1. BACKGROUND TO THE ‘PRAYERS AND MEDITATIONS’

1. The Liturgy

The Divine Office

The Prayers and Meditations themselves give little indication of the sources that formed them; unlike John of Fécamp, Anselm does not quote directly from other writers, and the very form of the prayers prevents direct reference to their teaching; they are the words of a man praying to God, not discussing ideas about Him. In such spontaneous effusions, words and phrases already known are recalled to the memory as they are prayed in the heart, becoming the present prayer of the one who uses them. However, it seems reasonable to consider the liturgy as one of the formative influences on Anselm’s prayer. As a monk he was bound to the daily recitation of the Benedictine Office, with the additions of Norman monasticism, and as a priest he would celebrate the Eucharist at least on Sundays and major festivals, if not more frequently. This continual round of corporate worship is the setting of Anselm’s life in the years when he was writing the Prayers and Meditations, and it seems proper to relate them to this context, though in doing this it is well to recall the reservations expressed by Edmund Bishop when he was investigating the liturgical sources of the Book of Cerne: ‘The best security for right judgement will be found to lie in the conviction that, after the best efforts, the results in any particular case are to be looked on as only tentative.’1

Chapters 8 to 20 in the Rule of St Benedict contain the arrangement of the psalter for recitation at the Divine Office, by day and night; the basic plan is that the ‘psalter with its hundred and fifty psalms be chanted every week and begun afresh every Sunday at Matins’,2 the psalms being distributed between the lesser hours of Prime, Terce, Sext, None, and Compline; the major hours of Lauds and Vespers; and the Night Office. By the eleventh century a whole series of extra psalms, prayers and offices had been added to this basic structure, so that monks of a fervent monastery like Bec would be occupied for a very large part of the day in corporate attention to the God of the Bible as set before them in the liturgy, and particularly in the psalter. The great monastic house with its ordered life of prayer was what men respected most in Christian living in these centuries, and this meant for the monks a change in emphasis in the horarium, and indeed in their understanding of the monastic life. For them, the liturgy was no longer, as it was for St Benedict, only a part, although the best part, of a whole daily life directed towards God. It was worship, their rendering to God of that which is due to Him, but it was also an asceticism, an exercise of charity towards the living and dead, a social obligation, a way of life. Some idea of what this meant for monks in the eleventh century can be seen in the directory of the customs of Anglo-Norman monastic houses drawn up by Archbishop Lanfranc while Anselm was still at Bec.3 The Trina Oratio, the Gradual Psalms, the Penitential Psalms, Psalms for the Dead, and Psalms for Benefactors were said after various Offices, as well as the daily recitation of the Office of the Dead and of All Saints.

This continuous round of psalmody gave the monk a rich and deep knowledge of the psalter, which would be absorbed almost unconsciously. And it is clear when Anselm uses the psalter that this is the kind of understanding he has of it. When he uses the language of the psalms he is not quoting: he is speaking with the language of the scriptures, as in the Prayer to Christ:

‘The joy of my heart fails me’; my laughter is ‘turned to mourning’;

‘my heart and my flesh fail me’;

‘but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.’

‘My soul refuses comfort,’ unless from you, my dear.

Here three psalms are woven together with Anselm’s own thoughts, and are prayed spontaneously by him. This is the traditional monastic use of the psalter, where the words of the Hebrew psalms become the prayer of Christ and his Christians: ‘For many members united by love and peace, under one head, our Saviour himself, form one man… and the words of the psalms are either the words of Christ, and of the Church, or of Christ alone, or of the Church alone in which we are made partakers.’4

Chapter 9 of the Rule of St Benedict mentions the other basic element in the Office: ‘The books to be read at Matins shall be the inspired scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and also the commentaries on them which have been made by well-known and orthodox Catholic Fathers.’ This meant that Anselm would hear lections from the Bible read ‘continuo’ through the year, but it is not possible to distinguish this from his personal reading of the scriptures in its effect on the prayers. The same is true of his reading of the Fathers, though it is clear that he was not influenced by the symbolic interpretations of scripture common to the four Fathers most used in the homilies of the Office – Augustine, Jerome, Leo, and Gregory. As with the psalter his was a simpler and more personal use of the scriptures.

