Anselm of Canterbury

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Miniature of Anselm of Canterbury from the Monologion (late 11th century)

Anselm von Canterbury OSB ( Latin Anselmus Cantuariensis; also named after his place of birth Anselm von Aosta or after his monastery Anselm von Bec ; * around 1033 in Aosta ; †  April 21, 1109 in Canterbury ) was a theologian, archbishop and philosopher of the Middle Ages . He was canonized, is widely regarded as the founder of scholasticism ("father of scholasticism") and is the main representative of early scholasticism. Since 1720 he has had the honorary title of church father .


Statue in the Pontifical Athenaeum Sant'Anselmo in Rome

Anselm was born in 1033 in Aosta, which had fallen to the Counts of Savoy around the time of his birth . His parents came from various noble families, his father Gundulf was of Lombard descent, his mother Ermenberga came from Burgundy and was very likely related to the Counts of Savoy. At the age of fifteen he sought entry into a nearby monastery, but was refused, probably because his father had planned a political career for him.

At age 23, Anselm left his home and moved three years by France, until, attracted by the fame Lanfranc , the Benedictines - Bec Abbey came. After some hesitation, he entered this abbey a year later, in 1060. Three years later he was elected prior , and another 15 years later he was elected abbot . His first philosophical and theological works, in particular his two famous writings Monologion and Proslogion , also fall during this period .

When Lanfranc, now Archbishop of Canterbury , died in 1089, Anselm was favored by many as his successor, but was not put into office by William II until 1093 . In the following four years the two, as representatives of secular and spiritual power, fought the investiture controversy together in England . In 1097 Anselm got permission to visit Rome , from where he hoped for help, but which he received only to a limited extent. William refused to return to England, which is why Anselm lived in exile in Lyon from 1097 until William's death in 1100 .

Under his successor Henry I , Anselm was able to return to England, but had to go into exile again from 1103 to 1107. After returning to England, he died in 1109.

Anselm was canonized in 1494 and in 1720 by Clemens XI. appointed Doctor of the Church .

Teaching and working

In the preface to the Proslogion, Anselm formulates one of the basic positions of scholasticism in two much-quoted sentences, with which he determines the relationship between faith and reason:

Anselm's ontological proof of God , which is also found in the Proslogion, actually a meditation on the essence of God, also had a lasting effect . It is one of the most discussed arguments in the history of philosophy . Philosophers like Thomas Aquinas , Hegel , Descartes and Kant took a critical look at it. The starting point of the argument is the sentence borrowed from Augustine that God is “that beyond which greater things cannot be thought” ( aliquid quo maius nihil cogitari potest ). The reconstructions of the argument are not uniform, but the basic idea is as follows: we can think that there is something that cannot be thought of greater than that. Something that exists in both mind ( in intellectu ) and in reality ( in re ) is greater than something that is only in mind. So if we can think something that cannot be thought of greater than that, it must also exist in reality (because otherwise it would be something that greater can be thought of).

In the writing Cur Deus Homo he advocates the teaching that redemption through Christ is to be understood as the satisfaction of the righteous wrath of God through the death of Christ ( doctrine of satisfaction ). His quarrel with Johannes Roscelin , whom he classified as an extreme nominalist, is also known .

Anselm von Canterbury with a mirror by Matthäus Günther (1761–1763) in the former Benedictine abbey church in Rott am Inn

Of his other writings, the Monologion , in which he also tries to deduce the existence of God and its properties (see also Natural Theology ), as well as the De Veritate , which deals not only with truth but also with justice , are above all . to call.

His feast day in the Catholic (not a required day of remembrance), Protestant and Anglican churches is April 21 . The encyclical Communium rerum of Pope Pius X. of April 21, 1909 is dedicated to the 800th anniversary of the death of Saint Anselm of Aosta.

The name “Father of Scholasticism”, which goes back to Martin Grabmann , shows that Anselm was held in high regard. This epithet is still often mentioned today when one speaks about Anselm and his influence on scholasticism. In current research, on the other hand, Anselm is more likely to be recognized as a “pioneer of scholasticism”, in which only approaches of the scholastic method can be found, which, however, does not yet apply it.

A critical comment on Anselm is that he had "for the first time in Western Christianity " conjured up the danger of " deductive rationalism ".


