‘A Perfectly Simple God and Our Complicated Moral Lives’

“A Perfectly Simple God and Our Complicated Moral Lives”

By Gregory B. Sadler

The Saint Anselm Journal Vol.6:1 (2008)

Abstract: One important divine attribute Saint Anselm examines and treats is that of simplicity. His treatment brings out some surprising features of simplicity itself which escape the frameworks of the logic of created being, providing us a fuller, albeit still very partial, understanding of the true nature of that attribute. A deep problem can then arise for the created human being in the course of such speculations and investigations: How can a complex, complicated, composite created being more closely approach a perfectly simple divine being? In both our thought and in our practice, it seems that our attempts to approach God simply introduce even more complexity into things. My paper addresses that problem. The first section of the paper presents five short Anselmian lessons about the divine attribute of simplicity. The second section then frames and explores the problem. The third and final section provides an Anselmian resolution to the problem.

Introduction: It is a great and personally significant honor for me to be invited here to give this lecture at Saint Anselm College. I am deeply humbled, and still astonished as well as honored, to be speaking in the same place where I myself eagerly listened to much better Anselm scholars eloquently and eruditely unfold his thought and their own. I owe this opportunity to impart a few Anselmian lessons to many people, among whom I will mention only two, both of them Benedictine monks, one of them still with us but not present here today, the other very recently passed on to his heavenly rewards. Father John Fortin, the Institute for Saint Anselm Studies’s previous and founding director, has been a source of encouragement and information since we first met here at the inaugural conference, and he continues to aid me through his correspondence, conversations, and prayers. It was he who invited me to give this lecture, with greater confidence I think, and with better insight than myself I hope about my abilities.

medieval mag 36To the late Dom Paschal Baumstein of Belmont Abbey, whose highly original and significant work on Anselm has influenced my own (though sadly not yet as much as it should), I owe my vocation as a student of Anselm. Father Paschal became to me a genuine mentor, a model of true scholarship and the Christian virtues, as well as a good friend and great benefactor to myself, my wife, and our family. Like certain of Anselm’s own relationships, ours was communicated nearly entirely through correspondence, but undergirded and enriched by remembrance, and ever-growing affection and prayers for each other, still continuing today. I would like then to dedicate this lecture particularly to my friend Father Paschal.

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