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Anselm [St Anselm]locked

(c. 1033–1109)
  • R. W. Southern

Anselm [St Anselm] (c. 1033–1109)


Anselm [St Anselm] (c. 1033–1109), abbot of Bec and archbishop of Canterbury, was the most original and widely attractive theological and devotional writer in western Europe between St Augustine (c.400) and the author of The Imitation of Christ (c.1450).

Early life, c.1033–1059

Anselm was born in Italy at Aosta, at the foot of the St Bernard Pass, about 1033. His father, Gundulf, was a Lombard about whose family nothing is known. Through his mother, Ermenberga, he was related to a junior branch of the family of the counts of Savoy, which (though decaying) continued until the mid-eleventh century to hold important ecclesiastical positions in the Rhône valley. Anselm's devotion to his mother was one of the formative influences in his life, and her early death was the cause of great unhappiness. Further causes of misery were the brutality of one of his uncles, a canon of Aosta, to whom he was sent for his early education, and the growing hostility between himself and his father. This hostility finally caused Anselm to leave home about 1056, and to cross the Alps into France as an aimless wanderer.

Apart from his love for his mother, Anselm's most important recollections of his childhood were of the mountain scenery which made a deep impression on his imagination. Late in life he recalled an early dream in which he had climbed an alpine peak where he was fed with white bread by the King of heaven. But he retained no love for his native town, and on his later visits to Italy as archbishop he never showed any desire to revisit the scenes of his early life.

There is no means of knowing how he supported himself after his flight from home. According to the account that he gave his later biographer, Eadmer, he almost died of cold and starvation as he crossed the Mont Cenis Pass to reach the valley of the Rhône, whence he wandered for three years through Burgundy and France until he reached the Norman town of Avranches. Here he first heard of Lanfranc, who about twenty-five years earlier had left his Italian homeland to study in France, and had set up a school at Avranches before becoming a monk of Bec.

It seems to have been this news that caused Anselm to go to Bec to see his fellow countryman, and the effect was instantaneous. Each man found in the other what he needed. In particular, Lanfranc, who besides being prior of Bec and teaching pupils from all parts of Europe in a school attached to the monastery, was also chief adviser in ecclesiastical affairs to the duke of Normandy, found in Anselm an ideal assistant in his school. The two worked together for a year. Then Anselm began to think of his own future, and considered four possibilities: he might become a hermit; or a monk, either at Cluny which he had probably visited during his wanderings, or at Bec; or—his father having died—he might return home and set up a hospital on his patrimony. As for the monastic life, he reflected that, if he went to Cluny, he would be so harassed by the liturgical elaborations for which Cluny was famous that he would have no time to think; but, if he stayed at Bec, he would continue to be overshadowed by Lanfranc. In the end, he left the decision to Lanfranc, and Lanfranc referred it to the archbishop of Rouen. The archbishop decided in favour of Bec; and so Anselm's future was settled.

Monk and prior of Bec, 1060–1078

For his first three years as a monk Anselm continued to be Lanfranc's chief assistant in his school, and—as he told his biographer—he found the mixture of monastic routine and schoolteaching extremely exhausting. The many surviving fragments of Lanfranc's teaching show that the disciplines of grammar and logic would have been the chief subjects of Anselm's teaching during his early years at Bec; and it seems likely that his first work, De grammatico, which is an introduction to Aristotle's Categories and the only treatise Anselm ever wrote on a subject of secular learning, was written during these years.

In 1063 Lanfranc left Bec to found a new monastery at Caen, and Anselm succeeded him as prior. Thereafter we hear no more of an ‘external’ school at Bec. Apart from the monastic routine Anselm now devoted himself to meditation and religious discussions with individual monks, of which an account written by a fellow monk, Gundulf (d. 1108), who later became bishop of Rochester, describes the extremely searching and emotional self-revelations of these exercises. The combination of tears and talk described by Gundulf seems to have been a quite common experience among those who came into contact with Anselm, for wherever he went he engaged in his characteristic mixture of logical, introspective, prayerful discussion, especially with the young.

It was in such talks that Anselm's spiritual and intellectual future was shaped, while he developed his highly personal method of meditative enquiry, to which he gave the programmatic name 'faith seeking understanding' (fides quaerens intellectum). The main feature of this method was to bring to all doctrinal questions a refinement of verbal and logical examination leading to 'proofs', which became the hallmark of his later writings.

Anselm did not, however, translate these discussions into any surviving written words until about 1070, when he had been a monk for ten years and was nearly forty years old. Apart from his De grammatico described above, the earliest of his surviving writings were either letters or extra-liturgical prayers and meditations. About 1072 he sent six prayers and a meditation to a daughter of William I, who had withdrawn to a private life of prayer (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 10). These prayers had not been written for her, but he thought she might find them useful, and he also sent her a series of extracts from the Psalms, which are lost. The lady to whom he sent them was not in a religious order. She was just a great personage on the frontiers of the religious life. Anselm's prayers and meditations were peculiarly suitable for such a person, for it was the whole tendency of his contribution to religious sentiment and expression to break down the divisions between secular and religious persons, and between corporate and private devotions.

One of Anselm's meditations (Meditation 3), perhaps the earliest of all, which he did not send to King William's daughter, begins with the words 'My life terrifies me', and it expresses the horrific side of Anselmian spirituality, recalling his descent into the depths of sin. This line of thought appears only once again in Anselm's life, in a prayer to St Nicholas written about 1090; but the general attitude of self-humiliation combined with an intense search for redemption was the permanent element in his gradually expanding body of private devotions.

The combination of profound humility, strikingly beautiful language, and penetrating acuity of argument characterizes all Anselm's early writings including his letters (which will require a separate discussion later). These qualities had their fullest expression in his two great meditations on the nature and being of God, written between 1075 and 1078. He entitled the first of these prolonged meditative arguments Monologion, and the second (which arose from his desire to reduce to a single argument the doctrine of the first), after much hesitation, he named Proslogion.

The Monologion and Proslogion

These two works summed up the first phase of Anselm's creative theological thinking; and they are the earliest works after the patristic age to combine original philosophical arguments of lasting value with the record of a profound personal experience. Nearly all discussion from the time of the first appearance of the two works has centred on the first three chapters of the Proslogion; but in the context of Anselm's intellectual development the Monologion deserves first place because it was written first, and it was in trying to sum up its contents in a single argument that the illumination came to him that he reported and elaborated in the first three chapters of his Proslogion.

The Monologion represents Anselm in his ordinary role of thinking aloud in the presence of the younger monks of Bec about the contents of their faith as expressed in the daily routine of the monastic offices. On these occasions, as he explains in the preface, he would discuss with them the contents of the Christian faith, and in particular the nature of God as one substance and three persons, or as the Greeks equally correctly say, 'one person' and three 'substances'. What follows in the eighty short chapters of the Monologion are not strictly proofs of the existence of God, but explanations of the meaning of the words in which the Christian world expresses its common faith, and the ways in which this faith can be verified in experience and given intellectual coherence.

