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Translated by David Burr, History Department, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA.

God's existence was to some extent obvious for medieval theologians. They simply knew he existed. Nevertheless, they attempted to prove his existence anyway, and the basic strategies employed by them are the ones used every since. Here two approaches are presented. The first, by Anselm, is perhaps the most puzzling. While it has not been all that popular with the average believer, it has fascinated philosophers, and even today there are respectable philosophers who accept it.

Anselm himself is equally fascinating, since he combined the seemingly disparate roles of saint, ecclesiastical leader, and major philosopher. He was born in 1033 near Aosta, which is now in Italy. At the age of twenty-three he quarreled with his father and began a period of wandering through France on what seems to have resembled an educational grand tour. After trying the schools at Fleury-sur-Loire and Chartres, he arrived at the Benedictine abbey of Bec, which was enjoying an excellent reputation thanks to Lanfranc, who served as both prior and master of its school. Anselm entered the abbey as a novice in 1060 and rapidly rose to eminence. When Lanfranc moved to the new monastery founded at Caen in 1063 by William, the Duke of Normandy, Anselm became prior at Bec, a position he held until he became abbot in 1078.

By that time William the Duke had become William the Conqueror and was in the process of reorganizing England. He had brought Lanfranc over as Archbishop of Canterbury, and when Lanfranc died William Rufus, who had succeeded William the Conqueror as king of England, imported Anselm to be the new archbishop. Anselm arrived in 1093 and almost from the moment he touched English soil he was fighting with William to gain ecclesiastical freedom from royal control. By 1097 he was conducting the battle from exile, and was allowed to return only in 1100, when William Rufus was succeeded by Henry I. He got along no better with Henry, however, and in 1103 was back in exile, returning only in 1107 when the stubborn king and equally stubborn archbishop worked out a compromise that became the standard formula for settling church-state quarrels in the twelfth century. Anselm died in 1109.

If Anselm was sure of himself in ecclesiastical politics, he was equally so in theology. His associate and biographer Eadmer gives a remarkably telling deathbed scene. It was Palm Sunday, and one of those clustered around Anselm's bed remarked that it looked as if the archbishop would be celebrating Easter with God, Anselm replied, Well, if that's what God wants I'll gladly obey him, but if he prefers to let me stay here long enough to solve the problem of the origin of the soul (which I've been thinking about a great deal lately) I would gratefully accept that opportunity, because I doubt if anyone else is going to solve it once I'm gone.

Something should be said about the intellectual climate in Anselm's time. The main conflict in the eleventh century was between those who saw theology as little more than Bible commentary and those who felt that rational analysis and argument was needed. The first group argued that God was such a mystery, so intellectually inaccessible, that we could hope to talk about him at all only in the symbolic language he himself had graciously given us for that purpose. Nor could we expect to get beyond that language, to infer other truths from it by reason.

Anselm's writings place him securely in the second group. As he suggests at the beginning of the Proslogion, sin has so darkened our minds that we cannot hope to reach the truth unless God graciously leads us to it. He does so by offering us the truth through revelation and by inspiring us to accept that revelation in faith. Once we accept the truth on that basis, however, we can hope to reason out proofs for what we have already accepted through faith. God is rational, and what he does is rational, and we ourselves are blessed with reason. Thus we should be able to discover the rationality of God's actions, at least to some extent. We are like students who, unable to solve a mathematical problem, are given the answer to it and then discover they can reason out why that answer is correct.

