Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Feast of St Anselm

I have to say that St Anselm is one of my favourite saints - anyone who can keep philosophers arguing for almost a thousand years about the validity of his proof of the existence of God has something going for him (even if St Thomas is rather dismissive of it!). And he was right in the middle of the debate on the proper relationship between Church and State! The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has this to say about him:

"Anselm was born in 1033 near Aosta, in those days a Burgundian town on the frontier with Lombardy. Little is known of his early life. He left home at twenty-three, and after three years of apparently aimless travelling through Burgundy and France, he came to Normandy in 1059. Once he was in Normandy, Anselm's interest was captured by the Benedictine abbey at Bec, whose famous school was under the direction of Lanfranc, the abbey's prior. Lanfranc was a scholar and teacher of wide reputation, and under his leadership the school at Bec had become an important center of learning, especially in dialectic. In 1060 Anselm entered the abbey as a novice. His intellectual and spiritual gifts brought him rapid advancement, and when Lanfranc was appointed abbot of Caen in 1063, Anselm was elected to succeed him as prior. He was elected abbot in 1078 upon the death of Herluin, the founder and first abbot of Bec.

Under Anselm's leadership the reputation of Bec as an intellectual center grew, and Anselm managed to write a good deal of philosophy and theology in addition to his teaching, administrative duties, and extensive correspondence as an adviser and counsellor to rulers and nobles all over Europe and beyond. His works while at Bec include the Monologion (1075-76), the Proslogion (1077-78), and his four philosophical dialogues: De grammatico (1059-60), De veritate, and De libertate arbitrii, and De casu diaboli (1080-86).

In 1093 Anselm was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury. The previous Archbishop, Anselm's old master Lanfranc, had died four years earlier, but the King, William Rufus, had left the see vacant in order to plunder the archiepiscopal revenues. Anselm was understandably reluctant to undertake the primacy of the Church of England under a ruler as ruthless and venal as William, and his tenure as Archbishop proved to be as turbulent and vexatious as he must have feared. William was intent on maintaining royal authority over ecclesiastical affairs and would not be dictated to by Archbishop or Pope or anyone else. So, for example, when Anselm went to Rome in 1097 without the King's permission, William would not allow him to return.

When William was killed in 1100, his successor, Henry I, invited Anselm to return to his see. But Henry was as intent as William had been on maintaining royal jurisdiction over the Church, and Anselm found himself in exile again from 1103 to 1107. Despite these distractions and troubles, Anselm continued to write. His works as Archbishop of Canterbury include the Epistola de Incarnatione Verbi (1094), Cur Deus Homo (1095-98), De conceptu virginali (1099), De processione Spiritus Sancti (1102), the Epistola de sacrificio azymi et fermentati (1106-7), De sacramentis ecclesiae (1106-7), and De concordia (1107-8). Anselm died on 21 April 1109. He was canonized in 1494 and named a Doctor of the Church in 1720."

It is his prayers and meditations, though, that I find particularly attractive. Here is an extract from a prayer before receiving the Blessed Sacrament by him:

"Lord Jesus Christ
by the Father's plan and by the working of the Holy Ghost of your own free will you died and mercifully redeemed the world from sin and everlasting death.
I adore and venerate you as much as ever I can, though mu love is so cold, my devotion so poor.
Thank you for the good gift of this your holy Body and Blood, which I desire to receive, as cleansing from sin, and for a defence against it..."

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