Abelard: Multiplying and Metaphorizing the Anselmian Locutio


If Anselm replaced Augustine’s plural divine ideas with the singleness of his divine locutio, Peter Abelard, in the following generation, marked a reversion back to the former Augustinian pluralism. In the process, not coincidentally, he reduced Anselm’s notion of a divine locutio to that of a mere metaphor. Tetsuro Shimizu writes:

two notable differences can be observed between Abelard and Anselm. First, Abelard only refers to ‘formae’ in the plural, and seems unaware of oneness of form or locution in God. Secondly, for him, neither the act of understanding in the human mind nor the form(s) in God are word, or locution in its proper sense, and if an authority refers to them as words, it is a metaphorical expression of thoughts or understandings. For instance, in the Theologia Christiana, Abelard explicitly claims what one may call a ‘translatio-theory’; that is, when a mental conception is called a ‘word’, it is not in accordance with the proper meaning of ‘word’, but in its transferred/metaphorical meaning (translato vocabulo). By this interpretation he can admit the existence of forms in the mind of God before creation without conceding them to be God’s words, or Word. (Tetsuro Shimizu, “Word and Esse in Anselm and Abelard,” in G.E.M Gasper and H. Kohlenberger, eds., Anselm and Abelard: Investigations and Juxtapositions (Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies [2006]), 194-5)


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