(LifeSiteNews) — A monk, a bishop, a Doctor of the Church, such was the saint whose feast comes to gladden us on this twenty-first day of April. He was a martyr, also, at least in desire, and we may add, in merit too – for he did enough to earn the glorious palm.
When we think of Anselm, we picture to ourselves a man in whom are combined the humility and meekness of the cloister with the zeal and courage of the episcopal dignity; a man who was both a sage and a saint; a man whom it was impossible not to love and respect.
He left his native country of Piedmont for the Monastery of Bec in France, where he became a Benedictine monk. Being elected superior, he realized in himself the type of an abbot, as drawn by St. Benedict in his Rule: “He that is made Abbot,” says the holy patriarch, “should study to give help rather than to give commands.” (The Holy Rule, ch. 64)
We read that the love entertained for Anselm by his brethren was beyond description. His whole time was devoted to them, either in giving them spiritual direction, or in communicating to them his own sublime knowledge of the sacred sciences. After governing them for several years, he was taken from them, and compelled to accept the dignity of Archbishop of Canterbury. He was a worthy successor of Augustine, Dunstan, Elphege, and Lanfranc; and by his own noble example of courage, he prepared the way for the glorious martyr Thomas, who succeeded him in less than a century.
As bishop, his whole life was spent in fighting for the liberty of the Church. Though gentle as a lamb by nature, he was all energy for this great cause. He used to say: “Christ would not have his Spouse be a slave; there is nothing in this world that God loves more than the liberty of His Church.”
There was a time when the Son of God allowed Himself to be fettered with bonds in order that He might loosen us from the chains of our sins; but now that He has risen in triumph from the dead, He wills that His Spouse should be, like Himself, free. She cannot otherwise exercise the ministry of salvation confided to Her by Her divine Lord; and yet there is scarcely a single hundred years of Her existence in which She has not had to fight for this holy liberty.
The rulers of this earth, with very few exceptions, have ever been jealous of Her influence, and have sought to lessen it by every possible means. In our own times there are numbers of Her children who do not even know that She has any rights or privileges; they would be at a loss to understand you, if you told them that She is the Spouse of Christ, and therefore a queen; they think it quite enough of Her, if She enjoy the same amount of freedom and toleration as the sects She condemns; and they cannot see how, under such conditions as these, the Church is not the kingdom He wished Her to be, but a mere slave.
St. Anselm would have abominated all such theories as these; so does every true Catholic. He is not driven into disloyalty to the Church by the high-sounding words progress and modern society; he knows that there is nothing on earth equal to the Church; and when he sees the world convulsed by revolutions, he knows that all comes from the Church having been deprived of Her rights. One of these is that She should not only be recognized, in the secret of our conscience, as the one only true Church, but that, as such, She should be publicly confessed and outwardly defended against every opposition or error.
Jesus, Her divine founder, promised to give Her all nations as Her inheritance; He kept His promise, and She was once the queen and mother of them all. But nowadays, a new principle has been asserted, to the effect that the Church and all sects must be on an equal footing s far as the protection of the state goes. The principle has been received with acclamation, and hailed as a mighty progress achieved by modern enlightenment: even Catholics, whose previous services to religion had endeared them to our hearts and gained our confidence, have become warm defenders of the impious theory.
Trying as were the times when St. Anselm governed the See of Canterbury, they were spared the humiliation of producing and ratifying such doctrine as this. The tyrannical interference of the Norman kings was an evil far less injurious than the modern system, which is subversive of the very idea of a Church. Open persecution would be a boon, compared to the fashionable error of which we are speaking.
A winter torment brings desolation in its track: but in the summer, when the flood is over, nature brings back her verdure and flowers. The errors which now prevail are like a great sea that gradually sweeps over the whole earth: and when the Church can find no spot whereon to rest, She will take Her flight to heaven, and men must expect the speedy coming of the judge.
Anselm was not only the zealous and heroic defender of the rights and privileges of the Church; he was also a light to men by his learning. The contemplation of revealed truths was his delight. He studied them in their bearings one upon the other, and his writings occupy a distinguished place in the treatises of Catholic Theology.
God had blessed him with extraordinary talent. Amidst all the troubles and anxieties and occupations of his various duties, he found time for study. Even when passing from place to place as an exile, he was intent on the meditation of the mysteries of religion, thus preparing those sublime reflections which he has left us on the articles of our faith.
