Anselm is an old friend. But if you’re not a part of that odd clan of theology and philosophy geeks, he’s probably a stranger. Most folks usually remember him as that medieval refusing blind credulity for a faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum), and as the Archbishop who gave the “Dark Ages” its theory of atonement. Others will know him for his argument for God’s existence, the ontological argument. While justly renowned for all these things, people often overlook St Anselm’s greater contribution.
Anselm’s theological insights emerged, so to speak, within the incense cloud of prayer and worship. He refused to separate the light of intellect from the heat of piety. Clearly embodying the Augustinian tradition, he held reading, meditation, and writing together as one. For as Sister Benedicta Ward reminds us, the end of these things for Anselm, was always prayer. This is often forgotten, but easily observed by thumbing the bishop’s greatest woks. His writings are all prayers of faith seeking greater clarity. In other words, Anselm’s enduring contribution is to teach us that all true theology, true thinking about God, is never less than conversation with him.
So, on the day we Anglicans remember St Anselm, Archbishop and Teacher of the Faith (1109), I commend his lesser known Prayers and Meditations. Absorbing this most basic aspect of Anselm’s life can give a deeper insight into his work, and maybe inspire you with the wisdom of his example. To my evangelical friends, I would only say, “Give Anselm a chance!” So his prayers to saints aren’t your thing. Don’t dismiss someone before you’ve made a serious effort to understand. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a kindred brother and spiritual mentor, or at least someone with various insights you can welcome. So go get the Penguin Classics edition of the Prayers and Meditations of St Anselm with Proslogion. And don’t forget to read Sister Ward’s insightful introduction.
I’ll give Anselm the last word:
Teach me to seek you, and as I seek you, show yourself to me; for I cannot seek you unless you show me how, and I will never find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you by desiring you, and desire you by seeking you; let me find you by loving you, and love you in finding you. Amen
The Book of Common Prayer (2019), pg 672