St. Anselm is often pigeon-holed for his rather extraordinary proof of God. But perhaps more important than this endeavor (which is itself quite stunning when looked at generously and carefully), is his conviction that faith precedes understanding.
I thank thee that thou hast created me in this thine image, in order that I may be mindful of thee, may conceive of thee, and love thee…I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate thy sublimity, for in wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree thy truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.
from the Proslogium
This is apparent in all his other major works (Cur Deus Homo; Monologium…) which are as much philosophical as they are theological discourse. His writing, that is his pursuit of understanding, is itself an act of worship. Though has said, “Seek ye my face.” My heart says to thee, “They face, O Lord, do I seek” (Psalm 27:8).
This attitude was not just a philosophical one or uniquely speculative one, but the proper attitude and work of the Christian. Therefor the radical proposal he make in the Monologium, to found what the Scriptures say not on their own authority, but on reason can be seen as an act of faith–not as a Cartesian leap into logical solipsism.
The faithful believe scripture not by the power of reason alone, but not without reason. But having come to believe, we desire not just to believe those things we do not see yet (except through a glass darkly). We desire to understand, to attain to and behold, as much as is possible in this life.
The application of reason to the scriptures, the organ of understanding to the Word of God is properly an act of all the faithful. But why is reason that proper organ, the tool by which we seek to understand the Scripture?
One can imagine using a wrench to turn a bolt, a fitting tool for the operation. One might also try turning a bold by hitting it with the end of a hammer. While one turns the bolt in such a manner, one risks damage, injury, and surely does something with far more effort than necessary. This is because a hammer is not the proper tool for bolts…generally.
But what of reason? Man, made in God’s image is a rational creature. To be rational is to posses and be capable of logos. God himself is Logos, the eternally and infinitely rational Word.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the word was God (John 1:1).
The very nature of God and the Scriptures is intelligibility. God himself is the Being which is knowable and understandable. This does not mean that we are up to grasping him in his essence, comprehending him in his totality. Indeed, we are not. But the Scriptures which are an Image of God and the Word of God give us a foothold, a steppingstone, something of Him and his deeds to grasp.
Reason, more so than any wrench or any hammer, is the proper tools or organ for Anselm’s and our pursuit of understanding, for it is a likeness of that which God is and that by which God understands himself.
He made us not just to obey him or believe what he said, but to be like unto himself and his word, to be organs or creatures of understand that we might delight in coming to understand him, in whatever small way we can in this life. Finally it is by reason, elevated to a new participation in the Godhead that we will know and delight in him in the next life.
We will still desire to know him then, but it will not be the desire which seeks to obtain its object, but which delights in the possession of its object and longs to continue in this state of bliss.