Surrounded by battle

Today, 18 Mar 2012, is the memorial of St Anselm II, bishop of Lucca, Italy. Around him conflict between the Pope and the Emperor raged, in decision making and in the battle field, and several times this conflict impacted upon his life. However, he managed to keep his eyes fixed on God and serving God’s people.

St Anselm II (or ‘the Younger’) was born in Milan in 1036. His uncle, whom he was named after, was bishop of Lucca. In 1861 this uncle became Pope Alexander II, thus involving young Anselm in the great questions of the day. Anselm followed his uncle into holy orders and proved himself to be a most capable student. Such was his knowledge that others came to consult him. When his uncle was elected Pope, Anselm who had only been ordained a few years went with him to Rome.

After about 10 years in papal service, Alexander II – perhaps sensing that his health was failing, - appointed his nephew as bishop of Lucca. In this time of conflict, Alexander II sent Anselm to the emperor Henry IV for investure. Sensing that lay investure was wrong, Anselm went to Germany to the court of the Emperor and returned without being invested. On the death of Alexander II, the new Pope, Gregory VII, again appointed Anselm as bishop of Lucca. This time he did receive investure from Henry IV (against papal advice)and regretted doing so. Troubled so much by this, he resigned his bishopric and sought a life of penance in the Benedictine order. As a monk Anselm had time to work on his relationship with God and to ponder and study the whole question of the validity of lay investure.

In time, Gregory VII used the powers of papal persuasion to get Anselm to return to Lucca as bishop. Returning full of monastic zeal, Anselm came into conflict with the canons of his cathedral who definitely did not want lives of greater religious discipline. The conflict between the pope and the emperor was leading towards pitched battle. When the papal forces were defeated in 1080, the excommunicated canons obtained from the emperor the exile of Anselm. With Countess Matilda of Tuscany, leader of the papal forces, Anselm withdrew and prepared spiritually and materially for the next encounter. The city of Mantua now became his home.

Soon Gregory VII appointed Anselm as papal legate to Lombardy, a task that involved much preaching, letter writing, looking after dioceses that had been left without a bishop and quelling of factions that wished to rebel against papal authority. For Gregory VII Anselm wrote arguments against lay investure and others in support of Gregory against the antipope. While Henry IV had the ascendancy he appointed his own anti-pope, and forced Gregory VII into exile, where he died in 1085. Matilda had a miltary victory in 1084 with Anselm as the spiritual powerhouse behind it, but it was not enough to change the situation much.  

All through this unsettled life Anselm sought God in prayer for several hours each day, and kept himself attuned to God’s presence in whatever task he was immersed in. News of Gregory VII’s death in 1085 affected him deeply, and within a few months on 18 March 1086 Anselm worn out with fatigue entered eternity. So great was the veneration that the people of Mantua had for Anselm that they would not permit his body to leave them. Many miracles occurred at his final resting place in the cathedral, and even today his body is incorrupt. 

The battles of Anselm’s life put into sharp relief the great harm that giving lay people any kind of authority over ordained people causes. They don’t give that power up without a bitter fight. With the sacrament of ordination God grants to those men who lay down their whole lives for Him the charisms of leadership in both the spiritual and temporal realms of church life. Whenever the non ordained usurp those God-given roles great disorder follows. In our own times we need to remain vigilant so that new forms of the lay investure scourge, like lay people running the parish plant and directing the ministry of the priests in the parish, do not reappear. 

St Anselm II of Lucca and Mantua, pray for us.




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