St Anselm of Canterbury was a Benedictine monk, abbot and Archbishop of Canterbury.
He was born in 1033 in Aosta, Lombardy, Italy, and died on April 21 1109, Canterbury, Kent, England.
We celebrate his feast day on April 21 every year in the Catholic Church.
Quote: Whoever, like St Anselm of Canterbury, contends for the Church’s rights, is fighting on the side of God against the tyranny of Satan.
|St Anselm of Canterbury Biography|
|Date of Birth||1033 AD|
|Country of Birth||Italy in Europe|
|Profession||Monk, prior, abbot and Archbishop of Canterbury|
|Place of Work||England|
|Date of Death||April 21 1109|
|Place of Death||Canterbury, England|
|Feast Day||April 21|
|Canonization||By Pope Alexander III in 1163|
|Patron Saint of|
Saint Anselm of Canterbury Life History
St. Anselm of Canterbury was born in Aosta, a town located in Upper Burgundy, in the Piedmont area of northwest Italy.
Aosta was a town of great significance during both the Roman imperial era and the Middle Ages, as it was situated at the junction of the Great and Little St. Bernard routes.
Anselm’s mother, Ermenberga, came from a wealthy and prominent Burgundian family and had a significant amount of property.
On the other hand, Anselm’s father, Gondolfo, was a nobleman from Lombardy and had plans for Anselm to pursue a political career. He was not pleased when Anselm decided to become a monk at an early age.
Anselm was well-educated in classical subjects and was regarded as one of the more skilled Latin scholars of his time.
When Anselm was fifteen years old, he wanted to join a monastery. However, since he did not have his father’s permission, the abbot declined his request.
After this, Anselm fell ill, and some have suggested that it was a psychosomatic reaction to his disappointment.
After recovering from his illness, he abandoned his studies and lived an easy-going life for some time.
Anselm departed from Aosta in 1057 with the intention of joining the Benedictine monastery at Bec, which was situated between Rouen and Lisieux in Normandy, France.
His primary motivation for going to Bec was to study under the well-known prior of the monastery, Lanfranc.
During his journey, Anselm discovered that Lanfranc was not at the monastery but in Rome. As a result, he spent some time at Lyon, Cluny, and Avranches before finally joining Bec in 1060.
Anselm took his monastic vows either in 1060 or 1061. Given his reputation for intelligence and piety, Anselm was chosen as the prior of the monastery after Lanfranc became the abbot of Caen in 1063. In 1078, Anselm himself became the abbot of Bec.
Anselm wrote the Monologion in 1077, at the request of some of his fellow monks. This theological work aimed to be both apologetic and religious in nature.
Anselm attempted to prove the existence and qualities of God using logic alone, which was a departure from the earlier medieval thinkers who relied on the opinions of authorities.
The Monologion began with an examination of the inequalities among various aspects of perfection, such as justice, wisdom, and power.
Anselm then argued for an absolute norm that is beyond time and space and can be comprehended by the human mind. He asserted that this norm is God, the ultimate, absolute, and unifying standard of perfection.
A monk named Gaunilo of Marmoutier disputed Anselm’s ontological argument in his work called “Liber pro insipiente” or “Book in Behalf of the Fool Who Says in His Heart There Is No God.”
Gaunilo rejected the notion that an idea of a being incorporates its existence in the objective order, and he also argued that the direct intuition of God doesn’t necessarily entail God’s existence.
Anselm responded to Gaunilo’s criticisms by writing the “Liber apologeticus contra Gaunilonem,” which restated the ontological argument he had presented in the Proslogion.
This argument was later accepted by René Descartes and Benedict de Spinoza in various forms, but it was rejected by Immanuel Kant.
After establishing Norman overlordship of England in 1066, William the Conqueror became a patron of the monastery at Bec, and he granted lands in both England and Normandy to the monastery.
Anselm traveled to England three times to survey the lands granted to Bec by William the Conqueror, and during one of these visits, he founded a priory in Chester.
It was during this time that William II Rufus, the son and successor of William the Conqueror, appointed him as the archbishop of Canterbury in March 1093.
The position had been vacant since the death of Lanfranc in 1089, during which time the king had seized its income and looted its properties.
Anselm accepted the position of archbishop of Canterbury somewhat unwillingly, but with the goal of reforming the English church.
