Anselm, Augustine & the Angels

Anselm has a passage in Why God Became Man where he considers whether the number of elect humans makes up for the number of fallen angels. After all, he assumes, there is a definite number.

Why should he?

Well, God either made an infinite number of creatures or a finite number of creatures. It may be that God did make an infinite number or creatures, but it strikes me as highly improbable, and in fact absurd. I am not sure that I can demonstrate that there is not a finite number of creatures, since it seems to me that you don’t require space for an infinite number of spiritual beings. Still, how likely is it that this should happen? And I’m inclined to believe that all you need is boundaries; which in terms of the spiritual realm, is a definition, as Eriugena teaches. God has many creatures, but surely these are not infinite in number, but finite, since they are part of creation which is limited. God alone is infinite.

If, however, it can be demonstrated or it is revealed that God made an infinite number of angels, then it is illogical to assume that he would need to replace any of them when some fell. You can’t diminish infinity by subtraction.

But let us say it really is absurd to believe that there are an infinite number of angelic beings, which seems by far more probable, and assume instead there is a finite number. What kind of God does not have a reason for that number? Only an arbitrary God would make a random number of angelic beings, and that is not what we ought to think about God. God is not arbitrary; God has intelligence and purpose, and when God makes a number of anything, though we may not understand it, you can be sure there is a reason for it: that is how God does things because that is what God is like.

So, then, if you have a finite number of angels, and some of them fall, you no longer have that original finite number. You have a diminished finite number. If that number had a reason, then that is a reason to replace them. So it is not so far-fetched, it seems to me, for Anselm to assume, as Augustine did before him, that perhaps the number of the elect in some way corresponds to the unknown number of the fallen angels, replacing in that City those who diminished the original supply.

4 thoughts on “Anselm, Augustine & the Angels

  1. The logic and tidiness of this conclusion appeals to me. I have one question, though; do either of them address the relationship of this conclusion to Paul’s words to the Ephesians? In Ephesians 1:4, “he chose us before the foundation of the world”, so does that place the fall of the angels before “the foundation”, also? I’m making the assumption that “the foundation” of the world is not equivalent with “the creation” of the world.

  2. I do not think they address that verse specifically. So I’ll conjecture. You have to understand, however, that in classic theism God is not in time. You have probably heard the saying that time is the moving image of eternity, which Vaughan plays on in his poem that starts with the unforgettable line: “I saw eternity the other night.” Time is a moving image of an unchanging, timeless thing; so there are two distinguishable orders: the temporal and the eternal. They relate but are separate.

    If I’m right in this, then what they are probably thinking is that God does not experience time, because he does not experience change (and the Confessions would demonstrate Augustine’s assent to this concept). There is no before the creation because there is no temporality in which something could come before time begins. Now, the relation of angels to this is perhaps debatable, but not the relation of God to everything created, which is clear. God is beyond before-and-after because he is eternal. In Reformed theology God orders all temporal events according to his decree, and I think one can say it is through his decree that he knows all things. He decrees the creation of angelic beings, he decrees to permit some to fall, he decrees a replacement for the fallen number, he decrees a race rather than a company so that he can save them, you could say. Does that answer your question?

    I think Paul is saying that election is done in eternity, creation is when temporality obtains, and so election is sure because it is a part of an unchanging realm, rather than in perceived response to the realm of change. And I would suppose that’s how they take it.

    1. Hmm. Yes, I think so. I will mull it over, but again, that makes sense. With time swirling all around us, so to speak, one tends to frame questions in temporal terms. In this case, I see that as a failure on my part. Thank you.

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