By the eleventh century the Office had been embellished with responses, antiphons, and hymns. There are echoes of these in the prayers of Anselm, notably in the Prayer to St Peter, which begins with a direct reference to the hymn for the feast of St Peter and St Paul, and the first antiphon of vespers. But it will be more convenient to notice these few allusions when the prayers are discussed individually.

The Kalendar and the Mass

Between the Rule of St Benedict and the life of Bec in the time of Anselm lay five centuries of development in both Office and Mass. The non-clerical community of Monte Cassino had been replaced by communities of ordained priests, concerned for the celebration of the mysteries, with more and more solemnity and frequency. The content and shape of the Mass, and the pattern of the liturgical year were more or less stable by the eleventh century. The ninth and tenth centuries in Western Europe had seen a steady process in the stabilization of government, and in this the re-ordering of the Christian life had pride of place. Charlemagne completed the ecclesiastical legislation of his father and continued the reform of the Church begun by Boniface and Chrodegang. In this he re-emphasized their policy of using the liturgy as a means to bring about order and uniformity. By the mid eleventh century a basic pattern of liturgical worship had been established throughout Gaul, though there were regional variations and additions. Each monastery had its own form of the Kalendar, with local additions to a basic structure. The saints Anselm addresses in his prayers had their place in the liturgical year, in Mass and Office, with the exception of St Nicholas, who became popular in the West after the translation of his relics in the eleventh century, which occasion may have inspired Anselm’s prayer.

The only prayer of Anselm which is directly connected with the Mass is the Prayer before Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. It is the prayer of a priest before receiving Communion, and, like earlier prayers of this kind, is a prayer for purity before receiving the Sacrament. Private prayers for the priest before Communion had become customary in Gaul during the eighth century, and there are many examples of these.5 What makes Anselm’s prayer different is that it is personal and ardent, and at the same time scriptural and theological. The Eucharist is described in words from St Paul, and seen as the pledge of redemption, the sign of reconciliation, and the point of incorporation of Christians into the Body of Christ. This is a wider view than that of the earlier prayers, and it is also free from the pressures of scholastic definition and controversy that were to come later. This is the one prayer of Anselm which might have been used in a liturgy – it is short enough and of the same type as other private prayers in the Mass, but there is no evidence that this happened.

The other prayer of Anselm connected with liturgy is the Prayer to the Cross. The devotion to the cross of the Lord was well known in the West long before the twelfth century. The account of Constantine’s vision of the cross and its subsequent discovery in Jerusalem by St Helena were the subject of hymns and legends and poems, such as Cynewulf’s ‘Elene’. The discovery of the cross and its later recovery from the Turks were commemorated in the feasts of the Invention of the Cross on 3 May, and the Exaltation of the Cross on 14 September.

The actual service of the Veneration of the Cross which was incorporated into the Gallican liturgies for Good Friday was derived from the ceremonies for Holy Week conducted in Jerusalem in the fourth century and described in the diary of Etheria, a devout pilgrim to the Holy Places.6The inspiration for this and similar liturgical celebrations of the passion of the Lord came from St Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, who gave to the primitive concept of the Paschal mystery this added dimension of historical celebration. Part of the service consists in the kissing of the cross, while the Reproaches are sung, and, after these, the hymn Pange lingua, by Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers, who wrote it for the procession bringing a relic of the True Cross to Queen Radegunda in 760 A.D.

The veneration of relics of the True Cross spread in the West from pilgrims returning from Jerusalem, and it was a short step from venerating a cross that contained a relic of the True Cross to venerating any cross or crucifix. The actual veneration of the wood itself had a mystique of its own, of which the eighth-century Dream of the Rood is perhaps the most famous example. In this poem, as in the hymns of Fortunatus and in the whole of the early history of devotion to the cross, it is Christ who reigns from the tree, the Christus Victor, who is adored:

