Inspired by Dr. William Wilson and Dr. Jorge Secada

The Project of Anselm’s Proslogion

O.G. Rose
40 min readMay 21, 2022

Advancing beyond “the argument” to “the project,” how Chapters 3 and 15 matter just as much as Chapter 2, and the effort to establish “the internal consistency” of Joy

Photo by Christoph Schulz

Why Does Anselm’s Ontological Argument Haunt Us?” hoped to establish why Anselm is epistemologically significant, and why his work is evidence of claims made in The True Isn’t the Rational. That paper is presented in (Re)constructing “A Is A” (Part 1), and here, I want to consider Anselm theologically. I think the fullness of Anselm’s project is often missed: professors teach “The Ontological Argument” (a phrase we receive mainly from Kant), found in Chapter 2, and that’s the limits of the discussion, right in my view when we’ve arrived at the start of what Anselm wants to accomplish.

Audio Summary

This paper was inspired by Dr. William Wilson and Dr. Jorge Secada, who presented on Anselm in March and April of 2022, as hosted by the Anselm Institute at The University of Virginia. Scholars of this quality are rare, and I am in their debt for their work and insight.


Anselm makes a few key moves in the Proslogion that need to be considered together to grasp the full range of his thought. Generally, Anselm is believed to simply embellish on his points from Chapter 2 throughout the whole Proslogion, but I’m not so sure, my attention especially falling on 2, 3, and 15. Consider:

1. God is ‘something than which nothing greater can be thought’ (Chapter 2).
2. God ‘cannot even be thought not to exist (Chapter 3).
3. God is ‘something greater than can be thought’ (Chapter 15)

Aren’t Chapters 2, 3, and 15 just repeating the same point? It seems that way, but there are subtle differences. 2 tells us that God “is the greatest of all possible thoughts,” while 3 tells us God cannot not exist in thought. Chapter 2 tells us our goal, while 3 tells us we cannot imagine this goal as not existing, which would tell us that we have reason to seek the goal of Chapter 2. And why wouldn’t we want to see(k) it, seeing as “it’s the greatest of all possible thoughts?” Chapter 2 gives us motivation (assuming we can associate “great” with “good”), and Chapter 3 functions as a source of hope: it means we cannot not think of “the best of all possible entities” as existing. At the same time though, is 3 a trap? Are we stuck with God? So perhaps we might think, but is it a prison to be stuck in paradise? Perhaps.

Audio Summary

God is the greatest possible being and cannot be thought not to exist, but then Chapter 15 is hurled at us: we are told God cannot be thought. What? Doesn’t this deconstruct 2 and 3? A good question, but this is where Chapter 3 is important: we cannot think of God as not existing, even though our natural response to the idea of “a thing which cannot be thought” would be to say, “Oh, well then it must not exist.” Anselm removes from us that option, which is especially necessary seeing as God is an entity we cannot see, smell, touch, taste, or hear (Chapter 17). Again, when faced with such paradox, we would usually conclude “the entity is contradictory and nonexistent,” but Anselm informs us that we cannot conclude from “the paradox” of God’s being “to us” that therefore God doesn’t exist, which means Anselm “forces us to face and think the paradox” (whereas normally we might not bother). In the case of God, the inability to fully know God cannot be taken as proof that God doesn’t exist, whereas the inability to fully know a pizza or an island could easily function as such. God is distinct as an entity relative to which we cannot conclude nonexistence from unknowability.

Now, just because God is an entity which we cannot say “doesn’t exist” because God is unknowable (to some degree), it does not follow that the concept of “God” beyond a very general category is “internally consistent”: that requires additional work. Well, this is the work Anselm sets out to do, for we can understand portions of the Proslogion as efforts to establish “the internal consistency” of the Abrahamic God.

If the concept of “God” entails “essential contradictions,” then Chapters 2, 3, and 15 do not take us anywhere. If, for example, an omnipotent being must do everything, then God must be capable of suicide, and thus God must be dead, and so it doesn’t matter if “God cannot not exist”: the concept is self-effacing. This is why the sections beyond those most cited are critical to Anselm’s project (not mere argument). (I am much more attracted to the language of “The Ontological Project” than “The Ontological Argument,” personally.)

Does Anselm succeed at establishing “the internal consistency” of “God?” Perhaps, perhaps not — we will explore that in Section II — but assuming Anselm does succeed, Chapters 2, 3, and 15 can be combined together to posit a few possible implications. I’m not sure if these can be proven or if they all follow, but they are interesting to consider:

1. There is motivation to think God.

2. We can only think of God in terms of “God, therefore,” not “If God, then.”

3. If we think of God as not existing, we are not thinking about God.

4. We cannot not think of God. If we say, “This is too confusing, so I won’t think about it,” we have uttered a “practical” impossibility. (God is everything, and if we are thinking, we are thinking about a thing).

5. The greatest possible thought we can think is not God, though it is “most like God” (relative to us). The best we can think “is like God” (as made in God’s “image and likeness”).

6. It is not possible for us to think a thought which must exist, for only God must exist, and God cannot be thought. We can only “think we think God” and keep trying.

7. Thought can “reach toward” God but “never reach God,” but thought couldn’t “reach toward God” if God didn’t exist. We must further conclude that thought “reaches toward” God because God cannot not exist, and the only thing which cannot be thought which thought can “reach toward” that must exist is God. What cannot be reached must exist or it wouldn’t be there not to be reached. (Now, we could mislabel “nothingness’ as “space between,” so this alone doesn’t prove God, but it’s also the case that we cannot conflate “unreachable” with “nonexistent”).

8. What can be experienced must exist to some degree, but it doesn’t follow that what must exist must be experienceable.

9. An “unthinkable entity” must exist, for it cannot be given existence by thought and yet is still a thing. God is the only “unthinkable entity,” as such.

And so on. It would seem that we must think of God as the greatest possible thought, necessarily existent in thought, and also impossible to fully think. Considering 2, 3, and 15 together, we are given a picture where God is the greatest possible thought, that God must be thought of as existing, and yet we cannot ever think of God, only think we do. We cannot not believe God exists though, and if God exists that means we “ought” to seek him, and thus Anselm has presented us with a logic that will keep us forever seeking God. We can only prove or disprove God from our knees, and once there, there is always reason to stay kneeling. If God “is the best of all possible things” though, this is a good problem to face.

