The quality of the light in the carriage suggests that it is evening, making it more likely that the event happened on the journey back from St Ives to London. How many more of our memories are a story to suit the self? There can be no doubt that our current emotions and beliefs shape the memories that we create.
It is hard to remember the political beliefs of our pasts, for example, when so much has changed in the world and in ourselves. How many of us can accurately recall the euphoria at Tony Blair's election in ? When our present-day emotions change, so do our memories. Of all the memories we cherish, those from childhood are possibly the most special. Few of us will have reliable memories from before three or four years of age, and recollections from before that time need to be treated with scepticism.
When you think about the special cognitive tricks involved in autobiographical memory, it's perhaps no surprise that it takes a while for children to start doing it right. Many factors seem to be critical in children's emergence from childhood amnesia, including language and narrative abilities. When we are able to encode our experience in words, it becomes much easier to put it together into a memory. Intriguingly, though, the boundary of childhood amnesia shifts as you get closer to it. As a couple of recent studies have shown, if you ask children about what they remember from infancy, they remember quite a bit further back than they are likely to do as adults.
There are implications to the unreliability of childhood memories. A recent report commissioned by the British Psychological Society warned professionals working in the legal system not to accept early memories dating from before the age of three without corroborating evidence. One particular difficulty with early memories is their susceptibility to contamination by visual images, such as photographs and video.
I'm sure that several of my childhood memories are actually memories of seeing myself in photos. When we look back into the past, we are always doing so through a prism of intervening selves. That makes it all the more important for psychologists studying memory to look for confirming evidence when asking people to recall their pasts.
And yet these untrustworthy memories are among the most cherished we have. Memories of childhood are often made out to have a particular kind of authenticity; we think they must be pure because we were cognitively so simple back then. We don't associate the slipperiness of memory with the guilelessness of youth. When you read descriptions of people's very early memories, you see that they often function as myths of creation. Your first memory is special because it represents the point when you started being who you are. In Woolf's case, that moment in her bed in the St Ives nursery was the moment she became a conscious being.
What should we do about this troublesome mental function? For one thing, I don't think we should stop valuing it. Memory can lead us astray, but then it is a machine with many moving parts, and consequently many things that can go awry. Perhaps even that is the wrong way of looking at it. The great pioneer of memory research, Daniel Schacter, has argued that, even when it is failing, memory is doing exactly the thing it is supposed to do.
And that purpose is as much about looking into the future as it is about looking into the past. There is only a limited evolutionary advantage in being able to reminisce about what happened to you, but there is a huge payoff in being able to use that information to work out what is going to happen next. It is proved even more by his search for the meaning of life. The development of science and technology, this splendid testimony of the human capacity for understanding and for perseverance, does not free humanity from the obligation to ask the ultimate religious questions.
Rather, it spurs us on to face the most painful and decisive of struggles, those of the heart and of the moral conscience. No one can escape from the fundamental questions: What must I do? How do I distinguish good from evil? The answer is only possible thanks to the splendour of the truth which shines forth deep within the human spirit, as the Psalmist bears witness: Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord' " Ps 4: The light of God's face shines in all its beauty on the countenance of Jesus Christ, "the image of the invisible God" Col 1: Christ is "the way, and the truth, and the life" Jn Consequently the decisive answer to every one of man's questions, his religious and moral questions in particular, is given by Jesus Christ, or rather is Jesus Christ himself, as the Second Vatican Council recalls: For Adam, the first man, was a figure of the future man, namely, of Christ the Lord.
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It is Christ, the last Adam, who fully discloses man to himself and unfolds his noble calling by revealing the mystery of the Father and the Father's love". Jesus Christ, the "light of the nations", shines upon the face of his Church, which he sends forth to the whole world to proclaim the Gospel to every creature cf. The Church remains deeply conscious of her "duty in every age of examining the signs of the times and interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, so that she can offer in a manner appropriate to each generation replies to the continual human questionings on the meaning of this life and the life to come and on how they are related".
