Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm of Canterbury

Infobox Saint
name=Saint Anselm of Canterbury
death_date=April 21, 1109
feast_day=April 21
venerated_in=Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion

birth_place=Aosta, Kingdom of Burgundy
death_place=Canterbury, Kent, England
canonized_by=Pope Alexander VI
attributes=Portrayed with a ship, representing the spiritual independence of the Church.
major_shrine=Canterbury Cathedral

Infobox Archbishop of Canterbury
Full name=Saint Anselm of Canterbury

birth_name = Anselmo d'Aosta
consecration =December 4, 1093
term_end = death date|1109|04|21|mf=y
predecessor = Lanfranc
successor = Ralph d'Escures
birth_date = 1033
birthplace = Aosta, Kingdom of Burgundy
death_date = death date and age|1109|04|21|1033|31|12
deathplace = Canterbury, Kent, England
tomb = Canterbury Cathedral

Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033 – April 21, 1109) was an Italian medieval philosopher, theologian, and church official who held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. Called the founder of scholasticism, he is famous as the originator of the ontological argument for the existence of God and as the archbishop who openly opposed the Crusades.__TOC__


Early life

Anselm was born in the city of Aosta in the Kingdom of Burgundy (currently the capital of the Aosta Valley region in Northern Italy). His family was noble and owned considerable property. His father, Gundulph, was by birth a Lombard and seems to have been harsh and violent. Ermenberga, his mother, was regarded as prudent and virtuous. She gave young Anselm careful religious instruction.

At the age of fifteen, Anselm desired to enter a monastery but could not obtain his father's consent. 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.

In 1059, he 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 entered Normandy. The following year, after some time at Avranches, he entered the abbey as a novice at the age of twenty-seven.

Years at Bec

In 1063, Lanfranc was made abbot of Caen and Anselm was elected prior of the Bec. He held this office for fifteen years before, in 1078, the death of warrior monk Herluin (founder and first abbot of Bec) brought about his election to abbot.

Under Anselm's jurisdiction, Bec became the first seat of learning in Europe, but he appears to have been little concerned with attracting external students. It was during these quiet years that he wrote his first works of philosophy, the "Monologion" and the "Proslogion". These were followed by "The Dialogues on Truth", "Free Will" and "Fall of the Devil".

The monastery grew in wealth and reputation and, after the Norman Conquest, acquired large property in England. It was Anselm's duty, as abbot, to visit this property on occasion. He became popular among the citizens of England for his mild temper and unswerving rectitude, and was considered by many the natural successor to Lanfranc as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Upon Lanfranc's death, however, King William II seized the possessions and revenues of the see, and made no new appointment. In 1092, at the invitation of Hugh, Earl of Chester, 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. Eager to make atonement for his failure to appoint a new archbishop, he nominated Anselm to the vacant see. After a great struggle, the king compelled him to accept the pastoral staff of office. After obtaining dispensation from his duties in Normandy, Anselm was consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093.

Archbishop of Canterbury

In exchange for retaining office, Anselm demanded certain conditions -- that King William return the possessions of the see, accept Anselm's spiritual counsel and acknowledge Urban II as pope, in opposition to Antipope Clement III. He only obtained partial consent to the first of these demands, and the last involved him in serious difficulty with the king.

The Church's rule stated that metroplitans 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 pall, but King 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 without his permission.

A council of churchmen and nobles was held to settle the matter, and advised Anselm to submit to the king, but he remained firm and the matter was postponed. During this time, William sent secret messengers to Rome. They acknowledged Urban and prevailed on him to send a legate to the king bearing the archiepiscopal pall. Anselm and King William partially reconciliated, and the matter of the pall was finally decided. It was not given by the king but laid on the altar at Canterbury, where Anselm received it.

