Monday, February 06, 2017

Why St Anselm And St Odile?

Things never run smoothly, but in the love of God, they do run to the end. I find myself in the process of making myself a new life "Oop North" in Sheffield. I have left my lovely Parish in Rochester, and now I must face the face that I am going to have to build God's Church anew in a new Mission. This is an enormous task and may not even reach the first hurdle. I have to listen to God and see what He is saying for His Church here.

I have chosen for this Putative Mission, the patronage of St Anselm and St Odile - two Benedictine Saints who have relevance in my life. One might have thought that I choose the patronage of St Michael and St Bartholomew, the saints on whose feasts I received my ordinations, but something has made me consider these two less-well-known saints. To see why, we need a few biographical notes.

St Anselm 1033/4-1109

Feast Day: 21st April

Born in Lombardy to a noble family, Anselm entered the monastic life where he excelled in his studies and became famous for the precision of his language. He left to study under Lanfranc in the Abbey at Bec and took his vows there. When Lanfranc left to become Abbot of Caen, Anselm was elected prior of Bec and then subsequently became abbot. It is here that he began his major writings such as the Monologion and the Proslogion in which he tried to demonstrate the existence of God by reason alone in his famous Ontological Argument. He might, from this, be regarded as the father of Scholasticism. The Proslogion was given another title for which Anselm is famous - fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding.

William the Conqueror, a patron of the Abbey at Bec, granted lands to the Abbey in both England and Normandy. While Anselm was viewing these lands, William's successor, William II (known as Rufus) appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury. The relationship between King William and his archbishop was turbulent to say the least as the King sought to have control over the Church's property (where have we heard that before?). When Anselm refused to pay the King's demands, the king prevented him from going to Rome to receive the pallium from the the Pope, thus creating the Investiture Controversy over whether the King had the right to appoint or reject candidates for ecclesiastical positions. This controversy continued after William II's hunting "accident" when Henry I took over. Anselm died peacefully on 21st April 1109 and was canonised not too long after probably at the behest of St Thomas Becket, his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anselm defended the filioque clause, and brought forward a powerful theory of the Atonement which has been developed by St Thomas Aquinas and influenced the Reformers Luther and Calvin.

So why have I, an Anglican Catholic who largely rejects the soteriology of St Augustine, who rejects the Papal claims to authority, and who also wants the filioque removed from the Creed, chosen the patronage of one who ostensibly believes the opposite?

For me, St Anselm is a brother Benedictine of a remarkable intellect, exceptional clarity and language, and he is responsible for challenging a secular authority. It isn't so much that I believe his conclusions to be wrong, but rather that he and I are both out on the same search, that fides quaerens intellectum. I admire very much that keenness of mind, and sharpness of wit that he possesses. I believe that his reasoning was wonderful, beautiful even, but he did not see the premises that he needed on which he could found his theory.

The idea of being able to see brings me to:

St Odile (aka St Odilia or St Ottilia) c662 - c720

Feast Day: 13th December

Tradition has it that Odile was born in Alsace to a noble family, but was also born blind. Being disabled in such a way at that time brought about her father's rejection and so she was given to be raised by peasants in Burgundy. The legend is that, when she was twelve, Bishop St Erhart of Regensberg baptised her whereupon she suddenly regained her sight.

When her brother brought her back home, her father was so enraged that he accidentally killed his son, whom then Odilia miraculously raised from the dead before fleeing. When her father fell ill, Odilia returned to nurse him. In gratitude he gave her Hohenburg Castle which she turned into Hohenburg Abbey, becoming the Abbess there.

She is a patron saint of people with eye problems, and of Alsace.

St Odile predates the Roman method of canonisation and she is recognised as a saint in the Orthodox Church too.

I have chosen the patronage of St Odile, not just for personal reasons, e.g. my own eye-sight, but because she represents something fundamental that I alluded to earlier.

Reason, without clear sight of what really is true, cannot guarantee the truth. It doesn't matter how elegant the arguments are, or how brilliant the conclusions. If the premises are not true, then the conclusions cannot be relied upon. With St Anselm, we have to begin our understanding of our relationship with God with faith, and faith comes as a result of seeing God's revelation. God gives faith as a gift and, if we open that gift, faith seeks God. Every Anselm needs an Odile to ensure that his understanding bears faithful witness to the truth. Every Odile needs an Anselm to give a language that helps us develop our relationship with God, even if that language is not in a tongue that we're used to speaking.

It's on this basis that I seek to build this Mission for the love of God. In this country, our Christian Faith is too much affected and held to ransom by secular and secularising authorities. St Anselm challenged that in his lifetime, even if he brought Romanising influences on the English Church. Given that the alternative was a church run by corrupt and greedy rulers, putting the Church under the Patriarch of the West probably saved it! Likewise, with an increasingly secular Established Church, so we seek to regain that vision of Christ in our society. There is much that is good in secular society and that should be cultivated in a healthy Church: a tolerance for those who have different beliefs without accepting those beliefs or, as it seems some folk in the Church of England want to do, adopting them wholesale; a desire for fairness and justice, regardless of faith, race, or sex, yet rejecting the lazy thinking and cultural blindness that tries to make faith, race, and sex homogeneous characteristics through the deception of self-definition; a vibrant scientific curiosity, but which is curtailed and actually driven by the intrinsic God-given worth of every human being conceived as well as a healthy respect for Creation.

I would ask for your prayers as well as the prayers of St Anselm and St Odile, that this silly little vision of mine may be worthy of being brought into reality by the Love of God in Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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