Anselm of Canterbury vs. Florence Nightingale

Today in Lent Madness, we will finally answer that age old question: Theologian or Nurse? Okay, there's a lot more to Anselm of Canterbury and Florence Nightingale than these two labels, so you'll just have to read on.

In yesterday's action, Henry Budd left Cecilia singing the blues as the patron saint of music lost in a close battle 53% to 47%.

Shockingly (or not so shockingly if you're a longtime Lent Madness participant), we encountered our first case of voter fraud as 546 votes for Cecilia were removed after the ever-vigilant SEC noticed a discrepancy. It was a youthful prank and said youth has since confessed and been absolved. Frankly, there are worse ways for teens to get into trouble on the internet than voting too many times for a saint in Lent Madness.

However, this will not be tolerated and perpetrators face being cast into the outer darkness of Lent Madness where there will be weeping and gnashing of brackets. Do everyone a favor: vote once. If you're particularly enthusiastic, get all your friends, neighbors, and even your enemies (the ones we're supposed to love anyway) to cast a vote for your favorite saint. Big Lent is watching...

Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm of Canterbury was a Benedictine monk and theologian of the medieval Church. Born in the eleventh century in a region of France that is now part of Italy, he entered the Abbey of Bec as a novice at the age of 27. Later, he became abbot and was known for his skillful leadership and his kind, loving discipline toward the monks. He was also known for his very public squabbles with the monarchs of England during his time as the Archbishop of Canterbury, defending the Church’s authority to appoint leaders and manage its own wealth. For his resistance to the English kings, he was exiled twice.

Marrying his Neoplatonic worldview with Aristotelian logic, Anselm is considered one of the greatest thinkers of the Middle Ages. He espoused a philosophy of “faith seeking understanding,” by which he meant people’s love of God inspired them to pursue deeper knowledge of God. Anselm is especially known for two highly influential theological arguments. The first argument—Proslogion—explores the existence of God. Secondly, his treatise Cur Deus Homo irrevocably shaped the development of Christian theology by arguing that Jesus’ crucifixion was necessary to atone for humankind’s sin. Anselm argues that through sin, humans offended God, and God is owed restitution for this offense—but we have nothing with which to make such a payment. Personal acts of atonement will not suffice. Only God can pay off such massive, crushing debt. As God is merciful, atonement is made with the self-sacrifice of the sinless, human, and divine figure of Jesus. Anselm’s theory was criticized by his contemporaries and continues to trouble some theologians, even as it has formed the backbone of much of Christian
theology for a millennium.

Anselm died in 1109 on Spy Wednesday (the Wednesday in Holy Week) and was laid to rest at Canterbury Cathedral. The exact location of his relics today is uncertain—they were removed after a cataclysmic fire in the 1170s. Anselm’s feast day is April 21.

Collect for Anselm of Canterbury
Almighty God, you raised up your servant Anselm to teach the Church of his day to understand its faith in your eternal Being, perfect justice, and saving mercy: Provide your Church in every age with devout and learned scholars and teachers, that we may be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Amber Belldene

Florence Nightingale

Known as “The Lady with the Lamp” for her work as a nurse during the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy, in 1820 to a well-connected British family. Despite her upper-class background, Nightingale heard a call from God in 1837 to serve and care for others. Nightingale was expected to marry well, produce children, and carry on the family legacy. Instead, she boldly answered the call she heard from God and became the founder of modern nursing practice.

Born out of her experiences of tending the wounded during the Crimean War, Nightingale began documenting the effects of sanitary conditions on wartime injuries. Nightingale is said to have reduced the mortality rate during the war from 42 percent to 2 percent by addressing hand washing, water contamination, and sterilization of surgical materials. These ideals of sanitary care continue to this day in modern healthcare practice.

Nightingale documented her theories on nursing care in numerous publications—the most famous is her treatise, Notes on Nursing. These theories led her to establish the Nightingale School for Nurses at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London (now part of King’s College, London). This began a process of social reform that opened the door for women, providing them with skills that led to careers outside of domestic service work or factory positions. By providing a skilled nursing force, Nightingale improved healthcare disparities in London and implemented workforce healthcare (now occupational and public health nursing practice); she also advocated for hunger relief in India and worked to abolish prostitution laws that targeted women.

Nightingale was raised in the Church of England and was greatly influenced by Wesleyan ideals. Nightingale believed that her faith was best expressed through the care and love of others. A believer in universal reconciliation, Nightingale is said to have comforted one prostitute who was concerned about going to hell. Nightingale said, “Oh, my girl, are you not now more merciful than the God you think you are going to? Yet the real God is far more merciful than any human creature ever was or can ever imagine.”

