July 15, 2022
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
In studying up on St. Anselm of Canterbury for the July Quarterly Discussion, I keep thinking of the song “Sigh No More” by Mumford & Sons. The song repeats the idea that the heart cries out to be pure, to be what it was “made to be.” In concert with this, St. Anselm states that “Man was created to see God.” He also writes, “I was created to see you (God), and not yet have I done that for which I was made.” These two comments, separated by almost 1,000 years, seem to be in dialogue.
And then, of course, the song repeats the title refrain “Sigh No More.” The Proslogium often incorporates the word “sigh” as well. St. Anselm uses this word as a vent of frustration. He claims that the Proslogium is designed to understand belief, yet the more he seeks to understand his belief, the more evasive it seems. Chapter One repeats feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, and emptiness. He uses the following phrases to describe these emotions:
“[W]e sigh with hunger.”
“But alas! Wretched that I am, one of the sons of Eve, far removed from God! What have I undertaken? What have I accomplished? Whither was I striving? How far have I come? To what did I aspire? Amid what thoughts am I sighing? I sought blessings, and lo! Confusion. I strove toward God, and I stumbled on myself. I sought calm in privacy, and I found tribulation and grief, in my inmost thoughts. I wished to smile in the joy of my mind, and I am compelled to frown by the sorrow of my heart. Gladness was hoped for, and lo! A source of frequent sighs.”
“I beseech you, O Lord, that I may not lose hope in sighs, but may breathe anew in hope.”
Almost as if a call and response, Mumford & Sons respond: “Sigh no more, no more/ One foot in sea, one on shore/ My heart was never pure.” The song then claims that man is a “giddy thing.” This, too, feels accurate, though I am not sure that I understand the term “giddy.” I see how humans are fickle, hesitant when they should be bold and bold when they should be hesitant, both cowardly and brave, intelligent but not all-knowing. Moreover, humans seek knowledge beyond their realm, and for this we become trapped in a very enticing path toward knowledge, enlightenment, or wisdom. So, if man is a “giddy thing,” how can enlightenment be reached?
St. Anselm offers suggestions, but his in the Proslogium is determined by his goal: “to understand what he believes.” In other words, he already has a set belief, a foundation from which to work, but also that he wants to understand the nature of belief itself. Mumford & Sons offer the following advice: “Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you/ It will set you free/ Be more like the man you were made to be.” Of course, this advice is also unclear. Love seems direct enough, but what does it mean to be “the man you were made to be”? Independent? Enlightened? Humble? Powerful? No matter, it brings us to the end of the song in which they claim: “A cry of my heart to see/ The beauty of love as it was made to be.” The song, at least, appears to center around ideas of love.
I look forward to our upcoming Quarterly Discussion which will help me better understand St. Anselm. Next week’s blog will offer an analysis of the discussion which pairs St. Anselm and C. S. Lewis.
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