Why God Became Man: Saint Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, and a Religious Challenge in Anglo-Norman England

Why God Became Man: Saint Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, and a Religious Challenge in Anglo-Norman England

By Adam C. Wolfe

M.A. Thesis, Bowling Green University, (2004)

12th century illumination from the Meditations of St. Anselm.

Abstract: The study of Saint Anselm has been marked by a profound duality. Anselm’s great contributions to the history of ideas have been the province of philosophers and theologians, while historians have concentrated on his actions as monk, abbot, and Archbishop of Canterbury during the Gregorian Reform. Anselm’s life was theology in action, and yet no historian has fully explored the possibility that Anselm’s policies as head of the Catholic Church in England were the natural outgrowth of his religious convictions and theology interacting with the world. Scarcely one year after his consecration as archbishop, Anselm was faced with a conflicting allegiance to king and pope at the Council of Rockingham in 1095. Anselm’s evolving ideas on what was owed to Caesar and what to Christ, as well as the role of obedience in the redemption of humanity, spurred on his theological development, culminating in Cur Deus Homo, the Christ-theodicy of why God became Man. Thus, it was no accident that Anselm wrote one of his most brilliant theological works in the midst of his conflict with the English crown. This thesis examines the evolution of Anselm’s ideas on secular and spiritual authority in light of the Council of Rockingham, demonstrating that Anselm’s theology provided the framework for his policies and that the conflicts he faced as archbishop enriched his theological development.

In the summer of 1105, when Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, was in his second exile, he received a letter from Gilbert Crispin, abbot of Westminster. For more than two years, Anselm had been absent from England, and he was then at the center of lengthy negotiations between a pope determined that secular rulers not violate canonical election and a king who was equally determined not to sacrifice the customs of his father, William the Conqueror. England suffered hard without its archbishop, and in a poem sent to Anselm, Gilbert Crispin told the archbishop of moral decay and the oppression of the church by powerful magnates. Addressing Anselm as the absent shepherd, he warned him of the “cunning enemy” with “his wolfish wrath” who was destroying the flock; “realize that there are many wolves within,” he added. This poem was not simply a passionate plea for Anselm to return to England; it was an indictment of his absence. Speaking of the Lord’s sheep, Abbot Gilbert warned:

The one who entrusted them to you,
I say,
will want them back,
for everyone seeks what
he has entrusted to others….
No one denies that
what is due must be repaid
and so you must fear.


Click here to read this thesis from the US Department of Defense

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