Anselm sent the work to Lanfranc for his 'paternal judgement', asking him to give it a name (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 72). Lanfranc read it, evidently did not like it, did not suggest a name, and challenged Anselm to name his sources. By way of reply Anselm simply said that it had been his intention to say nothing in the work that could not be supported by earlier authorities, particularly by St Augustine in his great work De trinitate, whose argument provided the basis of his own work (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 77). Clearly these are evasive words such as pupils use to their masters when, though continuing to be friends, the pupil has broken into a new line of his own. At all events, Anselm changed nothing in his new work; and, though he had considerable difficulty in finding a suitable name, he ultimately called it Monologion—a soliloquy on the nature of God.

The one point that emerges from these hesitations is that Anselm was conscious that, while keeping close to Augustine, he was having new experiences and giving a new expression to the truths of ancient orthodoxy. But he still felt dissatisfied, until one day during matins his whole process of meditation was brought to its final consummation in an experience which he revealed several years later to Eadmer, who reported that 'the whole matter [of providing a single argument proving that all the things that the orthodox Christian believes about God are true] became clear to him, and he experienced a great joy and exultation which filled his inmost being' (Eadmer, Life of Anselm, 30). This led to his writing the new work, which completed, and provided a new philosophical foundation for all that he had written about God in the earlier work.

The first three chapters of this new work record the illumination which had come to Anselm that the existence of God is so necessary as a pre-condition for all consistent thought that the reality of God's being cannot be rejected without renouncing all rational argument. Anselm argues that 'that than which nothing greater can be thought' (Southern, Portrait, 129) must exist, for if it did not exist, it would not be that which by definition it is. In substance Anselm's argument is an extension of Plato's argument in his Timaeus as interpreted by Augustine in his Confessions (7.9, 11, 20), with the further extension that since God is the self-subsistent, eternal, source of all being, no one who uses the word ‘God’ and knows the meaning of the word can say without inner contradiction that God does not exist.

The cogency of this argument has been discussed and either accepted, elaborated, challenged, or restated, almost from the moment when Anselm wrote it. It was almost immediately challenged by an otherwise unknown monk, Gaunilo, who answered it along lines that were later definitively expounded by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781), namely, that God's existence is a matter of faith and is not established by the definition of God's being. It should also be added that Gaunilo's criticism itself has been preserved only because Anselm quoted it in full in replying to it, and attached both criticism and reply to his text.

Indeed, this stark contrast between the intense clarity of Anselm's thought, and doubt about the foundation that is alleged to be necessary for all coherent thought, is the special mark of Anselm as a philosopher. Everything is crystal clear; but the foundation has occasioned endless argument; and his difficulty in finding suitable names for the two works is in some sense an expression of the ambiguity of their nature.

These two works were written during Anselm's last years as prior of Bec, for in 1078 the founder and first abbot of Bec died and Anselm was without delay elected to succeed him. Meanwhile he was still struggling to give suitable names to the two works. In the end he called the first Monologion, and the one that followed Proslogion, and he explained the difference between them by saying that the Proslogion is 'an address to God' whereas the Monologion is a soliloquy (Letters of Saint Anselm, letters 94, 97, 109, 112). These difficulties of nomenclature may seem trifles compared with the substance of the two works, but they reflect the mixture of tradition and individual illumination that is characteristic of Anselm's thought and practical activity at all times.

Abbot of Bec, 1078–1093

Anselm was certainly no great administrator, and he wrote to Lanfranc an account of his early tribulations as abbot, deploring the dearness of vegetables and oats, recording his improvident purchase of land and his attempt to save money by improvising a seal from two pieces which did not fit together properly. Lanfranc understood it all, and sent him a gift of £20 to keep the monastery going (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 89). Amid these distractions it is not surprising that the theological works of his abbatial years, despite their interest, have not the brilliance or originality of his earlier writings. They are developments of his attempt to understand the essence of things in a series of short treatises: On Truth; On Freewill; On the Fall of the Devil. In the first of these works he asks, 'What is truth and how is it distinguished from justice?'; in the second, 'What is free-will, and do we always have it?'; and in the third, 'What is the nature of justice, and why did Satan sin in not having that which he had not been given?'—in effect, what it means 'to be evil'. As with the Monologion and Proslogion, these questions seem to have arisen in the long talks that he had on every possible occasion with like-minded monks. For example, Guibert de Nogent, writing about 1115, described how, in his unhappy youth as a monk, Anselm while visiting his monastery would talk to him as if he was the sole cause of his visit. Wherever he was, in the community at Bec or in monasteries visited in his necessary travels to lands and churches belonging to Bec, he always found young monks anxious to talk with him; and their talks were centred on the contemplation that completes the worship for which the monastic life exists. So his years as abbot no less than as prior were occupied—apart from the daily offices, in which his attention sometimes wandered—with such questions as these.

It was only near the end of his years at Bec that Anselm became embroiled—most reluctantly and for the first time in his life—in attempting to solve a problem that had not arisen from his own activity of worship and contemplation. It came to Anselm's notice that Roscelin, the most deeply distrusted of all the theologians of these years, was claiming that both Lanfranc and Anselm supported his view that the doctrine of the Trinity could be understood in two different ways: either the words 'Father', 'Son', and 'Holy Spirit' refer to three aspects of the divine nature as 'creating', 'redeeming', 'upholding'; or they are used in a substantial sense, affirming the existence of three related beings to whom the single generic name 'God' is given (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 136). In the latter case, if convention allowed such a statement, it would be true to say ‘there are three Gods’; whereas in the former case it would be affirmed that there is one God with three different characteristics. Roscelin's doctrine was condemned at a council held by the bishop of Beauvais at Soissons in 1092, but not in Anselm's presence, though he wrote several letters on the subject (Letters of Saint Anselm, letters 128, 129, 136).

The difficulty for Anselm in these statements was that, though it was easy, and no doubt right, to deny that either he or Lanfranc had ever expressed agreement with Roscelin's position, the proposed alternatives were particularly resistant to a solution by the Anselmian approach of fides quaerens intellectum because this was precisely what Roscelin was claiming as the basis of his argument: he was not denying the existence of the Trinity nor the unity in the Trinity—he was simply seeking to elucidate its threefold nature and oneness, and this was to be a subject of continuing discussion and dispute for the next fifty years. Since Lanfranc had died in 1089, Anselm was left alone to face a problem for which his method of thought was not conspicuously suitable. He spent much time on it during the last four years of his abbacy, and (which was unusual with him) he made several drafts, without achieving any convincing success in clarifying the issue. Consequently, his last years as abbot of Bec were theologically somewhat barren, and his sense of disquiet during these years is perhaps illustrated by an addition which he made about 1090 to his collection of prayers and meditations: it was a prayer to St Nicholas (prayer 13, S. Anselmi opera ommia, 3.55–61), which is strangely filled with the horror of hell, the burden of sin, and God's anger—themes that had not appeared since his earliest meditation deploring the enormity of his sins.

