Anselm’s Proslogion

Come now, insignificant man, fly for a moment from your affairs, escape for a little while from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside now your weighty cares and leave your wearisome toils. Abandon yourself for a little to God and rest for a  little in Him. Enter into the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything save God and what can be of help in your quest for Him and having locked the door seek Him out [Matt. 6:6]. Speak now, my whole heart, speak now to God: ‘I seek Your countenance, O Lord, Your countenance I seek’ [Ps. 26:8].

There’s a lot to like in reading Anselm’s Proslogion, but the bit I’ve quoted above is probably my favorite.

Anselm is preparing to wade into some difficult questions about the nature of God and how we are to know Him, but before he does, he invites us to stop along with him and attend to God. To not just ask the questions of himself, but of God Himself. He will not idly speculate (why should he?) when the One he longs to know, and know more truly, is available to question. He invites us to ask these questions of God in a place where our hearts and minds will be capable of hearing the answers.

Anselm is following in Augustine’s footsteps here, doing theology as prayer–as conversation with God, the beginning and end of all things. And this is why the two men were canonized! Their lives were marked by the fragrance of Christ obtained through close and thriving association–communion even–with him. Their lives were changed by the God they longed to see and to know. You see, their theological endeavors weren’t just out of a desire for information or to explore the world and how it worked. Their theology was done out of a desire to know God, and in him to know all else. Theology for them was both prayer to God and a seeing of all things in light of their necessary relationship with God, their source and creator.

How could that kind of theological study not leave them changed?

The House of My Soul

The house of my soul is too small for you to enter: make it more spacious by your coming. It lies in ruins: rebuild it. Confessions

I’ve been preparing to teach tomorrow on Augustine’s Confessions and there is a lot we could cover in our class session: there’s the conflict with the Manichees, there’s Augustine’s gradual realization that evil is nothing but the privation of the good and the related ideas of vice as a counterfeit good and the nature of sin as disordered desire, in short there’s all the things people always talk about in relation to Augustine–and for good reason. Those are major ideas that are worth diving into and thinking deeply about. Those are ideas worth wrestling with and probing. But the idea that my heart and mind have returned to over and over again is the passage I began with.

It is a prayer. And it is, perhaps, one of the most foundational prayers our hearts can make when we encounter God as he is: “My soul is too small for you. My life is too broken for you. My sin is too rampant for you. So Lord God, would you who are the ultimate Truth and Good enlarge my soul, heal my brokenness, and make me holy.” Augustine knows that this is a work only God can do, not that we don’t have a part to play in it, but it is not our work. To think that we can do it by our own efforts is “putrid pride!” and further sin which “maliciously damages our own souls.” But when we turn to God and invite him to work in the same way Augustine did, God graciously responds and moves toward us in kindness and mercy. The heartfelt prayer of Augustine is one God delights to answer for it is asking him to do in us what he is already in the business of doing: redeeming us and making us new.