ST. ANSELM OF CANTERBURY: Father of Scholasticism
1033 – 1109: April 21
St. Anselm was born of a noble Old Burgundian family in Aosta, northern Itaty in 1033. Deeply influenced by his pious mother Ermenberga St. Anselm knew even at the early age of 15 that he preferred the monastic life over the career in politics that his father, Gundolf, a Lombard nobleman, and landowner had chosen and insisted on for him.
Prevented from his dream by his father’s opposition and his consequent non -acceptance by the monks in an abbey where he was born due to apprehension of his Father’s displeasure, Anselm lost interest in religion and instead led a worldly and dissipated life. When his mother died Anselm who could no longer stand the harshness of his father left home. He bided his time and instead furthered his education. So intense were his studies that it caused him ill-health which was to plague him in his later years. He received such an excellent classical training that he became one of the best Latinists of his day.
Anselm finally realized his dream when he took his monastic vows in 1061 at the age of 27 in the Benedictine monastery of Bec in Normandy, France where he went attracted by the fame of its great abbot Lanfranc whose pupil, disciple and friend he became. Within just a span of three years he was made Prior because of his outstanding learning. When many of the monks resented his appointment because he was much young than them, he won them over with his gentleness, firmness and teaching skills.
A great believer in education, Anselm had very modern views regarding the training of the youth. He believed that no educational method should deprive the young of any freedom. He tried to instill in the other monks the great teaching skills he possessed and to lead their students by loving exhortation and wise example rather than by punishment or harsh discipline. It is no wonder that under Anselm Bec became an excellent monastic school famous for scholarship.
In 1078 when the saintly founder of the abbey of Bec died the monks unanimously chose Anselm as their abbot which he very reluctantly accepted.
Original and Creative Thinker
But it is as one of the world’s greatest and most important original independent and creative thinkers of his age that Anselm made his mark in theology and philosophy making him the greatest theologian of his age and “father of Scholasticism”. His new ideas and new approaches placed him as one of the most important “luminous and penetrating intellect” between Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.
But it is Anselm’s contributions as a theologian that earned him a place in history. Anselm’s masterpiece and his most famous work in theology is Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Human). The book explains the wisdom, justice and necessity of the Incarnation. It is not only an exposition of the doctrine of the Incarnation but the most famous treatise on the Incarnation ever written. According to Anselm because Adam had infinitely offended God the guilty party which was humanity had to pay the price. Therefore our Redeemer had to combine the natures of God and man. Thus Christ, the Savior of mankind, is both God and man.
Furthermore the book is the classic treatment of the Redemption.
His first book Monologium (1077) is essentially a restatement of all the logical metaphysical arguments he could find in writings by other theologians that God truly exists. It is claimed that in theology there is nowhere a more penetrating study of the divine essence and attributes of God.
Historians regard Anselm as the first of the scholastic philosophers. These were philosophical and religious teachers of the Middle Ages who pressed philosophy into the service of theology in its effort to reconcile the claims of faith and reason. Thus Anselm is best remembered for his efforts to “derive Christian doctrine from pure logic.” And he is known as “the Father of Scholasticism for his efforts to analyze and illumine the truths of faith through the aid of reason.”
Many experts in philosophy consider Anselm to be the author of the ontological argument for the existence of God. He declared that “God is a Being than which nothing greater can be conceived. Moreover a Being that exists in fact is greater than one that exists only in thought. Therefore God necessarily exists.”
This ontological proof of God’s existence is found in Chapters 2 and 3 of his second book Proslogion or Prologue (1078). In this book, too, he defined the task of theology as “faith seeking understanding” because he firmly believed that theological understanding was ultimately rooted in the gift of faith. In his plan to use reason to better understand the truths of faith. “Faith seeking understanding” because Anselm’s life theme.
A believer in the beauty of perfection Anselm maintained that God exists as the source of our perfection and our ideas of perfection. This reasoning had a great impact and influence on many thinkers after him right up to today. However others such as Thomas Aquinas and Kant rejected it.
To this day Anselm is remembered as “an intellectual and philosophical man.”
In Psychology and Other Fields of Learning
One of the most creative and forward-looking thinkers of his age Anselm investigated and wrote on free will, truth, the immortality of the soul, the ability to reason in his investigation of even divine mysteries and on faith. Thus his formula could very well be: “I believe so that I may understand; I understand so that I may believe.” Faith enlightens reason while reason aids faith by answering objections, defining terms and providing proofs. For Anselm faith was also the precondition of the right use of reason. Having therefore been informed by faith we are aided to understand revealed truth.
However another important component of his understanding and faith was LOVE. It helped him become not only an effective brilliant writer but more importantly a profound and original thinker.
Archbishop of Canterbury
In 1093 compelled against his wishes Anselm became archbishop and primate of England. Since it was a time of great dispute with then King William Rufus over the independence of the church Anselm spent most of his time and energy defending the rights of the Church against royal aggression. For this fact he became known as one of the most “strenuous defenders of the rights of the Church against the usurpation of kings.” In fact because of this feud with the tyrannous king Anselm was exiled several times only returning back to Canterbury for the last time in 1106.
In 1102 at a council in Westminster called by Anselm to resolve this never ending dispute, a far reaching and remarkable resolution came up denouncing the slave trade. Anselm stands out in history as one of the first high ranking official to denounce the buying and selling of human beings.
When Anselm died in 1109 he had spent at least his last two years in peace.
A Saint and Doctor of the Church
This compassionate, charming, sincere, loving and highly intellectual man was canonized in 1494. Clement XI declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1720 called by the introduction of the Encyclical “Doctor Anselm of Aosta, most vigorous exponent of the Catholic truth and defender of the rights of the
Church. . .”
His feast day is celebrated on April 21, the day he died.
SOURCES of REFERENCE
ST. ANSELM of Canterbury
Butler’s Lives of the Saint – Vol. II pp. 138 – 141
The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Saints – p. 139
Pocket Dictionary of Saints – pp. 43 – 44
The Watkins Dictionary of Saints – p. 16
A Calendar of Saints p. 75
All Saints – pp. 176 – 178
A Year With the Saints – April 21
Butler’s Saint for the Day – pp. 181 – 183
Illustrated Lives of the Saints – Vol. I pp 170 – 171
My First Book of Saints – pp 82 – 83
Saint Companions – pp. 145 – 147
Saint of the Day – pp 80 – 81
The Doctors of the Church – Vol. II pp 15 – 28
The 33 Doctors of the Church – pp 264 – 279
Voices of the Saints – pp 340 – 341
Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives – Group 6 Card 64
The Way of the Saints – pp. 43 – 44