Brightly that beacon was gilded with gold,

Jewels adorned it, fair at the foot –

Wondrous that tree, token of triumph.7

In this poem, however, there is also the idea of the suffering of Christ, of His blood upon the tree, where is ‘the Lord in agony outstretched’. These two themes, of the victory of the cross and its cost, form the liturgy of the cross, whether it is in the Mass, the Office, or the Good Friday Veneration, and it is these two themes that form Anselm’s prayer. In popular devotion the aspect of cost and suffering could and did become a sentimental pity for the crucified; and, on the other hand, the power of the wood could equally well become a form of magic, as medieval miracle stories abundantly testify, including one incident at least in Eadmer’s life of Anselm.8 But this prayer is in the liturgical tradition and very far from idolatry or sentiment. In the first line it is the cross as a symbol of the cross of Christ, which was itself a symbol of redemption, which is venerated. The whole prayer continues this idea of the cross as the sign of life and redemption, freely chosen and not inflicted; it was a line of thought which Anselm was to work out more thoroughly in Cur Deus Homo, in reply to objections to the ‘shame of the cross’. There are echoes in the prayer of the Pange Lingua’s praise of the ‘sweetest wood’; there is reference to the passage from Galatians used as an introit for the feast of the Holy Cross, and that from Philippians used on Maundy Thursday as the introit; and the ‘joy’ which comes to the world through the cross recalls the Byzantine Liturgical Trisagion, Crucem Tuam, used also in the Western Veneration of the Cross. There were many other prayers to the cross,9 both before and after Anselm, but this, like so many of his prayers, holds a balance between the formal and austere tradition of the liturgy and the ardent personal fervour which came into devotion in the twelfth century; it is not a liturgical prayer, but a personal prayer which has its roots in the liturgy.

The Prayer to God and the Prayer to Christ belong to the tradition of private prayer and seem to be without direct liturgical associations; the Prayer for Friends and the Prayer for Enemies are also of this kind. In the prayers to the saints, however, it is possible to see some connection with the official liturgy of the saints, in Mass or Office. The three prayers to St Mary are full of the titles and honours familiar in the Eastern liturgies connected with her – most of all, the ancient title of Theotocos, the God-bearer, is Anselm’s first and main title for her. The four main feasts of Our Lady had been introduced to the West by the Syrian pope, Sergius (687–701), and retain some traces of their Greek origin. The early texts about the Mother of God, in the liturgy and in sermons, are concerned most of all with the mystery of the Annunciation, and use two texts from St Luke – the angel’s greeting and the acclamation by Elizabeth – as the basis of their meditation. The free assent of Mary to God’s action, and the resulting grace and blessedness of her as the Mother of God, are likewise the basis of the third prayer of Anselm – a prayer which, H. Barré says, ‘crowns and sums up all the Western tradition of the Fathers about the Virgin Mother of the Saviour’.10 The Lacta mater of St Augustine which was taken up and used in homilies and sermons in her Office, especially in Spain, appears near the end of this third prayer. The idea of praying to Mary and asking her help and intercession was already established in the liturgy, and Anselm has no hesitation in using it. The basis and background of his devotion to Mary seems to be liturgical as well as scriptural, but it is the fervour and love that fills the prayer, and his personal relationship to Mary herself that make it one of the greatest of Marian devotions.

The saints first venerated in the liturgy of the Church were those who after Mary most nearly touched the mystery of Christ – the Apostles and St John the Baptist. By the eleventh century their liturgy in Mass and Office was fully established. The feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist and that of the Visitation present the same aspect of the life of St John the Baptist as the first part of Anselm’s prayer: he is the hidden witness who recognized Christ from the womb. The latter part of the prayer, with its recurrent meditation on the Lamb of God, may have been influenced by the use in the Mass of the Agnus dei before Communion – but here again it is impossible to distinguish between the influence of the Bible and that of the liturgy, which after all is composed almost exclusively of biblical material.

One more direct reference to the liturgy is in the Prayer to St Peter, where Anselm uses the idea of Peter as door-keeper of heaven, as prince of the apostles, and as shepherd, in the same way as the liturgy. The ‘faithful shepherd’, the ‘prince of the Apostles’, is used in the Magnificat antiphon for the first Vespers of St Peter and also in the Office hymn at Lauds, Jam, bone Pastor, Petre.