Meanwhile, the prosperity of the monastery had been continuing to increase, largely as a result of gifts of English lands from families who had made extensive acquisitions in England after the conquest. To some extent these English acquisitions contributed to the income of the mother house in Normandy; but they also led to the establishment of independent offshoots of Bec in England at Chester and St Neots. These new English lands and communities required attention in various ways: first, the new king of England, William II, had to confirm their lands, and this confirmation had to be sought in person by the abbot; and, second, the two new English monastic communities from Bec also required that their affairs and discipline should be regulated by the abbot of Bec. The result was that Anselm made four visits to England during his years as abbot of Bec; and two of them, the earliest in 1079 and the last in 1092–3, had important results, not only in leading to his becoming archbishop of Canterbury, but also in determining the way in which he would exercise this office. So, before examining his years as archbishop of Canterbury, it is necessary to understand the outlook that he brought to this position.

Anselm's first visit to Canterbury, 1079

To understand the circumstances and outcome of Anselm's first visit to Canterbury in 1079, two facts must be recalled. First, at Canterbury as at several other English bishoprics, a community of Benedictine monks formed the cathedral chapter; and, second, on becoming archbishop in 1070, Lanfranc had been dissatisfied with almost everything in the cathedral monastery that he found on his arrival. The discipline of the monks, their learning, their library, their monastic routine, and their ecclesiastical calendar, were all in his view fundamentally defective. In order to effect the root-and-branch changes that he judged to be necessary Lanfranc enlisted a group of monks from Bec, to whom he gave all the official positions in the Canterbury community such as prior, sub-prior, precentor, sacrist, and so on. He also drew up a new rule, and introduced a new liturgy and a new calendar of saints from which several of the most venerated saints in Canterbury's past were excluded. These measures naturally made a deep division between the English monks who still made up by far the larger part of the community, and the French-speaking newcomers who held all the offices.

One of the measures adopted by Lanfranc to put down the rebelliousness of the English monks was to send their leader, Osbern, to Bec to be disciplined by Anselm. But the result of this measure was the opposite of that intended by Lanfranc. Anselm in his customary manner had long conversations with the rebel, learned from him about the Old English saints whose bodies had either been relocated within the church or removed to another church altogether, and whose veneration had been excluded from the liturgy by Lanfranc; and he was captivated by all that he heard. He wrote to Lanfranc about Osbern in glowing terms, asked for a copy of the old rule that the Anglo-Saxon monks had followed, and finally sent Osbern back to Canterbury with a glowing testimonial (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 39). The consequence was that, when Anselm visited Canterbury in 1079 at the start of his first abbatial visitation of the English lands of Bec, he was the hero of the English dissidents and spent much time talking to them. Moreover these discussions led him to persuade Lanfranc to change his mind about at least one of the reputed saints of the pre-conquest English church whom Lanfranc had excluded from the liturgy, and whose body he had caused to be moved.

The saint in question was the Anglo-Saxon archbishop Ælfheah, who was regarded as a martyr by the English monks because he had been killed for refusing to pay danegeld to the vikings in 1012. The argument that Anselm used to convince Lanfranc was typical of his method. He argued thus: a martyr is one who has died for truth; but Ælfheah died in the cause of justice. But then truth and justice are the same virtue in different modes: truth is justice in statements; justice is truth in action. Lanfranc had in fact said something similar to this in his commentary on Paul's epistle to the Romans (Patrologia Latina, 150, col. 115), and this recollection may have helped to persuade him. At all events he was convinced by Anselm's argument and he ordered the reinstatement of Ælfheah's body in the cathedral and of his commemoration in the liturgy. He even went further and gave the rebellious Osbern the task of writing Ælfheah's official life.

This remarkable feat of persuasion was a first step in the re-establishment of Old English customs in the monastic community, and it made Anselm the hero of the English group of the Canterbury monks. Moreover it gave him a general sympathy with the pre-conquest past, which can be traced in much that he did when he became archbishop.

Anselm's last visit to England as abbot of Bec, 1092–1093

In September 1092 Anselm had several reasons for visiting England. First, he needed to inspect the settlement of monks from Bec that had been established at Chester by Hugh d'Avranches, earl of Chester, and to lay down the constitution of the new community. Second, he needed rather belatedly to get William II's confirmation of the possessions of Bec in England.

For these purposes Anselm set out from Bec in September 1092, landed at Dover, spent a single night in Canterbury, and then had a brief meeting in London with the king, who gave him a date at the Easter court in March 1093 for dealing with the business of the English possessions of Bec. Anselm then went on to Chester, and spent several weeks there making detailed arrangements for the future of the monastic community. With the approach of Christmas he returned to London, where he planned to stay with Abbot Gilbert Crispin of Westminster (d. 1117/18), his friend and former pupil from Bec, to await his meeting with the king at his Easter court.

As an occupation during his months of waiting Anselm planned to complete his reply to Roscelin, to revise the prayer to St Nicholas (referred to above), and also to make a collection of his letters, for which purpose he asked the monks at Bec to send him any drafts in their possession (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 147). In the event, he may have completed his answer to Roscelin, but he does not seem to have done anything at all about his prayer to St Nicholas, or (though this is a debatable matter) about his collection of letters. The main importance of his stay at Westminster was quite different from anything he had planned: Abbot Crispin told him about discussions that he had been having with recent Jewish settlers in London about the incarnation. In particular, they asked: Why was the incarnation necessary? Did it not contradict the impassibility of God? Was it not idolatrous to worship a man as God? How could the incarnation achieve the redemptive purpose that Christians claimed?

The abbot of Westminster was writing his treatise on these questions while Anselm stayed with him, and there can be no doubt that they talked about the problem of the incarnation and that Gilbert finished his work and dedicated it to Anselm before he became archbishop. It was a competent work, but its main importance was that it sowed in Anselm's mind the seeds of a new problem to which his method of fides quaerens intellectum could be applied. Consequently Anselm spent his intervals of leisure during the next six years making slow progress on the new work to which he gave the title Cur Deus homo. He went so far as to ask the new abbot of Bec to send him his best pupil, the monk Boso, to help him in this work, and it is by far his most important after the Proslogion. Its doctrine and the circumstances of its completion will be discussed in due course; but first it is necessary to turn to the events that led to Anselm's becoming archbishop of Canterbury and to his activities in this office.

Anselm's election as archbishop, 1093

With the approach of Easter, which in 1093 was on 17 April, Anselm left Westminster and set out to the royal court at Gloucester as arranged. He arrived to find the king suddenly ill and expecting to die. Anselm was summoned to his presence to prepare him for death, and he heard the king's confession, exacted a promise of amendment, had the terms written out and placed on the altar, and administered the last rites. On the king's side, in what was thought to be his final act, William named Anselm as the new archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm violently resisted; but the pastoral staff was forced into his clenched fist with the help of the bishops who were present, and he was dragged into church amid acclamations and the singing of the Te Deum. Whereupon the king began to recover.