The Church's Pastors, in communion with the Successor of Peter, are close to the faithful in this effort; they guide and accompany them by their authoritative teaching, finding ever new ways of speaking with love and mercy not only to believers but to all people of good will. The Second Vatican Council remains an extraordinary witness of this attitude on the part of the Church which, as an "expert in humanity", 5 places herself at the service of every individual and of the whole world.
The Church knows that the issue of morality is one which deeply touches every person; it involves all people, even those who do not know Christ and his Gospel or God himself. She knows that it is precisely on the path of the moral life that the way of salvation is open to all. The Second Vatican Council clearly recalled this when it stated that "those who without any fault do not know anything about Christ or his Church, yet who search for God with a sincere heart and under the influence of grace, try to put into effect the will of God as known to them through the dictate of conscience For whatever goodness and truth is found in them is considered by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel and bestowed by him who enlightens everyone that they may in the end have life".
At all times, but particularly in the last two centuries, the Popes, whether individually or together with the College of Bishops, have developed and proposed a moral teaching regarding the many different spheres of human life. In Christ's name and with his authority they have exhorted, passed judgment and explained. In their efforts on behalf of humanity, in fidelity to their mission, they have confirmed, supported and consoled.
With the guarantee of assistance from the Spirit of truth they have contributed to a better understanding of moral demands in the areas of human sexuality, the family, and social, economic and political life. In the tradition of the Church and in the history of humanity, their teaching represents a constant deepening of knowledge with regard to morality.
Today, however, it seems necessary to reflect on the whole of the Church's moral teaching, with the precise goal of recalling certain fundamental truths of Catholic doctrine which, in the present circumstances, risk being distorted or denied. In fact, a new situation has come about within the Christian community itself, which has experienced the spread of numerous doubts and objections of a human and psychological, social and cultural, religious and even properly theological nature, with regard to the Church's moral teachings.
It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine, on the basis of certain anthropological and ethical presuppositions. At the root of these presuppositions is the more or less obvious influence of currents of thought which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth.
Thus the traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the universality and the permanent validity of its precepts, is rejected; certain of the Church's moral teachings are found simply unacceptable; and the Magisterium itself is considered capable of intervening in matters of morality only in order to "exhort consciences" and to "propose values", in the light of which each individual will independently make his or her decisions and life choices.
In particular, note should be taken of the lack of harmony between the traditional response of the Church and certain theological positions, encountered even in Seminaries and in Faculties of Theology, with regard to questions of the greatest importance for the Church and for the life of faith of Christians, as well as for the life of society itself.
In particular, the question is asked: Is it possible to obey God and thus love God and neighbour, without respecting these commandments in all circumstances? Also, an opinion is frequently heard which questions the intrinsic and unbreakable bond between faith and morality, as if membership in the Church and her internal unity were to be decided on the basis of faith alone, while in the sphere of morality a pluralism of opinions and of kinds of behaviour could be tolerated, these being left to the judgment of the individual subjective conscience or to the diversity of social and cultural contexts.
Given these circumstances, which still exist, I came to the decision — as I announced in my Apostolic Letter Spiritus Domini, issued on 1 August on the second centenary of the death of Saint Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori — to write an Encyclical with the aim of treating "more fully and more deeply the issues regarding the very foundations of moral theology", 9 foundations which are being undermined by certain present day tendencies. I address myself to you, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, who share with me the responsibility of safeguarding "sound teaching" 2 Tim 4: If this Encyclical, so long awaited, is being published only now, one of the reasons is that it seemed fitting for it to be preceded by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which contains a complete and systematic exposition of Christian moral teaching.
The Catechism presents the moral life of believers in its fundamental elements and in its many aspects as the life of the "children of God": Through the sacraments and prayer they receive the grace of Christ and the gifts of his Spirit which make them capable of such a life". The specific purpose of the present Encyclical is this: The dialogue of Jesus with the rich young man, related in the nineteenth chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel, can serve as a useful guide for listening once more in a lively and direct way to his moral teaching: There is only one who is good.