If later theologians found themselves uneasy with this approach, it was because they suspected that even the most brilliant student could not be expected to work out the problem quite as well as Anselm thought he had. In his other major work, the Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man), he offers an explanation for the Christ's incarnation and crucifixion which essentially argues that God had to do it that way because it was the only logical course he could follow, given the divine attributes of omnipotence and justice. God had to redeem humankind or else the eternal purposes for this it had been created would have been thwarted and God's omnipotence would have been compromised; yet humankind also had to be punished for the fall or else God's justice would have been compromised. Anselm's argument - which explained the course of sacred history not only in broad outline but in excruciating detail - made the whole thing very accessible to human reason, perhaps too accessible. Later theologians suspected that the rationality was achieved by trapping God within the rational structures of the created world. In the final analysis God wasn't very much like us, and we couldn't explain his actions by assuming he had to follow the same rules we do. Abelard, writing somewhat later, suggested that the world was, after all, God's creation and he could do as he pleased with it. If he wanted to forgive humankind, why couldn't he simply forgive it?


Chapter I: Encouraging the Mind to Contemplate God

Come on now, little man, get away from your worldly occupations for a while, escape from your tumultuous thoughts. Lay aside your burdensome cares and put off your laborious exertions. Give yourself over to God for a little while, and rest for a while in Him. Enter into the cell of your mind, shut out everything except God and whatever helps you to seek Him once the door is shut. Speak now, my heart, and say to God, "I seek your face; your face, Lord, I seek." . . . .

Come on then, my Lord God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you. . . . . Lord, turned in (incurvatus) as I am I can only look down, so raise me up so that I can look up. "My iniquities heaped on my head" cover me over and weigh me down "like a heavy load" (Ps. 37:5). Dig me out and set me free before "the pit" created by them "shuts its jaws over me" (Ps. 67:16).Let me see your light, even if I see it from afar or from the depths. Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to this seeker. For I cannot seek you unless you teach me how, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you, and desire you in seeking you. Let me find you in loving you and love you in finding you.

I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created in me this your image, so that I can remember you, think about you and love you. But it is so worn away by sins, so smudged over by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do unless you renew and reform it. I do not even try, Lord, to rise up to your heights, because my intellect does not measure up to that task; but I do want to understand in some small measure your truth, which my heart believes in and loved. Nor do I seek to understand so that I can believe, but rather I believe so that I can understand. For I believe this too, that "unless I believe I shall not understand" (Isa. 7:9).

CHAPTER II: That God Really Exists

Therefore, Lord, you who give knowledge of the faith, give me as much knowledge as you know to be fitting for me, because you are as we believe and that which we believe. And indeed we believe you are something greater than which cannot be thought. Or is there no such kind of thing, for "the fool said in his heart, 'there is no God'" (Ps. 13:1, 52:1)? But certainly that same fool, having heard what I just said, "something greater than which cannot be thought," understands what he heard, and what he understands is in his thought, even if he does not think it exists. For it is one thing for something to exist in a person's thought and quite another for the person to think that thing exists. For when a painter thinks ahead to what he will paint, he has that picture in his thought, but he does not yet think it exists, because he has not done it yet. Once he has painted it he has it in his thought and thinks it exists because he has done it. Thus even the fool is compelled to grant that something greater than which cannot be thought exists in thought, because he understands what he hears, and whatever is understood exists in thought. And certainly that greater than which cannot be understood cannot exist only in thought, for if it exists only in thought it could also be thought of as existing in reality as well, which is greater. If, therefore, that than which greater cannot be thought exists in thought alone, then that than which greater cannot be thought turns out to be that than which something greater actually can be thought, but that is obviously impossible. Therefore something than which greater cannot be thought undoubtedly exists both in thought and in reality.

That God Cannot be Thought Not to Exist

In fact, it so undoubtedly exists that it cannot be thought of as not existing. For one can think there exists something that cannot be thought of as not existing, and that would be greater than something which can be thought of as not existing. For if that greater than which cannot be thought can be thought of as not existing, then that greater than which cannot be thought is not that greater than which cannot be thought, which does not make sense. Thus that than which nothing can be thought so undoubtedly exists that it cannot even be thought of as not existing.

