A letter from Anselm of Bec (of Canterbury) (c.1071)
To the venerable Adelaide,(1) a lady of royal nobility but nobler in the character of a virtuous life: brother Anselm, wishing that your earthly nobility may be so adorned with the ornament of virtues that it may deserve to be united with the king of kings in eternal felicity.
As to the "Flowers of the Psalms" that your highness, dear to me in God, has deigned to require of me, our faithful humility could not carry it out for you more speedily or any better.(2) For our obedience followed your command devotedly, to the degree that the command itself proceeded from holy devotion. I wish and I pray that Almighty God may so preserve and nourish this devotion in you that he may fill your mind with his sweetest affection on earth and in heaven with his blessed sight. I beg your wealthy nobility not to despise the small and worthless gift which our poor paltriness sends you. For although it is not encrusted with gold and gems, it is certainly made entirely of charitable fidelity and given with faithful charity.
After the "Flowers of the Psalms" seven "Prayers"(3) have been added. The first of these should not so much be called "Prayer" as "Meditation"(4) in which the soul of the sinner briefly contemplates itself; contemplating, it despises itself; despising, it humiliates itself; humiliating, it agitates itself by the terror of the last judgement, and through this agitation it breaks down in groans and tears. But in the prayers to Saint Stephen(5) and Saint Mary Magdalene(6) there are some passages which, if they are recited from the inmost heart when it is at leisure, tend instead to increase love's flame. But in all seven I, the servant and friend of your soul, admonish you to deign to take notice — although you would do this better — with what humility and with what a sense of fear and love the sacrifice of prayer should be offered. Farewell in God both now and in eternity; farewell, and take the little book sent as a pledge of our loyalty in God and of our prayers, for what they are worth.
At the end of the letter, I utter what I wanted to instil throughout the letter: despise with an elevated mind everything that must be given up even while you have it. Strive with a humble mind towards that which alone can blessedly be kept for ever as long as you do not have it. This is what I want to convince you of and I pray the Holy Spirit may convince you of. With this in mind, I say for the third time, farewell.(7)
Venerabili dominae regia nobilitate, sed nobilius morum probitate pollenti Adelidi: frater Anselmus, sic cum temporali nobilitate virtutum ornamentis decorari, ut in aeterna felicitate mereatur regi regum copulari.
De Floribus psalmorum quod dignata est iubere dilecta mihi in deo vestra sublimitas, nec citius nec melius potuit exequi fidelis vobis nostra humilitas. Tanto quippe oboedientia nostra imperio vestro devotius successit, quanto ipsum imperium a sancta devotione processit. Quam devotionem opto et oro, ut omnipotens deus sic in vobis conservet et nutriat, ut mentem vestram in terris suo dulcissimo affectu et in caelis suo beato aspectu reficiat. Exiguum et vile munus quod vobis mittit nostra pauper parvitas, rogo ne despiciat vestra dives nobilitas. Si enim non est auro gemmisque crustatum, est certe totum caritativa fidelitate factum et fideli caritate donatum.
Post Flores psalmorum additae sunt Orationes septem. Quarum prima non tantum Oratio quantum Meditatio dicenda est, qua se peccatoris anima breviter discutiat, discutiendo despiciat, despiciendo humiliet, humiliando terrore ultimi iudicii concutiat, concussa in gemitus et lacrymas erumpat. In Orationibus vero sancti Stephani et sanctae Mariae Magdalenae quaedam aunt, quae si intimo corde dicantur, cum vacat, plus tendunt ad accendendum amorem. In omnibus vero septem hortor vos ego, servus et amicus animae vestrae, ut attendere dignemini — etiamsi vos id melius faciatis --, qua humilitate et quo affectu timoris et amoris offerendurn sit sacrificium orationis. Valete et nunc et in aeternum in deo; valete, et libellum missum arram nostrae fidelitatis secundum deum et nostrarum orationum, qualescumque sint, habete.
In fine epistolae profero quod per totam epistolam persuadere desidero: Omne quod amitti necesse est, etiam cum habetis, sublimi mente contemnite; ad id solum quod aeternum beate haberi potest, quamdiu non habetis, humili mente contendite. Quod persuadere volo, ut spiritus sanctus persuadeat oro; in quo tertio valete.
Brother Anselm of Bec sends Adelaide the collection of psalms she had requested, and "prayers" to stimulate meditation and love.
(1) Adelaide or Adeliza, a daughter of King William the Conqueror, became a nun; see EHD, II:985; Douglas, William the Conqueror (London, 1964), 391-395; Southern, Anselm, 36, 37, 42, 47; B.Ward, Prayers and Meditations, 172: both call her Adelaide; Douglas, 380-381, also refers to a woman named Adelaide, but she was not the Conqueror's daughter but his sister. (2) "Flores psalmorum," "Flowers of the psalms." Because this work by Anselm is mentioned nowhere else, we may assume that it was a collection of some of the psalms and not a work he composed. (3) Orationes sive Meditationes in AOO III: 3-91, translated by B. Ward, The Prayers and Meditations of St Anselm (Penguin Classics 1973). (4) "First meditation to stir up fear of God," in AOO III: 76-79; trans. Ward, Prayers and Meditations, 221-224. (5) "Thirteenth Prayer to Saint Stephen," in AOO III: 50-54, Ward, Prayers and Meditations, 174-182. (6) "Sixteenth Prayer to Mary Magdalen," in AOO III: 64-67, Ward, Prayers and Meditations, 201-206. (7) 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.10, 3.113-14; translation and annotation from The Letters of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, trans. Walter Frohlich, Cistercian Studies 96, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1990-94), 1.92-94.