From that day to this the tumultuous circumstances of Anselm's ‘election’ and investiture have been the subject of contradictory interpretations. Certainly no one could have shown more symptoms of distress and unwillingness to accept the position thus thrust upon him than Anselm. But equally certainly the blatantly uncanonical nature of the procedure of election and investiture provided ample grounds for refusal if he had wished. So it has often been urged that Anselm's appearance of reluctance was a purely formal gesture. Moreover, welcome though it was to the monks of Canterbury, Anselm's move was vigorously opposed by those of Bec, who alleged that he had promised to stay with them for life. So the question arises, if Anselm had such good grounds for refusing, and if he really wished to refuse, why did he finally accept? Such a question can never be answered categorically, but the simplest explanation is the best: if he had not accepted, the archbishopric would have remained vacant indefinitely, with the consequent decline of monastic life at Canterbury and of episcopal government throughout England. He simply sacrificed his personal desires to his public duty.

It is nevertheless strange that he seems to have been unaware of recent papal legislation prohibiting almost every detail in the manner of his appointment. Further, although he delayed a final decision for several months, writing round to various people for advice, he never consulted the pope; nor did he insist, as a condition of his accepting the archbishopric, on the immediate recognition as pope of Urban II (r. 1088–99) in conformity with the church in France, including Anselm himself as abbot of Bec. All whom he asked urged him to accept, except the monks of Bec. With regard to the recognition of Urban II, it seems clear that, so far as England was concerned, Anselm thought that the decision rested with the king; and this complaisance with regard to royal authority is further borne out by the fact that, even if it could be urged that his clenched hands had not actually accepted the episcopal staff from the king, Anselm never himself resorted to this explanation; and he did homage to the king, which was an action also prohibited in recent papal legislation, before being enthroned at Canterbury by the archbishop of York on 25 September 1093, and consecrated on 4 December.

From this date Anselm looked on himself as being fully responsible for carrying out all the duties and maintaining all the rights of his new position even before he had received from the pope his archiepiscopal pallium. These duties and rights may broadly be divided into two main areas of activity, which must be considered separately.

Archiepiscopal and primatial duties

The strictly legal view was that Anselm was not empowered to exercise his archiepiscopal functions until he had received his pallium from the pope, and this could not happen until Urban II had been recognized in England. Anselm urged the king to recognize Urban II, but he was prepared to wait. What he was not prepared to do was to wait for his pallium before exercising either his archiepiscopal or his primatial authority. As for the latter, one of his earliest actions in his first year as archbishop was to suspend the Welsh bishops of Llandaff and St David's for following the customs of the Celtic church; and this is the first known exercise of authority by any archbishop of Canterbury over the Welsh church (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 175). Then, further, early in 1095 and still before receiving his pallium he wrote to the Irish bishops of Cashel and Dublin as their archbishop, reminding them that it was his duty 'to exercise canonical severity against anything in your provinces which is contrary to the doctrine of the Church', and their duty 'to bring to [his] attention any matters such as the consecration of bishops, or disputes about ecclesiastical matters' (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 198). So here, in his earliest days as archbishop, Anselm displayed his mixture of absolute certainty as to the wide extent of his authority, and determination to exercise this authority throughout the area of the British Isles without waiting to receive his pallium, or even ensuring that Urban II was recognized as pope. In brief he evidently thought that his activities as archbishop did not depend on the recognition of Urban as pope or on his having received his pallium; and this difference between Anselm's attitude towards the duties inherent in his office as archbishop, and the Hildebrandine ideal of the pope as the source of legal authority, must be borne in mind in tracing the history of his years as archbishop.

Authority over the monastic community at Canterbury

No problem of this kind arose with regard to Anselm's responsibility for the good order of the monastic community at Canterbury. In the light of his sympathy for the Anglo-Saxon past it is not surprising that one of the first and most lasting results of his becoming archbishop was to ease the continuing tension in the monastic community between pre-conquest religious customs and the liturgical observances, and those introduced by Lanfranc. Two symptoms of this were his immediate choice of Eadmer, one of the most deeply dyed members of the Old English element in the community, as his constant companion and secretary; and, as soon as there was a vacancy, his promotion of a distinctly Anglophile monk, Ernulf (d. 1124), as prior. These two appointments at once ensured a sympathetic treatment of the pieties and observances of the English past in the monastic community at Canterbury; and the continuity of this process is particularly evident in the works of the monks of Canterbury, beginning with the numerous works of Eadmer in Anselm's lifetime, and continuing after his death with a succession of writers such as Elmer, a lifelong monk of Canterbury and prior from 1128 to 1137. Moreover, this revival of Anglo-Saxon traditions at Canterbury also influenced other centres of monastic and religious life, particularly at Worcester, Evesham, and Durham, and so had a widespread and enduring influence on the future. Anselm's influence is also conspicuous in his initiating the rebuilding of the choir of the cathedral in a style markedly different from Lanfranc's buildings and strongly influenced by the recently completed church at Cluny, which he and his companions saw during their visit in 1100. Indeed, if traces of Anselm's enduring influence are sought, it is in the choir of the cathedral, and in the prayers, meditations, and spiritual insights, which his Canterbury followers collected, imitated, and added to, that they are to be found, rather than in political or ecclesiastical matters, in which he was neither worldly wise nor, in the long term, successful.

The conflicts between Anselm and William II, 1093–1097

In the light of Anselm's promptitude in matters of primatial authority and monastic life, his forbearance in matters touching royal authority is very striking. He did indeed continue to urge the king to recognize Urban II as pope, and he pressed on him the need to fill the vacant abbacies and bishoprics in England. Above all, in February 1094, at his first important meeting with the king after his enthronement as archbishop, he concentrated on trying to get the king's agreement to his holding a primatial council attended by the archbishop of York and the bishops of the whole kingdom for the rectification of faith and morals. He had no success. At his next important meeting with the king in February 1095 he tried to get the king's permission to go to Urban II to receive his pallium. Again the king refused. Worse still, almost the entire body of bishops refused to give Anselm any advice contrary to the wishes of the king. Whereupon Anselm asked for permission to leave the country. Once more the king refused; but he seems to have realized that this was a dangerous topic, for he at once, secretly and without any consultation, sent messengers to Urban II to ask for a legate to bring Anselm's pallium. This in effect also signalled his recognition of Urban as pope, and the legate, Gualtiero, cardinal-archbishop of Albano, duly arrived with Anselm's pallium in June 1095.

