Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033 – April 21, 1109) was an Italian medieval philosopher, theologian, and church official who held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. Called the founder of scholasticism, he is famous as the originator of the ontological argument for the existence of God and as the archbishop who openly opposed the Crusades.
At the age of fifteen, Anselm desired to enter a monastery but could not obtain his father's consent. Disappointment brought on apparent psychosomatic illness. After recovery, he gave up his studies and lived a carefree life. During this period, his mother died and his father's harshness became unbearable.
In 1059, he left home, crossed the Alps and wandered through Burgundy and France. Attracted by the fame of his countryman Lanfranc (then prior of the Benedictine Abbey of Bec), Anselm entered Normandy. The following year, after some time at Avranches, he entered the abbey as a novice at the age of twenty-seven.
Under Anselm's jurisdiction, Bec became the first seat of learning in Europe, but he appears to have been little concerned with attracting external students. It was during these quiet years that he wrote his first works of philosophy, the Monologion and the Proslogion. These were followed by The Dialogues on Truth, Free Will and Fall of the Devil.
The monastery grew in wealth and reputation and, after the Norman Conquest, acquired large property in England. It was Anselm's duty, as abbot, to visit this property on occasion. He became popular among the citizens of England for his mild temper and unswerving rectitude, and was considered by many the natural successor to Lanfranc as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Upon Lanfranc's death, however, King William II seized the possessions and revenues of the see, and made no new appointment. In 1092, at the invitation of Hugh, Earl of Chester, Anselm crossed to England. He was detained there by business for nearly four months and then refused permission to return to Bec by the king, who suddenly fell ill the following year. Eager to make atonement for his failure to appoint a new archbishop, he nominated Anselm to the vacant see. After a great struggle, the king compelled him to accept the pastoral staff of office. After obtaining dispensation from his duties in Normandy, Anselm was consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093.
The Church's rule stated that metroplitans could not be consecrated without receiving the pallium from the hands of the pope. Anselm, accordingly, insisted that he must proceed to Rome to receive the pall, but King William would not permit it; he had not acknowledged Urban as pope and maintained his right to prevent a pope's acknowledgment by an English subject without his permission.
A council of churchmen and nobles was held to settle the matter, and advised Anselm to submit to the king, but he remained firm and the matter was postponed. During this time, William sent secret messengers to Rome. They acknowledged Urban and prevailed on him to send a legate to the king bearing the archiepiscopal pall. Anselm and King William partially reconciliated, and the matter of the pall was finally decided. It was not given by the king but laid on the altar at Canterbury, where Anselm received it.
Over a year later, Anselm encountered further trouble with King William. He resolved to proceed to Rome and seek the counsel of the pope. He obtained the king's permission to leave with great difficulty and, in October 1097, set out for Rome. William immediately seized the revenues of the see and retained them until his death. Anselm was received with high honour by Urban at the Siege of Capua, where he garnered high praise from the Saracen troops of Count Roger I of Sicily. The pope, however, did not wish to become deeply involved in Anselm's dispute with the king.
At a great council held at Bari, Anselm was asked to defend the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Ghost against representatives of the Greek Church. He left Rome and spent some time at the little village of Schiavi, where he finished his treatise on the atonement, Cur Deus homo, before retiring to Lyons. When he attempted to return to England, King William would not permit him entry.
Henry refused to relinquish the privilege possessed by his predecessors, and proposed that the matter be laid before the pope. Two embassies were sent to Paschal II regarding the legitimacy of Henry's investiture, but he reaffirmed the papal rule on both occasions.
King Henry remained firm. In 1103, Anselm himself and an envoy from the king set out for Rome. Paschal II again ruled in favor of papal rule, and passed a sentence of excommunication against all who had infringed it, except King Henry.
Forbidden to return to England unless on the king's terms, Anselm withdrew to Lyons after this ruling and awaited further action from Pope Paschal. In 1105, Paschal did act, excommunicating King Henry. Henry was seriously alarmed. He arranged a meeting with Paschal, and a reconciliation was established. In 1106, Anselm was permitted to cross to England with authority from the pope to remove the sentence of excommunication from the illegally-invested churchmen.
