Home » April 21 — Anselm

April 21 — Anselm

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Psalm 14

The fool says in his heart,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
    there is no one who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven
    on all humankind
to see if there are any who understand,
    any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one.
Do all these evildoers know nothing?
The illuminated beginning of an 11th-century manuscript of the Monologion.

More thoughts for meditation about Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm (1033-1109) was a Benedictine monk, Christian philosopher, and scholar who is recognized for many intellectual accomplishments, including his application of reason in exploring the mysteries of faith and for his definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding.”

The brilliance of Anselm’s thinking and writing about the nature of faith and of God has intrigued and influenced scholars since the Middle Ages. His highly respected work, Monologium, rationalizes a proof of God’s existence. His Proslogium, advances the idea that God exists according to the human notion of a perfect being in whom nothing is lacking. Since they were first written, both works have been studied and praised by many of the world’s greatest theologians and philosophers. Circle of Hope recognizes his contribution to the meaning of the atonement with his work Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man?). In it he suggests a concept of satisfaction that seems to relate to the way feudal society honored their betters.

Born near Aosta in Italy in 1033, Anselm began his education under the tutelage of the monks of a local Benedictine monastery. After his mother passed away, Anselm observed a period of grief and mourning and then traveled throughout Europe. At that time, the spiritual and intellectual reputation of the monk Lanfranc, who belonged to the monastery of Bec in Normandy, was widespread. Anselm was drawn to Lanfranc, and in 1060 attached himself to Lanfranc’s abbey. The community immediately recognized Anselm’s unique abilities and he was soon teaching in the abbey school. He was made prior of the monastery in 1063.

It was during his days at Bec that Anselm composed his innovative works on the existence and nature of God. Indeed, it was only out of a sense of obligation and submission to the will of the community that he undertook the duties and burdens of administration.

His election to the position of abbot of the community in 1078 speaks to the love and regard in which he was held by his confreres. But Bec was not to be the end of his journey. In 1093 he was summoned to England to become the archbishop of Canterbury, succeeding his master and spiritual director Lanfranc. Anselm’s years at Canterbury were not lacking in political controversy. He showed great courage in disputing William II and Henry I in regard to ecclesiastical abuses that were being visited upon the church by those kings. Twice he was banished while making appeals in Rome. Twice he returned to Canterbury, his abilities as an extraordinary theologian, negotiator, and statesman having added luster and authority to the cause of the church.

Throughout his years, Anselm maintained a strong allegiance to his monastic lifestyle and to his intellectual pursuits. He composed several philosophical and theological treatises, as well as a series of beautiful prayers and meditations in addition to his oftentimes inspirational correspondence. Anselm held the position of archbishop until his death in 1109. A biography by his contemporary Eadmer provides many insights into the life of this remarkably saintly and scholarly man.

Anselm quotes:

From the Preface to the Proslogion:

I have written the little work that follows… in the role of one who strives to raise his mind to the contemplation of God and one who seeks to understand what he believes.

I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created your image in me, so that I may remember you, think of you, love you. But this image is so obliterated and worn away by wickedness, it is so obscured by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do, unless you renew and reform it. I am not attempting, O Lord, to penetrate your loftiness, for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it, but I desire in some measure to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that “unless I believe, I shall not understand.” (Isa. 7:9)

A prayer of Anselm

My God,
I pray that I may so know you and love you
that I may rejoice in you.
And if I may not do so fully in this life
let me go steadily on
to the day when I come to that fullness …
Let me receive
That which you promised through your truth,
that my joy may be full.

A song of Anselm

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you:
You are gentle with us as a mother with her children;
Often you weep over our sins and our pride:
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds:
in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life:
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness:
through your gentleness we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead:
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us:
in your love and tenderness remake us.
In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness:
for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.

Want more? Here is another more detailed bio. [link]

Suggestions for action

Anselm did administrative work because he was asked to do it. He would have preferred meditating, studying, writing and mentoring to having conflicts with the kings of England. Doing what he did not prefer did not diminish his influence, however. Living with an attitude of obedience grates on most people we know. We don’t always know what we want, but it is often not what we are supposed to be doing! How are you working that out?

Rest in the Lord for a moment and settle down. What is the best thing you can do today despite distracting or detracting circumstances? For now, you can pray and worship, that is something good we can do no matter who is trying to get us to do something  else.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *