Collection of Letters: Detail
- Hugh of Fleury
To his ruling lady Adela venerable countess, Hugh, foster-son of St. Benedict of Fleury, the adornment of great happiness.
I deem it worthy, most serene lady, to dedicate the gift of the present work to your gentleness with a suppliant's affection since you are foremost among the many princes of our age, illustrious in your nobility, outstanding in your probity, and erudite in letters, which is nobility or great civilization. I call this gift of mine a little book, subtle in its compact brevity, which may delight you with its charm and exhort you to doing good and to adorning your life with good habits. Not that you are not honorably and well adorned with great virtues, but that one can always improve.
Rereading ecclesiastical history published in parts by many historians and related in various ways, I decided to draw together in this one volume and collect what I had gathered from many books, and to extract the core of truth diligently from each, using the words of the authors in some places, my own in others. Certainly this is a very exacting business: because brevity sometimes results in obscurity, I exert myself to be clear and labor to be brief. All those things which are found to be uncultivated in my writing are from my rusticity. But truly however they are said, they can be of benefit to readers, and recall a richer series of deeds to mind, for the unlearned as well as the learned and those occupied with secular affairs, to those particularly who think there is great solace in life from reading divine scriptures. It offers brief reminders to those who read much, and instruction to the uneducated. Anyone not content with it I refer to the opulent and magnificent volumes from which I took these.
To the malicious and carping I have, I confess, offered a profuse field for malice by so audaciously seizing on such an arduous work that should be reserved for erudite men. But I say to the envious and the mocking, who perhaps because of pride look down on my writings with proud superiority that I suspect it will not be their names that posterity will labor to remember, the praise of their infamy will remain covered. But the monument to your name, my lady, as much by the occasion of this book as by the accomplishment of good works, which you are constantly involved in, will be left to posterity in perpetuity and will never be be lost to the oblivion of time. Therefore graciously receive this poor gift offered by me to you and defend it with your favor from the wicked.
For the wise have not negligently passed over the deeds of ancient men, but have placed them in books for the instruction of this life. Indeed the sequence of past times is recounted by history and many necessary matters can be examined through the successions of kings and emperors. Therefore I shall begin my narrative from Octavian Augustus and shall note the names and the deeds of Roman emperors and leaders down to Charlemagne and his son Louis with great care. Behold how much you have to read, the deeds of ancient emperors and the equally memorable acts of certain men beloved of God from the incarnation of the lord to the appointed time. If you give your attention to these, inertia will not oppress the splendid and honorable sharpness of your wit.
As to praise of your virtues, which the sublimity of your origin and the felicity of your nature have poured out over us, I blush to speak lest it seem the frivolity of a parasite. I shall however speak of it elsewhere when it is appropriate. To those who will take it amiss that I dedicated this work to you, I answer: the blessed priest Jerome often honored holy Paula and her daughter Eustochium with many writings, and the venerable bishop of Rome, Gregory, sent the four books of his dialogues to Theodolind, queen of Italy. And the woman who sat at the feet of the Lord and heard the words of his mouth was better, more devoted, not just than the Pharisees and Saducees but even than the ministers of Christ. For the female sex should not be deprived of knowledge of deeper things, as we shall clearly declare in the following reading for truly great industry of mind and elegance of upright customs is found in women.
Moreover in the book of this history are hidden very deep sacraments of the church. For as scripture tells us, the first man was formed by God on the sixth day of the foundation of the world, so we shall declare him redeemed in the sixth age of the world. And as we learn that man was made from unspotted/ immaculate earth, so we shall show by the narrative of faith our Saviour was born from an undefiled virgin. And as Adam on the sixth day of the week received from God's breath the power of free will by which he obeyed the creator not from servile necessity but from innate will so that he would deserve the reward of eternal life by obedience or ruin by disobedience, so in the sixth age of the world it is evident that men received the holy Spirit from heaven, by which they could fulfill the law and will of God freely, not servilely like other creatures but as dear children.
For omnipotent God created rational creatures in the first age, angelic and human, to whom he gave the power of free will, so that endowed with this faculty they might always praise their Creator. But since angelic nature was first corrupted through pride and departed from love of its Creator, burning with envy against human nature, it suggested the offense of sin so that human nature would be polluted by the blemish of [angelic] impiety, believing it to be a great comfort if they fell with the same guilt and suffered punishment equally. Divine nature did not accomplish this but decreed that human nature would be restored to its original dignity. Whence it assumed flesh from woman so that human nature through the incarnation might have the ability to return to the beatitude it had lost by this blessing. For the Lord showed by punishing angelic nature the censure of his justice and by redeeming human nature the sweetness of his mercies. Mercy and truth are indeed his ways.
