Home Towns & Villages Time-Line Articles Kent Past Times Contact

Kent Past

The History of Kent

Copyright Kent Past 2010

Saint Anslem

Anselm was born under the name 'Anselmus Candiae Genavae' (Italian: Anselmo de Candia Ginevra, French: Anselme de Candie Geneve) at[1] or near[2] Aosta in the Kingdom of Burgundy (currently the capital of the Aosta Valley region in Northern Italy) around 1033. His family was noble (they were related by blood to the ascendant House of Savoy) and owned considerable property. His parents were from a noble lineage and holders of fiefdoms within the Burgundian territories. His father, Gundulf de Candia, was by birth a Lombard of the House of Candia; he seems to have been harsh and violent. His mother, Ermenberga of Geneva was regarded as prudent and virtuous; she was related to Otto, Count of Savoy.

At the age of fifteen, Anselm desired to enter a monastery but could not obtain his father's consent, and so the abbot refused him. Disappointment brought on apparent psychosomatic illness. After recovery, he gave up his studies and lived a carefree life. During this period, his mother died and his father's harshness became unbearable.

When he was twenty-three, Anselm left home, crossed the Alps and wandered through Burgundy and France. Attracted by the fame of his countryman Lanfranc (then prior of the Benedictine Abbey of Bec), Anselm arrived in Normandy in 1059. The following year, after some time at Avranches, he entered the abbey as a novice at the age of twenty-seven; in doing so, he submitted himself to the Rule of Saint Benedict, which was to reshape his thought over the next decade.

In 1063, Lanfranc was made abbot of Caen and Anselm was elected prior of the abbey of Bec. Anselm held this office for fifteen years before he became abbot at the death of Herluin, the abbey's founder, in 1078. He was consecrated abbot 22 February 1079 by the bishop of Evreux. This consecration was rushed, because at the time the archdiocese of Rouen (wherein Bec lay) was sede vacante. Had Anselm been consecrated by the archbishop of Rouen, he would have been under pressure to profess obedience to him, which would compromise Bec's independence.

Under Anselm's jurisdiction, Bec became the foremost seat of learning in Europe, attracting students from Italy and elsewhere, even though study and scholarly research were of secondary importance in the monasticism of the time. It was during his time at Bec that he wrote his first works of philosophy, the Monologion (1076) and the Proslogion (1077-8). These were followed by The Dialogues on Truth, Free Will and Fall of the Devil. During his time at Bec, St Anselm worked to maintain its freedom from lay and archiepiscopal control. Later in his abbay Anselm worked to ensure Bec's independence from Robert de Beaumont, 1st Earl of Leicester and from the archbishop of Rouen.

St Anselm occasionally visited England to see the abbey's property there, as well as to visit Lanfranc - who, in 1070, had been installed as Archbishop of Canterbury--until the latter's death in 1089. He made a good impression while there, and was the natural successor to Lanfranc as Archbishop.

Upon Lanfranc's death, however, William II of England seized the possessions and revenues of the see, and made no new appointment. In 1092, at the invitation of Hugh d'Avranches, 1st Earl of Chester, St Anselm crossed to England. He was detained there by business for nearly four months and then refused permission to return to Bec by the king, who suddenly fell ill the following year, and nominated Anselm to the vacant see, on 6 March 1093. That month Anselm wrote to the monks of Bec, telling them to accept his nomination to the see. Over the course of the following months, Anselm tried to refuse, on the grounds of age and ill-health, and being unfit as a monk for secular affairs. On 24 August, Anselm gave William the conditions under which he would accept the see, which amounted to an agenda of the Gregorian Reform: that William return the see's land which he had seized; that William accept the pre-eminence of Anselm's spiritual counsel; and that William acknowledge Pope Urban II as pope (in opposition to Antipope Clement III). Anselm's professions of refusal aided his bargaining position as he discussed terms with William. William was exceedingly reluctant to accept these conditions; he would only grant the first. A few days after this, William tried to rescind even this; he suspended the preparations for Anselm's investiture. Under public pressure, William was forced to carry out the appointment. In the end, Anselm and William settled on the return of Canterbury's lands as the only concession from William. Finally, the English bishops thrust the crosier into his hands and took him to the church to be inducted. He did homage to William, and on 25 September 1093 received the lands of the see, and was enthroned, after obtaining dispensation from his duties in Normandy. He was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury on 4 December.

