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CHAPTER XIRejection of the aforesaid Opinion, and Solution of the aforesaid Reasons

THE above opinion arises partly from custom, men being accustomed from the beginning to hear and invoke the name of God. Custom, especially that which is from the beginning, takes the place of nature; hence notions wherewith the mind is imbued from childhood are held as firmly as if they were naturally known and self-evident. Partly also it owes its origin to the neglect of a distinction between what is self-evident of itself absolutely and what is self-evident relatively to us. Absolutely indeed the existence of God is self-evident, since God’s essence is His existence. But since we cannot mentally conceive God’s essence, his existence is not self-evident relatively to us.


1. Nor is the existence of God necessarily self-evident as soon as the meaning of the name ‘God’ is known. First, because it is not evident, even to all who admit the existence of God, that God is something greater than which nothing can be conceived, since many of the ancients said that this world was God. Then granting that universal usage understands by the name ‘God’ something greater than which nothing can be conceived, it will not follow that there exists in rerum natura something greater than which nothing can be conceived. For ‘thing’ and “notion implied in the name of the thing” must answer to one another. From the conception in the mind of what is declared by this name ‘God’ it does not follow that God exists otherwise than in the mind. Hence there will be no necessity either of that something, greater than which nothing can be conceived, existing otherwise than in the mind; and from this it does not follow that there is anything in rerum natura greater than which nothing can be conceived. And so the supposition of the nonexistence of God goes untouched. For the possibility of our thought outrunning the greatness of any given object, whether of the actual or of the ideal order, has nothing in it to vex the soul of any one except of him alone who already grants the existence in rerum natura of something than which nothing can be conceived greater.2121St Thomas means: ‘If I form a notion of a thing, and then get a name to express that notion, it does not follow that the thing, answering to such name and notion, exists.’ St Anselm’s disciples reply: ‘True of the notions of all other things, as islands or dollars, which may or may not be; but not true of the notion of that one thing, whereof existence is a very part of the notion.’ In other words, whereas St Thomas denies the lawfulness of the transition from the ideal to the actual order, they maintain that the transition is lawful in arguing the existence of that one Being, who is the actuality of all that is ideal. ‘But is such actuality possible?’ ‘It is conceivable, therefore possible.’ ‘It may be conceivable, only because it is conceived inadequately, without insight into the inconsistencies which it involves.’ ‘You have no right to assume inconsistencies where you discern none,’ rejoins Leibnitz. And so this ‘ontological argument’ will be tossed up and down, as an apple of discord, to the end.

2. Nor is it necessary for something greater than God to be conceivable, if His non-existence is conceivable. For the possibility of conceiving Him not to exist does not arise from the imperfection or uncertainty of His Being, since His Being is of itself most manifest, but from the infirmity of our understanding, which cannot discern Him as He is of Himself, but only by the effects which He produces; and so it is brought by reasoning to the knowledge of Him.

3. As it is self-evident to us that the whole is greater than its part, so the existence of God is most self-evident to them that see the divine essence, inasmuch as His essence is His existence. But because we cannot see His essence, we are brought to the knowledge of His existence, not by what He is in Himself but by the effects which He works.2222‘Is a conceptual view of His essence a sufficient argument of His existence?’ That is the question which St Anselm raises.

4. Man knows God naturally as he desires Him naturally. Now man desires Him naturally inasmuch as he naturally desires happiness, which is a certain likeness to the divine goodness. Thus it is not necessary that God, considered in Himself, should be naturally known to man, but a certain likeness of God. Hence man must be led to a knowledge of God through the likenesses of Him that are found in the effects which He works.

5. God is that wherein all things are known, not as though other things could not be known without His being known first, as happens in the case of self-evident principles, but because through His influence all knowledge is caused in us.

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