Who was Saint Anselm?
Saint Anselm was Archbishop of Canterbury more than 900 years ago, between 1091 and 1109. The church celebrates him on 21 April.
We remember Anselm for his teaching and for his defence of the church against power.
Anselm was born in Italy in 1033 and decided to become a monk. He left his home and travelled to France and joined the monastery at Le Bec. Here he thought a lot about faith, God and Jesus. He particularly wanted to explain why Jesus had to die to repair our relationship with God and even to show how it would be impossible for God not to exist.
In 1093 the king of England, King William II, appointed Anselm to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm and the King soon fell out over who had control over things to do with the church – the King or the church itself. The angry King sent Anselm out of the country in 1097 and he spent much of the rest of his life in Italy, writing and teaching.
It is not known exactly when Anselm was made a saint, but it is possible that that Thomas Beckett, a later Archbishop of Canterbury and saint, argued his case to the Pope in 1170. Anselm was named a Doctor (teacher) of the Church in 1720.
Anselm was famous as a teacher during his life. As a monk, he could have spent a life of quiet thinking and writing. Instead, he used his energy and brains to engage with the world, to stand up to power in defence of the rights of the church.
His teaching about faith tells us that only the death of Jesus, as both God and man, was enough to repair the relationship between us and God that we have damaged by sin. That Jesus could be both God and man shows us, too, that in our lives we can give back to God the gift of love he has given us.
In our church
We remember some of the other Doctors of the Church in our Lady Chapel at S Barnabas, and there is also a statue of S Thomas Beckett. Beckett’s story is a bit like Anselm’s. He also stood up to the king in defence of the church, and paid a heavy price for doing so.
One of the readings for Mass today helps us to think of the world Anselm knew, as a monk and teacher:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
Things to do at home
Reading and thinking
Anselm stood up to power for the things he believed in. What would you stand up for in life, even if it meant standing alone or making life uncomfortable?
The current Archbishop of Canterbury founded the Community of St Anselm in 2015 to give young people an experience of monastic life and to spend time in prayer and service. You can find out more about the community here https://www.stanselm.org.uk/
Making and doing
Write a prayer using some of these beautiful words written by S Anselm
“Because you have made me, I owe you the whole of my love; because you have redeemed me, I owe you the whole of myself…Draw me to you, Lord, in the fullness of love. I am wholly yours by creation; make me all yours too, in love.”