Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

St. Anselm of Laon: Glossing the Natural Law

HOWBEIT THAT AFTER ADAM'S FALL there were men that were considered virtuous and pleasing to God before the advent of the Mosaic law? How is it that those who flourished between Adam's fall and the revelation of Mosaic law, for example Abel, suffering as they were from original sin, can be said to have lived virtuous or morally good lives, lives consonant with the will of God? Could these men, without either the Law or Faith in Christ, be saved? This was one of the several questions that preoccupied the Dean and Chancellor of the Cathedral at Laon, St. Anselm of Laon [Anselmus Laudinensis], who flourished in the early 12th century. We do not know the date of his birth, but we know that he died in 1117. His brother, Ralph, also an exegete and theologian, took over headship of the School of Laon for at least another decade.

St. Anselm of Laon was the headmaster of the famous school of theology and Scriptural exegesis, the Cathedral School of Laon, a school which Crowe states "dominated the theology of the early twelfth century," one that was "particularly preoccupied with the natural law." Crowe, 80. Modernly, the School of Laon is hardly known. So perhaps R. W. Southern's comments are true with both respect to Laon and to St. Anselm and the School of Laon: "Laon was a city with a great past, an uncertain present, and an insignificant future." R. W. Southern, Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe (Malden: Blackwell, 2001), II, 29.

St. Anselm's chief work is his Glossa interlinearis or Glossa interlineans, a commentary on the entire Vulgate; how much of it is actually his and not also his schools' work is hard to evince, though scholars have tried. The Glossa interlinearis was regarded as one of the two chief exegetical works of the medieval church, its only competitor being the Glossa ordinaria of Walafrid of Strabo. These two glosses on the words of the Latin Vulgate were celebrated in their day. Their names come from the fact that by the 12th century, Bibles were published with one gloss on the text (attributed to St. Anselm) interlineated above the words of the Biblical text which it explained, while the other (Strabo's, the older and more "ordinary") was marginalized beside the Biblical text it sought to elaborate. Thus we find published Bibles with the titles as follows: Biblia latina una cum glossa ordinaria Walafridi Strabonis et interlineari Anselmi Laudunensis, "Latin Bible With the Ordinary Gloss of Walafridi of Strabo and the Interlineated of Anselm of Laon." Eventually, the practice was extended to add the Postilla of Nicholas of Lyra and the Additiones of Paulus Burgensis at the foot of the published Scriptures. Essentially, these bibles were "study" bibles avant la lettre.

The Rebdorf Psalter: Book of Psalms with Gloss by Anselm of Laon
From the Schøyen Collection

In his Encyclical on Biblical Studies, Pope Leo XIII mentioned both St. Anselm of Laon and Walafrid of Strabo in discussing the state of Biblical studies from the time of the Church Fathers up until the time of the Scholastic theologians:
From this period down to the eleventh century, although Biblical studies did not flourish with the same vigor and the same fruitfulness as before, yet they did flourish, and principally by the instrumentality of the clergy. It was their care and solicitude that selected the best and most useful things that the ancients had left, arranged them in order, and published them with additions of their own - as did S. Isidore of Seville, Venerable Bede, and Alcuin, among the most prominent; it was they who illustrated the sacred pages with "glosses" or short commentaries, as we see in Walafrid Strabo and St. Anselm of Laon.
Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, No. 7. It is likely that the Glossa interlinearis is not entirely the product of St. Anselm himself, but an amalgamation containing some of his work and the work of others synthesized by his Cathedral School.

St. Anselm's opinions (known as sententiae) during his morning lectures, and re-discussed during the evening sessions or collatio or declatio, were recorded by his students or perhaps by amanuenses, and these were later gathered together in florilegium collections, often with little systematicization. Sabø, at 248; Southern, 36 ff., 45. Like the Glossa interlinearis, in such florilegium collections it is often difficult to discern which sententiae are St. Anselm's, and which are wrongly attributed to him.

Systematic Sentences attributed to St. Anselm of Laon

Not much is known about St. Anselm of Laon. And there is a split in camps as to how he ought to be considered. On the one hand, Gilbert, Abbot of Novigento, in his preface of his Bartholomew, bishop of Laon, characterizes St. Anselm of Laon as one of the two clear lights of his age among all the stars, the sun of the age, as compared to the other, lesser light on the left, being his brother, Ralph, also a biblical scholar and theologian. The Church, it may be noted, has canonized St. Anselm of Laon as a Saint, who is thus raised to her altars. In Book III of that life, Gilbert characterizes St. Anselm is the man of all France, whose liberal disciplinary and tranquil moral teachings enlightened the entire Latin-speaking world. On the other hand, poor St. Anselm is stained by the acerbic pen of the master wit and enfant terrible, Peter Abelard. In his Historia Calamitatum, Peter Abelard describes St. Anselm thus:
And so I enrolled under this old man [senem] whose great name rested on long practice rather than on ability or learning. If one doubt about some point consulted him, he left him in grater doubt. He was a wonder in the minds of his listeners, but a nobody in the estimate of his questioners. He had a remarkable command of language, but it was despicable with respect to meaning and devoid of sense [sed sensum contemptibilem et ratione vacuum]. While he kindled a fire, he filled his room with smoke but did not light it up. His tree appeared heavy with foliage to those viewing it from afar, but to those who came near and looked closely, it was found fruitless. And so when I went to this tree to gather fruit therefrom, I found that it was the fig tree which Our Lord cursed, or like the old oak to which Lucan likened Pompey saying:

"There he stood, the mere shadow

Of a great name, like an oak
Towering in a fruitful field."