Collect for Florence Nightingale
Life-giving God, you alone have power over life and death, over health and sickness: Give power, wisdom, and gentleness to those who follow the lead of your servant Florence Nightingale, that they, bearing with them your presence, may not only heal but bless, and shine as lanterns of hope in the darkest hours of pain and fear; through Jesus Christ, the healer of body and soul, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-Anna Fitch Courie

Anselm of Canterbury vs. Florence Nightingale

  • Florence Nightingale (81%, 6,596 Votes)
  • Anselm of Canterbury (19%, 1,516 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,112

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Anselm of Canterbury: Unknown artist, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Florence Nightingale: Unknown Artist, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons


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337 comments on “Anselm of Canterbury vs. Florence Nightingale”

  1. I voted for Florence Nightingale because she helped the sick in her community.

    1. Oliver, you are such a caring young person and I always like your reasoning for your choices. Keep up the good work, young and faithful servant.

    2. I agree Oliver but it's because of her noting the need for sanitary conditions made a difference for you and i

    3. The care of the sick is certainly important, but a saying of Anselm's changed forever my approach to a child of the reformation/enlightenment I had grown up believing that I had to understand in order to believe. Anselm says "I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand." This has transformed my life. So I voted Anselm.

      1. And she pondered those thoughts in her heart ... Anselm believed and understood what that meant. Anselm it is.

      2. This was a very tough decision, because I have great respect for Florence Nightingale, but in the end I had to vote for Anselm. Cheri, your quote helped me make my decision.

          1. Okay, in all fairness, Anslem never stood a chance against Nightingale. But as much as I love our CBers, I kind of think Ms. Belldane might have 'pushed him off the cliff' with all those big words

        1. I don't agree with Anselm's theology and I very much support the Gospel in action that was Florence Nightingale. Not to mention, it is International Women's Day and Florence was a pioneer.

      3. I, too, voted for Anselm and will share his saying with our Daughters of the King Chapter this morning. Besides, I think he's likely the under dog in today's pairing! Thank you, Cheri!

      4. Thank you for sharing that bit of Anselm'a wisdom! about faith leeading to understanding! Nonetheless, I voted for Florence -in gratitude for the lifesaving advances she broght to nursing and medecine in general.

        1. Anselm has a way of expressing great thoughts. My favorite is the Ontological Argument for the existence of God and the one liner, "God is that than which nothing greater can be thought."

        2. I feel the same way as you do, Polly. There does seem to be a pattern of coupling some ancient church leader of theology with a "practical Christianity" person. Both have their place in the scheme of things.
          It is hard to say whom to choose. It does help to publicize less well known persons who were active in exploring the meaning of Christianity.

      5. Cheri,
        This is so important. We must believe to understand. Having been educated and spending all my professional life as an engineer - I always sought to understand but that is of the physical world, something that is achievable. But when it comes to God and our faith, to fully understand is impossible, so we must believe. Even then we may not understand, but when we are in heaven, only then do I think we will understand - at least mostly - we will never fully understand the mind of God.

      6. St. Anselm's statement about belief and understanding reminds me of Pere Aristide's statement: "I don't know what God is, but I believe in God."

      7. Well said, Cheri. I didn't realize Anselm coined the phrase, "fath seeking understanding," but it's one that has been significant in my faith journey.
        I don't much like his theory of substitutionary atonement.
        But I certainly appreciate his standing up against the English monarch.

        So it's Anselm for me today, much as I admire the work of St. Florence.

    4. I voted for Florence Nightingale too! Because nurse is so super great. Hi Oliver- its Princeton. How you doing Oliver?

    5. I'm with Oliver. Anselm did good, but it was too hard for me to understand. Florence Nightingale for me.

      1. I like that Florence Nightingale went against the rules of her time to help other people.

        1. Great to hear from you, Lindsey. Your reasons for voting for Florence Nightingale are solid, though I voted the other way. Glad you're participating in Lent Madness.

    6. Good to hear from you, Oliver. Your reasons for voting for Florence Nightingale are sounded, though I voted the other way. Glad you're participating in Lent Madness.

    7. I voted for Florence night because she helped us out a lot. And many people said it was woman day so she was who I voted.

    8. In celebration of International Women's Day, I proudly
      vote for Florence Nightingale!

  2. A tough choice-secular vs religious from one perspective, but very much the same in another. My vote goes to Florence for her reach beyond just religious concerns. Plus, I am constantly reminded of her when I see "Employees must wash their hands before returning to work."

    1. I always wonder why it is only the employee who needs to wssh their hands, i personally think everyone should, especially when leaving the bathroom

      1. Of course everyone should wash hands, but the employer only has authority over the employees. That's why the wording of the signs in restrooms.

        1. It is sort of the Anglican way: anybody can, no one must (even employees could sneak out without washing), some should (reality is that everyone should in this case!!)

