Reading Anselm: Context and Criticism

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Saturday, 12 April 2008

Anselm - a chronological synopsis of his life

1033 - born in Aosta, Italy.

1056 - left Aosta and travelled through France and Normandy.

Arrived in Bec, Normandy, to be student of Lanfranc who was prior of the Benedictine Abbey founded by Herluin, who was still abbot at this time.

In 1060 entered the monastery.

In 1063 when Lanfranc left to become Abbot of another Norman monastery, Anselm was made prior.

In 1078 after the death of Herluin he was elected Abbot.

In the meantime, following Duke William of Normandy’s successful invasion of England in 1066, Lanfranc had been made the first Norman archbishop of Canterbury.

1087 - William the Conqueror died and was succeeded by William Rufus

1089 - Lanfranc died. Rufus kept the see of Canterbury vacant in order to despoil the goods of the Church

1093 - Rufus agreed to the election of a new Archbishop of Canterbury – Anselm. Anselm was soon engaged in conflict with Rufus, who refused to accept Urban II as pope and consequently would not let Anselm go to Rome to collect his pallium. All the other bishops apart from one sided with the king. Eventually a compromise was reached; Rufus accepted Urban and the pallium was sent to Anselm from Rome. However relationships were still difficult and although Anselm repeatedly asked for permission to go to Rome, it was refused. In the end Anselm went to Rome without Rufus' permission. Thus began his first exile in 1097,which only ended with the death of William Rufus in 1100.

In exile Anselm was welcomed in Rome by Pope Urban II, who took him with him to the Council of Bari (October 1098) where Anselm defended the Latin addition of the filioque clause to the Creed against the Greek teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, but not the Son. Later Anselm wrote a treatise on the subject, De processione Spiritus Sancti (1102).

1099 - Urban held a council in Rome which addressed the question of lay investiture and excommunicated lay people who ‘appointed’ clergy to church livings and clergy who accepted such appointment. This was to lead to further conflict between Anselm and the future monarch, Henry I.

1100 - Rufus died and Anselm returned to Canterbury at the request of the new king, Henry I. To the surprise of those present, Anselm wept at the news of Rufus’s death, because he had died in a state of sin. He said that “he would much rather that his own body had died than that the king had died in his present state”. (Eaadmer, Vita Anselmi, p.126)

Almost immediately on his return conflict with Henry blew up. Anselm informed Henry of the decisions of the council of Rome, but Henry would not accept them. This went on for 2½ years, until in 1103 Anselm went with a representative of the King to obtain adjudication from the new Pope, Paschal II, on the matter.

The Pope sided with Anselm and when Henry learnt of this he refused to let Anselm return to England “unless he would definitely promise to ignore his submission and obedience to the Apostolic See” (Eadmer, Vita Anselmi, p. 130) on the question of lay investiture. Thus began Anselm’s second exile, during which the King seized control of the possessions of the Archbishopric of Canterbury.

It was only when Henry found out that Anselm was about to excommunicate him that he returned his possessions to him and agreed that he could return. However, Anselm would not return until the issue was properly settled. After a delay of nearly a year, Anselm set off to return to England, but was taken ill and returned to Bec, where he had been monk, prior and abbot. Here on the Feast of the Assumption, 1106, the King came to him and they were reconciled. Although expected to die, Anselm recovered, and returned to England.

He wrote his final work De concordia after his return.

Anselm died in Canterbury on 21 April 1109 on the Wednesday of Holy Week.

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