I stress Chapters 2, 3, and 15 here because I believe the “forward push” of Anselm’s “Ontological Meditation” is often missed. “Anselm’s proof” is not simply something we can learn and then be done with, but something Anselm describes as requiring continual vigilance and “re-contemplation.” If the “endlessness” of the work strikes us as evidence that it is a hoax, and if the ineffability of God makes us think something similar (Chapter 17), Anselm has given us Chapter 3 so that we understand that we cannot draw these conclusions. We’re “trapped,” in a way, in a “triadic structure” which Anselm has placed around us while we kneeled. But God is the greatest possible thought which we cannot not think of as existing, so why would we want to rise? Anselm has surrounded us with a garden.


Let us now review “a map” of Anselm’s famous book to help establish if indeed he succeeds at defending “the internal consistency” of “God.” If this cannot be established, the combined force of 2, 3, and 15 will be for not. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I think we can define Anselm’s text into a zoomed-in “micro-map” and then explore “a macro-map.” We will start with the small then take a big picture view.

Micro-Map of the Proslogion

Chapter 1: A meditation where Anselm clears his mind to make possible contemplation. Contemplation without meditation is merely thinking.


Chapter 2: God is ‘something than which nothing greater can be thought.’ Furthermore, ‘there is no doubt that something that which a greater cannot be thought exists both in the understanding and in reality,’ which is to say God can only be thought of as real.

Chapter 3: If we are thinking of a God who isn’t real, we are not thinking about God.

Chapter 4: God cannot be thought to not exist, and therefore one must be “a fool” to say God doesn’t exist. (Perhaps God doesn’t, but we cannot think this intelligently.)


Chapter 5: A meditation on how God is everything that ‘is better to be than not to be’ (just, truthful, happy, etc.). Thus, to seek God is to seek “everything that is better to be.”


Chapter 6: God can know even though God doesn’t have a body, for perception falls under omniscience.

Chapter 7: God is omnipotent even though he cannot lie (for example), for lying is a result of a “weakness,” of an inability to tell the truth. God can do everything which entails “power,” and it is only a matter of speech to make it sound like deceit, suicide, etc. entail “power,” when really these are “weaknesses.”

Chapter 8: God is able to be merciful and yet not feel sorrow (a “weakness”) because God is merciful “to us” in being “Who Saves the Sorrowful.” God is Salvation, per se, versus God “feel like He needs to Save us.” God does not worry.


Chapter 9: A meditation, similar to Chapter 1, in which Anselm clears his mind so that he can grasp how God can save the wicked and yet still be just, as explored in Chapters 10 and 11.

*The question of how mercy and justice coincide seems particularly important to Anselm. Perhaps this is because, if they do not, we have no reason to think “the greatest of all possible beings” would try to reach out to us through “attributes” and “manifestations.” In fact, since we are wicked, if grace and justice cannot coincide, there would be reason to think God wouldn’t try to know us. Hence, this is a notably important paradox to unravel.


Chapter 10: It is just to punish the wicked ‘in keeping with their merits,’ but it is also just to spare them, ‘in keeping with [God’s] goodness.’

Chapter 11: God does not violate Himself in how he judges the wicked and the good, for judgment comes from God, and so we cannot even say who is “wicked.” Thus, we cannot say that God has ever “saved the wicked.”

*Note that this chapter ends with ‘Thus you are indeed percipient, omnipotent, merciful, and impassible, just as you are living, wise, good, happy, eternal, and whatever it is better to be than not to be.’ Anselm here seems to be looking back over his work and affirming that he has indeed managed to maintain “the internal consistency” of God, a moment which brings the beginning of Genesis to mind.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter 12: Somewhat a meditation. God is the ground of his own being, a thought which is justified for “the internal consistency” of God has been successfully maintained. No other entities could “up-hold’ the paradoxes that God does and those paradoxes not become effacing contradictions, and so God is “uniquely” “the ground of his own being.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter 13: Since God necessarily exists, God is not bound by space and time, because spacetime doesn’t have to “necessarily exist” (“necessity” and “transcendence” are deeply connected). God is also uniquely “unbound,” for God is ‘wholly everywhere at once,’ while the soul isn’t bound to a place but can still only be in one place at a time.

Chapter 14: God is ‘life itself, light wisdom, goodness, eternal happiness and happy eternity,’ and yet we do not see God because we cannot handle seeing God. God sees us though, and this is why there is a relation despite our finitude. We “see” God in seeing manifestations and attributes of God which could only exist if God existed (as will be described in Section 5 of this paper).

*We can note here a sense of what it means to say “God is simple,” for “God is the greatest of all possible beings.” This idea is simple, not hard to grasp “as an idea,” and yet thinking the “greatest of all possible beings” is impossible.

Chapter 15: God is ‘something greater than can be thought.’ Where then should our mind go, now that we are stuck on our knees? We cannot give up on the idea of God (Chapter 3), so the inability to think God fully cannot mean we stop thinking. Thus, we must “think up.”


(Attempt at Ascension on his own)

Chapter 16: God is ‘the unapproachable light,’ and we cannot see God because God ‘is too much for [us].’ God is known indirectly, like ‘the light of the sun,’ for we cannot look ‘at that light directly.’ If we are to “ascend” toward God then, it must be “in-directly” (and “in His direction,” per se).

Chapter 17: Indeed, God entails within Himself the five senses, but God ‘[has] these qualities in [Himself] in [His] own ineffable way; and [He has] given them in their own perceptible way to the things [God] created. But the senses of [our] soul have been stiffened, dulled, and obstructed by the longstanding weakness of sin.’

Chapter 18: An acknowledgment of our inability to “ascend,” even though that is all we can do “from our knees,” which Anselm makes “epistemically irresponsible” for us not to fall to and stay on. Critically, Anselm asks from his place of failure ‘What are you, Lord, what are you?’ Anselm lists off general constructs (‘you are life […] wisdom […] truth,’ etc.), but then his posture suggests an openness to more.

