Patience for freedom — The witness of St. Anselm

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A_Chronicle_of_England_-_Page_118_-_Anselm_Made_Archbishop_of_Canterbury
In this 1864 painting by James William Edmund Doyle, St. Anselm was practically dragged out of his bed to become the archbishop of Canterbury. (Public Domain)

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nselm was chosen to lead the Church in England, at a time when King William Rufus wanted a weak archbishop in Canterbury, a man he could control and use for his own gain. Anselm, for his part, did not want to be a bishop; he begged not to be chosen, desiring to remain in his monastery in Bec, France where he was happily serving as abbot. But once chosen, Anselm threw himself mightily into the task and fought resolutely for religious freedom. He did this without failing to love the king but with love of God first: setting an example that would be imitated and carried forward by other English saints such as the martyrs Thomas Becket (a later successor in Canterbury), John Fisher and Thomas More.

EN ESPAÑOL: La paciencia por la libertad — El testimonio de San Anselmo

Anselm was willing to suffer personally the arrogance and disdain of the king but he was not willing to compromise the freedom of the Church — no matter the cost to himself, even though most of his brother bishops in England were happy “to go along to get along.”

The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese's 1.1 million Catholics.
The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese’s 1.1 million Catholics.

Having faithfully lived more than 30 years as a monk, Anselm knew that love not grounded in truth is not love at all; mercy unhinged from justice is not mercy. Those who bear wrongs patiently do not compromise truth or love, justice or mercy. They speak the truth in love and they love in truth.

Bearing wrongs patiently confounds our sense of fairness. It runs counter to our sense of justice. And yet, it is one of the works of mercy, recommended by Pope Francis and perennially commended by the Church. Love is patient, says St. Paul (Cf. 1 Cor 13:4). Unless one is willing to suffer for those he loves he is unable to remain faithful. St. Cyprian, a courageous martyr of the third century, put it this way, “Take patience away from it, and thus forsaken, love will not last; take away the substance of enduring and tolerating, and it attempts to last with no roots or strength.”

Even in the happiest marriages, or the best monasteries, patience is always needed. In the most golden of friendships, it is required. It was needed, not surprisingly then, when Archbishop Anselm was compelled to oppose the king in the public square so as to defend the rights of the Church. This came at great cost to Anselm but he was prepared to pay it. Jesus says (Mt 5:46), “…if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only; what is unusual about that? Do not pagans do the same?” Anselm had learned with God’s grace to love difficult monks in community; now he had to love a king who wanted to manipulate the Church for personal and political gains.

A 1584 line engraving of St. Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, by an unknown artist. It is inscribed "Anselme Arch. de Cantorberi" in secretary script. (Public Domain)
A 1584 line engraving of St. Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, by an unknown artist. It is inscribed “Anselme Arch. de Cantorberi” in secretary script. (Public Domain)

To bear wrongs patiently, and to defend religious freedom and rights of conscience, we need to trust that the loving plan of God ultimately prevails. St. Paul writes (1 Cor 13:8), “Love never fails.” It may seem to fail, it may seem too weak to prevail and almost powerless in the face of evil. But, in fact, God is love, and His love endures forever.

Anselm did not suffer evil indiscriminately. Even though he was forced into exile twice (for about three years each time) for defending the freedom of the Church, he never stopped striving to work with the king and to give him and his office the respect they deserved. More importantly, all the hardships that Anselm had to endure did not embitter his heart nor lessen his praise of God. Every day, he gladly made His own the words of Psalm 136, “Forever, I will sing the mercy of the Lord.”

To bear wrongs patiently you have to trust in God, to believe firmly in His promise (Jer. 29:11), “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.”

Anselm knew that his own judgment might not at times be right, and that the king on occasion might not be wrong. In a world where the “father of lies” is constantly at work, and where our finite minds only see a part of the whole, sincere minds can legitimately differ. But this gave Anselm even greater reason to bear “wrongs” patiently. For, as long as the question of who is wrong cannot be resolved, it is even more important to endure “the wrong” patiently until the dilemma can be justly resolved. When we bear wrongs patiently, including the “wrongs” that cannot be resolved, Christ is present among us; and in Him, truth and mercy prevail.

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