“Teach me to seek You, and reveal Yourself to me as I seek, because I can neither seek You if You do not teach me how, nor find You unless You reveal Yourself. Let me seek You in desiring You; let me desire You in seeking You; let me find You in loving You; let me love You in finding You” (Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogion, ch. 1).
What a prayer. Over the years and through the seasons of questioning, wondering, and even doubting, these words from Anselm have been the cry of my heart. Allow me to introduce you to Anselm, to the Proslogion, and to one of the greatest theological works ever written. If you are looking for a good paperback version, I recommend this one.
I’ve had the great pleasure of studying and teaching Anselm for over ten years in my Philosophy and History of Ideas courses. His insights and reflections are constantly nourishing to my soul. Theologically speaking, the Proslogion is dense and meaty. But, it is rather short and each chapter is brief, making it easy to work through. In fact, it can be read in one sitting if you so desire. Nevertheless, we’ll take the next few weeks to highlight a few key chapters and reflect on some of the most important points that Anselm makes. There are 26 chapters in the Proslogion, and each one is no more than just a few hundred words.
Let’s begin with chapter 1.
When students hear about Anselm and the Proslogion, they normally hear about him in the context of an apologetics or philosophy class. As such, students expect to find nothing more than a meaty philosophical treatise filled with difficult abstract reflections. And while there is plenty here which is abstract and meaty, most students are pleasantly surprised by what they find in chapter 1. Chapter 1 sets the tone for the entire work, making clear that Anselm is not interested in philosophical reflection for its own sake. Here he shows us that this work is about “Faith seeking Understanding”. And interestingly enough, we find that this entire work is a prayer for understanding which leads to greater love, devotion, and loyalty to God. Anselm prays that God might help him to see more clearly, to understand what he already believes, and to love what he comes to understand; namely, God Himself. Recognizing that our sin and finitude significantly decrease our ability to understand the things of God, Anselm prayed for God to help him over come the effects of sin on him mind. He says:
“But this [image of God in me] is so effaced and worn away by vice, so darkened by the smoke of sin, that it cannot do what it was made to do unless You renew it and reform it. I do not try, Lord, to attain Your lofty heights, because my understanding is in no way equal to it. But I do desire to understand Your truth a little, that truth that my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand. For I believe this also, that unless I believe, I shall not understand” (ch. 1).
In Anselm I find a disposition and motivation that ought to be present within all of us, especially those of us who study theology and do apologetics. His longing for understanding, his hunger for God, and his desire to live worshipfully are challenging to me. Let’s read him together. I suspect that you will be struck by him as well.