Lanfranc the most noted foreign churchman who rose to distinction in the English Church of the Middle Ages, was born of a senatorial family in Pavia, Italy, about 1005; studied law in Bologna, but not without attention to other subjects; returned to Pavia, where he taught jurisprudence, and also the liberal arts, with great success. He soon gave his attention exclusively to the latter, the liberales discipline, and especially to dialectics, and, leaving his own country, he traveled over a large part of France, until, induced perhaps by the fame of William, duke of Normandy, he settled in Avranches with some of his old pupils. He there won great distinction as a teacher, but in 1042, having determined upon a more private and contemplative life, he betook himself to Rouen, where, in fulfillment of such a purpose, according to his biographer Crispinus, he proposed to reside. On his way thither he was fallen upon by robbers, bound to a tree, and there, stricken in conscience for what he deemed a too selfish fear, and for his unfitness to find consoling communion with God in the hour of peril, he made a vow, should he escape with his life, to enter a monastery. Delivered from the hands of the robbers by some passing travelers, he entered the cloister of Bec, of the Benedictine Order. After three years of quiet, he began again, at the instance of Herluin, the abbot of Bec, to give instruction, and Bec became the resort of students from every class, both clergy and laity, and from many lands. Made prior of the monastery in 1046, he established a more extensive and systematic course of study, sacred as well as secular, unusual attention being given to grammar and dialectics. In respect to the former, Lanfranc's influence contributed greatly to revive the general study of Latin, and in dialectics he is a forerunner of the schoolmen. Exegesis, and patristic, but especially speculative theology, were pursued. Anselm was among his pupils at Bec, and also the future pope Alexander II. During this period, about 1049, occurred Lanfranc's first dispute with his former friend Berengar, then archdeacon at Angers, on the subject of the Lord's Supper. The latter, while defending the opinions of Scotus Erigena, sought in a letter to persuade Lanfranc; but the letter, falling into the hands of others, gave rise to such charges of heretical fellowship against Lanfranc that he was provoked, in defending himself at Rome and Vercelli in 1050, to a violent attack upon Berengar. The learning which he displayed in this controversy greatly increased Lanfranc's fame for scholarship, and he was now invited to the position of abbot in various cloisters, and was treated with special favor by William of Normandy. It is related that, on occasion of some false charges, the duke fell out with him, and banished him from his dominions. A lame horse was given him for the journey, and, seated on it, he happened to meet the duke, who could not help noticing the laughable hobbling of the animal, when Lanfranc took occasion to say to him, "You must give me a better horse if you wish me out of the country, for with this one I shall never get over the border," The jest won the duke's attention, and an explanation followed, which established Lanfranc in a position of permanent favor. He was employed by William in 1060 to secure from the pope Nicholas II liberty to marry a near relative, a princess of Flanders. This allowance was obtained on the condition that William should found two cloisters, one for monks and another for nuns. Over the monastery of St. Stephen, at Caen, which was thereupon established, Lanfranc was installed in 1063 as abbot, Anselm succeeding him in that capacity at Bee. The dispute with Berengar meanwhile continued. The latter, though constrained at Rome in 1059, through fear, to recognize the doctrine of Paschasius Radbertus, nevertheless afterwards sought to spread his former sentiments, and was bitterly opposed by Lanfranc in his work, De corpore et sanguine Dom. Jesu Christi, adv. Berengar Turonensem, published between the years 1064 and 1069. In this work the doctrine of transubstantiation is clearly contained. Berengar issued a reply, De sacra caena adv. Lanfrancum (an edition of which was published by Vischer in Berlin in 1834). The ability with which this controversy was conducted on both sides has been confessed. Severe personal charges are mingled with argument, and, whatever fault may have been established against Berengar, his opponent was not without blame nor without prejudice in dealing with patristic authorities. While at Caen, Lanfranc steadfastly refused the archbishopric of Rouen, but, upon the advice of his old abbot Herluin, he accepted in 1070, with much reluctance, the archbishopric of Canterbury, which was urged upon him by William of Normandy, at this time on the throne of England. His task in the archbishopric was by no means light, inasmuch as he was obliged not only to control and amend the rudeness and ignorance of his own clergy, but to defend also the authority of his primacy against the other prelates, especially Thomas of York and Odo of Bayeux and Kent. The self-will of the king also gave him much trouble and he was frequently tempted to retrace his steps to the cloister, but was urged by pope Alexander II to continue his public labors. The violent disposition of William Rufus, who ascended the throne in 1087, was a further annoyance. Notwithstanding all these difficulties, he labored perseveringly in the erection of churches and cloisters, in multiplying correct copies of the fathers and of the holy Scriptures, in the extension of learning and improvement of manners in clergy and people, and in care for the sick and the poor. "Under his spiritual rule," says a noted Church historian, "the Church of England received as strong an infusion of the Norman element as was forced upon the political system of England by the iron hand of the Conqueror." His active and prudent influence was also often employed in state affairs.
Lanfranc's relation, while archbishop of Canterbury, to the papal chair forms an important feature of his life. He was on a friendly footing with Alexander II, his former pupil, and went to receive at his hands the pallium of his office, though he had at first desired, in accordance with the king's wishes, that it should be sent to him to England. Gregory VII, greatly displeased with William's independent conduct, and his inclination to restrain the bishops from visiting Rome, sharply complained to Lanfranc that he had also lost his former spirit of obedience to papal authority. Lanfranc protested his continued affection for the Church, and declared that he had sought to win the king to conformity in certain particulars (as specially in the matter of Peter's pence), but said little concerning his general relation to the king, or that of the latter to the pope. He seems to have known that a certain degree of consideration, more than he liked definitely to express, must be allowed to the royal wishes. The pope's command to Lanfranc to appear in Rome within four months under threat of suspension he openly and without answer disobeyed. A letter of Lanfranc to an unknown correspondent (Ep. 59), who sought to gain his adhesion to the rival pope, Clement II, places him in a neutral position as between the two popes, and as awaiting, with the government of England, further light on the subject. Something of Lanfranc's coldness towards Gregory may perhaps be explained by the fact that he saw in this pope (as is apparent in a letter cited by Gieseler) a protector of his enemy Berengar. Lanfranc died May 28, 1089, two years after the death of William the Conqueror.
Besides his work against Berengar may be mentioned his Decreta pro ordine Sancti Benedicti: — Epistolarum Liber, containing 60 letters, 44 written by him and 16 addressed to him: — De celanda confessione, a fragment of an address in defense of his primatical authority; and Commentaries on St. Paul's Epistles. His biography of William the Conqueror has been lost. The first complete edition of Lanfranc's writings was published by D'Achery, a Benedictine (Paris, 1648, fol.); the earliest edition is entitled B. Laenfranci Opera (Paris, 1568, fol.); the latest edition is by Giles (Ox. 1844-45, 2 volumes, 8vo).
See Milo Crispinus, Vita B. Lanfranci; Cadmer, Vita Anselmi; Chronicon Biccense; Malmesbury, Gesta Anglorum, book 3; Acta Sanctorum, Maii, tom. 6; Mohler, Gesamelte Schriften, volume 1; Hasse, Anselm, volume 1; Sudendorf, Berengarius Turonensis (Hamburg and Gotha, 1850); Gieseler, Ch. Hist. 2:10-2; Churton, Early English Church, pages 266, 291 sq., 302, Palmer, Ch. Hist. page 106 sq.; Milman, Latin Christianity, 3:438-440; Hook, Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, volume 2 (1861); Hill, Monasticism in England, page 337 sq.; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.; Wetzer u.Welte, Kirchen-Lexikon, s.v.