The legate's arrival brought out another aspect of Anselm's ecclesiastical outlook. He believed that, on becoming archbishop of Canterbury, he had himself become permanent papal legate. Consequently, in his view, the cardinal was simply a messenger bringing the archiepiscopal pallium. Anselm did not say this in so many words to the legate, but he said it later to Urban II (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 214). What he said to the legate, who suggested that he and Anselm should meet and jointly hold a council, was even more surprising. He explained that he had been entrusted by the king, who was campaigning in Scotland, with the defence of the kingdom against invasion during his absence, and he could not abandon this duty (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 191). Moreover, he added, a council held without the consent of the king would be wholly ineffective. In this exchange of unwelcome truths the cardinal on his side told Anselm that—in addition to other defects of form—his election as archbishop had been not only uncanonical but strictly schismatical because the bishops who had elected him had not recognized Urban II as pope. Anselm rebutted this charge with considerable asperity (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 192).

In these small but revealing details, it is clear that Anselm's world was essentially the pre-Hildebrandine world of his youth; and his acceptance of the archbishopric, indeed his whole conduct as archbishop, was based on a pre-Hildebrandine understanding of his position. This view was to be modified in some particulars by his contacts with Urban II and with Hugues, archbishop of Lyons, during his first exile. But there is no sign of any fundamental change in Anselm's outlook, and his tenacity must be seen as one aspect of his general view that the holder of a position of authority in the church had a duty to preserve and hand on to his successors the office that he had received, intact both in doctrine and in lands, privileges, responsibilities, and rights.

Indeed this tenacity in preserving the deposit of the past in practical life had its counterpart in Anselm's intellectual programme of preserving and handing on the inheritance of faith with only such further elaborations and refinements as were necessary for fuller understanding. In the areas both of faith and practice, therefore, he had a single programme at once deeply conservative in intention, and innovative in explanatory refinements. Consequently, since he was persuaded that former popes had assigned the whole area of the British Isles to the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Canterbury, he believed that this assignment could not be diminished either by the neglect of later archbishops, or by later papal changes of mind. Nor could the legatine position of the archbishop be even temporarily suspended, and on this ground he refused to meet a papal legate in 1101. He was very ready to renounce his position completely, or to go into exile for what many thought were insufficient reasons; but he was also very insistent that there should be no lessening of the archbishop's authority over the whole area of the British Isles. Yet, it must be added, he looked on any rule imposed on himself personally by the pope as binding so far as he was concerned.

Anselm saw his relationship with both popes and kings as essentially pastoral: he went to the pope for pastoral counsel when it slowly became clear that his relationship with William Rufus had broken down on two fronts. On the one hand, it broke down on the material front, when the king's exorbitant demands for money and knights for his political ambitions encroached on the revenues of the monastic community; and it broke down on the pastoral front when the king refused to allow Anselm to hold a council. It was these two apparently irremediable breakdowns that convinced him that the only solution was to ask the king's permission to go to Rome to seek counsel from the successor of St Peter. Three times in 1097—at Whitsuntide, in August, and in October—he made this formal and public request; and, at the third attempt, the king agreed. As he left, Anselm offered, and Rufus accepted, his blessing; and so they parted. It is a striking scene, as of a family at variance within itself.

Anselm's first exile, November 1097 to September 1100

The main ground of Anselm's first exile was the king's refusal to let him hold a council, which he considered the most important contribution he could make to the well-being of the whole area of his primacy. There were also, of course, the king's continuing and exorbitant demands for money. These Anselm had resisted to the extent of his power, with a certain sublime indifference as to the money but with inflexible firmness in his duty of preserving the secular as well as the spiritual rights of the church of Canterbury intact. He might indeed have used the weapon of excommunication, but he abhorred this and, when he was in exile and Pope Urban II was about to excommunicate William II, Anselm dissuaded him.

Thomas Becket (d. 1170) was later inspired by Anselm's example to use exile as a platform for powerful political action. But Anselm certainly had no similar aim. All he could say to the monks of Canterbury on the eve of his departure in October 1097 was that he trusted that 'by God's mercy, my journey will be of some use to the liberty of the church in time to come' (Eadmer, Life of Anselm, 93). He seems to have had no idea how this could come about.

In fact Anselm's exile had three important, but purely incidental, results. First, it gave him a vital period of leisure in which he finished the greatest of his works after the Proslogion, his Cur Deus homo (which will be discussed presently). Second, it caused Anselm to be present at the Easter council at St Peter's in April 1099, when Urban II in the clearest terms excommunicated all clergy who received investiture to bishoprics or other ecclesiastical offices from lay hands, and all who did homage to laymen for ecclesiastical lands. Anselm looked on both these prohibitions as conclusive so far as he personally was concerned, and their consequences were with him until the end of his life. So it is strange that he left Rome the next day without stopping even for a day to discuss with the pope the consequences of a pronouncement that touched him so nearly. He had done both of these prohibited things, and clearly saw nothing amiss with either of them. Nevertheless henceforth, without further discussion, he was adamant that such practices must cease in the area of his archiepiscopal jurisdiction. Third, and perhaps most important, Anselm's exile caused him to be absent from England when William II was killed, and the consequences of his absence were to be with him until the end of his life.

Anselm and the accession of Henry I

William Rufus was killed on 2 August 1100, and the monks of Canterbury sent Anselm news of the event, which reached him at the end of August while he was visiting the monastery of La Chaise Dieu about 50 miles from Lyons. Thereupon he returned to Lyons where further messengers from Canterbury arrived, and he decided to set out for England. When he had got as far as Cluny, and only then, messengers arrived from the new king, Henry I, urging his return. From this it may be inferred that Henry had waited until he was firmly settled on the throne before having Anselm on his hands.

The king had good reason for this delay. The English barons had made their support of Henry's claim to the crown dependent on the grant of a substantial body of baronial liberties in a charter that later inspired Magna Carta. On this basis, in the absence of the archbishop of Canterbury, Henry I had been crowned by the bishop of London on 5 August. Further, as part of a general reorganization, he had given an important royal administrator, William Giffard (d. 1129), the bishopric of Winchester, receiving his homage and investing him with the pastoral staff of his bishopric in the old style. So by the time Anselm finally arrived in England on 23 September, the king was firmly established and crowned, and Anselm had lost the opportunity of insisting, as his condition for supporting Henry, on a grant of ecclesiastical liberties comparable to that obtained by the barons. Further, Anselm already had a problem to resolve with regard to William Giffard, who—having been invested by the king with the bishopric of Winchester, and done homage for its lands (the two acts that Urban II had specifically condemned in Anselm's presence)—still needed to be consecrated by the archbishop of Canterbury. It was not until 1107, in the light of a new agreement between Henry I and Pope Paschal II (r. 1099–1118), that Anselm consented to perform this ceremony, but meanwhile for seven years William Giffard enjoyed all his episcopal revenues.

The general situation in 1100 therefore seemed to be returning to the state in which Anselm had left it in 1097. However, in political terms, Anselm had one more chance of laying down his conditions for supporting King Henry. In July 1101 Henry's elder brother Robert, greatly enhanced in reputation by his military exploits in the crusade, landed in England to claim the crown. Even at this late date Anselm might have made his continuing support of Henry conditional on some kind of charter of liberties for the church. But political manoeuvring was entirely foreign to Anselm's nature, and (although Robert would certainly have been more malleable, and was in every way except ability to rule a more admirable man than his youngest brother) Anselm at once and without conditions reasserted his support for Henry.

