Anselm of Canterbury, St.
ANSELM OF CANTERBURY, ST.
Doctor of the Church; b. Aosta, Val d'Aosta (formerly Piedmont), c. 1033–34; d. (possibly in Canterbury), April 21, 1109. His parents were of the nobility. After the death of his mother, he went to France to further his education.
Life as a Churchman. In 1060 Anselm entered the newly formed Abbey of Bec in Normandy, and three years later he succeeded Lanfranc of Pavia as prior. Herluin, the founding abbot of Bec, died in 1078, and Anselm was unanimously elected abbot.
Although reluctant to accept this office, Anselm submitted to the wishes of the community and proved an excellent abbot. His skill as a teacher and his great virtue were assets in developing the abbey into a monastic school influential in philosophical and theological studies. At the behest of the community at Bec, Anselm began publishing his theological works, writings comparable to those of St. augustine in quality and respected even in modern times.
In March 1093 Anselm was again called upon to succeed Lanfranc, this time as archbishop of Canterbury. The See of Canterbury, like many other bishoprics and abbeys, had been purposely left vacant after Lanfranc's death in 1089 so that the revenues might be appropriated by King william ii (William Rufus). Not until he was seriously ill did this king appoint Anselm archbishop. Anselm, realizing it would be impossible to cooperate with William Rufus, refused to accept the appointment; he was forced to yield, however, by moral pressure from all sides. The consecration took place on December 4.
As an energetic defender of Church reform, particularly that associated with Gregory VII, he foresaw the almost hopeless task with which he would be confronted because of Rufus's opposition. The king refused any cooperation in reforming morals or organizing a reform council. He denied Anselm permission to visit Rome to receive the pallium from urban ii (d. 1099) on the grounds that Urban had not been recognized in England as the rightful pope. Anselm, however, had recognized Urban, and now proposed a council of bishops and nobility to decide whether he could reconcile his obedience to the Holy See and his loyalty to the king. In the council, which met at Rockingham in March 1095, the bishops, fearing the king, sided against Anselm; it was the secular princes who prevented his immediate removal. The king's proposal after his recognition of Urban, to request the pallium himself in order to confer it on another, failed because the Cardinal-legate Walter, who had brought the pallium, would not consent to it. Finally, Anselm realized he must yield and leave England (Oct. 15, 1097); the king immediately took possession of the See of Canterbury.
The pope received Anselm with dignity and declined to accept his proposed resignation from Canterbury. At Bari, Anselm took part in the council (Oct. 1, 1098) that sought reunion with the Greek church. Through his profound theological proof that the Holy Spirit also proceeds from the Son, Anselm played a prominent role in this council. Moreover, he effectively sought postponement of the council's planned excommunication of the English king. At the Easter Synod in the Lateran (April 24, 1099), he again participated, and again heard excommunication pronounced against kings and princes who awarded ecclesiastical offices through presentation of ring and crosier (lay-investiture), against recipients of such offices, and all who became vassals of laymen for the sake of ecclesiastical dignities. At the close of the council Anselm accepted the hospitality of the archbishop of Lyons. It was at Lyons that he received the news of the king of England's death in a hunting accident (Aug. 2, 1100).
Rufus's brother and successor, henry i, immediately recalled Anselm to England. Even before Anselm called his council in London (1102), he had been in conflict with Henry, who, reluctant to relinquish his ancient "right," had insisted on Anselm's taking an oath of allegiance to the king. Anselm's refusal, based on the decree of the Council of Bari, led both sides to send envoys to Rome. When no solution to the difficulty was forthcoming, the king asked Anselm to go to Rome. This was tantamount to another three years in exile.
Finally, in 1106, an agreement was reached through compromise: the king renounced the right of investiture by means of ring and crosier; on the other hand, the archbishop would not refuse consecration to anyone who had taken the oath of allegiance. The last years of Anselm's life were saddened by York's claiming the primacy that had always belonged to Canterbury. Anselm died on Wednesday of Holy Week. He was canonized in 1163 (though this is disputed) and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1720.
Teaching. Before Anselm's time the study of theology had been a collecting and systematic arranging of the authorities (Sacred Scripture and Doctors of the Church). Anselm strove to analyze and prove the truths of faith by reason alone (sola ratione ). His goal was to go beyond mere faith and arrive at an insight into faith. In the scale of values that he constructed, faith is in the lowest place; in the middle is the insight into faith that is attainable in this life, and that brings us closer to the beatific vision; the beatific vision is at the top of the scale. Anselm expected from insight into faith joy in the spiritual beauty of the truths of faith for the believer; furthermore, he believed that when he showed the reasonableness and necessity of truths of faith, he also defended them against all those who denied or argued against them.
