Anselm of Canterbury

This chapter was written for Time’s Chariot but was ultimately cut: it added to the book’s length and doesn’t actually advance the plot much. It still gives insights into the Correspondent, Anselm’s philosophy and the feel of what is going on in the book as a whole, so read on.

“You came through Aosta, then, on your way from Constantinople?” Anselm of Canterbury, Archbishop of that city, and the Correspondent were alone together and a welcome fire crackled in the hearth. The Archbishop leaned forward and poured his visitor a cup of wine. His voice was calm but the visitor detected a hint of excitement there.

“I did indeed,” the Correspondent said. “A beautiful place.” He had detoured through the Italian alpine town precisely for this reason.

“A touch out of your way,” Anselm said.

“But worth the detour,” the Correspondent said.

The Archbishop smiled. “The Lord’s ways are strange,” he said. “I was born in Italy, I spent many years in Normandy and now I am the spiritual ruler of a small, cold, wet island hundreds of miles away from my native land. I have travelled further than most other men, and spoken with dukes and kings, and seen and done many things, yet nowhere have I seen mountains as beautiful as in the town of my birth, and that is why my heart will always be in Aosta.”

The Correspondent remembered his feelings on bidding farewell to Asia Minor — as the harbour of the Golden Horn had receded behind his ship he had felt a hollowness in his heart. Homesickness, for the scene of his first assignment? “I understand perfectly,” he said.

“And you are from-?” said Anselm.

“Isfahan,” said the Correspondent. Anselm drew back in surprise.

“Then you have travelled much further.” He narrowed his eyes, moving his head to study the Correspondent’s features from either side. “And yet you do not appear Persian to my untutored eyes.”

“Indeed,” the Correspondent said.

The Correspondent didn’t look Persian because he had taken care to rearrange his features to those of a man whose appearance would offend neither Saxon nor Norman. His skin had lightened and his hair had mellowed from its original near-black into a light, blondish tan. His beard had vanished. While the Saxons were still dominant in England he had made his eyes blue but, just to be safe, following the Conquest he changed them to brown.

The Norman regime was now a fact in the England of 1094. Much had happened in the 29 years since the forces of William of Normandy had landed on the south coast and done battle with the army of Harold. Harold had only infantry, just recovered from a forced march from Yorkshire; William had infantry, cavalry, better discipline and the blessing of the Pope.

The Middle East was no longer safe and, after his meeting with Avicenna, he had had no real need to stay in the area. He had wandered here and there with no real sense of purpose, reporting on what he saw, helped by the scraps of foreknowledge that would suddenly pop into his mind. (He had tried, on several occasions, to think hard about something to find out exactly how much foreknowledge was locked up in his mind. It was no use. The Home Time database in his brain simply released information as it was needed and couldn’t be made to give up its knowledge in advance.)

The Seljuk Turks came to Isfahan, as he had known they would, in 1051, but that was by no means the end of their conquering. They were destined to move north and south and west, destroying the Byzantine army at Manzikert, conquering Jerusalem and dominating the region.

Move east to India? A lot of hostile terrain to cover. West to Egypt and Africa? The Almoravid Berbers were carving out their own empire there for themselves. Europe seemed the safest place to be.

To keep one step ahead of the Seljuks the Correspondent had strolled from Isfahan to the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, then turned north, up through Turkey as far as the Black Sea. Then west, reaching the Constantinople of the faltering Macedonian dynasty. The Balkans were fulminating against their Byzantine rulers and so he caught a ship to Greece, silently bidding farewell to Asia Minor and futilely wishing it well in the years to come. Turks from one direction, Crusaders from another — he felt well out of it. Even so, there was that strange stab of homesickness. He wondered if all Correspondents felt an attachment to the area where they first began their work. Or perhaps it was just the knowledge that there was still so much time left to him.

Then another ship from Corinth to Messina, a third across the strait to the mainland, and a leisurely slog up the Italian peninsula. It was around this time that another sense of purpose began to crystallise inside him. It surprised him at first because he had only known it once before: it was the same kind of resolve that had led him to Isfahan and made him seek out an audience with Avicenna. Now the same kind of force was leading him northwards, to England in the last years of Saxon rule, and he knew why.

It was clear now to the Correspondent that he had hidden aims within him beyond simply roving and reporting. The Home Time had somehow planted subliminal inclinations in him that would only emerge over time — be at such and such a place, interview such and such a person. No doubt another Correspondent was feeling the same urge that had driven him away from the east in reverse — he (or she) would actively be heading out there to witness the battles that were to come. The Correspondent was quite happy with this arrangement — England would soon have one key battle and that would be it, as far as he was concerned.

He arrived at Dover in 1064 and spent the next two years exploring this new land. So unlike Persia — no heat, no dust. Greenery; clean and plentiful (some might say too plentiful). A fertile and, by and large, peaceful land, for the moment.

On 28 September 1066, William’s forces landed on the south coast and the Correspondent was there to watch. Two weeks after the landing, the forces of William and Harold finally met north of Hastings and again the Correspondent was there to watch.

