St. Anselm’s Sexist Trinitarianism: in and by the Monologion
When others were calling him “Father Anselm,” the one we all know now as St. Anselm wrote something sexist. What’s more, he wrote it in a sexist way. That is, he wrote intentionally in such a way that, much later, past modern times, in what we have been calling “postmodern” philosophy in our day, critics might easily deconstruct his argument and his argumentation as, what they call, phallogocentricism. All I want to do in this post is to show what Father Anselm wrote in his own words in his own way. He does not need the Bible, he says. All he needs is something that looks suspiciously like Aristotle’s powerful, syllogistic rationalism, or Cicero’s. By this, he develops his Trinitarianism. By it, he makes it sexist. By his Monologion, Anselm starts in this way. Notice how he tries to blame it on his brothers (my own emphases):
Certain brothers have frequently and earnestly entreated me to write out for them, in the form of a meditation, certain things which I had discussed in non-technical terms with them regarding meditating on the Divine Being and regarding certain other [themes] related to a meditation of this kind. For the writing of this meditation they prescribed—in accordance more with their own wishes than with the ease of the task or with my ability—the following format: that nothing at all in the meditation would be argued on Scriptural authority, but that in unembellished style and by unsophisticated arguments and with uncomplicated disputation rational necessity would tersely prove to be the case, and truth’s clarity would openly manifest to be the case, whatever the conclusion resulting from the distinct inquiries would declare. They also desired that I not disdain to refute simple and almost foolish objections which would occur to me.
What I’ve emphasized, above, is the very method of proof and of proving that Father Anselm purports to use. I would get ahead of myself, or digress too quickly, if I suggested that some today still follow this Aristotelian or Cicerone-an logic to make their claims, to use logic to construct conclusions. Whoever it is doing it, whenever, whatever century, they still follow a few similar steps. First, the first and foremost necessary presuppositions are identified. Second, the secondary premises are brought forward. Finally, in conclusion, the word brings forth Truth. So Father Anselm starts with steps like these. For example, early on in the Monologion, he writes (with my emphases again):
Moreover, if anyone considers the natures of things, he cannot help perceiving that they are not all of equal excellence but that some of them differ by an inequality of gradation. For if anyone doubts that a horse is by nature better than a tree and that a man is more excellent than a horse, then surely this [person] ought not to be called a man. So although we cannot deny that some natures are better than others, nonetheless reason persuades us that one of them is so pre-eminent that no other nature is superior to it.
What is pre-supposed is that there are natures, that Nature inflexibly makes obvious, difference. Difference, then, pre-supposes inequities. Only the ignorant can avoid the perception that, in Nature, the species are different, that some are less equal than others. Famously, in his Prologion, Father Anselm extends his argument to prove that there is a god, the God. Here, nonetheless, he’s just beginning to establish his argument and his line of argumentation.
Late in the Monologion, he makes the argument he calls, QUOD ALTERIUS VERISSIME SIT ESSE GENITOREM ET PATREM, ALTERIUS GENITUM ET FILIUM. Jasper Hopkins translates that as follows (with my emphases [but Hopkins' own brackets and bracketed text to note what he infers from the Latin]):
It is most truly characteristic of the one to be begetter and father, and of the other to be begotten and son.
I would now like to infer, if I can, that the Supreme Spirit most truly is father and that the Word most truly is son. Yet, I think I ought not to by-pass [the following question]: is the appellation “father and son” or the appellation “mother and daughter” more befitting for them?, for there is no sexual distinction in the Supreme Spirit and the Word. For if the Supreme Spirit is suitably [called] father and its offspring suitably [called] son because each is spirit, then why is it not suitable, by parity of reasoning, for the one to be [called] mother and the other to be [called] daughter because each is truth and wisdom?1 Is it [preferable to call them father and son] because among those natures which have a difference of sex it is characteristic of the better sex to be father or son and of the inferior sex to be mother or daughter? Now, although this is by nature the case for many [beings], for others the reverse holds true. For example, in some species of birds the female sex is always larger and stronger, the male sex smaller and weaker. But, surely, the Supreme Spirit is more suitably called father than mother because the first and principal cause of offspring is always in the father. For if the paternal [cause] always in some way precedes the maternal cause, then it is exceedingly inappropriate for the name “mother” to be applied to that parent whom no other cause either joins or precedes for the begetting of offspring. Therefore, it is most true that the Supreme Spirit is father of its own offspring. But if a son is always more like a father than is a daughter, and if no one thing is more like another than this offspring is like the Supreme Father, it is most true that this offspring is a son, not a daughter. Therefore, just as this Spirit has the distinguishing property of most truly begetting and this offspring of most truly being begotten, so the former has the distinguishing property of being the most true begetting one and the latter of being the most true begotten one. And just as the one is the most true parent and the other the most true offspring, so the one is the most true father and the other the most true son.
1“Spirit” is in Latin a masculine noun (“spiritus”); “truth” and “wisdom” are feminine nouns (“veritas,” “sapientia”).
Well, I nearly emphasized, with the bold font, the whole argument. It is so very tight, and each step, each bit of logic, is part and parcel of the argument. I’ve found most interesting the rhetorical questions, Father Anselm’s answers, and, finally, his sure conclusion.
The paternal always comes first and foremost. God, as Father Anselm constructs Him from such logic and not from any Scripture, is the Trinity. Last, there cannot be divine mother or nor divine daughter therein.
(As mentioned, I’ve used Jasper Hopkins‘s very interesting English translation of St. Anselm’s work. Hopkins finds very interesting the translating of Anselm by Gertrude E. M. Anscombe. Perhaps more should be said about their approaches in another post some day. Until then, you may be interested in reading Anselm’s own words here at the Logic Museum, where yet another English translation is offered, side by side with his Latin. I think all of the English translations bring across the extra-biblical [that is, the not-from-Scripture], sexist logic and sexist conclusions just fine.)