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Compare Lanfranc and Anselm as Archbishops of Canterbury Paper

Archbishops Lanfranc and Anselm, had both been Italian scholars based in Normandy and had both been involved with the Abbey of Le Bec prior to their times as archbishop. But these are only career similarities as these two men were completely different in character from one another.

Lanfranc is chronologically the senior archbishop. He was a senior and key member of King William’s entourage, counselling him on all aspects of family and religious life. He was William’s implement for the consolidation of Norman power in England following the 1066 invasion. By “Normanizing” the church and introducing the people to Norman views and ways of thinking Lanfranc made himself an integral part in the success of the conquest. His relocation of bishoprics from both Normandy and England to places of greater population within England, following the continental convention, allowed him to wield more power and influence over the English people. An important example of this is the removal of Dorchester’s bishopric to Lincoln, where, in the view of both William I and Lanfranc, the more unruly northerners would have greater need for the “Normanizing” influence of the bishopric rather than the calmer south.

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Lanfranc was William’s right hand man, as well as holding the post of archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the English church, and so after the death of William fitz Osbern, became acting regent of England whilst William was fighting abroad. By balancing his strong allegiance to William with his obedience to the Pope he was able both to place the views of the king before that of the church on numerous occasions whilst carrying out his own reforms of the church without interference from William.

Lanfranc’s greatest asset was his unequalled, at least in England, knowledge of canon law and he made the most of this during his career. He assembled a immense collection of decrees and other precedents in his Canterbury library, the huge size of which was unrivalled in England and used these to justify and rationalize his actions as he reformed the English church, introducing Norman bishops, whilst remaining on good terms with the last of the Anglo-Saxon bishops. The strong emphasis placed by Lanfranc on canon law at first ostensibly appears to be linked to the Gregory-influenced reform movements, but seemingly Lanfranc did not stick to Gregorian reforms having his on ideas on the subject instead. . The fact that the Gregorian reforms had barely reached England by the time of Anselm occupation of the primacy implied that he would have had little or no knowledge of them and thus even less incentive to use them.

By selecting new bishops and abbots almost exclusively from Normandy Lanfranc showed both his preferment of the Norman prelates and his lack of confidence in the pre-Conquest Church in England. This shows both his desire to reform the English church and his bigotry, common to most Norman aristocracy, against the previous Anglo- Saxon occupants of their positions. Despite this he did not depose any of the clergy at the time in office in England upon his rise to archbishop.

By creating a privileged clergy protected by the precedents of canon law he further showed his discrimination by allowing his Gregorian style reforms to conform to his own ideal of reformation. The Acta Lanfranci points out that his subjects’ obedience to him was imposed by terror and this, added to his creation of a privileged clergy are, according to his critics, mainly Norman prelates themselves, the main condemnations of his stint as archbishop. By his prejudices he managed to create several unnecessary disputes, an important example of which would be the argument over the primacy with the archbishop of York, where both sides were finally reduced to using insults and forgeries to get the advantage over one another. Even as archbishop of Canterbury he was not adverse to using violence to achieve his goals when he forcefully installed a new Norman abbot at the monastery of St Augustine in Canterbury in the face of heated resistance. He would not allow Thurstan, abbot of Glastonbury, to be deposed by his subjects, even using bowmen to quell the rioting monks in their own chapel.

Lanfranc’s tenure as Archbishop depended completely on the whim of William, he was wholly in his pocket and Lanfranc’s successful changes as archbishop were down to the relationship between him and William. Eadmer says that Lanfranc was a “good shepherd to everyone, insofar as he was allowed to be” and many historians believe this quotation sums up Lanfranc’s reign completely.

Anselm’s episcopate was superficially far less successful than Lanfranc’s, but his goals and approach to the job as a whole were completely different. His tenure as archbishop is best shown by another idea from Eadmer in his great work, The Life of Anselm, of an old and feeble ewe yoked to a powerful and uncontrollable bull. Anselm (the Ewe) is rendered helpless by the turmoil of the bull, William Rufus and this seems to be the story of his reign – struggling weakly against an overbearing power. In contrast with this, Lanfranc had a close bond with William I and was one of the few people who actually influenced him.

