“Teach Me to Seek You” — St. Anselm of Canterbury

St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1104 A.D.) wrote much … including two prayers which might help your own prayer life.

The first is known as The Prayer of St. Anselm: “O Lord my God, teach my heart this day where and how to find You. You have made me and re-made me, and You have bestowed on me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know You. I have not yet done that for which I was made. Teach me to seek You, for I cannot seek You unless You teach me, or find You unless You show Yourself to me. Let me seek You in my desire; let me desire You in my seeking. Let me find You by loving You; let me love You when I find You. Amen.”

The second is known as The Prayer of St Anselm in Time of Spiritual Dryness: O supreme and inaccessible Light, O complete and blessed Truth, how far you are from me even though I am so near to You. How remote You are from my sight even though I am present to Yours. You are everywhere in Your entirety, and yet I do not see You; in You I move and have my being, and yet I cannot approach You. O God, let me know You and love You so that I may find my joy in You; and if I cannot do so fully in this life, let me at least make some progress every day, until at last that knowledge, love and joy come to me in all their plenitude. Amen.

St. Anselm is the often quoted as saying:  “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand.” This statement is often quoted in defense of a “simple, unlearned faith” — but that is absolutely NOT the way he intended it, considering the books he wrote.

Anselm was one of the most important Christian thinkers of the eleventh century, certainly the most important Christian theologian in the West between Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and definitely one of the most important Christian thinkers of all time. He became particularly well known for the depth and range of his insight into many important philosophical and theological questions including the extent of our possible knowledge of the divine nature, the complex nature of the will and its involvement in free choice, the interworkings of human willing and action and divine grace, the natures of truth and justice, the origins of virtues and vices, the nature of evil, and the implications of original sin, among others. He was also widely valued for the intensity of his devotions and asceticism. His most important books are his Proslogium (in which he undertakes to show that Reason requires that we believe in God) and his Cur Deus Homo? (in which he undertakes to show that Divine Love responding to human rebelliousness required that God should become a man.) He also wrote many other books on a whole variety of topics, as well as many prayers and meditations of high literary and spiritual quality, which he sent to monks and to noblewomen for use in their own private devotions.

To this day, some philosophers agree with Anselm’s “ontological argument” about the existence of God (such as Leibniz); while other philosophers find the argument inconclusive(such as Thomas Aquinas). Even so, for his scholarship and vision Anselm was rightly declared a “Doctor of the Church”. His body lies in the St. Anselm chapel in the Cathedral church at Canterbury where he became Archbishop, after years as a monk and later as a prior and then an abbot. Throughout his life people just loved him. He was famous for his way of teaching, often using everyday illustrations which made his great intellect accessible: everybody knew what he was talking about. In addition, Anselm was among the first to take a public stand against the slave trade: in 1102 he obtained the passage of a resolution against selling people like cattle. He even appears in Dante’s Divine Comedy as one of the spirits of light and power surrounding the Sun.

 

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