Credo ut intelligam is a Latin phrase meaning, “I believe in order to understand.” The phrase or model goes back to Augustine and Anselm’s style of thinking about God in the context of faith, sometimes, termed as faith seeking understanding. But what does the phrase mean? And does it have anything to do with Ludwig Wittgenstein? In what follows I will show just how Anselm’s model echoes in Wittgenstein’s philosophy.
Anselm of Canterbury claimed, “For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand. For I believe this also, that ‘unless I believe, I shall not understand’ [Isa. 7: 9]” (Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, 87). I take Anselm’s logic to be,
(1) If S believes p, then S will understand p
Let S stand for thinking-subject and p stand for God the object of thought, where Anselm’s definite description is that-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought,
(2) If S does not believe p, then S will not understand p.
But is (1) and (2) valid and sound? I will try to show that (1) and (2) are indeed justified or warranted.
The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy gives the following definition for the credo ut intelligam, “A formula of Anselm’s implying that the intelligibility of Christian doctrine can only become evident after belief in it. The idea (…) has echoes in the doctrine associated with the later work of Wittgenstein, according to which immersion in a way of life is necessary for understanding its specific structures and guiding concepts” (84). I derive to suggestions from The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy: first, intelligibility follows belief, and second, this proposition has echoes in the later Wittgenstein. I will elaborate on these suggestions.
In theory of knowledge, philosophers have traditionally defined or described knowledge as justified true belief (JTB). The logic is S has knowledge of q, where q is any belief, if and only if,
(3) S believes that q,
(4) S believes that q is true, and
(5) S is justified in believing that q.
So if (3) through (5) are the case for S, then S has knowledge of q. It seems presupposed in (3) that belief is necessary for understanding q, i.e. for knowing that q. Of course, there is the Gettier challenge to JTB, however, I think that the challenge has a response, but time will not permit me to elaborate more. Assuming then JTB, it seems that premises (1) and (2) are justified or warranted.
Just how, and where does Anselm’s credo ut intelligam echo in the later Wittgenstein can now be taken up. Wittgenstein’s philosophy sees language as a game or activity. Wittgenstein puts it like this, “But how many kinds of sentence are there? Say assertion, question, and command?—There are countless kinds; countless different kinds of use of all the things we call “signs”, “words”, “sentences”. And this diversity is not something fixed, given once for all; but new types of language, new language-games, as we may say, come into existence, and others become obsolete and get forgotten. The word “language-game” is used here to emphasize the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life” (Philosophical Investigations, 14-15e).
For Wittgenstein, language has many and varied uses or functions. Also, language-games pop-in and pop-out of social practice. Most importantly, language-games are part of a “form of life” or “activity.” A form of life is the background to any use of language, that is, language happens in a social practice. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy states that language-games is the pattern of activities and practices associated with some particular family of linguistic expressions, the use of language in terms of a rule-governed, self-contained practice. The emphasis shifts, Wittgenstein asserts, from thinking of language as a given system of signs, to the activities of agents who do things with their language. Therefore, the meaning of language lays in usage or function.
Here is the Wittgensteinian echo of Anselm’s credo ut intelligam. Anselm claims belief is logically necessary for understanding. Wittgenstein claims immersion in a form of life is logically necessary for playing a language-game. So the meaning of language cannot be separated from its social practice and context. Let x stand for language-game and y for form of life, thus,
(6) If S has meaning of p, then S is immersed in x and y,
The inversion follows logically,
(7) If S is not immersed in x and y, then S does not have meaning of p.
I interpret (6) and the inversion (7) to be the fundamental proposition Wittgenstein claims in the Philosophical Investigations. Clearly, a comparison can then be made between Anselm’s propositions in (1) and (2) with Wittgenstein’s propositions in (6) and (7).
At this point, a case has been made for Wittgenstein’s echo of Anselm’s faith seeking understanding. Obviously, belief is antecedent to understanding, while meaning is the consequent of language-games within a form of life.
The Ontological Principle of Theological Method
Previously, we saw that the epistemological principle and its inversion stem from the form of Anselm’s theological method. The epistemic principle and form lean on the side of the subject, i.e. the knower. The metaphysical or ontological or ontic principle and content of Anselm’s theological method we will see leans on the side of the object, i.e. the known. Here, we will also find reason for calling Anselm’s theistic proof ontological. For this reason, theological and philosophical knowledge of God, we will see constitutes the subject/object relationship, and so the epistemic/ontic principles of the knower and the known for doing theology in Anselmian-style. In what follows, the metaphysical or ontic principle in Anselm’s theological scheme (form, content, and context) will be described, and with it the metaphysical and epistemological relationship.
