St. Anselm: Benedictine Bishop who Battled For Religious Freedom and Human Rights
April 21 is the feast of St. Anslem, a Benedictine monk, abbot, philosopher and theologian, who held the office of archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. He is a Doctor of the Church who is known as “the most luminous and penetrating intellect between St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas” and “the Father of Scholasticism“. He preferred to defend the Faith using intellectual reasoning rather than with Scripture passages.
The genius of Saint Anselm’s reasoning and writing about faith and God has captivated and influenced scholars since the Middle Ages. His highly acclaimed work, Monologium (Monologue), provides proof of God’s existence. His Proslogium (Addition), advances the idea that God exists according to the human notion of a perfect being in whom nothing is lacking. In his greatest work, Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man) he views Christ’s death in light of God’s mercy and love. Some of the world’s greatest theologians and philosophers have studied and extolled these works.
St. Anselm (1033-1109) was born in Aosta, Italy, and died in Canterbury, England. The oldest child of an aristocratic family, his mother, a woman devoted to the faith, gave him a Christian education. His father was an abrasive man devoted to worldly pleasures. At the age of 15, Anselm asked to be admitted to the Benedictine Order but his father disapproved and prevented it. As a result, Anselm became seriously ill for a time.
Then, unable to fulfill his calling to become a monk and without the spiritual support of his mother, Anselm experienced a faith crisis. He abandoned his faith and his studies and became involved in worldly pursuits. He traveled to France in search of new experiences and eventually reached the abbey of Bec. There, at the age of 27, he embraced the monastic life and became ordained as a priest. Fifteen years later, he was unanimously elected as abbot of the monastery.
At the age of 60, he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury in 1093. Anselm immediately became entangled in a struggle for the Church’s freedom. He defended the Church from unnecessary meddling by political authorities, specifically King William Rufus and Henry I. Consequently, he was exiled from his See of Canterbury. He spent part of his exile as an adviser to Pope Blessed Urban II, obtaining the pope‘s support for returning to England and conducting Church business without the king‘s interference. In 1106, when King Henry I renounced his right to assign Church offices, as well as to collect taxes and confiscate Church properties, Anselm returned to England.
Anselm was concerned for the poor and strongly opposed the slave trade. Anselm was concerned for the poor and strongly opposed the slave trade. In 1102, at a church council in St. Peter’s church, Westminster, he obtained the passage of a resolution against the practice of selling human beings.
“O God, let me know you and love you so that I may find joy in you; and if I cannot do so fully in this life, let me at least make some progress every day, until at last that knowledge, love and joy come to me in all their plenitude. While I am here on earth let me know you fully; let my love for you grow deeper here, so that there I may love you fully. On earth then I shall have great joy in hope, and in heaven complete joy in the fulfillment of my hope. “
“From the moment of her fiat Mary began to carry all of us in her womb.”
“The Mother of God is our mother. May the good mother ask and beg for us, may she request and obtain what is good for us.”
“No one will have any other desire in heaven than what God wills; and the desire of one will be the desire of all; and the desire of all and of each one will also be the desire of God.”
“I have written the little work that follows… in the role of one who strives to raise his mind to the contemplation of God and one who seeks to understand what he believes.”
“I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created your image in me, so that I may remember you, think of you, love you. But this image is so obliterated and worn away by wickedness, it is so obscured by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do, unless you renew and reform it. I am not attempting, O Lord, to penetrate your loftiness, for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it, but I desire in some measure to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that “unless I believe, I shall not understand.” (Isaiah 7:9)
– From the Preface to the Proslogium, in St. Anselm: Basic Writings (La Salle: Open Court Publishing, 1962)
A Prayer Of Anselm
My God, I pray that I may so know you and love you that I may rejoice in you. And if I may not do so fully in this life let me go steadily onto the day when I come to that fullness …Let me receive That which you promised through your truth, that my joy may be full.
A Song Of Anselm
Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you: you are gentle with us as a mother with her children; Often you weep over our sins and our pride: tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds: in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us. Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life: by your anguish and labor we come forth in joy. Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness: through your gentleness we find comfort in fear. Your warmth gives life to the dead:your touch makes sinners righteous. Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us: in your love and tenderness remake us. In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness: for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.