*Anselm claims that God entails ‘no parts in [Him, that God is] not a plurality,’ a critical move in preparation for discussing “The Trinity,” another paradox which can tempt us to think of God “as not existing,” but again that is an option Chapter 3 will not allow of us.


(End of failed ascension in favor of a meditation that “all is one” in God and that thus, to Him, we are “already Ascended.”)

Chapter 19: God is a radical unity, and thus is “eternal,” for God is divided between past, present, and future. This would suggest we are not divided from God by time, and critically Anselm ends the section saying ‘nothing contains you, but you contain all things.’ This would include us, which is very important, given how 18 stressed our inability to reach God on our own.

*Chapter 13 makes it clear God is not bound by space; here, God is not bound by time. Thus, we are not bound from God at all.

Chapter 20: God is ‘beyond all things’ not in having nothing to do with them, but in that ‘they can in no way exist without [God], whereas [God does] not exist any less even if they return to nothingness.’ Anselm also stressed how eternal entities like the soul are still not equal to God (similar to Chapter 13), for God is ‘always present somewhere they have not yet arrived’ (which is to say souls had “embodied moments” in which all time was not present to them, whereas God has “always already” had eternity available to Him).

*Notice how both 19 and 20 stress a lack of division in God, which is comforting after our failures in 18.

Chapter 21: Eternity is ‘an age’ versus “a collection of ages,” for there is no division in God. This would suggest we are not divided from God even though we are “in the ages.”


Chapter 22: A meditation. God alone is the only entity which is entirely what God is (‘you alone […] are what you are’): God is not divided in time or space, which means that whatever God is, God already “is.”

*Thus, if God is “with us” ever, God is always “fully” with us, which suggests that if it doesn’t seem like God is “fully with us,” we must be responsible, suggesting our “Fallenness.”

**This arguably announces the only time when God is clearly Christian in Anselm’s argument. Up until now, Anselm’s thinking could apply to Allah with some adjustments. We can see Anselm hence moving from the general to the particular, but this “particularization” seems to have required “The Fall” of Chapter 18.


Chapter 23: Anselm explains how “The Trinity” can be “a many and yet a one” (a notably daring move to make after Chapter 22)

*If God can entail “a many and a one,” there is hope for us, for there is “space in God” for us (without God being differentiated).

Chapter 24: God is “a unified many,” which we should expect “the best of all possible things” to be, seeing as if ‘particular goods are delightful […] how delightful [must be] that good which contains the joyfulness of all goods.’ A God who wasn’t Trinitarian would be “less good” than a God who was, Anselm suggests.

Chapter 25: In God we will find ‘such goods of both body and soul that ‘neither eye has seen nor ear heard nor the human heart’ conceived’ (1 Corinthians 2:9), which is further reason why God must be greater than thought, because otherwise God would entail goods we could conceive in finite terms (which aren’t as good as “infinite goods”). It makes sense that “the greatest of all possible Joys” would transcend thought, for that Joy is God and God transcends thought (Chapter 15).

*Chapter 25 is the longest section of the book, which suggests Anselm is overwhelmed with the bliss and glory of God. Also, we should note how many verses and references to Scripture there are in 26, which suggests that Anselm is no longer trying to “ascend by his own power” like in Chapter 18. Now, he is relying on Revelation, which is God’s effort of reaching and pulling us to Him. The “formal move” is then matched with a blissful tone, while despair characterized 18. The verses used in 18 were all about despair and sin, until Psalm 25:7, at which point Anselm began to be “pulled out of the pit” because Anselm turned his face to God.


Chapter 26: Anselm has “rationally” concluded that everything leading up to 26 “follows,” and so one question remains: from our knees, we ask, “Is this the ‘fullness of joy’ that You promise?” God must tell us, for we cannot know. And so, on our knees, we wait.


And so it goes. Let us now examine a “macro-map” of the text, for we will divide the Proslogion into Seven Movements.

Macro-Map of the Proslogion

Chapter 1 is a meditation to prepare the mind for contemplating God.

First Movement (2–4):
I cannot think You aren’t real.

Chapter 5 is a meditation on “What God must be” as the greatest of all possible beings. Determining these goals is necessary, like defining terms, for otherwise we wouldn’t know for what we searched.

*This is a transition from thinking “God as not not existing” to thinking “God as existing to Himself,” hence why 5 entails further thoughts on how God is that ‘which nothing greater can be thought.’

Second Movement (6–8):
You entail no contradictions which would make You impossible.

Chapter 9 is a meditation preparing Anselm to think on how God is both just and merciful, which is particularly important, because if God wasn’t somehow both, God would not relate to us in us being wicked and/or imperfect.

*There is a transition here from thinking “God to Himself” to thinking can “God relate to us,” hence why 9 entails further thoughts on God’s “internal consistency.”

Third Movement (10–12*):
I cannot find reason for why You wouldn’t relate to me.

Chapter 12 feels like a meditation but it is less clear. Similarly, it feels like a transition but also part of the Third Movement. I struggle to locate the start of the Third Movement, for it feels more “blurred” with the Fourth Movement, thought that might be “formally appropriate” given the content of Chapter 13, in which God is understood as unbound by space.

*Transitions seems to weaken at this point.

Fourth Movement (13–15):
You are unbound, and so we must be relating, and yet I don’t perceive us as relating because You transcend thought.

Fifth Movement (16–18):
I cannot approach You or sense You, and if I try, I fall back into darkness. And yet You must be there, for You are not bound by space — unless perhaps You are bound by time?

Sixth Movement (19–21):
You are in eternity, in all moments at the same time. I cannot think You don’t exist, and You, totally unbound, must entail “You and I” together, and so I cannot not think we are together.

*Transitions seem to return, which is “formally” very interesting, for the Seventh Movement ceases to reflect on how God is not divided. Here, we seem to begin discussing the possibility of transitioning into God by His grace.

