Anselm’s philosophy of God states that He is responsible for everything except Himself. But, if this is the case, then it seems that God is also responsible for the fall of the Devil. Is this so?
Anselm’s work “On the Fall of the Devil” is the piece in which Anselm lectures on the devil’s fall. It is cast in the form of a dialog between a student and a teacher, this teacher clearly being Anselm himself.
The work begins with the student asking Anselm about the nature of Angels, something which, to the medievals, functioned as a sort of thought-experiment. The student quotes St. Paul and asks about the nature of freedom—if God is responsible for all that we have, then is he not also responsible for all that we don’t have, and if this is the case, is it the same for angels? Is the freedom of Angels the same as human freedom?
We know little about divine freedom. We simply know that some angels fell while others did not. The angels who fell are no longer capable of doing Good, while the ones who remained firm, are not capable of doing evil. So with angels, we (they) get one choice and that choice clearly matters for the angel’s eternal destiny.
Another reason for focusing on angels is that in medieval philosophy, human beings are divine albeit goods in need of repair. Obviously, those who are repaired are not entitled to boast of their condition since it was God who repaired them, otherwise known in theology as ‘Grace’. The relationship between Grace and human freedom is difficult. But with Angels, this issue does not arise since they were all in their original pristine condition when they made their primal choice. So by applying Paul’s question (the student quoting Paul) to the angels, he overrides issues of Grace. So the question is what the angels received from God, whether they had to ability to choose to remain firm or fall.
If they received it from God, then it needs to be explained how it could be just that the evil Angels received the ability to do evil and tempt the good angels from God. If that choice was not received from God, then it needs to be explained how God can be the source of all things yet not the source of the angels’ primal choice.
In asking about the angels, however, the parallel question about human beings is not left behind. This is because what is applied to angels will apply to human beings as well—the structure of the human will is the same as the structure of the angelic will. We know this because the structure of the will is what it is because we are rational beings. Since humans and angels are both rational beings, then we can be confident in saying that each has a similar will-structure. So, essentially, we will be talking about the fall of Adam while we are talking about the fall of the devil.
The student remarks,
“So it is clear that the angel who remained steadfast in the Truth, persevered, because he had, perseverance. That he had perseverance because he received it, what you had that you did not receive you had perseverance because he received it, and he received it because God gave it. It follows then that the one who did not remain steadfast in the truth, did not persevere because he did not have perseverance. That he did not have perseverance because he did not receive it and he did not receive it because God did not give it. So I want you to explain to me, if you can, what the angel’s fault was. After all, he did not preserver because God did not give him perseverance. And he could have nothing that God did not give him.”
Anselm’s response is to say that God gave all the angels the will to preserve in justice. But the evil angels abandoned that will. But in order to understand this, we need to look at Anselm’s theory of freedom and then Anselm’s theory of motivation.
Philosophers nowadays tend to think of freedom as the ability to choose between alternative courses of action; as long as we have the ability to choose between [X] and [Y], then we are ‘free’. But when there is only one option genuinely available to us, then we are not free. Anselm’s theory is quite different as it doesn’t require us to choose between alternatives. God is free because when it comes to morally significant actions, God has no alternatives—God cannot do anything unjust or sin. So we cannot define freedom as the ability to choose between alternatives. Instead, Anselm defines it as ‘the power to preserve rectitude of Will for its own sake’.
What does this mean? Well, ‘rectitude of will’ simply means ‘willing what we what to will’. Or, willing what is just. Freedom is the power to preserve rectitude of will. To preserve for its own sake. If I will what I ought to will because I am afraid that I will be punished if I don’t, then I am not willing the right thing for its own sake. If I will the right thing because I expect some kind of bribe or reward, then I am not willing the right thing for the right reason. So freedom, then, is preserving the will to will because we want to will it for the sake of willing it. The rectitude of will preserved for its own sake, therefore, is Anselm’s definition of justice. So by defining freedom as preserving the rectitude of will for its own sake, Anselm is saying that freedom and morality are closely tied together. That freedom, rather, is the capacity for justice, the power to retain justice.
So freedom is not morally neutral. We have the freedom to enable us to be morally just. But, rational beings, humans, and angels, are not purely motivated by notions of justice; hence, Anselm’s theory of motivation which states that rational creatures are motivated by two sorts of considerations: (1) Justice, (2) Advantage.
In contemporary language, we might call them morality and happiness.
We have already seen what ‘Justice’ is, it is rectitude of will persevered for its own sake. But what it ‘Advantage/happiness’? Happiness is exactly what it sounds like, what, in other words, a rational nature/being, would enjoy. Essentially, advantage is anything that would bring it a kind of pleasure, satisfaction, or enjoyment. Whether it is right or wrong, just or unjust doesn’t enter the picture when considerations of happiness dominant.
Anselm is convinced that every choice we make is aimed either at Justice or Happiness (Advantage).
