Sally N. VAUGHN. Archbishop Anselm 1093-1109: Bec Missionary, Canterbury Primate, Patriarch of Another World. The Archbishop of Canterbury Series. Series edited by Andrew Chandler. Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2012. xxii + 287 pages. $99.95 hc. ISBN 978-1-4094-0121-6. Reviewed by Robert P. RUSSO, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560
Professor Sally N. Vaughn is the director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of Houston, Texas. She has previously published three books, and numerous articles regarding Anselm of Canterbury, whom she describes as “a great scholar and theologian, his public life was also of major importance to him, for he felt that God had called him to Canterbury, and he wanted to do well for God’s cause” (p. xvi). Vaughn’s purpose for this latest publication is to examine Anselm’s tenure as the Archbishop of Canterbury, citing that her work “will attempt to clarify and expand the argument for Anselm’s conscious political and administrative effectiveness, after many additional years of study and contemplation” (p. 6). Although the author successfully accomplishes these goals, what stands out about this fascinating study is Anselm’s humanity, amidst his passionate struggles with his rival bishops, two English kings, and the political machinations which led to two lengthy exiles.
Vaughn’s latest effort is organized into seven chapters, beginning with an excellent introductory chapter concerning Anselm’s letters in the Lambeth collection, several of which are reproduced as addendums in both Latin and English. The next two chapters detail Anselm’s influence on the monastery at Bec, and the controversy surrounding his election as Archbishop of Canterbury. It is here where one may question whether the future saint ever desired the “high office.” Vaughn states that Anselm “strenuously resisted; but he was grabbed and forcibly dragged to his episcopal consecration, his clenched fist pried open finger by finger to insert the episcopal staff—with Anselm all the while shouting ‘This is a nullity that you do’” (p. 52). Vaughn also states that while Anselm was sincere in his desire not to accede to the episcopal office, there were too many heavenly signs to the contrary, and he eventually gave in.
In the chapter entitled “An Old Sheep Yoked to a Wild Bull,” we learn of Anselm’s miseries concerning his efforts to maintain equality with King William Rufus through a two-oxen theory, with “king and archbishop pulling the plow of the church through England, the king with his imperium and the archbishop with his magisterium” (p. 80). King William Rufus would not yield in his investiture of church lands, and assets to his knights, and when Anselm sought intervention from the pope he was exiled. After the mysterious death of King William Rufus, Anselm was restored to his archiepiscopate under Rufus’ brother, King Henry I. Although Anselm fared slightly better under the reign of King Henry, he was ultimately exiled again, before the king came to his senses, and brought Anselm back to England, wherein he “lived his vision for his episcopal rule…in partnership with the king” (p. 152).
One may wonder at the affect that the turmoil might have had upon Anselm’s theology. Although Vaughn relates that his most important theological treatises, the Monologion and the Proslogion, were written or completed under his two periods of exile, she provides no written evidence from Anselm that states that his theology suffered, or that he found greater creative clarity by writing in solitude. This is perhaps due to the lack of corresponding material concerning Anselm’s thoughts and emotions during his tenures away from the Church of England.
Vaughn’s latest contribution to Anselm’s dramatic role in English Church history is highly recommended. It is extremely well-written and researched, and includes many of Anselm’s most important letters in both English and Latin. Although very scholarly, and written for a target audience (i.e. students of the Canterbury Archiepiscopate or early Church History), Vaughn presents a moving narrative that should be identifiable to a wider audience. After all, the struggles that Anselm faced a thousand years ago are still prevalent in the world today.