musings on God-truth, contemplation and joy

in seminary, we had to have 18 credits in philosophy before we could begin graduate theological studies. (today’s seminarians need 30 credits). since i only had 10 credits, i struggled to get up to speed– the higher level philosophy classes were a real cross for me. each philosopher creates his own language and framework to understand the world. as i read them, i found it often very difficult to really follow.

but i liked st anselm! of course he was a bishop and primarily a “theologian” since his focus was God. but anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God is time tested through the centuries. its beauty is in its profound simplicity. here it is:

“Anselm began with the concept of God as that than which nothing greater can be conceived. To think of such a being as existing only in thought and not also in reality involves a contradiction, since a being that lacks real existence is not a being than which none greater can be conceived. A yet greater being would be one with the further attribute of existence. Thus the unsurpassably perfect being must exist; otherwise it would not be unsurpassably perfect.” ( )

“that than which nothing greater can be conceived” is key. to me, it echoes many of the scriptures– like psalm 139 and the book of job– that speak of the ultimate mystery of God and human’s inability to know fully this mystery. if i believe that i totally understand God, then it is a God of MY making; i make God in MY image.

anselm wrote: “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. I do not seek to understand 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.

one of anselm’s famous quotes is: “i believe so that i may understand.” on it’s surface, it can be seen as a classic “begging the question” fallacy. but for anselm, this is the natural consequence of God’s ontological existence: without belief, we cannot understand the depths of God. for me, it is more about the search for truth. we can only glimpse the truth when we are committed to it. we “find” God when we are committed to God. in faith terms: this is what we experience in the journey of relationship with God, ourselves and others.

by scriptural extension: if God is love, we can only “know” God in the framework of love relationships. in order to deepen our relationships, we must broaden what we know of “love”

i also like this related quote from anselm: “I have written the little work that follows . . . in the role of one who strives to raise his mind to the contemplation of God and one who seeks to understand what he believes.” contemplation of God is the goal. and we can only strive toward it– not achieve it. could contemplation, then, be the greatest form of our relationship with God? is contemplation the highest form of love?

lastly, in the following prayer, anselm twice states the primacy of joy in this relationship. so, let’s close my musings of today with anselm’s intercession for grace, love, truth, contemplation and joy through his prayer:

My God, I pray that I may so know you and love you that I may rejoice in you. And if I may not do so fully in this life let me go steadily on to the day when I come to that fullness . . . Let me receive That which you promised through your truth, that my joy may be full.

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