If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments. In the young man, whom Matthew's Gospel does not name, we can recognize every person who, consciously or not, approaches Christ the Redeemer of man and questions him about morality. For the young man, the question is not so much about rules to be followed, but about the full meaning of life. This is in fact the aspiration at the heart of every human decision and action, the quiet searching and interior prompting which sets freedom in motion.
This question is ultimately an appeal to the absolute Good which attracts us and beckons us; it is the echo of a call from God who is the origin and goal of man's life. Precisely in this perspective the Second Vatican Council called for a renewal of moral theology, so that its teaching would display the lofty vocation which the faithful have received in Christ, 14 the only response fully capable of satisfying the desire of the human heart.
In order to make this "encounter" with Christ possible, God willed his Church. Indeed, the Church "wishes to serve this single end: The question which the rich young man puts to Jesus of Nazareth is one which rises from the depths of his heart. It is an essential and unavoidable question for the life of every man, for it is about the moral good which must be done, and about eternal life.
The young man senses that there is a connection between moral good and the fulfilment of his own destiny.
He is a devout Israelite, raised as it were in the shadow of the Law of the Lord. If he asks Jesus this question, we can presume that it is not because he is ignorant of the answer contained in the Law. It is more likely that the attractiveness of the person of Jesus had prompted within him new questions about moral good. He feels the need to draw near to the One who had begun his preaching with this new and decisive proclamation: People today need to turn to Christ once again in order to receive from him the answer to their questions about what is good and what is evil.
Christ is the Teacher, the Risen One who has life in himself and who is always present in his Church and in the world. It is he who opens up to the faithful the book of the Scriptures and, by fully revealing the Father's will, teaches the truth about moral action. At the source and summit of the economy of salvation, as the Alpha and the Omega of human history cf.
Consequently, "the man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly — and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being — must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter him with all his own self; he must 'appropriate' and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself.
If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deeper wonder at himself". If we therefore wish to go to the heart of the Gospel's moral teaching and grasp its profound and unchanging content, we must carefully inquire into the meaning of the question asked by the rich young man in the Gospel and, even more, the meaning of Jesus' reply, allowing ourselves to be guided by him. Jesus, as a patient and sensitive teacher, answers the young man by taking him, as it were, by the hand, and leading him step by step to the full truth.
If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" Mt In the versions of the Evangelists Mark and Luke the question is phrased in this way: No one is good but God alone" Mk Before answering the question, Jesus wishes the young man to have a clear idea of why he asked his question. The "Good Teacher" points out to him — and to all of us — that the answer to the question, "What good must I do to have eternal life? Only God can answer the question about what is good, because he is the Good itself. To ask about the good, in fact, ultimately means to turn towards God, the fullness of goodness.
Jesus shows that the young man's question is really a religious question, and that the goodness that attracts and at the same time obliges man has its source in God, and indeed is God himself. God alone is worthy of being loved "with all one's heart, and with all one's soul, and with all one's mind" Mt He is the source of man's happiness.
Jesus brings the question about morally good action back to its religious foundations, to the acknowledgment of God, who alone is goodness, fullness of life, the final end of human activity, and perfect happiness. The Church, instructed by the Teacher's words, believes that man, made in the image of the Creator, redeemed by the Blood of Christ and made holy by the presence of the Holy Spirit, has as the ultimate purpose of his life to live "for the praise of God's glory" cf. Hear how you are his glory. Your knowledge has become too wonderful for me cf.
That is to say, in my work your majesty has become more wonderful; in the counsels of men your wisdom is exalted. When I consider myself, such as I am known to you in my secret thoughts and deepest emotions, the mysteries of your knowledge are disclosed to me. Know then, O man, your greatness, and be vigilant". What man is and what he must do becomes clear as soon as God reveals himself. The Decalogue is based on these words: In the "ten words" of the Covenant with Israel, and in the whole Law, God makes himself known and acknowledged as the One who "alone is good"; the One who despite man's sin remains the "model" for moral action, in accordance with his command, "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy" Lev The moral life presents itself as the response due to the many gratuitous initiatives taken by God out of love for man.
