Browsing From the Pastor's Desk

Our Parish patron saint

Apr 12, 2018

If you keep tabs on the Ordo and Catholic calendar, you will note that this Saturday is the feast day of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, our very own Parish patron saint.

Saint Anselm was a monk, a Benedictine, an Abbot and then an Archbishop. I guess you could say he was English, since he was Archbishop of Canterbury and all that. But he was also a Lombard, a once Barbarian tribe that settled down in Italy; but he was born in one of those places around which the borders fluctuated and was sometimes in what is now France. Of course, he went to France, Normandy to be exact, to join an important monastery there, of which he eventually became Abbot. Only after that did he cross the channel to become “English.”

Borders didn’t mean a lot in those days. The globalized nature of Christendom, at least the Europeanized nature, was rather like the present-day European Union, except that it was much more Christian.

Saint Anselm was a monk at Bec in Normandy in 1060, and so was there in 1066 when the Duke of Normandy and his friends sailed across the English channel and conquered England and all that. Needing a suitably loyal and Norman Archbishop, William the Conqueror had the unfortunate Saxon archbishop canonically deposed and invited the abbot of Bec, Lanfranc, to take the job. Both the Conqueror King William and Lanfranc reigned relatively happily until 1087 and 1089 respectively.

William’s successor, William Rufus, was not nearly as nice as his father. After Lanfranc died, while there was no Archbishop, King William Rufus was able to keep all the church revenue for himself. As for appointing a new Archbishop, he basically said, “over my dead body.” But when this William actually appeared to be dying in 1093, he thought it might be on account of this, so he kindly invited Anselm to come across the channel and take up his office in Canterbury.

It was a shallow conversion by the king, however. He and Anselm had different ideas about the role and independence of the Church. As later he subtly described his feelings about Anselm, he said, “Yesterday I hated him with great hatred, today I hate him with yet greater hatred and he can be certain that tomorrow and thereafter I shall hate him continually with ever fiercer and more bitter hatred.” He was as good as his word. Anselm had to go into exile once under William Rufus and once again under the next king.

But we remember Anselm for his holiness and scholarship, not for his adventures. On his statue at Westminster Abbey, shown to the left, he is holding the words “Cur Deus Homo.” That is Latin for “Why God became man.” That is the title of one of his greatest works. Anselm’s answer is “The Father has joined us to his almighty Son as his body and co-heirs with him, and made us who are called in his name to be gods. But God is the one who divinizes us; you on the contrary will be the one who is divinized.”

Yes, that is a mouthful. But Athanasius said it; Irenaeus said it. God became man so that man could become god. That is our magnificent, almost unbelievable destiny as Christians.

Thomas Aquinas said it again after Anselm. St. Anselm is the father of Scholastic theology, a theology not for the faint of mind. If you don’t think so, work your way through his famous Ontological Argument for the existence of God. I won’t even try to summarize it here.

But Saint Anselm was all about explaining and understanding. So he is a Doctor of the Church. His other great work is the Proslogion: Fides Quaerens Intellectum… Faith seeking understanding. That is one of the classical definitions of theology. You will notice beneath our Saint Anselm Parish crest the words “Credo ut Intelligam.” These also are from our saint. They mean “I believe so that I may understand.”

You might think from all of this that Saint Anselm was a geek, an egg-head, an archbishop with his head in the clouds. But he was not. He was an archbishop for all men and seasons.

Saint Anselm vigorously opposed the slave trade and moved the national council at Westminster to pass a law prohibiting the sale of human beings. Though he was personally a mild and gentle man and loved peace and harmony, he did not shrink from conflict when vital Christian principles were at stake, and he suffered persecution rather than compromise them. He was an apostle of the Church’s social teaching as much as an apostle of the Gospel. In him we have a noble and powerful patron. Saint Anselm, pray for us!

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