Others were watching too, and the Correspondent wondered if any of them were like him. Like him, they seemed to be peasants or mendicants and he considered roaming among them and murmuring under his breath in the language of the Home Time — something only another Correspondent would recognise. He decided against it: it was an activity that could at best get him declared a lunatic, at worst declared a witch. Witch hunting at its worst was still some centuries away, but he saw no reason to hasten the process.

The best argument against it, though, was that every time he thought about meeting up with another Correspondent his thoughts slid away from the topic, and he took the hint. For reasons best known to themselves, his masters in the Home Time wanted him working on his own.

With no great sense of surprise the Correspondent saw William’s feigned retreat, the subsequent entrapment of the English troops who thought they were pursuing him, and the English retreat from Senlac Hill. He was too far away to see the death of Harold but the screams of the English as the Norman cavalry began their final onslaught told him everything. The Norman era had begun.

William wanted Normans in all the top positions in his new kingdom. Lanfranc, the Abbot of Bec in Normandy, was English, but in those days Europe was one large country without borders to its scholarly and religious classes. Lanfranc’s tenure at Bec made him an honorary Norman, so he was summoned to be Archbishop of Canterbury. When Lanfranc died his successor at Bec, the Italian Anselm, was appointed in his place, and that was why the Correspondent was in Canterbury in the early months of 1094. The 60-year-old Anselm had been appointed in 1093 and the Correspondent wanted to get to him before his frequent squabbling with William II and Henry I resulted in years of exile in Italy — a strange place for a man still holding the title Archbishop of Canterbury, but such things made sense in the late eleventh century and Anselm, one day to be Saint Anselm, was to have a knack for irritating people for centuries to come.

“I was in Isfahan before Constantinople,” the Correspondent said. “I am not a native of the region.” Before Anselm could ask him of what region he was a native, he pressed on. “I’m honoured that you agreed to see me, sir.” Anselm was nothing special to look at — he was even dressed like a monk, not wearing the finery that might one day be expected on the most senior member of a country’s church — but he had produced philosophical arguments that would never be answered to everyone’s satisfaction, even in the centuries to come. “I came to see you because, passing through Bec, your former colleagues at the priory showed me your writings. I was struck.”

“Is that so?” Anselm could not hide his pleasure, even though originally his colleagues had had to press him to write down the things that became the Monologium and the Proslogium. Anselm’s view was that, if God had given Man an intellect, it was practically a duty of Man to use it to explore God’s nature.

“Indeed. You wrote an essay entitled ‘The fool has said that there is no God’-”

“From the fourteenth psalm,” Anselm said.

“-and Gaunilo of Marmoutier wrote a rebuttal entitled ‘In defence of the fool’.”

As the Correspondent had suspected, the saintly Archbishop was quite capable of anger if provoked sufficiently.

“Gaunilo! That fool! That … nit-picker!”

“I understood you had complimented him on his good Christian faith?”

“The man is still a fool,” Anselm said, “though a Christian one.”

“Let me see if I understand your thoughts,” said the Correspondent. “You say that even an unbeliever can conceive of God, and what he conceives is something greater than any other thing-”

“Naturally!” Anselm said. “If that which he conceived was less than something else, it would not be God! And clearly, to exist in re is better than to exist in intellectu-”

“You mean, if I promise to pay you a gold coin, the promise is good, but the reality of payment is better?”

Anselm looked annoyed at being interrupted. “A trivial example, but accurate, I suppose. No worse than Gaunilo and his prattle of magical islands. Something that is greater than any other thing must exist. Therefore, God exists.”

“But even allowing that,” said the Correspondent, “that tells you nothing of God’s nature, surely?”

“Of course not,” said Anselm. “For that we have the scriptures.”

The Correspondent had opened his mouth to continue his argument — something about the circularity of scriptures deriving their authority from God, and vice versa — when he saw it. This time, he saw it. Behind Anselm the room seemed to rearrange itself, yet in a moment was just as it always had been … but with a man standing there. A man he recognised.

“You!” he shouted. Anselm turned to look behind him and froze, as Avicenna had, when a light shone from the small globe the man was holding.

The newcomer was startled. “You remember me?” It was the language of the Home Time, the same voice that spoke silently in the Correspondent’s mind when he transmitted his reports to the lunar station.

“I do now.” The Correspondent was amazed by the returning gush of memory. In 1029 the man had been dressed like a resident of Isfahan; now he was dressed like a monk. Other than that he hadn’t changed at all. Yet in the over 60 years in between, the Correspondent had had no memory of him at all.

And what stunned the Correspondent the most was the deduction he then made. Another Correspondent could have kept his appearance identical, but to appear out of thin air-

“You lied to me!” he said. “You could take me back now! You lied to me!”

The man gave the same mirthless smile that the Correspondent remembered — the expression of a man who didn’t smile often, and when he did it was at someone else’s expense. “Do you remember this as well?” he said. He held up the globe and this time the Correspondent had a closer glimpse of it — it was many faceted and looked crystalline — before his mind again went blank.