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The English word demonstrate means "to show clearly".
Anselm demonstrated God's existence with a proof. He
demonstrated God's love with his life.
He freed British slaves.

Anselm & the Red King

The Red King, William Rufus, responded to a rebellion in his French duchy by rushing to a ship on England's coast and crossing the Channel in a storm. When his followers urged him to turn round, he contemptuously replied, “Kings never drown". He proceeded to put down the revolt and then pillaged Normandy.

This was the man that Anselm faced when, visiting English monasteries connected with the Abbey of Bec in 1093, he was dragged before the Red King. A pastoral staff was forced into his hands, and the King announced that Anselm was the new Archbishop of Canterbury. He wanted a pushover. It seems unlikely that the Red King knew that his father, William the Conqueror, had respected only one man and that man was Anselm.

Crossing the Alps

For those who may wonder what they will achieve in their sixties, I offer Anselm, a Brit by force of circumstances. He had been born in Lombardy, probably to the descendants of Celts, sometime around 1033. As a child he had an unforgettable vision of climbing a mountain and finding heaven and the Lord. When he was a teenager he escaped his harsh father, and crossed the Alps, where he nearly died of cold and starvation as he crossed the Mont Cenis Pass. After working and wandering for three years, he reached the Abbey of Bec in Normandy, about 40 miles from the English Channel.

There he became an assistant to the abbot, a teacher of logic, an inspiring and philsophical spiritual director, and a contemplative. He studied and wrote. In 1063 he was made prior (the abbot's deputy), a role that requires a fair, strong man of integrity and practicality. Like many contemplatives, Anselm had experienced the love of God and he had organized mind. As a result he cherished people and was excellent at organizing them.

A proof of God

In his writing Anselm combined "profound humility, strikingly beautiful language, and penetrating acuity of argument. . .These qualities had their fullest expression in his two great meditations on the nature and being of God" (DNB).

Anselm believed that “after we have become steadfast in our faith we should strive to understand what we believe with our reason”. He created a rational proof of the existence of God dazzling in its originality.

That which nothing greater can be conceived must exist
in fact as well as in thought, for if it existed only in thought
and not in fact, something greater than it could be conceived, namely the same thing existing in fact.
God necesssarily exists,
because the idea of God is the idea of that
than which nothing greater can be conceived.

When another monk argued that God's existence is a matter of faith and is not established by the definition of God's being, "Anselm quoted it in full in replying to it, and attached both criticism and reply to his text" (DNB).

The respect of the "sea-wolf"

Anselm had no interest in holding any position of authority, but when he was forty the monks of Bec elected him Abbot. Quite simply they loved and respected him. According to the chroniclers, they were not alone. William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy, was “a sea-wolf” with a gigantic body, a grim face, and enormous strength. Able to draw a bow which other men could not bend while spurring his horse, William had bravery, furious wrath, and a cool respect for order, strength and learning. He knew and respected Anselm.

As Abbot of Bec, Anselm urged his friend Lanfranc, who became archbishop of Canterbury after William's invasion, to recognize the Anglo-Saxon archbishop Ælfhea as a saint in the liturgy. The English monks regarded Ælfhea as a martyr because he had been killed for refusing to pay danegeld to the Vikings in 1012. "The argument that Anselm used to convince Lanfranc was typical of his method. He argued thus: a martyr is one who has died for truth; but Ælfheah died in the cause of justice. But then truth and justice are the same virtue in different modes: truth is justice in statements; justice is truth in action" (DNB).

"This remarkable feat of persuasion was a first step in the re-establishment of Old English customs in the monastic community, and it made Anselm the hero of the English group of the Canterbury monks. Moreover it gave him a general sympathy with the pre-conquest past, which can be traced in much that he did when he became archbishop" (DNB).

The Red King's mistake

William the Conqueror's son, the Red King, quickly realized the mistake he had made when he forced Anselm to become archbishop, and proceeded to make life a misery for his archbishop. But the Red King had met his match. “He found himself face to face with an opponent whose meek and loving temper rose into firmness and grandeur when it fronted the tyranny of the King” (JR Green, A Short History of the English People, Volume 1).

Anselm defended the freedom of the church and resisted the Red King’s extortions. He remarked fearlessly and matter-of-factly, "Christ is truth and justice and he who dies for truth and justice dies for Christ”. When the king refused to let him hold a council of his bishops, and continued his heavy taxation of the church, Anselm went into exile.

