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A letter from Anselm of Bec (of Canterbury) (1074-75)


Translated letter: 

To the excellent lady Frodelina,(1) whose holiness deserves to be revered with love and loved with reverence: brother Anselm of Bec, a sinner in life, a monk by habit, a servant of the servants and handmaidens of God, wishing continual increase of holiness in the present life and eternal joy in the life to come.
Ever since I became aware of the odor of your good reputation which has spread far and wide like a sweet perfume, I have longed to make myself known to you at some favorable opportunity, that I might deserve through this acquaintanceship to gain your friendship. But since I see myself totally lacking in merit perhaps I might somehow share yours by a communion of charity. So I thank God
that, while I was harboring this wish and was eagerly looking for a way of executing it, Dom Hugh, the hermit of Caen,(2) our mutual brother and friend in Christ, informed me that your holiness, with sentiments not unlike my own,
was looking for a similar opportunity in my regard. Now I have discovered this and, having discovered it, I rejoice in Christ over our desire, which he knows to be born out of love for him; for he listened to us without our knowledge
and joined us by like vows and the selfsame love, also without our knowing. Without fearing reproach for being presumptuous, therefore, I send you my letter with the confidence of our mutual love.
Indeed, my most beloved lady — I say "lady" and "most beloved" because you are most outstanding in the merits of your life — I know that you will find in me very little or nothing which could be expected to increase your sanctity. Yet since I desire to share in your good qualities which are greater than mine, I do not know on what pretext I can refuse to let you share, as you desire, in mine, whatever they may be. For indeed, if our Lord Jesus Christ has worked any good in me or will do in the future, I pray according to the true love of God and my neighbor that he may also grant that you not be treated any differently than I am. Moreover, even if my merits can in no way be compared to yours, I beg that your holiness may deign to admit me in some way to the communion of your merits for the sake of that same charity.(3)
Although your mind, fervently inflamed by the Holy Spirit, is certainly in no need of it, yet by the demands of my profession I ought to write some exhortation to your holiness — and I would do so did I not fear my letter running on too Iong. May God grant that I one day pay this debt either by speaking to you personally or by writing. May the almighty Lord protect you, lady greatly to be loved and revered in Christ, from all evil in this life, that after this life he may put you in possession of eternal riches. May he himself make us so mindful one of another in his love, you of me and I of you, that it may please him and advance us towards eternal life. Amen.

Original letter: 

Dominae eximiae et merito sanctitatis cum amore reverendae, cum reverentia amandae Frodelinae: frater Anselmus Beccensis, vita peccator, habitu monachus, servus servorum et ancillarum dei, vitae praesentis perseveranter crescentem sanctitatem et vitae futurae aeternam felicitatem.
Postquam odorem vestrae bonae famae, quae longe lateque suaviter redolens circumvolat, persensi, semper desideravi ad vestram notitiam aliqua commoda occasione pervenire, ut per notitiam mererer aliquatenus ad amicitiam pertingere. Ut qui bonis meis meritis me video valde indigere, vestris me possem aliquantulum per caritatis communionem miscere. Sed gratias ago deo quia, dum hanc voluntatem gererem et voluntatis effectum cupidus exspectarem, intimatum est mihi per communem in Christo fratrem et amicum nostrum, domnum Hugonem, inclusum Cadumensem, quia sanctitas vestra non dissimili affectu similem de se apud me praestolaretur eventum. Quapropter quoniam comperior et comperiens gaudeo Christum desideria nostra, quae novit ex sua nasci dilectione, nobis ignorantibus exaudisse, atque nos etiam nescientes paribus votis similique dilectione iunxisse: iam non timens notam praesumptionis mitto vobis litteras meas per confidentiam mutuae dilectionis.
Et quidem, domina carissima — et ideo domina et carissima, quia vitae meritis valde praestantior --, ego scio in me vel nihil vel minimum aliquid esse, quod dignum sit ad augmentum vestrae sanctitatis exspectari. Quoniam tamen vestris maioribus bonis desidero participare, nescio qua fronte possim vobis participationem meorum bonorum, qualiacumque sint, cum eam desideretis, negare. Si quid igitur boni Iesus Christus dominus noster in me operatus aut operaturus, est, oro ego et concedat ipse secundum veram dei et proximi caritatem, ut vobis non aliter quam mihi imputetur. Peto, etiam, ficet mea merita nequaquam vestris possint aequari, ut vestra beatitudo me secundum eandem caritatem suorum meritorum communioni aliquatenus dignetur admittere.
Quamvis mens vestra divino spiritu ferventer afflata non indigeat, deberem tamen ego pro debito meae professionis aliquam exhortationem scribere vestrae sanctitati, nisi epistolae timerem prolixitatem. Quod debitum donet deus, ut aliquando, vel colloquendo vel scribendo persolvam. Omnipotens dominus sic vos in temporali vita ab omnibus malis custodiat, ut vos post hanc vitam in aeternis bonis constituat, domina multum in Christo amanda et veneranda. lpse sic invicem me vestri et vos mei memores in suo amore faciat, ut et illi placeat et nobis ad vitam prosit aeternam. Amen.

Historical context: 

Brother Anselm of Bec initiates a correspondence with Frodelina whom he wants to know because of her reputation and has heard from a mutual friend that she has the same desire.

Scholarly notes: 

(1) This is one of the few letters in Anselm's collection written to a woman ["ten percent of his letters were addressed to women, in fact" - JMF]. According to McGuire ("Love, friendship and sex," 143-146) Anselm showed cordiality towards women, but not the same warmth as to many of his male correspondents. Frodelina is not otherwise known. Apparently she was a woman of some social status and enjoyed a reputation for holiness in Normandy. [footnote from WF]
(2) Anselm addresses Ep 112 to Hugh, the hermit of Caen.
(3) 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.

Printed source: 

Sancti Anselmi Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi, Opera Omnia, ed. F.S. Schmitt (Edinburgh: T. Nelson, 1946-63), ep.45, 3.158-59; translation and annotation from The Letters of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, trans. Walter Frohlich, Cistercian Studies 96, 3v (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1990-94), 1.151-52.