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Saint Anselm of Canterbury

Saint Anselm of Canterbury

Saint Anselm of Canterbury – image in public domain


St Anselm of Canterbury (1033 – 1109) was born into a noble family in Piedmont. His mother was kind and pious, but his father was said to have been severe and subject to violent outbursts of anger. Guided by his mother, he spent a childhood devoted to piety and study. At age 15, he wanted to enter religious life, but his father prevented it, and St Anselm gradually became worldly. Upon his mother’s death in 1056, St Anselm left home and spent the next three years wandering in France. During this period, he found his faith again and, in 1060, became a Benedictine monk at Bec, Normandy. Three years later, he was made prior of the monastery, and in 1078 he was elected abbot.

Because of Normandy and England’s physical closeness and political connections, St Anselm was in repeated contact with Church officials in England. Upon their insistence, in 1092, he reluctantly accepted to become Archbishop of Canterbury but did so only after King William Rufus agreed to return seized Church lands. What prompted the King to consent to this condition was a temporary change of heart brought on by a severe illness.

As archbishop, St Anselm courageously opposed the King. The latter had returned to his old ways when the threat of immediate death was no longer present. The saint was exiled for his efforts and, from Lyon, wrote to Pope Blessed Urban II requesting permission to resign his office. The pope denied the request but invited him to Rome to assist in matters of a doctrinal dispute with the Greeks. In Rome, St Anselm served as an advisor to Blessed Urban II and resolved theological doubts of the Italo-Greek bishops at the Council of Bari in 1098.

In 1100, after King William’s death and at the invitation of King Henry II, St Anselm returned to England. However, he and the new King disputed over lay investiture, and St Anselm was once again exiled. He returned in 1106 when King Henry II agreed not to interfere with the selection of Church officials.

St Anselm opposed slavery and obtained English legislation prohibiting the sale of men. He strongly supported celibate clergy and approved the addition of several saints to the liturgical calendar of England.

St Anselm was one of the great philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages and a noted theological writer. He was far more at home in the monastery than in political circles but still managed to improve the position of the Church in England. St Anselm died on Holy Wednesday, April 21, 1109, at Canterbury. His body is believed to be in the Cathedral Church at Canterbury. St Anselm was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1720 by Pope Clement XI.


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