It has been argued whether or not Anselm's reluctance to take the see was sincere. Scholars such as Southern maintain that his preference would have been to stay at Bec. However, reluctance to accept important ecclesiastical positions was a medieval trope. Vaughn states that Anselm could not have expressed a desire for the position, because he would be regarded as an ambitious careerist. She further states that Anselm recognised William's political situation and goals, and acted at the moment that would gain him the most advantage in the interests of his expected see, and of the reform movement.

One of Anselm's first conflicts with William came the very month he was consecrated. William was preparing to fight his elder brother, Robert II, Duke of Normandy, and needed funds for doing so. Anselm was among those expected to pay him, and he offered £500; rather less than anticipated. William refused the offer, insisting on a greater sum. Later on, a group of bishops suggested that William might now settle for the original sum, but Anselm told them he had already given the money to the poor. In this episode, Anselm was careful, and managed to both avoid charges of simony, and appear generous.

Anselm continued to agitate William for reform and the interests of Canterbury. His vision of the Church was one of a universal Church with its own internal authority, which countered with William's vision of royal control over both Church and state. Consequently, He has been viewed alternatively as a contemplative monastic or as a man politically engaged, committed to maintaining the privileges of the episcopal see of Canterbury.

The Church's rule stated that metropolitans could not be consecrated without receiving the pallium from the hands of the pope. Anselm, accordingly, insisted that he must proceed to Rome to receive the pallium, but William would not permit it; he had not acknowledged Urban as pope and maintained his right to prevent a pope's acknowledgment by an English subject.

On 25 February 1095, the bishops and nobles of England held a council at Rockingham to discuss the issue. The bishops sided with the king, with the bishop of Durham even advising William to depose Anselm. The nobles chose Anselm's position, and the conference ended in deadlock.

Immediately following this William sent secret messengers to Rome. They prevailed on Urban to send a legate (Walter of Albano) to the king bearing the archiepiscopal pallium. Walter and William then negotiated in secret. William agreed to acknowledge Urban as pope, and secured the right to give permission before clerics could receive and obey papal letters; Walter, negotiating for Urban, conceded that Urban would send no legates without William's invitation. William's greatest desire was that Anselm be deposed and another given the pallium. Walter said 'there was good reason to expect a successful issue in accordance with the king's wishes'. William then openly acknowledged Urban as pope, but Walter refused to depose Anselm. William then tried to extract money from Anselm for the pallium, and was refused. William also tried to hand over the pallium personally to Anselm, and was refused again. He compromised, and Anselm took the pallium from the altar at Canterbury on 10 June 1095.

Over the next two years, no overt dispute between Anselm and William is known. However, William blocked Anselm's efforts at church reform. The issues came to a head in 1097, after William put down a Welsh rebellion. He charged Anselm with having given him insufficient knights for the campaign and tried to fine him. Anselm resolved to proceed to Rome and seek the counsel of the pope because William had refused to fulfil his promise of Church reform, but William denied him permission. The negotiations ended with William declaring that if Anselm left, he would take back the see, and never again receive Anselm as archbishop. If Anselm were to stay, William would fine him and force him to swear never again to appeal to Rome: Anselm was given the choice of exile or total submission.

As an exile, in October 1097 Anselm set out for Rome. William immediately seized the revenues of the see and retained them until his death, though Anselm retained the archbishopric. Anselm went into exile to defend his vision of the universal Church, displaying William's sins against that vision. Though he had done homage to William, Anselm qualified that homage by his higher duty towards God and the papacy. Anselm was received with high honour by Urban at the Siege of Capua, where he garnered high praise from the Saracen troops of Roger I of Sicily. The pope, however, did not wish to become deeply involved in Anselm's dispute with the king.

At a large provincial council held at Bari in 1098, in which 183 bishops attended, Anselm was asked to defend, against representatives of the Greek Church, the Filioque and the practice of using unleavened bread for the Eucharist.

In 1099, Urban renewed the ban on lay investiture and on clerics doing homage. That year Anselm moved to Lyon.

William was killed on 2 August 1100. His successor, Henry I of England, invited Anselm to return, writing that he committed himself to be counselled by Anselm. Henry was courting Anselm because he needed his support for the security of his claim to the throne; Anselm could have thrown his support behind Henry's elder brother instead.

When Anselm returned, Henry requested that Anselm do him homage for the Canterbury estates, and receive from him investiture in his office of archbishop. The papacy had recently banned clerics doing homage to laymen, as well as banning lay investiture; thus started Anselm's conflicts with Henry.

