Anselm's Beard

Posted on April 27, 2016

by Dr. Jonathan McIntosh

I teach an elective every year at New Saint Andrews College on the philosophical theology of St. Anselm of Canterbury (A.D. 1033-1109), and one of the passages from Anselm that always amuses me is his illustration of why it is not unfitting for a thing to lack justice that was never intended to have it:

For even as not having a beard is not unbecoming for a man who ought not yet to have one, though when the time comes for him to have a beard, his not having one is unseemly: so too not having justice does not mar a nature which ought not to have it, though not having justice does disgrace a nature which ought to have it. And the more the fact that one ought to have a beard manifests a manly nature, the more not having a beard blemishes a manly appearance. (On the Fall of the Devil, ch. 16, Hopkins trans.)

While I generally find Anselm an extremely helpful and cogent thinker, clearly on this issue I haven’t exactly found him persuasive. But then again, based on this portrait of Anselm hanging in my office, I can’t see that he’s got a lot of room to talk.

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