St. Anselm

St Anselm of Canterbury and Sola Scriptura


St Anselm of Canterbury, the Magnificent Doctor

‘Therefore, just as at the beginning God marvellously, without cultivator or seeds, created grain and other terrestrial things to nourish people, so too he marvellously, without human learning, made the minds of prophets and apostles and, above all, the Gospels, rich with seeds for our salvation. These are the source of whatever we sow salutarily, in God’s husbandry, for the nourishment of our souls, just as what we cultivate for the nourishment of our bodies derives only from the original seeds of the earth.

‘In fact, we proclaim what is useful for the salvation of souls only what Sacred Scripture, made fecund by the marvellous activity of the Holy Spirit, has produced or contains in its womb. For if at times we assert by a process of reasoning a conclusion which we cannot explicitly cite from the sayings of Scripture or demonstrate from the bare wording, still it is by using Scripture that we know in the following way whether the affirmation should be accepted or rejected. If the conclusion is reached by straightforward reasoning and Scripture in no way contradicts it, then (since just as Scripture opposes no truth so too it abets no falsehood) by the very fact that it does not deny what is inferred on the basis of reason, that conclusion is accepted as authorised by Scripture. But if Scripture indubitably opposes our understanding, ever though our reasoning appears to us to be impregnable, still it ought not to be believed to be substantiated by any truth at all. It is when Sacred Scripture either clearly affirms or in no wise denies it, that it gives support to the authority of any reasoned conclusion.’

-De Concordia 3:6


Is St Anselm supporting some form of the protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura, over four centuries before Martin Luther? Sort of.

That’s not to say that this Roman Catholic Archbishop and Doctor of the Church didn’t acknowledge the authority of the Church’s magisterium (i.e. authoritative teaching) however. That the minds of prophets and apostles are the original seeds, seems to imply that that the fruit they bore produced the plants that nourish us now, which must surely be their legitimate successors. For St Anselm, that must have meant the Holy Catholic Church and his fellow bishops. So we can’t say Scripture was for him the sole authority, as Luther made it.

However, he does clearly consider the Scriptures alone to be sufficient to tell between all truth and falsehood, at least regarding ‘what is useful for the salvation of souls’. Everything we teach must either be straight from Scripture, or proceed from straightforward reasoning and not contradict the Scriptures. Simple enough. While every heresy must, however reasonable it may seem, contradict the Scriptures and so be rejected. Revelation must protect us against the horrific reasonableness of heresy, because what else could? Yes, the magisterium of the Church, but the magisterium always refers us back to the revelation given to us once and for all in Jesus Christ.

This is a point we need to be clear on: The Church, as the authoritative interpreter of the Scriptures, has no authority over the Scriptures. Interpretation has come to mean something dishonest in our times; we suppose the meaning is being distorted and lost; in our post-modern world, we’ve started to wonder if there are any “correct interpretations”. Yes, there are. If the Bible is the Word of God, then its meaning is what God means by it, not what I decide to make of it. No one cares what I think. The Church, then, is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture, simply because She is the one who hears God’s voice and listens. The Scriptures were spoken to the Church, the Beloved Bride of Christ, and therefore they are Hers to understand. The Word of God belongs to Her, precisely because She belongs to the Word; ‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine’ [Sg 6:3].

Yes, the Scriptures are also written to me particularly, but to me within the Church. They are never my private possession. The faith is mine, because it is ours. It is mine, only because I am a living member of the Body of Christ, and my faith cannot contradict that of the Church. As I wrote in the past, your religion is mine, and mine is yours.


I hope and pray that all Christians can establish true unity with one another. ‘Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.’ Amen.


The Ontological Argument for God’s Existence

[This is my favourite argument for God’s existence. I love the idea that God’s existence should be demonstrable, and even undeniable, from absolutely nothing but logical thinking.]

Consider in your mind, the idea of That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought. Whatever That may be, it is impossible to think anything greater.

You have conceived this concept, and so That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought may be said to exist in your thoughts.

Now, either That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought exists outside of your thoughts also, or it doesn’t.

But if it doesn’t exist beyond your thoughts, it would be greater (in thought), if it did exist outside of your mind. But then there could be a greater thought than that which, by definition, is That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought, which is a contradiction. To think of That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought existing outside of our thoughts is greater than to think of That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought, being confined to mere thought.

Hence That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought must exist also beyond our thoughts, in reality.

What about islands?

How about That-Island-Than-Which-No-Greater-Island-Can-Be-Thought? Must that exist too?

No. As a creation, Islands are necessarily limited, and so we must consider them as at most times and in most places, not existing. Now, an island would be greater if it was, beyond mere thoughts, in every place and time (it’s a lot more convenient to me, at least). However, then it would no longer be an island at all (it would be upon its own coast!).

And so, That-Island-Than-Which-No-Greater-Island-Can-Be-Thought, is a contradiction, and cannot exist, either in or beyond thought. While the thought of the verbal formula [That-Island-Than-Which-No-Greater-Island-Can-Be-Thought] does exist in the mind, the actual thing, even as a conception of logic, cannot exist in the mind, because it contradicts the definition of an island.

And the same goes for all finite things.

To help illustrate, consider that there does not, and cannot, exist a greatest finite number. By virtue of being finite, it has a boundary, an end (fin), and hence, it is always possible to exceed that boundary.

In fact, all definitions impose boundaries, and so, the argument does not work for anything that is defined. And so we arrive at the conclusion, that That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought, cannot be defined. And how extraordinarily great It must be, to be too great for our definitions!

St. Anselm of Canterbury, pray for us.

God bless you!