To Whom Will You Liken God? Anselm & the Question of Univocity

The focus of this paper is the “problem of predication,” specifically as it relates to the father of Scholasticism: Anselm of Canterbury. How did Anselm speak about God? In Anselm’s theological reflections, did he utilize univocal predication when speaking of the divine attributes? Some scholars think “yes” and present Anselm as a theologian committed to univocity. I will argue against this.

My thesis is that to assign univocity to Anselm is both anachronistic and unhelpful. For it can be shown that Anselm’s view of predication and his doctrine of God contain all the essential ingredients that led to the Reformed tradition’s later rejection of univocity (and, by implication, their corresponding embrace of analogical predication).

To demonstrate this thesis, I will walk through three important steps. First, I will provide an overview of Anselm’s view of predication. Second, I will present the views of Thomas Williams and Katherin Rogers. Each of these scholars, in different ways, attempt to show that Anselm is univocal in his prediction of divine attributes. Williams posits Anselmian univocity in Scotist categories, while Rogers contends that Anselmian univocity is an entailment of Anselm’s Platonism. In response to these views, I will outline major continuities between Anselm and the Reformed Orthodox (Turretin and Van Mastricht) in their doctrines of God (focusing especially on the classical doctrine of divine simplicity and its entailments). This will demonstrate that Anselm imbibes the deeper theological impulses and habits which underlie Reformed theologians’ ardent rejection of univocity. I will therefore conclude by contending that we can deny the question of univocity as it pertains to Anselm and modestly propose, instead, that Anselm would have been sympathetic to predicating the divine attributes analogically.

My research here contributes to the current conversation in classical theism and theological retrieval, seeking to elucidate—through Anselm—the symbiotic relationship between one’s doctrine of God and the “problem of predication.”

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