July 22, 2022
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
Last week, we discussed C.S. Lewis’s “Meditation in a Toolshed” and the beginning of St. Anselm of Canterbury’s Proslogium. Though different in both tone and purpose, these pieces fit very well together in discussion. Proslogium begins with an explanation of its title, which translates to “A Discourse.” Since both pieces foreground the idea of meditation and discourse, it is interesting to compare the two modes of thought. Meditation implies a respite from clutter and chaos which allows for inspiration or clarity. Discourse, on the other hand, implies a conversation, a listening, and an exchange. It may, however, simply mean an investigation. In St. Anselm’s case, discourse likely corresponds with the following definition: “formal and orderly and usually extended expression of thought on a subject.” As such, it closely parallels Lewis’s writing, which was inspired by watching light filter through the window of his toolshed.
Typically, I give some sort of recap of the Quarterly Discussion, which was wonderful as usual. This time, however, I simply want to offer some of the questions that inspired our discussion. Feel free to leave a comment or two with any insights that you may have regarding these works. And thanks to those who participated in our discussion. It is always entertaining, constructive, and worthwhile!
First, I will list a handful of questions regarding St. Anselm’s Proslogium:
1] St. Anselm writes, “The believer does not seek to understand, that he may believe, but he believes that he may understand: for unless he believed he would not understand.” What is the interaction between belief and understanding? What is the nature of belief? And what is the nature of understanding?
2] If belief itself is enough, as St. Anselm implies, then why does he need to write about the nature of belief? He claims he wants to “understand” God, but then implies that understanding an entity such as God is not entirely possible. What, then, is the purpose behind his Discourse?
3] If one is a believer, then St. Anselm explains, “God cannot be conceived not to exist. God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived.” Does this function like a definition of God? Would this definition work for those outside of faith and belief who also want to explore ideas of God’s meaning and existence? Also, how does the conception of a thing prove its existence? Which drives belief, concept or understanding?
As for C. S. Lewis’s “Meditation,” here are a few questions to inspire conversation:
1] Lewis notices the sun beam and relates the experience of looking at it. Then, he moves into the beam itself, and notices the difference of being inside of the light. He writes, “Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. … Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.” Since he continues to use the terms “looking at” and “looking along,” how are they different? Do they share any similarities?
2] Can one be inside of an experience and simultaneously be aware of it? How can one be outside of an experience? How do you distinguish between being inside or outside of an experience?
3] Lewis mentions a period of “brow-beating” on the first page and repeats it in the last paragraph. What does he mean by this term? Is this piece written for the “brow-beaters” or some other audience?
4] What is the main subject of Lewis’s meditation: epistemology? Belief? God? Experience? Or something else?
And after a fun investigation of both pieces, I like to end discussions with a universal question. In this case, we circled back to notions of meditation and discourse. Who is the intended audience? Why was this discourse necessary for the author? And, according to each author, how can we investigate the nature of something as difficult as God, personal experience, or belief? There are many questions left to be asked, and I encourage you to try a similar exercise. It can be very enlightening (no pun intended)!
Thanks again to those who participated in the July Quarterly Discussion. Our next Quarterly Discussion will be in October and will focus on Social Science. For more information, email Alissa at as****@hm*.edu.
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