Chapter 22 is a meditation on what God “must be” which gathers up together all the previous sections which lacked “transitions” (Movements 3–6). The heading of Chapter 22 is ‘That he alone is what he is and who he is,’ which suggests an individuation and separation of God, and yet we just suggested there are “no divisions in God.” Thus, we must be part of that “alone-ness” somehow, even though not fully. We cannot not believe in God, and thus we cannot not believe we are somehow incompletely “part of God.”

Seventh Movement (23–25):
You are a We, as we should expect because many goods together are better than one good as itself. Since You are a We, we can be part of You, as indeed we must be, given that You are not bound.

Chapter 26 is the capstone. Anselm started Chapter 1 telling himself to ‘[l]eave behind [his] concerns for a little while,’ and now Anselm begs God to ‘tell [his] soul whether this is that joy which [God] tell[s] us [about] through [His] Son.’ Anselm called on God to ‘[t]each his heart where and how to see [Him]’ (Chapter 1), and now Anselm prays that God would ‘let [his] soul hunger for [what God has taught him].’ God answered Anselm’s prayer, but now Anselm has to pray to “sustain” what Anselm has been given. Fortunately, God is ‘blessed for ever.’

Putting this all together, we can summarize the Seven Movements as follows:

I cannot think You are not real, and You entail no contradictions. I have no reason to think You wouldn’t relate to me, not held back by justice or power, and You are unbound by space and time, so in fact we are already relating. Because of finitude, I cannot perceive this, but I also can know that, because “The Trinity” is possible, it is possible for You to be “Many and One,” as is to be expected because “Many as One” is better than “one as one” or “many as many.” Thus, there is hope for me to relate to You more fully (even if never completely), but only if You will let me. So God, I pray, let me.


If God is an “internally consistent concept,” then God “could” exist. Interestingly, God is a concept which must “necessarily exist,” which suggests that if we think about God we must think of God “as existing,” whereas it’s possible for us to think of a person as never being born or a pizza as being eaten and finished. People and pizza can be considered as “not existing,” while God can only be thought about as “necessarily existing.” God is free of all contingency, Anselm argues, and so God doesn’t consist of anything essentially which must change or could stop existing, and similarly Anselm establishes that God consists of no “internal contradictions” (by, for example, establishing an omnipotent being could be incapable of some things). Through these moves, Anselm establishes why the concept of God must be thought of “as existing,” and thus why if we are thinking of a God who doesn’t exist, we are not thinking of God. Similarly, if we think, “2 + 2 = 5,” we are not thinking of mathematics, but of a fantasy that we call “mathematics.”

But must the “coherent” concept of God “correspond” with actuality? Indeed, just because God cannot not be thought to exist, it doesn’t mean this “necessarily existing being” necessarily corresponds with something in actuality (even if that actuality is unperceivable). Fair, though do note that the concept of “God” still might correspond (and do note God might “necessarily” want things this way so that we can “freely” seek God, seeing as “freely wanting God” might be better than just “un-freely wanting God”). All the same, does this render Anselm’s argument meaningless? Well, I would say it makes theology similar to mathematics. As discussed in “Why Does Anselm’s Ontological Argument Haunt Us?” by O.G. Rose, Anselm establishes that the existence of God is as tenable and “coherent” as the existence of mathematics, by which I don’t mean to say that they rise or fall together, but that both entail similar epistemological structures. Also, even if it’s true that we cannot prove that “God” corresponds with actuality, we also cannot say that there cannot be correspondence. “God” can always be considered, rather for good or for bad.

For Anselm, as a fool says “2 + 2 = 5,” so a fool says, “God doesn’t exist.” Perhaps the fool argues that “math doesn’t exist,” suggesting that therefore there is no reality to stop “2 + 2 = 5,” but relative to the mathematical concept itself, it is foolish to say, “It is not true that 2 + 2 = 4.” Likewise, Anselm has argued that it is similarly foolish to say, “God doesn’t exist,” for this is equivalent to saying, “Existence doesn’t exist” (Anselm has established that such a statement is conceptually meaningless). Sure, perhaps “God” doesn’t correspond with an actuality, but we cannot think this or live it. We often say, “God is beyond human comprehension,” which is true, but Anselm has worked to establish that “God’s nonexistence is beyond human comprehension” too. Even if there is no God, we cannot meaningfully say, “There is no God,” which I personally find epistemologically fascinating.

Now, again, mathematics might be created and not discovered, and similarly God might just be “the most perfectly created concept” (after all, millions of minds have devoted their lives to God, so it wouldn’t be surprising if God was humanity’s “most perfect concept”). Though we cannot be “toward” reality except in a manner that treats God as existing, it does not follow that therefore God exists beyond this interesting intellectual situation.


God is “an unthinkable entity” we cannot think of as “not existing,” for we cannot think of God to think of God as “not existing.” The only way to disprove God then would be through experience, but if we “cannot think God,” how could we “meaningfully” experience something which would disprove or prove God? Even if that experience was possible, we couldn’t really “think it” to understand it as proving or disproving God’s existence. Considering this, it doesn’t seem possible to prove or disprove God.

But here’s the key: the inability to prove or disprove God aligns with “God,” for God isn’t disprovable or provable (and the only entity which can be such). There is nothing in the concept of the tooth-fairy which makes it necessarily “a thing which cannot be proven or disproven,” but God is such. Consider the following:

1. It is possible for an entity to exist which cannot be thought, for existences don’t have to come from thought, but being itself.

2. It is possible for an entity to exist which can never be fully thought. A thing which cannot be “fully thought” is thus such because of greatness (if a simple thing cannot be thought, it’s only such because it is hidden or unknown, while “God” is ultimately unknowable because God is transcendent).

3. For an entity to be “not fully knowable,” it would have to be the source of its own being, for if other entities “gave it being” somehow (say by extending it thought or helping compose it), then the entity would be “fully knowable.”

4. It is possible for an entity to exist that is the source of its own being. There is no “absolute law of nature” that says this is impossible, though it might be incredibly rare. (After all, the universe seems to have come from nothing.)

5. Thus, we can imagine an entity which cannot be proven or disproven because of its greatness. We cannot fully think of that entity directly, but we can consider it generally and according to attributes, as we have here.