The result was that the two issues of the homage and investiture of new bishops remained unresolved, and King Henry began to demand that Anselm should do homage to him as he had done to his predecessor and consecrate the bishop of London, or leave the country. Anselm refused to budge, and for some months he lived quietly on his manors. Then, in the end, he and Henry agreed jointly to send messengers to Rome to discover whether the pope would grant any relaxation of the prohibition of the rule against ecclesiastical homage and lay investiture.

Ecclesiastical councils

Meanwhile, despite all frustrations, one of Anselm's major aims, which William Rufus had consistently frustrated, was achieved: he held two great ecclesiastical councils. The first, at Lambeth in September 1100, was a consultation between Anselm and all available bishops on a single issue rather than a council. Its subject was the king's wish to strengthen the dynastic basis of his kingdom by marrying Matilda (d. 1118), the daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland and a descendant of the Anglo-Saxon kings. The only trouble with this plan was that Matilda had worn the monastic veil in the abbey of Wilton, and this made her ineligible for marriage unless it could be shown—as she claimed—that she had done this under duress. In fact, as Anselm knew from an earlier consultation with Matilda herself, there were very good reasons for believing that this account of the matter was true; but, despite this, when first consulted, he was opposed to any relaxation (Letters of Saint Anselm, letters 168, 169). However, he now allowed himself to be persuaded by the other bishops, agreed to the marriage, and conducted it himself.

Then, more important for his archiepiscopal policy, Anselm was able, at Michaelmas 1102, to hold a full-scale primatial council in the presence of the archbishop of York and a large assembly of bishops and abbots, and with a very full programme of reform over a wide area of religious life drawn up by himself. The council lasted only two days, but Anselm had clearly prepared the business by a careful review of the decrees of recent councils, especially those of Lanfranc. The selection of decrees that he made for revision and reissue dealt with many subjects: the clothing and tonsure of the clergy; the inadmissibility of individual monks' holding land; secret marriages; slavery; and—with particular emphasis—sodomy and its attendant symptoms in dress and long hair.

The decrees, which were very far-reaching, cannot have been fully discussed at the two-day council. Indeed, when Anselm sent a copy of the texts to the archbishop of York, who had been present at the council, he did so on the assumption that he would not fully know their contents. So it would seem that the decrees had simply been read out with the intention that there should be fuller discussion at a council in the near future (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 253). Certainly a further council was already in Anselm's mind, but his intention was overtaken by events. Intermittently during the whole period 1102–3 negotiations were going on between the king and the pope with a view, on the king's side, to obtaining a relaxation of the papal decrees against royal investiture of bishops and bishops' doing homage to the king for their lands. No progress had been made, and finally, early in 1103, Anselm agreed to go to Rome himself and see if the pope would grant any relaxation on these points. If this seems pusillanimous, it must be remembered that Anselm had no objection in principle to a bishop's doing homage or being invested by the king. Apart from being personally bound by the papal declaration about investiture and homage made in his presence in Rome at the council in 1100, the sole point on which he was fully committed by his position as archbishop was his obligation to preserve the rights of Canterbury as he had inherited them. Beyond this, he was essentially a man of peace, as is shown by a small incident that occurred on 27 April 1103. He was on the point of embarking on his journey to Rome when a papal letter was put into his hands. He feared it might contain an order to excommunicate his opponents, and he put it in his pocket unopened until he reached Bec, and read it only when nothing could be done about it.

Anselm's second exile, April 1103 to August 1106

Anselm thought there was now no need to hurry, and he settled down at Bec until the summer heat had abated. Then by slow stages he went on to Rome, where he arrived in November 1103. Here he found royal messengers who had won over to their point of view several members of the papal curia; but it was soon clear that the pope would not compromise. Anselm's solitary success—and it was a great one in his eyes—was that the pope gave him a confirmation in perpetuity of the primatial position of Canterbury as enjoyed by his predecessors (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 303). Anselm sent this at once to Canterbury for safe keeping, and, with this considerable consolation for his labours, he set out on his return journey. On his way, no doubt in the neighbourhood of Bologna, which was on the normal road northwards from Rome, he met the Countess Matilda of Tuscany, who asked him to make for her a collection of his prayers and meditations. Then, further along the road, at Piacenza, the king's messengers caught up with him and they all rode together to Lyons, where they gave him a message from the king to the effect that he would be welcome in England only if he conformed to the practices of his predecessors.

So Anselm was back where he had been in 1100, and he stayed once more with the archbishop of Lyons. Here he remained from January 1104 until April 1105. During this time he made a definitive edition of his prayers and meditations for the Countess Matilda (S. Anselmi opera omnia, 3/1.3–91). Just as the completion of his Cur Deus homo had been the greatest achievement of his first exile, the definitive edition of his prayers and meditations was the most tangible result of his second.

Anselm's return to England and death

Anselm was now over seventy years old and he might well have stayed in Lyons until he died. During his exile he had continued to correspond with the monks of Canterbury, and—without rancour—with the king and queen. But then, quite unexpectedly, he decided, as the only way of bringing the dispute to an end, to take the ultimate step of threatening to excommunicate the king. For this purpose, whether to negotiate peace or to enforce judgment, he needed to be within reach of the king, and in May 1105 he set out on his homeward journey. On his way he met the king's sister, Adela, countess of Blois (d. 1137), who was alarmed and hastily warned the king of the danger of excommunication in the course of his campaign for the conquest of Normandy. She succeeded in bringing about a meeting between Anselm and the king at L'Aigle in southern Normandy, and Henry restored to Anselm the revenues of his archbishopric. This move towards peace initiated a flurry of new negotiations between Henry and the pope while the conquest of Normandy was completed, with Anselm staying mainly at Bec.

The general result of all these negotiations was that a compromise, which had been slowly emerging as a possibility at Rome, was agreed on: the king would no longer nominate bishops or invest them with the symbols of their spiritual functions, but he would continue to receive homage from them for their lands. On this understanding Anselm returned to Canterbury, and the king—having obtained a compromise that broadly satisfied him—identified himself with Anselm's programme of reform. This new atmosphere was apparent at a great council of reconciliation, which met in the royal palace at Westminster on 1 August 1107. It was presided over by the king, with Archbishop Anselm at his side, in the presence of many bishops including the recently appointed but not yet enthroned Thomas (d. 1114), archbishop of York. This was a distinctly royal occasion marked by a flow of royal charters and privileges; but nine months later, at the end of May 1108, Anselm presided over his second fully primatial council in the presence of the archbishop of York and bishops of both provinces. By now Anselm was both old and ill, and in contrast to the council of 1102, the business seems to have been ill prepared, repeating decrees about clerical celibacy, adding a decree about the exclusion of women from the houses of priests, deacons, and subdeacons, and (rather surprisingly for an ecclesiastical council) laying down severe penalties for false moneyers.