It is a response of love, according to the statement made in Deuteronomy about the fundamental commandment: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children" Dt 6: Thus the moral life, caught up in the gratuitousness of God's love, is called to reflect his glory: The statement that "There is only one who is good" thus brings us back to the "first tablet" of the commandments, which calls us to acknowledge God as the one Lord of all and to worship him alone for his infinite holiness cf.
The good is belonging to God, obeying him, walking humbly with him in doing justice and in loving kindness cf. Acknowledging the Lord as God is the very core, the heart of the Law, from which the particular precepts flow and towards which they are ordered. In the morality of the commandments the fact that the people of Israel belongs to the Lord is made evident, because God alone is the One who is good. Such is the witness of Sacred Scripture, imbued in every one of its pages with a lively perception of God's absolute holiness: But if God alone is the Good, no human effort, not even the most rigorous observance of the commandments, succeeds in "fulfilling" the Law, that is, acknowledging the Lord as God and rendering him the worship due to him alone cf.
This "fulfilment" can come only from a gift of God: What the young man now perhaps only dimly perceives will in the end be fully revealed by Jesus himself in the invitation: Only God can answer the question about the good, because he is the Good. But God has already given an answer to this question: The latter "is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation".
Ex 24 and called them to be his "own possession among all peoples", "a holy nation" Ex The gift of the Decalogue was a promise and sign of the New Covenant, in which the law would be written in a new and definitive way upon the human heart cf. In those days, "a new heart" would be given, for in it would dwell "a new spirit", the Spirit of God cf.
Consequently, after making the important clarification: In this way, a close connection is made between eternal life and obedience to God's commandments: God's commandments show man the path of life and they lead to it. From the very lips of Jesus, the new Moses, man is once again given the commandments of the Decalogue. Jesus himself definitively confirms them and proposes them to us as the way and condition of salvation.
The commandments are linked to a promise. In the Old Covenant the object of the promise was the possession of a land where the people would be able to live in freedom and in accordance with righteousness cf. In the New Covenant the object of the promise is the "Kingdom of Heaven", as Jesus declares at the beginning of the "Sermon on the Mount" — a sermon which contains the fullest and most complete formulation of the New Law cf.
This same reality of the Kingdom is referred to in the expression "eternal life", which is a participation in the very life of God. It is attained in its perfection only after death, but in faith it is even now a light of truth, a source of meaning for life, an inchoate share in the full following of Christ. Indeed, Jesus says to his disciples after speaking to the rich young man: Jesus' answer is not enough for the young man, who continues by asking the Teacher about the commandments which must be kept: He asks what he must do in life in order to show that he acknowledges God's holiness.
After directing the young man's gaze towards God, Jesus reminds him of the commandments of the Decalogue regarding one's neighbour: From the context of the conversation, and especially from a comparison of Matthew's text with the parallel passages in Mark and Luke, it is clear that Jesus does not intend to list each and every one of the commandments required in order to "enter into life", but rather wishes to draw the young man's attention to the "centrality" of the Decalogue with regard to every other precept, inasmuch as it is the interpretation of what the words "I am the Lord your God" mean for man.
Nevertheless we cannot fail to notice which commandments of the Law the Lord recalls to the young man. They are some of the commandments belonging to the so-called "second tablet" of the Decalogue, the summary cf. In this commandment we find a precise expression of the singular dignity of the human person, "the only creature that God has wanted for its own sake". At the same time, they teach us man's true humanity. They shed light on the essential duties, and so indirectly on the fundamental rights, inherent in the nature of the human person".
The commandments of which Jesus reminds the young man are meant to safeguard the good of the person, the image of God, by protecting his goods. These negative precepts express with particular force the ever urgent need to protect human life, the communion of persons in marriage, private property, truthfulness and people's good name. The commandments thus represent the basic condition for love of neighbour; at the same time they are the proof of that love.