6. If everything which could exist does exist, God exists, though we’d have to be God to determine if this was the case. Only God can disprove God.

Points 1 through 5 almost have to go together: if one of the points is the case, then the other points all come with it. For Anselm, “God” is the only word which meaningfully refers to the entity in which all these points come together, and critically this entity is possible. And if we consider this possibility, we must consider it “as existing” even if ultimately “God” doesn’t correspond. God cannot be considered without risk, but hopefully it has been made clear that all worldview-thinking is similar (“Why Does Anselm’s Ontological Argument Haunt Us?”).

If God was material, then God would be “fully knowable” in theory, and thus God cannot be material. Things that are not material or lack any material origin are things which we generally dismiss as “nonexistent,” but Anselm has removed from us that possibility regarding God with Chapter 3. All material things must be possible thoughts, whereas Anselm wants us to answer that God is the only non-material thing which must be possible while at the same time not being “fully thinkable” (Chapter 15). This is an extremely rare ontological circumstance, and for Anselm only “God” designates this circumstance. Thus, God is “radically other” and unique.

Why is God “radically other?” Why are all these strange “paradoxical moves” needed if God loves us and “can do anything?” Can’t He make Himself clear? Well, it’s all for our sake. Anselm tells us in Chapter 16 that ‘surely there is no other being that can penetrate this light so that it might see you there. Indeed, the reason that I do not see it is that it is too much for me’ (Chapter 16) — Anselm puts our inability to “fully grasp God” in our court: God wants to be “fully known,” but we are not up to the task, and because God loves us he “holds himself back.” This suggests why there are things an omnipotent being cannot do, and also points to Paradiso, Chapter 5, (as noted by Dr. William Wilson), where Dante tells us:

But know not who thou art, nor why thou hast,
Spirit august, thy station in the sphere
That veils itself to men in alien rays.”

Even as the sun, that doth conceal himself
By too much light, when heat has worn away
The tempering influence of the vapours dense,

By greater rapture thus concealed itself
In its own radiance the figure saintly,
And thus close, close enfolded answered me
In fashion as the following Canto sings.

As the sun conceals itself on the hottest of days behind vapors which rise from the earth, so God conceals Himself not out of mischief but motivated by love: God could unveil Himself fully to us, but it would kill us, and so God doesn’t do what God wants to do for our sake (Christ-like).The fact God is concealed could strike us as evidence that God doesn’t exist (that “it’s just too convenient” God is concealed), but Anselm in Chapter 3 has robbed us of that option: God cannot not exist.

Furthermore, if we follow Anselm’s project (not merely his “argument”), then God must “be” exactly as Dante describes God. God cannot be “fully thought,” and so God must be known indirectly, through “aspects,” each “aspect” of which must be something humans can handle and understand so that they might be “toward” a God who ultimately transcends understanding. This is a difficult and strange “dance,” but God has no other choice if God is to love us and want us to know Him, given the nature of God Himself. In fact, “the strange dance” that we are tempted to call “unnecessarily difficult” and even “unloving” occurs precisely because God is trying to be as simple as God possible can “to us” and still be God (and yet the complexity of understanding even “simple expressions of God” suggests the vast complexity of His Infinity).

Ultimately, Chapter 3 is a radical reorganizer of how we approach all theological paradoxes: Faced with “the rock God cannot lift”-paradox, we can no longer “dismiss” God because of that paradox: we now have to “think God with the paradox.” Anselm forever changes how we think about God in terms of “epistemic morality”: even if it’s correct to conclude “God doesn’t correspond,” it’s “epistemologically immoral” to conclude this through dismissing God. We are only “epistemologically responsible” from our knees, and yet this means we are “epistemologically responsible” to enter a “conflict of mind”-situation. Anselm has changed everything.


If we cannot prove or disprove God, how can we “know” God at all? By his effects, and for Anselm, if we can prove these effects are “from God,” then we prove God. Similarly, math by definition cannot be observed in the world, only its “effects,” and yet we do not assume from this that therefore math doesn’t exist. Maybe math is ultimately created, but it’s also “foolish” to suggest mathematics has “nothing to do” with reality even if it is created (even something necessary). Similarly, we know God from “effects,” and entire societies have been constructed around “God.” This has perhaps worked precisely because God is “a perfect concept,” similar to the strange effectiveness of mathematics. What Math is to Physics, perhaps Religion is to Sociology, which is to say that as “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” proves valuable and even necessary to Physics, so “the unreasonable effectiveness of religion” might prove valuable and even necessary to Society. Perhaps not, but the point is that, even if mathematics and God are “created,” dispensing with the concepts is not so easy. After all, they are “unreasonably effective.”

We have to think about God to think about God as “not existing,” which means we must think of God as existing. And yet Anselm tells us in Chapter 15 that God is beyond thought, so can we think of God at all? Again, this is where “the aspects of God” are critical, for they give us “reason to think God” exists even though we cannot fully think about God. Chapter 3 shows us that we cannot conclude from these “aspects” that God doesn’t exist, so either these “aspects” are just hard expressions of their own facticity, devoid of any symbolic or sacramental potential, or they are extensions of God. It seems there is no middle.

We can think and experience the aspects of God, but can we prove these aspects are extensions of a necessary being? If so, then we can “prove necessary being” despite our inability to think God. Consider the following:

x is unthinkable and un-experienceable.
y is thinkable and experienceable.
y is only possible because of x.
Thus, y proves the existence of x.

Successfully or not, Anselm in the Monologion tries to argue that if virtues like justice exist, justice is only possible if there exists Justice, and Justice must be God. Anselm seeks in the Monologion to find and locate entities which must be aspects of God, which means God must exist even though God is “an unthinkable entity.” In this way, Anselm tries to establish “reasons for us to get on our knees,” per se, reasons for us to attempt meditating and contemplating God. And indeed, experiences of beauty, the natural human desire for justice, mystical experiences — all of these suggest the possibility of “higher being.” For Anselm, that “higher being” is to what the term “God” meaningfully refers. Can we “move” from this to Jesus or Krishna? Perhaps not, but Anselm has made fascinating moves all the same.