So just as we found the sorrow of death in the first age through Adam, so we recovered the joy of eternal life in the sixth age of the world, as we said above, through the mystery of the word incarnate. But before this came about, there was Abraham the patriarch in the third age, from whom the ritual and religion of circumcision had its beginning when all nations/heathens corrupted by error sacrificed to idols. At length the law was given to the Jewish people by which the Lord might be worshipped. And the Lord, who made all from nothing, could have at the same time made everything and brought the whole human race to reverence and worship of him. But he did not, rather by a secret and inscrutable sacrament he disposed to be born of a virgin not at the beginning of the world but at an opportune time. Who serenely lighted the world through the nativity of human flesh, brought together one church from the Jewish and gentile people in the sixth age of the world, and so bound to himself both people within that church with one spirit, that there would be no diversity, but one liberty.
That he wanted to be born from woman shows the great beneficence of his benignity and an immense example of humility. He could not be contaminated by the flesh of others who came to purify flesh. Yet he could be born according to flesh, be crucified and rise for our salvation in a wondrous and ineffable way without injury, exempt from suffering and unchangeable in majesty. Truly the evil of the proud can not penetrate such pious sacraments, since it does not wish to believe. But the holy church believes all these things in sincere affection for the lord Jesus Christ and embraces and follows them with great devotion. Therefore you, daughter of the church of the Lord perceive these sacraments with attentive mind and read them happily and reading believe them.
Live, thrive, rejoice, most worthy of great praise,
progeny of kings, pillar of clergy and people,
whom uprightness of customs and nobility of ancestors
equally adorn; may every prosperity yield to you.
Dominae suae Adelae venerabili comitissae Hugo sancti Benedicti Floriacensis alumpnus magnae felicitatis decus. Dignum censeo, serenissima domina, munus presentis operis mansuetudini vestrae supplici affectu dedicare, cum sitis nostri aevi multis preponenda proceribus, tum generositate preclara, tum probitate precipua, tum quoniam estis litteris erudita, quod est gentilitium sive civilitas magna. Munus autent meum hunc appello codicellum compendiosa brevitate subtilissimum, qui sua vos amenitate delectet et adhortetur ad benefaciendum, et ad vitam bonis moribus exornandam. Non quod non sitis satis decenter magnis virtutibus adornata, sed quod semper in melius proficere commonemus. Aecclesiasticam enim relegens historiam a multis historiologis per partes editam et modis variis comprehensam, hoc uno volumine decrevi coartare et coadunatis mihi quam pluribus libris deflorare, veritatisque medullam de singulis difigenter extrahere, utens eorumdem auctorum verbis in quibusdam locis, aliquando vero sermonibus meis. Certe laboriosum valde negotium, quoniam brevitatem nonnunquam comitatur obscuritas, cum et luculentus esse contendo et brevis esse laboro. Ceterum omnia quae ibi a mea rusticitate dictata repperiuntur, inculto sermone perorata probantur. Verum utcumque haec dicta sunt, poterunt tamen legentibus prodesse, et uberiorem gestorum seriem ad memoriam revocare, indoctis scilicet atque doctis ac secularibus negotiis occupatis, illis maxime qui in legendis divinis scripturis magnum in vita positum solamen existimant, dum ille qui multa legit eadem ibi breviter recordatur et compendio ignarus instruitur. Si quis autem his contentus esse noluerit, hunc ad opulenta et magnifica volumina de quibus haec sumpsi transmitto. Calumpnosis vero sive mordacibus viris patet in me, confiteor, campus calumpniandi profusior, quia tam arduum opus nimis audacter arripui, quod esset viris eruditis reservandum. At invidis sive scurrilibus, qui propter superbiae typum mea forsitan scripta superbo despicient supercilio, respondeo, quia de illorum nominibus reminiscendis non erit, sicut suspicor, postmodum posteritas laboratura, sed eque ut probra ita eorum preconia fecta manebunt. Vestri autem nominis monimentum, domina mea, tam huius libri occasione, quam bonorum operum executione, quibus incessanter operam impenditis, perenniter posteris relinquetur; nec poterit umquam ullo oblivionis tempore terminari. Igitur hoc exile munus a me vobis oblatum gratanter suscipite, et ab improbis favore vestro defendite. Sapientes enim quondam antiquorum gesta virorum non negligenter preteribant, sed ad institutionem presentis vitae libris inferebant. Siquidem per historiam preteriti temporis series comprehenditur, et per regum et imperatorum successiones multa necessaria perscrutantur. Ergo ab Octaviano Augusto exordium narrationis incipiam, et Romanorum imperatorum et presidum nomina simul et gesta ibi curiosissime denotabo usque ad Karolum Magnum et eius filium Ludovicum. Ecce habetis quod otiabunda legatis: actus videlicet antiquorum imperatorum et quorundam Deo amabilium virorum pariter memorabiles actus ab incarnatione dominica usque ad tempora prefinita. Quibus si fueritis intenta, non deprimet inertia acumen ingenii vestri splendidum et honestum. Porro de virtutum vestrarum preconio, quas originis vestrae sublimitas et naturae felicitas nobis infuderunt, modo loqui erubesco, ne videar uti levitate parasitica. Loquar autem alias ubi fuerit oportunum. His autem qui sinistrorsum suscepturi sunt, quod hoc opus vobis dedicavi, respondeo: beatum Hieronymum presbyterum sanctam Paulam et eius filiam Eustochiam multis scriptis honorasse saepe, et venerabilem Gregorium antistitem Romanum Theudelindae Italorurn reginae quatuor dialogi sui libros transmisisse. Sed et mulier secus pedes Domini sedens audiebat verba oris eius, tanto Phariseis et Saduceis non solummodo sed et ipsis Christi ministris melior, quanto devotior. Sexus enim femineus non privatur rerum profundarum intelligentia, verum, ut in sequenti lectione lucide declarabimus, solet aliquando feminis inesse magna mentis industria et morum probatissimorum elegantia.