And you, Lord God, are this being. You exist so undoubtedly, my Lord God, that you cannot even be thought of as not existing. And deservedly, for if some mind could think of something greater than you, that creature would rise above the creator and could pass judgment on the creator, which is absurd. And indeed whatever exists except you alone can be thought of as not existing. You alone of all things most truly exists and thus enjoy existence to the fullest degree of all things, because nothing else exists so undoubtedly, and thus everything else enjoys being in a lesser degree. Why therefore did the fool say in his heart "there is no God," since it is so evident to any rational mind that you above all things exist? Why indeed, except precisely because he is stupid and foolish?

CHAPTER IV: How the Fool Managed to Say in His Heart That Which Cannot be Thought

How in the world could he have said in his heart what he could not think? Or how indeed could he not have thought what he said in his heart, since saying it in his heart is the same as thinking it? But if he really thought it because he said it in his heart, and did not say it in his heart because he could not possibly have thought it - and that seems to be precisely what happened - then there must be more than one way in which something can be said in one's heart or thought. For a thing is thought in one way when the words signifying it are thought, and it is thought in quite another way when the thing signified is understood. God can be thought not to exist in the first way but not in the second. For no one who understands what God is can think that he does not exist. Even though he may say those words in his heart he will give them some other meaning or no meaning at all. For God is that greater than which cannot be thought. Whoever understands this also understands that God exists in such a way that one cannot even think of him as not existing.

Thank you, my good God, thank you, because what I believed earlier through your gift I now understand through your illumination in such a way that I would be unable not to understand it even if I did not want to believe you existed.

Anselm now proceeds to deduce God's nature from the same basic definition of him as something greater than which cannot be thought.. He arrives as all the standard attributes: creative, rational, omnipotent, merciful, unchangeable, just, eternal, etc. It is, in effect, a theological tour de force.

Anselm's thoughts did not go unchallenged, however. His first major critic was Gaunilo, a monk in the abbey of Marmoutier. Gaunilo's reply is the only bit of writing we possess by him, which is a shame, because in it we encounter a very perceptive mind, although a radically different one than Anselm's.


To one who questions whether (or simply denies that) there exists something of such a nature that nothing greater can be imagined, it is said that its existence is proved in the first place by the fact that anyone denying it already has it in his thought, since upon hearing it said he understands what is said; and in the second place by the fact that what he understands necessarily exists not only in the mind but in reality as well. Thus its existence is proved, because it is a greater thing to exist in reality as well than to exist in the mind alone, and if it exists only in the mind, then what exists in reality as well will be greater, and thus that which is greater than all else will be less than something else and not greater than all else, which is nonsense. Thus what is greater than all else must necessarily exist, not only in the mind (which has already been acknowledge to be the case), in reality as well, or else it could not be greater than all else.

But perhaps the fool could reply that this thing is said to exist in my mind only in the sense that I understand what is said. For could I not say that all sorts of false and completely nonexistent things exist in my mind since when someone speaks of them I understand what is said? . . . .

Nevertheless, that this being must exist not only in my mind but in reality as well is proved to me by the following argument: If it did not, then whatever did exist in reality would be greater, and thus the thing which has already been proved to exist in my mind will not be greater than everything else. If it is said that this being, which cannot be conceived of in terms of any existing thing, exists in the mind, I do not deny that it exists in mine. But through this alone it can hardly be said to attain existence in reality. I will not concede that much to it unless convinced by some indubitable argument. For whoever says that it must exist because otherwise that which is greater than all other beings will not be greater than all other beings, that person isn't paying careful enough attention to what he says. For I do not yet grant, in fact I deny or it at least question, that thing existing in my mind is greater than any real thing. Nor do I concede that it exists in any way except this: the sort of existence (if you can call it such) a thing has when the mind attempt to form some image of a thing unknown to it on the basis of nothing more than some words the person has heard. How then is it demonstrated to me that the thing exists in reality merely because it is said to be greater than everything else? For I continue to deny and doubt that this is established, since I continue to question whether this greater thing is in my mind or thought even in the way that many doubtful or unreal things are. It would first have to be proved to me that this greater thing really exists somewhere. Only then will we be able to infer from the fact that is greater than everything else that it also subsists in itself.