They are the first necessary step on the journey towards freedom, its starting-point. When once one is without these crimes and every Christian should be without them , one begins to lift up one's head towards freedom. But this is only the beginning of freedom, not perfect freedom This certainly does not mean that Christ wishes to put the love of neighbour higher than, or even to set it apart from, the love of God.
This is evident from his conversation with the teacher of the Law, who asked him a question very much like the one asked by the young man. Jesus refers him to the two commandments of love of God and love of neighbour cf. Nonetheless it is significant that it is precisely the second of these commandments which arouses the curiosity of the teacher of the Law, who asks him: The Teacher replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is critical for fully understanding the commandment of love of neighbour cf.
These two commandments, on which "depend all the Law and the Prophets" Mt Their inseparable unity is attested to by Christ in his words and by his very life: Both the Old and the New Testaments explicitly affirm that without love of neighbour, made concrete in keeping the commandments, genuine love for God is not possible. Saint John makes the point with extraordinary forcefulness: The Evangelist echoes the moral preaching of Christ, expressed in a wonderful and unambiguous way in the parable of the Good Samaritan cf.
In the "Sermon on the Mount", the magna charta of Gospel morality, 24 Jesus says: Christ is the key to the Scriptures: Christ is the centre of the economy of salvation, the recapitulation of the Old and New Testaments, of the promises of the Law and of their fulfilment in the Gospel; he is the living and eternal link between the Old and the New Covenants.
Commenting on Paul's statement that "Christ is the end of the law" Rom In the same way that there is an Old Testament, but all truth is in the New Testament, so it is for the Law: Therefore, the Mosaic Law is an image of the truth". Jesus brings God's commandments to fulfilment, particularly the commandment of love of neighbour, by interiorizing their demands and by bringing out their fullest meaning.
Love of neighbour springs from a loving heart which, precisely because it loves, is ready to live out the loftiest challenges. Jesus shows that the commandments must not be understood as a minimum limit not to be gone beyond, but rather as a path involving a moral and spiritual journey towards perfection, at the heart of which is love cf.
Thus the commandment "You shall not murder" becomes a call to an attentive love which protects and promotes the life of one's neighbour. The precept prohibiting adultery becomes an invitation to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body: But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'.
But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" Mt 5: Jesus himself is the living "fulfilment" of the Law inasmuch as he fulfils its authentic meaning by the total gift of himself: The answer he receives about the commandments does not satisfy the young man, who asks Jesus a further question.
It is not easy to say with a clear conscience "I have kept all these", if one has any understanding of the real meaning of the demands contained in God's Law. And yet, even though he is able to make this reply, even though he has followed the moral ideal seriously and generously from childhood, the rich young man knows that he is still far from the goal: It is his awareness of this insufficiency that Jesus addresses in his final answer. Conscious of the young man's yearning for something greater, which would transcend a legalistic interpretation of the commandments, the Good Teacher invites him to enter upon the path of perfection: Like the earlier part of Jesus' answer, this part too must be read and interpreted in the context of the whole moral message of the Gospel, and in particular in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes cf.
In this sense it can be said that the Beatitudes are also relevant to the answer given by Jesus to the young man's question: Indeed, each of the Beatitudes promises, from a particular viewpoint, that very "good" which opens man up to eternal life, and indeed is eternal life. The Beatitudes are not specifically concerned with certain particular rules of behaviour. Rather, they speak of basic attitudes and dispositions in life and therefore they do not coincide exactly with the commandments.
On the other hand, there is no separation or opposition between the Beatitudes and the commandments: The Sermon on the Mount begins with the proclamation of the Beatitudes, but also refers to the commandments cf. At the same time, the Sermon on the Mount demonstrates the openness of the commandments and their orientation towards the horizon of the perfection proper to the Beatitudes. These latter are above all promises, from which there also indirectly flow normative indications for the moral life.