Anselm states in the preface to the Monologion, “For it will… be of great help towards understanding what is written therein for the reader to know beforehand the aims and methods of the discussion” (Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, 6). Consequently, in both the Monologion and the Proslogion, Anselm sets out the assumptions, method, and end of his theological investigations. He states, “But what I say at that point is expressed in the person of someone who, by reasoning alone, is investigating and arguing through things to which they have not before turned their attention” (Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, 6). However, the a priori form of Anselm’s method presupposes a posteriori content, then “by reasoning alone,” “investigating and arguing,” he moves to “things which have (…) not before” been turned to. Karl Barth interprets the Proslogium, saying,
“But throughout all Anselm’s investigation the origin of the rationes necessariae is to be found somewhere other than where it ought to be found in a philosopher who deduces the Credo a priori—namely, on the same level as that on which the question to be answered is raised, within the Credo itself. Within it, now this Article and now that Article figures as the unknown X which is solved in the investigation by means of the Articles of faith a, b, c, d, . . . which are assumed to be known (without assuming knowledge of X and to that extent sola ratione)” (Anselm: Fides Quarrens Intellectum, 55).
Next, I will logically analyze Barth’s interpretation of Anselm in the passage above (and another passage below). Barth notes that for Anselm, theological-philosophical arguments are not grounded in reason alone, but have empirical grounds. Those grounds are the Bible and the Credo, by which he means the content from apostolic articles of faith. Thus, the object of Anselm’s theology is the Bible and the Credo, i.e. the articles of faith (that witness to and confess the object of faith and revelation). Moreover, the articles of faith are based on Holy Scripture. Properly, the object of Anselm’s theology is God, i.e. something-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought and something-than-which-nothing-greater-can-exist, which are names derived from the Bible and the Credo, apart from which we could not know. That these two names depart from scriptural wording but not meaning make them theological. Properly deduced a priori (the object-itself purely reasoned), is God’s Self that constitutes the ground of the metaphysical or ontic principle of Anselm’s theological method. For this reason, Proslogion 2 is titled, “That God truly exists.” According to Barth, Anselm, “refers to God’s existence generally (and…) refers to the existence that is unique to God,” moreover, God is “the Existent One who is at once the Origin and Basis of all that exists apart from him and beside him” (Anselm: Fides Quarrens Intellectum, 101). In other words, the being of God, is the ground of all being, and thus the first principle of metaphysics and ontology for Anselm. Anselm’s theistic proof is properly called the ontological argument (here I disagree with Barth), not because it is an a priori proof, but because it is an argument from ontology, i.e. about being or reality. Here Kant would be gravely mistaken in reading Anselm’s theistic proof as a priori (here I agree with Barth), perhaps, Descartes’ and Leibniz’s version of the ontological argument were a priori. However, Anselm’s theistic proof is different all together. I think, that Anselm’s theistic proof has been misunderstood because the formal meaning of “ontological” is confused. The word ontological in the Anselmian-style is to be understood not as a priori but as a posteriori. Therefore, Anselm’s argument is not pure reasoning, but reasoning purely about the ontology of God, i.e the being and reality of God. Therefore, theological-philosophical argument in Anselmian-style is done within the articles of faith. Barth concludes that theological-philosophical arguments reach “unkown X” or conclusions by sola ratione or reason alone, however, they are reached on empirical grounds, i.e. the articles of faith. Here again the process of deducing knowledge from revelation is demonstrated by the deductive ontological principle (from the object, i.e. the known) as:
(A) From Credo to Investigation to unknown X.
But it’s inversion follows as the inductive ontological principle:
(B) From unknown X to investigation to Credo.
However, the Bible and the Credo remain the explicitly foundational and critical rules for (A) and (B). Barth continues by clearly and concisely describing the function of theological method,
“The inquiring theologian, with his capacity for forming concepts and making judgments, is never assigned the function of determining the fixed point or fixed points from which the argument is to proceed. His function is rather as follows: on the one hand, a selection from among the points fixed previously (elsewhere, or in another way); and on the other hand—and this is his proper task—the formulation, according to the rules of logic based upon the law of contradiction (and within the limits it permits), of the definition, conclusions, differentiations and correlations necessary for the resolution of that X. And so—not mastering the object but being mastered by it—he achieves true noetic ratio, a real comprehension of the ontic ratio of the object of faith; he attains to the intellectus fidei” ( Anselm: Fides Quarrens Intellectum, 55).