For example, they say there is in the ocean somewhere an island which, due to the difficulty (or rather the impossibility) of finding what does not actually exist, is called "the lost island." And they say that this island has all manner of riches and delights, even more of them than the Isles of the Blest, and having no owner or inhabitant it is superior in the abundance of its riches to all other lands which are inhabited by men. If someone should tell me that such is the case, I will find it easy to understand what he says, since there is nothing difficult about it. But suppose he then adds, as if he were stating a logical consequence, "Well then, you can no longer doubt that this island more excellent than all other lands really exists somewhere, since you do not doubt that it is in your mind; and since it is more excellent to exist not only in the mind but in reality as well, this island must necessarily exist, because if it didn't, any other island really existing would be more excellent than it, and thus that island now thought of you as more excellent will not be such." If, I say, someone tries to convince me though this argument that the island really exists and there should be no more doubt about it, I will either think he is joking or I will have a hard time deciding who is the bigger fool, me if I believe him or him if he thinks he has proved its existence without having first convinced me that this excellence is something undoubtedly existing in reality and not just something false or uncertain existing in my mind.

In the meantime, this is how the fool answers. If it is asserted in the first place that this being is so great that its nonbeing is logically inconceivable (this in turn being proved by nothing except that otherwise it would not be greater than all other beings), then the fool can answer, "When did I say that such a being, namely one greater than all others, actually exists, thus allowing you to proceed from there to argue that it so really exists that its very nonexistence is inconceivable?" It should first be proved conclusively that some being superior to (that is, greater and better than) all others exists, so that on this basis we can go on to prove the attributes such a greater and better being must possess. When, however, it is said that this highest being cannot be thought of as not existing, perhaps it would have been better to say that its nonbeing or the possibility of its nonbeing is unintelligible. For strictly speaking false things are unintelligible even though they can be thought of in the same way the fool thought God did not exist. I am absolutely certain that I exist, although I nevertheless know that my nonexistence is possible. And I understand without doubting it that the highest thing there is, namely God, exists and cannot not exist. I do not know, however, whether I can think of myself as nonexistant when I know for certain that I exist. If it turns out that I can do so in this case, why should I not be able to do the same concerning other things I know with equal certainty? If I cannot, though, the impossibility of doing so will not be something peculiar to thinking about God.

The other parts of that book are argued with such veracity, brilliance and splendor, and filled with such value, such an intimate fragrance of devout and holy feeling, that they should in no way be condemned because of those things which, at the beginning are rightly intuited by less firmly argued. Rather those things should be argued more robustly and the entire work thus received with great respect and praise.

Now it was Anselm's turn again.


Since whoever wrote this reply to me is not the fool against whom I wrote in my treatise but instead one who, though speaking on behalf of the fool, is a catholic Christian and no fool himself, I can speak to him as a catholic Christian.

You say - whoever you are who claim that the fool can say these things - that because something greater than which cannot be thought of is in the mind only as something that cannot be thought of in terms of some [existent thing known to us]. And you say that one can no more argue, "since a being greater than which cannot be thought of exists in my mind it must also exist in reality," than one can argue, "the lost island certainly exists in reality because when it is described in words the hearer has no doubt that it exists in his mind." I say in reply that if "a being greater than which cannot be thought of is neither understood nor thought of, nor is it in our understanding or our thought, then God either is not that greater than which cannot be thought of or he is not understood or thought of, nor is he in the understanding or mind. In proving that this is false I appeal to your faith and conscience. Therefore "a being greater than which cannot be thought of" is really understood and thought of and it really is in our understanding and thought. And that is why the arguments by which you attempt to prove the contrary either are not true or what you think follows from them does not follow from them at all.

What follows largely repeats what Anselm has said in the treatise; yet at one point the argument takes a different turn.

