THIRD MILLENNIUM LIBRARY
THE LIVE OF THE SAINT ANSELM
Monk, Prior, and Abbot
The Benedictines had from their beginning interested themselves in education. Prior to the ninth century, however, their schools were confined to the oblates, children dedicated to the monastic life and under training for that specific end. In the time of Charlemagne and doubtless through his influence the abbey schools had followed the example of the episcopal and opened their doors to all. Protest was raised by those who feared the secularizing influence: a convention of abbots at Aix in 817 determined that the schools should be reserved for the oblates. But the large ideal of the emperor was too strong, and the result of the decision at Aix had been that two kinds of schools were instituted. There were now monastic schools proper, scholae claustrales, where the boys were all virtually novices, and scholae canonicce which were open to the clergy and even to the sons of laymen. In some cases there existed within the abbey itself a training college where younger monks were put under a special director, either because they had professed without passing through one of the other schools, or because they were judged capable of benefiting from a further education.
When Anselm then appeared at Le Bec in the autumn of 1059, he came as a layman attracted by the fame of Lanfranc’s scholarship. The religious impulse which had once made him desire to profess at Aosta was not dead but it was dormant. Nor was Lanfranc the man to reawaken it in a spirit like Anselm’s. The two men were drawn powerfully to one another by the fact that they had in common many thoughts which they could only share with each other. The learned ecclesiastic could appreciate and guide the strenuous intelligence of his new pupil. The pupil never forgot his intellectual debt to his master. But, while they corresponded in later years on many subjects, their letters never show them opening their hearts to each other.
The spring of 1060 brought to Le Bec the news of Gundulf’s death, and forced on Anselm the necessity of deciding what he meant to do with his life. He had already thought of becoming a monk. The scholar in a monastery fared as meagrely and slept as coldly as any monk in his cell. In many of its habits, in all its austerity the student’s life was very near that of the professed monk. What it had not was the strength which comes from brotherhood in a common purpose and the hope of eternal reward. Why should he not take the vow which would require so little and give so much? Yet if he took the vow at Le Bec, he could be of little use there, since the abbey had no need of two theological teachers, and as the archbishop frankly confessed he was not then monk enough in spirit to relish the certainty of being eclipsed by Lanfranc. If, however, he went to Cluny the life of which he had learned during his wanderings, could his health endure its austerities or would its monks be willing to use the learning which he already knew must be the master passion of his life? At times he meditated a return to Aosta, there to devote life and patrimony to the care of the poor. One thing only he was resolved not to do, he would not live unto himself. Fearing lest inclination should obscure duty, he asked the advice of his prior. Lanfranc sent him to their diocesan, the Archbishop of Rouen; and Maurille decided for Le Bec. It may have been the memory of this decision, its hallowed results for himself and the grounds on which it was formed, which gave a special tone to his advice to an old pupil, Arnulf: “I highly praise you, that you purpose going where you can live according to your scheme, yet I warn that you do so with the permission of your abbot, and that wherever God direct your way ... you choose no place where you can be of use to and instruct others, but one where you can profit from others and be taught by them in the spiritual warfare”.
Le Bec was under a modified form of the Benedictine rule. Entry into the novitiate was very simple. In the chapter-house where the abbot presided the postulant prostrated himself, and to the abbot inquiring his business answered, “I seek God’s mercy, your fellowship and the brotherhood of this place: I long to become a monk and to serve God in this monastery”. The abbot replied with the larger wish, “God grant you fellowship and a place among His elect”, to which the assembled chapter said Amen. He then set before the postulant the duties and trials of a monk under the rule. The postulant promised to fulfill and bear them all. To this promise the abbot answered, “Our Lord Jesus Christ so fulfill in you what for love of Him you promise that you may obtain His grace and life everlasting”, and the monks again said Amen. “And we for love to Him grant what you so humbly and earnestly desire”. After kissing the abbot’s feet the novice was led to the church and there clothed in the dress and hood of the order. When the novitiate, which in Anselm's case must have been very brief, was past, the monks were assembled in the church-choir. At the close of the Gospel in Mass Anselm was led in by the master of novices. While he walked to the altar and prostrated himself on its steps, the Miserere was chanted by his new brethren. In the after silence the novice rose to read his vow from a slip of parchment: “I Anselm do before God and His saints promise the faithfulness of a monk, newness of life and obedience according to the rule of St. Benedict in this monastery which has been built to the glory of the blessed Mary ever virgin, in the presence of Herlwin its abbot”. He laid the slip as an offering on the altar, and standing on its steps borrowed the words of an older ritual, “Uphold me, O Lord, according to Thy word and I shall live, and let me not be confounded in my hope”. Three times this was repeated, and three times the monks, as though reminded of their own need by the hearing of another’s prayer, echoed their new brother’s petition. Then over the monk now prostrate the abbot intoned the De Profundis. A few prayers followed: the Veni Creator was sung: Anselm rising was sprinkled with holy water. His cowl was blessed by the abbot. His novice’s tunic was removed— “The Lord put from thee the old man with his deeds”. The cowl was put on him—“The Lord put on thee the new man who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth”. Anselm was a monk in Le Bec, and the kiss of peace was given him by his brethren. This was in 1060, when he was twenty-seven years old; and he was to live there as monk, prior, and abbot for thirty-three years.
