Volume 89, Issue 3/4, July/October 2012
Theological Themes in Medieval Philosophy
Credo ut mirer
Anselm on Sacred Beauty
Anselm had a particular interest in the art of painting. He saw a close analogy between physical beauty and rational beauty. Both can be represented—physical beauty by paintings, rational beauty through discourse—and Anselm was especially attentive to the possibility of misrepresentation. Deceptive rhetorical coloring can mislead; unworthy discourse can obscure the truth’s inherent beauty. Yet even when discourse does justice to the beauty it is intended to represent, Anselm places strict limits on the appeal to beauty. For beauty by itself is not reliably persuasive. To one who is already persuaded, however, an appreciation of the rational beauty of the truth strengthens understanding, giving the believer a first-hand feel for the truth that is unmediated by argument. Just as Anselm says Credo ut intelligam, I believe in order that I might understand, so too he could say Credo ut mirer, I believe in order that I might be awe-struck.