Ascending toward the Beatific Vision: Heaven as the Climax of Anselm’s Proslogion


Gavin Ortlund

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This project argues that the interpretation of Anselm of Canterbury’s Proslogion, starting with the response of Gaunilo in Anselm’s own lifetime and continuing up to the present day, has too often been narrowly focused on its so-called “ontological argument.” As a result, the greater portion of Anselm’s actual text has been consistently neglected, and too little attention has been paid to the prayerful purpose that undergirds the whole book. Moreover, even when interpreters of the Proslogion have strayed into chapters 1 or 5–26, their focus has tended to be piecemeal and/or systematically driven. Thus even the most rigorous engagements with the Proslogion tend to have little to say about how the prayers of Proslogion 1, 14, and 18 contribute materially to Anselm’s argument, or how his doctrine of God develops organically from the divine formula in the early chapters to the doctrines of eternity, simplicity, and Trinity in later chapters. With only a few exceptions, particularly some French texts that have been largely ignored in the English-speaking world, Anselm’s flow of thought throughout the entire Proslogion has not been given sustained analysis. And no one has explored how Anselm’s doctrine of creaturely joy in heaven in Proslogion 24–26 is a fitting climax and resolution to the book.

This project offers a holistic interpretation of all twenty-six chapters of the Proslogion in light of Anselm’s theological epistemology and spiritual aims as an 11th century monk. It suggests that the basic purpose of Anselm’s argument in the Proslogion is to seek the beatific vision that he articulates as his soul’s deepest desire (Proslogion 1). While Anselm’s argument for God’s existence (Proslogion 2–4) is an important piece of this effort, it is only one step of a larger trajectory of thought that leads Anselm to meditate further on God’s nature as the summum bonum of the human soul (Proslogion 5–23), and then to anticipate the joy of possessing God in heaven (Proslogion 24–26). In other words, the establishment of God’s existence is only the penultimate consequence of Anselm’s famous formula “that than which nothing greater can be thought”—his ultimate concern is with the infinite creaturely joy that is entailed by his existence. The Proslogion is therefore, far more than an argument for God’s existence, a meditation on God as the chief happiness of the human soul.

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PHD in Theology

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Crisp, Oliver

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Anselm, Saint, Archbishop of Canterbury, Proslogion, God


Missions and World Christianity


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