Realizing this, I did not delay long in the idleness of his shadow. I went to his lectures more and more irregularly, and for this the distinguished among his students were offended with me as despising a man of such renown. . . . [T]hat old man arrogantly forbade me to continue in the place where he was teaching the work of interpretation which I had entered upon . . . .
J. T. Muckle, The Story of Abelard's Adversities (translation of Historia calamitatum) (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieaval Studies, 1964), 21-22, 24.

Abelard and his Student Heloise Surprised
by Master Fulbert by Jean Vignaud

Without doubt, Abelard's writing was tendentious. In assessing Peter Abelard's vituperation, and the objectiveness of its critique of St. Anselm, one may recall that the insufferable Abelard was thrown out of the Cathedral School of Laon by no one less than St. Anselm. In defense of St. Anselm, we do not have his side of the story. And Abelard, like Rousseau many years after him, seemed to have suffered from narcissistic, unstable, impatient, almost misanthropic personality, and was burdened with a history of considerable moral failures though unquestionably gifted with a brilliant mind. Modern scholars seem to weigh in with Abelard, but this is probably largely a matter also of tendentiousness.

Were St. Anselm and his followers the most significant impetus in the revival of theology experience in the twelfth century, the inventors of the influential systematic collection of sentences, and the progenitors of the scholastic method and miracle? Or were they rather as Peter Abelard saw them, "essentially reactionary, concerned with the reiteration, and not with the critical analysis, of biblical and patristic authority." Marcia L. Colish, Studies in Scholasticism (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 7. Or were they, as Professor Colish suggests, something in between? Perhaps more soberly, the School of Laon was "far from stagnant, if far from systematic or architectonic in its view of theology." Colish, 11. In any event, it is true that the thought process and methodology of St. Anselm of Laon and his school, though they may have contributed to the rise of the Scholastic method, were "largely non-philosophical, biblical, and patristic" in outlook. Colish, 9-10.

Vulgate with Glosses

St. Anselm of Laon insisted on reconciling both biblical and patristic authority, so that the Church Fathers could be understood by means of the Scriptures, and the Scriptures by means of the Church Fathers. For all that, he does not disdain his contemporaries, the moderni magistri, and so, in his analyses, we see him reference St. Ivo of Chartres, William of Champeaux, and even his brother Ralph. Magnæ Sabø, ed., Hebrew Bible Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000), I/2, 248. , at 248-49. In their effort to incorporate the notion of natural law into their system of Scriptural interpretation, St. Anselm of Laon and his school developed a "characteristically theological" concept of the natural law, Crowe, 80, one that found its roots in Scripture and tradition, and not reason. The natural law, however, though revealed as existing in Scripture remained a rule of reason. Crowe's synopsis is as follows:
The natural law, the law of behaviour for humanity, is anterior to the Mosaic law (which became necessary precisely because men had neglected the law of their nature); it is the fruit of the ratio naturalis which can know God and discern the basic maxims, such as the prohibition of homicide and, in a general formula, the Golden Rule of not doing to others what you would not have done to yourself.
Crowe, 80. In our next blog entry, we shall look at the allegorical interpretation of the Gospel of Matthew in the Ennarationes in Evangelium Matthaei (162 PL 1227-1500). Though Migne assigns its authorship to St. Anselm of Laon, most scholars believe such attribution incorrect. We will also look at the Systematic Sentences of St. Anselm of Laon, though St. Anselm's authorship of these again has been questioned. Whether written by St. Anselm or not, these two texts will at least impart the flavor of the form that the School of Laon's teaching on the natural law had at the cusp of the transformation of Europe's staid, monastic and unitinerant past, where the Benedictine ruled. In St. Anselm of Laon and the School of Laon we are at the threshold of Europe's intellectual future: the universities, where scholasticism and the itinerant orders, in particular the Dominicans and Franciscans, flourished. It was as if the Western mind, disciplined by the rule of the monastery and the safety of its cloisters and fellow monks, was about to be let out freely to walk about the land with his Scriptures and his Glossa in hand, encountering in a great adventure, in the rough and tumble of academic disputation, the pagan Aristotle, the Jew Maimonedes, and the Muslim Ibn Sina. Eventually, the intellectual turmoil caused by the joinder of these various streams would be channelled and synthesized by the intellectual giant St. Thomas Aquinas. This would include the doctrine of the natural law. But we are still a long ways away from that.

1 comment:

  1. There is a newly published translation of the Glossa Ordinaria on Revelation! It is sold on Amazon.