Anselm of Laon
ANSELM OF LAON
Theologian; b. Laon, date unknown; d. Laon, 1117. After receiving his training at the school of Bec, he sojourned in Paris in 1089. There he met Bernard of Chartres, who brought him to his city for a brief stay. On his return to Laon, he directed the illustrious school of Laon with his brother Raoul. Anselm—his real name was Ansellus (Anseau)—was a brilliant teacher, the "Teacher of teachers," who attracted many pupils. Some of these became famous: william of champeaux (1068–1122), gilbert de la porrÉe (d. 1154), Peter abelard (c. 1113). This last ridiculed him, comparing him to the fig tree of the Gospel that, while covered with leaves, remained fruitless. In reality, Anselm was one of the best teachers of the 12th century.
Works. Despite the fact that some works attributed to him remain doubtful, the Sentences are considered authentic. This is a particularly important work, for it is an example of the first attempts to systematize theological thought. Other works of the time manifested this tendency, which led to peter lombard's Book of Sentences, and through it, to the great Summas of the end of the 12th and 13th centuries. Anselm's Sentences are collected according to a plan inspired—like many works of those times—by Scotus Erigena: creation, the Fall of the angels and of men (original sin), the necessity of Redemption, Redemption and the Sacraments. It is rather difficult to find texts that present Anselm's thought in continuity. More often than not, one must be content with small pieces or the Liber Pancrisis de Troyes, a neighbor if not a cousin of the Sentences. One of Anselm's innovations is to name the authors whom he quotes. Of his scriptural work, we possess commentaries on the Psalms, the Song of Songs, the Revelation, fragments on Matthew's Gospel, lengthier ones on the Pauline Epistles, and Genesis.
Thought. It is impossible to give a complete exposition of Anselm's thought here. He is mainly attracted to problems connected with creation and original sin. His treatment is moral rather than dogmatic. Concerning the problem of the nature of the soul, however, he is more precise than others, i.e., for him the soul is less subject to the body, and even though it is weak like Adam toward Eve, its freedom is certain. Contrary to some of his contemporaries, Anselm considers the gifts of the Holy Spirit as transient graces.
If Anselm remained somewhat apart from the renaissance movement that, because of the originality of its discoveries, was to be the glory of the next century, he was nonetheless a remarkable school director to whom this century owed a great deal.
Bibliography: f. cavallera, "D'Anselme de Laon à Pierre Lombard," Bulletin de littérature ecclésiastique 41 (1940) 40–54, 103–114. f. bliemetzrieder, "Trente-trois pièces inédites de l'oeuvre théologique d'Anselme de Laon," Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 2 (1930) 54–79. a. m. landgraf, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 1:595–596.