In their originality and profundity they are a sort of self- portrait of Christ, and for this very reason are invitations to discipleship and to communion of life with Christ. We do not know how clearly the young man in the Gospel understood the profound and challenging import of Jesus' first reply: But it is certain that the young man's commitment to respect all the moral demands of the commandments represents the absolutely essential ground in which the desire for perfection can take root and mature, the desire, that is, for the meaning of the commandments to be completely fulfilled in following Christ.
Jesus' conversation with the young man helps us to grasp the conditions for the moral growth of man, who has been called to perfection: To do so requires mature human freedom "If you wish to be perfect" and God's gift of grace "Come, follow me". Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called.
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Jesus points out to the young man that the commandments are the first and indispensable condition for having eternal life; on the other hand, for the young man to give up all he possesses and to follow the Lord is presented as an invitation: These words of Jesus reveal the particular dynamic of freedom's growth towards maturity, and at the same time they bear witness to the fundamental relationship between freedom and divine law.
Human freedom and God's law are not in opposition; on the contrary, they appeal one to the other. The follower of Christ knows that his vocation is to freedom. But he immediately adds: The firmness with which the Apostle opposes those who believe that they are justified by the Law has nothing to do with man's "liberation" from precepts.
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On the contrary, the latter are at the service of the practice of love: The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' " Rom Saint Augustine, after speaking of the observance of the commandments as being a kind of incipient, imperfect freedom, goes on to say: Because 'I see in my members another law at war with the law of my reason' In part freedom, in part slavery: In part we retain our weakness and in part we have attained freedom.
All our sins were destroyed in Baptism, but does it follow that no weakness remained after iniquity was destroyed? Had none remained, we would live without sin in this life. But who would dare to say this except someone who is proud, someone unworthy of the mercy of our deliverer? Therefore, since some weakness has remained in us, I dare to say that to the extent to which we serve God we are free, while to the extent that we follow the law of sin, we are still slaves".
Those who live "by the flesh" experience God's law as a burden, and indeed as a denial or at least a restriction of their own freedom. On the other hand, those who are impelled by love and "walk by the Spirit" Gal 5: Indeed, they feel an interior urge — a genuine "necessity" and no longer a form of coercion — not to stop at the minimum demands of the Law, but to live them in their "fullness". This is a still uncertain and fragile journey as long as we are on earth, but it is one made possible by grace, which enables us to possess the full freedom of the children of God cf.
This vocation to perfect love is not restricted to a small group of individuals. The invitation, "go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor", and the promise "you will have treasure in heaven", are meant for everyone, because they bring out the full meaning of the commandment of love for neighbour, just as the invitation which follows, "Come, follow me", is the new, specific form of the commandment of love of God. Both the commandments and Jesus' invitation to the rich young man stand at the service of a single and indivisible charity, which spontaneously tends towards that perfection whose measure is God alone: In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus makes even clearer the meaning of this perfection: The way and at the same time the content of this perfection consist in the following of Jesus, sequela Christi, once one has given up one's own wealth and very self.
This is precisely the conclusion of Jesus' conversation with the young man: It is an invitation the marvellous grandeur of which will be fully perceived by the disciples after Christ's Resurrection, when the Holy Spirit leads them to all truth cf. It is Jesus himself who takes the initiative and calls people to follow him. His call is addressed first to those to whom he entrusts a particular mission, beginning with the Twelve; but it is also clear that every believer is called to be a follower of Christ cf. Following Christ is thus the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality: This is not a matter only of disposing oneself to hear a teaching and obediently accepting a commandment.
More radically, it involves holding fast to the very person of Jesus, partaking of his life and his destiny, sharing in his free and loving obedience to the will of the Father. By responding in faith and following the one who is Incarnate Wisdom, the disciple of Jesus truly becomes a disciple of God cf. Jesus is indeed the light of the world, the light of life cf. He is the shepherd who leads his sheep and feeds them cf. It is Jesus who leads to the Father, so much so that to see him, the Son, is to see the Father cf. And thus to imitate the Son, "the image of the invisible God" Col 1: Jesus asks us to follow him and to imitate him along the path of love, a love which gives itself completely to the brethren out of love for God: The word "as" requires imitation of Jesus and of his love, of which the washing of feet is a sign: For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" Jn Jesus' way of acting and his words, his deeds and his precepts constitute the moral rule of Christian life.
