Sunday, April 21, 2013

Saint of the Ship

Although it's superseded liturgically by Sunday, today is the feast of St. Anselm, variously called Anselm of Aosta, Anselm of Bec, and Anselm of Canterbury. Aosta, where he was born, is in the Italian Alps, close to France. St. Anselm joined the Benedictines; his original monastery was Bec Abbey in northern France. He became Abbot of the Abbey, succeeding Lanfranc, who went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm also succeeded Lanfranc at Canterbury. He was a major figure in the late phase of the controversial Gregorian Reform and was exiled twice due to the investiture controversy, the major Church-state issue of the day. He also had an important effect on church politics in England. At the time it was unclear whether Canterbury or York was the primary see in England; it is due to Anselm's maneuvering that Canterbury became recognized as having the primacy. His canonization as a saint was largely due to the work of St. Thomas Becket, although we don't actually know the exact date when the canonization occurred -- and given the era, in which formal canonization was only just developing, it could very well be that there was no exact date, and that it's simply the case that the practice of putting him on calendars of saints spread. Certainly his being recognized by Canterbury and the Benedictines would have helped, if that's what happened. He was made Doctor of the Church in 1720 for the quality and importance of his teaching.

He's most famous for his writings, of course, but this year I thought it might be worthwhile to point out that he didn't just spend time writing, but was actually involved in some of the major practical and political controversies of his day. This is, incidentally, the reason why one of Anselm's iconographic symbols is the ship: it represents his work in trying to keep the Church independent of the state.

Since it's Sunday, it won't be used, but the Collect for his feast is a pretty good one:

O God, who led the Bishop Saint Anselm to seek out and teach the depths of your wisdom, grant, we pray, that our faith in you may so aid our understanding, that what we believe by your command may give delight to our hearts. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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