Henry refused to relinquish the privilege possessed by his predecessors, and proposed that the matter be laid before the pope. Two embassies were sent to Pope Paschal II regarding the legitimacy of Henry's investiture, but Paschal reaffirmed the papal rule on both occasions. In the meantime, Anselm did work with Henry. Henry was threatened with invasion by his brother, and Anselm publicly supported Henry, wooing the wavering barons and threatening Curthose with excommunication. For his part, Henry granted Anselm authority over all the Church in England, and agreed to obey the papacy.

Because Paschal had reaffirmed the papal rules on lay investiture and homage, Henry turned against Anselm. In 1103, Anselm himself and an envoy from the king (William Warelwast) set out for Rome, Anselm in exile. In response, Paschal excommunicated the bishops whom Henry had invested.

Exiled from England, Anselm withdrew to Lyon after this ruling and awaited further action from Paschal. On 26 March 1105 Paschal excommunicated Henry's chief advisor (Robert of Meulan) for urging Henry to continue lay investiture, as well as prelates invested by Henry and other counsellors, and threatened Henry with the same. In April Anselm threatened to excommunicate Henry himself, probably to force Henry's hand in their negotiations. In response, Henry arranged a meeting with Anselm, and they managed a compromise at Laigle on 22 July 1105. Part of the agreement was that Robert's (and his associates') excommunication be lifted (given that they counsel the king to obey the papacy); Anselm lifted the excommunications on his own authority, an act which he later had to justify to Paschal. Other conditions of the agreement were that Henry would forsake lay investiture if Anselm obtained Paschal's permission for clerics to do homage for their nobles; that the revenues of his see be given back to Anselm; and that priests not be allowed to marry. Anselm then insisted on having the Laigle agreement sanctioned by Paschal before he would consent to return to England. By letter, Anselm also asked that the pope accept his compromise on doing homage to the king, because he had secured a greater victory in Henry's forsaking lay investiture. On 23 March 1106 Paschal wrote Anselm accepting the compromise, though both saw this as a temporary compromise, and intended to later continue pushing for the Gregorian reform, including the custom of homage.

Even after this, Anselm still refused to return to England. Henry travelled to Bec and met with him on 15 August 1106. Henry made further concession, restoring to Anselm all the churches that had been seized by William; he promised that nothing more would be taken from the churches; prelates who had paid his controversial tax (which had started as a tax on married clergy) would be exempt from taxes for three years; and he promised to restore all that had been taken from Canterbury during Anselm's exile, even giving Anselm security for this promise. These compromises on Henry's part strengthened the rights of the Church against the king. Anselm returned to England following this.

By 1107, the long dispute regarding investiture was finally settled. The Concordat of London announced the compromises that Anselm and Henry had made at Bec. The final two years of Anselm's life were spent in the duties of his archbishopric. As archbishop, Anselm maintained his monastic ideals, which included stewardship, prudence, and fitting instruction to his flock, as well as prayer and contemplation. During his service as archbishop, Anselm maintained a habit of pressing on his monarchs at expedient times (when they needed his help, and when he would have public support) to advance his Church reforms. Anselm died on Holy Wednesday, 21 April 1109.

Vaughn judges Anselm's motivation in the lay investiture conflict as advancing the interests of the see of Canterbury, rather than those of the Church at large. Other historians had seen Anselm as aligned with the papacy against the English monarchs, but Vaughn asserts that he acted on his own, as a third pole in the controversy, his aim being to promote the primacy of the archdiocese of Canterbury. His view of Canterbury's primacy is demonstrated in his charter of c. 3 September 1101, in which he called himself Archbishop of Canterbury and primate of Great Britain and Ireland and vicar of the High Pontiff Paschal. By the end of his life, he had secured the primatial status of Canterbury in relation to the papacy, and he had freed Canterbury from submission to the English king. In addition to securing the archbishop of Canterbury's role as primate of the English bishops, Anselm also initiated Canterbury's permanent control over the Welsh bishops, and gained strong authority over the Irish bishops during his lifetime.

He continued to work for the primacy of Canterbury, managing to force Paschal into sending the pallium for the archbishop of York to himself, so that the archbishop-elect would have to profess obedience to Canterbury before receiving it. From his deathbed, he anathematised all who failed to recognise Canterbury's primacy over York, as Thomas II of York was doing. This anathema forced Henry to order Thomas to confess obedience to Canterbury.

