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ANSELM, St. (c.1033–1109), Abp. of Canterbury. He was the son of a Lombard landowner and a native of Aosta. After several years of undisciplined life he crossed the Alps into France in 1056 and in 1059 entered the monastic school at Bec in Normandy, then directed by Lanfranc of Pavia, his fellow-countryman. Here he was persuaded by Lanfranc and Maurilius, Abp. of Rouen, to take monastic vows (1060) and in 1063 he succeeded Lanfranc as prior. His devotion and remarkable intellectual abilities gained him a high reputation as a teacher and spiritual director. His earliest writings were prayers to various saints and letters mainly addressed to the Norman monks who followed Lanfranc to Canterbury in 1070. Then followed the Monologion and the Proslogion (1078–9) and a series of philosophical and theological works, De Veritate, De Libero Arbitrio and De Casu Diaboli, as well as an introduction to dialectic entitled De Grammatico. Meanwhile Abbot Herluin of Bec had died in 1078, and Anselm succeeded to the Abbacy of Bec. From now on he paid several visits to England, where he renewed his personal contact with Lanfranc and the former monks of Bec at Canterbury, and won the respect of William I and many of the barons.

On Lanfranc’s death (1089) the archbishopric of Canterbury was vacant until 1093, but in March of this year King William II, then gravely ill, was persuaded to appoint an archbishop. He nominated Anselm, who reluctantly consented, and he was consecrated in December 1093. Disputes had already broken out between him and the King over the lands and tenants of the archbishopric, and these disputes continued with increasing violence until 1097. They were further complicated by disputes over the recognition of Pope Urban II, over the right of the Archbishop to hold a council, and finally over Anselm’s wish to go to Rome for Papal advice. In the end, after a series of violent disputes which are fully described by Anselm’s biographer, Eadmer, the King allowed him to go and he reached Rome in April 1098.

During the previous five years of conflict Anselm had not been unproductive theologically. In 1095 he had completed his De Incarnatione Verbi which he had begun before he left Bec; and in 1098 in Italy he completed the greatest of his theological works, Cur Deus Homo. In October 1098 he attended the Council of Bari and defended the Double Procession against the Greeks with arguments later embodied in his De Processione Sancti Spiritus. At the Vatican Council of April 1099 he first learned of the Papal decrees against lay investiture, and when the new King Henry I recalled him to England on William II’s death (2 Aug. 1100) he insisted on observing these decrees without compromise. Consequently he refused to renew the homage he had paid to William II or to consecrate bishops whom Henry had invested. After more than two years of argument, in 1103 Anselm agreed to go to Rome again to try to get a Papal relaxation of the decrees on Henry’s behalf. When this attempt failed he resigned himself to a further period of exile which lasted until 1107, when the Pope and King agreed to a compromise behind Anselm’s back. In the last two years of his life Anselm held a council which enforced clerical celibacy and he became increasingly engaged in the long-standing conflict with York over the primacy of Canterbury. He died on 21 April 1109.

Both as a philosopher and a theologian, Anselm has a foremost place among medieval thinkers. His was the most luminous and penetrating intellect between St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. He differed from most of his predecessors in preferring to defend the faith by intellectual reasoning instead of employing scriptural and patristic authorities. The object of his Monologion was to establish the being of God solely on rational grounds, though he claimed that everything in it was derived from, and could be supported by, the words of St Augustine. In the Proslogion this reasoning was given the more systematic form of the ontological argument (q.v.). Anselm here maintained that if we mean by God (as he held that we do) ‘that than which nothing greater can be thought’ (id quo nihil maius cogitari possit), then we cannot think of this entity except as existing; for, if it did not exist, it would not be ‘that than which nothing greater can be thought’. This argument, which seems to imply that the power to think of such a Being implies the existence of a Being consistent with the terms of the definition, was at once challenged by Gaunilo, a monk of Marmoutier, who retorted with an argument similar to that later used by I. Kant. Anselm, however, held the argument relating to degrees of being was valid in this single case.

