I Believe So That I May Understand (Credo ut Intellegam)
It is well known that Anselm’s great ontological proof for the existence of God, the Proslogion, was the result of a prolonged process of perplexity and travail. His search resolved in a fit of joy, but only after deep prayer and contemplation. This attitude is evident in chapter 1. Consider these three excerpts:
What shall your servant do, tormented by love for you and yet cast off “far from your face”?; I was made in order to see you, and I have not yet accomplished what I was made for; How wretched man’s lot is when he has lost that for which he was made! Oh how cruel and hard the Fall!
Teach me to seek You, and reveal Yourself to me as I seek, because I can neither seek You if You do not teach me how, nor find You unless You reveal Yourself.
I do not try, Lord, to attain to your lofty heights, because my understanding is in no way equal to it. But I do desire to understand Your truth a little, that truth that my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand.
Anselm’s maxim, “I believe so that I may understand,” is associated with another expression “faith seeking understanding.” Both sayings point to the basic role of faith and spirituality. Whatever else human beings are, a thinker, learner, questioner and wonderer, maker and builder, or producer and consumer, the Bible says that he/she is first and foremost a religious being, a worshipper. Why? Because human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, created for relationship with our creator and rulership over his creation. We all reason and act on the basis of our “faith” or worldview, even if we are clueless about our most basic beliefs.
Psalm 36:9 declares: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” For Anselm reasoning was an attempt, though feeble, to know God and understand the world in His “light” or to “think God’s thoughts after Him.” C. S. Lewis put it well: “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” I do not claim the faith, piety, or insight of Anselm, but I do seek to “see everything else” on the presumption of my faith.
This website and my blog—including my book—are meager efforts to think about ourselves and the world from the vantage point of the Old and New Testaments. Whatever I write, post, and dialogue about in this forum the affirmation, “I believe so that I may understand,” serves as my starting point.