In this, however, Anselm did not stop at the so-called natural truths, but extended his arguments to include specifically revealed doctrines, such as those of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Redemption. In so doing he went beyond the boundaries taken for granted by us today but not yet clearly defined in his time. Disregarding all authority in inquiry was for Anselm only a methodological means to demonstrate the reasonableness of faith. Subjectively, Anselm was far from being an unchristian rationalist. In the event that Sacred Scripture and proofs from reason seemed to clash, he emphatically held the former to be correct; he submitted certain works to the judgment of the pope; he was prepared in every respect to retract anything in which he had been proven in error. Moreover, he was the most unyielding adversary of such rationalists of his time as Roscelin of Compiègne (d. c. 1120). Anselm demanded firmness in faith and philosophical preparation in everyone who approached theological issues. He himself had the best philosophical preparation of his time; he was a master of grammar, logic, and dialectics, although only a few writings on logic by Aristotle were known to him through Boethius. In addition he was well acquainted with the writings of the Fathers of the Church, especially St. Augustine. Anselm was rightfully called "Augustinus redivivus." However, the more or less generally held opinion that he accepted, without question, Augustine's Neoplatonic line of reasoning must be revised. He remained independent of Augustine and took issue with him on more than one occasion, e.g., in the definition of free will and the doctrine of Redemption. Anselm let himself be governed by principles of logic as well as by common sense. These simple tools never failed him in his explorations of new theological lands.
Writings. The works Anselm left behind [recent ed. F. S. Schmitt, 5 v. and index (Edinburgh 1942)] are divided into systematic works, prayers and meditations, and letters.
Systematic Works. The Monologion presents a kind of theodicy. Anselm, with precision and unprecedented skill in speculation, shows the existence of a Supreme Being to be the causal origin of everything good and great, and of all being and its essential properties. The word, love, and the Trinity are examined in their turn. Being is considered to be the object of reason, love, and future happiness. The last chapter states that this is what is signified by the name "God." Although in his speculation Anselm relies on Augustine, especially in what pertains to the analogy with the human psyche, he is independent in his method. Anselm is convinced that a nonbeliever could concede all this without the help of revelation.
The Proslogion is better known. In it Anselm seeks to replace the many proofs of the Monologion with a single argument. This argument consists in the concept of God as "that beyond which nothing greater can be conceived" (id, quo maius cogitari nequit ). Here he seeks an a priori proof of the existence of God by analyzing the concept of God. He argues that such a being is greater when it exists in reality than when it exists merely in the mind. Consequently it must exist in reality, because if it were only in the mind it would not be that beyond which nothing greater can be conceived. Anselm's proof, known since the time of Kant as the "ontological proof" of the existence of God, had already been challenged by one of his contemporaries, Gaunilo of Marmoutiers, and later by Thomas Aquinas and others, on the grounds that it implied an invalid step from the sphere of logic to that of ontology. Others, such as Bonaventure, Descartes, Leibniz, and Hegel, incorporated this proof, with certain ramifications, into their systems. Today, men like Karl Barth, in attempting to explain the proof as a theological one, overlook the fact that it was designed for the benefit of atheists to whom revelation is meaningless (see ontological argument).
Following the proof are four dialogues between teacher and students. The first is an astute dialectical exercise on the question whether the word "grammarian" is a substance or a quality; On Truth and On Free Will give Anselm's own definitions of truth, free will, and justification; and On the Fall of the Devil goes deeply into the doctrine on the angels.
Because of Roscelin's tritheism (according to which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not the same from the standpoint of essence), Anselm wrote a letter dedicated to Urban II entitled "Letter on the Incarnation of the Word," in which he clearly presents and rationally defends the Catholic doctrine on the three Persons in one essence. His remarks on universal ideas are usually evaluated as expressions of extreme realism, which is perhaps an overstatement.
Anselm's main work is the dialogue Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man ). In it he takes a stand in opposition to a theory of redemption widely held up to that time, namely, that the devil had a claim on man. Anselm denies any such right on Satan's part and works out the so-called "satisfaction doctrine." According to it, sin is an infinite offense against God, which demands adequate atonement. Mere pardon cannot be reconciled with the justice of God. So the God-Man had to atone, since on the one hand man was obliged to do so, but on the other only God could do so adequately. From this situation, Anselm deduced the necessity of the Incarnation of God and the Redemption through Christ, and all other Christological dogmas so that God's plan for man—to make man happy—might not be frustrated. The main points of this theory were adopted by subsequent theologians, prescinding from the necessity of the Redemption's taking place exactly as it did. Anselm's partner in conversation here was a non-Christian, whom it was necessary to convince.
In the work On the Virginal Conception and Original Sin Anselm examines the question how Christ, although descended from the sinful mass (massa damnatrix ), remained without sin. In this writing as well as in Cur Deus Homo it is evident that Anselm did not accept the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The work On the Procession of the Holy Spirit is a reworking of the speech Anselm delivered in Bari before the Fathers of the Council; it is an important advance in the doctrine on the Trinity. The last work of significance, De concordia, handles the difficult problem of reconciling God's prescience, predestination, and grace with the free will of man.
