ANSELM AND GAUNILO
St. Anselm (1033/34–1109) was abbot of Bec and later archbishop of Canterbury. He wrote several important treatises on theological subjects, including Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man). In this selection from his Proslogium he begins with the definition of God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” Today we might translate this as “the greatest possible being.” From that definition Anselm proceeds to argue for the necessary existence of God, known as the Ontological Argument for the existence of God. Although a version of this argument can be found in Augustine, Anselm's rendition is more complete and better developed. He believes that God's existence is so certain that only a fool would doubt or deny it. Yet he desires understanding to fulfill his faith. The Ontological Argument is the product of this desire.
Anselm's contemporary, Gaunilo, a Benedictine monk, sets forth the first objection to Anselm's argument, centering on a delectable lost island, one that is more excellent than all lands. Since it is better that such a perfect island exists in reality than simply in the mind alone, this Isle of the Blest must necessarily exist.
Anselm's reply to Gaunilo is included in our readings.
Evans, G. R. Anselm and Talking About God (Oxford University Press, 1978).
Harshorne, C. Anselm's Discovery (Open Court, 1965).
Hick, John and Arthur McGill, eds. The Many-Faced Arguments (Macmillan, 1967).
Hopkins, Jasper. A Companion to the Study of St. Anselm (University of Minnesota Press, 1972).
Plantinga, Alvin, ed. The Ontological Argument (Doubleday, 1965).
Southern, R. W. Saint Anselm: A Portrait in a Landscape (Cambridge University Press, 1990).