The Church gives, in Her liturgy, the following sketch of our saint’s life:
Anselm was born at Aosta, a town on the confines of Italy, of noble and Catholic parents, by name Gondolphe and Hermemberga. From his early childhood he gave great promise of future holiness and learning by his love of study and his longing after a life of perfection.
The ardor of youth made him indulge for a while in worldly pleasures; but he speedily returned to his former virtuous life; and then, leaving his country and all that he possessed, he repaired to the Monastery of Bec, of the Order of St. Benedict. There he made his religious profession, under the Abbot Herluin, a most zealous love of monastic discipline, and (Prior) Lanfranc, a man of great repute for learning. Such was the fervor of his piety, his application to study, and his desire to advance in virtue, that everyone held him in the highest veneration as a model of holiness and learning.
So mortified was he in eating and drinking, and so frequent were his fasts, that he seemed to have lost the sense of taste. He spent the day in the performance of monastic duties, and in giving answers, both by word of mouth and by letters, to the several questions proposed to him concerning matters of religion. He passed a considerable portion of the time allotted to sleep in nourishing his soul with holy meditations, during which he shed abundant tears.
When he was made prior of the monastery, certain of his brethren were jealous at his promotion; but he so far gained them over by charity, humility, and prudence, that their jealousy was changed into love both of their prior and their God, to the great advantage of regular discipline. At the death of the abbot, Anselm was chosen to succeed him, and reluctantly accepted the office. It was then that his reputation for learning and virtue began to spread far and wide, and secured him the respect of kings and bishops. Not only so, but even Gregory VII, who at that time was suffering much from persecution, honored him with his friendship, and wrote to him letters full of affection, begging of him to pray for him and the Church.
At the death of Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had been his former master, Anselm was compelled, much against his own will, to accept the government of that see. William, king of England, the clergy and the people, all urged him to it. He immediately set himself to reform the corrupt morals of the people. By word and example, first, and then by his writings, and by holding councils, he succeeded in restoring ancient piety and ecclesiastical discipline.
But it was not long before King William attempted, both by violence and threats, to interfere with the rights of the Church. Then did Anselm resist him with priestly courage, for which his property was confiscated, and he himself banished from the country. He turned his steps towards Rome, where Urban II received him with great marks of honor, and passed a high encomium upon him at the Council of Bari, where Anselm proved against the Greeks, by innumerable quotations from the Scriptures and the holy Fathers, that the Holy Ghost proceeds also from the Son.
After William’s death, he was recalled to England by King Henry, William’s brother. Shortly after his return, he slept in the Lord. He was justly venerated on account of his miracles and his virtues, among which latter may be mentioned his great devotion to the Passion, and to the Holy Mother of Jesus.
He moreover acquired a high reputation by his learning, which he used in the defense of the Christian religion, and for the good of souls. He first set the example to those theologians who have followed the scholastic method in treating on the sacred sciences. The works he has written prove that his wisdom was a gift bestowed on him by heaven.
We take the following Responsories and Antiphons from an office approved by the Holy See.
℟. This is Anselm, the renowned Doctor formed under Lanfranc’s care: who, when he was the beloved father of the monks, was called to wear a Bishop’s mitre; * And nobly did he fight for the Liberty of holy Church, alleluia.
℣. He boldly asserted, that the Spouse of Christ was not a slave, but free. * And nobly did he fight for the Liberty of holy Church, alleluia.
℟. Blessed Anselm said sorrowing to the Bishops: You would yoke together to the plough a wild bull and a weak lamb: the bull will cruelly drag the lamb through thorns and briars; * And your joy shall soon be changed into mourning, alleluia.
℣. Afflictions await me; but I fear none of them, so that I may consummate my course. * And your joy shall soon be changed into mourning, alleluia.
℟. When the Fathers were assembled in Council, Urban, the Pope, cried out: Where art thou, Father and Master Anselm, Archbishop of the English? Come up here to us; fight for thine own and our Mother, and help us, alleluia.
℣. Blessed be thy wisdom, and blessed the word of thy mouth! * Come up here to us; fight for thine own and our Mother, and help us, alleluia.
ANT. Anselm was a lamb in meekness, and a lion in courage. He was filled to overflowing with heavenly wisdom, and he enlightened the minds of men, alleluia.
