ARCHBISHOP argues for GOD’s Existence!

Not, you might think, a very likely headline these days, but, go back a few centuries, and that’s how the Kentish Guardian & Canterbury Recorder might have put it…

[from oure Ultra-montane Scribe in Bretayne]: To the mazement and dismaye of manie heere, the recentlie appoynted Archbyshoppe of Canterburie, formerlie of Bec, hath not onlie declared his Beliefe in thexistence of God, but demonstraited it bye Syllogisme, enjoining his flocke to ‘goe, and do Thou likewyse’

Theer hast beene calles for hym to be sent backe to his Monastery at Bec – wheer, we onderstande, hee first wroghte thys moderne waie of seekkyng to ondermyne proper Faythe, by appearyng to svpporte yt with Rayson. Wee spook to a munuc of thordre of Sct. Dominick, who sayed: “Goddes nayles! Ynne but a few Centvries, belyke sum haffe-wytted Augustinian from the fforests of Germania wyll be declarying Reayson to be the Deul’s hoore – and weere scal we albe thenn!”

I soght thopinyon of members of the Chapiter at Ceunterburgh, but was told to goe myne waies and mynde mine owne buisnyss leste they have me whipt att a cartstail &d draggyd thurgh ye towne fer my meddlesomenesse, wheervpon, sum of the Quiristeers tore vp cloddes ond hurlyth them atte me, to thendaunger of my ink-horn and my hedde…

If only there were a wight to put it into Latin – or, better still, to render it in the style of the munificent ‘gift’ of the current French President – numero quelqe? – id est, in the style of the English embroiderers who wrought the ‘Bayeux Tapestry’…

For a great many yeares (sorry!) now, it hath has been the custome for Clerics to ‘virtue signal’ their Modernity by telling us how persuasive the arguments – or mere opinions – of Atheists, Agnostics, or Humanists are, tying themselves into ever more intricate knots to shew show how it is possible virtually to disbelieve all the Bible and all Tradition, and yet to remain, not just ‘Christian’, but a paid-up (or at least, paid) member of The Church they so much deride and whose principles and main tenets they deny. Back in the inter-war years, Fr. Ronald Knox (one of his brothers was to be integral to the work of Bletchley Park), wrote this parody of the Prayer Book Collect for Trinity XIX:

O God, forasmuch as without Thee
We are not enabled to doubt Thee,
Help us all by Thy grace
To convince the whole race
It knows nothing whatever about Thee.

St. Anselm’s approach was far different from the last- and this- Century’s Archbishops who so bravely espouse the spirit of the age – endorsing polygamy, Sharia Law, ‘the nameless vice’, ‘serial polygamy, for instance – while undermining and working against those in the Church who unfashionably seek to continue in the way of their forefathers, who inchoately follow St. Vincent of Lerin’s ‘Quod ubique, semper, ab omnibus’ [‘what has always, everywhere, and by all men been believed]. Unlike Pascal’s ‘well,you might as well believe: no skin off your nose’ suggestion, and unlike the traditional ‘arguments’ of St. Thomas, Anselm begins with the very idea of God. We could adumbrate it thus: when we use the word ‘God’, what do we mean? Surely, we mean the greatest Being – the Greatest Possible Being, there being no point in worshipping a mere ‘blown-up’ version of ourselves, a mere superman. Perhaps Robert Browning was stumbling in the same direction: ‘Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp – or what’s a Heaven for?’ And, to fulfil our criterion of Greatest Possible, it must be also Actual, since we reckon Actuality greater than mere Potentiality. So, what has become known as ‘The Ontological Argument’ can be summarised thus:

‘God is ‘that, than which there can be no greater’;
To exist, is greater than not to exist:
It follows, then, that God exists.

‘Existence is not a Predicate’ logicians shout, and, clean and clear though it seems, the Argument does make one feel rather as one does when watching a superb Conjurer at work: he must have tricked me somehow, but I’m d***ed if I can see how and where!

Our Grammar School Head of English (an Ulster Catholic!) used to recite the perhaps subtler formulation, ‘The verb ‘to be’, is a verb of incomplete predication, taking the same case after it as before.’ Is there, I wonder, something about the idea of God that implies existence, much as existence, for many, implies God? Bertrand Russell observed, it is much easier to be persuaded that ontological arguments are no good than it is to say exactly what is wrong with them.

In Anselm’s own time, the monk Gaunilo parodied Anselm with the case of The Ideal Island… which, to be ideal, must exist (some of us would unashamedly say,’Yes: and it’s called England!’), others in our own time have suggested that while having a million pounds in one’s Bank account might be ultimately desirable, certainly better than the opposite, that does not itself bring about that state of affairs. If the Ontological Argument is dead, ‘it’s dead but it won’t lied down.’

Anselm might give us a clue as to how his argument works, with his phrase ‘fides quaerens intellectum’ – Faith, searching for a rationale: it might at least show that faith is not unreasonable. So, much like Pascal’s ‘Wager’ argument, it hints, suggests ‘there might be something in it’, can reassure those who do believe, that their stance is not wholly devoid of sense.

[ Collection in aid of The St. Robert of Switzerland Mission Society & Society for The Propagation of the Gospel]

© Jethro 2018