St Anselm OSB, Class III (April 21):the struggle between State and Church


Best known perhaps for his proof of the existence of God, St Anselm (1033-1109) is very much a satin for our times when the relationship between Church and State is once more in dispute.

St Anselm was a Benedictine monk who entered the monastery of Bec at the age of 27 and became abbot in 1079.  Under his rule the monastery became famous as a centre of learning, attracting students from all over Europe.

He was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093, but underwent several periods of disagreement exile due to struggles with King William II and Henry I over his assertion of the freedom of the Church from lay control (the investiture dispute), and the requirement of the State to submit to the spiritual advice of the Church.

He was proclaimed a doctor of the Church in 1720.

In 1909 Pope Pius X issued an encyclical on the saint. As it deals with issues all too pertinent to current struggles between Church and State, here are some extracts from it by way of a taster.

Pius X: Communium Rerum

"Amid the general troubles of the time and the recent disasters at home which afflict Us, there is surely consolation and comfort for Us in that recent display of devotion of the whole Christian people which still continues to be "a spectacle to the world and to angels and to men" (I Cor. iv. 9), and which, if it has now been called forth so generously by the advent of misfortune, has its one true cause in the charity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. For since there is not and there cannot be in the world any charity worthy of the name except through Christ, to Him alone must be attributed all the fruits of it, even in men of lax faith or hostile to religion, who are indebted for whatever vestiges of charity they may possess to the civilization introduced by Christ, which they have not yet succeeded in throwing off entirely and expelling from human society... all must see, and let the enemies of Catholicism be persuaded of it, that the splendor of ceremonial, and the devotion paid to the August Mother of God, and even the filial homage offered to the Supreme Pontiff, are all destined finally for the glory of God, that Christ may be all and in all (Coloss. iii. II), that the Kingdom of God may be established on earth, and eternal salvation gained for men.

This triumph of God on earth, both in individuals and in society, is but the return of the erring to God through Christ, and to Christ through the Church, which We announced as the programme of Our Pontificate both in Our first Apostolic Letters "E supremi Apostolatus Cathedra" (Encyclica diei 4 Octobris MDCCCCIII.), and many times since then. To this return We look with confidence, and plans and hopes are all designed to lead to it as to a port in which the storms even of the present life are at rest. And this is why We are grateful for the homage paid to the Church in Our humble person, as being, with God's help, a sign of the return of the Nations to Christ and a closer union with Peter and the Church.

This affectionate union, varying in intensity according to time and place, and differing in its mode of expression, seems in the designs of Providence to grow stronger as the times grow more difficult for the cause of sound teaching, of sacred discipline, of the liberty of the Church. We have examples of this in the Saints of other centuries, whom God raised up to resist by their virtue and wisdom the fury of persecution against the Church and the diffusion of iniquity in the world.

One of these We wish especially in these Letters to commemorate, now that the eighth centenary of his death is being solemnly celebrated. We mean the Doctor Anselm of Aosta, most vigorous exponent of Catholic truth and defender of the rights of the Church, first as Monk and Abbot in France. and later as Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate in England. It is not inappropriate, We think, after the Jubilee Feasts, celebrated with unwonted splendor, of two other Doctors of Holy Church, Gregory the Great and John Chrysostom, one the light of the Western, the other of the Eastern Church, to fix our gaze on this other star which, if it "differs in brightness" (I. Cor. xv. 41) from them, yet compares well with them in their course, and sheds abroad a light of doctrine and example not less salutary than theirs. Nay, in some respects it might be said even more salutary, inasmuch as Anselm is nearer to us in time, place, temperament, studies, and there is a closer similarity with our own days in the nature of the conflicts borne by him, in the kind of pastoral activity he displayed, in the method of teaching applied and largely promoted by him, by his disciples, by his writings, all composed "in defense of the Christian religion, for the benefit of souls, and for the guidance of all theologians who were to teach sacred letters according to the scholastic method" (Breviar. Rom., die 21 Aprilis). Thus as in the darkness of the night while some stars are setting others rise to light the world, so the sons succeed to the Fathers to illumine the Church, and among these St. Anselm shone forth as a most brilliant star.