ANT. Blessed Anselm taught the princes of the earth, saying: There is nothing in this world that God loves more than the Liberty of his Church, alleluia.
The following Hymn is from the same Office.
Lo, here is Anselm, a courageous pontiff, a true monk, a doctor with his laurel wreath upon him. Let our festive choir sing fervently a hymn in his praise.
He had not reached the years of manhood, and yet was wise; so wise, indeed, that he trampled on the flower of this perishable world, and fled to solitude, that he might receive instruction from Lanfranc.
Borne on the wing of firmest faith, he entered into the mysteries of the Word. Did any mortal drink more fully than he of the limpid fount of Truth?
Taking upon thee, loved Father, the office of Abbot, thou tenderly caredst thy dear flock. Thou carries the weak upon thy shoulders; thou encouragedst the fervent by thine own example.
The king would have thee Primate: O fear not the combat! Triumph shall be thine. When he sends thee into exile, thou wilt shine, as a generous light, upon lands beyond the sea.
The sacred Liberty, dear to Jesus above all things, and which he won for us by redeeming us, excited Anselm’s zeal. Never had it a braver defender than he.
Thy name was held in veneration at Home. The Supreme Pontiff showed thee great honor, when, in the presence of the Fathers, he said to thee: “Fight for the Faith! Defend our dogmas!”
We pray thee, be mindful of the holy Flock! Intercede for us to the Blessed Three, to whom be worthy praise from all forever. Amen.
O holy pontiff Anselm! beloved of God and men! the Church, whose cause thou didst so zealously defend on earth, celebrates, this day, thy praise, and honors thee as one of Her dearest saints. Thy meekness, condescension, and charity gave thee a resemblance to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Like Him, thou couldst truly say: I know my sheep, and my sheep know me. (John 10:14) Thou didst watch over them day and night, lest the wolf should come and find them unprotected. Far from fleeing at his approach, thou didst go forth to meet him, and nothing could induce thee to yield to his sacrilegious tyranny.
Heroic champion of the Church’s liberty! protect it in these our days, when there is not a country left where it is not insulted or ignored. Raise up in every place pastors with a spirit of holy independence such as thou hadst; that thus the faithful may take courage and that every Christian may boldly and proudly confess that he himself is a member of the Church, and that the interests of our spiritual mother are far more deserving of our solicitude than those of the whole world besides.
God had gifted thee, O Anselm, with that Christian philosophy which bows down to the teachings of faith, and which, being thus purified by humility, is elevated to the intelligence of the sublimest truths. The Church, in acknowledgement of the benefits She derived from thy learning, has conferred upon thee the title of Doctor, which for a long time was confined to those great men who lived in the early Christian ages, and whose writings are the reflex of the preaching of the apostles. Thy teaching has been deemed worthy of being numbered with that of the ancient Fathers, for it came from the same divine Spirit, and was the result of prayer rather than of study.
Obtain for us, O holy Doctor, that “our faith,” like thine, “may seek understanding.” Nowadays, there are many who blaspheme what they know not; (Jude 1:10) but there are many also who know little or nothing of what they believe. Hence arise a deplorable confusion of ideas, compromises are made between truth and error, and the only true doctrines are despised, scouted, or at least undefended. Pray to our Heavenly Father, O Anselm, that He would bless the world with holy and learned men, who may teach the path of truth, and dispel the mists of error; that thus the children of the Church may not be led astray.
Look down with affection, O holy pontiff, on the venerable order which, when God called thee from the vanities of the world, received thee, made thee one of her children, gave thy soul its life, and thy mind the light of wisdom. She claims thy protection. Thou art a son of the great patriarch Benedict: forget not thy brethren. Bless them in France, where thou didst first embrace the monastic life; bless them in England, where thou wast primate, and yet still the humble monk.
Pray for the two countries, for both are dear to thee. Faith is weak in one; and heresy reigns supreme in the other. Beseech our Lord to show His mercy to both: He is all-powerful, and He turns not a deaf ear to the prayers of His saints. If, in His justice, He have decreed not to restore to these two countries their ancient Catholic constitution, pray that, at least, the number of souls saved may be great, that conversions may be frequent, and that the laborers sent at the eleventh hour to the vineyard may emulate the zeal of them that were first called!
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Guéranger (1841-1875). LifeSiteNews is grateful to The Ecu-Men website for making this classic work easily available online.