Anselm of Canterbury Biography

(Benedictine Monk, Philosopher and Archbishop of Canterbury (1093 - 1109))

Born: 1033

Born In: Aosta, Italy

Saint Anselm of Canterbury was a Benediction abbot, philosopher and theologian. He gave the ontological argument for the existence of God and is known for his satisfaction theory of atonement. Born into an Italian noble family, he is also called Anselm of Aosta after his birthplace Aosta and Anselm of Bec after his abbey in Bec valley. Although his father wanted him to prepare himself for a life in politics, he was never keen in it. Instead he left home at the age of 23 to study with Lanfranc of Pavia at Bec, eventually joining the abbey as a novice at the age of 27. At 30, he became the abbey’s prior and at 45 its abbot. Later, he became the Archbishop of Canterbury and had to go through severe hostility; but never wavered from his principles. A great scholar, he wrote several books and was canonized after his death.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Saint Anselm of Canterbury, Anselm of Aosta, Anselmo d'Aosta

Died At Age: 76


father: Gundulf de Candia

mother: Eremberga de Ginevra

Born Country: Italy

Priests Theologians

Died on: April 21, 1109

place of death: Canterbury, England

Childhood & Early Life
Anselm was born sometime between April 1033 and April 1034 in Aosta, an Alpine town located northwest of Turin in the Republic of Italy. Initially a part of the Kingdom of Burgundy it became a part of the lands of Count Humbert I of Savoy in 1032.
His father, Gundulph or Gundulf, was a Lombard noble, while his mother, Ermenberga, was probably a granddaughter of Conrad the Peaceful, the King of Burgundy (925-993). Apart from Anselm, the couple had at least another daughter named Richera.
As a child, Anselm received excellent classical education and was considered an outstanding Latinist. At the age of 15, he tried to enter monistic life, but was refused entry because his father did not give the required permission. It made him so disheartened that he became severely ill.
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To Bec
After recouping from illness, Anselm began to lead a carefree life, losing interest in his studies. But when his mother died in 1056, he decided to leave home for good.
In 1057, he left Aosta, intending to enter Abbey of Our Lady of Bec, a Benediction abbey in Normandy, aspiring to study with its prior, Lanfranc of Pavia. On learning that Lanfranc was away, he travelled across France for three years before entering the abbey in 1060.
In 1061, he took monastic vows and entered the abbey as a novice. Probably in the same year, he wrote his first work, ‘De Grammatico’ (On the Grammarian), trying to eliminate various paradoxes arising from Latin nouns and adjectives.
Prior & Abbot
In 1063, as Lanfranc left Bec to become the abbot of St. Stephen's in Caen, Anselm was elected as prior in his place. Thus, at the age of 30, he became the prior of Bec and head of the monastic school.
Little is known about his life as a prior except that even in this stage he was very fond of solitude and meditation and that he overcame all hostilities through love. From 1070, at the demand of his students, he started writing down some of his teachings. ,
In 1075-1076, he wrote 'Monoloquium de Ratione Fidei' (A Monologue on the Reason for Faith). It was followed by 'Proslogion' (Discourse on the Existence of God), which he wrote in 1077-1078.
In 1078, on the death of Herluin, the founder of the Abbey, Anselm was unanimously elected as its abbot. On 22 February 1079, he was consecrated by the Bishop of Évreux.
On becoming the abbot, he continued to guide the monks, especially the young novices with love and affection. Under his direction, the abbey became a primer center of learning, attracting many students from different countries.
In spite of his increasing responsibilities, he continued to write, publishing a series of dialogues on the nature of truth, free will and the fall of Satan in 1080s.
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In 1092, he wrote the first draft of ‘De Fide Trinitatis et de Incarnatione Verbi Contra Blasphemias Ruzelini’. He wrote its second draft in 1094.
Archbishop of Canterbury
In 1066, William the Conqueror established Norman rule over England, eventually granting land to the abbey both in England and Bec. Anselm visited England thrice, not only to inspect overseas monasteries, but also to visit William I of England and Lanfranc, then the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In 1089, after Lanfranc’s death, the land and revenue of Canterbury was confiscated by King William Rufus. The see (jurisdiction) of Canterbury was also kept vacant. But in 1093, the king became gravely ill and believing that he had sinned decided to right all wrongs.
In March 1093, the King named Anselm as the Archbishop of Canterbury, a position he very reluctantly accepted. However, he refused to be consecrated until all confiscated land was restored and Urban II was acknowledged as the rightful pope. Fearing death, the King agreed to his conditions. .
On December 4, 1093, Anselm was consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury. But soon after that, as the King recovered from his illness, he once again started interfering in church affairs, demanding money, disapproving the reforms Anselm was trying to bring about.
In 1095, Anselm convened a council of bishops and noblemen at Rockingham. However, the English bishops chose to side with the King, making his position weaker. Eventually in 1097, he was forced to leave England, taking with him an incomplete manuscript of his work ‘Cur Deus homo?’
In 1098, he attended the Council of Bari, where he presented his grievance, resulting in the Council’s condemnation of the English King. Later he took part in its deliberations, defending the doctrine of the ‘Filioque’ (“and from the Son”) clause in the Nicene Creed.
After attending the Council of Bari, he retired to a village and concentrated on finishing ‘Cur Deus homo?’ (“Why Did God Become Man?”). By the Easter of 1099, he completed the work, thereafter attending a council at the Lateran Palace in Rome.
In 1100, on the death of William Rufus, Anselm returned to England on the invitation of his brother, King Henry I. But soon after returning, he once again became embroiled in conflict with the king, refusing to accept Henry’s right to invest ecclesiastics.
In spite of conflict with the King, Anselm remained in England, taking up various reforms, obtaining a resolution against slavery. But in April 1103, he was once again forced to flee to Rome, remaining there till August 1106.
In 1107, after the Investiture Controversy was finally resolved, Anselm returned to England, spending the last two years of his life carrying on his duties as the archbishop. He did not write much; but announced at his deathbed that he had treatise on mind about the origin of the soul.
Major Works
Anselm is best known for his 1077-1078 work, ‘Proslogium’ (Discourse on the Existence of God). Written as a prayer and meditation, the work reflects on the attributes of God and helps to formulate the ontological arguments for the existence of God.
Death & Legacy
Anselm died on 21 April 1109, (later commemorated as his Feast day) possibly in Canterbury, England. His remains were initially transla to Canterbury Cathedral. But during the reconstruction of the church in late twelfth century, his remains were relocated to an unknown destination.
He was canonized probably in 1494 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1720. His feast day is 21 April.
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