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Thought of the week

21st April, if it does not fall on a Sunday as it does this year, is celebrated as the festival of St Anselm. Anselm was a north Italian who arrived in England after many years spent at the monastery of Bec in Normandy. He was a scholar, theologian, and successful administrator and Abbot. At Bec, Anselm had succeeded Lanfranc, the first Norman Archbishop of Canterbury, as Prior and then Abbot so that he was well known to the Norman leadership and senior clergy.

He was strongly favoured as the successor to Lanfranc as Archbishop of Canterbury after the latter’s death in 1089. However his appointment was prevented by King William Rufus for four years, both because of Anselm’s views on the church’s independence from secular rulers, and because William badly needed the revenues of Canterbury for his own use. Eventually Anselm was appointed to Canterbury in 1093 and remained Archbishop until his death on 21st April 1109. His time in office was turbulent because of his disagreements with both King William and his successor Henry I. He was exiled from England by William from 1097 to 1100 and again by Henry from 1103 to 1107.

Anselm combined his role as a man of affairs with deep scholarship as a theologian. He is an example that church leaders can both be active in the world championing the rights of the poor and dispossessed as well as those of the church, and also an original thinker contributing much to the areas of philosophy and spirituality. In his books, Anselm combined personal and spiritual experience with theological argument. He wrote honestly and clearly wrestled with doubt and anxiety in his work. His spirituality balanced the painful reality of humanity in all its failings with the intense hope of the crucifixion and the self-sacrifice of God. 

There is much that we can learn for our own lives from St Anselm, not least his intense self-knowledge and his real awareness of the eternal within the Christian faith. 

A Prayer of St Anselm

O Lord our God,
grant us grace to desire You with our whole heart;
that, so desiring, we may seek,
and, seeking, find you;
and so finding You, may love You;
and loving You, may hate those sins 
from which you have redeemed us.

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