He wrote we should not try to understand our faith until we have faith. Christianity is rational, he wrote, but you could not get to faith in Christ through logic. You could only use logic to help you understand what you already believed. And failure to understand was not grounds for ceasing to believe what the Church taught.
I will say something to curb the presumption of those who, with blasphemous rashness and on the ground that they cannot understand it, dare to argue against something which the Christian faith confesses — those who judge with foolish pride that which they are not able to understand is not at all possible, rather than acknowledge with humble wisdom that many things are possible which they are not able to comprehend. Indeed, no Christian ought to question the truth of what the Catholic Church believes in its heart and confesses with its mouth. Rather, by holding constantly and unhesitatingly to this faith, by loving it and living according to it he ought humbly, and as best he is able, to seek to discover the reason why it is true. If he able to to understand, then let him give thanks to God. But if he cannot understand, let him not toss his horns in strife but let him bow his head in reverence.
Anselm was no Martin Luther. And as a child of the Reformation, I’m pretty sure I am supposed to reject this sentiment on spec.
But when I read it today, I was reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s assertion in The Cost of Discipleship that only those who obey believe, and I was reminded of the gospel reading this week with Jesus’ statement that only his sheep hear his voice. This both strike me as in the ballpark of Anselm’s assertion that we cannot hope to develop a logical and rational account of our faith if we do not start with and from a bedrock faith, as long as we remember that Anselm argued equally that once we had faith we should by all means try to understand it.
We can easily come up with ways to poke holes in Anselm’s argument, but his point is worthy of conversation and reflection.