All other entities are thinkable, while God is the only entity which is unthinkable (in theory or practice). This means God is the only source of God’s existence, for we cannot “give” God existence with our thoughts. God is an entity which cannot be thought (or fully experienced), which means none of God’s existence is thanks to “external extensions.” We cannot give God any existence with our thinking or experience: all of God is known only to us by His will and extension of Himself. If we can comprehend it, it’s because God extended Himself to us in such a way that doesn’t overwhelm us (in “aspects”). We can “receive” what God extends to us, but none of that is thanks to us. We are not “actively involved” in experiencing God, only “passively.” We can receive, but only if God makes Himself receivable.

It’s another topic, but please note that “free will” can still have a role here, for we can “choose” to position and understand ourselves as “passively involved,” but we certainly cannot “freely choose” to be “actively involved” in experiencing God. Fortunately, there is reason to theologically believe that God is “always actively seeking us,” so all efforts of “passive involvement” can be rewarded to such a point that it can “practically seem like” we are “actively involved” in God. God’s Grace is constant, so “passive involvement” can always receive God, making it seem as if “the passive involvement” is “active,” but this is a mistake. If I was in a room totally filled with smoke and removed the lid off an empty jar, it would instantly fill with smoke and make it “seem like” the opening of the jar made smoke appear, but really the smoke was just everywhere and “couldn’t help” but enter the jar once it was opened (also, if I was in an open field and took the lid off a jar, smoke wouldn’t appear within it, meaning the jar wouldn’t be “responsible for creating smoke in itself,” per se). We could say the jar is “active” to the degree that it “opened its emptiness up” to the smoke, but this is not “active involvement” in the smoke itself. Where smoke is everywhere, “passive involvement” and “active involvement” are “practically identical,” though not technically, and maintaining that technicality in thought is important for us to keep in mind our proper orientation to God.

Anyway, to know God, we can only know affects, but how do we “rightly understand” God’s affects to rightly get at God? Should we focus on “light” and “goodness?” Indeed, that’s better than nothing, but there is also something about “light” and “goodness” which can keep us focused on finitude. How do we see these things and “look up” from them toward God? Not easily, but figuring this practice out is a reason we can see so much strange, paradoxical, and poetic language in Anselm and throughout Christianity in general. Expanding on that for a moment would be useful for better grasping Anselm’s overall aims.

“Unapproachable light,” infinite harmony, divine aroma — Anselm and Christianity in general is full of such poetry, but are they meaningless phrases? Well, is “2” meaningless? In a way, for the number 2 is not something we see walking around very often, and yet “2” helps us figure out how to organize our lives effectively and efficiently. The number “2” itself does not have direct manifestation in the world, and yet it is a very useful and valuable construct. Similarly, “the divine music that transcends our ears” is a phrase that doesn’t readily manifest into finitude, nor does it seem to “correspond” with anything we experience, and yet the phrase (like art and poetry in general) may actually help us organize our lives effectively and efficiently. There does seem to be an experience “like music” which we hear when we walk in the woods, and yet that music is part of a deep silence. What is this “silent music?” Well, what is the number 2? It’s more difficult to say than it seems, but the constructs of “2” and “silent music” provide entities we can wrestle and train with to gain better understanding about our lives and realities. No, the schemas don’t readily “correspond” with things in reality, and yet “they help us” in reality. It’s strange and yet true.

The phrase “unapproachable light” is another schema which makes little sense, but the phrase seems “like” the experience people can have in “Near Death Experiences.” “Invisible light” seems like a contradiction, and yet if our hearts are suddenly filled with a vast and unexplainable love for humanity, “invisible light” seems to get at what we experience. In the Proslogion, Anselm is full of such descriptions, which seem paradoxical and strange (say in Chapter 17), but if we think of these phrases as the tools we must use and train with in order to understand “fullest reality” (as we must use and train with mathematical numbers which never directly manifest in the world), then we can start to understand what Anselm is doing (similar to religion in general). For Anselm, we do not really engage in such training, which is to say we don’t really wrestle with “unapproachable light,” except from our knees. We are bowed and submissive, or we are not training. Thus, Anselm frames “the standing” as “epistemically irresponsible.”


As discussed in Section II of this paper, Anselm established that a thing could exist which perceives without senses, that a thing could be omnipotent which couldn’t do everything, and so on: Anselm explored the concept of the Abrahamic God and found nothing in it which couldn’t be thus. In accomplishing this, the force is maintained of Anselm’s move to make God “a being who none greater can be thought,” a “necessarily existing being.” Nothing about God can’t be the case, and if we aren’t thinking of God as real, we aren’t thinking about God. And since God is “internally consistent,” God can’t not be.

No, I don’t believe from this that we can necessarily say “God” corresponds with an actuality. It’s true that God can only be thought of as real, but that can be the case even if the concept of “God” doesn’t “correspond” with actuality. It’s illogical to think God doesn’t exist, but I’m not sure if it follows that what is illogical cannot be true. I know that sounds crazy, which is precisely why Anselm gives us “good reason” to take God seriously, which he’s shown requires us to “get on our knees.” But once we do this, of course, we have no reason to leave — Anselm has accomplished something extraordinary and forced us to take seriously “the conflict of mind” and inescapability of Kierkegaard.

What Anselm establishes completely transforms how we are “toward” God (the epistemological consequences of Anselm are vast). If we want to disprove God, it must be from our knees, for if we aren’t “swept off our feet,” we’re not really thinking about God. But even then, we actually aren’t thinking of God, for God is greater than what we can think: we are only thinking about something “like” God. And so we must stay kneeling, every-trying to adjust our hearts and minds to take in more of God’s being, ever-amazed. Otherwise, we aren’t thinking about God at all, so who are we disproving?