In the eyes of the best of his contemporaries Anselm seemed to shine as a luminary of sanctity and learning amid the darkness of the error and iniquity of the age in which he lived. He was in truth a "prince of the faith, an ornament of the Church . . . a glory of the episcopate, a man outranking all the great men" of his time ("Epicedion in obitum Anselmi"), "both learned and good and brilliant in speech, a man of splendid intellect" ("In Epitaphio") whose reputation was such that it has been well written of him that there was no man in the world then "who would say: Anselm is less than I, or like me" ("Epicedion in obitum Anselmi"), and hence esteemed by kings, princes, and supreme pontiffs, as well as by his brethren in religion and by the faithful, nay, "beloved even by his enemies" (Ib.). While he was still Abbot the great and most powerful Pontiff Gregory VII wrote him letters breathing esteem and affection and "recommending the Catholic Church and himself to his prayers" (Breviar. Rom.. die 21 Aprilis): to him also wrote Urban II recognizing "his distinction in religion and learning" (In libro 2 Epist. S. Anselmi, ep. 32); in many and most affectionate letters Paschal 11 extolled his "reverent devotion, strong faith, his pious and persevering zeal, his authority in religion and knowledge" (In lib. 3 Epist. S. Anselmi, ep. 74 et 42), which easily induced the Pontiff to accede to his requests and made him not hesitate to call him the most learned and devout of the bishops of England.

And yet Anselm in his own eyes was but a despicable and unknown goodfor-nothing, a man of no parts, sinful in his life. Nor did this great modesty and most sincere humility detract in the least from his high thinking, whatever may be said to the contrary by men of depraved life and judgment, of whom the Scripture says that "the animal man understandeth not the things of the spirit of God" (I Cor. ii. 14). And more wonderful still, greatness of soul and unconquerable constancy, tried in so many ways by troubles, attacks, exiles, were in him blended with such gentle and pleasing manners that he was able to calm the angry passions of his enemies and win the hearts of those who were enraged against him, so that the very men "to whom his cause was hostile" praised him because he was good ("Epicedion in obitum Anselmi").

Thus in him there existed a wonderful harmony between qualities which the world falsely judges to be irreconcilable and contradictory: simplicity and greatness, humility and magnanimity, strength and gentleness, knowledge and piety, so that both in the beginning and throughout the whole course of his religious life "he was singularly esteemed by all as a model of sanctity and doctrine" (Breviar. Rom., die 21 Aprilis).

Nor was this double merit of Anselm confined within the walls of his own household or within the limits of the school - it went forth thence as from a military tent into the dust and the glare of the highway. For, as We have already hinted, Anselm fell on difficult days and had to undertake fierce battles in defense of justice and truth. Naturally inclined though he was to a life of contemplation and study, he was obliged to plunge into the most varied and most important occupations even those affecting the government of the Church, and thus to be drawn into the worst turmoils of his agitated age. With his sweet and most gentle temperament he was forced, out of love for sound doctrine and for the sanctity of the Church, to give up a life of peace, the friendship of the great ones of the world, the favors of the powerful, the united affection, which he at first enjoyed, of his very brethren in troubles of all kinds. Thus, finding England full of hatred and dangers, he was forced to oppose a vigorous resistance to kings and princes, usurpers and tyrants over the Church and the people, against weak or unworthy ministers of the sacred office, against the ignorance and vice of the great and small alike; ever a valiant defender of the faith and morals, of the discipline and liberty, and therefore also of the sanctity and doctrine, of the Church of God, and thus truly worthy of that further encomium of Paschal: "Thanks be to God that in you the authority of the Bishop ever prevails, and that, although set in the midst of barbarians, you are not deterred from announcing the truth either by the violence of tyrants," or the favor of the powerful, neither by the flame of fire or the force of arms; and again: "We rejoice because by the grace of God you are neither disturbed by threats nor moved by promises" (In lib. iii. Epist. S. Anselmi, ep. 44 et 74).

In view of all this, it is only right, venerable brethren, that We, after a lapse of eight centuries, should rejoice like Our Predecessor Paschal, and, echoing his words, return thanks, to God. But, at the same time, it is a pleasure for Us to be able to exhort you to fix your eyes on this luminary of doctrine and sanctity, who, rising here in Italy, shone for over thirty years upon France, for more than fifteen years upon England, and finally upon the whole Church, as a tower of strength and beauty..."

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