Monasticism in the West had still the dew of its youth. To realize this, it is only necessary to see the three figures which are grouped round the rise of Le Bec: Herlwin, learning to read by night and building his oven by day; Lanfranc, the best Latinist and one of the sagest Churchmen of his day; Anselm, who pondered while his monks slept and whom the Church needed to summon on his obedience into the world of action. There could have been nothing stereotyped in a rule and a life which could attract and satisfy three minds of such divergent type. Regulations which would have been the breath of life to Herlwin would have stifled the powers of Anselm. But the fearlessness of a new enthusiasm was still present to the Benedictines. They were not afraid of individuality, within certain limitations they fostered it. Nor were they afraid of life. It was not a refuge the abbey offered, it was an opportunity. Every Benedictine community stood for one thing in Europe: it preached the sacred dignity of labor and the hatefulness of destruction. In an age when men counted their manhood by the amount they could destroy, when their pastime as their pride was to wreck or to prevent others from wrecking them, the rule which commanded labor as necessary to the soul’s health reminded an astonished world of the dignity of labor. The monies in the days of their strength were the creators. Where others wasted, they built and ditched and taught. And the artisan and laborer dimly realized that these men brought him what all the sons of men must gain if their work is not to be a drudgery but a means of grace, the sense that their work also could in its measure be made divine. There were men too, like the Conqueror, who in that unquiet age only tore down that they might more surely rebuild. These were ever the readiest to acknowledge the help the Benedictines could lend them, and sought sometimes by hurtful privileges to foster their efforts or to purchase their aid.
The first three years in the convent were spent by Anselm in obscurity, the world forgetting, by the world forgot. But no sooner had Lanfranc been summoned by William of Normandy to become head of the monastery the duke had founded at Caen, than Anselm was promoted to the office of prior. Lanfranc had given fame to the little community so that men flocked to it for knowledge. It was felt that no one was better fitted to continue his work than his ablest pupil. But the first years of office were made bitter to the new prior. Envy is not abolished when its range has been narrowed. There were men in the convent who resented Anselm's rapid promotion, and who set themselves to thwart the man whose advance they could not prevent. It was only for a few years, for the simple purity of the prior's life, the high sweet dignity of his aims, the absence of all self-seeking, his invincible patience and almost womanly tenderness succeeded even in silencing envy. How much it cost and brought him is revealed in his letters. It is true that he never wrote about it. Indeed it is one characteristic of his letters that he rarely speaks about himself, and that while willing to help and counsel all who consulted him he seldom claims their guidance. Yet it is not without meaning that he so often urges patience on monks, and that the verse of Scripture which recurs oftenest is how tribulation worketh patience.
