Anselm is the most important Christian theologian in the West between Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. His two great accomplishments are his Proslogium (in which he undertakes to show that Reason requires that men should believe in God), and his Cur Deus Homo? (in which he undertakes to show that Divine Love responding to human rebelliousness requires that God should become a man).
In 1078 he was elected abbot of Bec. The previous year, he completed a work called the Monologium, in which he argues for the existence of God from the existence of degrees of perfection (Aquinas's Fourth Way is a variation of this argument).
In 1087, while still at Bec, he produced his Proslogium, an outline of his "ontological argument" for the existence of God. Taking as his text the opening of Psalm 14 ("The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God."), Anselm undertakes to show that the fool is contradicting himself -- that the concept of God is unique in that anyone who understands what is meant by the question, "Does God exist?" will see that the answer must be "Yes." The argument has received mixed reviews from the start. Almost at once another theologian, Gaunilon, wrote, "A Reply on Behalf of the Fool." Thomas Aquinas rejected Anselm's argument as inconclusive (and is followed in this by most Roman Catholic writers today). Kant practically made his reputation as a philosopher by explaining in detail what he thought was wrong with Anselm's argument. On the other hand, Leibniz and others have thought it valid. My Plato professor (R E Allen), no friend of Christianity, says of the argument: "It is one of the most exasperating arguments in the history of philosophy. Every time that you think you have finally refuted it, you end up finding something wrong with your refutation."
Modern defenders of the argument include Goedel (the writer on mathematical consistency and provability), Hartshorne, and C Anthony Anderson (formerly of the University of Minnesota, now of the University of California at Santa Barbara). (Anderson is an atheist. I asked him how he reconciled his atheism with his defense of Anselm, and he said, "I am an atheist on faith. Surely you have met theists who believed in God on faith, despite knowing arguments on the other side that they could not really answer.") For an introduction, see the book God and Other Minds, by Alvin Plantinga. For Goedel's version of the argument, and a reply pointing out a flaw in the argument, and for Anderson's restatement of Goedel's argument in terms that avoid the original flaw, see Anderson's article, "Some Emendations of Goedel's Ontological Proof" in the magazine Philosophy and Faith, volume 7, July 1990, pp 291-303. Note that this article and the two earlier ones to which it refers all make extensive use of symbolic logical notation, and will be heavy reading for those not accustomed to said notation.
King William II of England had no fondness for the Church, and at the death of Lanfranc he kept the See of Canterbury vacant until he was gravely ill, whereon he promised to let Anselm be made Archbishop. Anselm was made Archbishop (4 December 1093), the King recovered, and the two began to dispute the extent of the King's right to intervene in Church matters. Anselm went into exile in 1097 and remained in Italy for three years until the King died in 1100.
During that time Anselm was instrumental in settling the doubts of the Greek bishops of southern Italy about the doctrine of the Filioque. -James E. Kiefer
For a discussion of the Filioque (the principal doctrinal difference between Eastern and Western Christians), send the message
Get Creed FilioqueTo the address ASU.EDU, or consult the Web page at