was joking, or I do not know which I ought to regard as the greater fool. Perhaps it is myself for accepting this proof, perhaps it is him for supposing that he had established with any certainty the existence of this island. For, he ought to show first that the hypothetical excellence of this island exists as a real and indubitable fact, and in no way as any unreal object, or one whose existence is uncertain, in my understanding.

            This, in the meantime, is the answer the fool could make to the arguments urged against him. When he is assured in the first place that this being is so great that its non-existence is not even conceivable, and that this in turn is proved on no other ground than the fact that otherwise it will not be greater than all things, the fool may make the same answer. Thus, he may say, When did I say that any such being exists in reality, that is, a being greater than all others?--that on this ground it should be proved to me that it also exists in reality to such a degree that it cannot even be conceived not to exist? Whereas in the first place it should be in some way proved that a nature which is higher, that is, greater and better, than all other natures, exists; in order that from this we may then be able to prove all attributes which necessarily the being that is greater and better than all possesses.

            Moreover, it is said that the non-existence of this being is inconceivable. It might better be said, perhaps, that its non-existence, or the possibility of its non-existence, is unintelligible. For according to the true meaning of the word, unreal objects are unintelligible. Yet their existence is conceivable in the way in which the fool conceived of the non-existence of God. I am most certainly aware of my own existence; but I know, nevertheless, that my non-existence is possible. As to that supreme being, moreover, which God is, I understand without any doubt both his existence, and the impossibility of his non-existence. Whether, however, so long as I am most positively aware of my existence, I can conceive of my non-existence, I am not sure. But if I can, why can I not conceive of the non-existence of whatever else I know with the same certainty? If, however, I cannot, God will not be the only being of which it can be said, it is impossible to conceive of his non-existence.


Anselm’s Reply: The Lost Island Parody is not a Parallel Argument (In Reply to Gaunilo, 3)

You say, it is as if one should suppose an island in the ocean, which surpasses all lands in its fertility, and which, because of the difficulty, or the impossibility, of discovering what does not exist, is called a lost island; and should say that there can no doubt that this island truly exists in reality, for this reason, that one who hears it described easily understands what he hears.

            Now I promise confidently that if any man will devise anything existing either in reality or in concept alone (except that than which a greater be conceived) to which he can adapt the sequence of my reasoning, I will discover that thing, and will give him his lost island, not to be lost again.

            But it now appears that this being than which a greater is inconceivable cannot be conceived not to be, because it exists on so assured a ground of truth; for otherwise it would not exist at all.

            Hence, if any one says that he conceives this being not to exist, I say that at the time when he conceives of this either he conceives of a being than which a greater is inconceivable, or he does not conceive at all. If he does not conceive, he does not conceive of the non-existence of that of which he does not conceive. But if he does conceive, he certainly conceives of a being which cannot be even conceived not to exist. For if it could be conceived not to exist, it could be conceived to have a beginning and an end. But this is impossible.

            He, then, who conceives of this being conceives of a being which cannot be even conceived not to exist; but he who conceives of this being does not conceive that it does not exist; else he conceives what is inconceivable. The non-existence, then, of that than which a greater cannot be conceived is inconceivable.


Anselm’s Reply: The Non-existence of Finite Objects with Parts is Conceivable (In Reply to Gaunilo, 4)

You say, moreover, that whereas I assert that this supreme being cannot be conceived not to exist, it might better be said that its non-existence, or even the possibility of its non-existence, cannot be understood.

            But it is more proper to say, it cannot be conceived. For if I had said that the object itself cannot be understood not to exist, possibly you yourself, who say that in accordance with the true meaning of the term what is unreal cannot be understood, would offer the objection that nothing which is can be understood not to be, for the non-existence of what exists is unreal: hence God would not be the only being of which it could be said, it is impossible to understand its non-existence. For thus one of those beings which most certainly exist can be understood not to exist in the same way in which certain other real objects can be understood not to exist.

            But this objection, certainly, cannot be urged against the term conception, if one considers the matter well. For although no objects which exist can be “understood” not to exist, yet all objects, except that which exists in the highest degree, can be “conceived” not to exist. For all those objects, and those alone, can be conceived not to exist, which have a beginning or end or composition of parts: also, as I have already said, whatever at any place or at any time does not exist as a whole.