In the convent at the time was a young monk, Osbern, who though younger in years was older in religion than the new prior. His jealous seniors who dared not show too nakedly their own resentment encouraged the lad in disobedience to his superior. He set himself with the ability of a splenetic boy to worry Anselm in the thousand ways which the close relations of a small monastery make so easy and so wearing. The prior bore with all. Seeing a true heart beneath the monkey tricks, he resolved to win it, and to that end gave the lad special notice and allowed him certain indulgences. Slowly the ice melted. Osbern learned to believe in the affection of his superior and impetuously like a boy repaid it by an entire devotion. No sooner did Anselm see this than he altered his treatment. Little by little he withdrew the indulgences and began to test the youth's devotion by tasks which would serve to deepen it. Gradually the true character began to show more clearly. Already Anselm was able to rejoice in the prospect for his pupil of a nobler manhood which would be an ornament to the convent and a means to the glory of God. But Osbern fell ill with a mortal sickness. While the illness lasted the prior hardly left his bedside, and when the monk died, it was with the prior's hands ministering to his last necessities. Nor did death break that love.
Again and again in his letters does Anselm’s affection for Osbern reappear. “Salute Dom. Osbern who is with you as my beloved brother for the dead Osbern, my well-beloved, ... wherever Osbern is, his soul is my soul. During my lifetime I will claim on his behalf whatever I might after death hope from your kindness, so that after my death ye may be free (from the prayers for the dead). Farewell, my beloved, and to repay thee according to thine own importunity, I implore and implore and implore thee to remember me and forget not the soul of my beloved Osbern. And if I seem to burden thee overmuch, forget me and remember him”.
Anselm’s treatment of Osbern marks his power in education. The prior recognized what can be made of rich untutored natures by giving them an aim on which to expend their energy. While he recognized that strength which submits to no rule becomes weak or worse than weak, he had no monkish fear of vigor in itself. He believed in life and good and Christ: discipline and rule were but the means of attaining these more thoroughly. This eye for the foundations of character made him a revolutionary in educational method. The age believed in rigor especially in education. Guibert de Nogent mentions as a matter of course about his own, “meanwhile I was beaten almost daily with a cruel hail of stripes and blows”. Monks in the chapter were beaten for slight offences. The oblates were taught to chastise each other when their masters had finished with them. To Le Bee came one day an abbot who opened his heart to his brother-educator as most men seem to have done who came in contact with the gentle prior. His lament was over his failure with the boys under his care. We do our best for them, so ran his plaint. We teach, correct, chastise them. But they only grow worse: they learn no respect for us and, what is more grievous, no respect for the life to which we seek to introduce them: they grow up sour-hearted rebels: and I am well-nigh broken-hearted over the business. Do you, answered the prior, pursue no other method than lashing? See, brother, if you take a young tree with all its sap in it and check a branch here and tie in another there, what will you have a right to expect when you unbind the lashings? Surely a twisted malformed thing which is good neither for timber nor for fuel. And if you do nothing but check your lads, telling them they are wrong here, reminding them they are wrong there, can you wonder if all the branches of their natural capacity turn to gnarled worthlessness The homily was so pithy and so gentle that the abbot asked pardon for his mistake from his brother and from God.
Along with this went what is often bestowed on men who have forgotten themselves in a high purpose, the golden gift of understanding a brother’s thought. Apart from the theological and historical value of the letters of the Church fathers they deserve examination as psychological studies. The study is within a narrow range but is often extraordinarily keen. Flashes of insight occur in Anselm's letters which prove his estimate not only of the value but of the dangers of the monastic life he strenuously followed. Writing to Lanzo, an old pupil, he marks the disappointment many an ardent spirit must have suffered at the discovery of the cloister's drudgery. “So soon as we have pledged ourselves to Christ’s banner, the tempter comes to us not merely from without, he glides into the camp of Christ to ruin for us our service there. Nothing is more frequent than that young monks are tormented by scruples as to whether they have done right in becoming monks. Or though they will to remain monks, they imagine matters to be better in another cloister than in their own and ask whether they should not go thither. So they are like young trees which do not strike root in the new ground in which they are planted because winds move them hither and thither. Therefore your first care should be surrender to your new position, and it will not be hard for you to accommodate yourself thereto if you at first keep constantly before you the dangers which you have escaped, and thank God that He has suffered you to escape into the haven of the cloister-life, be it one haven or another”.
