Over the last few days we’ve had some substantial conversation over the great Anselm’s ontological argument and the accompanying definition of God as that than which none greater can be conceived. There is no doubt that Anselm was an enormously important, seminal thinker. But like all of us he was also human. And like all of us he would have failed the jumbotron test. (This is the test where we project your entire life on the jumbotron at the nearest sports stadium for everyone else to observe. How many boos would you get?)
With that in mind, I offer the following boo-worthy glimpse into the underside of Anselm’s life, not as an iconoclastic endeavor to sully the memory of the great theologian, and certainly not to titilate the insolent masses, but simply as a reminder of the human limitations of us all. (And since he’s been dead for 900 years I don’t think he’ll mind.)
The excerpt is from a letter Anselm wrote to a young lady after the death of her beau Alan Rufus. It would appear that Anselm, though a monk, was carrying a torch for her nonetheless and took this opportunity to write the antipodes of a Hallmark condolences card:
You loved Count Alan Rufus, and he you. Where is he now?What has become of the lover whom you loved? Go now and lie with him in the bed where he now lies; gather his worms into your bosom; embrace his corpse; kiss his bare teeth from which the flesh has fallen. He does not now care for your love in which he delighted while he lived; and the flesh which you desired now rots. (cited in Witham, The Proof of God, 61)
Anselm definitely didn’t learn this in his field education class. That’s definitely not how you console a bereaved lover. But alas, it is how you rub the salt in their open wounds. And this brings me to a sobering conclusion. I understand the concept of that being than which none greater can be conceived. But the really scary thing is that I also understand the theologian from which greater behavior could be conceived. Anselm, that was completely horrible! It was cruel. It was vindictive. And it was just plain mean.
And that means that you’re fallen just like the rest of us.