If God ‘cannot be thought not to exist’ (3), how does anyone ‘[say] in his heart what he could not think’ (4)? For Anselm, this is impossible, and thus only a fool ‘says in his heart there is no God’ (Psalm 14:1). Perhaps there is no God, but it is foolish to say or think it. Anselm tells us in 4 that there is a difference between thinking a thing by thinking ‘the word that signifies that thing,’ and thinking which ‘is to understand what the thing is.’ Anselm tells us that when people think God doesn’t exist, they are thinking more about the word “God” then the being of God, for Anselm claims it is impossible to think of God as not existing. Anselm suggests ‘that even if I did not want to believe that you exist, I could not fail to understand that you exist’ (4). If we must understand that “God exists,” that the existence is part of the concept, then it is foolish to say, “God doesn’t exist.” There is no possibility of “a non-existent God.” Either God is or isn’t, but there is no “possibility” of either. If we take this seriously, Anselm would have us understand that the entire way we think about God must change.

I cannot consider experiences of light (for example) as “suggesting God exists,” only as either “material light” or “expressions of God’s Creation.” God cannot be “suggested”: light either does or doesn’t somehow “point to” God. And this means we cannot “find God” by gradually accumulating evidence that increases the probability God is there, for this changes how we behave in a manner that impacts the outcome (as if an “Observer Effect” of some kind). We either get on our knees and act like “God exists” or we stay standing and act like “God doesn’t exist”: there is no “middle,” per se. We must made a radical choice, a Kierkegaardian “leap of faith,” and that’s that, and whatever we choose will transform what we experience. This is existentially unnerving and suggests the inescapability of “conflict of mind”-situations — but all this was discussed in “Why Does Anselm’s Ontological Argument Haunt Us?” by O.G. Rose.

Faced with such existential anxiety, we might be tempted to turn to arguments on how omnipotent beings cannot “create rocks they cannot lift” or other points on how the concept of “God” is “inherently incoherent,” but Anselm has robbed us of these exits from the existential pressure. There’s “no exit.” We must choose. And if we fall to our knees, considering 2, 3, and 15 together, we will have reason to stay there and maintain a “bowed” orientation to God. Stuck here though, Anselm offers us “an ascent,” starting with the Fifth Movement.

We can think of 2, 3 and 15 together as meaning “God is what nothing greater can be thought, and we cannot think of God as not existing (as we might be tempted to conclude when we inevitably fail to think of God fully), so we need to stay on our knees.” Though we might conclude from being unable to fully “sense” God that He doesn’t exist, that would be the wrong conclusion to draw, because God cannot not exist. For every other possible being, this conclusion could follow, but it cannot follow regarding God. Also, from our knees, we might search for reason to think the concept of God is “internally inconsistent,” and so Anselm spent a great deal of time making sure that move couldn’t be made either. And so on our knees, we stay.

We often associate “what cannot be thought” with a mistake, but Anselm has made it clear that God is “what cannot be thought and what cannot not be thought of as existing,” so we cannot let our minds wander to where they can dismiss the idea of “God.” But where from our knees should our mind go? If we are stuck on our knees, are we paralyzed? Perhaps in one way, but the stillness of our body doesn’t necessitate the stillness of our minds; in fact, Anselm would have us be still so that our minds can move, and not only move in general but ascend. In kneeling and being still, we have met “the precondition” necessary for ascension, as we must meet “the condition” of finding a ladder and placing it against a wall if we are to climb up onto a roof (to allude to “Notes Toward Conditionalism” by O.G. Rose). This is the move Anselm begins with Chapter 15, for he argues that God cannot be captured in our thinking, which means not that we should stop trying but that we should never stop trying. To try for a lifetime is the “epistemically moral” thing to do.


To bring this paper to a close, I would like to highlight how Chapters 16 through 26 are “Chapters of Ascent,” which is to say they feel like “climbing toward a Beatific Vision.” This feels appropriate to me after Chapter 15, even though 15 seems to deconstruct the whole effort. God is always greater than we can think, and though this can be taken to mean that the effort is meaningless, Anselm would have us realize that this means the effort never ends. There is always more Joy to be known, which we can see Chapters 16 through 26 as formally suggesting (though only after we first realize our insufficiency).

“The Fifth Movement” (16–18) describes a tragic realization that God is unapproachable, that we cannot ascend toward God, because even when we ‘[strive] to rise to the light of God,’ we ‘[fall] back down into [our] own darkness’ (Chapter 18). Doesn’t sound much like “ascent,” does it? Well, Anselm wants us to realize that we cannot approach God unless we first realize that we cannot approach God, that any “approach of God” which might occur is thanks to God (and also only “relative to us,” for God is everywhere and unbound).

We learned in Chapter 13 that God is unbound by space, but maybe we cannot reach Him because he is not in our time? Well, “The Sixth Movement” (19–21) makes it clear God is in all time at the same time, and so we must be with God somehow already. We don’t need to actually “ascend,” only “relatively ascend” in terms of our ability to comprehend and “grasp.” We are where we need to be: the problem is simply one of perspective and realization, and that is a problem which can be fixed without violating God’s being, for God can “let us” to Him, if only we put ourselves in a place where we can be so “let” (mainly, on our knees).

Chapter 22 announces a critical “double move” where God is “alone” and yet “undivided,” and this means “we are alone with God.” No, this doesn’t mean we are “fully God” (for even if we enter into eternity, we were not “always in eternity,” thus suggest differentiation), but it does mean “we are with Him,” and we cannot not believe this is the case (Chapter 3), for all that Anselm has argued “follows.” God entails a “We,” as we know regarding “The Trinity,” and yet that “We” entails no distinction. God is “Many Yet One,” which means it is possible for us to be “part of God” (somehow) and it not divide His Unity. It also logically follows that God would be this way, for “Many As One” is better than “many as many” or “one as one.” Why? Well, if ‘particular goods are delightful […] how delightful [must be] that good which contains the joyfulness of all goods’ (Chapter 24)? A God Who wasn’t a Trinity would be “less good” than a God Who Was, and thus God must be a Trinity (or something similar). The Christian God is simply “like” what we should expect, “the best of all possible things to be.”

Chapter 25 tells us that God is a Joy which transcends finite comprehension. “The greatest of all possible Joys” transcends thought, for that Joy is God and God transcends thought (Chapter 15). In God, ‘everyone will have but one will,’ we are told, ‘for there will be no will among them but the will of God.’ This too suggests how there can be “one of many,” which we have already pointed out is better than “one of one.” Anselm also tells us that all the loves will harmonize with all the other loves, and that this multiplicity makes possible a multiplication of love to greater heights (in always having “space to grow” toward the infinite God), all while maintaining equality. Where this multiplicity is possible is better than a state where it is not possible, and thus it is better that God is “a Trinity” than not.