The Prayer to St Paul and the Prayer to St John the Evangelist are in no way related to their liturgies, but rather to their own writings, and the basis of the Prayer to St Stephen is the seventh chapter of Acts, a choice which may or may not be connected with its use as the epistle for the feast. The point Anselm makes about the joy of Stephen in his martyrdom, when the stones bring forth the ‘sound of his goodness’, recalls the second antiphon for Lauds of St Stephen, ‘The stones of the brook were sweet unto Stephen’.

The other biblical saint addressed by Anselm is St Mary Magdalene. The great outburst of devotion to her was to come in the next century and be connected with her relics and with Vézelay, but from the time of Bede her commemoration was known to the West.11 In the liturgy she was commemorated by Mass and Office on 22 July, under the three aspects of penitent, witness of the resurrection, and apostle to the apostles. Anselm uses the first two ideas in his prayer, addressing her as the witness to forgiving love and to the power of the risen Christ; this Paschal understanding of St Mary Magdalene is also familiar from the Easter sequence, Victimae Paschali Laudes, where she is addressed and questioned about her experience at the empty tomb. The conflation of the three Marys of the Bible was common ground, though Anselm may have derived it directly from the homily by St Gregory used for her feast.

The two non-biblical saints addressed in the prayers are St Benedict and St Nicholas. The Prayer to St Benedict uses material from the Rule of St Benedict, not from the liturgy which is based on the Dialogues of St Gregory. The Prayer to St Nicholas may have been written on the occasion of the translation of this saint’s relics from Myra to Bari and is one of the earliest of the evidences of his cult in the West. There is, of course, no possibility of liturgical influence here, though there is the reference to the repeated use of the name of the saint – ‘Nicholas – great Nicholas’, by those who pray to him for help, which may be connected with the Litany of the Saints.

One other element in the liturgy of the saints that can be seen as a connection with private prayers such as Anselm’s is the collects. These prayers take the form of the Roman orationes, in which God is addressed directly, under various titles, some reference is made to his mighty acts in and through the saint, and a petition is made to God through the prayers and merits of the saints, the whole prayer being offered through Christ in the power of the Spirit. This pattern is basically that of these longer and more complex prayers. In Anselm’s prayers, there is always the address under various titles, a mention of the special merits of the saint and God’s work in him or her, petitions for help, and usually a trinitarian ending, all of which are much elaborated. The definite difference is that Anselm addresses his prayers to the saint rather than to God. This is not the method of the collects, but rather of the semi-liturgical devotion of the ‘Litany of the Saints’, which came into use in Rome in the sixth century, and was a popular medieval devotion.

2. The ‘Preces Privatae’

The tradition of private devotion in the two centuries before Anselm was strongly liturgical. What called forth the admiration of laymen in the ninth and tenth centuries was the monastic organization of prayer in an ordered life of dedication to God; it seemed the proper response of mankind to the command to ‘pray without ceasing’. The same spirit that led to the multiplication of prayers and Offices within the monasteries led to its imitation outside. There was a demand by laymen for schemes of prayer approximating to the monastic pattern. Such prayer books were used at court and by great ladies, such as Mathilda of Tuscany and the Princess Adelaide, in fact by those economically and socially in the best position to profit by them. They consisted primarily of arrangements of the psalms, running parallel to the monastic Office, and with the same idea of sanctifying the whole day. There is no doubt that the psalter was the prayer book par excellence of the age, and Alcuin recommended it to Charlemagne in glowing terms: ‘If you come to the psalms with a serious mind, and look with the spirit of understanding, you will find there the word of the Lord incarnate, suffering, risen, and ascended… you will find every virtue in the psalms, if you deserve to find the mercy of God in revealing to you their secrets.’1 These books of extracts from the psalms for private use contained also prayers, among which were short prayers to connect the Hours with the stages of the passion of Christ, a development known as early as the third century in Hippolytus.2There were long prayers of contrition, similar to the Irish penitentials, and groups of psalms such as the penitential psalms. The book which Anselm sent to the royal lady Adelaide contained such extracts, florilegia, from the psalms, for her private use.