Like St Augustine, Anselm saw in faith the precondition of the right use of reason (‘credo ut intelligam’); but it yet remains our duty, so far as we can, to exercise our minds in apprehending revealed truth. The whole of his theology is a working out of this programme. His Cur Deus Homo was the most considerable contribution to the theology of the Atonement in the Middle Ages. It interpreted the doctrine in terms of the satisfaction which is needed to restore the universal harmony of the Creation dislocated by sin. He strongly repudiated the notion, current since Origen and St Gregory of Nyssa, that the devil had rights over fallen man which it was a leading purpose of the Cross to satisfy. He was also the author of many letters. Of these, the earlier ones (before 1093) are important for Anselm’s spiritual and monastic teaching, and those written while he was Archbishop give the fullest surviving account of the ecclesiastical disputes of his pontificate.

Feast day, 21 April. It seems unlikely that he was ever formally canonized, despite several attempts from 1163 onwards, but his cult became firmly established in the later Middle Ages; in 1720 Clement XI declared him a ‘Doctor of the Church’.

The unsatisfactory edn. of Anselm’s Works by the Maurist, G. Gerberon, OSB (Paris, 1675) is repr. in J. P. Migne, PL 158 and 159. Crit. edn. by F. S. Schmitt, OSB (begun Seckau, 1938; repr. and cont., 6 vols., Edinburgh, 1946–61). Eng. tr. of vols. 1–2 by J. Hopkins and H. Richardson (4 vols.: 1, London, Toronto, and New York, 1974; 2–4, Toronto and New York, 1976). Eng. tr. of Major Works also ed. B. Davies [OP] and G. R. Evans (Oxford World’s Classics, 1998). Unfinished fragments and reports of Anselm’s teaching pr. in Memorials of St Anselm, ed. R. W. Southern and F. S. Schmitt (Auctores Britannici Medii Aevi, 1; 1969). The principal sources for his life are the ‘Historia Novorum’ and the ‘Vita Anselmi’ by his chaplain, Eadmer, ed. M. Rule (Rolls Series, 81; 1884); ‘Vita Anselmi’ also ed., with Eng. tr., by R. W. Southern (London [1962]); Eng. tr. of ‘Historia Novorum’ by G. Bosanquet (ibid., 1964) and of his Letters by W. Fröhlich (Cistercian Studies Series, 96, 97, 142; Kalamazoo, Mich., 1990–94). Modern studies by R. W. Church (London, 1870) and R. W. Southern, Saint Anselm and his Biographer (Cambridge, 1963); id., Saint Anselm: A Portrait in a Landscape (ibid., 1990); for a different view, see S. N. Vaughn, Anselm of Bec and Robert of Meulan (Los Angeles and London, 1987). M. J. Charlesworth, St Anselm’s Proslogion (Oxford 1965), incl. text, Eng. tr., and an account of recent interpretations of Anselm’s argument for the existence of God; R. [J.] Campbell, From Belief to Understanding: A Study of Anselm’s Proslogion Argument on the Existence of God (Canberra, 1976); E. Bencivenga, Logic and Other Nonsense: The Case of Anselm and his God (Princeton [1993]). D. P. Henry, The De Grammatico of St Anselm (University of Notre Dame Publications in Medieval Studies, 18; Notre Dame, Ind., 1964), includes text and Eng. tr.; id., The Logic of Saint Anselm (Oxford, 1967); id., Commentary on De Grammatico: The Historical-Logical Dimensions of a Dialogue of St Anselm’s (Synthese Historical Library, 8; Dordrecht and Boston [1974]). J. McIntyre, St Anselm and his Critics: A Re-interpretation of the Cur Deus Homo (Edinburgh, 1954). J. Hopkins, A Companion to the Study of St Anselm (Minneapolis, 1972). G. R. Evans, Anselm and Talking about God (Oxford, 1978); id., Anselm (1989). P. Gilbert, SJ, Dire l’Ineffable: Lecture du ‘Monologion’ de S. Anselme (1984). G. E. M. Gasper, Anselm of Canterbury and his Theological Inheritance (Aldershot [2004]). F. S. Schmitt in NCE (2nd edn.), 1 (2003), pp. 495–7, s.v.. See also bibl. to cur deus homo.


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