Over a year later, Anselm encountered further trouble with King William. He resolved to proceed to Rome and seek the counsel of the pope. He obtained the king's permission to leave with great difficulty and, in October 1097, set out for Rome. William immediately seized the revenues of the see and retained them until his death. Anselm was received with high honour by Urban at the Siege of Capua, where he garnered high praise from the Saracen troops of Count Roger I of Sicily. The pope, however, did not wish to become deeply involved in Anselm's dispute with the king.

At a great council held at Bari, Anselm was asked to defend the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Ghost against representatives of the Greek Church. He left Rome and spent some time at the little village of Schiavi, where he finished his treatise on the atonement, "Cur Deus homo", before retiring to Lyons. When he attempted to return to England, King William would not permit him entry.

Conflicts with King Henry I

King William was killed in 1100. His successor, Henry I, invited Anselm to return to England under certain conditions: Anselm was to receive from him, in person, investiture in his office of archbishop. The papal rule, however, stated that all homage and lay investiture were strictly prohibited.

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 Paschal II regarding the legitimacy of Henry's investiture, but he reaffirmed the papal rule on both occasions.

King Henry remained firm. In 1103, Anselm himself and an envoy from the king set out for Rome. Paschal II again ruled in favor of papal rule, and passed a sentence of excommunication against all who had infringed it, except King Henry.

Forbidden to return to England unless on the king's terms, Anselm withdrew to Lyons after this ruling and awaited further action from Pope Paschal. In 1105, Paschal did act, excommunicating King Henry. Henry was seriously alarmed. He arranged a meeting with Paschal, and a reconciliation was established. In 1106, Anselm was permitted to cross to England with authority from the pope to remove the sentence of excommunication from the illegally-invested churchmen.

By 1107, the long dispute regarding investiture was finally settled with a compromise in the Concordat of London, whereby Henry relinquished his right to invest his bishops and abbots but reserved the custom of requiring them to do homage for the "temporalities" (the landed properties tied to the episcopate). The remaining two years of Anselm's life were spent in the duties of his archbishopric. He died on April 21 1109.


region = Western Philosophy
era = Medieval philosophy
color = #B0C4DE

image_caption =

name = Anselm of Canterbury
birth = 1033(Aosta, Burgundy)
death = 21 April, 1109 (Canterbury, England)
school_tradition = Founder of Scholasticism
main_interests = Metaphysics (incl. Theology)
influences = Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Gregory the Great
influenced = Bonaventure, Aquinas, Leibniz, Hegel
notable_ideas = Ontological argument

Anselm is considered by many to be the first scholarly philosopher of Christian theology. His only great predecessor, Scotus Eriugena, was more speculative and mystical in his writings than what is considered scholarly. Anselm's writings represent a recognition of the relationship of reason to revealed truth, and an attempt to elaborate a rational system of faith.


Anselm sought to understand Christian consciousness through reason and develop intelligible truths interwoven with the Christian belief. He believed that the necessary preliminary for this was possession of the Christian consciousness. He wrote, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam. Nam et hoc credo, quia, nisi credidero, non intelligam. " ("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.") According to Anselm, after faith is found, the attempt must be made to demonstrate by reason the truth of what is believed.

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 wrote many philosophical proofs within "Monologion" and "Proslogion". 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.

Anselm desired to have one short demonstration, presented in "Proslogion", his famous proof of the existence of God. It is referred to as the ontological argument—a term first applied by Kant to the arguments of Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-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 "Proslogion" 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 Insipiente", on the grounds that humans cannot pass from intellect to reality. Anselm replied to the objections in his "Responsio".

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

Further works

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, symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The further theological doctrines of man, such as original sin and free will, are developed in the "Monologion" and other treatises.

In "Cur Deus Homo" ("Why did God become Man?"), 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.

Anselm expounds on these three positions by beginning with the statement that all of Man's actions are for the Glory of God. If Sin exists, wounding God's honour, Man himself can give no satisfaction, but God's justice demands satisfaction. Because God is infinite, however, any wound to his honour must also be infinite. It follows that satisfaction must also be infinite: it must outweigh all that is not God.

