The Need for Anselm

St. Anselm (1033-1109) has much to teach our modern world about human nature and about the search for God.


April 21, 2023

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Crosses come in many forms. Deciding to pick ours up and persevere with Christ makes us disciples. 

During Lent, I heard a homily where a priest spoke about the following words of Jesus: “My yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:30). The priest mentioned the fact that the yoke was the harness that was placed over animals in order for them to help with the manual labor of a farmer. Most yokes, however, had two openings where two animals would be placed next to one another. Christ’s yoke is easy because we are next to Him and He is pulling through life with us. The saints went through life with the deep knowledge of this reality. 

St. Anselm (1033-1109) has much to teach our modern world about human nature and about the search for God. April 21st is the feast day of this Benedictine monk and archbishop who is a giant from the intellectual tradition of the Church. Rediscovering his genius and his perseverance can aid us in our journey today. 

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He is famous for his words and writings in theology. But his early life was filled with hardship, and that should not be overlooked. Anselm was born into a noble family of his time. His father, Gandolfo, had high hopes that his son would enter the realm of politics and be more esteemed in his role as a nobleman. When Anselm voiced his desire to study under the monastic tradition, his father was furious. Before Anselm was even fifteen years old, he applied to enter a monastery, but the abbot was so concerned about the displeasure of his father that he rejected his application. 

Anselm experienced, from an early age, resistance to his faith and desire to be a strong disciple. Even more so, he experienced it coming from his own father. Perhaps because of the difficult relationship with his dad, Anselm was very close with his mother. Upon her death, he admits that he traversed through an intense time of grief and loneliness. This grief led to a deadening of a desire in his heart for religious life and piety.

Despite this, he continued to persevere, and he later fled his home to live near a famous monk and teacher whom he craved to learn from. After his father’s death, he joined the monastery as a monk. He was quickly made a teacher and later an abbot and archbishop. Anselm shows us that when we are lonely, depressed, or rejected, we must keep going. We cannot make rash decisions to flee our duties or deny the truth just because we experience challenges. 

The current climate in our culture hates and rejects much of what it means to be a Catholic Christian today. This leads many to despair and anxiety over the state of our world. In the midst of these trials, we must persevere—we must keep the yoke on our shoulders and view who is next to us. We must be like Anselm. In the midst of our trials, we must persevere—we must keep the yoke on our shoulders and view who is next to us. We must be like Anselm.Tweet This

The story of the burden of Anselm’s early life is usually overlooked because he became such an important figure in the life of the Church. He is attributed with creating the ontological argument for God’s existence and the theory of satisfaction. The first argues that “God is a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.” All being necessitates the fact that there is a perfect being, and we call that being God. Anselm used simple reasoning to show that it is more logical to believe in God than to be an atheist.

His satisfaction theory was an explanation of how Jesus’ suffering and death has set us free from sin. Anselm used the analogy of his time that concerned injustices being reconciled between parties. If someone harmed or committed an injustice toward a king, that would require more satisfaction than if it was committed toward a lord. Under this reasoning, humanity’s sin against God requires infinite satisfaction. On our own, we could not reconcile ourselves. This is why God became man and suffered for us. 

He needed to be divine and human because only God could rectify us with the divine. In these two theological explanations, Anselm showed those of his time that theology is “faith seeking understanding.” His search for God in his heart and in his mind led him to the same spot: he better understood who he was and who God was.

Anselm said that “God has made nothing more valuable than rational existence capable of enjoying him” (Cur Deus Homo). Our souls were made to be united to the Trinity especially when it seems like we cannot understand. His perseverance in thought and deed is the remedy for our time as well. Remain faithful against those who persecute the Church. Pray and study for more clarity concerning doctrines of the Church and you will find rest.

In Anselm’s Proslogion, he provides the fuel for perseverance: “Come now, insignificant man, fly for a moment from your affairs, escape for a little while from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside now your weighty cares and leave your wearisome toils. Abandon yourself for a little to God and rest for a little in Him.” We can only stay on the right path if we devote ourselves to a deep life of prayer. Perseverance without prayer relies on our power alone. Perseverance through our prayer life makes us strong with the power of Christ.

Amid all your worries and fears about our Church, nation, and culture, cling to the yoke that is easy and light—be an Anselm. See the eyes of Christ pierced forward as he pulls the world from the mud of sin and uses you to dispel the darkness with His light.


  • Thomas Griffin

    Thomas Griffin is the chair of the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and two sons. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Empty Tomb Project: The Magazine.

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