            That being alone, on the other hand, cannot be conceived not to exist, in which any conception discovers neither beginning nor end nor composition of parts, and which any conception finds always and everywhere as a whole.

            Be assured, then, that you can conceive of your own non-existence, although you are most certain that you exist. I am surprised that you should have admitted that you are ignorant of this. For we conceive of the non-existence of many objects which we know to exist, and of the existence of many which we know not to exist; not by forming the opinion that they so exist, but by imagining that they exist as we conceive of them.

            Indeed, we can conceive of the non-existence of an object, although we know it to exist, because at the same time we can conceive of the former and know the latter. And we cannot conceive of the nonexistence of an object, so long as we know it to exist, because we cannot conceive at the same time of existence and non-existence.

            If, then, one will thus distinguish these two senses of this statement, he will understand that nothing, so long as it is known to exist, can be conceived not to exist. Whatever exists, except that being than which a greater cannot be conceived, can be conceived not to exist, even when it is known to exist.

            So, then, of God alone it can be said that it is impossible to conceive of his non-existence; and yet many objects, so long as they exist, in one sense cannot be conceived not to exist. But in what sense God is to be conceived not to exist, I think has been shown clearly enough in my book.




Virtues and Vices of the Body or the Mind (Book 1, Prologue)

We give the name of moral qualities to those vices or virtues of the mind which dispose us to bad or to good deeds. There are vices or excellencies of the body as well as of the mind. For example, there is either bodily weakness or the fortitude which we call strength, laziness or alertness, a limping walk or an upright posture, blindness or sight. To show the difference between qualities such as these, to the term “vices” we add “of the mind”. Further, these vices of the mind are the opposite of the virtues, as injustice is the opposite of justice, idleness of resolution, intemperance of temperance.


Some Mental Vices are Non-Moral, but Morally Significant Mental Vices incline People towards Bad Acts (1.1)

There are some vices or excellencies of the mind which are detached from morality, and do not involve a person’s life in either blame or praise. These include mental dullness or quickness of wit, a poor memory or a good one, ignorance or knowledge. Such traits, since they may appear in wicked as well as in good people, have nothing to do with the formation of moral character and do not make a life disgraceful or honorable. Hence, to exclude such qualities, we will add to our previous phrase “vices of the mind”, the words which dispose the vicious to bad actions. That is, they incline the will to something which it is improper to do or to abandon.


Mental Vices Become Sins only when they are Acted Upon (1.2)

Now such a vice of the mind is not the same as a sin, nor a sin the same as an evil act. For example, to be ill-tempered, that is, easily disposed to the perturbation of anger, is a vice, and inclines the mind to impetuous and irrational action, which is an improper thing. But this vice resides in the mind, that is, prompting it to angry feelings even when it is not stirred to anger. This is just as the quality of lameness (from which a man is called lame) resides in him even when he does not show his lameness by walking. In the same way, too, many are disposed by their nature or their bodily constitution to lewdness or to ill-temper. Still they do not thereby sin, in being so disposed, but receive from it the incentive to battle, so that through the virtue of temperance they may triumph over themselves and gain the crown. According to the word of Solomon, "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit is better than he that takes a city." For it is not defeat by man but defeat by vice that religion thinks disgraceful. This certainly may happen to good people too, and when this occurs we deviate from ourselves.

            The Apostle recommends this victory to us, saying: "A person is not crowned unless he struggles lawfully." Let him struggle, I say, resisting not people so much as vices, so that, indeed these do not drive us to improper consent. For though people cease to attack us, vices do not cease their attack. Thus, the more frequently we battle with them, the more dangerous they are; the harder the victory is, the more glorious it is. When people triumph over us, they do not bring disgrace upon our lives, except when, in the manner of vices that turns us to vices, so to speak, they subject us to a shameful consent. If people rule our bodies, so long as our minds are free, real freedom is not in danger, and we do not experience any part of offensive slavery. For it is not shameful to serve people, but to serve vice. It is not bodily servitude but subjection to the vices that disfigures the soul. For whatever is shared by good people and evil people alike has no relation to virtue or to vice.


