Creation as Divine Extempore

Anselm’s Theology of the Possible, part 22

Despite Anselm’s exchange and preference of locutio for Augustine’s verbum, because of his similar emphasis on the singleness or simplicity of the Word by which God speaks both himself and creation, Boyle sees Anselm as likewise falling almost entirely within the Augustinian verbum tradition. As she characterizes the tension at the heart of Anselm’s account, the latter “recognized no grammatical inconsistency in terming the divine lovgoV locutio, then claiming that this locutio consists of one, single word.”[1] Boyle’s implied criticism of Anselm, however, seems both unwarranted and unnecessary: for starters, one could hardly expect as orthodox a writer as Anselm to countenance the idea of the divine lovgoV as being more than one (surely Boyle wouldn’t suggest that Anselm should have used locutio in the plural), and what is more, her dismissal of Anselm seems to miss the point, inasmuch as the problem (such as it is) with translating lovgoV as verbum was never the latter’s singularity but the kind of thing (namely a mere word) that it implied the divine lovgoV to be a singular instance of. A more fair and favorable construction of the Anselmian locutio, therefore, might be as follows. We have already seen how Anselm’s purpose behind his choice of locutio, in part, is to stress the linguistic and hence active side of the Augustinian verbum over its more visual, intellectualistic, and hence passive side. If so, this correlates broadly with Boyle’s indictment of verbum as a “single word, abstracted from the discourse which sermo means and its implied context of an audience,”[2] and her identification of verbum as an appropriate rendering of lovgoV only if one first accepts the questionable “Platonic dictate that the morpheme is the basic unit of language, and meaning, the computation of such signs.”[3] For Anselm, by contrast, one might say that it is precisely the unity of the divine Word that helps inspire him to see the meaning and identity of creation, not in terms of a possibilistic construction of prior divine ideas (the Platonic, “divine morphemes,” as it were), but as an organic, authentic, ad hoc and de novo (and in that sense even extemporaneous) “eloquent oration,” in which the creational speech as a whole is only possible in and with its component parts, and its parts are only possible through (because concreated with) the whole. Boyle’s observation as to how sermo, moreover, as the divine speech or conversation, more obviously implies the presence of an audience or conversation partner, comports well with the metaphysical actualism of the Anselmian locutio, according to which God’s knowledge of creation is never a merely passive, immanent, and intransitive visio of pure possibilities, but is more like a speech-act that has its terminus outside itself in the thing spoken. Thus, while Anselm may not have exactly “recover[ed] the Christian patrimony of sermo,” I submit that in his doctrine of the divine locutio we have not just the beginnings of, but significant progress towards an answer to the important question with which Boyle concudes her article: what might a theology of Christ understood as the sermo or “eloquent discourse” of God look like?


[1] Boyle, 167.

[2] Boyle, 165.

[3] Boyle, 168, citing Plato, Cratylus 421d-427d.

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