Creation: The Utterance of God’s Utterance

Anselm’s Theology of the Possible, part 13

The previous post looked at Anselm’s treatment of the question as to what God would have uttered if he hadn’t uttered any creation. The reality, however, is that God of course has uttered a creation, and as Anselm further stresses, it is not by two different utterances but one and the same Word that God “utters both himself and what he made.” In contrast to a later thinker such as William of Ockham, then, who will argue that the divine ideas after which God patterned creation are themselves creatures, Anselm reasons that because it is the Word who is the very “image and figure and character” of God, it follows that “he does not utter creation by a word of creation” but by “by his own Word.”[1] Anselm anticipates the question this naturally gives rise to, namely how God can speak both himself and creation by one and the same Word, “especially since that Word is coeternal with him who utters it, whereas creation is not coeternal with him.”[2] It is in this context that Anselm offers the argument, mentioned earlier, that creation is not just the product of the divine “craft,” but in some sense pre-exists in, and therefore pre-exists as, God’s craft, “as nothing other than the craft itself.” When Anselm says further that “when that supreme spirit utters himself, he utters all created things,” one may detect an implied hierarchy or order of dependence between God’s self-utterance and his creation-utterance: God only speaks creation in and while speaking his Word, but not vice-versa. In other words, the reason God can speak both himself and his creation in one and the same Word is that it is precisely in speaking himself that God first can and then does speak his creation.[3] As was said before, it is the Word who is the very possibility of any possible creation: God utters himself, an utterance that is his Word, and yet an utterance that, in its divinity, undertakes its own uttering and it is that utterance of the divine utterance—an “uttered utterance”—that is creation (in Mark Jordan’s apt summary of Aquinas’s related teaching, creation exists as the “Word’s word”[4]). In more familiar, human terms, God neither speaks himself in “one breath” and then creation in “another breath,” nor are his own self and creation two different things that he manages to say in a “single breath” (and before he “runs out of breath,” as we might say). God is able to speak himself and creation in one utterance because creation is God’s own utterance’s utterance, so that in uttering himself, God necessarily utters anything that his own Word might also (freely) utter. In sum, it is in and while uttering himself that God utters creation. The utterance that is creation is an intonation, reverberation, or even improvisation upon the utterance that is the divine Word. It is in this way that God is able to speak his Word and creation in the same utterance (the utterance that is his Word) without the utterance that is his Word being the same as the utterance that is his creation.

[1] Monologion 33.

[2] Monologion 34.

[3] Visser and Williams, for example, interpret Anselm this way: “Thus, in uttering himself, God utters the creatures that exist in him.” Anselm, 129.

[4] Jordan, “The Intelligibility of the World and the Divine Ideas in Aquinas,” 31

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