During Henry's reign, St Anselm tried to advance another part of the Gregorian reform (which Henry actually supported): clerical celibacy. At Michaelmas of 1102, Anselm held a council in London in which he prohibited marriage and concubinage to those in holy orders (as well as condemning simony and reforming regulations on clerical dress and sobriety). In the previous two centuries, attempts at enforcing clerical celibacy had been made, but with little success. Anselm's council was disobeyed en masse as well. In 1106 Henry levied a tax on married clergy, ostensibly to enforce the council's canons, but really in an effort to raise money for his war in Normandy. Another council was held in 1108, which focused on enforcing the canons of the 1102 council by creating incentives for the archdeacons who in practice were in charge of enforcing such rules.

Anselm is the first scholastic philosopher of Christian theology. His great predecessor, Johannes Scotus Eriugena, was more speculative and mystical in his writings. Anselm's writings represent recognition of the relationship of reason to revealed truth, and an attempt to elaborate a rational system of faith.

Anselm sought to understand Christian doctrine through reason and develop intelligible truths interwoven with the Christian belief. He believed that the necessary preliminary for this was possession of the Christian faith. He wrote, 'Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand'. He held that faith precedes reason, but that reason can expand upon faith.

The groundwork of Anselm's theory of knowledge is contained in the tract De Veritate, where he affirms the existence of an absolute truth in which all other truth participates. This absolute truth, he argues, is God, who is the ultimate ground or principle both of things and of thought. The notion of God becomes the foreground of Anselm's theory, so it is necessary first to make God clear to reason and be demonstrated to have real existence.

Anselm's world-view was broadly that of Neo-Platonism, which he inherited from his primary influence, Augustine of Hippo, as well as from Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and possibly Scotus. He also inherited a rationalist way of thinking from Aristotle and Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius.

Anselm wrote many proofs within Mon logion and Pros logion. In the first proof, Anselm relies on the ordinary grounds of realism, which coincide to some extent with the theory of Augustine. He argues that things are called good in a variety of ways and degrees, which would be impossible were there not some absolute standard and some good in itself, in which all relative goods participate. The same applies to adjectives like great and just, whereby things involve a certain greatness and justice. Anselm uses this thought process to state that the very existence of things is impossible without some one Being, by whom they come to exist. This absolute Being, this goodness, justice and greatness, is God. Anselm is not thoroughly satisfied with this reasoning, however, because it begins from a posteriori grounds, meaning that the reasoning is inductive. The philosophy also contains several converging lines of proof.

In his Pros logion, Anselm put forward a proof of the existence of God called the ontological argument; although this type of proof had been produced by Avicenna some time before. The term itself was first applied by Kant to the arguments of 17th and 18th Century rationalists. Anselm defined his belief in the existence of God using the phrase 'that than which nothing greater can be conceived'. He reasoned that, if 'that than which nothing greater can be conceived' existed only in the intellect, it would not be 'that than which nothing greater can be conceived', since it can be thought to exist in reality, which is greater. It follows, according to Anselm that 'that than which nothing greater can be conceived' must exist in reality. The bulk of the Pros logion is taken up with Anselm's attempt to establish the identity of 'that than which nothing greater can be conceived' as God, and thus to establish that God exists in reality.

Anselm's ontological proof has been the subject of controversy since it was first published in the 1070s. It was opposed at the time by the monk Gaunilo, in his Liber pro Insipient, on the grounds that humans cannot pass from intellect to reality. Anselm replied to the objections in his Response.

Gaunilo's criticism is repeated by several later philosophers, among who are Thomas Aquinas and Kant. Anselm wrote a number of other arguments for the existence of God, based on cosmological and teleological grounds.

In Anselm's other works, he strove to state the rational grounds of the Christian doctrines of creation and the Trinity. He discussed the Trinity first by stating that human beings could not know God from Himself but only from analogy. The analogy that he used was the self-consciousness of man. The peculiar double-nature of consciousness; memory and intelligence represent the relation of the Father to the Son. The mutual love of these two (memory and intelligence), proceeding from the relation they hold to one another, symbolises the Holy Spirit. The further theological doctrines of man, such as original sin and free will, are developed in the Mon logion and other treatises.