But let us suppose that it does not exist (if it is even possible to suppose as much). Whatever can be thought of yet does not exist, even if it should come into existence, would not be "a being greater than which cannot be thought of." Thus "a being greater than which cannot be thought of" would not be "a being greater than which cannot be thought of," which is absurd. Thus if "a being greater than which cannot be thought of" can even be thought of, it is false to say that it does not exist; and it is even more false if such can be understood and exist in the understanding.

I will go even farther. Without doubt whatever does not exist somewhere or at some time, even if it does exist somewhere or at some time, can be thought of as capable of as existing never and nowhere, just as it does not exist somewhere or at some time. For what did not exist yesterday and exists today can be thought of as never existing, just as it is thought of as not having existed yesterday. And what does not exist here but does exist somewhere else can be thought of as not existing anywhere. And it is the same with something some parts of which are absent at times. If that is the case, then all of its parts and thus the thing in its entirety can be thought of as existing never and nowhere. For if it is said that time always exists and the world is everywhere, it is nevertheless true that time as a whole does not exist forever, nor does the entire world exist everywhere. And if individual parts of time exist when other parts do not, they can be thought of as never existing at all. And just as particular parts of the world do not exist where other parts do, so they can be thought of as never existing at all, anywhere. And what is composed of parts can be broken up in the mind and be nonexistent. Thus whatever does not exist as a whole sometime or somewhere can be thought of as not existing, even if it actually exists at the moment. But "a being greater than which cannot be thought of," if it exists, cannot be thought of as not existing. Otherwise it is not "a being greater than which cannot be thought of," which is absurd. Thus it cannot fail to exist in its totality always and everywhere.

The significant thing here is that Anselm has introduced a new element, one of God's attributes, into his argument. God exists necessarily, while everything else exists contingently. In essence, that means that God depends on nothing else for his existence. He is uncaused. Thus his existence is eternal. Contingent beings are caused by something else. They depend on that something else for their existence and thus they can begin to be or cease to be. They can, in short, be here today and gone tomorrow. (or , more precisely, nonexistent today, here tomorrow, and gone the day after that). That much is standard medieval theology. The real question is what it proves. Certainly it proves that if God exists at any moment he must exist at all moments. Does it also prove that he exists at all, though? Anselm seems to think so.

Anselm continues as some length, but much of what he says seems repetitive. He does eventually note one important difference in the way he and Gaunilo have been phrasing the matter.

You often picture me as offering this argument: Because what is greater than all other things exists in the understanding, it must also exist in reality or else the being which is greater than all others would not be such. Never in my entire treatise do I say this. For there is a big difference between saying "greater than all other things" and "a being greater than which cannot be thought of." If someone says "a being greater than which cannot be thought of" is not something actually existing or is something which could possibly not exist or something which cannot even be understood, such assertions are easily refuted. For what does not exist is capable of not existing, and what is capable of not existing can be thought of as not existing. But whatever can be thought of as not existing, if it does actually exist, is not "a being greater than which cannot be thought of.

Anselm goes on to present his standard argument that the nonexistence of such a being is inconceivable. Then he adds a key observation.

It is not, it seems, so easy to prove the same thing of "that which is greater than all other things," for it is not all that obvious that something which can be thought of as not existing is not nevertheless greater than all things which actually exist.


Some later medieval theologians accepted Anselm's argument, but many of the most important ones did not. The most famous theologian to reject it was Thomas Aquinas. Born into a noble Italian family in 1224 or 1225, Thomas was earmarked by his parents to pursue a respectable ecclesiastical career as abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, thus improving both The family fortunes and his own.

Thomas had other ideas. In 1244 he joined the Dominican order. Like the Franciscans, the Dominicans were a relatively new order, and by the middle of The thirteenth century they were gaining a reputation for learning and piety. They sent their newly-recovered recruit off to Paris, an exciting place to be at that moment. Scholars were rediscovering Aristotle, asking if and how his philosophy could be reconciled with Christian revelation. Thomas was destined to produce one great answer to that question in his Summa theologiae or 'summary of Theology," a gigantic work which attempts to present all of Christian theology as systematically as possible. Thomas worked on it from 1266 through 1273. Then, when he was nearly finished, he underwent an experience so intense that, as he himself explained, everything he had written seemed like straw. He completely stopped writing and died three months later, in 1274. He was canonized in 1323.