The psalms in the libelli were copied by scribes directly from choir psalters, and with them were copied the ‘psalter collects’3 – short prayers, in the form of a Roman collect, which directed the psalm to a Christian meaning. Since the fifth century one way in which the Old Testament words were given a New Testament meaning had been by the use of these prayers addressed to God through Christ, which were read at the end of a psalm, and in which a few words from the psalm were taken and developed into a prayer; no attempt seems to have been made in them to interpret the whole of a psalm. It is possible to see how this would have looked to Anselm from the eleventh-century book of prayers preserved in the Bodleian MS. D’Orville 45.4 Here a short prayer, usually one sentence only, follows each psalm in the way described; thus psalm 23, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, is followed by this collect: ‘Lord, be our shepherd, and we shall lack nothing. We desire no other leader than you, no pasture other than your glory. Lead us in the paths of righteousness, and we shall not go astray. In the valley of the shadow may we not be overcome.’ These collects were included with their psalms in the libelli, and to these were added other parts of the Office, hymns, canticles, the Te Deum, and the collects for feasts of the saints. By the ninth century a litany of the saints was also included, often as a preface to a prayer of contrition.

A certain development took place in private devotion to the saints and this can be illustrated from the Carolingian prayer books. The four Carolingian libelli printed by Dom Wilmart contain collects for the Common of Saints, and hymns for their Offices. The Libelli Turonensis contains also a litany of the saints, in the traditional form, asking mercy from God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost; then petitions are made to the saints in an hierarchic rather than historical order: St Mary, the apostles, martyrs, confessors and religious founders, and virgins; this is followed by a long confession of sins.5 In the prayer ascribed to St Ephraim in the Libelli Trecensis petitions are made to the same groups of saints, but at greater length than ‘have mercy upon us’; each saint has a separate prayer, of identical pattern but different content.6 Another form of this is found in the prayer ascribed to St Gregory, which, like Jewish paradigm prayers, asks the help of saints of the Old Testament with reference to God’s mighty acts in their lives: for instance, ‘Elias, who raised the dead, pray for me,’ 7 or, more fully, as in the Libelli Parisini, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, I adore you who called Adam at midday and said to him, “Adam, where are you?,” and I beseech your mercy that I may deserve to walk in the light of noon and not in the shadows of death.’8 It is this pattern of prayer to the saints, in the liturgical collects, and in the expanded litany, that lies behind the longer prayers that developed at the beginning of the eleventh century. A group of prayers to the saints is found in many MSS., often in close juxtaposition to the litany of the saints, and they form a distinct group, related to the sequence followed in the litany: prayers to God, Father, Son and Spirit, followed by prayers to Mary, the apostles, martyrs, confessors, and sometimes virgins. Usually the saints selected from these categories are St John the Baptist, St Peter and St Paul, St John the Evangelist, St Stephen, St Benedict, and either St Martin or St Nicholas.9 This is the same group of saints that Anselm selects for his much longer and more complex prayers, which nonetheless contain some of the same elements as the libelli: there are references to the merits and life of the saints as the ground of intercession, and there are long passages of self-abasement, which can be associated with the forms of self-examination put after the litany of the saints in the more formal Carolingian setting.

The Prayer to God is the shortest of the prayers and the one most like the Carolingian prayers, with brief petitions, based on the last part of the ‘Our Father’. It is followed by the Prayer to Christ, the prayer which belongs most completely to the new style of personal devotion, and is furthest from the liturgy. It is a prayer directed to Jesus Christ, not to God through Jesus Christ. Christian prayer in the New Testament had been made to God through the mediation of Christ, though prayer direct to Jesus as the Lord was also known, as in the prayer of St Stephen at his death, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’. The mediation of Christ is the core of Christian prayer, but there was also a tradition of praying to Christ in the first three centuries, especially in the prayers of the martyrs, who followed the example of the proto-martyr in calling directly on Jesus, like Genesius of Rome, ‘Christ is on my lips, Christ is in my heart, no torments now can take him from me.’10 The Arian controversy of the fourth century led to an increasing stress in official worship on the equality of the Son with the Father, and in some quarters this led to an over-emphasis on the Son. The Council of Carthage therefore in 397 decreed that prayers directed to Christ were not admissible in the liturgy: ‘No one is to name the Father in place of the Son in the prayers, or the Son in place of the Father. At the altar prayer is always to be directed to the Father.’ Thus, in spite of Arius, the tradition of prayer directed to Christ found no place in the official liturgy of the Church, but it continued in private and popular devotion from Hippolytus through Ambrose and Gregory, to flower again in the Middle Ages.