The circle of Anselm’s influence grew as his character became known. Men are quick to discover one who can give them help. Part of this was inevitable and natural as monks who had been trained under him went to other foundations. Lanfranc in his effort to reform the religious life of England brought over monks from his former convent. The men remembered their old master and turned to him with a sure conviction of finding unfailing sympathy. But others claimed help. From Hirsau the abbot who is trying to plant the aims of Cluny in the tough imperialistic soil of Germany asks guidance in a question of discipline. Some write for his books on metaphysics, others for copies of his Meditations, some make him their confessor in difficult passages of their lives, most beg for his prayers. This increasing influence was due not merely to his ripe intelligence but to the happy lovesome temper which plays through his letters to his intimates. He seems to take a delight in forcing the monkish Latin to express in ever-varying form his regard for men like Maurice and Boso, his favorite pupils, or for Gondulf of Rochester, his alter ego. To one of these who longs to be back at Le Bec but whom Lanfranc needs and will not suffer to return he writes: “Although the more I love you, the more I could wish to have you with me, yet I love you more for the very reason which has separated us. For since I love you not so much for my own sake as for the sake of God and yourself, I love you more, that you prove yourself to be such as that those with whom you are in no wise to be brought to let go one who has won their love, than I should, could they be readily brought to send you away. I pray you therefore as a brother and I urge you as a well-loved son with that care and diligence which you well know I have ever cherished toward you, that more and more you advance in good conduct and bear patiently with me our separation, so long as Lanfranc orders it, counting it a divine appointment; and that you in no wise by impatience lessen the very ground of my greater love to you. For although I deeply long that you should be with me in familiar talk, yet I more largely desire that you should abide in good conduct”. And if he writes to his intimates with tenderness, he writes to all his correspondents with sympathy. In all the correspondence which has been preserved from the period in Le Bec there is scarcely a letter which is entirely formal, or which does not contain something of the writer’s personality. There is none which could give the correspondent the impression that he had intruded himself unwarrantably upon a busy man. The prior never wrote as though he grudged the labor. He gave himself to men who sought help and made them realize without words that he counted it a sacred and beautiful charge to be of use to them.
But these increasing duties pressed heavily on the prior’s time and strength. The guidance of the schools was naturally in his hands; as naturally the correspondence of the convent fell to his care, for Herlwin was better with the trowel than with the pen. Again and again Anselm must excuse himself to the importunity of his friends for the brevity or the absence of his letters on the ground that he has not the time to write. The convent grew faster in the number of its monks than in the means for their support. It was still a poor foundation. Herlwin was eager to build a new church before he died. Anselm was resolute not to refuse the hospitality of the house to strangers or to the poor. Lanfranc sent generous supplies from England, but the prior wrote of one such gift that it had fallen like a shower on sand refreshing and evanescent, and of another that he and his monks were like Pharaoh’s lean kine which devoured and remained lean. When the monks were hungry their superior bade them trust in God. They remembered in later years that they had never trusted in vain, but one suspects there were hungry days in Le Bec. The inward and outward management of a house of religion claimed gifts of administration which were not exactly at the command of the metaphysician. Once he sought relief from his diocesan and prayed to be allowed to demit his office. But Maurille who had sent him to Le Bec bade him go back and prepare, should God claim him for larger duties still, to submit to the claim.
Since the abbot was growing old and infirm his duties devolved more and more on the prior, and since the property of the monastery was increasing Anselm was often required to travel on the business of the house. It is said that Herlwin wished to give him for such journeys the necessary horses as his private property. But even at the words private property the monk felt a shudder of revolt. While he was still in the world, he had been impatient of the idea. “Even then”, writes Eadmer, “reason taught him that all things in the world were created for the common good of men by the one Father of all, and that therefore according to the original ordering nothing belongs to one more than another”. He would have joined St. Francis of Sales in speaking of sister Poverty. For the monks of those days embraced poverty, not merely because it implied a greater self-denial or freed them from the peril of administering wealth, but because they saw in it a means by which they could come nearer to their Lord. They had not forgotten how the Founder of Christianity elected poverty for Himself, and the way in which they construed human brotherhood made them the earliest socialists. This side of their action made of the early convents a potent social force. It is not only that a man like Anselm counted his revenues as abbot or as archbishop a trust which he held for God's poor. That was true, and it helps to explain part of the support which the commons gave to the Benedictines. But the mediaeval peasant was degraded with a degradation to which we find no modern parallel. He belonged by birth to a class which could not hope to rise. His business was to cultivate lands which his lord would have counted it a dishonor to cultivate himself. Harried by his own superior to provide the sinews of an often unrighteous war, he was worse harried by his superior’s enemies in order to destroy a source of revenue. If captured in war, it might be his fate to be butchered with his fellows in heaps because it was not worth the captor’s while to hold them to ransom. And to his surprise, almost awe, he saw men some of whom belonged to the superior caste choose voluntarily an estate lower than his own in order that they might become better men. Not merely did the monk put from him some pleasures, the denial of which the peasant could not estimate. He denied himself warmth and food and drink the worth of which everyone could estimate. And men were helped to recognize anew that there are some things which contempt and poverty cannot destroy, to attain which the monk had deprived himself of what all men value. They saw anew the dignity of a manhood which counted itself rich so long as it could follow Christ, and which recked nothing lost so long as it might maintain its communion with the living God. The monks were preaching with the eloquence of deeds the dignity of manhood, which keeps its self-respect because it keeps its fellowship with the Eternal, and which does not set its greatness in the possession of outward things.
