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THE FATHER OF SCHOLASTICISM

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Saint Anselm

“Faith seeking understanding” was the great saying of Saint Anselm who helped to develop one of the two fundamental approaches to western theology.

Born in Burgundy in 1033 he lived from the age of 17 until he was 59 in the Benedictine abbey of Bec in Normandy. Then he visited England and was compelled, much against his desires, to become archbishop of Canterbury and primate of the British Isles, displaying the same gifts for leadership as in his years as abbot. His tenure was marked, however, by continuous tensions with the reigning monarch, William Rufus, and his successor Henry I, over the independence of the church from lay political control. Twice he was compelled to go into exile while Rome applied pressure on his behalf. He returned to England for a final time in 1106 and achieved a reconciliation with King Henry before his death three years later.

Despite his ecclesiastical accomplishments, Anselm's place in history owes far more to his contributions as a theologian. He is renowned, in fact, as the Father of scholasticism. The first thousand years of theology was based on the reading of Sacred Scripture, meditating on it, and from it came the ascetic life. In the next thousand years systematic theology developed in the universities, asking questions such as, for example, why did God chose to become man. One of the aims of the Second Vatican Council was to get back to a faith based on the first millennium but not forgetting the second. The lynchpin between these two ages is Anselm for whom faith made knowledge go further than if there were just knowledge on its own.

Anselm was noted for his tenderness as an abbot who always preferred to lead his flock by loving exhortation and wise example rather than by punishment or harsh discipline. He would shed tears over a wayward youth, and was not above nursing sick brothers by his own hand. Those of his community with any private trouble hastened to unburden themselves to him, as if to the gentlest of mothers, and this was particularly the case with earnest and zealous young men.

He is probably the holiest person ever to visit Chester being partly responsible for founding the Abbey of St. Werburgh's.