Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Anselm, Bishop of Lucca

illustration of Saint Anselm, Bishop of Lucca, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberMantua, which glories in being the birthplace of Virgil, the greatest of the Latin poets, also gave to the world Saint Anselm. There it was that his genius was cultivated by the study of literature, both sacred and profane, till he acquired that vast learning which he afterwards used so successfully in defence of the rights of the Church.

Pope Alexander II, who had been Bishop of Lucca himself, appointed Anselm his successor in that diocese. The Emperor Henry IV was then a violent enemy of the Holy See. He claimed the right of investiture, and seized the temporalities of vacant livings; by him ecclesiastical benefices were sold to the highest bidder. From the hands of this trafficker in sacred offices Anselm, erring through human weakness and led astray by the example of so many other bishops, consented to receive the ring and crozier. However, he soon repented, and, overcome by remorse, went from Lucca straight to the Abbey of Cluny. There, putting from him the episcopal dignity and taking the vows as a lowly monk, he atoned for the sin he had committed by subjecting himself to the most severe penances. As soon as Pope Gregory VII, who had been a monk of the same house, heard of Anselm’s retreat and the sincerity of his repentance, he brought him to Rome and, telling him the Church required the aid of his talents and learning, commanded him to resume the charge of the See of Lucca. A mighty and courageous champion Gregory found in Anselm. With voice and pen he maintained the Pope’s cause against the pretensions of the Anti-Pope, Guibert, and the usurpations of the Emperor. Anselm’s Apologia for Gregory VII raised up numbers of enemies against him, but gained three stout supporters in Agnes, Beatrice, and Matilda. The latter princess especially, though young in years, showed such piety and courage that she wrote to Gregory that no threats – even that of death itself – should ever make her falter in her allegiance to the true Pope. Such was the spirit that she imbibed from the teaching of her spiritual director, Anselm. The Bishop’s zeal for reform was displeasing to his Canons, and they appealed against him to Rome. The Pope was obliged to hear their complaints, but Anselm so triumphantly confuted his accusers that Gregory ordered them, under pain of excommunication, to obey their Pastor.

Anselm’s reputation for sanctity was wide spread; it affected even the rude, fierce soldiery. Anselm and Gerald, Bishop of Ostia, were once sent by the Pope on an embassy to the Emperor at Milan. The treacherous monarch, through his emissaries, set an ambush for both prelates. The soldiers threw Gerald into prison, but were afraid to lay hands on Anselm, and let him go free. Numbers of schismatics were won over by his eloquence to abjure their errors. They saw, too, that truth must be on the side of him who, by his prayers, was able to effect that a small, ill-equipped band of Matildas soldiers could rout a mighty host of invaders.

So many anxieties, labours, and misfortunes at last proved fatal to Pope Gregory VII, nor did Anselm long survive him. Seven months later, on the 18th March, A.D. 1086, his end came at Mantua, then under the rule of Matilda. His body, which, by his directions, had been buried without any pomp in the humble cemetery of the Monastery of Saint Benedict, close to Mantua, was afterwards transferred with every mark of solemnity to the Cathedral Church of that city.

– text and illustration taken from Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict by Father Aegedius Ranbeck, O.S.B.