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SAINT ANSELM

Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church, c. 1033-1109

There have been few men so well suited for the silent life of a monk and a scholar as Anselm; there have been even fewer men so constantly denied that kind of life. Born of noble parents at Aosta, in Piedmont, Italy, about the year 1033, Saint Anselm went to the French monastery of Le Bec in 1060, hoping to lead a quiet life of prayer and study.

The dream was not to last long. He was at the abbey but three years when he was made prior and had to put aside his own studies in favor of more active duties. Among these duties was the direction of the school Lanfranc had founded, and under Anselm it became one of the great centers of medieval learning. In 1078 Anselm was elected abbot.

It was not until 1092 that his real problems began. The archbishop of Canterbury had died, and King William Rufus would not allow the post to be filled, seizing the revenues for himself. The king swore there would be no archbishop of Canterbury while he lived. As if God had taken up the challenge, King Rufus immediately became so violently ill that it was thought he would die. The protesting Anselm, who had been recommended for the see, was almost bullied into accepting the post, so terrible was the fear of the king.

Saint Anselm had every reason for not wanting the job. As the king recovered his health, he also recovered his greed. Unable to pay the immense sums of money demanded by the king, Anselm was forced to retreat to Rome. The king refused to concede to Rome, refused Archbishop Anselm's right to return to England, and only escaped public excommunication through the intercession of Anselm, who feared the effect such action might have upon England.

At the death of Rufus in 1100, the archbishop returned to England, where he was greeted joyfully by the people and by the new king, Henry I.

But if William Rufus had desired money, the present king desired power. He claimed the right to appoint all bishops and insisted that Archbishop Anselm be reinvested through his hands. This Anselm would not allow. The matter dragged on for years, with innumerable legates being sent to the pope, who consistently upheld Anselm.

The quarrel between the pope and the king grew in intensity, with Anselm in the middle, until it seemed that the country might fall into schism after all. At last, frightened by the threat of excommunication, the king became reconciled with Anselm, restoring the revenues of his see. Henry renounced the right to invest either bishop or abbot with staff and ring, while the pope gave permission for prelates to do homage to the king as temporal ruler. This agreement was reached in 1107.

In his last years, Anselm had some degree of peace, performing his pastoral duties but finding time also for his studies. The Church owes him a debt of gratitude for his courage and wisdom in dealing with the problem of lay investiture, though Anselm felt that his true work was his theological writings. In this the Church agrees. Anselm's writings on free will, predestination, and the Incarnation, and his much-discussed proof for the existence of God, earn for him a place beside men like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

 

 

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