God knows creation through making creation

Anselm’s Theology of the Possible, part 8

Yet another consequence of the Anselmian turn in divine psychology and epistemology is a new significance the artisan metaphor for God’s knowledge and production of creation is able to assume in his philosophical theology. Although earlier theologians employed the artisan metaphor, in the case of Augustine, one consequence of the latter’s Platonic exemplarism was its confinement of God’s artistic creativity to the “craft” or “technicist” paradigm of what Robert Miner refers to as the divine “knowing-then-making”: insofar as creation involves a mere divine “choosing” which possible creatures, known in God’s eternal self-knowledge, he will make real, God’s act of creation contributes little to nothing to his knowledge of what he creates. By restricting God’s creative knowledge to only those things he actually creates, by contrast, Anselm may be seen to provide the basis for an alternate understanding of the artistic relationship between divine knowing and making. Expounding further on the nature of the divine utterance, he writes:

the supreme substance first said (as it were) all of creation in himself and then created it in accordance with and through that innermost utterance of his, in the way that a craftsman first conceives in his mind what he afterwards makes into a completed work in accordance with the conception of his mind.[1]

Prior to his speaking creation into existence, God first spoke “all of creation in himself,” and it is this “innermost utterance,” internal to God’s own being, that is the archetype or divine reason after which created existence is patterned. Anselm likens this immanent utterance spoken by God within himself to “the way that a craftsman first conceives in his mind what he afterwards makes.” He immediately qualifies the comparison, however, with an important disanalogy, namely the very Augustinian consideration that, whereas the human craftsman ultimately derives his artistic utterance from the world around him, “the supreme substance collected nothing at all from any other source from which he would either assemble within himself the form of the things he was going to make or bring it about that the things themselves exist.” Instead, God’s creative utterance, as spoken within himself, therefore originates entirely within himself.

(For an important explanation and qualification of this argument, see the next post.)


[1] Monologion 11.

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