Faith and Reason in Anselm: Two Models

Faith and Reason in Anselm: Two Models

Brown, Montague (Saint Anselm College)

The Saint Anselm Journal 2.1 (Fall 2004)


In the preface to his Proslogion, Anselm gives titles to the two works known best as the Monologion and the Proslogion. These latter titles are for convenience; the full title of the Monologion is An Example of Meditation on the Meaning of Faith, and of the Proslogion, Faith in Quest of Understanding. These titles reveal two very different models for the relation between faith and reason. The first is an analytic treatment of the content of the faith and is, according to Anselm, to be carried on without reference to Scripture. It searches for proofs of propositions, such as “God exists,” and “God is a Trinity.” Thus, the arguments are mostly those of natural theology, or at least they are meant to use only reason as an authority. The second is an existential plea for wisdom and holiness. It responds to the command of our Lord that we should have faith, and that only if we have faith will we have understanding. But what does it mean to have faith? It is more than just assenting to propositions (although it is this). It is to believe, not just what God said, but believe in God. This requires the overcoming, not just of ignorance, but of sin. Without prayer, it is impossible. This paper intends to examine closely these two models of the relation between faith and reason with an eye to their source in Augustine’s work (most obviously in On the Trinity, and the Confessions, respectively). Two major questions arise. In the first place, does the existential approach do away with the analytic, systematic approach? After all, what is the point of thinking from the outside about the content of faith when what we need is to live in the wisdom and power of God’s presence? In the second place, if the existential approach does not do away with the systematic approach (which I think is true), how are the two related?

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