This private tradition of prayer to Christ revived and developed in the eleventh century, with a new stress on the person of Jesus in his earthly life and especially in his passion, as related to the person praying. Anselm’s Prayer to Christ is one of the great compositions in this tradition. To emphasize the ‘to Christ’ directive he uses the title, ‘Lord Jesus Christ’, and it is not so much Christ as the second person of the Trinity that he addresses, as Jesus, incarnate Lord, ‘My Redeemer, my Mercy, my Salvation’. This personal relationship with Christ evolved rapidly after Anselm, but it is there in other eleventh-century prayers, such as those of Peter Damian – in his prayer to the Cross, for instance, the idea of personal commitment in regard to the passion of Christ and the immediateness of the scene are very striking: ‘My Redeemer, I see you with the eyes of my soul, fixed to the Cross with nails, I hear you speak with a clear voice to the thief… may I bear here the marks of the nails and be conformed to the sufferings of the Crucified, so that I may deserve to come to Him to the resurrection in glory.’11

The Prayer to Christ contains a meditation on the sorrows of St Mary at the Cross, the forerunner of many such. The Carolingian prayer books contain prayers to St Mary, notably the Singularis merita, which occurs again and again.12 The praise of Mary as Virgin and Mother, the contrast made between her holiness and man’s vileness, and urgent petitions for her help, characterize these prayers. By the eleventh century this simple prayer form was being expanded, and one instance of this by Maurillus of Rouen shows the way in which this was happening: ‘Before whom then shall we desolate wretches more properly groan and weep for all the evil of our unhappy state than before the true and undoubted mother of mercy?… See, Lady, the prodigal son, with worn and naked feet, sighs, shouts, and calls to his mother, from a huge and stinking darkness – I know not how often he begs her to love and reconcile and excuse him to his Father.’13 This expanded version of the Singularis merita was printed by Migne incorrectly under the name of Anselm.

The intercession of Mary was sometimes asked together with that of St John the Evangelist, as the two at the foot of the Cross. There is one version of this in the Book of Cerne,14 and a later extension of this is the O intemerata, one of the most popular of Carolingian prayers.15 It is directed to Mary and John rather than to God or Christ. The reference to the luminaria divinitatis ante Deum lucentia is interesting, since the theme of light recurs in other prayers to St John the Evangelist, presumably with a recollection of the Fourth Gospel and its image of Christ as the light of the world that shines in the darkness. In Anselm’s prayers the picture of St John is, in one, the friend who reclined on the bosom of the Lord at the Last Supper, and, in the other, the rich friend who will give to the poor who ask. Both these ideas are present in embryo in this Carolingian prayer to St John the Evangelist: ‘Open the gate of life to me when I knock, and let not the prince of darkness prevail against me; let him not lift up the foot of pride against me. Let not the hand that was held out to save you reject me. Help me according to your word and lead me to the banquet of love, where all your friends dine with you…’16

The idea of taking incidents in the life of a saint and applying them to the particular needs of the present situation is the basic one in these early Carolingian prayers. The prayers to St John the Baptist see him pre-eminently as the Baptizer, the one who cleanses, and the witness who points to him who should come. He was popular as the first ascetic, and later with the introduction of the feast of his beheading from the East he was given the status of a martyr. Anselm addresses him first as the witness from the womb of his mother, and then as the one who witnesses to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He makes no mention of him as either virgin or ascetic, though the idea of cleansing is present in Anselm’s prayer as in the older Carolingian one: ‘St John the Baptist, precursor and martyr of Christ, most holy virgin, I pray you obtain for me by your prayers from the Lord the grace of abstinence in both food and drink, in thought, word, and deed…’17 The prayer given in the Book of Cerne is closer to Anselm in its thought on baptism and on the Lamb of God: ‘St John the Baptist, who deserved to baptize the Saviour of the world with your own hands in the waters of Jordan; be an intercessor for me to the mercy of God our redeemer, that he may deliver me from the darkness of sin and lead me into the light of grace, who takes away the sin of the world and has promised to grant us the kingdom of heaven.’18