Sin defined Negatively as a Deprivation of What we Know we should Do (1.3)

Thus, vice is that by which we are disposed to sin, that is, where we are inclined to consent to what is improper, and either to do or to abandon it. But this consent we properly call sin (that is, guilt of the soul), and it is this that warrants damnation or is indicted before God. For what is that consent except the contempt of God and offence against him? He in truth is that supreme power which is not lessened by any harm, but nevertheless punishes contempt towards himself. Our sin, therefore, is contempt of the Creator. To sin is to have contempt the Creator, that is, to not do for his sake what we believe we should do for his sake, or similarly to abandon for his sake what we believe we should abandoned. Therefore, in defining sin negatively (that is, when we speak of not doing or not abandoning what is proper), we clearly show that there is no substance in sin, which, instead, consists in not being rather than in being. This is just as we may define darkness as the absence of light where the light hid its being.


Self-Defense Example: Sin is Willfully Consenting to the Unrighteous Killing (1.3)

            But perhaps you will object as follows. “The will to do an evil deed is sin (accusing us before God), just as the will to do a good deed makes us just. For, just as virtue consists in a good will, so too does sin consist in a bad will, and not merely [negatively] through non-being, but [positively] in being too, just like virtue. For as by willing to do what we believe is pleasing to God, we please him, so by willing to do what we believe displeases God, we displease him, and seem to offend or condemn him.”

            In response, I say that, if we carefully consider the matter, we must view it as far differently than how it appears. For we sometimes sin without any evil intent. Further, it is the restraining, not the defeating, of the evil will which gives the victory to the struggle, and secures for them material for battle and the crown of glory. Consequently, this will not be called a sin, but, instead, a certain necessary infirmity. Consider this case. A guiltless man has a cruel master, who is stirred to such an anger against him that drawing his sword he pursues him with intent to kill. The guiltless man, after long attempting to escape, and doing his best to avoid destruction, finally is compelled against his will to kill his master so that he himself will not be killed. Tell me, reader, whoever you may be, what evil will did he display in this act? In his desire to escape death, naturally, he desired to save his own life. But was this desire evil in any way? You may reply, "It is not the desire, but that which he had regarding the killing his pursuing master." You answer well and state the matter clearly, if only you could predicate “will” in the case of which you speak. But, as I already said, he acted unwillingly and under compulsion. For, as far as he could, he preserved his master’s life, knowing as well that by the act of taking his master’s life he endangered himself. How then did he willfully do that which brought his own life into danger?

            Suppose you answer “This too was willfully done, since it is clearly from an act of will (namely, the will to escape death, though not the will to kill his master) that he was rightly called to account.” In response, we can in no way refute you. But, as I already said, that will is by no means to be condemned as evil whereby, as you say, he wished to escape death (but not to kill his master). Still, even though compelled by the fear of death, he did wrong by consenting to the unrighteous act of killing, to which he should submitted rather than committed. He took up the sword of himself, and he did not receive it from [the orders of] a superior. Hence the Truth says: "Those who take up the sword will die by the sword". That is, by this rashness, he brought on the hazard of damnation and the death of his own soul. He wished, therefore, as I said, to escape death, not to kill his master. However, because he consented to kill him, as he should not have done, this unrighteous consent which preceded the killing was sin. . . .


A Good Intention does not become Better through the Good Actions that Follow from It (1.10)

In act and intention, the number of good qualities or good things seems not to be involved. For when we speak of good intention and good action (that is, that which proceeds from good intention), only the goodness of the intention is meant. Nor is the term good retained in the same meaning, so that we may speak of several goods. For when we say that a man is simple and a style is simple, we do not thereby allow that these constitute several simple things, since the term simple is used differently in the two cases. Nobody therefore may compel us to allow that when good action is added to good intention that good is further added to good, as though there were several goods in virtue of which the repayment should increase. For, as has been said, we may not rightly call those things several goods to which the term good does not apply in the same way.


The Goodness of an Act Differs based on the Intention (1.11)

Clearly, we declare intention to be good, that is, right in itself. However action are good, not because it takes some good into itself, but because it proceeds from good intention. Although the same thing may be done by the same man at different times, yet because of his differing intentions, the action is called good at one time and bad at another. The action thus is seen to vary with respect to its goodness and badness. This is just as the proposition “Socrates sits” (or our understanding of this proposition) varies with respect to its truth and falsity, insofar as Socrates is at one time sitting and another time standing. Now Aristotle declares that this change and variation with respect to true and false takes place with these as follows. It is not that the very things that are changed with respect to true and false receive something by their change, but that the subject (that is Socrates) in itself moves, namely from sitting to standing, or conversely.


