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Saint Anselm of Canterbury, also called Anselmo d'Aosta for his birthplace, and Anselm of Bec for his home monastery, was a Benedictine monk, philosopher and prelate of the Church.
He was a remarkable man, who served God and Church for his entire adult life. His name is pronounced “Ann—Selm. and he was born in Aosta, Italy, in 1033. He joined the Church through the Abbey of Notre Dame at Bec Normandy. Anselm’s loving nature and dedication recommended him to those he encountered and he was made Prior and then Abbot of his religious community.
St Anselm is remembered for several reasons. Firstly, he developed many ideas about God and the spiritual life, some of which are still taught in theological colleges today. For instance, he wrote about the existence of God and how we might prove it, and the relationship between reason and faith in the Christian journey.
During Anselm’s 15 years as Prior, Bec became the foremost seat of learning in Europe, attracting students from France, Italy and elsewhere. It was during this time that Anselm wrote his first works of philosophy, the Monologion(1076) and the Proslogion(1077–8). These were followed by ‘The Dialogues on Truth, Free Will and ‘Fall of the Devil’. During his time at Bec, Anselm worked to maintain monastic freedom from lay and archiepiscopal control.
By 1093 Anselm, now as Abbot, had increased its theological reputation significantly. It was here that Anselm is credited with the foundation of ‘scholasticism’ movement and in Cur Deus Homo (1095-98) the ‘satisfaction theory of atonement’. The essence of Anselm’s theology can be chrystalised as ‘an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God’.
In 1093 he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and held this post until his death on April 21st 1109. He was not the greatest diplomat and he had little time for political game playing, but his basic honesty and courage won the day for the Church in its debate with the English crown. Between appointment and his death on 21 April 1109 St. Anselm, at great personal risk, performed his duties as Archbishop despite pressure exerted by William Rufus on Pope Urban II to remove him. Exiled by both William II and Henry I he constantly strived to maintain the Church’s independence from secular interference. Despite all of this and the constant threat to his position and safety, Anselm stood firm for his Church.
Anselm was also a man of great spirituality and love for God, and composed some of the loveliest prayers we have from the Middle Ages. He corresponded with many lay people, primarily in his time at Bec Abbey and we have many of those letters today. Anselm’s warmth and compassion shine through these writings.
Today many people do not know St Anselm, but he is a very worthy patron for our parish community where we strive to be people who think deeply about God and our faith, serve the Church to our best ability and to be people of prayer. His day of remembrance is April 21st. In art, Anselm’s symbol is the ship.
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St Anselm of Canterbury was a renowned theologian and stalwart for Church independence. In his day his ideas were quoted and studied throughout the Christian world. He was a leading Christian thinker and advocate.
Anselm was also famous for his profound spirituality; seen clearly in his prayers and reflections. He was adamant that Christian thought cannot stand alone from a lively love for God. As J.P Bequette notes: “Anselm’s writings are a near-perfect blend of scholarship and sanctity. Both his philosophical as well as his theological speculation followed from his life of prayer (www.crisismagazine.com/2013/st-anselm-of-canterbury-scholarship-rooted-in-prayer)”. This fundamental attitude is expressed in one of Anselm’s most famous reflections which opens with:
Come now, insignificant mortal. Leave behind your concerns for a little while, and retreat for a short time from your restless thoughts…For just a little while make room for God and rest a while in him. “Enter into the chamber” of your mind, shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him.
In his spiritual quest Anselm explored sin and salvation, goodness and godliness, peace and struggle, the paradox of “God with us” and “God beyond us” and most of all his relationship with Jesus Christ the Saviour. Anselm prayed and reflected on the deep issues of the human heart and soul. As he did this, he also shared some of the most beautiful written prayers in the Christian tradition. One of the most delightful is ‘A Song of Christ’s Goodness’.
A Song of Christ’s Goodness
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 goodnessthrough your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.Your warmth gives life to the dead,your touch makes sinners righteousLord 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.
A Prayer Book for .Australia; page 428
St Anselm’s Kingsley/Woodvale is well named as we too see an essential relationship between the heart and the mind, thinking and believing, knowing about the Christian way and being Christian - body and soul. Fed by Christ’s goodness.
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A good modern translation of Anselm’s main work of prayers and reflections is Prayers and Meditations of St. Anselm with the Proslogion (Penguin Classics) by R. W. Southern(Foreword) and Benedicta Ward(Introduction, Translator).
An on-line free ‘St James style’ version of Prayers and Meditations can be found at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/anselm.
More Anselm Prayer
By the name of thy beloved Son, grant us ever to keep the memory of thine own sweetest name; may it be the delicious food of our souls; may it be with us in danger; may it be with us in anguish; may it be to us the beginning of all joy!
My prayer is but a cold affair, Lord, because my love burns with so small a flame, but you who are rich in mercy will not mete out to them your gifts according to the dullness of my zeal, but as your kindness is above all human love so let your eagerness to hear be greater than the feeling in my prayers. Do this for them and with them, Lord, so that they may speed according to your will and thus ruled and protected by you, always and everywhere, may they come at last to glory and eternal rest, through you who are living and reigning God, through all ages.
O Father, most merciful, who, in the beginning, created us; who, by the Passion of your only begotten Son, created us anew. Work in us now, we beseech you, both to will and to do your good pleasure! And because we are weak, and can do no good thing on our own, grant us your grace. Grant us your heavenly benediction, that in whatever work we undertake we may do all to your honor and your glory; that being kept from sin, daily increasing in good works, so long as we live in the body, we may always give service to you - and after our departure we may receive pardon for all our sins, attaining life eternal: through Him who, with You and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, God, forevermore. Amen.
I beseech you, O my God, that I may know you, love you, and rejoice in you. If in this life I cannot do these things fully, grant that I may at the least progress in them from day to day. Advance in me the knowledge of you now, that in the life to come it may be complete. Increase in me the love of you here, that there it may be full. O God of truth: I pray that I may obtain that which you promise, that my joy may be made full. And in the meantime, let my mind meditate on it; let my soul hunger after it, and my whole being long for it, till at last I enter into the joy of my Lord, who is God, blessed forever. Amen.
The Preacher's Prayer
Give me, O Lord,a mild and judicious eloquence which shall keep me from being puffed upand exalted above my brethren by reason of your gifts.Put into my mouth, I beseech you,words of consolation and edification and exhortation through your Holy Spirit,that I may be enabled to exhort the good to better things, and,by word and example,recall to the straightway of your righteousness those who walk perversely.Let the words which you shalt give your servant,be like to sharp javelins and burning arrowsthat shall pierce and enkindle to your fear and holy lovethe minds of all them that hear me. Amen.
Anselm of Canterbury