From Necessity to Fittingness: Anselm Goes Aesthetic

Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, part 2

Another similarity to the Monologion is Anselm’s explanation in the opening chapter of the Cur Deus Homo that the impetus behind the present investigation was the request made by others that he should provide the “rational bases (rationes) of a particular problem of our faith,” viz., the problem of the necessity of the Incarnation and Atonement of Christ. Yet a subtle but important difference between the method of the Monologion and the approach he will take in the Cur Deus Homo quickly emerges. In the Monologion, the criterion for demonstrating what Christian’s believe about God was simply what “rational necessity (rationis necessitas) would tersely prove to be the case, and truth’s clarity (veritatis claritas) would openly manifest to be the case.” At the same time, Anselm had also conceded that, even if his conclusions followed as “a necessary consequence of reasons which will seem good to me, it is not thereby said to be absolutely necessary, but is said only to be able to appear necessary for the time being” (Monol. 1). Anselm reiterates precisely this point, moreover, in the Cur Deus Homo when he says that, “even though I seem to prove [the Incarnation] rationally, it should be accepted as certain only in the sense that it appears to me for the time being to be thus, until God somehow reveals the matter to me more fully.” New to the Cur Deus Homo, however, is the unprecedented way Anselm now casts this whole notion of a provisional, “possible” necessity in more overtly aesthetic terms. He mentions, for example, how his acquaintances, more than merely finding his arguments logically compelling, also “say that these rational considerations please (placere) them; and they regard them as satisfactory (satisfacere),” and that they “make their request not in order to approach faith by way of reason but in order to delight (delectentur) in the comprehension and contemplation of the doctrines which they believe” (ch. 1). As for the present topic concerning the necessity of the Incarnation and Atonement, Anselm deems that the solution, while difficult, is nevertheless one that is “intelligible to everyone and is commendable (amabilis) because of the utility and elegance of the reasoning (rationis pulchritudinem).” For Anselm, as it will turn out, inasmuch as God is the inventive creator of his own possibilities—and therefore also of his own necessities—so proving the truths about God will inevitably involve considerations of beauty and aesthetic “fittingness” (convenientia) as much as those of pure logic or rational necessity.

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