God only utters what he actually creates

Anselm’s Theology of the Possible, part 5

For Anselm, God’s knowledge of his creation in its first instance is not a passive survey of what is merely possible, but an active verbalization or articulation of what he intends to create. Of the two aforementioned models of divine cognition found in Augustine’s De Trinitate, accordingly, it is possible to see Anselm’s doctrine of the divine utterance as interpreting Augustine in favor of the verbal over the visual model. Consistent with this, and unlike the Augustinian ideas (which are generally understood as accounting not only for God’s actual but for all of his allegedly possible creatures as well), Anselm makes God’s utterance encompass only those things he actually does make. This is hinted at in the passage cited earlier from the Monologion when Anselm implies that God’s utterance includes those things that “are yet to exist or already exist,” with no mention of those putative possible things that will never actually exist. Later in the Monologion Anselm is even more insistent on the actualist dimension of the divine utterance when he says that “there can be no word of something that neither existed, nor exists, nor will exist.”[1] Finally, and as we shall examine more fully later, in his unfinished Lambeth Fragments, Anselm explicitly denies the existence of purely possible beings, something that God could but in fact does not make. Coincident, then, with his shift from the Augustinian idea to the Anselmian utterance as the metaphor of choice for creation’s relationship to the divine mind is Anselm’s simultaneous contraction of the available objects of divine cognition to only those things God actually makes. Where Augustinian thinking or intellecting God purportedly has his mind full of those things he can but never will make, Anselm’s speaking or uttering God speaks and hence has knowledge of only those things he actually does make.


[1] Monologion ch. 32. As Visser and Williams have put it, for Anselm, “[i]f God were never to create, he would never utter any creature.” Visser and Williams, Anselm, 128.

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One thought on “God only utters what he actually creates

  1. Pingback: Why God has to create his own supremacy | The Flame Imperishable

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