Preterea huius historiae liber nimis profunda latenter continet aecclesiae sacramenta. Nam sicut primum hominem a Deo formatum sexta conditi mundi die scriptura tradente cognovimus, sic sexta mundi aetate redemptum declarabimus. Et sicut eundem hominem de immaculata terra factum esse didicimus, sic Salvatorem nostrum natum esse de intemerata virgine fideli relatione demonstrabimus. Et sicut Adam sexta ebdomadis die a Deo inspiratus accepit ab eo liberi arbitrii sui potestatem, per quam non servili necessitate sed ingenua voluntate obediret Creatori, ut et de obedientia vitae aeternae pretium et de inobedientia merito consequeretur interitum, ita sexta mundi aetate liquet homines accepisse de coelo Spiritum sanctum, per quem legem Domini sive voluntatem eius liberaliter, non serviliter sicut ceterae creaturae, sed quasi filii carissimi, possent adimplere. Quas enim rationabiles creaturas prima aetate condidit omnipotens Dominus, angelicam scilicet et humanam, quibus liberi arbitrii potestatem dedit, ut hac facultate ditatae in Creatoris sui laude perenniter permanerent. Sed quia prior, id est angelica, non tamen tota, viciata et per superbiam ab amore sui Creatoris recedens erumpnosa facta fuerit, contra humanam invidia inardescens naturam, subgessit ei offendiculum peccati, ut eam impietatis suae nevo pollueret, magnum credens esse sibi solatium, si una ruerent et sui reatus poenam pariter paterentur. Quod divina maiestas non pertulit, sed humanam naturam ad pristinam decrevit reformare dignitatis nobilitatem. Unde sumpsit de femina carnem, ut haberet in eius incarnatione ipsa humana natura, unde posset ad illam quam perdiderat beatitudinem eius beneflcio remeare. Ostendit ergo Dominus in angelica natura, quam punivit, iustitiae suae censuram, et in humana, quam redemit, miserationum suarum dulcedinem. Universae quippe viae eius misericordia et veritas. Itaque sicut per Adam prima mundi aetate merorem mortis invenimus, ita per incarnati verbi mysterium sexta ibidem mundi aetate, sicut supra retulimus, vitae aeternae iocunditatem recuperavimus. Antequam tamen haec fierent, tertia iam mundi aetate extitit Abraham patriarcha, a quo ritus et religio circumcisionis sumpsit exordium, cum omnes gentes corruptae errore simulacris immolarent. Demum vero data est lex Iudaico populo, qua verus Dominus coleretur. Et Dominus quidem, qui cuncta de nihilo fecit, uno momento temporis potuisset omnia simul facere et universum genus humanum ad sui reverentiam cultumque perducere. Sed non fecit, immo secreto et inscrutabili sacramento non in mundi principio sed opportuno tempore disposuit nasci de virgine. Qui ubi mundo per nativitatem humanae carnis serenus illuxit, ex Iudaico et gentili populo sexta mundi aetate unam aecclesiam congregavit, et ita sibi invicem utrumque populum intra eandem aecclesiam uno spiritu foederavit, ut iam non esset ibi ulla diversitas, sed una libertas. Quod autem de femina nasci voluit, magnum nobis benignitatis suae beneficium ostendit et immensum humilitatis exemplum. Ceterum carne contaminari non potuit, qui carnem mundare venerat. Potuit tamen secundum carnem nasci, crucifigi atque resurgere ad salutem nostram miro et ineffabili modo, sine iniuria impassibilis et incommutabilis maiestatis. Verum tam pia sacramenta non potest rimare perfida superborum, quia non vult credere. Aecclesia vero sancta haec omnia in domino Iesu Christo sinceritatis affectu credit et complectitur et magna devotione prosequitur. Ergo et vos aecclesiae Domini filia haec eadem sacramenta intenta mente percipite et letabunda legite et legendo credite.
Vive, vale, gaude, multa dignissima laude/
Progenies regum, cleri populique columpna,/
Quam probitas morum, quam nobilitas atavorum/
Exornant eque; cedant tibi prospera quaeque!
This is the letter in which Hugh dedicates his universal history to Adela.
Historia Ecclesiastica, MGH SS9, p.349-51