I’ve a prodigal friend who has just returned from wandering. This friend’s faith is harassed by intellectual hurdles. As we spoke last night, I was reminded of an idea from the early Christian theologians: belief precedes understanding. Anselm of Canterbury writes of this in his Proslogion.
Man was created to see God. Man by sin lost the blessedness for which he was made, and found the misery for which he was not made. He did not keep this good when he could keep it easily. Without God it is ill with us. Our labors and attempts are in vain without God. Man cannot seek God, unless God himself teaches him; nor find him, unless he reveals himself. God created man in his image, that he might be mindful of him, think of him, and love him. 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.
Up now, slight man! flee, for a little while, your occupations; hide yourself, for a time, from your disturbing thoughts. Cast aside, now, your burdensome cares, and put away your toilsome business. Yield room for some little time to God; and rest for a little time in him. Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God, and such as can aid you in seeking him; close your door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! speak now to God, saying, I seek your face; your face, Lord, will I seek (Psalms xxvii. 8). And come you now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how it may seek you, where and how it may find you.
So, is Anselm correct? Must faith precede understanding?