There is a critical process for the philosopher-theologian reasoning (noetic ratio) in Anselmian-style according to Barth. Therefore, I will further develop a case for Anselm’s epistemological and metaphysical relationship in the context of “intellectus fidei,” in standard form:
(1) the philosopher-theologian (PT) does not arbitrarily determine premises from which to deduce conclusions,
(2) PT begins with premises from the Bible and the Credo i.e. Holy Scripture and the articles of faith,
(3) PT argues or reasons according to the rules of logic e.g. law of contradiction etc.,
(4) PT reasons about definition, conclusions, differentiations, and correlations of X
(5) PT must be ‘mastered’ by the object of faith,
(6) PT develops an intellectual or rational faith. From (1) through (6) there comes one logical conclusion,
(7) PT, the knower or subject and the known or object are both affirmed in reasoning about God, i.e. theological-philosophical argument constitutes the epistemological/metaphysical relationship in context of faith.
I think, that what Anselm has accomplished with his style of theology and theistic proof is to demonstrate not the existence of God, but the reasonableness of knowledge of God. The ontological argument establishes the rationality of belief in God (Alvin Plantinga). Yet, Wittgenstein inquires, “Is God bound by our knowledge?” and I would add, Is God bound by our reason? (On Certainty, remark 436).
The Epistemological Principle of Theological Method
Anselm of Canterbury, in my first essay, develops a theistic proof, who’s content is a posteriori, while the form is a priori, within the context of faith. Yet, at a still deeper level the epistemological and metaphysical principles of the theistic proof are enlightening for doing theology in Anselmian-style. The epistemological principle we will see leans on the side of the subject or the knower, while the ontological principle we will see (in part III) leans on the side of the object or the known. Together the principles constitute the epistemological/metaphysical relationship. Further, Anselm states in the preface to the Monologion, “For it will… be of great help towards understanding what is written therein for the reader to know beforehand the aims and methods of the discussion” (Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, 10), the same is true for the Proslogion. In what follows, the epistemic principle in Anselm’s theological scheme (form, content, and context) will be described and the reason/faith debate reconciled in Anselmian-style.
Anselm does theology in the context of faith. He begins his theistic proof in prayer, “Well then, Lord, You who give understanding to faith, grant me that I may understand, as much as You see fit, that You exist as we believe You to exist, and that You are what we believe You to be” (Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, 92). From the outset, Anselm begins philosophical and theological reasoning in prayer. Thus, we can state that theology in Anselmian-style is theology as prayer. He again, describes his theological presupposition, faith seeking understanding. Hence, if there is going to be any demonstration of the existence of God, then it is within the context of faith. The demonstration then is based on a posteriori revelation, e.g. the Christian scriptures and tradition. Anselm’s epistemic principle (from the subject, i.e. the knower) in his theological scheme is,
(A) From Revelation to Faith to Understanding.
However, the inverted epistemic principle also holds,
(B) From Understanding to Faith to Revelation.
Therefore, Anselm’s epistemic principle is neither fideism (faith alone), nor rationalism (reason alone). (A) affirms that faith leads to reasoning and (B) affirms that reasoning leads to faith. Anselm’s theology follows the Augustinian tradition, consequently, (A) and (B) contradict fideism and rationalism. Like Augustine, Anselm affirms, “I believe, in order to understand.” However, this does not mean Anselm denies, “I understand, in order to believe.” Yet, the basis of the “I believe” and “I understand” is Holy Scripture and the Credo (Karl Barth). Hence, the scripture and reason are implicit foundational and critical rules in the epistemological principles (A) and (B). Therefore, a proper theology in Anselmian-style states, “I understand, in order to believe,” and “I believe, in order to understand.” In other words, it reconciles the reason/faith debate by placing reason and faith in their proper roles. Of course, belief begins with some understanding. And of course, understanding begins with some belief.
It is critical to take into account Anselm’s theological scheme to arrive at a proper conception of his theistic proof. Ludwig Wittgenstein notes, “When we first begin to believe anything, what we believe is not a single proposition, it is a whole system of propositions.” (On Certainty, 250). Wittgenstein affirms that our understanding begins with belief, then comes understanding. Yet, Wittgenstein would also affirm that understanding leads to belief. In the Monologion, Anselm is writing about the “whole system of propositions” in theology, which we have come to believe. In the Proslogion, Anselm is reasoning about “a single proposition” that we already believe. Anselm’s single proposition is, “Now we believe that You are something than which nothing greater can be thought” (Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, 92). Here is Anselm’s epistemic logic in standard form, let A stand for Anselm, G for God, F for Fool, and W for Wise,
(1) A believes (faith) that G is something-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought.