Partly because of their interest in Aristotle, scholars in Aquinas' time were more interested than Anselm in delineating the differences between faith and reason. Each had its own integrity within its own sphere, although the spheres overlapped to some extent. Aquinas was more optimistic about what reason could do by itself, even in fallen human beings; yet he was more pessimistic about the extent to which scholars could prove theological dogmas by rational argument.

In the following selection from the Summa theologiae, Aquinas considers and rejects Anselm's argument for God's existence, then offers a few of his own.

Article 1: Whether God's existence is self-evident.

Thus we proceed to the first point. It might seem that God's existence is self-evident, for those things are said by us to be self- evident the knowledge of which is naturally within us, as is the case with first principles. But, as John of Damascus says, "The knowledge of God's existence is naturally implanted in all things." Therefore God's existence is self-evident.

Furthermore, those things are said to be self-evident the truth of which is obvious once the meaning of the words is clear. For example, when we understand the means of the words "whole" and "part," we immediately realize that every whole is greater than its part. Once we understand the meaning of the word "God," however, it immediately follows that God exists. The words itself signifies "that being a greater than which cannot be signified." That which exists in fact and in the mind is greater than that which exists in the mind alone. Thus, since the moment we understand the meaning of the word "God" he exists in our minds, it follows that he must also exist in fact. Thus God's existence is self-evident.

Furthermore, it is self-evident that truth exists, for whoever denies the existence of truth simultaneously concedes its existence. If truth does not exist, then it is true that truth does not exist; yet if something is true, then truth exists. God, however, is truth itself. "I am the way, the truth and the life" (Jn. 14:6). Therefore God's existence is self-evident.

But on the contrary, no one can think the opposite of what is self-evident, as Aristotle remarks. One can, however, think the opposite of the proposition "God exists," for, as the Psalm says, "The fool says in his heart, 'there is no God." (Ps. 13:1, 52:1). Thus it is not self-evident that God exists.

Response: It must be said that a thing can be called "self- evident" in two-ways, in itself and in relation to us. A proposition is self-evident when its predicate is included in the definition of its subject. For example, in the proposition "man is an animal," the idea of "animal" is included in the definition of "man." Thus if everyone knows the definitions of both subject and predicate, the proposition will be self-evident to all, as is the case with the first principles of demonstration, the terms of which are so common that no one is ignorant of them, such as "being" and "nonbeing," "whole" and "part," etc. If, the proposition may be self-evident in itself, but not to them. Thus it happens, as Boethius says, that some things are common conceptions of the mind" and are self-evident "among the learned only, such as that incorporeal beings do not occupy a place."

I say, therefore, that this proposition, "God exists," is self- evident in itself, since the predicate is the same as the subject. For God is his own existence, as will be seen later. Nevertheless, because we do not know what is involved in being God, the proposition is not self-evident to us, but needs to be demonstrated through those things that are more evident to us though less evident to themselves, namely God's effects.

To the first argument, therefore, it must be said that a general and confused knowledge of God's existence is naturally infused within us, for God is man's beatitude and man naturally desires beatitude. What man naturally desires he naturally knows. This is not to know God's existence specifically, however. It is one thing to know that someone is approaching and quite another to know that Peter is approaching, even though that someone may actually be Peter. Many people think that the perfect good of man called "beatitude" is wealth, some imagine it to be pleasure, and so on.

