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St. Anselm, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

April 20, 2018

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St. Anselm

St. Anselm was born in 1033 in Aosta in Piedmont, Italy. His father strictly controlled the family home. When Anselm was fifteen he wanted to join the Benedictine monastery in Aosta, but his father refused to allow it, so when Anselm turned twenty-three he left home, traveled across the Alps, and went to Burgundy, France, where he went to study.

In 1059 he became a friend of Lanfranc, the prior of the Benedictine abbey in Bec, Normandy, and he became a Benedictine monk there in 1060. Anselm made rapid progress in the spiritual life, and he taught theology to his fellow students. Three years later Lanfranc was elected abbot of another abbey and Anselm replaced him as prior. Anselm developed a reputation as an excellent preacher, he did much to reform monastic life, and he was greatly loved by his fellow monks. He was consecrated abbot of the Bec Abbey in 1078, and he maintained close contact with his mentor Lanfranc who had become Archbishop of Canterbury.

Lanfranc died in 1089, and in 1092 the English clergy, who had come to know Anselm because of his visits to England to care for Benedictine property there, elected Anselm as his successor. Anselm insisted on the spiritual independence of the diocese and would not tolerate government interference, and as a result King William II refused to confirm his election.

Anselm moved to Canterbury in 1093, and the conflict with King William II escalated. The king demanded a large payment for his nomination as bishop, which he refused to pay, and would not allow him to convene synods. King William demanded that Pope Urban I remove Anselm, and he threatened to confiscate church property if he did not do so. Anselm was exiled in 1097. He went to Cluny, Lyons, and then to Rome, where he tendered his resignation. Pope Urban I reaffirmed his confidence in Anselm, ordered King William to permit his return, and insisted that all confiscated monies and properties be given back. Before Anselm’s return to England, Urban asked Anselm to attend the Council of Bari (1098) where he effectively defended Filioque, the Church’s doctrine of the double procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son.

Anselm returned to England in 1100. King Henry I had assumed the throne after William’s death, and another round of disputes began. Henry insisted on the lay investiture of bishops and abbots. Anselm refused. Henry threatened further confiscation of church revenue and property, and sent Anselm into exile in 1103. Again, he returned to Rome. The new Pope, Paschal II, fully backed Anselm and refused to accede to Henry’s demands. When Anselm did return, the archbishop and the king reached a concordat: the king would no longer seek to invest bishops and the church would pay tribute to the king in the temporal realm.

Anselm is remembered as a brilliant theologian and philosopher, and he is regarded as the Father of Scholasticism. He is responsible for the definition of theology, “fides quaerens intellectum,” “faith seeking understanding.” He is the author of a number of major works: Monologium, metaphysical proofs on the existence of God; Proslogion, “Allocution,” on the attributes of God; Cur Deus Homo, “Why God Became Man,” a reflection on the Incarnation; as well as De fide Trinitatis, De conceptu virginali, De veritate, and Liber apologeticus pro insipiente.

St. Anselm died on April 21, 1109, in Canterbury, England, and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1734. His symbol is a ship sailing over open water which represents spiritual independence from government interference.

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