Anselm’s “Ontological Argument” as Eucatastrophe

Last week I posted on Tolkien’s eucatastrophe-like account of the circumstances under which he first made the connection between the literary eucatastrophes found in all true fairy-stories and their ultimate fulfillment or realization in the real-world (“primary world”) events of the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. On my end, what actually prompted (“eucatastrophically,” you might say) that particular reflection was my re-reading of Anselm’s Proslogion, in which Anselm likewise describes his discovery of the famous argument at the heart of his work as an unexpected “sudden joyous turn” (as Tolkien might put it). In the prologue to the Proslogion, Anselm comments on his dissatisfaction with his earlier attempt at offering a “meditation on the reason of faith,” the Monologion, which he describes as having been “constructed out of a chaining together of many arguments.” His goal in the Proslogion, accordingly, was (to borrow again from Tolkien’s phraseology) the “ray of light” that was to be “glimpsed” between “the very chinks” of the Monologion’s “chain of arguments”; as Anselm himself puts it, he wondered

whether it might be possible to find a single argument that needed nothing but itself alone for proof, that would by itself be enough to show that God really exists; that he is the supreme good, who depends on nothing else, but on whom all things depend for their being and for their well-being; and whatever we believe about the divine nature. (Williams trans.)

Despite his aspirations, Anselm’s discovery of this “single argument” was a long time in coming. He goes on to recount his intellectual struggle, despair, and even attempted abandonment of the project:

And so I often turned my thoughts to this with great diligence. Sometimes I thought I could already grasp what I was looking for, and sometimes it escaped my mind completely. Finally, I gave up hope. I decided to stop looking for something that was impossible to find. But when I tried to stifle that thought altogether, lest by occupying my mind with useless speculation it should keep me from things I could actually accomplish, it began to hound me more and more, although I resisted and fought against it. (emphasis added)

At last, however, came the break-through, Anselm’s intellectual eucatastrophe:

Then one day, when my violent struggle against its hounding had worn me down, the thing I had despaired of finding presented itself in the very clash of my thoughts, so that I eagerly embraced the thought I had been taking such pains to drive away.

The “single argument” Anselm discovered, of course, was his famous definition of God as “that than which nothing greater can be thought,” from which premise Anselm was able to derive not only his famous proof for God’s existence (e.g., God cannot be thought not to exist because a thing that can’t not exist is “greater” than something that can not exist), but such attributes as his eternality, omnipotence, and even his triune nature.

(To be continued….)

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