Entry 0237: Aquinas and the Ontological Argument of Saint Anselm
Herwi Rikhof writes: “(1) by placing Thomas’ criticism on the ratio Anselmi, as can be found in the Summa Theologiae, in the context of his discussion of the question whether ‘God is’ is a propositio per se nota, (2) by comparing this discussion with discussions in previous systematic works, and (3) by showing parallels between his way of arguing in this case and in related questiones, I have tried to defend the thesis that the common picture of Thomas’ criticism is not correct.
“His criticism is not purely negative and dismissive. On the contrary: Anselm’s ratio provides an insight, an argument for understanding ‘God is’ as a per se nota proposition.
“Thomas’ criticism is not just the criticism mentioned in his direct reply, but also and mainly the criticism against an unqualified acceptance of ‘God is’ as a per se nota proposition. And this criticism is motivated by a typical theo-logical concern: how to speak adequately, or more precisely, how to speak least inadequately about God we believe in.
“The conclusion that in God essence and existence are identical belongs to the heart of the quomodo-non-sit inquiry. This explains why, for the discussion about ‘God is’ being per se notum, Thomas can point to the identity as satisfying the (formal) requirement of a propositio per se nota, while at the same time pointing to the impossibility on our side to know God’s essence as the basis for a radical qualification. The theoretical insights about per se notum knowledge can serve to elucidate our use and understanding of ‘God is,’ but only up to a point. In Aquinas’ view Anselm’s ratio does not sufficiently take into account that last qualification.”
See Herwi Rikhof, “Aquinas and the Ratio Anselmi: A Theo-Logical Analysis of Aquinas’ Criticism,” Archivio di Filosofia 58 (1990): 137-159. See also, Michael V. Dougherty, “Aquinas on the Self-Evidence of the Articles of Faith,” The Heythrop Journal 46 (2005): 167-180.