The divine utterance as the possibility of any possible creation

Anselm’s Theology of the Possible, part 12

Yet another difference between Anselm’s divine utterance and Augustine’s divine ideas might be mentioned. Whereas Augustine firmly located the divine ideas in the mind of God, in keeping with the middle-Platonist tradition, Augustine failed to expressly identify the divine ideas with the divine essence itself. Anselm is not so remiss, as he does not hesitate to affirm that the“utterance of the supreme essence” by which God makes all things “is nothing other than the supreme essence.”[1] This unequivocal identification of the divine utterance with the divine essence, moreover, informs Anselm’s views on the question of the unity or plurality of the divine utterance. He reasons: “if this utterance is consubstantial with the supreme nature in such a way that they are not two, but one spirit, then of course that utterance is supremely simple, just as the supreme nature is. Therefore, it does not consist of several words; rather, it is one Word, through whom all things were made.”[2] Much as Augustine did in his De Trinitate, therefore, in the place of a plurality of Augustinian divine ideas, Anslem substitutes the unity of the divine Word as the principle by which God creates all that he does.

Even Anselm’s argument for why the divine utterance, more than being God’s utterance of creation, is first and foremost an utterance of himself, speaks to the question whether God has ideas of merely possible beings. Insofar as the only possible creation contained in the divine utterance is the creation that God actualy makes, if God were never to create, no possible creation would ever be uttered by him. This understandably leads Anselm to ask,

But then if nothing existed apart from him, what would he understand? Would he not understand himself? Indeed, how can it even be thought that the supreme wisdom at some time fails to understand himself…? Therefore, just as that supreme spirit is eternal, so too he eternally remembers and understands himself after the likeness of the rational mind… Now if he understands himself eternally, he utters himself eternally. And if he utters himself eternally, his Word exists with him eternally. Therefore, whether he is thought to exist without any other essence existing, or along with other things that exist, his Word, coeternal with him, must exist with him.[3]

For the Augustinian tradition of divine ideas, by comparison, even if God were never to create, he would always know himself, and in knowing himself, know all the purported ways in which his essence could be (even if it never were) imitated by his possible creatures. Significantly, Anselm does not take this obvious and available route, yet he seems quite aware that his refusal to include merely possible creatures within the divine utterance prompts the question as to what God would speak if he did not speak creation. His answer is that in such a case God would be speaking himself, his divine Word, and that’s all. In Anselm, in short, there is simply no notion of God knowing himself as imitable by his possible creatures. Prior to and apart from God’s actual determination to create, it is the divine Word and the divine Word alone that is the “possibility” of any possible creation.


[1] Monologion 12.

[2] Monologion 30.

[3] Monologion 32.

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