A letter from Anselm of Bec (of Canterbury) (c.1077-78)
To his reverend lady, countess Adela(1): brother Anselm of Bec, a sinner in life, monk by profession, wishing that she may pass through enduring prosperity in this life to eternal happiness in the life to come.
Although I know that I have deserved nothing of your highness for which you should assent to my entreaties, except that you have deigned to take notice of my poverty, yet I have always, in the sight of God, wanted you to share in our prayers, whatever they may be worth — if they are even worth mentioning. Yet Dom Englehard, our friend, begged me earnestly to help him gain favor with your holiness about the castle commonly known as Lenis, so that he might have your support in his dealings with your son.(2)
Already very old, a man broken with age, he wants to give up warfare, or rather wrong-doing,(3) which, as long as he was able, he has efficiently exercised up to now. He wants to pass through however little life remains to him in such a way that even if he can do no good at least he can keep away from evil, lest sinning till the end he may be punished without end. Wherefore he hopes, desires, implores that through me he may have your help, and through your help he may obtain from your son relief from responsibilities for his lands. Your prudence knows well that everyone ought to encourage those striving towards good, and that the partners of those who do good become heirs to their rewards. For this reason, even though I may have deserved nothing from you, yet I, your servant, beg your holiness, not presumptuously, that for God's sake you give assistance to the aforementioned man in gaining what he wishes not only because it will benefit you but also because you should do it even without having been asked.(4)
Reverendae dominae suae, comitissae Adelidi: frater Anselmus Beccensis, vita peccator, habitu monachus, per praesentis vitae diuturnam prosperitatem transire ad futurae aetemam felicitatem.
Quamvis me nihil apud vestram celsitudinem meruisse, ut nostris precibus annuere debeat, cognoscam, nisi quia ex quo parvitati meae innotescere dignata est, semper eam coram deo volui participem existere nostrarum orationum, qualescumque sint — si tamen hoc dignum est vel memorari — : tamen instat mihi domnus Engelardus de castro quod vulgo dicitur Lenis, amicus noster, ut illum adiuvem apud vestram pietatem, ut ipse eam adiutricem habeat apud filium vestrum.
Iam enim grandaevus et fractae aetatis homo vult dimittere militiam, immo malitiam, quam hactenus dum potuit efficaciter exercuit, et hoc tantillum vitae quod superest sic transigere, ut si bona non potest efficere, saltem a malis possit desinere, ne peccans usque in finem puniatur sine fine. Quapropter sperat, desiderat, obsecrat, ut per me vestrum adiutorium habeat et per vestrum adiutorium quietem praediorurn suorum a filio vestro obtineat. Sed vestra prudentia bene novit omnes homines esse debere adiutores bonorum studiorum, et cooperatores bonorum operum esse consortes praemiorum. Quapropter licet nihil meruerim a vobis, non tamen impudenter ego servus vester rogo, sanctitatem vestram, ut praefatum virum propter deum ad adipiscendum quod vult adiuvetis, quia et vobis proderit et hoc facere etiam non rogata debetis.
Brother Anselm of Bec writes to the countess to ask her help with her son to release one of his men who wants to finish his life in a less sinful profession.
(1) Adela, daughter of Robert II, King of the French (996-1031), was wife of Count Baldwin V of Flanders (1035-1067). Their children were Baldwin VI of Flanders (1067-1070), Robert the Frisian, Count of Flanders (1071-1093), Mathilda, wife of William I of England (d. 2 November 1083) and Odo, Archbishop of Trier; see OV 11:89, and EHD 11:999.
(2) Count Robert the Frisian of Flanders had challenged the authority of his nephew, Count Arnulf, who was a boy of fifteen when his father died in 1070.
(3) "militiam, immo malitiam" — a pun expressing Anselm's view of a vassal's military service and armed combat in general.
(4) The translation is reproduced with the permission of the translator and the publisher, Cistercian Publications Inc. Editorial Offices, Institute of Cistercian Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008. All rights are reserved; downloading and copying for any purpose other than private research is prohibited.
Sancti Anselmi Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi, Opera Omnia, ed. F.S. Schmitt (Edinburgh: T. Nelson, 1946-63), ep.86, 3.211-12; translation and annotation from The Letters of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, trans. Walter Frohlich, Cistercian Studies 96, 3v (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1990-94), 1.222-23.