Anselm’s divine locutio

Anselm’s Theology of the Possible, part 2

The previous post noted the absence of any explicit reference to or accommodation of Augustine’s doctrine of divine ideas in the writings of Anselm. Instead, in Monologion 10 Anselm develops an alternative that, while partly inspired by Augustine, is nevertheless uniquely his own, the Anselmian doctrine of the divine utterance (locutio):

Now what is that form of things that existed in his reason before the things to be created, other than an utterance of those things in his reason, just as, when a craftsman is going to make some work of his art, he first says it within himself by a conception of his mind? Now by an “utterance” of the mind or reason, I do not mean what happens when one thinks of the words that signify those things, but what happens when the things themselves (no matter whether they are yet to exist or already exist) are examined within the mind by the gaze of thought.[1]

According to Anselm, prior to their making, creatures were nothing on the one hand and yet existed in the reason of God in the form of a divine “utterance” on the other. As Sandra Visser and Thomas Williams observe, given their similar function, “[i]t seems natural at first to suppose that what Anselm calls God’s utterance of creation is more or less the same as what Augustine calls divine ideas,” but Anselm in fact “develops the account in ways that modify the standard doctrine of divine ideas beyond recognition.”[2] As we shall see, for Anselm this divine locutio through which God utters his creation will turn out to be none other than the divine verbum, the eternal Word and Son of God whom Augustine, in his less abstract and more theological moments, as we saw previously, identified as the one true divine likeness of all creation. Given his expression of debt particularly to Augustine’s De Trinitate in the prologue to the Monologion, accordingly, it is perhaps unsurprising that Anselm’s own account of divine exemplarity should be found bypassing Augustine’s more Platonic reckoning of the divine archetype of creation in favor of the latter’s more Trinitarian and Christological formulation.


[1] Monologion 10.

[2] Visser and Williams, Anselm, 124.

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One thought on “Anselm’s divine locutio

  1. Pingback: Mental words are active, ideas merely passive | The Flame Imperishable

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