Anselm's health now grew gradually worse, and he soon had to be carried on a litter instead of riding on horseback. So long as the main measures of clerical celibacy and the primatial rights of Canterbury were assured, he was glad to have peace. Appropriately the last of his surviving letters returned to the question of the primacy: solemnly, and in the name of God, Anselm forbade the consecration of the new archbishop of York until he had made a profession of obedience to the church of Canterbury (Letters of Saint Anselm, letter 472). Copies of this letter were sent to all the bishops of England shortly before Anselm's death, so his last thoughts about his office were concerned with the maintenance of Canterbury's primatial position. This, with its consequent duty and right to summon ecclesiastical councils of the whole kingdom, had been the cornerstone of Anselm's archiepiscopate and it was his practical message to the future. Anselm died at Canterbury on 21 April 1109 and was buried there.

The historical setting of Anselm's writings

It remains now only to assess briefly Anselm's writings in their historical setting, and briefly to record the long indecisive process towards his official recognition as a saint.

Among his theological works, the Proslogion and Cur Deus homo are the philosophical summits respectively of the Bec and the Canterbury periods of Anselm's life: the former asserted the necessary existence of God as the ground of all that exists or can be thought to exist; the latter showed the necessity for the divine intervention of the second person of the Trinity as a human being as the only possible way in which, after the fall, God's purpose in creating human beings to know and worship him in eternity could be achieved. It follows from this that the Proslogion, undertaken in a fully religious environment, represents the climax of his early period of meditative enquiry, in the context of monastic routine, into the origin and status of being. What emerged from this enquiry was a proof that the existence of God is the necessary source of all being, and the foundation of all intellective processes.

By the time he wrote the Cur Deus homo Anselm's central axis had changed from the monastery to a world poised between faith and unbelief. It was in this context that he sought to prove that God's intervention in the universe was necessary to prevent the frustration of the divine plan of the universe through human sin; and since the corruption had a human source, it was necessary for the second person in the Trinity to become man. The dialogue in which this argument was elaborated is the most ambitious and complicated in all Anselm's works. It was first stimulated by Gilbert Crispin's contact with Jewish critics in 1092, and then continued at Canterbury from 1095 to 1097 with the help of the monk Boso who was sent from Bec for this purpose. It was completed in the summer of 1098 in the small village of Liberi in southern Italy in the leisure of Anselm's first exile. So, whereas all Anselm's earlier works had their origin in the daily religious practice and piety of a monastic community, the Cur Deus homo was written in the hostile world. In its method, however, Anselm retained the old style of theological discussions with a monastic pupil. So, although the Cur Deus homo is unlike his earlier works in that it did not arise from the devotional life of a monastic community but answered a question that had arisen from the hostile criticism of non-believers, it provided the last and greatest example of a monastic dialogue in Anselm's works.

Of Anselm's two later theological treatises, the De processione spiritus sancti was written at the request of Pope Urban II in answer to the Greek view of the procession of the Holy Spirit at the Council of Bari in 1099 during Anselm's first exile. Written to order, it is the least interesting of his works. As for his long and complicated work On the Reconciliation of God's Foreknowledge, Predestination and Grace with Free-will (S. Anselmi opera omnia, 2.245–88; Anselm of Canterbury, 2.181–223), it is an example of his readiness to attempt to satisfy all enquiries about the Christian faith whatever their origin. His own assessment of it in its last paragraph is the best: 'If I were uneasy in my mind about these questions, I think I should thank anyone who told me what I have written, for I would be satisfied' (S. Anselmi opera omnia, 2.288; Anselm of Canterbury, 2.223).

Indeed all Anselm's written works except the De processione spiritus sancti may be regarded as organized selections made by himself from long-continued discussions and expositions with monastic friends. They are islands of systematic thought in a sea of discussion carefully elaborated by Anselm himself. But there were also many remnants preserved by others, and a large part of these have been collected in Memorials of St Anselm (1969) to form a substantial volume.

In addition to the works he completed, Anselm had long contemplated a work on the origin of the soul, and he expressed his regret on his death-bed for not having written it. Of this, no preparatory notes have as yet been found.

Memories and perceptions: the preservation of Anselm's letters and sayings

There are four final questions that may reasonably be asked to complete the portrait: Who preserved his letters? How were his miscellaneous sayings preserved? How was the memory of his personality preserved? What later influence did he have?

About 450 of Anselm's letters have survived, of which about 150 belong to his years as prior and abbot of Bec, and the remainder to his years as archbishop. It is scarcely surprising that the Bec letters include nearly all those expressing a strongly personal and emotional spirituality, whereas the letters written as archbishop, while still containing many moving and personal passages, are much more concerned to give advice and directions or commands.

It is of some importance for understanding his character to know whether and to what extent he was himself responsible for collecting his letters and making them available for a wider public. In answering these questions a distinction must be drawn between his letters as prior and abbot of Bec, and those written as archbishop. As to the first group, it has already been mentioned that, when he settled down at Westminster from Christmas 1092 to Easter 1093 he asked for drafts of his early letters to be sent to him at Westminster, evidently with the aim of editing them for a wider public. Indeed it is clear that somebody made a copy of these drafts for they have survived in a manuscript from Rochester (BL, Cotton MS Nero E. vii), which is so full of errors that it cannot have been made under his supervision, and was probably made by a monk of Rochester who had access to the original drafts. It would follow from this that the much fuller and more accurate collection that finally circulated was made either by Anselm during his long stay at Bec from 1105 to 1107, or by one or more of his disciples after his death.

With regard to the letters written by Anselm as archbishop, the case is quite different. Drafts from which the final copies for dispatch were made would have been preserved in the archives at Canterbury. Some scholars think that during his second exile, while he was in Lyons from 1104 to 1105, Anselm sent directions from Lyons to a scribe in Canterbury instructing him to include or omit individual letters. But as a way of collecting his letters for a wider audience this seems so clumsy an operation that the alternative is to be preferred, namely, that the collections of letters of his archiepiscopate were made by Eadmer and William of Malmesbury in the 1120s from the drafts that had been preserved at Canterbury. This is not only plausible, it coincides with the date of the earliest manuscripts of the collections of his archiepiscopal letters.

In whatever way his letters came finally to be collected, it is certain that Anselm looked on them as having a value for a wider public than their recipients. The case is rather different with regard to the circulation of records of his conversations. Both Eadmer and Alexander, who were successively Anselm's secretaries, left records of his sayings, which had a very wide circulation; and Eadmer, disobeying Anselm's command to destroy his records, wrote a biography, which contains many reports of Anselm's sayings that would otherwise have been lost. It is quite certain that they were not the only collectors of Anselm's sayings, for wherever he went he was listened to as a man whose words were worth remembering. (For some of these see Southern and Schmitt).

