May 08, 2024

Travels with Anselm

Stephen Nichols
Travels with Anselm

Over the course of his life, Anselm took five important journeys. Today, Stephen Nichols takes us on the road with Anselm, pointing out notable events from this medieval theologian’s travels.


Welcome back to another episode of 5 Minutes in Church History. In this episode, we are going to travel along with our friend, the medieval theologian Anselm. Anselm was born in 1033, and he died in 1109. Over the course of his lifetime, he had five significant journeys, and we love the number five here on 5 Minutes in Church History. So, let’s go through these journeys together. The first journey comes when he is twenty-three years old. Anselm was born in the town of Aosta in the Burgundy region of Italy. He wanted to get to the monastery at Bec in Normandy, and in between his home and the monastery were the Alps. He sets off as a twenty-three-year-old. It takes him three years to travel through the Alps and finally arrive at Bec. And when he gets there, he enters the monastery and comes under the mentorship and guidance of Lanfranc the Abbott.

Seven years later, after William, who is also from Normandy, crosses the English Channel, defeats the British, and we know him in history as William the Conqueror. And he’s established as the King of England. He summons Lanfranc to come across the English Channel and installs Lanfranc as the Archbishop. That paves the way for Anselm to succeed Lanfranc as the Abbott there at Bec. We need to fast forward a little bit for his second journey, and that’s 1093. In 1093, Lanfranc dies, and the succession plan of Anselm at Bec worked out pretty well, so the idea was to have him come and succeed Lanfranc as Archbishop. So, in 1093, Anselm himself crosses the English Channel, and is installed as the archbishop.

From the beginning of his time in that post, he had a rocky relationship with the King. By now, William had died, and William II was on the throne, and that rocky relationship ended in 1098 when William II exiled Anselm. So, we have his third journey. He first sets off for Rome. He arrives in April, and he gets immediately involved in the Filioque Controversy. This is that very important theological controversy that led to the split between the Church in the West and the Church in the East, and it had to do with the procession of the Holy Spirit. In the East, the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father, and the West stressed that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son, and that expression in English and the Son is one word in Latin, filioque.

Well, after that controversy was settled, the next controversy was the Siege of Capua. This is down near Naples, and the Saracen forces and the Norman forces joined together to take on the southern Italian states. Well, that lasted for forty days. And Anselm’s intention was not to stay at Rome; it was to get to the little town of Liberi, and he needed to wait for that siege to end, and then he could get to Liberi safely, and when it ended, off he went. Liberia is about thirty-five miles north of Naples, a picturesque, charming, stunningly beautiful town, and there’s a monastery there, and Anselm wrote his text, Cur Deus Homo. Well, things cooled with William II, and Anselm was invited back and so he had to leave his exile and head back to Canterbury, but that didn’t last long. And a new King comes along, King Henry I, and in 1103, King Henry now exiles Anselm, and he’s going to spend another three years in exile, and he begins that exile with yet another trip to Rome.

Well, here's the fascinating thing about these two, especially the two exile journeys of Anselm. He wrote while he was at Bec, he wrote his Monologion, which isn't as talked about as much as the Proslogion, but there in the 1070s he wrote those philosophical texts. Then in the 1080s, he wasn't writing as much because he was busy with his administrative duties. And, of course, when he goes over to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, he's even more busy with his duties, and it's in these exiles that he was able to write these texts that have been such a great gift to the Church. Well, there's Anselm and his exiles, and his travels and his books. And I'm Steve Nichols and thanks for joining us for 5 Minutes in Church History.