The Order of Saint Benedict of New Hampshire, our founding religious order, received its official charter from the State of New Hampshire on August 1, 1889. With the support of Manchester’s first diocesan bishop, Bishop Dennis Bradley, the Benedictine founders began the construction of the beautiful academic institution, known today as “Saint Anselm College.” Our founders appropriately chose Saint Anselm of Canterbury, an English saint and medieval scholar, as the college’s patron.
Much of Saint Anselm’s life is known from his history, written c. 1124 by the historian Eadmer. Anselm was born in Aosta, Italy in 1033 A.D. His mother died when he was a young man and Anselm’s father treated him poorly. Anselm left home and renounced his father, beginning a long and dangerous journey across the Alps, with little more than the clothing on his back. He sustained himself by eating snow, but became weak and feeble during his grueling trek.
After his tiring journey, which nearly cost him his life, Anselm visited the religious scholar Lanfranc, who was known for his great wisdom. At the counsel of Lanfranc, it was at this time that he first considered becoming a monk. At the age of 27, after a long period of prayer and deliberation, Anselm joined the Benedictine monastery at Bec in Normandy. Anselm immersed himself in his studies, becoming a great thinker and theological scholar. Others soon noticed Anselm’s piety and devotion to the study of scripture in the monastery and he was elected to the position of Prior of the Benedictine abbey at Bec at a young age. Anselm continued his studies and became a renowned philosopher and theologian.
Theologically, Anselm’s views were a continuation of the ideas of Augustine of Hippo, a foundational Christian scholar and thinker. “His basic principle was that there can be and is no contradiction between truths of revelation and truths of reason” (Fortman, 1972). Today, Anselm is considered to be the predominant Scholastic thinker. His philosophical works have been among the most celebrated in the Christian intellectual tradition. Anselm’s Proslogion (1077), or ontological proof for the existence of God, became one of his greatest works, and scholars have long debated Anselm’s philosophical premises in both the Proslogion and Monologion. Anselm’s philosophical premise that God is “that which nothing greater can be conceived” baffled other medieval philosophers and scholars and gained Anselm great esteem throughout Europe. Anselm also made significant contributions to Catholics’ belief in a trinitarian God, God in three persons. Additionally, he produced several other theological and philosophical treatises, which contributed to his regard.
In 1093 A.D., after attaining great renown for his scholarship and piety, Anselm was named Archbishop of Canterbury. He reluctantly accepted the position but remained concerned at the brutality and impiety of the English king, William Rufus. Anselm nonetheless began a tumultuous reign as archbishop, continuing his prolific scholarship and seeking to guide the increasingly secular English population with wisdom and faith. Anselm died in 1109 A.D. and was canonized a saint by the Church in 1494 A.D. He is considered a doctor of the Church and one of the leading philosophical and theological scholars of the middle ages.
As a notable scholar and Benedictine leader, Anselm was an appropriate choice for the patronage of the Benedictines’ new college in New Hampshire. Like these monks, Anselm had undergone significant challenges and had travelled great distances to teach, pray, and evangelize. It was in the spirit of his wisdom, faith, and intellectual pursuits that the Order of Saint Benedict of New Hampshire would seek to establish the largest Catholic liberal arts college in the State of New Hampshire.
Anselm’s Legacy Lives On
Saint Anselm College is blessed to celebrate the lives and legacies of two great saints: Saint Benedict and Saint Anselm. Anselm, himself a Benedictine monk, would transcend the philosophical and theological confines of the Medieval world, transforming everything from Church doctrine to the way everyday people thought about the concept of God. As a great teacher, academic, and Church and civic leader, Anselm embodied many of the traits that we, at Saint Anselm College, seek to impart on our students.