Attempted canonization

The general activity of collecting Anselm's letters and sayings was motivated at least in part by the desire to keep his memory alive with a view to obtaining a more than local and temporary recognition of his sanctity. This effort seemed especially necessary since, even at Canterbury by the 1120s, his memory seemed to be disappearing. This prompted Eadmer in 1122 to add a new section of miracles to his Life of St Anselm. He had less to report than he would have liked, and Anselm's memory was becoming dim by the middle of the twelfth century. The main agent in reviving his memory and attempting to secure his canonization was Thomas Becket, who (after he became archbishop in 1162) made a vigorous attempt to achieve this. At the Council of Tours in 1163 he presented to Pope Alexander III (r. 1159–81) an account of Anselm's life, written by John of Salisbury (d. 1180) but almost entirely taken from Eadmer. The pope was either too busy or unimpressed to act, and remitted the whole question to a provincial council to be summoned by Archbishop Becket. The convening of the council was frustrated by the start of the archbishop's quarrel with the king, but that it was even planned had the effect of reviving the local Canterbury veneration of Anselm which, though tenuous, can be traced thereafter from the twelfth to the fifteenth century. There was no further attempt at canonization until the last decade of the fifteenth century, and this was once more unsuccessful. Then in 1734 Lorenzo Albertini, the future Pope Benedict XIV (r. 1740–58), in his work on canonization mentioned Anselm among those regarded as doctors of the church without any formal process.

Later influence and historical significance

The only works of Anselm that enjoyed a fairly steady growth in readership were his prayers and meditations, and their popularity provoked the continuing addition of imitations to the collection of genuine prayers and meditations throughout the middle ages. The scale of this growth can be judged from the fact that, even when pruned, the first scholarly edition of Anselm's works by G. Gerberon (2nd edn, 1721; repr. in Patrologia Latina, 158–9) contained twenty-one meditations and seventy-four prayers. By contrast, in the critical edition of F. S. Schmitt, volume 3, the number has been reduced to three meditations and nineteen prayers, and this is almost certainly the collection as Anselm left it.

Apart from the continuing influence of Anselm's prayers and meditations throughout the middle ages, the most significant and widely circulated single document ascribed to Anselm was a letter that is now universally recognized as having been written by one of his English admirers about twenty or thirty years after his death (Patrologia Latina, 159.319–24). It was written to support the doctrine of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, which had been celebrated on 8 December in several English pre-conquest monasteries, but had been struck out of ecclesiastical calendars after the Norman conquest. The doctrine was certainly not approved by Anselm himself, but was supported tentatively by Eadmer (Liber de excellentia B. Mariae, chap. 2; repr. in Patrologia Latina, 159) and eagerly by Anselm's nephew of the same name [see Anselm (d. 1148)], who had been brought to England by his uncle and lived to become abbot of Bury St Edmunds. The spurious Anselmian letter enjoyed a very wide circulation, and was quoted as an authentic letter in support of the doctrine in the fourteenth century, mainly by Franciscan theologians.

As for the argument of Anselm's Proslogion, it was spoken of with respect, but without approval, by Thomas Aquinas, and with respect and general approval by Duns Scotus and Descartes. It was later decisively rejected by Kant, but has never ceased to have adherents, most surprisingly (though only momentarily) Bertrand Russell, who in 1894 (as he relates in 'My mental development' in P. A. Schilpp, The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell, 1944, 10)—having walked down Trinity Lane in Cambridge to buy some tobacco—'on my way back, I suddenly threw it up in the air and exclaimed “Great Scot, the ontological argument is sound”'.

Strangely enough it had come to Anselm in different circumstances, but in a similarly unexpected moment of illumination. As Eadmer reports: 'Behold, one night during Matins the grace of God shone in his heart and the matter became clear to his understanding, filling his whole being with immense joy and jubilation' (Eadmer, Life of Anselm, 30). Its considerable revival in the twentieth century probably owed most to its reinterpretation by K. Barth in his Fides quaerens intellectum (1931).


Works and studies
  • S. Anselmi Cantuariensis archiepiscopi opera omnia, ed. F. S. Schmitt, 6 vols. (1938–61)
  • Anselm of Canterbury, ed. and trans. J. Hopkins and H. Richardson, 4 vols. (1974–6)
  • Prayers and meditations of St Anselm, trans. B. Ward (1973)
  • The letters of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, ed. and trans. W. Fröhlich, 3 vols. (1990–94)
  • De grammatico, ed. and trans. D. P. Henry (1969)
  • R. W. Southern and F. S. Schmitt, eds., Memorials of Saint Anselm (1969)
  • A. Wilmart, Auteurs spirituels et textes dévots du moyen âge latin (Paris, 1932) [transmission and influence of prayers, meditations, theological drafts]
  • Revue Bénédictine, 36–43 (1924–31) [transmission and influence of prayers, meditations, theological drafts]
  • Pourquoi Dieu s'est faite homme, ed. R. Roques (1963)
  • D. Whitelock, M. Brett, and C. N. L. Brooke, eds., Councils and synods with other documents relating to the English church, 871–1204, 2 (1981) [conciliar decrees]
  • G. R. Evans, ed., Concordance to the works of St Anselm, 4 vols. (1984)
  • J. Hopkins, A companion to the study of St Anselm (1972) [incl. bibliography]
Medieval biographies, histories, and documents
  • Eadmer, The life of St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, ed. and trans. R. W. Southern (1962)
  • Eadmeri historia novorum in Anglia, ed. M. Rule, Rolls Series, 81 (1884)
  • Eadmer's History of recent events in England / Historia novorum in Anglia, trans. G. Bosanquet (1964)
  • R. M. Thomson, ed., Vita Gundulfi (1987)
  • J. Tait, ed., The chartulary or register of the abbey of St Werburgh, Chester, Chetham Society, new ser., 79 (1920)
  • Willelmi Malmesbiriensis monachi de gestis pontificum Anglorum libri quinque, ed. N. E. S. A. Hamilton, Rolls Series, 52 (1870)
Modern studies and interpretations
  • K. Barth, Fides quaerens intellectum: Anselms Beweis der Existenz Gottes (1931)
  • St Anselm's Proslogion, ed. and trans. M. J. Charlesworth (1965)
  • G. R. Evans, Anselm and talking about God (1978)
  • G. R. Evans, Anselm and a new generation (1980)
  • F. Fiske, ‘St Anselm and friendship’, Studia Monastica, 3 (1961), 259–90
  • D. P. Henry, The logic of St Anselm (1967)
  • A. Koyré, L'idée de Dieu dans la philosophie de S. Anselme (1923)
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  • S. N. Vaughn, Anselm of Bec and Robert of Meulan: the innocence of the dove and the wisdom of the serpent (1987)


  • line engraving, pubd 1584, NPG, BM
  • seal, BL; Birch, Seals, 1169 [see illus.]