The life of Saint Anselm is well known. It belongs to the history of England. By nature a recluse and a thinker, he was called upon to play an active part in political life under circumstances of great difficulty. In the midst of these he bore himself with a conscientious uprightness, a quiet dignity and a persistency in the refusal to sacrifice principle to expediency which justified those who called him against his will to the throne of Canterbury: but his heart was elsewhere, in that passionate search for the innermost meaning of his religious belief, of which the history of the Church affords no more striking example than his. The quarrels about investitures, about the relations of Church and State, of Pope and King, which distracted his outward life in his later years, have left no trace in his writings.! In a selection from these, intended to form part of a Library of Devotion, we need not d well long upon them. The only one of the works here translated, the date of whose composition is known to us, was written before Anselm was archbishop, while he was still living in the seclusion of his abbey at Bee in Normandy. Even of this earlier part of his life information is so ready to hand that I do not propose to give here more than a very brief account of it. The following outline will be sufficient to inform the reader what manner of man the author was, whose devotions are put before him. Anselm was born in 1033 at Aosta in Piedmont, a Burgundian city of Roman origin, governed by its own prince-bishops, and lying at the Italian end of the road over the pass of the Great St Bernard. Both his parents were of noble rank, and his mother, Ernlenburga, was a kinswoman of the counts of Maurienne, from whom the house of Savoy, who now sit on the throne of Italy, are descended. A pious and studious boyhood, during which he twice begged for admission to the monastic life from an abbot of his acquaintance, who twice refused him for fear of offending his father, was succeeded by a time in which indulgence in the pleasures of youth diverted him from more serious courses and called down upon him, after the restraining influence of his mother had been withdrawn by her death, the undiscriminating indignation of his father. Finding that nothing he could do availed to win back his father's favour, he at last turned his back upon home and kindred and, with one attendant, set out across the Mont Cenis, to seek a new career beyond the Alps; and so came at last to Bec, drawn by the fame of his countryman, the Lombard scholar Lanfranc of Pavia, then a monk at Bec, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury and chief counsellor of William the Conqueror. He was himself professed in the same monastery, being now twenty-seven years of age; and soon, in 1063, succeeded Lanfranc, who was then promoted to be Abbot of Duke William's newly founded Abbey of 8t Stephen at Caen, in the office of Prior; in which capacity he was, owing to the great age of the founder-abbot Hedwin, the principal governor of the society. In 1078 Hedwin died, and Anselm was elected his successor. The conquest of England by the Norman Duke William in 1066 had brought with it an accession to the abbey of property in that country, which it became the duty of Anselm occasionally to visit. On one of these visits it was that he persuaded his old master Lanfranc, who in 1070 had been raised to the Archbishopric of Canterbury, of the propriety, concerning which Lanfranc had doubted, of recognizing as a martyr his predecessor Alphege, who had been put to death by the heathen Danes, not expressly for refusing to deny the faith of Christ, but because he would not suffer his flock to be impoverished by providing a ransom for him. Anselm, we are told, defended the right of Alphege to the glorious title of martyr as one who had died for righteousness, as the Baptist for truth, and therefore both alike for Christ, who is "ery truth and very righteousness.
Clement CJ Webb MA, Paperback, ISBN 10: 1519378203, ISBN 13: 9781519378200