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Internet Enciclopedia of Philosophy - Anselm

Internet Enciclopedia of Philosophy - Anselm

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St. Anselm of Canterbury (10331109)Anselm was one of the most important Christian thinkers of the eleventh century. He is most famousin philosophy for having discovered and articulated the so-called ontological argument; and intheology for his doctrine of the atonement. However, his work extends to many other importantphilosophical and theological matters, among which are: understanding the aspects and the unity of the divine nature; the extent of our possible knowledge and understanding of thedivine nature; thecomplex nature of the will and its involvement in free choice; the interworkings of human willing andaction and divine grace; the natures of truth and justice; the natures and origins of virtues and vices;the nature of evil as negation or privation; and the condition and implications of original sin.In the course of his work and thought, unlike most of his contemporaries, Anselm deployedargumentation that was in most respects only indirectly dependent on Sacred Scripture, Christiandoctrine, and tradition. Anselm also developed sophisticated analyses of the language used indiscussion and investigation of philosophical and theological issues, highlighting the importance of focusing on the meaning of the terms used rather than allowing oneself to be misled by the verbalforms, and examining the adequacy of the language to the objects of investigation, particularly tothe divine nature. In addition, in his work he both discussed and exemplified the resolution of apparent contradictions or paradoxes by making appropriate distinctions. For these reasons, onetitle traditionally accorded him is the Scholastic Doctor, since his approach to philosophical andtheological matters both represents and contributed to early medieval Christian Scholasticism.Table of ContentsLifeInfluencesMethodology: Faith and ReasonThe ProslogionGaunilos Reply and Anselms ResponseThe MonologionCur Deus HomoDe GrammaticoThe De VeritateThe De Libertate ArbitriiThe De Casu DiaboliThe De Concordia
The FragmentsOther WritingsReferences and Further ReadingsPrimary SourcesSecondary Sources1. LifeAnselm was born in 1033 in Aosta, a border town of the kingdom of Burgundy. In his adolescence, hedecided that there was no better life than the monastic one. He sought to become a monk, but wasrefused by the abbot of the local monastery. Leaving his birthplace as a young man, he headed northacross the Alps to France, eventually arriving at Bec in Normandy, where he studied under theeminent theologian and dialectician Lanfranc, whose involvement in disputes with Berengar spurreda revival in theological speculation and application of dialectic in theological argument. At themonastery of Bec, Anselm devoted himself to scholarship, and found an earlier childhood attractionto the monastic life reawakening. Unable to decide between becoming a monk at Bec or Cluny,becoming a hermit, or living off his inheritance and giving alms to the poor, he put the decision inthe hands of Lanfranc and Maurilius, the Archbishop of Rouen, who decided Anselm should entermonastic life at Bec, which he did in 1060.In 1063, after Lanfranc left Bec for Caen, Anselm was chosen to be prior. Among the various tasksAnselm took on as prior was that of instructing the monks, but he also had time left for carrying onrigorous spiritual exercises, which would play a great role in his philosophical and theologicaldevelopment. As his biographer, Eadmer, writes: being continually given up to God and to spiritualexercises, he attained such a height of divine speculation that he was able by Gods help to see intoand unravel many most obscure and previously insoluble questions (1962, p. 12). He becameparticularly well known, both in the monastic community and in the wider community, not only forthe range and depth of his insight into human nature, the virtues and vices, and the practice of moral and religious life, but also for the intensity of his devotions and asceticism.In 1070, Anselm began to write, particularly prayers and meditations, which he sent to monasticfriends and to noblewomen for use in their own private devotions. He also engaged in a great deal of correspondence, leaving behind numerous letters. Eventually, his teaching and thinking culminatedin a set of treatises and dialogues. In 1077, he produced the Monologion, and in 1078 theProslogion. Eventually, Anselm was elected abbot of the monastery. At some time while still at Bec,Anselm wrote the De Veritate (On Truth), De Libertate Arbitrii (On Freedom of Choice), De CasuDiaboli (On the Fall of the Devil), and De Grammatico.
In 1092, Anselm traveled to England, where Lanfranc had previously been arch-bishop of Canterbury. The Episcopal seat had been kept vacant so King William Rufus could collect its income,and Anselm was proposed as the new bishop, a prospect neither the king nor Anselm desired.Eventually, the king fell ill, changed his mind in fear of his demise, and nominated Anselm to becomebishop. Anselm attempted to argue his unfitness for the post, but eventually accepted. In addition tothe typical cares of the office, his tenure as arch-bishop of Canterbury was marked by nearlyuninterrupted conflict over numerous issues with King William Rufus, who attempted not only toappropriate church lands, offices, and incomes, but even to have Anselm deposed. Anselm had to gointo exile and travel to Rome to plead the case of the English church to the Pope, who not onlyaffirmed Anselms position, but refused Anselms own request to be relieved of his office. Whilearchbishop in exile, however, Anselm did finish his Cur Deus Homo, also writing the treatisesEpistolae de Incarnatione Verbi (On the Incarnation of the Word), De Conceptu Virginali et deOriginali Peccato (On the Virgin Conception and on Original Sin), De Processione Spiritus Sancti (Onthe Proceeding of the Holy Spirit), and De Concordia Praescientia et Praedestinationis et Gratiae Deicum Libero Arbitrio (On the Harmony of the Foreknowledge, the Predestination, and the Grace of God with Free Choice).Upon returning to England after William Rufuss death, conflict eventually ensued between thearchbishop and the new king, Henry I, requiring Anselm once again to travel to Rome. When judgment was made by Pope Paschal II in Anselms favor, the king forbade him to return to England,but eventually reconciliation took place. Anselm died in 1109, leaving behind several pupils andfriends of some importance, among them Eadmer, Anselms biographer, and the theologian GilbertCrispin. He was declared a doctor of the Roman Catholic Church in 1720, and is considered a saint bythe Roman Catholic Church and the churches in the Anglican Communion.Today, Anselm is most well known for his Proslogion proof for the existence of God, but his thoughtwas widely known in the Middle Ages, and still today in certain circles of scholarship, particularlyamong religious scholars, for considerably more than that single achievement. For fuller biographiesof Anselm, see Eadmers Vita Sancti Anselmi/ The Life of St. Anselm: Archbishop of Canterbury, andAlexanders Liber ex dictis beati Anselmi.2. InfluencesWith the exception of St. Augustine, and to a lesser extent Boethius, it is difficult to definitivelyascribe the influence of other thinkers to the development of St. Anselms thought. To be sure,Anselm studied under Lanfranc, but Lanfranc does not appear to have been a significant influence onthe actual content or expression of Anselms thought, and he largely ignored Lanfrancs misgivingsabout the method of theMonologion. Anselm cites Boethius, but does not draw upon himextensively. Other figures have been proposed as influences on Anselm, for instance John ScotusEriugena and Pseudo-Dionysus, but any such proposals are set in the proper framework by theseremarks from Koyré: The influence of these two great thinkers is not at all lacking in verisimilitude a

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