April 20, 2017

Saint Anselm, the "Father of Scholasticism"

Saint Anselm

April 21st, is the optional memorial of Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)., also known as Anselm of Aosta and Anselm of Bec, the 11th century Benedictine abbot, archbishop, theologian and philosopher. He was born in the Italian town of Aosta, the eldest child of a noble family. His mother gave him a careful academic and Christian education. At 15, he sought entry to a monastery, but was refused over his father’s objections. Later, Anselm experienced a period of rebellion and excess, during which he abandoned his studies. He travelled to France in search of greater purpose and eventually reached the Abbey of Bec, drawn by the fame of its prior, Lanfranco of Pavia. There, at the age of 27, he entered monastic life.

In time, Anselm’s fellow monks would name him Lanfranco’s successor as abbot. Anselm successfully made the Benedictine monastery of Bec the center of a true reformation in Normandy and England. From this position, he wisely exercised a restraining influence on popes, kings, the worldly powerful, and entire religious orders. At the request of his community, Anselm began publishing his theological discourses; his best-known being Cur Deus Homo (“Why God Became Man”).

Appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury and primate of England (an office he initially refused), the future saint waged a heroic campaign in defense of the rights and liberties of the Church. As a result, he was deprived of goods and position and finally banned from the country. He journeyed to Rome, and at the Council of Bari supported Pope Urban II against the errors of the Greeks. His writings bear eloquent testimony to his moral stature and learning, and have earned for him the title of "Father of Scholasticism." Anselm's philosophical insights redound to the present. He is perhaps best known for his ontological argument, an a priori proof of God's existence. (For more see here and here.)

For his immense contributions to the Church's understanding of God, St. Anselm was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Clement XI in 1720, 611 years after his death. He is a preeminent figure of the Middle Ages who harmonized the disciplines of prayer, study and governance, thanks to his profound love of God and God's Church that directed in full his thought, his writings and his actions.

Pope Benedict XVI summarized St. Anselm’s final years: "This holy Archbishop, who roused such deep admiration around him wherever he went, dedicated the last years of his life to the moral formation of the clergy and to intellectual research into theological topics. He died on 21 April 1109, accompanied by the words of the Gospel proclaimed in Holy Mass on that day: 'You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom...' (Lk 22: 28-30). So it was that the dream of the mysterious banquet he had had as a small boy, at the very beginning of his spiritual journey, found fulfilment. Jesus, who had invited him to sit at his table, welcomed Anselm upon his death into the eternal Kingdom of the Father." St. Anselm help us love God as you did.

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