Because humans are not infinite, such acts of satisfaction can only be paid by God himself and, as a penalty for Man, must be paid under the form of Man. By this, Anselm reasons that satisfaction is only possible through the sinless God-man Jesus. Because he is exempt from the punishment of Sin, the God-man's passion is voluntary. The merit of the act is therefore infinite, God's justice is thus appeased and His mercy may extend to Man.

This theory has exercised immense influence on church doctrine, providing the basis for the Roman Catholic concept of the treasury of merit and the evangelical doctrine of penal substitution, as developed by John Calvin. Anselm's philosophy is very different from older patristic philosophies, insofar as it focuses on a contest between the goodness and justice of God rather than a contest between God and Satan.

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 unfavourably with the later theory of Peter Abélard.

"Dilecto dilectori"

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 [cite conference
first =Brian P.
last =McGuire
title =Monastic Friendship and Toleration in Twelfth Century Cistercian Life
booktitle =Monks, Hermits and the Ascetic Tradition: Papers Read at the 1984 Summer Meeting and the 1985 Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society
pages =
publisher =Blackwell Publishing
date =1985
id = ISBN 0631143513
accessdate =
opinion re. Anselm noted at:cite web
title =Faithful to the Truth; Chapter 2: Homosexuality and Tradition
url =
accessdate =
] and John Boswell [cite book
last = Boswell
first =John
authorlink =John Boswell
title =Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century
publisher =University Of Chicago Press
date =1980
pages = pp. 218, 219
id = ISBN 0226067114
] have characterized these writings as expressions of a homosexual inclination. [Anglican Bishop Michael Doe has speculated that Anselm's refusal in 1102 to publish the edict of the Council of London (1102), which proclaimed that sodomy must be confessed as a Sin, is further evidence in favour of Anselm's alleged homosexuality ("Seeking the Truth in Love: The Church and Homosexuality". Darton, Longman and Todd (2000), p. 18. ISBN 978-0232523997).] Others, such as Glenn Olsen [cite conference
first = Glenn
last = Olsen
title =St. Anselm and Homosexuality
booktitle =Anselm Studies, II: Proceedings of the Fifth International Saint Anselm Conference
pages =pp. 93-141
date =1988
] and Richard Southern describe them as representing a "wholly spiritual" affection, "nourished by an incorporeal ideal" (Southern). [cite book
last = Southern
first = Richard W.
authorlink =Richard Southern
title=St. Anselm : A Portrait in a Landscape
publisher=Cambridge University Press
pages = p. 157
id=ISBN 0-521-43818-7


Anselm was canonised by the Roman Catholic Church in the year 1494 by Pope Alexander VI. The anniversary of Anselm's death on April 21 is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church, much of the Anglican Communion and in the Lutheran Church as Saint Anselm's memorial day. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1720 by Pope Clement XI. On April 21, 1909, 800 years after his death, St. Pius X issued an encyclical "Communion Rerum", praising Saint Anselm, his ecclesiastical career and his writings. His symbol in hagiography is the ship, representing the spiritual independence of the church.

In the Middle Ages, Anselm's writings did not receive the respect that they later would. This may have been due to their unsystematic character, for they are generally tracts or dialogues on detached questions, not elaborate treatises like the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Albert of Aix and Eriugena. Proponents of his writings, however, enjoy what they call his freshness and philosophical vigour.