He refused to be ordained until William agreed to restore the lands to Canterbury and recognize Pope Urban II as the true pope instead of the antipope Clement III.
William, fearing for his life due to an illness, agreed to Anselm’s terms, and Anselm was eventually ordained as archbishop on December 4, 1093.
After recovering from his illness, William II Rufus demanded a sum of money from Anselm. However, Anselm refused to pay because it would have been seen as a payment for his ecclesiastical position, which is known as simony.
William responded by forbidding Anselm from going to Rome to receive the pallium, a mantle that symbolized papal approval of his appointment as archbishop, from Urban II. William did not want this to be seen as a sign of his recognition of Pope Urban as the rightful pope.
Anselm’s stance on the king’s interference in ecclesiastical matters made him a significant figure in the Investiture Controversy.
This conflict centered on the issue of whether the pope or a secular ruler, such as an emperor or king, had the primary authority to invest a bishop or other ecclesiastical authority with the symbols of their office.
The Investiture Controversy went on for two years until March 11, 1095, when the English bishops supported the king against Anselm at the Synod of Rockingham.
Anselm refused to accept the pallium from William when the papal legate brought it from Rome because it would appear that he owed his spiritual and ecclesiastical authority to the king.
Although William allowed Anselm to leave for Rome, he seized the lands of Canterbury when the archbishop departed.
In 1098, Anselm participated in the Council of Bari held in Italy where he presented his complaints against the king to Pope Urban II.
During the sessions, he actively defended the doctrine of the Filioque clause in the Nicene Creed against the Greek church, which had been in schism with the Western church since 1054.
The Filioque clause added to the Western version of the Nicene Creed affirmed that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son.
However, the Greek church rejected this clause as a later addition. The council also reaffirmed earlier decrees against the practice of lay officials investing ecclesiastics.
After leaving England, Anselm took an unfinished manuscript of his work Cur Deus homo? (“Why Did God Become Man?”) with him.
He finished writing the manuscript in 1099 while he was staying in the village of Liberi near Capua. This work went on to become the authoritative text on the satisfaction theory of redemption.
According to Anselm, the means to restore a proper relationship between humans and God could only be accomplished by someone who possessed both divinity and humanity.
He believed that only a sinless God could overcome sin, while only a human being could be held accountable for it.
Anselm argued that the death of Christ, who was both fully God and fully human, on the cross was the only logical way for sinful humanity to be reconciled with God.
This view is known as the satisfaction theory of redemption and was further elaborated in Anselm’s work “Cur Deus Homo?”
Anselm’s attendance at the council in Rome in 1099, after completing Cur Deus homo?, was followed by the death of William Rufus in 1100, after which his younger brother Henry I ascended to the English throne.
Seeking to secure the support of the Church, Henry I reconciled with Anselm and invited him back to England.
Anselm and Henry I had a disagreement over the issue of investiture, which had been at the heart of Anselm’s conflict with William Rufus.
Henry asserted his right to invest bishops and other ecclesiastical officials with the symbols of their office, while Anselm maintained that this was the sole prerogative of the church. This led to another period of tension between the archbishop and the king.
Anselm returned to England in September 1100 and was restored to his see of Canterbury. However, the investiture controversy continued to simmer, and in 1103, Anselm was forced into exile again.
During this time, he traveled to Rome and continued to advocate for the church’s independence from royal control.
In 1107, a compromise was reached at the Synod of Westminster. The king renounced the right to invest bishops and abbots with the symbols of their office, but demanded that they pay homage to him before their consecration.
This was seen as a victory for the church, but the controversy was not fully resolved until the Concordat of Worms in 1122.
Anselm spent his final two years without any trouble. In 1163, new laws were introduced stating that approval was necessary for the official recognition of someone as a saint.
Archbishop Thomas Becket of Canterbury referred Anselm’s case to Rome, and it is possible that he was canonized at that time, as evidenced by frequent references to his shrine in Canterbury records from 1170.
St Anselm of Canterbury was revered locally for several centuries after his death. In 1720, Pope Clement XI declared Anselm a doctor or teacher of the church.
Today’s Catholic Quote:
Whoever, like St Anselm of Canterbury, contends for the Church’s rights, is fighting on the side of God against the tyranny of Satan.
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