Anselm has “rationally” concluded that everything leading up to Chapter 26 “follows,” and so we have “reason to believe” that the Joy God promises is what we have been lead to contemplate. But the final confirmation rests with God, and God must tell us what we cannot know. But God told us through Revelation in John 16:24, ‘Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full,’ which would say that God has chosen to put a power in our hands to ask for “the fullness of joy” (which would therefore not be a limitation on Him). How do we ask for it? By falling to our knees.

Anselm tells us that he has ‘found a joy that is full and more than full’ (italics added), which suggests that the Proslogion itself is indeed that effort. “It follows” that “the greatest of all possible joys” is what Anselm has described in his book, starting with the reflection on God “as the best of all possible beings” and gradually advancing premise by premise from there. Better yet, this Joy cannot not exist. He’s found it. This is indeed “the concept” of “the best of all possible joys,” but does it “correspond” with something actual? Well, fall to your knees and find out: doing anything less would be “epistemically irresponsible.”

Chapter 26 ends with Anselm telling us, ‘O God, I pray that I will know and love you that I might rejoice in you. And if I cannot do so fully in this life, I pray that I might grow day by day until my joy comes to fullness’ (italics added). The Proslogion itself is a prayer, and now we are told why Anselm prayed it: to know and love God. And the answer is in the prayer, for the Proslogion has brought Anselm to a place of loving God more. The final paragraph begins with “I pray,” but then moves to many “lets,” finishing with a prayer that God will “let” Anselm ‘ponder’ God, ‘speak’ God, and ‘hunger’ for God. Indeed, we are told in Chapter 18 that Anselm cannot do this on his own, and so God must “let” Anselm access the Joy Anselm seeks. Fortunately, God indeed does always so “let” those who fall to their knees and diligently seek Him, though such bowing may terrify us with what might happen next. ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Proverbs 9:10).

To close, it’s fascinating to overlay how Anselm describes this “Joy” with how Anselm has explored and pondered God in the text itself. Anselm uses Revelation to make this point, stressing the Joy is something ‘no eyes has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the human heart’ (1 Corinthians 2:9). God is this very Joy, and so it is a Joy which cannot not exist. After all, a being who experiencing causes us Joy is greater than a being who experiencing does not cause us Joy, and so the God who can’t not exist must bring us Joy. For me, this suggests why Chapter 26 might be the most extraordinary move of the whole text. Consider:

God cannot not exist.
God, to be “the greatest of all possible beings,” must be a “Unified Many.”
God must somehow entail us.
God entails Joy.
Joy cannot not exist.

If God exists, then there must be Infinite Joy. This is a significant move, because it means any God which doesn’t entail “A Beatific Vision” is not possible. The most coherent idea of God is an idea that also entails a Beatific Vision, and so it is irrational to believe in a God which entails no bliss. This brings us to the place where Anselm wanted us to arrive, I think: we can view the Proslogion as an effort to explore what God “must be” if God “is,” each premise following from the last (we must take “the whole package” or nothing), with the final premise that which must be part of God’s “internal consistency” being Joy. For Anselm, the only rational way to think of God is as existing, and it is only rational to think of God as Bliss. Considering these two together, why wouldn’t we “get on our knees?” Is not Eternal Bliss rational? Only God can give it to us, but He told us in Revelation He would. We simply have to ask — “the simplest and easiest of all possible prayers.”





1. If we consider Anselm in light of “The Blank Canvas” by O.G. Rose, we can imagine Anselm as clearing his mind in Chapter 1, to a place of absolute nothingness, and deciding that there it is best to found a new (view of the) world on “the best of all possible beings,” and that being would be real, totally noncontingent, and “God.” If from “a blank canvas” God was a good starting axiom, there is an argument to be made that Anselm’s entire project is rational, that he has started with “the most rational of all possible axioms.” I’m not sure if that follows, but it is interesting to consider.

2. We can perhaps see Descartes as thinking “to” a “blank canvas,” while Anselm thinks “from” one.

3. Anselm has us realize that every worldview is “a faith seeking understanding,” that we are all in the business

4. Rationality and love make reason for Anselm, and arguably rationality is always reason, because we only think about what captures our focus, which is arguably always an expression of care to some degree.

5. If you were a world experts on T.S. Eliot, and I wanted to know about Eliot but didn’t know you were an expert on him, it would be rational for me not to ask you about Eliot.

6. If Descartes believes that “I think, therefore I am,” Anselm believes that “I think, therefore I am not, because our fallen thinking always separates us from God (as expressed in Chapter 18). Perhaps Descartes has a “mental starting point,” while Anselm has a “cosmological starting point?”

7. “On Typography” by O.G. Rose argued that we start thinking with “an apprehension of that-ness” and then try to define it, and I think we can approach Anselm as searching for “the best of all possible entities” to apprehend first before starting a rational inquiry. Since “autonomous rationality” is impossible and we must start with something, it is arguably rational to start with “the best of all possible beings.”

8. If God is the only entity which doesn’t change and is everywhere at once, perhaps Anselm would argue only knowledge about God can be “trust knowledge,” because knowledge about anything else is knowledge about something which changes.

9. All thinking seeks to understand the life we have, and so Anselm seeks to understand the meaning of his life in the abbey.

10. ‘Moreover, one thing is necessary’ (Luke 10:42).

11. Perhaps we could say that Anselm doesn’t prove God, but rather he makes it absurd to believe God exists. The choice is between believing in God or believing in nothing: God cannot be believed in at all. Belief generates nothing, let alone “the ground of all being.”

12. We know insomuch as we love, but that means we are always vulnerable to brainwashing. We know differently what we love compared to what we don’t love, but that means we are always vulnerable to manipulation. But if five people are standing in front of us, and one of us is our mother, is there any hope for us to know the other four like her? Perhaps, but not without first extending them a similar connection. Risk.




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O.G. Rose

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