Pope Notes Anselm's 3 Stages of Theology

Says Saint Believed Intelligence Isn’t Enough

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 23, 2009 (Zenit.org).- St. Anselm is one of the eminent personalities of the Middle Ages, but his teaching continues to be pertinent today, 900 years after his death, according to Benedict XVI.

The Pope reflected today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall on the life of the “magnificent doctor” (1033-1109), claimed by the cities of Aosta, Bec and Canterbury.

“Monk of intense spiritual life, excellent educator of youth, theologian with an extraordinary speculative capacity, wise man of government and intransigent defender of the ‘libertas Ecclesiae,’ of the liberty of the Church, Anselm is one of the eminent personalities of the Medieval Age, who was able to harmonize all these qualities thanks to a profound mystical experience that always guided his thought and action,” the Holy Father summarized.

The Pontiff reflected on the childhood of Anselm, saying he was born of a “crude” father and a woman of “profound religiosity.”

“It was his mother who took care of the first human and religious formation of her son, whom she later entrusted to the Benedictines of a priory of Aosta,” he explained. “Anselm, who from his childhood — as his biographer recounts — imagined the dwelling of the good God to be among the high and snow clad summits of the Alps, dreamed one night that he was invited to this splendid palace by God himself, who entertained him affably for a good while. […]

“This dream left him the conviction of being called to fulfill a high mission. At the age of 15, he asked to be admitted to the Benedictine Order, but his father opposed him with all his authority and did not even give in when his son, gravely ill, and sensing he was close to death, implored the religious habit as his last consolation.”

Anselm nevertheless recovered and it was his mother who left earth prematurely, leaving the youth in a “period of moral dissipation.” The would-be saint “neglected his studies, overwhelmed by earthly passions; he was deaf to God’s call,” the Pope said.

Fortunately, he continued, some time later, Anselm was attracted to the Benedictine abbey of Bec by the fame of its prior, and again “took up his studies vigorously. […] His monastic vocation rekindled and, after careful evaluation, he entered the monastic order at the age of 27 and was ordained a priest. Ascesis and study opened new horizons for him, making him find again, at a higher level, that familiarity with God that he had had as a child.”

Thus began Anselm’s mission as a leader of the Church of his times; he became prior of his monastery and eventually the archbishop of Canterbury.

“This holy archbishop who inspired so much admiration from those around him, wherever he went, dedicated the last years of his life above all to the moral formation of the clergy and the spiritual pursuit of theological arguments,” Benedict XVI said. “He died on April 21, 1109, supported by the words of the Gospel proclaimed in the Holy Mass that day: ‘You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom …’ (Luke 22:28-30).

“The dream of that mysterious banquet, which he had as a child, precisely at the beginning of his spiritual journey, thus found its realization. Jesus, who had invited him to sit at his table, received St. Anselm, at his death, in the eternal kingdom of the Father.”


The Pope said that the “clarity and logical rigor” of Anselm’s thought always sought to “raise the mind to the contemplation of God.”

“He states clearly that whoever attempts to theologize cannot just count on his intelligence, but must cultivate at the same time a profound experience of faith,” the Holy Father noted. “According to St. Anselm, the activity of a theologian, therefore, develops in three stages: faith, free gift of God that must be received with humility; experience, which consists in the incarnation of the word of God in one’s daily life; and lastly true knowledge, which is never the fruit of aseptic thoughts, but of a contemplative intuition.

“Hence, his famous words continue to be very useful also today for a healthy theological research and for anyone who wishes to go deeper in the truths of the faith: ‘I do not presume, Lord, to penetrate in your profundity, because I cannot even from afar confront my intellect with it; but I wish to understand, at least to a certain point, your truth, which my heart believes and loves. I do not seek to understand to believe, but I believe in order to understand.'”

The Pontiff concluded expressing his hope that the “love of truth and the constant thirst for God, which marked the whole life of St. Anselm, [would] be a stimulus for every Christian to seek without ever tiring an ever more profound union with Christ, Way, Truth and Life.”

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