To the second argument it must be said that he who hears the name "God" may perhaps not know that it signifies "something greater than which cannot be conceived," since some people have thought of God as a body. Granting, however, that someone should think of God in this way, namely as "that being a greater than which cannot be conceived, "it does not follow on this account that the person must understand what is signified to exist in the world of fact, but only in the mind. Nor can one argue that it exists in fact unless one grants that there actually exists in fact something a greater than which cannot be conceived. It is, however, precisely this assertion the atheist denies.

To the third, it must be said that the existence of truth in general is self-evident to us, but it is not self-evident that this particular being is the primal truth.

Article 2: Whether God's existence is demonstrable.

We proceed thus to the second point. It might seem that God's existence is not demonstrable, for it is an article of faith. What is a matter of faith cannot be demonstrable, for demonstration allows one to know, whereas faith, as Paul says, is in "things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). Therefore God's existence is not demonstrable.

Furthermore, the central link in any demonstration is a definition; yet we cannot know what God is, but only what he is not, as John of Damascus says. Therefore we cannot demonstrate God's existence.

Furthermore, if God's existence were demonstrable, this could only be through his effects; yet his effects are not proportionate to him, for he is infinite, his effects are finite, and there is no proportion between the two. Therefore, since a cause cannot be demonstrated through an effect which is not proportioned to it, it seems that God's existence cannot be demonstrated.

But on the contrary Paul says, "The invisible things of God are understood by the things that are made" (Romans 1:20). Such could not be the case unless God's existence could be demonstrated by the things that are made, for the first thing to be understood about a thing is whether it exists.

Response: It must be said that there are two types of demonstration. One is through the cause, is called a demonstration propter quid, and argues from what is prior in an absolute sense. The other is through the effect, is called a demonstration quia, and argues from what is prior according to our perspectives; for when an effect is better known to us than its cause, we proceed from the effect to knowledge of the cause. In situations where the effect is better know to us than the cause, the existence of the cause can be demonstrated form that of the effect, since the effect depends on the cause and can only exist if the cause already does so. Thus God's existence, though not self-evident to us, can be demonstrated through his effects.

To the first argument, therefore, it must be said that God's existence and other things about him which (as Paul says) can be known by natural reason are not articles of faith but preambles to the articles of faith. For faith presupposes natural knowledge just as grace presupposes nature and perfection presupposes something which can be perfected. Nothing prohibits what is demonstrable and knowable in itself from being accepted on faith by someone who does not understand the demonstration.

To the second it must be said that, when a cause is demonstrated through its effect, the effect substitutes for the definition of the cause within the demonstration. This is particularly true in arguments concerning God. When we prove that something exists, the middle term in the demonstration is what we are taking the word to mean for purposes of the demonstration, not what the thing signified by the word actually is (since the latter, the actual nature of the thing in question, is determined only after we determine that it exists). In demonstrating that God exists, we can take as our middle term definition of what this word "God" means for us, for, as we shall see, the words we use in connection with God are derived from his effects.

To the third, it must be said that perfect knowledge of a cause cannot be derived from an effect that is not proportionate to the cause. Nevertheless, the existence of the cause can be demonstrated clearly from the existence of the effects, even though we cannot know the cause perfectly according to its essence.

Article 3: Whether God exists.

Thus we proceed to the third point. It seems that God does not exist, for if one of two contrary things were infinite, its opposite would be completely destroyed. By "God," however, we mean some infinite good. Therefore, if God existed evil would not. Evil does exist in the world, however. Therefore God does not exist.

Furthermore, one should not needlessly multiply elements in an explanation. It seems that we can account for everything we see in this world on the assumption that God does not exist. All natural effects can be traced to natural causes, and all contrived effects can be traced to human reason and will. Thus there is no need to suppose that God exists.

But on the contrary God says, "I am who I am" (Ex. 3:14).