Rufus only appointed Anselm as archbishop of Canterbury on what he believed to be was his deathbed. This was because there had been five years without an archbishop, where Rufus had diverted the revenues into his own treasury and now, seemingly about to die, he had believed the cause of his illness was this outrage. Perhaps this was true, as it turned out that the bed was not his last and he survived for a lengthy time after. So Anselm was an unwillingly appointee to the role of archbishop, being plucked from his dedicated, scholastic life and having authority and power thrust upon him. He was seen though as a suitable candidate for the role on account of his thirty years as prior, then abbot of the monastery of Le Bec and also his brilliant reputation as an authority on ecclesiastical matters.

The use of canon law is where Anselm and Lanfranc differ significantly. In RW Southern’s book, Portrait in a Landscape, Anselm is said to have reasoned a problem out for himself before confirming the answer using canon law, and even then the canon law he used would be that which he had picked up from letters sent to him and other sources. This implies that he did not place any great significance on canon law. Before he became Archbishop of Canterbury, as Abbot of Le Bec, he was asked by the Abbot of F�camp for advice on the re-consecration of an altar that had been moved. Anselm puzzled out an answer using his own reasoning and then gave his reply to the Abbot with no canon legal support. The Abbot asked Ivo of Chartres for a second opinion and he, having consulted his canonical texts, announced that Anselm’s answer was correct despite his not having consulted canon law.

Anselm followed papal decrees without question in deep contrast to Lanfranc who would dispute with Gregory over matters as likely as not, usually about the pope’s own authority in England. Sycophantically to the pope Anselm professed to have the same view that ecclesiastical power took precedence over all other forms of authority on earth and that the power of kings was merely secular and derived from a love of worldly things and vanity and thus ultimately from the devil. Anselm, unlike Lanfranc again, did not accept lay investiture following the council of Rome in 1099 which was held by Pope Urban II. Theoretically this is probably where he found out about Gregorian ideals as he was exiled at the time and had also not tried to reject his investiture by Rufus before, as being invalid. Despite having expressed his desire to resign several times, he strangely didn’t after the council, suggesting that he was not entirely consistent in his views of such matters as these.

Anselm’s ideals compare favourably with Gregorian reform principles whereas Lanfranc’s reforms are Gregorian in style but his beliefs were not, showing another difference between the two men.

The tardiness with which Anselm discovered the papal reforms led to a belated attempt at Gregorian reform in England by him. Yet the integral problem with the argument for ecclesiastical superiority that bishops were landowners too and in England owed knight service, servitum debitum, to the king was one that impeded Anselm at every turn in his battle for reform. After returning from exile in 1100 due to the accession of Henry I to the throne, Anselm triumphed in getting Henry to lay down the right of lay investiture, although he failed in getting the king to forego the need for a bishop to do homage to the king for his secular holdings.

Another difference between Anselm and Lanfranc was the perceived wrongness of clerical marriage. Anselm believed, alongside many churchmen, that celibacy was one step along the path to perfection for those inhabiting a spiritual world rather than harbouring the cares and problems of the secular. Both Lanfranc and the Anglo-Saxons before him had tried to use this idea, whereas Anselm imposed measures that would have proved very unpopular with the body of the clergy with their following of wives, mistresses and children.

Anselm’s main disagreement with clerical marriage was that it led to simony, that sin frowned upon most by Gregory, but he also realised the idea that a priest should be chaste to deliver the Eucharist as Christ was born of a virgin, and thus he placed a ban upon clerical marriages. On a more practical level Anselm also had problems with churchmen’s families because the children might expect to inherit their father’s position and to draw wealth from the church to be supported, leading to hereditary positions within the church, inviting stability and continuity into the church, but also bringing complacency and incompetence with it.

To conclude, there are two main differences between Lanfranc and Anselm as Archbishops of Canterbury. Anselm, by training a classicist, contrasted greatly in style with Lanfranc who was originally a lawyer and later a teacher. Anselm believed in great precision and clarity of written words. He preferred to ponder and reflect rather than just use the great Library, which Lanfranc had assembled at Canterbury. The Anselm archbishopric contained several periods of dispute and exile, as he did not manage to achieve the delicate balance between obedience to the Pope in Rome and allegiance to the King of England. Anselm was also a major figure in the Investiture Controversy. Lanfranc was a trusted counsellor of William and was largely responsible for the peaceful co-existence of Church and State. Although a firm supporter of Papal sovereignty, Lanfranc supported the relative independence of the English Church at the same time protecting it from the ‘Royal and Secular’ influence.

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