Many theologians have attempted to define God or offered their opinion as to who God is or asked the question: who is God? But none had focused on this project more than St. Anselm of Canterbury. St. Anselm of Canterbury lived in the 11th century and was a theologian, philosopher, and Benedictine monk. He is best known for his formulation of the "ontological argument" for the existence of God, which is considered one of the most important and influential arguments in the history of philosophy.
This article intends to explore the nature and character of God from philosophical and theological standpoints and juxtapose them with the personal encounter of God with his people. The exploration of the idea of God in this article is within the context of "ethical monotheism." Ethical monotheism is the position taken by ethical monotheists that there is exactly one God, a being notable for moral perfection in addition to unlimited power and wisdom. The first part of this article will look at Anselm and other theologians' philosophical explorations of God, while the second part reviews Richard Bauckham's exploration of key moments of the Biblical revelation of God.
While Anselm and other theologians conceive the monotheistic God from philosophical perspectives, Bible scholars like Richard Bauckham explore the concept of God from a relational standpoint. Anselm's definition of God and Bauckham's approach focus on the nature of God, but they differ significantly in their approach and emphasis. Anselm's definition is more philosophical and abstract, whereas Bauckham's approach is more grounded in the biblical narrative and the experience of the faithful. For example, Moses' encounter with God highlights personal relationships, love and compassion, and faith and trust in God's promises.
In his work "the Proslogion," St. Anselm defines God as "That than which nothing greater can be conceived." This definition, often called the "Anselmian definition" of God, conveys the idea that God is the greatest possible being, one who embodies all of the perfections and qualities that we can conceive of, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness. Anselm is considered the most influential theologian of the character and nature of God. Most of the attributes of God in theology are derived from Anselm's definition of God.
Anselm's definition of God is closely tied to his ontological argument for God's existence. Anselm argued that if we can conceive of something greater than what we experience in the world around us, then that greater thing must necessarily exist. Since God is defined as "that than which nothing greater can be conceived," God must exist as a necessary being.
Anselm's definition of God emphasizes the perfection of God. God is not simply a being that exists in the world but the very definition of perfection itself. This definition places God beyond the limitations of human understanding and experience. Anselm's definition of God also emphasizes God's omnipotence or all-powerfulness. If nothing greater can be conceived than God, then God must be all-powerful, as anything less than omnipotence would be a limitation on God's perfection. Anselm's definition of God also implies God's omniscience or all-knowingness. If God is the very definition of perfection, then God must know all that can be known. This includes knowledge of the past, present, and future.
St. Aquinas, however, rejected the ontological argument by St. Anselm, as he believed it relied too heavily on human understanding and imagination. Instead, he developed his argument for the existence of God, known as the "cosmological argument." This argument posits that the universe exists, and therefore there must be a cause or a source of its existence. This cause, according to Aquinas, is God.
In addition to his cosmological argument, St. Aquinas also expanded upon Anselm's definition of God. He argued that God is not just the greatest possible being but the "pure act of existence" itself. In other words, God is not just the perfect being we can conceive of but the very source of existence and being itself. Aquinas believed this was a more accurate and profound understanding of God than Anselm's definition. Furthermore, St. Aquinas emphasized that God is not just an abstract concept or an intellectual construct but a personal God intimately involved in the world and human affairs.
Other theologians besides Anselm and Aquinas have attempted throughout history to define God in different ways, each contributing to the rich tradition of theological thought before and after Anselm. For example, Augustine defined God as an eternal, unchanging, and infinite being. He argued that God is the source of all goodness and that all things are ultimately ordered toward God.
John Calvin defined God as the "sovereign ruler" of the universe. He argued that God completely controls all things, including human destiny. Martin Luther defined God as a God of grace and mercy. He argued that God's love is freely given and humans cannot earn salvation through good works.
Paul Tillich thought of God as the "ground of being." He maintained that God is not a personal being but an all-encompassing reality that underlies all existence. Karl Barth conceived God as the "wholly other." He observed that God is completely different from human beings and that human language and concepts are insufficient to describe God. Each definition reflects the unique theological perspectives and contexts of the theologians who developed them.
As we observed earlier, on the one hand, Anselm's definition of God, famously articulated in his Proslogion, defines God as "that than which nothing greater can be conceived." Anselm argued that God is the ultimate being, the source of all goodness, and the foundation of all reality. He also argues that God exists necessarily, meaning that his existence is not dependent on anything else.
On the other hand, Bauckham focuses on how God has revealed himself throughout history, emphasizing God's self-disclosure and personal and relational aspects. Bauckham argues that God is a God of love and grace who desires to be in a relationship with his creation. He also emphasizes the importance of understanding God's self-revelation as an ongoing process that is both personal and communal.
Another key difference between Anselm's definition of God and Bauckham's approach is their emphasis on the role of human experience. Anselm's definition of God is based on philosophical reasoning and the concept of the "greatest conceivable being," whereas Bauckham emphasizes how God has revealed himself through human experience, particularly through the Bible and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Overall, while both Anselm's definition of God and Bauckham's approach focus on the nature of God, they differ significantly in their approach and emphasis. Anselm's definition is more philosophical and abstract, whereas Bauckham's approach is more grounded in the biblical narrative and the experience of the faithful.
The first part of Bauckham's book focuses on the Old Testament and examines key moments of God's self-revelation, such as the call of Abraham, the exodus, the giving of the law, and the prophetic tradition. Bauckham maintains that these moments reveal God as a personal, relational, and loving God deeply concerned with humanity and the world.
The second part examines the New Testament and focuses on the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Bauckham argues that Jesus' life and teachings reveal God as a God of love, grace, and mercy who desires to reconcile humanity to himself. He also explores how the early church understood Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God and how this understanding shaped their beliefs and practices.
The book also looks at the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the world and how this work continues to reveal God to us today. Bauckham explores the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer, the church, and the world and how the Spirit's work is an essential part of God's ongoing self-revelation.
Throughout the book, Bauckham emphasizes the importance of understanding God's self-revelation as an ongoing, personal, and communal process. He maintains that God reveals himself to us in various ways, including through Scripture, nature, human experience, and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.
In conclusion, Anselm's concept of God is based on the idea of God as the greatest possible being whose existence is necessary and self-evident. St. Aquinas also believed in the existence of God, but his concept of God is based on reason and observation of the natural world. St. Augustine believed that God is the source of all goodness and beauty in the world and that humans can only know God through faith. Killick's concept of God is based on the idea that God is the ultimate reality and that all things are interconnected. Barth believed that God is the creator of all things and that humans can only know God through revelation. Martin Luther believed that faith alone, and not good works, is necessary for salvation.
But in his book "Who is God?" Richard Bauckham explores the practical encounter of God with humans. He argues that God is not an abstract concept but rather a personal being involved in the world and the lives of individuals. Bauckham emphasizes the importance of the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the ultimate revelation of God, and highlights the idea that humans can have a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Bauckham also highlights the importance of prayer, worship, and the practice of Christian virtues to deepen one's relationship with God.
On the one hand, Bauckham understands God as the one who is present and active in the world, revealed through his actions in history and the person of Jesus Christ. He stresses on God's personal and relational nature, who desires to be known by humanity and invites people into a loving relationship with him.
On the other hand, Anselm's idea of God is more abstract and philosophical. He presents God as the perfect being, greater than anything or anyone we can conceive, and argues that the very idea of God's existence necessitates his actual existence. For Anselm, God is a rational and logical necessity, and his attributes can be deduced through reason alone. While Bauckham emphasizes God's personal nature and presence in the world, Anselm focuses on God's philosophical attributes and the logical necessity of his existence