Saturday, 10 August 2013

Anselm of Canterbury

Of all his immediate predecessors as Archbishops of Canterbury that Becket might be compared with most, Anselm of Canterbury was perhaps the most significant.  Like Becket Anselm was forced into exile, twice for defying the wishes of two kings of England, both William II (Rufus) and Henry I (Beauclerc). He firmly stood up to both of them. In a sense the history and story Becket seemed to be repeating the history ans story of Anselm of half a century earlier. One has to ask what is it in the nature of the Norman kingship where being an autocratic monarch, anointed of God, seems to justify such a person in exacting his absolute authority over everyone and everything? And if one becomes archbishop of Canterbury in the Roman Catholic Church, is it impossible for one to serve two masters, pope and king, at the same time? Does being archbishop of Canterbury make one feel one is a superior person? History was seemingly to repeat itself again several centuries later with the story of  Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey, and even if Wolsey was never archbishop of Canterbury, he was still the most senior churchman in the country. If the Constitutions of Clarendon are to be understood in their full historical context, then knowing and understanding part of the story of Anselm is necessary.

The mission of St. Augustine sent by pope Gregory the Great to England to convert the Anglo-Saxons had another motive, that of bringing back the British Isles and its existing Christian communities and their diverse separate customs into the fold of  Roman Catholicism as practised in Rome. How far that was successful and how long that took is not our concern her, other than to note that Canterbury was always central to this idea and process, and that many of the various Archbishops before Becket were all very much the pope's men. England was remote from Rome and its Christian communities tended to keep their religious customs behind those in Rome. Indeed William the Conqueror mission to take over the kingdom of England he was directed and supported by the pope to bring reform the English church. As part of his programme for the church he replaced nearly all the Anglo-Saxon bishops with Norman ones, including appointing Lanfranc to the post of Archbishop of Canterbury. Lanfranc was very much the number two in the kingdom after William, and was its chief administrator whenever William was absent in Normandy. Lanfranc was Anselm's mentor and Anselm became his natural successor.

The Norman kings of England were very much the absolute overlords in their own land, and resented outside interference. As far as they were concerned England would not be ruled over by two masters, but the church and its bishops would, of course, be tolerated, as vassals of the king, with the king taking overall precedence and having overall authority.

Council of Rockingham 1095

Upon being appointed archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm wanted to go to Rome to collect his pallium directly from the hands of pope Urban II. But king William Rufus would not allow him to do this, as he had not made up his mind which of the popes his kingdom should show allegiance to: pope Urban II in Rome, or the antipope Clement III. The King argued that no one in England should acknowledge either pope till he, the king, had decided the matter. On 25 February 1095, the bishops and nobles of England met in council at Rockingham castle to decide the issue. It resulted in complete deadlock, with the bishops supporting the king, and the magnates supporting Anselm.


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