Although Anselm left behind no complete system of doctrine in the form of a summa, his individual treatises, complete in themselves, cover a large portion of Catholic doctrine. For his outstanding initiative in using reason for the examination of questions of faith he had earned the honorary title "Father of Scholasticism"; however, since he did not found a school, scholasticism cannot be regarded as direct outgrowth of his work.
Prayers and Meditations. The 19 meditations are creations of his own individual art. The prayers, written at special requests, are short, brilliantly executed rhetorical masterpieces, with the classical six parts of a discourse, in which God or a saint is to be moved to render help. The thing that is most striking in the artistic style employed is the use of parallelism in the sentences. On the Redemption of Mankind stands out above the rest of the meditations. In it Anselm summarizes the thought developed at greater length in his Cur Deus Homo. The meditation is not only shorter; it is in a purely theological form and has dispensed with the supplementary apologetics.
Letters. His correspondence (475 letters, 100 of which are from others) gives invaluable insight into Anselm's personality and is at the same time the most significant source for the history of the Church in England during his time. The addressees are popes, royalty, monks, nuns, and laity, living in all parts of the Christian world of that time. Anselm's letters to friends, particularly his early letters, illuminate his Germanic temperament and the richness of his spiritual character. In them the saint's views on Christian and monastic asceticism are aired.
Many ascetical works have been erroneously attributed to Anselm. Notes of his students concerning his oral method of teaching, based on parables from life, are available to us in De similitudinibus (Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne (Paris 1878–90) 159:605–708). Eadmer recorded also Anselm's famous speech at Cluny on the 14 happinesses of heaven (ibid. 587–606).
Feast: April 21.
Bibliography: The Letters of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, tr. w. frÖhlich, 3 v. (Kalamazoo, Mich. 1990–1994). Cur deus homo: atti del Congresso anselmiano internazionale, ed. p. gilbert, h. kohlenberger and e. salmann (Rome 1999). j. hopkins, A New, Interpretive Translation of St. Anselm's Monologion and Proslogion (Minneapolis 1986). m. rule, The Life and Times of St. Anselm, 2 v. (London 1883). j. clayton, Saint Anselm (Milwaukee 1933). r. w. church, Saint Anselm (London 1937). j. bainvel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, et al. 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 1.2:1327–60. f. ueberweg, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, ed. k. praechter et al., 5 v. (11th, 12th ed. Berlin 1923–28) 2:192–203, 698–700. e. gilson, "Sens et nature de l'argument de saint Anselme," Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen-âge 9 (1934) 5–51. j. bayart, "The Concept of Mystery According to St. Anselm of Canterbury," Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 9 (1937) 125–166. r. w. southern, "St. Anselm and His English Pupils," Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies 1 (1941–43) 3–34; Saint Anselm and His Biographer (New York 1963); Saint Anselm: A Portrait in a Landscape (Cambridge 1990). eadmer, The Life of St. Anselm: Archbishop of Canterbury, ed. and tr. r. w. southern (New York 1962); Eadmer's History of Recent Events in England. Historia novorum in Anglia, tr. g. bosanquet (London 1964). e. j. butterworth, The Identity of Anselm's Proslogion Argument for the Existence of God with the Via quarta of Thomas Aquinas (Lewiston, N.Y. 1990). g. gÄde, Eine andere Barmherzigkeit: zum Verständnis der Erlösungslehre Anselms von Canterbury (Würzburg 1989). l. girard, L'argument ontologique chez Saint Anselme et chez Hegel (Amsterdam 1995). m. grandjean, Laïcs dans l'Eglise (Paris 1994). j. mcintyre, St. Anselm and His Critics: A Reinterpretation of the Cur Deus Homo (Edinburgh 1954). International Anselm Committee, Anselm Studies, 3 v., (v. 1–2, Millwood, N.Y. 1983; v. 3, Lewiston, N.Y. 1996). k. a. rogers, The Anselmian Approach to God and Creation (Lewiston, N.Y. 1997); The Neoplatonic Metaphysics and Epistemology of Anselm of Canterbury (Lewiston, N.Y. 1997). w. h. shannon, Anselm: The Joy of Faith (New York 1999). Filosofia e mistica, ed. a. moliaro and e. salmann (Rome 1997). Twenty-Five Years (1969–1994) of Anselm Studies, ed. f. van fleteren and j. c. schnaubelt (Lewiston, N.Y. 1996). g. r. evans, Anselm and Talking About God (Oxford 1978); Anselm and a New Generation (Oxford 1980); Anselm (London 1989). j. hopkins, A Companion to the Study of St. Anselm (Minneapolis 1972).
[f. s. schmitt]