Saint Anselm was born in northern Italy (then part of the Holy Roman Empire) in 1033, and eventually moved to England, becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093 at the age of 60. He is remembered by various people for several different subjects: historians note his role in the Investiture Controversy, he is remembered by philosophers for his role in kickstarting the tradition of Medieval Scholasticism, and he is remembered by theologians for his great treatise Cur Deus Homo.The Investiture Controversy was a series of power struggles between the Emperors, Kings, and other noblemen of Europe and the Pope and other Bishops. Did the Church get to dictate who they’d crown? Did the Crown get to appoint the Bishops in their domains? For trying to protect the Church in England from the machinations of the new Norman dynasty, he was exiled twice as Archbishop of Canterbury. In exile he assisted the Church in southern Italy, mediating divisions between Eastern and Western traditions there.
Medieval Scholasticism was a movement both philosophical and theological, emphasizing the role of human reason. Rather than “faith seeking understanding,” as Saint Augustine of Hippo had put it, Anselm expressed a more logical approach that is more familiar to the modern mind. Scholasticism had its ups and downs of course: more reasoned study assisted advancement of technology and learning, and ushered in a new wave of literacy and educated clergy, but it also led to explorations into theological minutiae that caused great controversies, culminating ultimately in the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s.
Theologically, Anselm’s most famous work is Cur Deus Homo, “Why the God-Man?” It is a monumental work exploring the question of why Jesus had to be both God and man in order to be the Christ, our Savior. He sets forth a model we call Satisfaction Theory – that God’s honor had been besmirched by human sinfulness, and a debt was owed. Only Christ could repay that debt because he is both human (in solidarity with us sinners) and divine (not actually guilty of our sin). He is thus honored with the title “Doctor of the Church,” identifying him as one of the great Christian teachers of all time.
Apart from this, Anselm also wrote a treatise on prayer, showing the strong link between faith and devotion (or between theology and liturgy), and giving us a marvelous insight into his private piety in a series of prayers that he wrote for a fellow monk and abbot. His love for Christ and his Saints is evident, and inspirational. You can read more about his works here:
Saint Anselm’s feast day is April 21st.