Next Anselm, claims, “The Fool has said in his heart, there is no God” (Psalms 13: 1; 52:1). I think, that by Fool Anselm means irrational, unreasonable, or unwarranted. So we restate his claim as,
(2) If A is a F, then A believes that not-G.
Further, (2) is plausible, if and only if, the inversion is the case, namely that, “The Wise says in his heart, there is a God.” Anselm, contrary to the meaning of fool, means the Wise is rational, reasonable, or warranted. Hence,
(3) If A is a W, then A believes that G.
Correctly interpreted, (1) through (3) are explicit and implicit assumptions of Anselm’s theistic proof and theological scheme. (1) and (2) are explicit assumptions. (3) is an implicit assumption. Therefore, (1) through (3) could be stated as,
(4) F believes that not-G, if and only if, W believes that G.
For theology in Anselmian-style, the epistemological structure of theology presupposes that theistic belief is rational, reasonable, and warranted, yet, it then proceeds to rationally justify such belief. The truth of premises (2) and (4) hinges on the truth of (3). Hence, Anselm is Wise, i.e. rational, reasonable, and warranted not only if he says, “there is a God,” but if he can give justification or warrant for theistic belief. Consequently, I take a version or two of Anselm’s ontological argument to do just that.
Anselm say’s in the Proslogion, “at the pressing entreaties of several of my brethren, (he wrote) a certain short tract [the Monologion] as an example of meditation on the meaning of faith from the point of view of one seeking, through silent reasoning within himself, things he knows not—reflecting that this was made up of a connected chain of many arguments” (Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, 97). Anselm, thus, reasoned via “a connected chain of many arguments” about the “meaning of faith.” For this reason, Anselm is no different with respect to rationality, reason, or warrant, than say, the mathematician that presupposes axioms or rules of inference in order to proceed in argument to valid conclusions, regardless of whether those conclusions lead to absurdities. All Anselm has to do when his arguments lead to contradictions, like the mathematician, is re-place some axiom or inference per se (W.V. Quine).
In the preface to the Monologion, Anselm elaborates on his theological method, “the following form for this written meditation: nothing whatsoever to be argued on the basis of the authority of Scripture, but the constraints of reason concisely to prove, and the clarity of truth clearly to show, in the plain style, with everyday arguments, and down-to-earth dialectic, the conclusions of distinct investigations” (Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, 8). I interpret, Anselm to mean that his theological argumentation is not based on the authority of scripture alone but on the authority of reason as well. Moreover, Anselm is not opposed to reasoning, “down-to-earth dialectic”, investigation, or argument on or about or from scripture. Karl Barth asserts that Anselm’s scriptural rule runs, “If a proposition accords with the actual wording of the Bible or with the direct inferences from it, then naturally it is valid with absolute certainty, but just because of this agreement it is not strictly a theological proposition. If, on the other hand, it is a strictly theological proposition, that is to say a proposition formed independently of the actual wording of Scripture then the fact that it does not contradict the biblical text, determines its validity. But if it did contradict the Bible, however, attractive it might be on other grounds, it would be rendered invalid” (Anselm: Fides Quarens Intellectum, 33). Pure reasoning, in the sense that Kant talked about is not the method of Anselm. But Anselm does purport to do a posteriori theology by reasoning purely. He next says about doing theology, “But what I say at that point is expressed in the person of someone who, by reasoning alone, is investigating and arguing through things to which they have not before turned their attention” (Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, 10). Therefore, Anselm is trying to take theological beliefs to there logical conclusions by using their assumptions and implications.
Ludwig Wittgenstein comments on the aim of philosophical theology, “A proof of God’s existence ought really to be something by means of which one could convince oneself that God exists. But I think that what believers who have furnished such proofs have wanted to do is give their ‘belief’ an intellectual analysis and foundation, althought they themselves would never have come to believe as a result of such proofs” (Culture and Value, 85e). Clearly, Wittgenstein would have taken Anselm to accept belief in God on the authority of Christian scripture and tradition. Wittgenstein would have interpreted Anselm’s theistic proof as the “intellectual analysis and foundation” for belief in God, and rightly so.
