Anselm of Canterbury

From Academic Kids

Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033 or 1034April 21, 1109), a widely influential medieval philosopher and theologian, held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. Called the founder of Scholasticism, he is famous as the inventor of the ontological argument for the existence of God.



Anselm was born in the city of Aosta in the Kingdom of Burgundy. Aosta is located in the Italian Alps region of Valle d'Aosta (Aosta Valley), near the borders with twentieth century France and Switzerland. He left home at the age of twenty-three and traveled to France. In 1059 he was drawn to Normandy by the fame of Lanfranc, who was then prior of the Benedictine Abbey of Bec. The following year he entered the abbey as a novice.

Three years later, in 1063, when Lanfranc was made the abbot of Caen, Anselm was elected prior. In 1078, on the death of the warrior monk Herluin, founder and first abbot of Bec, Anselm was elected abbot. Under his jurisdiction, Bec continued as a famous seat of learning, although Anselm appears to have been less interested in attracting external students to it. It was there that Anselm wrote his first philosophical works, the Monologion and Proslogion. These were followed by The Dialogues on Truth, Free Will and the Fall of the Devil.

As abbot of Bec, Anselm was frequently called to assist with the abbey's possessions in England. He was favored to succeed Lanfranc as Archbishop of Canterbury. When Lanfranc died in 1089, the king, William II chose not to appoint anyone. In 1093 when the king became ill and thought he was soon to die, he appointed Anselm as Archbishop of Canterbury. During the next four years there was a continual struggle between William and Anselm over the handling of the rights and privileges of the church. Anselm wanted Rome's help in this struggle; in 1097 he gained permission from William to go, but he received little practical help from Rome. When he attempted to return to England, William would not allow him entrance.

William died in 1100 and his successor, Henry I, invited Anselm to return to England. But in 1103, Henry returned Anselm to exile. After a compromise with Henry in 1107, Anselm was allowed to return to England, where he lived until his death in 1109. He was canonized in 1494 and named a Doctor of the Church in 1720.

Anselm was an able, high-principled, God-fearing man, and a calmly resolute upholder of the teaching and authority of the Church.


Philosophers perhaps think of Anselm primarily as the author of the ontological argument for the existence of God. However, the term ontological was first applied to such arguments by Kant, and it is the subject of debate whether Anselm's argument is an ontological argument at all. Anselm also authored a number of other arguments for the existence of God, based on cosmological and teleological grounds.

Western theologians regard Anselm as important because he originated the idea of substitutionary atonement in his work, Cur Deus Homo? ("Why did God become Man?"). Anselm argues that man's sin offends God's righteousness, and that God cannot save man so long as His righteousness is unsatisfied. Since all men are sinful, no man can satisfy God; consequently, God sent Jesus, whose death and resurrection satisfied God's righteousness and allowed for the salvation of man. In this way Anselm established one of the most prominent atonement theories in the history of western theology. His theory is generally rejected by the Eastern Orthodox Church and is sometimes cited as the core difference between Eastern and Western Christianity.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm was also an influential religious and political figure in the Europe of the time, whose disputes with William Rufus and Henry I over the rights of the Church twice led to his exile from England.

Major Works

Monologion (1076)
Proslogion (10771078)
Cur Deus Homo (1098)

Other works

De grammatico (10751085)
De veritate (10801085)
De libertate arbitrii (10801085)
De casu diaboli (10851090)
De Epistola de incarnatione verbi (1092 1st version ; 1094 final version)
De conceptu virginali et originali peccato (10991100)
Meditatio redemptionis humanae (10991100)
De processione spiritus sancti (1102)
Epistolae de sacramentis (Epistola de sacrificio azymi et fermentati and Epistola de sacramentis ecclesiae) (11061107)
De concordia praescientiae et praedestinationis et gratiae dei cum libero arbitrio (11071108)

External links

de:Anselm von Canterbury

es:Anselmo de Canterbury fr:Anselme de Cantorbry gl:Anselmo de Canterbury ko:안셀무스 he:אנסלם הקדוש lt:Anzelmas Kenterberietis nl:Anselmus van Canterbury ja:アンセルムス pl:Anzelm z Canterbury pt:Santo Anselmo sk:Anselm z Canterbury sv:Anselm av Canterbury


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