Erroneous Intentions: Not all Intentions that Seem good Really Are Good (1.12)

There are those who think intention is good or right insofar as one believes that he is acting well and doing what pleases God. This is just as those men did who persecuted the [Christian] martyrs, of which the Truth declares in the Gospel: "The time comes that whoever kills you will think that he does God service." Concerning the ignorance of these people, the Apostle says with compassion: " I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge." That is, they show great fervor and desire in doing those things which they believe please God. But because in this zeal or desire of their hearts they are deceived, their intention is erroneous. Nor is the eye of their heart single, so that it may see clearly, that is, guard itself from error. Thus, when the Lord the strove to distinguish acts according to righteous or unrighteous intentions, he called the eye of the mind (that is the intention) single, and, so to speak, clear of dirt, so that it might see clearly, or conversely, darkly, when he said: "If your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light." That is, if the intention is right, then the whole collection of acts that follow from it (and which in the fashion of things corporeal may be seen), will be worthy of light (that is, will be good, and conversely). Intention, therefore, is not to be called good because it seems good, but, further, because it [truly] is as it is judged. For, indeed, that to which it [truly] aims, if he believes that it is pleasing God, is never deceived in this further judgment of it. Otherwise even unbelievers would perform good acts just as we, since they no less than we believe that by their works they are saved, or are pleasing to God.


Questions for Review

            1. According to Pseudo-Dionysius, what are some of the features of divine darkness?

            2. According to Pseudo-Dionysius, there are three types of descriptions about God, namely, theological attributes, philosophical attributes, and metaphorical attributes. List the attributes for each of these three groups.

            3. According to Pseudo-Dionysius, what is the reason why we deny each of these three groups of attributes?

            4. In Boethius’s Consolation, what is embroidered onto Lady Philosophy’s robe, and what does it represent?

            5. In Boethius’s Consolation, Lady Philosophy reminds Boethius of his good fortune, both past and present. What are some examples of that good fortune?

            6. In Boethius’s Consolation, in what ways is fame so limited?

            7. In Boethius’s Consolation, what is the proof for Gods from degrees of goodness?

            8. In Boethius’s Consolation, in what way is God eternal?

            9. In Boethius’s Consolation, in what way does God have foreknowledge?

            10. In Anselm’s Monologium, what is his proof for God from good things?

            11. In Anselm’s Proslogium section 2, what is his definition of God?

            12. In Anselm’s Proslogium section 2, what is his ontological argument for God’s existence based on his definition of God?

            13. In Anselm’s Proslogium section 5, what are the attributes of God that follow from his definition of God?

            14. What is Gaunilo’s “lost island” criticism of Anselm’s ontological argument?

            15. What is Anselm’s response to Gaunilo’s criticism

            16. According to Abelard, what are some features of virtues mental vices

            17. According to Abelard, what are some features of good intentions?


Questions for Analysis

            1. According to Pseudo-Dionysius, we gain a truer understanding of God when we begin with assertions about him, then systematically deny all of those assertions. Explain how that process might lead one to a mystical experience of divine darkness.

            2. Boethius, and Anselm each present Neoplatonistic arguments for God’s existence from degrees of goodness. Compare and contrast their arguments and discuss which if any version is the best.

            3. Augustine and Boethius each attempt to reconcile divine foreknowledge and human free will. Discuss their approaches and which if either of them works the best.

            4. In Section 5 of Prosogium, Anselm argues that God’s attributes can be derived from the concept of God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”. List the attibutes that he mentions and show how they are derived.

            5. Discuss Gaunilo’s “lost island” criticism of Anselm’s ontological argument and whether it succeeds.

            6. Abelard argues that “sin” should be defined negatively as a deprivation and, as a consequence, has no substance and consists in non-being rather than being. Explain his point and how this draws from Neoplatonism’s way of negation.

            7. Discuss Abelard’s self-defense example and whether he is correct that the man has sinned by willfully consenting to an unrighteous killing.