1033: Born at Aosta
1060: Takes monastic vows at Bec. Becomes prior in 1063
1078: Writes Proslogion after completing Monologion and other theological/philosophical works. Elected Abbot
1093: Elected Archbishop of Canterbury. Ongoing disputes with King over church/state relations. Continues theological writing
1098: Goes to Rome to seek Pope's advice and aid about disputes. King of England refuses to allow return, no longer recognizes him as Archbishop
1099: Council of Rome: decrees against lay investiture. Anselm works from "exile" to enforce decrees. Ongoing dispute with King, to whom he refuses homage
1106: Compromise between Pope and King of England reached, Anselm and King reconciled. Anselm returns to England
1077-79: Monologion, Proslogion
c.1080's: De Veritate, De Libero Arbitrio, De Casu Diaboli, De Grammatico
1094-5: De Incarnatione Verbe
1098: Cur Deus Homo
To see a picture of St. Anselm, click here.
There is an ancient biography of Anselm written by Eadmer (d. c.1124). He knew Anselm from period 1093-1109. He began to write the biography during Anselm's life, but Anselm ordered him to destroy the "quires" (the transcript from the wax tablets). He did, but first made a copy, and renewed his writing after Anselm's death. Eadmer says that most of the first book (1033-1093) comes from Anselm's words.
1033: born at Aosta (near the border of Burgundy and Lombardy) of Gundulf & Ermenberga, who were landowners. Eadmer calls them "nobles."
c.1059: Anselm went to Bec in Normandy to study with Lanfranc, prior at Bec, brilliant theologian, and later Archbishop of Canterbury, whom Anselm greatly admired.
c.1060: Monastic profession at Bec.
c.1063: Succeeded Lanfranc as prior at Bec.
c.1077: Anselm completed Monologion, followed shortly afterward by Proslogion.
1078: Elected Abbot at Bec. Anselm begged (prostrated himself self full-length) not to be made abbot, but to no avail. He felt bound by obedience and accepted.
1079: First visit to England to visit the monastery's holdings there.
1092: After the death of Lanfranc, the situation of churches in England under William II worsens. Nobles request Anselm's visit.
1093: Anselm elected Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm again grieves for lost tranquillity.
1098: Anselm traveled to Rome, staying outside the city. Completed Cur Deus Homo.
1099: Anselm attended the Council of Rome at which the major issues were investiture and clergy homage. Anselm then returned to Lyon and was allowed to exercise his episcopal function from there, in exile.
1099: Death of Urban II. Succeeded by Paschal II.
1100: Death of William II, succeeded by Henry I.
c.1106: Anselm reinvested by Henry; they are reconciled at Bec.
1106: Anselm returns to England
1109: Death of Anselm
Devotional Habits, religious speculation, the story of the transparent walls
Eadmer writes that when Anselm became prior, he felt he had more "liberty" to serve God, and gave up "worldly affairs." He became noted as devout, as one who practiced strict spiritual discipline, and first became known outside of Bec when some of his prayers and meditations were published. Eadmer writes,
Believing that everything in Scripture must be true, he nonetheless felt much was "obscure," and this was what he wanted to clarify "with the eye of reason." One night before Matins he was in his bed puzzling about how the prophets could know both past & future. As he stared at the wall, he could suddenly see right through it to the church where the monks were preparing for the office, and saw one of them ring the bell for matins. Then Anselm understood
Anselm was apparently a good prior, trying to teach others "by his own good example," and "both father and mother to sick and sound alike." He was particularly attentive to the youth being educated in the monastery, feeling that they were most impressionable, and were best served through sympathy and gentleness, moderate discipline and a fair amount of freedom. When they were older, he felt they could take the "stronger medicine" of a more disciplined spiritual life. Eadmer later comments that after Anselm became Abbot he would relax the rule at times rather than have it become "burdensome," and that Anselm regarded this as an example of putting the welfare of others before one's own will.
Anselm also began to feel too busy, wishing he could return to a more tranquil life of devotion and study. He asked the Archbishop to relieve him of his duties as prior, but the Archbishop refused, telling him that he'll no doubt be promoted soon anyway. This didnt encourage Anselm.
Monologion and Proslogion
The dating of Monologion and Proslogion is uncertain. Eadmer has a chapter (1.19) on books written by Anselm, but as throughout his biography, dating cannot be ascertained with certainty.
Eadmer gives an account of the origination of the Proslogion that Southern feels is valuable and probably from Anselm himself. I summarize it here.
Eadmer records Anselm as saying that "all time is wasted which is not devoted either to profitable studies or necessary business," and says he not only lived up to this ideal, but was almost over-zealous in "cultivating all virtues" for himself. But he was mild with others. Eadmer says he had "a horror of sin."
Sources for this report:
Southern, R.W., ed. and trans. Life of Saint Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, by Eadmer. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.
Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 1983 ed. S.v. "Investiture Controversy."
Anselms theological method may be described with the phrase "fides quaerens intellectum," which means faith seeking understanding of itself. This approach is fully in accord with the theological sensibilities of Augustine, who had said "Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand." In Anslems passion to apply all of his heart and mind and soul and strength to the worship and adoration of God, the quest for understanding was consuming. Perhaps this is most evident in Proslogion, which is written in an attitude of prayer. In Cur Deus Homo?, furthermore, Anselm adopted a "remoto Christo" method by which he assumed for the sake of argument that the knowledge and benefits of Christs salvation are not known to him in order to determine whether the necessity for a God-Man can be determined through reason. Importantly, this is not to be understood as an apologetic attempt to justify Christian faith but rather as an instance of fides quaerens intellectum.
Anselm is most famous for his so-called Ontological Argument, found in Proslogion II-IV. This argument has a four step large-scale structure extending through all three chapters. Then Proslogion II itself has a smaller-scale four-step logical structure in the form of a reductio ad absurdum argument. It is important to note, however, the the logical structure of Anselms argument has been a source of much debate over the centuries and again in recent decades. The aim here is to present what I think Anselm most likely thought je was up to.
The strategy of the ontological argument is to discover knowledge of God through reflection on the nature of thought itself, apart from any information about the world. The four large-scale steps are as follows:
The four small-scale steps of Proslogion II (the same logic applies to the argument of Proslogion III) are as follows:
The ontological argument has frequently been criticized and debates rage about whether the criticisms apply only to some forms of the argument or to all forms, including Anselms. The general intuition of its critics seems to be that this form of argument is sneaking something illegitimate into the argument. Judging from the disagreements of critics, however, it is hard to be precise about what that illegitimate something is. Kants criticism of the ontological argument (he knew it from Leibniz) was that it supposes, mistakenly, that existence can be a property of an object. On the contrary, Kant argued, the idea of a non-existent $100 is identical to the idea of an existent $100, so existence makes no contribution to the conception of $100. But properties or attributes of objects do modify the conception of the object, so existence cannot be a property or an attribute of $100, or anything else.
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