Anselm went back from his visit to the archbishop at Rouen to take up his duties sorrowfully enough. Nor had he long to wait before he learned the new burden which was to be laid on him; for when Herlwin died in 1078, the monks assembled in chapter unanimously elected their prior to the vacant office. Anselm prayed them to have mercy on him. He pleaded unfitness for the duty. They would not listen. He flung himself on his face before them on the stone pavement. They answered his appeal by prostrating themselves round the prostrate figure. Some of the later biographers believe that the prior’s reluctance was due to the fact that the pope had recently formulated strict orders against bishops and abbots accepting investiture from laymen, and that the new abbot foresaw trouble with his superior the Duke of Normandy. But it was never Anselm's habit to surrender a principle he had once accepted, and since the duke never surrendered the right of investiture, this only makes it difficult to account for Anselm's final consent. The reason for refusal seems to have been much simpler. The abbey with its increased numbers and influence required for its head a man with capacity for affairs, and the abbot-elect was shrewd enough in his self-judgment to know his unfitness. When his brethren insisted, however, his reluctance was overcome. In February 1079 Anselm was consecrated to be abbot by Gilbert, bishop of Evreux.
He had yielded out of that monastic obedience which seemed to him the root of all virtue. But his was not the type of mind which could interest itself in many of the details which fell to the care of a Norman abbot. In the exercise of his office he was required to sit as judge over the tenants of the abbey property and to take his place as representative of the monastery in some civil courts. At these the love of the Norman for litigation found full expression. The undeveloped code left room for delightful discussion on minutiae of procedure and justice. But men noted how these things wearied the abbot of Le Bec and how, when the wrangling grew hot over trifles, he leaned back in his chair and fell asleep. They noted too how, when the litigants had bewildered themselves hopelessly, the sleeper would often awake and show a surprising power of brushing aside the heap of sophistries and bringing men back to the heart of the question.
These were not the matters which interested him. But when men talked of some difficult passage in Holy Writ or of some problem in theology they never found their abbot asleep. To such subjects his mind naturally reverted. They were his mental food. On them his talk flowed easily and abundantly. Sometimes the flow is too easy; the discussion is subtle but barren, the light is a soft glow rather than a flash. He loved to talk. Some of his parables, evidently the outcome of daily life or wayside incidents, have been preserved by his secretary, and many have the quaintness though most lack the pungency of Luther's table-talk. With his familiar friends the intercourse was very close. There is a convent-idyl of the two friends, Gondulf, afterwards bishop of Rochester, and Anselm: “They had in God one heart and one soul, frequent talk on spiritual things, much outpouring of tears during their talk, mutual encouragement ever to climb higher, a holy emulation to outstrip each other in God's work. Yet Anselm as the more learned in Scripture was the more frequent talker: Gondulf as the more liberal in tears excelled the other in weeping. The one talked, the other wept”. The generous talker was accustomed to complain that Gondulf was too eager to whet his knife at his brother's stone; but the talkers are rarely just in their estimate of the amount a good listener contributes to a conversation.