The complete works of Anselm can be grouped into philosophical-theological or doctrinal writings, spiritual- ascetic works and letters . The philosophical-theological writings include, for example, works such as Monologion , Proslogion or Cur Deus homo . The spiritual ascetic works are prayers and meditations. After scrutinizing and examining the text, only 19 of the 75 prayers previously attributed to Anselm and three of the previous 21 considerations are now considered authentic. Due to the extensive correspondence of Anselm, the collection of letters represents the largest part of his oeuvre.

  • Monologion (doctrine of God and Trinity)
  • Proslogion
  • liber contra insipientem also Liber apologeticus contra Gaunilonem (defense and addition of the ontological proof of God in Proslogion)
  • De grammatico (among other things differentiation between significatio (meaning) and appelatio (meaning))
  • De veritate (about the truth)
  • De libertate arbitrii
  • De casu diaboli (on the origin of evil)
  • De fide trinitatis et incarnatione verbi (against Roscelin v. Compiègne)
  • Cur deus homo (begun in 1094, completed in exile at Capua in 1098)
  • De conceptu virginali et originali peccato (deals with the question of how God's Son could have become man without becoming a sinner)
  • De concordia praescientiae et praedestinationis et gratiae Dei cum libero arbitrio (dogmatic writings)
  • Homilies
  • Meditations (contemplations)
  • Orations (prayers)
  • Letters
  • MS-B-203 - (Ps .-) Anselmus Cantuariensis. Bonaventure. (Ps .-) Augustine. (Ps .-) Bernardus Claraevallensis. Arnulfus de Boeriis. Petrus de Alliaco (theological collective manuscript). Kreuzherrenkonvent (?), Düsseldorf [around 1508] Digitized

Remembrance day

Editions and translations

  • Anselm of Canterbury: S. Anselmi Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi Opera Omnia 4th ed. By Franciscus Salesius Schmitt. Stuttgart / Bad Cannstatt 1968, pp. 118 f., 124 f. (Latin text).
  • Anselm of Canterbury: The Letters of Saint Anselm of Canterbury 2 (= Cistercian Studies Series. Vol. 97). Translated by Walter Fröhlich, Kalamazoo 1993, pp. 177 f., 184-186.
  • About the truth / De veritate (= Philosophical Library. Vol. 535). Translated, with an introduction and notes ed. by Markus Enders . Meiner, Hamburg 2001, ISBN 978-3-7873-1646-5 .


Web links

Commons : Anselm of Canterbury  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Anselmus  - Sources and full texts (Latin)
Secondary literature

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b S. Martin Grabmann: The scholastic method from its first beginnings in the fathers' literature to the beginning of the 12th century. In: ders .: The history of the scholastic method, vol. 1. Freiburg im Breisgau 1909, p. 259.
  2. a b Tullio Gregory, Franziska S. Schmitt: ANSELMO d'Aosta, santo. In: Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani Treccani. Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana, accessed on August 17, 2018 (it-IT).
  3. Ludwig Hödl: Art. Anselm von Canterbury , in: Horst R. Balz et al. (Ed.): Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE), Vol. 2, Agende - Anselm von Canterbury , Berlin et al. 1978, p. 760.
  4. Joachim Schäfer: Art. Anselm von Canterbury , in: Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon, accessed on August 29, 2014.
  5. a b c Last accessed on August 12, 2009
  6. a b Christoph Helferich: History of Philosophy: From the Beginnings to the Present and Eastern Thinking. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag 1999, p. 91, ISBN 3-423-30706-4
  7. Kant criticizes the proof indirectly with his arguments on the impossibility of ontological proofs of God in Critique of Pure Reason B620, 621 | A592, 593
  8. a b S. Wolf-Dieter Hauschild: §10 Bloom of Theology in the Middle Ages , in: ders .: Textbook of Church and Dogma History, Vol. 1, Old Church and Middle Ages , 3rd edition, Gütersloh 2007, p. 569 .
  9. Josef Pieper: Scholasticism. Munich, dtv 1978, p. 56
  10. ^ Siegfried Karl: Ratio and Affectus. On the relationship between reason and affect in the Orationes sive Meditationes and in the Proslogion Anselms von Canterbury (1033 / 4-1109) , Rome 2014, pp. LVI and 95f.
  11. According to Josef Pieper, Scholastik , dtv, Munich 1978, p. 51 fn. 1, all homilies are said to be false.
predecessor Office successor
Lanfranc Archbishop of Canterbury
Ralph d'Escures