  3. I vote for Florence as her work has saved countless lives on the battlefields of the world

    1. I am a nurse but it was her mercy to the hooker that got me. She had no high horse she loved those in front of her.

      1. Somewhere in C. S. Lewis's letters he describes an elderly gentlemen whom he met, who had once been in love with Florence Nightingale, and had eventually beaten a sad retreat, describing her, IIRC, as "fierce ... very fierce."

        1. Fierce is what makes a memorable nursing instructor. I am a nurse so I vote for a colleague.

  4. Nurses abound in my family...well, four anyway: Sainted Mother-in-law, son, daughter, and son-in-law. So Flo got my vote.

  5. Tough,I am a nurse and once was a member of St. Anselm’s of Canterbury in Garden Grove CA (the altar carving of St Anselm has 6 toes on the left foot), but Flo’s reply to the prostitute tipped the balance. She offer true nursing TLC

    1. So he was a Hemingway saint, Carol?
      That's an inside joke to cat lovers. Cats with 6 toes are called "polydactyl" or "Hemingway cats," because so many of his in Havana had 6 toes.
      Yeah, I know. It's just trivia.

    1. My thoughts exactly. We all owe her a debt of gratitude to her contributions to public health. She followed her calling and used her gifts to better the world. She "believed that her faith was best expressed through the care and love of others." Oh that we all would live out the golden rule in such a tangible way.

    2. In addition to her pioneering work in medical science, Florida was a pioneer in using statistics and the visual display of data...whenever I see a pie chart, I think of her! So happy we are remembering her on International Women's Day!

    3. My thoughts exactly for International Women's Day! Plus the women (and men) who have the heart and soul to care for the sick, wounded, and dying are AMAZING! God, bless their souls.

  6. Anselm's Trinitarian theology is astoundingly beautiful, in its scholastic way, and yet seldom preached or discussed. See "Monologion."

    1. And yet his atonement theology took us down a very troubling path in the West.

      1. Anselm was trying to contextualize the Doctrine of the Atonement. His metaphor certainly made sense in his age. As we in our time seek to contextualize the same doctrine, we should be humble and aware that future generations may be as harsh to us as we are to our predecessors.

        1. Agreed with Tim... I know Anselm was a product of his times, but so was Jesus, and he managed a more inclusive soteriology, IMO.

          1. While we do tend to emphasize Jesus' inclusivity, it's also clear from the scriptures that he expected a lot from people who would follow him. It's also startlingly clear that there is judgement. That's not something the church invented after Jesus' time.

            To be sure, I hope we do emphasize God's mercy, but I also hope we remember the promise that we are all to be judged.

      2. Tim, could you say more about the troublesome path. I don't understand the reference. Thanks.

        1. It is called “substitutionary atonement,” and it can certainly be supported by reading certain parts of the New Testament, particularly Paul’s letters, in a certain way, and it has a kind of abstract logic that fits with the way people in 11th century Europe thought, including how they thought about the majesty of rulers, and the importance of purity and absolute justice. Imaginatively, as it has been interpreted by modern evangelicals, it requires us to consider God’s justice as being utterly and absolutely offended by our sin—or, in more modern terms, to think of God as being, in a sense ***allergic*** to our sins, our impurities.

          As Morgan Guyton puts it, "Growing up evangelical, the answer was simple: Jesus took the punishment for my sin to save me from an angry, perfectionist God who wanted to burn me in hell forever. … [In] the morality that I grew up with, … sin had nothing to do with hurting other people and everything to do with whether or not I was displeasing God. ... Since God is holy, he cannot tolerate sin. Therefore, we need Jesus to die for our sins so we can go to heaven and be with God. Jesus had to die on the cross to satisfy the wrath of God against our sins. Since conservative evangelicalism commits itself to affirming that nobody deserves heaven without Jesus’ sacrifice, that means that God’s moral standards must be defined in such a way that basically decent people who aren’t Christian deserve to be tortured forever. The result is that God appears to be the infinitely picky, uncompromising school principal of the universe" ... who totally demands and deserves our love, but can't and won't accept us as we are, because we are totally depraved until we say the magic words that make us acceptable to him, and also constantly try to toe the straight and narrow that will placate him and keep him from being offended all over again and somehow undo and invalidate our promises of allegiance that made things OK with him.

          Anselm, I'm sure, never could have guessed that this would be what came out of his effort to imagine the logic of the sacrifice of Christ.

          1. Two people have helped me make sense of Anselm, and show how his account of the atonement is not at all what people made of it in recent centuries. One was Robert Crouse, who wrote a beautiful and compelling article about what Anselm actually meant by the words he uses published in the Canadian Journal of Theology back in the late 50x. More recently, Alister McGrath has written a very similar article with very much the same argument, apparently without any awareness of the earlier article. I am sorry, but I don't remember precisely where it is. For anyone who is really keen, Google could probably track it down.