Response: It must be said that God's existence can be proved in five ways. The first and most obvious way is based on the existence of motion. It is certain and in fact evident to our senses that some things in the world are moved. Everything that is moved, however, is moved by something else, for a thing cannot be moved unless that movement is potentially within it. A thing moves something else insofar as it actually exists, for to move something is simply to actualize what is potentially within that thing. Something can be led thus from potentiality to actuality only by something else which is already actualized. For example, a fire, which is actually hot, causes the change or motion whereby wood, which is potentially hot, becomes actually hot. Now it is impossible that something should be potentially and actually the same thing at the same time, although it could be potentially and actually different things. For example, what is actually hot cannot at the same moment be actually cold, although it can be actually hot and potentially cold. Therefore it is impossible that a thing could move itself, for that would involve simultaneously moving and being moved in the same respect. Thus whatever is moved must be moved by something, else, etc. This cannot go on to infinity, however, for if it did there would be no first mover and consequently no other movers, because these other movers are such only insofar as they are moved by a first mover. For example, a stick moves only because it is moved by the hand. Thus it is necessary to proceed back to some prime mover which is moved by something else, and this is what everyone means by "God."

The second way is based on the existence of efficient causality. We see in the world around us that there is an order of efficient causes. Nor is it ever found (in fact it is impossible) that something is its own efficient cause. If it were, it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Nevertheless, the order of efficient causes cannot proceed to infinity, for in any such order the first is cause of the middle (whether one or many) and the middle of the last. Without the cause, the effect does not follow. Thus, if the first cause did not exist, neither would the middle and last causes in the sequence. If, however, there were an infinite regression of efficient causes, there would be no first efficient cause and therefore no middle causes or final effects, which is obviously not the case. Thus it is necessary to posit some first efficient cause, which everyone calls "God."

The third way is based on possibility and necessity. We find that some things can either exist or not exist, for we find them springing up and then disappearing, thus sometimes existing and sometimes not.. It is impossible, however, that everything should be such, for what can possibly not exist does not do so at some time. If it is possible for every particular thing not to exist, there must have been a time when nothing at all existed. If this were true, however, then nothing would exist now, for something that does not exist can begin to do so only through something that already exists. If, therefore, there had been a time when nothing existed, then nothing could ever have begun to exist, and thus there would be nothing now, which is clearly false. Therefore all beings cannot be merely possible. There must be one being which is necessary. Any necessary being, however, either has or does not have something else as the cause of its necessity. If the former, then there cannot be an infinite series of such causes, any more than there can be an infinite series of efficient causes, as we have seen. Thus we must to posit the existence of something which is necessary and owes its necessity to no cause outside itself. That is what everyone calls "God."

The fourth way is based on the gradations found in things. We find that things are more or less good, true, noble, etc.; yet when we apply terms like "more" and "less" to things we imply that they are closer to or farther from some maximum. For example, a thing is said to be hotter than something else because it comes closer to that which is hottest. Therefore something exists which is truest, greatest, noblest, and consequently most fully in being; for, as Aristotle says, the truest things are most fully in being. That which is considered greatest in any genus is the cause of everything is that genus, just as fire, the hottest thing, is the cause of all hot things, as Aristotle says. Thus there is something which is the cause of being, goodness, and every other perfection in all things, and we call that something "God."

The fifth way is based on the governance of things. We see that some things lacking cognition, such as natural bodies, work toward an end, as is seen from the fact that they always (or at least usually) act the same way and not accidentally, but by design. Things without knowledge tend toward a goal, however, only if they are guided in that direction by some knowing, understanding being, as is the case with an arrow and archer. Therefore, there is some intelligent being by whom all natural things are ordered to their end, and we call this being "God."

To the first argument, therefore, it must be said that, as Augustine remarks, "since God is the supreme good he would permit no evil in his works unless he were so omnipotent and good that he could produce good even out of evil."

To the second, it must be said that, since nature works according to a determined end through the direction of some superior agent, whatever is done by nature must be traced back to God as its first cause. in the same way, those things which are done intentionally must be traced back to a higher cause which is neither reason nor human will, for these can change and cease to exist and, as we have seen, all such things must be traced back to some first principle which is unchangeable and necessary, as has been shown.

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