Apologetics, Augustinian Intellectual Tradition, Philosophy, Saint Anselm, Saints, Theology

Philosophy as Prayer & Praxis – St. Anselm

Saint Anselm copy“Come now, insignificant mortal. Leave behind your concerns for a little while, and retreat for a short time from your restless thoughts. Cast off your burdens and cares; set aside your labor and toil. Just for a little while make room for God and rest a while in him. ‘Enter into the chamber’ of your mind, shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him, and seek him ‘behind closed doors.’ Speak, now, my whole heart: say to God, ‘I seek your face; your face, Lord, do I seek.’

Come now, O Lord My God. Teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you. Lord, if you are not here, where shall I seek you, since you are absent? But if you are everywhere, why do I not see you, since you are present? Truly ‘you dwell in unapproachable light.’ And where is this ‘unapproachable light’? How am I to approach an unapproachable light? Who will lead me into it, so that I can see you in it? And by what signs am I to seek you? Under what aspect? I have never seen you, O Lord my God; I do not know your face. What shall he do, O Lord Most High? What shall he do, this distant exile from you? What shall your servant do, deeply troubled by his love for you and ‘banished far from your face’? He longs to see you, but your face is too far away from him. He desires to approach your presence, but your dwelling is unapproachable. He wants to find you, but he dos not know where you are. He aspires to seek you, but he does not know your face. Lord, you are my God, and you are my Lord, but I have never seen you. You have made me and remade me, you have given me every good thing that is mine, and still I do not know you. I was created so that I might see you, but I have not yet done what I was created to do.

How wretched human beings are! They have lost the very thing for which they were created. Hard and terrible was their fall! Alas! Think what they have lost and what they have found; think what they left behind and what they kept. They have lost the happiness for which they were created and found an unhappiness for which they were not created. They left behind the only source of happiness and kept what brings nothing but misery. Once ‘human beings ate the bread of angels,’ for which they now hunger; now they ‘eat the bread of sorrows,’ which once they did not know. Alas for the common lamentation of human beings, the universal outcry of the children of Adam! He was satisfied to the full; we sigh with hunger. He had everything he needed; we go begging. He happily possessed those things and abandoned them in misery; we unhappily do without them and miserably desire them, but alas, we remain empty-handed. Why did he not preserve for us, as he could easily have done, what we so woefully lack? Why did he thus shut us out from the light and cover us with darkness? Why did he take away our life and inflict death upon us? What wretches we are! Think whence we have been cast out, whither we have been driven; thrown down from so great a height, and buried so deep. From our homeland into exile; from the vision of God into our blindness; from the joy of immortality into the bitterness and terror of death. What a wretched change! From such great good into such great evil! O woeful loss, woeful sorrow, all is woeful!

Alas, wretched man that I am, one of the wretched children of Eve, far from the presence of God. What have I undertaken, and what have I accomplished? Where was I heading, and where have I come to? What was I reaching toward and what do I long for? ‘I have sought the good,’ and ‘behold, confusion!’ I was heading for God but stumbled over myself. I sought rest in my solitude but ‘found trials and sorrows’ deep within. I wanted to laugh as my mind rejoiced, but I am forced to ‘cry out as my heart weeps.’ Joy was hoped for, but look where the sighs are closing in.

‘How long, O Lord?’ How long, O Lord, will you forget us? How long will you turn your face from us? When will you look favorably upon us and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes and how us your face? When will you give yourself to us again? Look favorably upon us, O Lord; here us, enlighten us, show yourself to us. Give yourself to us again, that it might go well for us; for without you it goes so badly for us. Take pity upon our toils and strivings after you, for without you we can do nothing. You call us; come to our aid. I beseech you, Lord: let me not sigh in despair, but let me breath hopefully again. I beseech you, Lord: my heart is made bitter with its desolation; sweeten it with your consolation. I beseech you, Lord: in my hunger I began to seek you; let me not depart from you empty. I have come to you starving; let me not leave unsatisfied. I have come as a beggar to one who is rich, as a pitiful wretch to one who has pity; let me not go back penniless and despised. If indeed ‘I sigh before I eat,’ grant that I might eat after I sigh. Lord, I am bent double; I can only look down. Raise me up that I can turn my gaze upwards. ‘My sins are heaped up over my head’ and entangle me; ‘like a heavy burden’ they weigh me down. Extricate me; lift my burdens, ‘lest like a pit they swallow me up.’ Let me look up at your light, whether from afar or from the depths. Teach me how to seek you, and show yourself to me when I seek. For I cannot seek you unless you teach me how, and I cannot find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you; let me desire you in seeking you. Let me find you in loving you; let me love you in finding you.

I acknowledge, Lord, and I thank you, that you have created in me this image of you so that I may remember you, think of you, and love you. Yet this image is so eroded by my vices, so clouded by the smoke of my sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do unless you renew and refashion it. It am not trying to scale your heights, Lord; my understanding is in now way equal to that. But I do long to understand your truth in some way, your truth which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order to believe: I believe in order to understand. For I also believe that ‘Unless I believe, I shall not understand.’”

– St. Anselm, Proslogion – 

– Lucas G. Westman


NOTE: St. Anselm references the Sacred Page 18 times in this opening passage of the Proslogion.

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