When the abbot visited a neighboring convent, it became the habit to invite him to address the brethren assembled in the chapter-house. Some of his sermons have been preserved by the loving diligence of Eadmer. They have a character of their own. The speaker prelects rather than preaches. Gravely he elaborates, sometimes over-elaborates his points, driving them home by weight of argument rather than by appeal to the emotions. It is necessary to remember the audiences to which they were addressed, if one would really taste them. They were spoken to men who had already chosen their life-course and believed that in this troubled life they had found the one sure haven. Calmly they came together, the knight whose cowl replaced a helmet and whose feet rang no more on the pavement, the peasant who had left his plough to labor in the vineyard of God. They ranged themselves in the chapter-house, a group of earnest-eyed men to whom life had discovered its awe and who believed they had found its aim. They would listen to one who had better power than they to interpret their own thoughts to themselves and to make clear to them how their new life should be lived. And after this fashion the abbot of Le Bec spoke to them:
“Amid other things weigh the miseries of this present life, and consider with how much care man must live among them. Consider that you are fellow to him of whom Scripture says “man’s way is hid, and God has surrounded him with darkness”. For in truth you are surrounded by a deep blindness of ignorance, who knows not how God weighs your works, and what end you shall find thereto. Man knows not, says Solomon, whether he be worthy of hate or love, but all things are kept secret to the end. Imagine that you see a valley, deep, dark, having all manner of torment in its depths. Conceive thereover a bridge, very long, yet of but a foot in breadth. Should anyone be compelled to cross this so narrow high and perilous bridge, whose eyes were bound that he could not see his steps, whose hands were tied behind his back that he could not feel his track with a stick—what fear and heart-sinking think you would he not realize? Would there be to him any room for joy or gladness, that I say not exultation? I trow not. All pride were done away, vainglory were banished, the dark cloud of death alone would be turned over in the mind. Imagine further monsters of cruel birds flying round the bridge and seeking to drag down into the deeps that passenger. Should not fear be increased thereby? What if, even as he passed, the slabs should drop at his heels? Were not greater anxiety driven into him?
“Yet think over the parable and let your mind be bound by divine fear. The valley is hell, immeasurably deep, dark with gloomy shadow. Thither flow together all miseries. There every softening influence is absent. All that can terrify and torment is present. The bridge perilous is this present life from which whosoever lives ill plunges into hell. The slabs which drop away are the days of life, which so pass by that they can never be re-lived, but as they vanish drive us on to the end. The birds are evil spirits, whose whole desire it is to cast down men to hell. We are the passengers, blind with the darkness of ignorance, bound as with a heavy chain by the difficulty of a good life. Consider therefore whether thou being in such peril should not cry with all thy heart to thy Maker, that warded by His protection thou may cry in the crowds of opposition: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?’ Light, I say, against blindness, salvation against difficulty. For these are the two evils into which our first parent cast us, so that we see neither whither we go nor what we should do, so that, even when we partially see, being weighted with difficulty we cannot fulfill what we rightly know. Consider these things, 0 my soul, think of them, let thy mind be daily exercised in them. Intent on these recall thyself from thoughts of worthless things and kindle with the fire of holy fear and blessed love to flee from these evils and gain eternal good”.
It is significant to remember the time in which words like these were spoken by Anselm to his monks. The contrast between the utterance and the circumstances in which it was spoken makes the strength and weakness of monasticism more manifest. William of Normandy and England was striving to curb the disorder which his wanton invasion had caused. Lanfranc was busy across the Channel with great plans by which he hoped to quicken into new life English religion. Hildebrand, long the master behind the throne, had at last assumed the papal tiara as Gregory vil. He had fulminated against simony and denounced the marriage of the clergy. He had prohibited lay investiture at the Roman Council of 1075. He was offering bold defiance to the Saracen invader in the South, and bolder defiance to the German Emperor on the North. He was striving to use the Conqueror and the Normans in Italy for his schemes. His own Rome had risen against him, and one wild Christmas Eve had seen him dragged from the altar across the city to a dungeon, only to go back after his liberation and finish the interrupted Mass. Henry had deposed his adversary at the Council of Worms and had been beaten to his knees. Of these things Europe was ringing, and men were wondering whereto they would grow. A new order was being born with many travail-pangs. So far as Anselm’s correspondence reveals, these and the like events might have been happening in another century. And it is not difficult to understand how men bewildered in the storms of a difficult time listened eagerly to the quiet voice which called to them out of the convent and bade them remember the inward victory without which nothing was won.
