The Ontological Argument (OA) is one of the more interesting a priori arguments in philosophy – it’s had both noted champions and critics, and it generally seems that although it is in fact interesting it is not compelling as an argument. I definitely agree – as an argument, it’s not that compelling.
But I was thinking about it last night – suppose it’s not necessarily meant to be a compelling argument. I mean, look at the context – it’s smack dab in the middle of a work of devotional/mystical prayer (indeed one of the great works of devotion and prayer of the middle ages, in my opinion). Anselm does indeed seem to want to prove ‘the fool’ wrong – but perhaps not so much in an analytic way but rather in a religious way.
In a nutshell, I think the OA is an excercise in allowing the mind to ascend to the most pure communion with God – in a sense, to find God in His most real or ultimate form. Anselm’s famous definition of God as that which no greater can be conceived isn’t so much of an analytic axiom – rather it is the full force of the reality of God upon the mind. Anselm has arrived at God – in a ‘this is *it*’ kind of way. It’s God in His full reality of being, or rather a glimpse of that, being had by the mind, and all Anselm can say is ‘no greater can be conceived’. While differing in content and form I think there is a family resemblance with the theologies of Bonaventure and Eckhart here. Anselm is seeking true communion with the Reality that is God, and as he continually ascends towards God’s reality he finds His most perfect form as that which no greater can be conceived.
Now this is a pretty brief and broad exposition, and I haven’t really gone into a lot of depth and suspect that this isn’t really a majority opinion as to the meaning of the argument. But it’s what I get when reading the work.
‘Do we know what it means to be struck by grace? It does not mean that we suddenly believe that God exists, or that Jesus is the Saviour, or that the Bible contains the truth. To believe that something is, is almost contrary to the meaning of grace. Furthermore, grace does not mean simply that we are making progress in our moral self-control, in our fight against special faults, and in our relationships to men and to society. Moral progress may be a fruit of grace; but it is not grace itself, and it can even prevent us from receiving grace. For there is too often a graceless acceptance of Christian doctrines and a graceless battle against the structures of evil in our personalities. Such a graceless relation to God may lead us by necessity either to arrogance or to despair. It would be better to refuse God and the Christ and the Bible than to accept them without grace. For if we accept without grace, we do so in the state of separation, and can only succeed in deepening the separation. We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace. It happens; or it does not happen. And certainly it does not happen if we try to force it upon ourselves, just as it shall not happen so long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.’ (Paul Tillich)
‘We must understand the sacrifice of Christ on the cross not as an act of divine impotence but of divine power. The cross most definitely is not an instance of God submitting himself to an irresistible force so as to be defined in his struggle with nothingness or so as to be “rescued” from his impassibility by becoming our fellow sufferer; but neither is it a vehicle whereby God reconciles either himself or us to death.
Rather, he subverts death, and makes a way through it to a new life. The cross is thus a triumph of divine, limitless and immutable love, taking all suffering and death upon itself without being changed, modified or defined by it, and so destroying its power and making us, by participation in Christ, “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37). God does not simply submit himself to the cycle of natural necessity or to the dialectic of historical necessity but shatters the power of both, and thereby overthrows the ancient principalities, the immemorial empire of death.
Easter utterly confounds the “rulers of this age” (1 Cor. 2:8) and in fact reverses the verdict they have pronounced on Christ, thereby revealing that the cosmic, sacred, political and civic powers of all who condemn Christ have become tyranny, falsehood and injustice. Easter is an act of “rebellion” against all false necessity and all illegitimate or misused authority, all cruelty and heartless chance. It liberates us from servitude to and terror before the “elements”. It emancipates us from fate. Easter should make rebels of us all.’ (David Bentley Hart, ‘The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami’ p.81)
‘What is it that makes a person great, admirable among creatures, and well pleasing in God’s eye? What is it that makes a person strong, stronger than the whole world, or so weak as to be weaker than a child? What is it that makes a person firm, firmer than a cliff, or yet so soft as to be softer than wax? It is love. What is older than everything? It is love. What outlives everything? It is love. What is it that cannot be taken away but itself gives it all? It is love. What is it that cannot be given but itself gives everything? It is love. What is it that stands fast when everything falters? It is love. What is it that comforts when other comforts fail? It is love. What is it that remains when everything is changed? It is love. What is it that abides when what is imperfect is done away with? It is love. What is it that bears witness when prophecy is dumb? It is love. What is it that does not cease when visions come to an end? It is love. What is it that makes everything clear when the dark saying has been spoken? It is love. What is it that bestows a blessing on the excess of the gift? It is love. What is it that gives pith to an angels speech? It is love. What is it that makes the widows mite more than enough? It is love. What is it that makes the speech of the simple person wise? It is love. What is it that never alters, even if all things alter? It is love. (Soren Kierkegaard, ‘Spiritual Writings’, p. 227-228)
’Gods voice is not to be mistaken. When men hear it they fall to their knees and their souls are riven and they cry out to Him and there is no fear in them but only that wildness of heart that springs from such longing and they cry out to stay his presence for they know at once that while godless men may live well enough in their exile those to whom He has spoken can contemplate no life without Him but only darkness and despair.’
-Cormac McCarthy (‘The Crossing’)
“Love is a mighty power, a great and complete good; Love alone lightens every burden, and makes the rough places smooth. It bears every hardship as though it were nothing, and renders all bitterness sweet and acceptable. The love of Jesus is noble, and inspires us to great deeds; it moves us always to desire perfection. Love aspires to high things, and is held back by nothing base. Love longs to be free, a stranger to every worldly desire, lest its inner vision become dimmed, and lest worldly self-interest hinder it or ill-fortune cast it down. Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing wider, nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in heaven or earth; for love is born of God, and can rest only in God above all created things.
Love flies, runs, leaps for joy; it is free and unrestrained. Love gives all for all, resting in One who is highest above all things, from whom every good flows and proceeds. Love does not regard the gifts, but turns to the Giver of all good gifts. Love knows no limits, but ardently transcends all bounds. Love feels no burden, takes no account of toil, attempts things beyond its strength; love sees nothing as impossible, for it feels able to achieve all things. Love therefore does great things; it is strange and effective; while he who lacks love faints and fails.”
― Thomas a Kempis (The Inner Life)
“…to all eternity it lies in man’s power to reject God… eternity signifies unending progress, a never-ceasing advance. As J. R. R. Tolkien has said, ‘Roads go ever ever on’ …The Age to come is not simply a return to the beginning, a restoration of the original state of perfection in Paradise, but it is a fresh departure. There is to be a new heaven and a new earth; and the last things will be greater than the first. ‘Here below”, says Newman, “to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.’ But is this the case only here below? St. Gregory of Nyssa believed that even in heaven perfection is growth. In a fine paradox he says that the essence of perfection consists precisely in never becoming perfect, but always reaching forward to some higher perfection that lies beyond. Because God is infinite, this constant ‘reaching forward’ or epektasis, as the Greek Fathers termed it, proves limitless. The soul possesses God, and yet still seeks him; her joy is full, and yet grows always more intense. God grows ever nearer to us, yet he still remains the Other; we behold him face to face, yet we still continue to advance further and further into the divine mystery. Although strangers no longer, we do not cease to be pilgrims. We go forward ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Cor 3:18), and then to a glory that is greater still. Never in all eternity, shall we reach a point where we have accomplished all that there is to do, or discovered all that there is to know. ‘Not only in this present age, but also in the Age to come,’ says St. Irenaeus, ‘God will always have something more to teach man, and man will always have something more to learn from God'” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, pp 135-138).