The Satisfaction (or Commercial) theory of the atonement was formulated by Anselm of Canterbury in his book, Cur Deus Homo (lit. �Why the God Man�). He has introduced the idea of satisfaction as the chief demand of the nature of God, of punishment as a possible alternative of satisfaction and equally fulfilling the requirements of justice thus opening the way to the assertion of punishment as the true satisfaction of the law. In his view, God's offended honour and dignity could only be satisfied by the sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Anselm undertook to explain the rational necessity of the Christian mystery of the atonement. His philosophy rests on three positions-first, that satisfaction is necessary on account of God's honour and justice; second, that such satisfaction can be given only by the peculiar personality of the God-man Jesus; and, third, that such satisfaction is really given by this God-man's voluntary death.

According to this view, sin incurs a debt to Divine justice, a debt that must be paid somehow. Thus, no sin, according to Anselm, can be forgiven without satisfaction. However, the incurred debt is something far greater than a human being is capable of paying. All the service that a person can offer to God is already obligated on other debts to God. By Anselm's time the suggestion has been made that some innocent person, or angel, might possibly pay the debt incurred by sinners. That, however, would put the sinner under obligation to that deliverer and the sinner would become indebted to a 'mere creature'.

The only way in which the satisfaction could be made so that humans could be set free from their sin, was by the coming of a Redeemer who is both God and man. He himself would have to be sinless, thus having no debt that he owed. His death is something greater than all the sins of all humanity. His death makes a superabundant satisfaction to the Divine Justice. Anselm's theory persisted for eight centuries.

Anselm's formulation differs markedly from Reformation views. For Anselm, Christ obeyed where we should have obeyed; for John Calvin, he was punished where we should have been punished. While Anselm's interpretation permitted man to offer Christ to God, the Protestant Faith insists that it is God, not man, who reconciles fallen humanity by sacrificing His son.

Critics of Anselm assert that he puts the whole conflict on merely a legal footing, giving it no ethical bearing, and neglects altogether the consciousness of the individual to be redeemed. In this respect, it contrasts with the later theory of Peter Abelard. By way of criticism, theologian George Foley writes that the traditional statement of St Anselm's doctrine has undoubtedly inspired the development of much devout and consecrated life. However, its religious power has come from the fact that it is an emotional witness to the fundamental reality of incarnate love and sacrifice. Foley says it does not represent the faith of either the universal Church or the continuous and unvarying formula of Christian thinkers.

Foley claims that the fact that the doctrine is not a positive theory has brought grievous harm down through the centuries. It likely influenced the church fathers to think more of being dwelling of God and humanity than of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ on behalf of humanity. The satisfaction theory of the Reformation, however, owed its existence to Anselm. It was made the test of orthodoxy and continued to be so until near the end of the 19th Century. He also criticizes the fact that those tests of orthodoxy required one to subscribe to a rationalistic and metaphysical formula, in the place of the Scriptural doctrine from which it had been derived. Foley finds it no accident that the Scriptures avoid any explanation of the process of redemption. He says that Anselm's adoption of a purely objective interpretation of Christ's work, and his assumption of and ability to penetrate into the esoteric relations of the Trinity, made him primarily responsible for the intrusive prying into Divine mysteries, and for the confident familiarity with the unrevealed portions of truth that issued in the dogmatic tyranny so conspicuous in the Protestant churches.

Anselm denied the belief which is now referred to as the Immaculate Conception, though his thinking laid the groundwork for the doctrine's development in the West. In De virginali conceptu et de peccato originali, he gave two principles which became fundamental for thinking about the Immaculate Conception. The first is that it was proper that Mary should be so pure that no purer being could be imagined, aside from God.

The second innovation in Anselm's thinking which opened the way for the Immaculate Conception was his understanding of original sin. Anselm affirmed that original sin is simply human nature without original justice, and that it is transmitted because parents cannot give original justice if they do not have it themselves; original sin is the transmission of fallen human nature. In contrast, Anselm's contemporaries held that the transmission of original sin had to with the lustful nature of the act of sexual intercourse. Anselm was the first thinker to separate original sin from the lust of intercourse. This enabled later thinkers to see that God might keep Mary free from original sin, even though she was conceived through normal sexual intercourse.

It was reported that Anselm wrote many letters to monks, male relatives and others that contained passionate expressions of attachment and affection. These letters were typically addressed 'dilecto dilectori', sometimes translated as 'to the beloved lover'. While there is wide agreement that Anselm was personally committed to the monastic ideal of celibacy, some academics, including Brian P. McGuire and John Boswell have characterized these writings as expressions of a homosexual inclination. Others, such as Glenn Olsen and Richard Southern describe them as representing a 'wholly spiritual' affection, 'nourished by an incorporeal ideal'.

Leave your email address to receive Kent Past Times free every month