The Form, Content, and Context of Theological Method
Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) was an early scholastic theologian and philosopher. He is probably most noteworthy for his so called, a priori theistic-proof; in contrast to Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) a posteriori theistic proofs. Anselm’s theistic proof has been known since Immanuel Kant as the ontological argument for God’s existence. However, Kant’s name and critique of the argument has led to seriously mistaken conceptions of its validity and soundness, which will not be dealt with presently. If someone objects, why waste time on ivory-tower thinking, or on such sophisticated details for theistic arguments? I think, that sophisticated details are inevitable to understanding validity and soundness in theological debate. If we care about theological thought and truth, then rigorous reasoning is inescapable. Therefore, in this essay a proper conception of the form, content, and context of the argument, we will see results in a particularly rich and robust formulation for theological assumptions and method.
Karl Barth, an eminent theologian, wrote a book on Anselm’s theistic proof. In his book, Barth re-interprets, Anselm’s theistic proof in light of the context of its theological scheme. It is a failure to understand the Anselmian theological scheme (assumptions and method) that has led many to misunderstand and misinterpret the proof. Barth concludes, “That Anselm’s proof of the existence of God has repeatedly been called the “ontological’ proof of God, that commentators have refused to see that it is in a different book altogether from the well-known teaching of Descartes and Leibniz, that anyone could seriously think that it is even remotely affected by what Kant put forward against these doctrines—all that is so much nonsense on which no more words ought to be wasted” (Anselm: Fides Quarens Intellectum, 171). So just where lays the “difference”? And what about the proof’s name “ontological”? (We will return to this latter question in part III). In order to arrive at a proper understanding of the argument, we must re-exegete the argument and re-read Kant’s critique.
Anselm develops his theistic proof in the Proslogion, i.e. an allocution, however, he had intended to title his proof not Proslogion, but Faith Seeking Understanding. This title, we will see, is critical to understanding the proof’s theological scheme. In the preface to the proof, Anselm states, “After I had published (the Monologion, i.e. a soliloquy…), I had began to wonder if perhaps it might be possible to find one single argument that for its proof required no other save itself, and that by itself would suffice to prove that God really exists, that He is the supreme good needing no other and is He whom all things have need of for their being and well-being, and also to prove whatever we believe about the Divine Being” (Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, 87). From Anselm’s statement we can derive the following: his argument attempts to proof that God exists, that God is the supreme good, that God is the ground of all being and well-being, and to proof everything else we already “believe about the Divine Being.” Therefore, it is clear that Anselm’s argument attempts to give rational justification for theistic beliefs.
Anselm’s argument is not, I repeat, is not a priori or pure reasoning about God’s existence. Anselm states, “I have written the following short tract dealing with this question as well as several others, from the point of view of one trying to raise his mind to contemplate God and seeking to understand what he believes” (Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, 88). Anselm’s argument attempts to “understand what he” already believes. Therefore, by definition his theistic proof cannot be a priori because it is based on a posteriori knowledge. I should note, that a priori means “by reason” and not “by reason alone,” while a posteriori means “by experience” and not “by experience alone.” In fact, his argument for God’s existence, is both a posteriori and a priori. The content of the argument, God, is a posteriori knowledge. The name of God, that Anselm uses, something-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought, is not a priori knowledge. The name of God is obtained and known from revelation. Anselm is attempting to “understand what he believes.” What he believes is based on revelation, i.e. Christian scripture and tradition. For this reason, Anselm originally titled his argument for God’s existence, Faith Seeking Understanding. Therefore, the presupposition of theological method is: faith seeking understanding. The object of faith is God and the seeking to understand is philosophical and theological reasoning. I take Anselm to mean, that the name of God, something-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought, is a posteriori knowledge. Moreover, the theistic argument is purely reasoning on objective knowledge of God. Therefore, the argument’s content is a posteriori, while the form is a priori, within the context of faith.
Kant distinguishes the a posteriori proofs from the a priori proofs, as follows, “That it may possess a secure foundation, it bases its conclusions upon experience, and thus appears to be completely distinct from the ontological argument, which places its confidence entirely in pure a priori conceptions” (The Critique of Pure Reason, 230). Kant speaks of the cosmological argument for God’s existence when he notes, “it bases its conclusions upon experience,” this is the a posteriori kind of proof. The “ontological argument” for Kant is Anselm’s theistic proof, which Kant interprets to place “its confidence entirely in pure a priori conceptions.” It is just here, that Kant’s description of Anselm’s proof fails to take into account it’s theological scheme, e.g. form, content, and context. Kant denies the argument moving from a priori to a posteriori. But that is not the movement in Anselm’s theistic proof, his is a movement from a posteriori to a priori, from content to form in the context of faith.