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St. Anselm: Sounding the charge for religious freedom

With the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, Congress prohibited “the federal government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless it demonstrates that doing so both furthers a compelling governmental interest and represents the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.” But as the American tradition of religious freedom is overthrown for the American religion of political correctness, many Catholics in America are looking to our bishops for guidance. And it is often difficult to find the leadership so sorely wanted and needed.

In this ongoing theater marked too much by ineptitude, confusion, and lack of clarity, there is no better saint to look to for the inspiration to claim and cling to our religious freedoms than St. Anselm of Canterbury whose feast day is celebrated on April 21st.

Miscreant to monk

St. Anselm was born in 1033 near Aosta, now in Italy, a Burgundian town in the region of Lombardy. Though he was a pious boy with a love for learning, as a young man Anselm was drawn into the waves of the world. His behavior soon earned the displeasure of his father, and he fled from home. In 1059, he came to Normandy, intrigued by the reports of the Benedictine monastery of Bec, whose prior was a fellow Italian by the name of Lanfranc, master of a widely celebrated center of study at Bec.

Anselm sought out the abbey, became a student of Lanfranc, and, after distinguishing himself as a brilliant disciple, he donned the monastic habit. The wondrous piety and wisdom of Brother Anselm caused his rapid rise in authority, succeeding Lanfranc as prior, only three years after taking his vows, upon his superior’s appointment as prior at a monastery in Caen.

Anselm held this post in peace for fifteen years, until the death of Abbot Herluin, the founder and first abbot of Bec. Anselm was unanimously elected to succeed him. Hearing this, Anselm fell on his face before his brethren and wept as he begged them not to lay the burden of abbacy on him. His brethren, in turn, fell on their faces before Anselm and begged him to accept the office. A new abbot rose from the floor.

Calm before storm

During his years as abbot, Anselm distinguished himself as one of the great scholastics and increased the fame of Bec as an intellectual stronghold. His writings and teachings reflected his motto, “I believe so that I may understand,” articulating brilliant theological and philosophical thought in clear, common language and in a manner of utmost gentility and charity.

But beneath his modest surface, Anselm possessed a flinty strength of will and even a pugnacious spirit—a will and a spirit that would be forced to the fore, to the abbot’s dismay. Anselm’s election engendered an association with England, which led to an antagonistic relation with the King of England. It was in this conflict that Anselm comported himself as a rare hero for the Faith, whose service went far beyond the pen and whose gumption far exceeded the typical temper of the bookish.

Abbot Anselm had cause to travel to England on occasion to manage property the abbey owned there; and, in his first year as abbot, he met with his old teacher, Lanfranc, who had been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm’s fame as a wise and wonderful scholar preceded him in England, and he made such a favorable and widespread impression that many great men sought his friendship and counsel, including William the Conqueror, who sent for Anselm to hear his last confession when he lay dying in Rouen in 1087. Two years later, at the death of Lanfranc, Anselm was widely beheld as his obvious successor.

Read more at Catholic World Report

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