St Anselm

St AnselmSaint Anselm, medieval scholar and pre-eminent English prelate, was born in Piedmont in 1033. The outstanding Christian philosopher of his day, he is best known for his ontological argument for the existence of God. He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093 and died on 21st April 1109.

Anselm was born at Aosta in Piedmont (then a Burgundian town) in 1033. His early life is obscure. At the age of fifteen he wished to become a monk but was forbidden by his father. He left home at twenty three, travelling throughout France and Burgundy for three years. In 1059 he came to the abbey of Bec in Normandy, where his countryman Lanfranc was prior. Lanfranc was a highly respected teacher and the school at Bec had become an important centre of learning. Anselm became a Benedictine monk in 1060. In 1063 Lanfranc was appointed abbot of Caen and Anselm succeeded hm as prior of Bec. In 1078 Herluin, founder and first abbot of Bec, died and Anselm was elected as the new abbot of Bec. The reputation of Bec as an intellectual centre grew under Anselm. In addition to teaching, Anselm wrote many of his philosophical and theological works including the Monologion [1076], the Proslogion [1077-8] and his four dialogues: De grammatico, De veritate, De libertate arbitrii [1080-85] and De casu diaboli [1085-90].

The abbey at Bec had lands in England, requiring Anselm to visit frequently. Meanwhile his old master Lanfrance had been made Archbishop of Canterbury by William the Conqueror, and Anselm was able to visit him at Canterbury. When Lanfrance died in 1089, Anselm was the general choice as his replacement. However King William Rufus kept the office vacant taking its revenues for his own use. In 1093 William became ill and forced the reluctant Anselm to take the appointment. William was a ruthless ruler and would not be dictated to by Archbishop or Pope (or anyone else for that matter!). The next four years saw continual struggle between William and Anselm over money, rights and privileges. In 1097 Anselm went to Rome to seek help, but although he was well received and highly regarded in Rome he received no practical assistance. With the death of William in 1100, Anselm returned to England. The new king, Henry I, although having a high regard for Anselm and being generally friendly, was as intent as William had been on maintaining royal jurisdiction over the church. Anselm returned to Rome in 1103 and remained abroad until 1106. In 1107 a compromise was reached with Henry and Anselm returned to Canterbury. While Archbishop of Canterbury he had continued to write, including theEpistola de Incarnatione Verbi [1092-4], Cur Deus Homo [1094-8], De conceptu virginali [1099-1100], De processione Spiritus Sancti[1102], De sacramentis ecclesiae [1106-7], the Epistola de sacrificio azymi et fermentati [1106-7] and De concordia [1107-8]. He died on 21st April 1109. He was canonised in 1494 and named a Doctor of the Church in 1720.

For more details about Saint Anselm’s life and writings see Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy or The Catholic Encyclopaedia orThe Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy