Anselm was born in 1033 in Aosta, then in the kingdom of Burgundy. He came north after the death of his mother, and three years later he entered the abbey of Notre Dame at Bec in Normandy, where Lanfranc was prior. When Lanfranc went to Caen, Anselm replaced him as prior at the age of thirty, and fifteen years later, in 1078, he became abbot, at the death of the founder of the abbey, Herluin. In 1093 William Rufus appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury, and he held this office until his death on 21 April 1109. It was while he lived at Bec that he did some of his most creative writing, including the Prayers and Meditations and the Proslogion.

They are the earliest of his writings to have survived. They were written, according to Eadmer, ‘at the desire and request of his friends’, as the overflow of his own devotion: ‘anyone can see without my speaking about them with what anxious care, with what fear, with what hope and love he addressed himself to God and his saints and taught others to do the same.’1 His own prayer made him a spiritual guide to others from the beginning of his life as a monk, and it was in this capacity that he was most esteemed by his contemporaries. The Prayers and Meditations stand in some ways between the conversations and discussions, which formed so large a part of his teaching, and the great treatises, by belonging to his daily life and conduct, but forming also a part of his literary output. Until the end of his life he was ready to have the prayers copied as a definite collection, under his own name, sending them to those who asked for them, his last known recipient being the Countess Mathilda of Tuscany.

Since the time of Anselm’s death, however, it has been virtually impossible to know which prayers were really his, or to form a true picture of him as a devotional writer. The collection was enlarged almost at once by the addition of prayers by Ralph of Battle, and in the ensuing centuries it continued to take to itself a host of anonymous writings. By the seventeenth century when the Jesuit, Théophile Raynaud, edited the Prayers and Meditations, there were 111 pieces of devotional literature going under this name. The edition prepared in 1675 by the Maurist, Gabriel Gerberon, included them all, and these in turn were printed by Migne among the works of Anselm in volume 158 of the Patrologiae Latinae. In the last fifty years, however, Dom Wilmart has distinguished nineteen of the prayers and three of the meditations as the genuine work of Anselm,2 and these have been printed in a critical edition by Dom F. Schmitt.3

It is now therefore possible to form some idea of Anselm as a devotional writer, and to estimate his place in the development of Christian spirituality. He wrote no formal treatise on prayer, but in the Prayers and Meditations and in the Proslogion he shows a pattern of prayer and an approach to praying which had an influence so profound on Christian devotion that it has been called ‘the Anselmian revolution’.4 This way of prayer is also expressed and explained in the Preface to the Prayers and Meditations and in some of the letters which were written to recipients of the prayers. In order to see the extent of this ‘revolution’, and its relation to the tradition of Christian spirituality, it seems necessary to examine not only the prayers themselves but also the background of devotion out of which they grew, in liturgy and in private prayer. The Prayers andMeditations are of interest, too, for the light they throw on Anselm himself, both as a monk and as a scholar, especially where they contain the germ of ideas which appear more fully in his later works.

The Prayers and Meditations that went under the name of Anselm have been widely used for centuries. There were translations into Middle English, some of which survive, and more recently there have been translations into French and Italian. In 1856 Dr Pusey wrote a learned and perspective introduction to a translation into English by ‘a younger friend’ of some of the material in PL158, which included four of the genuine prayers of Anselm and two of his meditations. Since Dom Schmitt’s edition of the Latin text has appeared, Sister Penelope, C.S.M.V., has translated the three meditations and some of the prayers, though not those addressed to the saints.

Translator’s Note

This translation has been prepared in the conviction that these prayers are of lasting value in themselves, as well as for the light they throw upon Anselm and on the development of Christian spirituality. I have been aware of subtleties in the Latin which cannot be conveyed in English, and for this reason have sometimes resorted to paraphrase rather than translation. Some of the prose, especially in Meditation 2, is artificial and mannered to a degree; I have not tried to make this more palatable, nor have I tried to reinterpret the many passages of self-abasement which to modern taste must seem overdone.

Most of Anselm’s references to the Bible are approximations rather than direct quotations. The references given in the notes are to the Revised Standard Version, including the numbering of the Psalms.

The prayers and parts of the Proslogion have been set out in broken lines, in an attempt to convey the rhythm of Anselm’s complex rhymed prose, which is closer to our conception of poetry. The broken lines may also help to a more meditative reading of the prayers, if such be undertaken. In the arrangement of the lines I have been helped by reference to three early Anselmian MSS., where the prayers are carefully punctuated for reading aloud. These are MS. Rawlinson 392, a late eleventh-century copy of most of the prayers, the three meditations, and the Proslogion; MS. Bodley 271, the work of the great Canterbury school of illuminators, produced early in the twelfth century; and the Oxford ‘Littlemore Anselm’, contained in MS. Auct.D 26, and discussed at length by Otto Pächt in his article on the illustrations to Anselm’s Prayers and Meditations.5 It is fair to suppose that the way Anselm cast his sentences and the effects at which he aimed can be seen from these early MSS. The prayers were written both for the ear and for the understanding, and this gives to the punctuation a special significance. Where possible in the translation, I have rendered the final medial point by a full stop, and the mid-sentence pauses or breaks by a comma, semi-colon, or new line, and sometimes by a conjunction. But the rhythm of English is not that of Latin, and at best this use of the MSS. punctuation has been a matter of intuition, of listening to the sentences and trying to catch their rhythm. This is especially true in the Proslogion, where I have used broken lines and continuous prose for different parts, with no justification but a feeling for the sound.

This work was undertaken at the suggestion of Professor R. W. Southern and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity of profiting by his wider scholarship, as well as for his patient advice and criticism. I would also like to record my gratitude to my community for making the work possible, and especially to those sisters who have edited, corrected, and typed the MS. My thanks must also go to the librarians of the Bodleian Library for their assistance with books and manuscripts. And finally I offer the book, with all its defects, to the Rev. A. M. Allchin, without whose friendship and encouragement it would never have been completed.



Migne, J. P., Patrologiae Latinae cursus completus; the references are to volume and column.

Rev. Bén.:

Revue Bénédictine.


Schmitt, F. S., Sancti Anselmi Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi Opera Omnia, i–vi, Nelson, 1938–61. This text has been used throughout for the translation of the Prayers and Meditations, the Proslogion, and the letters. The prayers and letters are numbered according to Dom Schmitt’s edition.


Vita Anselmi by Eadmer; the references to the Vita Anselmi are to book and chapter, and may be found in R. W. Southern’s edition, in Oxford Medieval Texts (reprinted 1972).

Precum Libelli:

ed. Wilmart, A., Precum Libelli Quattuor Aevi Karolini, Ephemerides Liturgicae, Rome, 1940.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!