“That God is whatever is better to be than not to be and that, existing through Himself, alone, He makes all other things from nothing” (Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogion, ch. 5).
Such is the title of Anselm’s 5th chapter of the Proslogion, where Anselm offers us a quick and easy reminder of who God is. It’s a short little chapter in the Proslogion, but a chapter that is vital nonetheless. Here, Anselm captures several important ideas in the Christian understanding of God, such as what God is like, how God exists, and what God has done in creation. Let me highlight 3 important truths that he sets forth.
- God is the greatest of all beings. Anselm labored earlier in the Proslogion to make this point, particularly in chapter 2 and 3. There, we saw that God was that than which a greater cannot be thought, or put more simply, God is the greatest conceivable being. He makes the same point by simply saying “That God is whatever is better to be than not to be,” and that God is that which “nothing greater can be thought.”
- God exists in and through Himself. That is, God exists by Himself, in Himself, and apart from all else. He is a self-existing being. We typically refer to this as the doctrine of aseity. Anselm reminds us of this truth saying, “But what are You save that supreme being, existing through Your self alone.” Admittedly, this is a hard idea to grasp and make sense of, but it does express what Christianity says about God. It’s extremely hard to imagine a self-existing being, and yet a moments worth of reflection necessitates it. Unless there be such a being that exists as Anselm claims here in the Proslogion, we are left with an infinite regress of causes which is impossible and absurd.
- God is the maker of all things. As the one who exists by Himself, He is also the one who makes all things. And as Anselm tell us, “made everything else from nothing.” Once again, this is hard to imagine. And yet, this portrait fits our ever advancing picture of the cosmos as outlined by modern science. There once was nothing, and then there was something. Anselm reminds us of the explanation given by the Christian faith. God spoke, and the world was (Gen. 1:1).
I continue to be grateful for Anselm and his work. The 5th chapter is not as well known as many other chapters in the Proslogion, but it reminds us who God is and helps to marvel at His nature. For those who want to understand the Christian faith, it is a fantastic resource to consider.