Saturday, April 21, 2012

Anselm of Canterbury - 2012

Commemoration of Anselm of Canterbury, Theologian
April 21, 2012

The Lord be with you

Anselm, from the exterior of Canterbury

Today we remember Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). Born in Aosta, which is now part of northwestern Italy and then the frontier of Lombardy and Burgundy, Anselm was the son of a nobleman. After the death of his mother and quarreling with his father, Anselm left home at the age of twenty-three for travel in Burgundy and France, furthering his education. While in France he was attracted to the Benedictine monastery of Bec in Normandy, which had been founded in 1040. The prior of the monastery was Lanfranc, a brilliant man. When Anselm’s father died he left Anselm all his property, leaving Anselm with a choice: leave the monastery to manage the family lands, or stay and become a monk. Anselm chose to stay and became a novice in 1060. After three years, when Lanfranc left to become prior of a new monastery, Anselm was elected his successor as prior of Bec. Herluin, the founding abbot of Bec, died in 1078 and Anselm was unanimously elected abbot. Under Anselm’s leadership the monastery of Bec became the intellectual center of Europe.

Lanfranc became Archbishop of Canterbury and Anslem visited him in 1078, making a favorable impression on the English. Lanfranc died in 1089. King William Rufus kept the post empty for four years to secure as much of the revenues of Canterbury as possible. Finally Anslem was chosen to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury, but he was inclined to refuse the call. However, pressure from all sides changed his mind and he was “enthroned” September 25, 1093 and consecrated December 4.

During this time something called the “Investiture Controversy” was raging. The basic issue was: Who had the right to appoint Church officials (pastors, bishops, etc.), the civil authorities or the Church. Behind this issue was the question of where Church leaders ultimate allegiance belonged, the Church or the State. Anselm came down clearly on the side of the Church, putting him in conflict with King Rufus, who felt it was his right to appoint Church leaders in England (and therefore their ultimate allegiance would be to him). Anselm was exiled twice over these issues. While in exile, he persuaded the Pope to not excommunicate the English king. In the end, the Pope worked out a compromise that was acceptable to all.

Anslem was a brilliant scholar. At his time theological thought mainly meant finding out what earlier Christian thinkers taught on a topic. You would group the various authors together on various topics and seek some sort of synthesis. Anslem approached these issues from a fresh perspective and also asked new questions.

 He is probably best known for his ontological proof of the existence of God. Anslem reasoned that God was the greatest possible being of which we can conceive. He suggested that, if the greatest possible being exists in the mind, it must also exist in reality. The argument has been expanded by many over the centuries. Anyone who has taken a philosophy 101 course in college has been exposed to it.

Perhaps his greatest work was his book on the incarnation. In this book, you might say, he examined the incarnation in relation to the phrase in the Nicene Creed which confesses that the Son, “for us men and for our salvation, became man”. In his argument, the material world was lifted up as vitally important to God. “Spirituality” was not “non-corporeal.”

Another important high water mark was reached in a meeting between Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic Churches. In the Western Church the Nicene Creed reads, in part, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified …” In the Eastern Church the first “and the Son” is missing. The Eastern Church had long argued that the Western Church was wrong in attributing the proceeding of the Holy Spirit to both the Father and the Son. Anslem successfully (at least in the opinion of the Western Church) argued for the appropriateness of the phrase.

A key mark of his theology was prayer. In deed, he thought of theology as prayer.

Anslem’s searching mind remained active to his dying day. On his death bed he spoke to those gathered about his next project, a book on the origin of the soul.

Anslem died April 21, 1109, which was Wednesday in Holy Week. He was almost 80-years-old

Appropriate Prayers include:
    • For a sense of the majesty of God
    • For forgiveness for those who wrong us
    • For a spirit of prayer and devotion
    • For those who inquire into the mysteries of God and God’s relation to the world
    • For those who seek assurance of the existence of God
    • For Christian unity based on a faithful understanding of Scripture
    • For the Church to remain faithful to Christ above all human authority
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Rickert

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