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V243243   This is Letter CXXXIII. of Book III. in Gerberon’s edition.

To Robert244244   I know nothing further of this Robert than appears from this letter. and the Devout Women under his Care.

ANSELM Archbishop to his very dear friend and son Robert and to his beloved sisters and daughters, Saegyth, Eadgyth, Theodgyth, Lufrun, Deorgyth, Godgyth,245245   The printed text has Seit, Edit et Hydit, Luverim, Virgit, Godit. Through the kindness of Mr Moule of C.C.C., Cambridge, I learn that the manuscript of Anselm’s Letters belonging to the Parker collection has Thydit for et Hydit, and Dirgit for Virgit. The Anglo-Saxon names thus disguised have been kindly identified for me as above by Mr W. H. Stevenson of Exeter College, Oxford. Except Eadgyth, which survives as Edith, all have gone out of use. wishes health and God’s blessing, and his own for what it is worth.


I rejoice and thank God for the holy resolution and holy course of life which you have agreed to pursue together in the love of God and in holiness of life, as I have been informed by my brother and son William.246246   This may be (but it is quite possible it is not) William of Chester, a pupil of Anselm. a monk first (probably) of Bec, then of the daughter house at Chester, who addressed a poem to St Anselm on his elevation to the see of Canterbury.

In your kind love towards me, you request of me, my very dear daughters, that I should send you a letter of admonition to instruct you and incite you to goodness of life; although you have with you my dear son Robert, into whose heart God hath put it to care for you in the things of God, and who instructs you daily by word and example how you ought to live. Yet since I ought, if I can, to do what you ask me, I will try to write to you a few words such as you desire. My very dear daughters, every action, whether it deserve praise or blame, deserves it according to the intention of the doer. For the will is the root and principle of all actions that are in our own power, and though we cannot do what we will, yet every one of us is judged before God according to his will. Do not therefore consider what you do, but what you will; take more heed what your 149will is than what your works are. For every action which is right is right because of the righteousness of the will from which it proceeded; from the righteousness of his will is a man called righteous, and from the unrighteousness of his will unrighteous. If then you wish to live a good life, keep watch over your will continually in great and small things alike; both in those things which are in your own control, and in things which are not; lest it swerve in any degree from the right way. But if you wish to know when your will is right, it is certainly right when it is subject to the will of God. And so when you decide to do or think of doing anything of importance say in your hearts, Does God will me to will this or no? If your conscience answers, Yes, God does will me to will this, and my will herein is pleasing to Him; then, whether you can carry out your will or no, cleave to it. But if your conscience witnesses to you that God does not will you to have this will, then turn away your heart from it with all your might; and if you wish to drive it quite away, put it out of your head and forget it so far as you can. But as to the way in which you may rid yourselves of an evil thought or will, consider and observe this advice which I give you. Do not wrangle with wicked thoughts or wicked wishes, but when they beset you, do your utmost to occupy your mind with some useful thought or wish, until the others disappear. For no thought or wish is ever driven away, 150except by some other thought or wish which is inconsistent with it. Conduct yourselves then thus towards unprofitable thoughts and wishes, so that by attending with all your might to profitable ones, your mind may come to refuse any recollection or notice to the unprofitable. When you wish to pray, or to engage in any other good meditation, if these thoughts which you ought not to entertain are importunate with you, never consent to give up on their account the good design upon which you have entered, lest the devil who suggests them should rejoice in having made you desist from a good work once begun, but overcome them by despising them in the manner I have described. Do not grieve or vex yourselves because they beset you, so long as by despising them in the way I have shown you, you yield no assent to them; otherwise they may take occasion from your vexation with them to come back into your mind and renew their old importunity. For it is habitual with the human mind for whatever either pleases or vexes it to come back into one’s head more frequently than that which it feels or thinks should be neglected.

In like manner should a person who is earnest in a holy resolution behave in the case of any unbecoming emotion whether in the body or in the soul, such as the feeling of lust or of anger or of envy or of vainglory. For these are most easily quenched when we treat them with contempt 151and refuse to indulge in them, or to think about them or to do anything at their suggestion. Do not fear that such emotions or imaginations will be imputed to you as sins, if your will in no degree associates itself with them; for there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh.247247   Rom. viii. 1. For to walk after the flesh is to agree to the will of the flesh; and the Apostle gives the name of the flesh to every vicious feeling in soul or body, when he says, The flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh.248248   Gal. v. 17. We shall indeed easily extinguish this sort of suggestions, if we crush their first beginnings, according to the advice given above; but it will be difficult to do it, if once we admit them at all into our minds.

I thank you, my friend and dear son Robert, as well as I can, for your loving care which you take for God’s sake of these handmaidens of God; and pray you to persevere heartily in this holy and pious purpose. For you may be assured that a great reward awaits you at God’s hands for this holy zeal of yours. Almighty God be ever the keeper of your whole life. Amen. May the Almighty and merciful Lord grant you remission of all your sins and make you ever to advance to better things with humility, and never to fall back. Amen.



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