Saint Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm was born in the city of Aosta in 1033 in what was then the Kingdom of Burgundy (modern-day northern Italy) to a noble and propertied family. His father, Gundulph, was by birth a Lombard and seems to have been harsh and violent; his mother, Ermenberga, was prudent and virtuous and gave Anselm careful religious instruction.

At the age of fifteen, the devout young Anselm tried to become a monk but could not obtain the consent of either his father or the abbot of the local monastery. In 1059, after his mother died and his father’s harshness became unbearable, he left home, crossed the Alps and wandered through Burgundy and France. After a short time at Avranches, he entered the Benedictine Abbey of Bec in Normandy, France as a novice in 1060, where he studied under the eminent theologian and dialectician Lanfranc (c. 1005 – 1089). Just three years later, he was elected Prior to the Abbey and then, in 1078, he succeeded Lanfranc as Abbot.

During these quiet years he wrote his first and most important works of philosophy (the “Monologion”, the “Proslogion”, the “Dialogues on Truth”, “Free Will” and the “Fall of the Devil”) and, under Anselm’s jurisdiction, Bec grew in wealth and reputation, becoming one of the first seats of learning in Europe.

In 1092, at the invitation of Hugh, Earl of Chester, Anselm crossed to England where, against his will, he was offered the prestigious position of Archbishop of Canterbury. However, his tenure was not an easy one, with King William II of England constantly trying to appropriate church lands, offices and incomes, and even to have Anselm deposed. In 1097, Anselm set out for Rome in an attempt to settle some of the English King’s ecclesiastical problems, but was refused entry back into England and remained in exile until King William died in 1100, during which time he continued to write.

William’s successor, Henry I, was no easier to deal with and in 1103 Anselm again set out for Rome and was again refused re-entry back into England. It was only after King Henry was threatened with excommunication by the Pope that some reconciliation took place, and Anselm was able to once again take up his position. However, only three years later, in 1109, he died. He was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1494, and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1720.Read More »