Faith Seeking Understanding (Anselm)

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed Bengt Hagglund’s History of Theology.  Here’s a section from chapter 17, specifically on Anselm.

“Anselm, like Augustine before him, represented that position with respect to faith and reason which was customarily characterized by the expression, ‘I believe in order that I may understand’ (credo ut intelligam).  Basing their opinion on the words found in Is. 7:9 (Vulgate), ‘If you do not believe, you will not understand,’  those who follow this line emphasize that faith is the presupposition of a rational insight into revealed truth.  As Augustine put it, understanding is the reward of faith.”

“Anselm developed this position in more detail, among other places, in his Proslogion.  It is clearly expressed, for example, in the following passage: ‘I do not attempt, Lord, to penetrate Thy depth, for by no means do I compare my intellect with it; but I desire to understand, to a degree, Thy truth, which my heart believes and loves.  For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand’ (Ch. 1).”

“The credo ut intelligam concept presupposes that theology and philosophy can be harmonized.  That which forms the content of faith, and which man comprehends by faith, can also be understood by reason – at least to some extent.  Faith and the principles of reason are not antithetical.  It is the task of theology to present the content of faith in such a way that it can be understood and comprehended. …[Faith] has the primacy, for man does not come to faith through reason; but on the contrary understanding comes by faith.  The role of reason is simply to make clear, a posteriori, that the truths of faith are necessary even as seen from the point of view of logic and reason.  For it is only after one has grasped revealed truth in faith that he is able, through rational discussion and meditation, to perceive that that which he believes is also agreeable to reason.”

Good stuff.  In a day where values and feelings rule over truth and logic, it is good for Christians to remember that our faith is not irrational.  Many great theologians followed this Augustininan/Anselmian perspective.  For just one example, Herman Bavinck wrote Our Reasonable Faith, a nice summary of his longer Reformed Dogmatics. 

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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