Yet the abbot does not escape from the monkish selfishness which spoils men who try to forget the world. There is a jarring note in a letter to Henry, afterwards the head of Battle Abbey. In it Anselm bade Henry give up the idea of a journey to Italy, though its purpose was to free his sister from bondage, on the naked ground that the task would imperil his own soul. One is glad to know that Henry disobeyed. Again he urged a certain William to leave war and become a soldier of Jesus Christ and not be held back from instant obedience by the vain hope of saving his brother's soul. The man had imbued himself so thoroughly with the monastic life that not only had its habits become a second nature, but no other life seemed to contain any ideal of Christian service. These and similar letters prove how the system was producing its inevitable result even on this wholesome spirit. Fortunately for his soul's health the Church was soon to summon him back into the larger air of temptation and opportunity.
The man’s real interest was in inward religion. There he was at home. If he turned away to consider other interests, it was because he must. The letters bear evidence to this. Not that he spoke much of experiences and feelings. The interest betrayed itself in a more natural form, in the high standard by which he judged all human endeavor and strove to test his own, in the lofty aims he sought to set before men, in the sincerity of his affection and in the perfect simplicity of his heart.
The inward flame of devotion which maintained his work burns most clearly in his so-called Meditations, which contain to our mind some of Anselm’s best religious work. They are very unequal, variant in form, variant in matter, as a collection which had not the advantage of its author’s revision could not fail to be. Here one finds the first sketch of the Cur Deus Homo, afterwards to be elaborated into a treatise. There one meets with exegetical studies which show an acute mind working with almost no critical apparatus. Again what begins as a meditation will pass into a prayer or rise into an act of adoration. But because his thought was so often busied with the misery and guilt of man and was so conscious of the limitations to all human knowledge, his piety has a chaste reverence even when it is most fervid. Because the thought of the merit of Christ and of Christ in His human life was his deepest comfort there does not appear the recoil from blank despair to morbid ecstasy which makes a great deal of the monastic devotion so difficult reading to those who have not been brought up in the same school. And there is an ethical strain in the work which gives virility to the most passionate devotion and which lifts it beyond the convent's narrow room so that it becomes universal in its appeal.
One lingers over this period, when the abbot was still in what he called his nest, before a larger duty and a more varied activity had called him to a wider field. It is not difficult to understand how a man with his affectionate nature and studious disposition must have looked back wistfully to a time which offered such scope to both. The convent itself remembered those days and adorned them with quaint tales, the grotesqueness of some of which cannot hide their beauty. They told how a sick brother, a bitter opponent of the prior, once disturbed the house, then in the peace of its midday siesta, with the cry that he was beset by two wolves which were attempting to throttle him. Instinctively men ran for the prior whom they found correcting his beloved manuscripts in the cloister. It needed but that he should make the sign of the cross in the doorway of the infirmary for the sick monk to see a flame dart from his lips and put the wolves to flight. Again, one who went about nightly duties in the convent and roused the monks to their office saw the abbot kneeling at his private prayers in the chapterhouse, and his head was encircled with flame. Wondering whether all he saw was a vision, the monk stole up to his superior's room only to find it empty. They told again how the abbot with a few monks once arrived at the house of Walter Tirrel. As the visit had been unexpected their host was unprepared and the provision at table ran short. Tirrel abounded in apologies, but Anselm bade him not give himself any trouble because provision was even then on its way to the castle. And in truth a servant arrived soon after, and brought with him a sturgeon which of course was the largest that had been taken in the district for many years.
We have fortunately reached a stage at which such tales can be read without anger or contempt. In an age which in nowise vexed itself about the difference between the fixed laws of Nature and the direct interference of God, men recognized that this man stood nearer the Almighty Source of all strength and good than themselves, and they uttered their conviction in the way which appealed to their minds. Anselm's sanctity, his resolute patience, his self-abnegation, his simple confidence in the will of God, his inability not to help other men, were so manifest that they won to uttermost reverence the hearts of the rude Normans who came to Le Bec that they might find God, and who, as most men do, found Him mediated to them through the word and life of one who was at once so like and so unlike themselves.