Credo ut mirer: Anselm on sacred beauty

When I was first invited to present a paper at the conference out of which this volume grew, I knew immediately what I wanted to talk about. Anselm, who had been my constant companion for the previous three years or so, has a peculiar fascination with the art of painting. It is a favorite source of analogies for him, some of them illuminating but others noticeably strained. His most famous use of painting as an analogy, in the widely anthologized and overstudied passage that contains his so-called ontological argument, is so grossly misleading and inept for Anselm’s purposes that one can account for its presence only by assuming that Anselm 1 just had to get something about painting in there somehow. Being a philosopher, and therefore ill-equipped to deal with anything concrete, I had not said anything in print about this strange preoccupation. But then the conference came along, and with it a mandate to talk about sacred objects. And that mandate offered me this chance to chew over Anselm’s painting fetish a bit and figure out why these objects – these in particular – are his favorite metaphors, put to service for a variety of theological and philosophical purposes.
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