So, to return back to the fall of the devil, and the idea that a certain portion of the angels abandoned their will to justice, we have to ask why they abandoned it.
According to Anselm’s theory of motivation, there are only two possible explanations for the angels’ abandonment of their will to justice. They abandoned it either because they willed justice or because they willed happiness. These are the only two options there are. But, clearly, they did not will justice to pursue injustice, this is a contradiction. So, a simple reduction will tell us that they must have abandoned the will to justice for the will to happiness. That is, there was something they lacked, something that God had not given them, which would have made them happier if they had had it. What this thing is Anselm does not know, so he simply calls it ‘That something extra’. But whatever it was, it was something that the angels did not yet have; but we know something else about this extra—it was something that God did not want the angels to have, or, at least something that he did not want them to have yet. We know this because by willing this something extra, they sinned and fell. Sin is always a matter of going against God’s will.
So, the situation is this: God creates all the angels and gives them all a just will, he also gives them the power to retain this just will, the power that is freedom. But he does withhold at least one thing from them; this thing, whatever it is, is desirable but He does not want them to have it, at least, not yet. So now the angels have a choice: they can choose justice in preference to happiness or they can choose happiness in preference to justice. The angels who fell are those who choose that something extra, and thereby throw away the justice which God had given them in creation, while the angels who remained pure, are those who choose justice and foregone that something extra, choosing instead to remain faithful to God’s will.
Next comes an ironic twist: because the angels who choose happiness over justice fall, God takes away even that ability for them to be happy. Meanwhile, those angels who choose justice over happiness are given that something extra along with happiness. AS a result, Anselm says that there is nothing more than that they could want—God has given them that last bit of happiness which they were missing. So now, the good angels are incapable of sinning because they are whole: they cannot sin in doing justice, and because they are now whole with happiness plus that something extra, they are incapable of doing evil or sinning since there are only two choices for them. Anselm refers to this as the ‘confirmation of the good angels’.
So the student’s question has, at least, been partially answered—the angels all had something which God gave them, but some kept it in pursuit of justice, while others threw it away in pursuit of happiness. But another problem arises. Namely, the angels only had this choice in the first place because there were only two possible choices—the motivation to choose either justice or happiness. If they had had only one source of motivation, then none of this would have happened. So, why would God set up rational creature in this way, where they are capable of preferring happiness over justice? Especially when the risk is a fall and moral evil?
This answer lies in Anselm’s theory of freedom. He outlines that it was impossible for God to only make creatures with one source of motivation. So, it was impossible for God to make a free creature that was not tempted to fall. To illustrate this, Anselm asks us to imagine God creating an angel one step at a time. He asks us to imagine an angel with only a will to happiness; so this angel only has the possibility to choose what they believe will bring satisfaction or contentment. What would such an angel will? Clearly, such an angel would will happiness and only happiness. Anselm speculates what this would look like and says that what the angel wills would rely entirely on what the angel believes in happiness. The better he thinks happiness is the better he is going to Will it. It is as though he was programmed to seek happiness. If he realizes that the perfect happiness resides in God, then he will be like God. Of course, it is unseemly for an angel to will itself to be like God; and yet, this creature would not be blameworthy since he can do literally nothing except will happiness. So, we wouldn’t be able to call the angel unjust but neither just, since it wills something which is unfitting for an angel to will. Once our hypothetical angel realizes that being like God is out of his reach, what will he do? He will, Will the greatest happiness he believes that he can obtain. If the greatest thing he can will is the irrational pleasure of animals, then the angel will, Will those things. Once again, he is not blameworthy for willing these things. Again, it was just following its instinct from God; to illustrate, as professor Williams says, if I strike you with a baseball bat, you will blame me, not the bat, because the bat was simply an instrument of mine, it was following my will. So it becomes clear that an angel incapable of justice is also not capable of injustice. Since freedom is the power to preserve rectitude of will for its own sake, that is, freedom is the capacity for justice, an angel that has only the will to happiness is not free; accordingly, we can see how the same would be true for an angel which only had the will to justice—the angel would will what it ought to will, but that would not make the angel praiseworthy since it is merely following its creation’s programming, the works and gifts of God, not the angel itself. So, in order to be just, the angel needs to make some choice which is not merely the work and gift of God and not merely in the way which God has programmed him. An angel, therefore, which has both motivations, can do this and only in this way in which a creature could be free and not merely a conduit for God’s power.
All of this is to say that the devil’s fall was a choice not received from God; otherwise, it would have been God’s choice for the fall and not the angels. Obviously, this would be a contradiction as the fall is the result of sin and disobeying God’s will. Any creature, therefore, which preserves justice in preference to happiness, has that choice, that freedom, something they have within themselves, something they did not receive from God and vice versa. So, it is the exercise of this power that they have and that is different than being programmed; they received it from God, yes, but it is up to them to utilize it in their existence.