Indeed, his actions, and in particular his Passion and Death on the Cross, are the living revelation of his love for the Father and for others. Hence, they argue, the theistic arguments proposed by faith seeking understanding are not really meant to convince unbelievers; they are intended solely for the edification of those who already believe. This too is a misreading of Anselm's motto.
For although the theistic proofs are borne of an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of the beloved, the proofs themselves are intended to be convincing even to unbelievers. Thus Anselm opens the Monologion with these words:. Having clarified what Anselm takes himself to be doing in his theistic proofs, we can now examine the proofs themselves. In the first chapter of the Monologion Anselm argues that there must be some one thing that is supremely good, through which all good things have their goodness.
For whenever we say that different things are F in different degrees, we must understand them as being F through F -ness; F -ness itself is the same in each of them. Now we speak of things as being good in different degrees. So by the principle just stated, these things must be good through some one thing.
Clearly that thing is itself a great good, since it is the source of the goodness of all other things. Moreover, that thing is good through itself ; after all, if all good things are good through that thing, it follows trivially that that thing, being good, is good through itself. Things that are good through another i. In chapter 2 he applies the principle of chapter 1 in order to derive again the conclusion that there is something supremely great.
In chapter 3 Anselm argues that all existing things exist through some one thing. Every existing thing, he begins, exists either through something or through nothing. But of course nothing exists through nothing, so every existing thing exists through something. There is, then, either some one thing through which all existing things exist, or there is more than one such thing. If there is more than one, either i they all exist through some one thing, or ii each of them exists through itself, or iii they exist through each other.
So ii collapses into i , and there is some one thing through which all things exist. That one thing, of course, exists through itself, and so it is greater than all the other things. For example, a horse is better than wood, and a human being is more excellent than a horse. The only question is how many beings occupy that highest level of all. Is there just one, or are there more than one? Suppose there are more than one. By hypothesis, they must all be equals. If they are equals, they are equals through the same thing. That thing is either identical with them or distinct from them. If it is identical with them, then they are not in fact many, but one, since they are all identical with some one thing.
On the other hand, if that thing is distinct from them, then they do not occupy the highest level after all. Instead, that thing is greater than they are. Either way, there can be only one being occupying the highest level of all. He then goes on in chapters 5—65 to derive the attributes that must belong to the being who fits this description. But before we look at Anselm's understanding of the divine attributes, we should turn to the famous proof in the Proslogion.
Looking back on the sixty-five chapters of complicated argument in the Monologion , Anselm found himself wishing for a simpler way to establish all the conclusions he wanted to prove.
John Stuart Mill
As he tells us in the preface to the Proslogion , he wanted to find. Or so it is commonly said: The proper way to state Anselm's argument is a matter of dispute, and any detailed statement of the argument will beg interpretative questions. But on a fairly neutral or consensus reading of the argument which I shall go on to reject , Anselm's argument goes like this.
Is it possible to convince the fool that he is wrong? But whatever is understood exists in the understanding, just as the plan of a painting he has yet to execute already exists in the understanding of the painter. So that than which a greater cannot be thought exists in the understanding. But if it exists in the understanding, it must also exist in reality. For it is greater to exist in reality than to exist merely in the understanding. Therefore, if that than which a greater can be thought existed only in the understanding, it would be possible to think of something greater than it namely, that same being existing in reality as well.
It follows, then, that if that than which a greater cannot be thought existed only in the understanding, it would not be that than which a greater cannot be thought; and that, obviously, is a contradiction. So that than which a greater cannot be thought must exist in reality, not merely in the understanding. Versions of this argument have been defended and criticized by a succession of philosophers from Anselm's time through the present day see ontological arguments.