            This is a very difficult pairing. It is tempting to pit the love of truth against the love of people, but of course there can be no such conflict in reality. Mercy and truth have kissed each other. Truth springs up from the earth, and righteusness has looked down from heaven. In Jesus, whom both Nightingale and Anselm loved. Perhaps one sees Anselm's deep and rich love especially in his prayers. These don't get the attention the Monologion and Cur Deus Homo ('Why the God-Man') get.

    1. (Another Amy C)
      Indeed a childhood heroine. Florence continues to save lives even today as we all continue to wash our hands.

  7. “Nightingale documented her theories”
    …as a woman scientist I have love this,
    and that Nightingale's work " led to careers outside of domestic service work or factory positions." BUT MOSTLY for “ faith… best expressed through the care and love of others.” and at a time when so many people (just) talk about their faith and ides, I think we need to honor those who do (and try to do likewise).

    Helping the (my) cause is the fact that my mother was named Florence. My immigrant grandmother, not knowing a good "American name" asked the attending nurse for a suggestion. The nurse suggested the newly born child be named after, in the nurse's option "the greatest women of all time; Florence Nightingale'!

  8. Tough decision! I had to go with Anselm. My grandparents parish in Dearborn, Michigan was named after St. Anselm. Loved going to Saturday night mass with grandparents.

  9. Florence, (clean) hands down! I believe that my great-grandmother, born in England in the 1880s, was named for her. Plus I've been a practicing RN for close to 40 years.

  10. I love Anselm and THINKING about one's faith, but Florence was to germ theory what Maria Sybilla Merian was to disproving spontaneous generation of insects -- a woman who doesn't get the credit in history books. She probably inspired the U.S. Sanitary Commission who saved the lives of so many Union soldiers in the U.S. Civil War. Anyone who lessens mortality rates in war or prevents war gets my vote.

    1. Regarding reforming nursing (and health care) practices during the U.S. Civil War (between the States), read about Clara Barton, another heroine in my books - who should be considered in a future Saintly bracket - but probably is not a good candidate as she was an early "spiritual but not religious" sort (deistic, creedless Universalist)

      1. I, too, hope Clara Barton will be considered in the future. Raised int the town adjacent to mine she is a local heroine.

  11. Had to vote for Florence for her work that is still saving lives. But I'm intrigued by Anselm and inspired to learn more about his ideas.

  12. I love Anselm's religion that didn't require you to leave your brain at the door and theological thinkers are important in every age, but Florence's muscular practical faith (and the fact that we still live in her legacy) wins my vote.

    1. The thoroughly modern slogan, "Being an Episcopalian means you don't have to check your brains at the door" came to mind and influenced my decision to vote for Anselm - but Florence was definitely a saint, too!

  13. Once again, the false dualism of thinker vs. doer rears its unhelpful head. Anselm was not only a thinker, but a doer. He was a skillful leader, a compassionate spiritual father to his monks, and he spoke truth to power. That's not ivory tower, that's action in motion.

  14. Expressing her faith through love and care for others. Isn't that what our faith is all about? Besides, she was influenced by Wesleyan ideals. As a Methodist I had to be impressed.

    1. Me too! I have been a nurse for 50 years and have often thought that Florence was one of the first of us who, rather than working as a nurse, she was one 24/7. Having said that, she also was rather difficult to deal with as, I suspect, most reformers and saints, are.

  15. It pains me not to vote for a medieval underdog, but I'm going with my old childhood hero, Florence. It comes down to theology--Florence's universalism over Anselm's Atonement. If we accepted the idea of universal salvation, I dare say we wouldn't be in the political morass we're in now.

  16. Florence Nightingale FTW (For The Win)! I'll take her default, all-loving and merciful God over Anselm's default "offended" God any day.

  17. This was a tough choice for me, however after a 27 year career in the health care field, i simply had to go withbthe woman who started it all my gal Florence.

  18. Although my inclination is to vote for poor nearly ignored Anselm, I must join the multitudes who honor the Nightengale whose spirit cause many to soar.

  19. “Oh, my girl, are you not now more merciful than the God you think you are going to? Yet the real God is far more merciful than any human creature ever was or can ever imagine.” Love that! Developing the practices that saved lives (and continues to save lives): priceless.

  20. I do appreciate the formidable work of Anselm in his context, but in honor of my late mother-in-law and my late cousin, and so many living friends and parishioners who serve faithfully in the nursing profession, as well a cherished childhood memory of reading a child's biography of her, I am voting for Florence!

  21. As a nurse, I admire Florence Nightingale to the max! No doubt about who I voted for!

  22. It's pretty hard on International day of the woman not to go with Florence. Anselm's thoughts on guilt give me pause.

  23. Even if it wasn't International day of the woman I would vote for the woman who was the founder of nursing!