Monday, April 27, 2009

St Anselm: 900 Years

Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (1610-1662)
The Meeting of the Countess Matilda and Anselm of Canterbury in the Presence of Pope Urban II (1637-1642)
Oil on canvas
Galleria dei Romanelli, The Vatican

The opening of Cur Deus homo
From a 12th century copy of Anselm's works in Lambeth Palace Library, London

Portrait of Eadmer of Canterbury, (biographer of St Anselm)
about 1140–50
Benedictine abbey of Saint Martin, Tournai,

April 21st 2009 was the 900th Anniversary of the death of St Anselm (c. 1033 – 21 April 1109)

Anselm was probably the greatest theologian ever to have been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

In 1720, Anselm was recognised as a Doctor of the Church

Born at or near Aosta in Northern Italy, he became a monk in Normandy at the age of 27

He was elected the Prior at Bec

Under Anselm's jurisdiction, Bec became the foremost seat of learning in Europe

The last sixteen years of his life were spent as Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of England. He is buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

On 21st April this year, the Pope sent Cardinal Biffi as his delegate to the Cathedral at Aosta for the celebrations. Cardinal Biffi`s sermon is online in English translation on the website of Sandro Magister

He defended the relevance of the great Anselm: "a formidable thinker" and a man of faith among the many false teachers of doubt, absolutely faithful to the successor of Peter among the many, including bishops, who left him alone.

The Cardinal concentrated on three “gifts” uniquely suited for the present time.

First, “an extremely acute awareness of the invisible world, meaning that reality which lives and breathes beyond the showy, noisy scene of the things and events here below: this is the world where the most august Trinity reigns; it is the world full of throngs of happy creatures; it is the world that transcends us, but is also near to us and gives meaning and scope to our lives as mortal creatures ...

When we are overcome by depression and discouragement at the sight of what takes place under the heavens, both within and outside of Christianity, the most decisive remedy to this sort of disappointing spectacle lies precisely in remembering the actual extension of the universe, which also includes the invisible world; that invisible world which is already victorious over evil is already our own; that invisible world which is full and exuberant with a superhuman energy in which (even when we do not realize it) the earth is constantly bathed”

Second, “for him – and for every adequately informed Christian – faith not only is not separable from reason, and does not harm it, but is even the greatest and highest exercise of our intellectual faculty.

On the other hand, in modern culture, influenced and dominated by an absolute subjectivism, there has been a gradual assertion of a pessimistic view of natural human knowledge. Many think that man is not capable of arriving at any truth that is not conditional and intrinsically relative. ...

Anselm, however, recognizes the dignity and the effectiveness of reason. For him – and for all disciples of Jesus – reason must be honored for its own sake, as a great gift from God. Moreover, it is an indispensable element of the act of faith, and remains an indispensable element of that "understanding of faith" in which Anselm is an acknowledged master.”

Third, “never lose sight, he exhorts us, of the primary and irreplaceable function of the see of Peter. .. Anselm knew that it was to Peter and his successors (and not to others), that Jesus said, "Strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:32)... the apostolic see is always the normal point of reference and the ultimate, indisputable judge for every problem concerning revealed truth, ecclesial discipline, the pastoral approach to be taken.”

Apart from his meditations, letters and a treatise on grammar, he is best known for three works: the Monologion, the Proslogion with its ‘ontological' proof of the existence of God, and Cur Deus homo, a defence of the doctrine of the Incarnation.

One hundred years ago, St Pope Pius X issued on 21 April 1909 an Encyclical on the Life of St Anselm. Communium Rerum can be viewed here

Other articles/websites which you might wish to consult are:

'Anselm as Author: Publishing in the late eleventh century', Journal of Medieval Latin 19 (2009), 1--87. It can be downloaded as a pdf: Anselm as Author: Publishing in the late eleventh century - 1.3Mb

Ian Logan 'Shooting round Corners: Newman and Anselm', which was originally published in New Blackfriars, Vol. 79 No. 934 (December 1998) 544-550