Notes and references



References listed in the 1911 Britannica article:

*Eadmer's Vita Anselmi and his Historia Novorum, edited by Martin Rule in Rolls Series (London, 1884)
*Philibert Ragey, "Histoire de Saint Anselme" (Paris, 1890), and "Saint Anselme professeur" (Paris, 1890)
*Johann Adam Möhler, "Anselm Erzbischof von Canterbury "(Regensburg, 1839; Eng. trans. by Henry Rymer, London, 1842)
*Friedrich Rudolf Hasse, "Anselm von Canterbury" (2 vols., Leipzig, 1842-1853)
*C. de Rémusat, "S. Anselme de Cantorbéry" (Paris, 1853, new ed. 1868)
*R. W. Church, "St. Anselm", first published in Sunday Library (London, 1870; often reprinted)
*Martin Rule, "Life and Times of St. Anselm" (London, 1883).
*Dom Gerberon "S. Anselmi opera omnia, necnon Eadmeri monachi Cantuar. Historia Novorum et alia opuscula" Paris, (1675); edition of Anselms's works; reprinted with many notes in 1712; incorporated by J. Migne in his "Patrologia Latina", tomi clviii.-clix. (Paris. 1853-1854). Migne's reprint contains many errors.
*The "Cur Deus homo" in the editions published by D. Nutt (London, 1885) and by Griffith Farran Browne (1891).
*The "Mariale", or poems in honour of the Blessed Virgin, has been carefully edited by Philibert Ragey (Tournai, 1885)
*The "Monologion" and "Proslogion", edited by C. E. Ubaghs (Louvain, 1854; Eng. trans. by S. N. Deane, Chicago, 1903)
*The "Meditationes", many of which are wrongly attributed to Anselm, have been frequently reprinted, and were included in Methuen's Library of Devotion (London, 1903).
*Among the important historical criticisms of Anselm's philosophical works are those by J. M. Rigg, "St. Anselm of Canterbury: A Chapter in the History of Religion" (London, 1896), and "Saint Anselme" by Edmond Charles Eugène Domet de Vorges, (Grands Philosophes series, Paris, 1901).
*Bibliography in A. Vacant's "Dictionnaire de théologie".

Current references

The main primary sources for the history of St. Anselm and his times are Eadmer's "Vita Anselmi" and his "Historia Novorum".
*There is a recent Critical Edition of Anselms's works by [ F. S. Schmitt (1961)]
*The "Proslogion" has been translated by M. J. Charlesworth with an introduction and commentary (OUP, 1965, reprinted by University of Notre Dame Press, 1979)
*cite book | author= Southern, Richard W. | title=St. Anselm : A Portrait in a Landscape| publisher=Cambridge University Press| year=1992 | id=ISBN 0-521-43818-7
*cite book | author= Butler, Alban; edited by Burns, Paul | title=Butler's Lives of the Saints: April; New Full Edition | publisher=Liturgical Press| year=1999 | id=ISBN 0-8146-2380-8
*Jori, Alberto, "Die Paradoxien des menschlichen Selbstbewusstseins und die notwendige Existenz Gottes - Zu 'Cogitatio' und 'Intellectus' im Streit zwischen Anselm und Gaunilo", in: C. Viola and J. Kormos (ed.), Rationality from Saint Augustine to Saint Anselm. Proceedings of the International Anselm Conference - Piliscsaba (Hungary) 20-23 June 2002 (Piliscsaba 2005), pp. 197-210.
*Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. "The Penguin Dictionary of Saints". 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. ISBN 0-140-51312-4.

ee also

List of Archbishops of Canterbury

External links

* [ Early British Kingdoms: St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury]
*sep entry|anselm|Saint Anselm|Thomas Williams
*ws|"" in the 1913 "Catholic Encyclopedia"
* [ Professor Jasper Hopkins: Anselm of Canterbury] containing English translations of nearly every major work by St. Anselm
* [ Latin Library: Anselm of Canterbury]
* [ Saint Anselm] at "The Online Library of Liberty"

ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Anselm of Canterbury; Saint Anselm
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Archbishop of Canterbury; Abbot of Bec; Philosopher
PLACE OF BIRTH=Aosta, Burgundy
DATE OF DEATH=April 21, 1109
PLACE OF DEATH=Canterbury, Kent

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