It is the 21st of April 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1109
I’ve mentioned before on the show that there is a peculiar preponderance of “A” names in the history of philosophy and theology from Ancient Greece through the Western Middle Ages. Aristotle is the philosopher, and few in the church have been as crucial as Augustine. Of course, Aquinas could give Augustine a run for his money, but in some way, Aquinas is a conglomeration of Abelard, Anselm, and Augustine.
If you want to peak into the parallel world amongst Medieval Muslims, you could look to the Persian polymath Avicenna and, later, the Andalusian Averroes. I don’t know what this means. Except: when you hear about one of these famous “A” names, you might want to pay attention.
Today we remember Anselm of Canterbury, on the day he died, the 21st of April in 1109. It was Holy Wednesday, and Anselm was serving as the Archbishop of Canterbury. While he would be famous as the Archbishop at that key cathedral, he was far from home. He would be known before this as Anselm of Bec, and before this, he was called Anselm of Aosta.
How do we keep these names and places straight? Wait for it… it’s as easy as A, B, C.
Anselm was born in Aosta in 1033. Aosta was then part of the kingdom of Burgundy in northern Italy. Here Anselm would become enamored with the budding monastic movement. Anselm’s connections to the Catholic church and her institutions were fostered here.
In 1057 Anselm crossed the Alps to study at the famous Benedictine monastery at Bec. This is important for his academic and church career as it was at Bec that he would become a renowned academic and Abbot.
But let’s focus on the year and the location of Bec. 1057… what gigantic event are we close to that we know just by the year itself? 1066. And 1066 is the all-important Norman Invasion of England. Bec, which is across the Alps from Italy, was in Norman, France. Thus Anselm’s King was one William I who would become known as “William the Conqueror.” And so we have followed Anselm Aosta, to Bec, and now to Canterbury.
When Anselm was Archbishop of Canterbury, he would become well known for his works on reason and revelation and his argument for the existence of God. But a lot of Anselm’s story had to do with trying to keep the ties between the Catholic Church in Rome and the wily Normans in England. You see, there was a king in England who wanted to run both this own state and church… shades of Henry VIII, but that’s like 500 years away.
So, Anselm’s biography takes us from A to B to C. His basic thought can be summarized by remembering the ontological argument and his dialogue titled “Cur Deus Homo.”
The ontological argument, which has been used for centuries and may have originated with Anselm, posits that God is that which nothing greater can be conceived. Maybe it doesn’t do it for you. But it’s pretty clever and was picked up by Descartes centuries later as a pretty decent argument. If arguments for the existence of God are your thing, check out this “ontological” argument.
Anselm might be best known as the author of “Cur Deus Homo?” which translates as “Why the God Man?” This was an attempt by Anselm to use reason alone to argue that the redemption of humanity by a God would require a God who could become a member of the human race. This dialog not only set the stage for discussions surrounding the two natures in Christ but also for an emerging atonement theory of “satisfaction.”
Anselm’s combining of reason and revelation would become the model for medieval theological investigation. And at the risk of a significant oversimplification, the thrust of his work, both theological and philosophical, followed the model of “Fides Quaerens Intellectum” or “faith seeking understanding.”
So, on this feast day for St. Anselm, we remember the “ABCs” of his life, and we recognize his essential contribution to the intellectual aspects of a life of faith. Anselm of Aosta, Bec, and Canterbury died on the 21st of April in 1109.
The reading for today comes from T.S. Eliot. This is the second half of his striking “A Song for Simeon.”
Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.
According to thy word,
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 21st of April 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a Christopher Gillespie greater than any that could be possibly conceived. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis a noted fan of the St. Anselm Hawks of the New England Women’s Hockey Alliance. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.