Our concern here is with Anselm's own version, the criticism he encountered, and his response to that criticism. Gaunilo's most famous objection is an argument intended to be exactly parallel to Anselm's that generates an obviously absurd conclusion. But again following Anselm's reasoning that island must exist in reality as well; for if it did not, we could imagine a greater island—namely, one that existed in reality—and the greatest conceivable island would not be the greatest conceivable island after all.
Surely, though, it is absurd to suppose that the greatest conceivable island actually exists in reality. Gaunilo concludes that Anselm's reasoning is fallacious. Gaunilo's counterargument is so ingenious that it stands out as by far the most devastating criticism in his catalogue of Anselm's errors. Not surprisingly, then, interpreters have read Anselm's reply to Gaunilo primarily in order to find his rejoinder to the Lost Island argument.
Sympathetic interpreters such as Klima have offered ways for Anselm to respond, but at least one commentator Wolterstorff argues that Anselm offers no such rejoinder, precisely because he knew Gaunilo's criticism was unanswerable but could not bring himself to admit that fact. A more careful look at Anselm's reply to Gaunilo, however, shows that Anselm offered no rejoinder to the Lost Island argument because he rejected Gaunilo's interpretation of the original argument of the Proslogion.
Gaunilo had understood the argument in the way I stated it above. Anselm understood it quite differently. In particular, Anselm insists that the original argument did not rely on any general principle to the effect that a thing is greater when it exists in reality than when it exists only in the understanding. And since that is the principle that does the mischief in Gaunilo's counterargument, Anselm sees no need to respond to the Lost Island argument in particular.
Correctly understood, Anselm says, the argument of the Proslogion can be summarized as follows:. Anselm defends 1 by showing how we can form a conception of that than which a greater cannot be thought on the basis of our experience and understanding of those things than which a greater can be thought. Once we have formed this idea of that than which a greater cannot be thought, Anselm says, we can see that such a being has features that cannot belong to a possible but non-existent object — or, in other words, that 2 is true.
For example, a being that is capable of non-existence is less great than a being that exists necessarily. If that than which a greater cannot be thought does not exist, it is obviously capable of non-existence; and if it is capable of non-existence, then even if it were to exist, it would not be that than which a greater cannot be thought after all.
So if that than which a greater cannot be thought can be thought — that is, if it is a possible being — it actually exists. This reading of the argument of the Proslogion is developed at length in Visser and Williams , chapter 5. Recall that Anselm's intention in the Proslogion was to offer a single argument that would establish not only the existence of God but also the various attributes that Christians believe God possesses.
If the argument of chapter 2 proved only the existence of God, leaving the divine attributes to be established piecemeal as in the Monologion , Anselm would consider the Proslogion a failure. But in fact the concept of that than which nothing greater can be thought turns out to be marvelously fertile. God must, for example, be omnipotent. For if he were not, we could conceive of a being greater than he.
But God is that than which no greater can be thought, so he must be omnipotent. Similarly, God must be just, self-existent, invulnerable to suffering, merciful, timelessly eternal, non-physical, non-composite, and so forth. For if he lacked any of these qualities, he would be less than the greatest conceivable being, which is impossible. The ontological argument thus works as a sort of divine-attribute-generating machine. Admittedly, though, the appearance of theoretical simplicity is somewhat misleading.
That is, the ontological argument tells us that God has whatever characteristics it is better or greater to have than to lack, but it does not tell us which characteristics those are. We must have some independent way of identifying them before we can plug them into the ontological argument and generate a full-blown conception of the divine nature. Anselm identifies these characteristics in part by appeal to intuitions about value, in part by independent argument. To illustrate Anselm's method, I shall examine his discussions of God's impassibility, timelessness, and simplicity.
According to the doctrine of divine impassibility, God is invulnerable to suffering. Nothing can act upon him; he is in no way passive. He therefore does not feel emotions, since emotions are states that one undergoes rather than actions one performs. His intuitions about value are shaped by the Platonic-Augustinian tradition of which he was a part. Augustine took from the Platonists the idea that the really real things, the greatest and best of beings, are stable, uniform, and unchanging.
He says in On Free Choice of the Will 2.