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Saints, Scholasticism, Misguided Desires . . . and the NFL Draft

Updated on April 25, 2024

No one will have any other desire in heaven than what God wills; and the desire of one will be the desire of all; and the desire of all and of each one will also be the desire of God.” ~ Saint Anselm

In John 3:7-15, Jesus expounds upon a topic we reflected upon yesterday (John 3:1-8) So in light of the fact we haven’t celebrated a Saint‘s Feast Day liturgically since April 4th in the great Bishop and Doctor of our Church Saint Isidore, I’d like to reflect upon another Saint who claims the title of Doctor, Saint Anselm. His quote, which kicks off today’s reflection, sheds some light on the wisdom, insight, perspective and faith that would become the hallmark of all of his teachings and writings.

All this talk of Church Doctors might lead the casual onlooker to believe that the Catholic Church sprinkles and splashes this title about rather liberally. Next week as a matter of fact we will recognize two more Church Doctors, Saint Catherine of Siena,she%20was%20not%20a%20nun and Saint Athanasius on April 29th and May 2nd respectively. One might think that the Church takes a page from the U.S. College and University System’s playbook for instance, who in recent years has bestowed the title of “Honorary Doctorate” upon the likes of rapper P-Diddy ~ begging the question: does this now make him “PhDiddy?” ~ boxer Mike Tyson (...and here you thought he just faded off into Bolivia), a puppet, albeit a sagacious one in Kermit the Frog, and a countless onslaught of actors and musicians.

Not so.

The Catholic Church recognizes a scant 36 Saints as Doctors. With the NFL Draft taking place tonight, I offer this analogy. If Catholic Saints were Wide Receivers, they would be those pass catchers who beat the enormous odds and went on to be drafted and play in the National Football League. Doctors of the Church are the Wide Receivers who not only played in the NFL, but went on to become Hall of Fame Wide Receivers, perennial Pro Bowlers who filled highlight reels and hoisted Super Bowl trophies. Female Doctors of the Church? They represent the upper echelon of NFL Hall of Fame Wide Receivers, the rarefied air so to speak.... think Jerry Rice and Randy Moss. There are but four female Doctors of the Church, the aforementioned Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Saint Teresa of Avila , and of course the “Little Flower” herself, the wildly popular Saint Terese of Lisieux

Saint Anselm, known to some as the “Father of Scholasticism,” sought to marry reason to the mysteries of the faith. Others over time spoke of this connection as well. Saint Philip Neri for instance once said that “a man without prayer is an animal without the use of reason.” As I ponder this quote, I can’t help but wonder if, in an odd and indirect way, it inspired George Orwell‘s “Animal Farm.” Given the alarming number of U.S. Politicians who are atheists, you can tune into any one of a number of Cable TV News Stations on any given night to get the general gist of this quote, not to mention the rotten fruit that it bears.

While boarded at the Campanian monastery in Rome in the year 1097, Saint Anselm penned what was arguably his greatest writings on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man). In this work, Anselm focuses on the matter of “atonement” as he saw it, presenting the philosophical and theological foundations for a vital aspect of the church’s understanding of the atonement of Christ, specifically the “satisfaction view“ of the atonement. He argued that it was necessary for the atonement to take place in order to satisfy the justice of God. This viewpoint would become the cornerstone of classical Christian orthodoxy in the Middle Ages. Over the years of course, the “satisfaction view” of the atonement has not been without its many critics.

As the Abbot of Bec, a title he would assume that was held 15 years prior by his friend and mentor Lanfranc, he would author some of his more famous writings – the Monologion, a treatise on how God exists by using metaphysical proofs, and the Proslogion, a text that focuses on the attributes of God. Along with these two great documents, he wrote many others on truth, free will, the genesis of evil, and reasoning.

Saint Anselm approached the Holy Mass with great ardor and fervor, for he knew the power of this most sacred of celebrations. "A single Mass,”offered for oneself during life,“ he once said, “may be worth more than a thousand celebrated for the same intention after death." We now see the influence that Anselm had on Saint Leonard, who would go on to echo these sentiments some 750 years later in his book “The Hidden Treasures of the Mass.”

More than merely a church scholar, Saint Anselm cared greatly for the poor of the city of Canterbury, where he was ultimately appointed Archbishop, he was in complete opposition to the slave trade, settled many church affairs of his time (there were many), and was a faithful shepherd of Jesus Christ to the people under his care, this despite the fact that his health had begun to plunge into a rapid state of decline as the years wore on.

He would depart this Earth and return home to God the Father in the year 1109 A.D. with the monks of Canterbury around his deathbed. It was Pope Clement XI who would go on to declare him a Doctor of the Church in the year 1720.

"For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe this: unless I believe, I will not understand." This quote from Saint Anselm in so many ways encapsulates his thoughts on the balance between faith and intellect. Worship, thanksgiving, and praise never took a backseat to the pursuit of knowledge.

I’d like to close with a prayer that was written by Saint Anselm, one in which his steadfast devotion to serving and praising the Father is so clearly prevalent:

“God, I pray that I may so know you and love you that I may rejoice in you. And if I may not do so fully in this life let me go steadily on to the day when I come to that fullness. Let me receive That which you promised through your truth, that my joy may be full." ~ Amen

Saint Anselm, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, pray for us . .


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