Shot by an unknown archer in the New Forest, William Rufus met an unlamented end in 1100, and his brother Henry claimed the throne. Inspired by Anselm's fearlessness in facing the Red King, the bishops of London and Hereford, the bishop-elect of Winchester and the knight-barons presented Henry with a Charter of Liberties, which reaffirmed the rule of law that William Rufus had blatantly ignored. Agree to the Charter if you wish to be king was the tenor of their remarks. Henry agreed in exchange for their support against his brother Robert, who thought he should be king.

Specifically Henry affirmed that the holy church of God was free and he promised to refrain from unjust exactions. He also agreed "to take away all the bad customs by which the kingdom of England was unjustly oppressed." But the Charter was much more radical than even these clauses suggest because it compelled the King to acknowledge that he was not above the law and must rule by the laws and customs that had been established in England.

Henry's position as king was very weak when Anselm returned, but since he had affirmed the Charter of Liberties, Anselm gave him the crucial support he needed. It has been suggested that Anselm did not demand enough from the king. It seems clear that in promising the church would be free, Henry had, in Anselm's mind, promised a great deal.

The princess trapped into wearing the veil

Anselm's response to a young woman trapped into wearing a veil may be of interest today. In 1100 Anselm was called to Henry's court to hear the plea of Edith, the daughter of King Malcom III of Scotland and his Anglo-Saxon Queen, Margaret, who had recently died. Edith had been brought up in the convent of Romsey by her aunt Christina who was a nun. She wished to leave the nunnery and marry Henry, who wished to marry her, but the Church refused to give her freedom, and the Norman barons were opposed to her marriage. They were unenthusiastic about an Anglo-Saxon princess becoming Queen. Anselm believed that Edith had taken religious vows, and should return to the nunnery, but he was willing to listen to her.

"Pale with passion" Edith stood before him, and said she had been veiled since her childhood. Her aunt had forced her with blows to wear the veil. "I wore the veil, trembling as I wore it with indignation and grief. But as soon as I could get out of her sight I used to snatch it from my head, fling it on the ground, and trample it under foot. That was the way, and none other, in which I was veiled" (JR Green, A Short History of the English People, Volume One).

Shocked, Anselm ordered that Edith be freed of the veil and the convent's bonds. She married Henry, and became known as Good Queen Maud or Queen Matilda. As Queen she attended meetings of the king's council, often chairing the meetings in Henry's absence. She built bridges and priories and a leper's hospital, was a patron of poets, and in at least one case freed an innocent man who had been wrongly convicted. At her inspiration William of Malmesbury wrote his most popular and influential work, the Gesta regum Anglorum, a full-scale history of England from the death of Bede in 735 until their own day.

Ending slavery

But Anselm was not done. He hated slavery, and in Britain men, women and children could still be sold as slaves – “young men and maidens whose beauty and youth might move the pity of the savage, were bound together with cords, and brought to market to be sold" (William of Malmesbury).

In 1102 Anselm called a national church council. They met in London in Edward the Confessor’s abbey church, Westminster. By then, they all understood this gentle, formidable man. They had become his friends. Anselm asked them to condemn slavery as contrary to Christ's teaching, which it was, and they did. They unequivocally ordered, "Let no one hereafter presume to engage in that nefarious trade in which hitherto in England men were. . . sold like brute animals." Slavery in Britain ended that year.

The struggle with Henry

Henry had agreed in the Charter of Liberties that the church was free, but he insisted on selecting and investing bishops. Unable to persuade him that a king had no business doing this, Anselm went into exile across the channel in France. He stayed in touch with Canterbury, and wrote prayers and meditations.

The journey to Rome from England was a tiring 30 days, and included a channel crossing and weeks of riding. Now over 70, Anselm was returning to England from his self-imposed exile in 1106 when he learned that Henry continued to insist on naming and investing bishops. For the first time Anselm decided to use a threat he had always refrained from making: excommunication. He mentioned this to the king's sister, whom he met on the road, and she passed an urgent message to her brother.

Henry and Anselm met in Normandy, and compromised. It was agreed that a bishop could pay homage to the King for the lands he held from him, but he could only be invested as a bishop by the church. Anselm returned to England, where he was warmly welcomed by Queen Maud who rode ahead of him to make sure he was given hospitality at each manor where he stopped to rest. After two more years of pastoral work Anselm died peacefully at the age of 76.

In Britain, Amselm's contributions to freedom are largely forgotten. But due to his efforts liberty had become a part of the fabric of life.



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