By 1107, the long dispute regarding investiture was finally settled with a compromise in the Concordat of London, whereby Henry relinquished his right to invest his bishops and abbots but reserved the custom of requiring them to do homage for the "temporalities" (the landed properties tied to the episcopate). The remaining two years of Anselm's life were spent in the duties of his archbishopric. He died on April 21 1109.
Anselm is considered by many to be the first scholarly philosopher of Christian theology. His only great predecessor, Scotus Eriugena, was more speculative and mystical in his writings than what is considered scholarly. Anselm's writings represent a recognition of the relationship of reason to revealed truth, and an attempt to elaborate a rational system of faith.
The groundwork of Anselm's theory of knowledge is contained in the tract De Veritate, where he affirms the existence of an absolute truth in which all other truth participates. This absolute truth, he argues, is God, who is the ultimate ground or principle both of things and of thought. The notion of God becomes the foreground of Anselm's theory, so it is necessary first to make God clear to reason and be demonstrated to have real existence.
Anselm desired to have one short demonstration, presented in Proslogion, his famous proof of the existence of God. It is referred to as the ontological argument—a term first applied by Kant to the arguments of Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century rationalists. Anselm defined his belief in the existence of God using the phrase "that than which nothing greater can be conceived". He reasoned that, if "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" existed only in the intellect, it would not be "that than which nothing greater can be conceived", since it can be thought to exist in reality, which is greater. It follows, according to Anselm, that "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" must exist in reality. The bulk of the Proslogion is taken up with Anselm's attempt to establish the identity of "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" as God and thus to establish that God exists in reality.
Anselm's ontological proof has been the subject of controversy since it was first published in the 1070s. It was opposed at the time by the monk Gaunilo, in his Liber pro Insipiente, on the grounds that humans cannot pass from intellect to reality. Anselm replied to the objections in his Responsio.
Gaunilo's criticism is repeated by several later philosophers, among whom are Aquinas and Kant. Anselm authored a number of other arguments for the existence of God, based on cosmological and teleological grounds.
The peculiar double-nature of consciousness, memory and intelligence represent the relation of the Father to the Son. The mutual love of these two (memory and intelligence), proceeding from the relation they hold to one another, symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The further theological doctrines of man, such as original sin and free will, are developed in the Monologion and other treatises.
In Cur Deus Homo ("Why did God become Man?"), Anselm undertook to explain the rational necessity of the Christian mystery of the atonement. His philosophy rests on three positions—first, that satisfaction is necessary on account of God's honour and justice; second, that such satisfaction can be given only by the peculiar personality of the God-man Jesus; and, third, that such satisfaction is really given by this God-man's voluntary death.
Anselm expounds on these three positions by beginning with the statement that all of Man's actions are for the Glory of God. If Sin exists, wounding God's honour, Man himself can give no satisfaction, but God's justice demands satisfaction. Because God is infinite, however, any wound to his honour must also be infinite. It follows that satisfaction must also be infinite: it must outweigh all that is not God.
Because humans are not infinite, such acts of satisfaction can only be paid by God himself and, as a penalty for Man, must be paid under the form of Man. By this, Anselm reasons that satisfaction is only possible through the sinless God-man Jesus. Because he is exempt from the punishment of Sin, the God-man's passion is voluntary. The merit of the act is therefore infinite, God's justice is thus appeased and His mercy may extend to Man.
This theory has exercised immense influence on church doctrine, providing the basis for the Roman Catholic concept of the treasury of merit and the evangelical doctrine of penal substitution, as developed by John Calvin. Anselm's philosophy is very different from older patristic philosophies, insofar as it focuses on a contest between the goodness and justice of God rather than a contest between God and Satan.
Critics of Anselm assert that he puts the whole conflict on merely a legal footing, giving it no ethical bearing, and neglects altogether the consciousness of the individual to be redeemed. In this respect, it contrasts unfavourably with the later theory of Peter Abélard.
In the Middle Ages, Anselm's writings did not receive the respect that they later would. This may have been due to their unsystematic character, for they are generally tracts or dialogues on detached questions, not elaborate treatises like the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Albert of Aix and Eriugena. Proponents of his writings, however, enjoy what they call his freshness and philosophical vigour.