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Anselm of Canterbury

Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033 or 1034 - April 21, 1109), a widely influential medićval philosopher and theologian, held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109.



Anselm was born to a noble Lombard family in the Valle d'Aosta, then attached to Savoy, and wandered through Burgundy and France with a single attendant until, drawn by the fame of his countryman, Lanfranc, then prior of Bec in Normandy, entered the monastery there; three years later, when Lanfranc was promoted to the abbacy of Caen, Anselm was elected prior. He held the post for fifteen years, and then, in 1078, on the death of Herlwin, the warrior monk who had founded the monastery, he was made abbot. Under his rule Bec became a famous seat of learning, and there Anselm wrote his first philosophical works, the dialogues on Truth and Free Will, and the two famous treatises, the Monologion and Proslogion.

Seeing to the monastery's properties and affairs in England Anselm became known there and was looked on as a natural successor to Lanfranc as Archbishop of Canterbury. But on the death of the great archbishop, King William Rufus held the possessions and revenues of the see, as was his right during a vacancy, but made no new appointment. About four years later, in 1092, on the invitation of Hugh, Earl of Chester , Anselm with some reluctance, for he feared to be made archbishop, crossed to England. He was detained by business for several months, and when about to return to Normandy, was refused permission by the king. In the following year William fell ill, and thought death was at hand. Eager to make atonement for his sin with regard to the archbishopric, he nominated Anselm to the vacant see, and compelled him to accept the pastoral staff of office. After obtaining dispensation from duties in Normandy, Anselm was consecrated in 1093.

Anselm's tenure was fraught with tensions with the King.


Philosophers perhaps think of Anselm primarily as the author of the ontological argument for the existence of God. However, the term ontological was first applied to such arguments by Kant, and it is the subject of debate whether Anselm's argument is an ontological argument at all. Anselm also authored a number of other arguments for the existence of God, based on cosmological and teleological grounds.

Western theologians regard Anselm as important because he originated the idea of substitutionary atonement in his work, Cur Deus Homo? ("Why did God become Man?"). Anselm argues that man's sin offends God's righteousness, and that God cannot save man so long as His righteousness is unsatisfied. Since all men are sinful, no man can satisfy God; consequently, God sent Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection satisfied God's righteousness and allowed for the salvation of man. In this way Anselm established one of the most prominent atonement theories in the history of western theology.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm was also an influential religious and political figure in the Europe of the time, whose disputes with William Rufus and Henry I over the rights of the Church twice led to his exile from England.

Major Works

Cur Deus Homo?

Other dialogs

De Veritate
De Libertate
De Grammatico

External link

St. Anselm at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library:

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45