Works of St. Anselm, tr. by Sidney Norton Deane, , at sacred-texts.com
What can or cannot be stated concerning the substance of this Being.
NOT without reason I am now strongly impelled to inquire as earnestly as I am able, which of all the statements that may be made regarding anything is substantially applicable to this so wonderful Nature. For, though I should be surprised if, among the names or words by which we designate things created from nothing, any should be found that could worthily be applied to the Substance which is the creator of all; yet, we must try and see to what end reason will lead this investigation.
As to relative expressions, at any rate, no one can doubt that no such expression describes what is essential to that in regard to which it is relatively employed. Hence, if any relative predication is made regarding the supreme Nature, it is not significant of its substance.
Therefore, it is manifest that this very expression, that this Nature, is the highest of all beings, or greater than those which have been created by it; or any p. 61 other relative term that can, in like manner, be applied to it, does not describe its natural essence.
For, if none of those things ever existed, in relation to which it is called supreme or greater, it would not be conceived as either supreme or greater, yet it would not, therefore, be less good, or suffer detriment to its essential greatness in any degree. And this truth is clearly seen from the fact that this Nature exists through no other than itself, whatever there be that is good or great. If, then, the supreme Nature can be so conceived of as not supreme, that still it shall be in no wise greater or less than when it is conceived of as the highest of all beings, it is manifest that the term supreme, taken by itself, does not describe that Being which is altogether greater and better than whatever is not what it is. But, what these considerations show regarding the term supreme or highest is found to be true, in like manner, of other similar, relative expressions.
Passing over these relative predications, then, since none of them taken by itself represents the essence of anything, let our attention be turned to the discussion of other kinds of predication.
Now, certainly if one diligently considers separately whatever there is that is not of a relative nature, either it is such that, to be it is in general better than not to be it, or such that, in some cases, not to be it is better than to be it. But I here understand the phrases, to be it and not to be it, in the same way in which I understand to be true and not to be true, to be bodily and not to be bodily, and the like. Indeed, to be anything is, in general, better than not to be it; as to be wise is better than not to be so; that is, it is better to be wise than not to be wise. For, though one who p. 62 is just, but not wise, is apparently a better man than one who is wise, but not just, yet, taken by itself, it is not better not to be wise than to be wise. For, everything that is not wise, simply in so far as it is not wise, is less than what is wise, since everything that is not wise would be better if it were wise. In the same way, to be true is altogether better than not to be so, that is, better than not to be true; and just is better than not just; and to live than not to live.
But, in some cases, not to be a certain thing is better than to be it, as not to be gold may be better than to be gold. For it is better for man not to be gold, than to be gold; although it might be better for something to be gold, than not to be gold ‑‑ lead, for instance. For though both, namely, man and lead are not gold, man is something as much better than gold, as he would be of inferior nature, were he gold; while lead is something as much more base than gold, as it would be more precious, were it gold.
But, from the fact that the supreme Nature may be so conceived of as not supreme, that supreme is neither in general better than not supreme, nor not supreme better, in any case, than supreme ‑‑from this fact it is evident that there are many relative expressions which are by no means included in this classification. Whether, however, any are so included, I refrain from inquiring; since it is sufficient, for my purpose, that undoubtedly none of these, taken by itself, describes the substance of the supreme Nature.
Since, then, it is true of whatever else there is, that, if it is taken independently, to be it is better than not to be it; as it is impious to suppose that the substance of the supreme Nature is anything, than which what is not it is in any way better, it must be true that p. 63 this substance is whatever is, in general, better than what is not it. For, it alone is that, than which there is nothing better at all, and which is better than all things, which are not what it is.
It is not a material body, then, or any of those things which the bodily senses discern. For, then all these there is something better, which is not what they themselves are. For, the rational mind, as to which no bodily sense can perceive what, or of what character, or how great, it is ‑‑the less this rational mind would be if it were any of those things that are in the scope of the bodily senses, the greater it is than any of these. For by no means should this supreme Being be said to be any of those things to which something, which they themselves are not, is superior; and it should by all means, as our reasoning shows, be said to be any of those things to which everything, which is not what they themselves are, is inferior.
Hence, this Being must be living, wise, powerful, and all‑powerful, true, just, blessed, eternal, and whatever, in like manner, is absolutely better than what is not it. Why, then, should we make any further inquiry as to what that supreme Nature is, if it is manifest which of all things it is, and which it is not?