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quod pro nobis traditum est

Thursday, April 19, 2012

a few pages

Since I do not have the time to appreciate reading as I would like, I pick up a book from my library and grab a quick read of a few pages as a break from the routine. This week I happened upon a section from a theological history book discussing the old scholasticism (in contrast with the later "high" scholasticism). Of particular interest was the few pages on the controversy between nominalism and realism which is an important debate but one I have not personally resolved for myself (Lutherans are supposedly heirs of the nominalist approach). Also, this is the period of Anselm of Canterbury who renewed the Augustinian tradition and is credited for founding scholasticism. He is considered a realist. The timing is appropriate too as the feast day for Anselm is this Saturday.

Protestants are familiar with the "faith alone" statement arising from the Reformation. This statement in itself is of ongoing controversy but is especially focused on the doctrine of salvation, or justification. Many centuries prior to the Reformation, Anselm (d. 1109) wrote a number of theological and philosophical writings, some of which are Why God Became Man and The Virgin Conception and Original Sin. He also proposed the ontological argument for God.

Some Christians are vehemently opposed to philosophy. Others say we can only come to know God through reason or natural means. The difficulty with the latter approach is that we may never get to know God. Anselm, apparently following similar thinking of Augustine, wrote in his Proslogion:

"Non tento, Domine, penetrare altitudinem tuam, quia nullatenus comparo illi intellectum meum; sed desidero aliquatenus intelligere veritatem tuam, quam credit et amat cor meum. Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam. Nam et hoc credo: quia "nisi credidero, non intelligam [Is 7,9]."

Translation (not mine):

"I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, --that unless I believed, I should not understand."

It should be noted that the Proslogion or "Discourse," was written as a prayer and is not meant solely to be understood as a philosophical or theological treatise. What I appreciate about this quotation is that it supports the divine origin and priority of faith without denying the role of reason or understanding. In other words, reason does not undermine faith but is led by faith to greater understanding, all the while humbly realizing that perfect knowledge of God in this life is beyond us. In addition, faith does not mean an end to the use of our rational capacities, which are also gifts of God, nor does reason negate faith. Reason may be used in support of faith.

Finally, while this quotation does not bring any resolution to my understanding, or lack of, regarding realism and nominalism, it does help to resolve an understanding of the faith that undermines a polarization between faith as prayer (i.e., liturgy) and faith that permits learning (i.e., Christian education, catechesis, doctrine).