In the Prayer to St Peter, Anselm uses the traditional ideas of him as the key-bearer of the kingdom of heaven and the shepherd; but the equally popular concept of him as the rock, the foundation upon which Christ would build his Church, is absent. In art and in liturgy as well as in private devotion these are the main images under which St Peter is seen, and there are many prayers in the Carolingian books that bear this out. Prayers to St Paul, the other Roman martyr, are not so frequent; when they do occur, it is the event of his conversion or some aspect of his teaching that is used. He is Vas electionis, a quotation from Acts, which is also used in the Mass of St Paul in the introit. Anselm’s prayer to him is concerned with him as a ‘mother’, as bearing sons in the faith, based on the fourth chapter of the epistle to the Galatians; it seems to have no parallel in liturgy or private devotion.

The earlier private prayers to St Stephen picture him as the proto-martyr, the one who, after Christ, most loved his enemies. This is the theme of the first part of Anselm’s prayer, and may be compared with this Carolingian prayer: ‘St Stephen, first and glorious martyr saint, you are first in that choir of martyrs who have come before God out of great tribulation, and suffered persecution for righteousness’ sake. Pray for me, a miserable sinner, to the Lord, for you prayed for your enemies and for those who stoned you. Help me, for you are one with the holy Lord Jesus, the great martyr and your friend.’19 The last part of Anselm’s prayer, centred on the text, ‘he fell asleep in the Lord’, is very like the meditations on heaven and the bliss of the saints which reached their apogee in Peter Abelard’s O quanta qualia. It can be compared with the twenty-fifth chapter of the Proslogion, where Anselm considers ‘which goods belong to those who enjoy this good and how great they are’. Heaven, for the writers of the Middle Ages, was the fullness of God, and is therefore described by analogy with the fulfilment of the five senses20 – as Julian of Norwich later put it: ‘Eternally hid in God, we shall see him truly and feel him fully, hear him spiritually, smell him delightfully, and taste him sweetly; we shall see God face to face, simply and fully.’21

The Prayer for Friends and the Prayer for Enemies of Anselm have their forerunners in the Carolingian prayer books, and clearly these are more appropriate subjects for private prayer than for liturgical intercession. The Liber Coloniensis has a prayer ‘for our enemies’,22 to be used as a preparation for confession, and in the Manual of Prayers of St John Gualbert there is an interesting parallel to Anselm’s prayers, for both friends and enemies: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, if anyone wishes me ill or has done me harm or is my enemy, if anyone opposes me or persecutes me – Lord, forgive them. I can love my friends in you and my enemies for your sake. Lord, direct my paths in your sight. Hear my prayer, Christ Jesus, who with the Father…’23

Thus the liturgy and the preces privatae can be seen to have formed part of the background to the Prayers and Meditations. They were not so much a conscious source as a mental climate forming and shaping Anselm’s life and prayer. There is the element of the liturgical use of the Bible and especially of the psalter; there is the way of praying to the saints and the choice of the group he uses; there are the long passages in every prayer about sin, which find their more formal counterpart in the Carolingian forms for confession; there are the more directly liturgically-inspired prayers, such as those before communion and to the Cross. It would not be possible to suggest either liturgical texts or texts of private prayers with certainty as a conscious source for Anselm’s prayers, but it is possible to see them as the ground on which his genius worked.

3. ‘Meditari aut Legere’

The prayers of Anselm are linked with the Carolingian liturgy and with the preces privatae, which were themselves so close to the liturgical pattern, but they are in no sense liturgical prayers; their content and the method they employ belong to another aspect of Christian devotion. The prayers are, in fact, in some sense also meditations – just as, of course, the meditations are also prayers – and belong to that assimilation and rumination of divine truth through the reading of the scriptures which is lectio divina. The fragmentation of the concept of prayer inevitable upon its more schematic analysis has made the use of such terms as ‘reading’, ‘meditation’, and ‘prayer’ misleading. For Anselm and his predecessors these were different aspects of the same thing, not separate exercises in their own right. Reading was an action of the whole person, by which the meaning of a text was absorbed, until it became prayer. It was frequently compared to eating – ‘Taste by reading, chew by understanding, swallow by loving and rejoicing,’1and the text ‘O taste and see how gracious the Lord is’ was applied more often to the reading of the scriptures than to the Eucharist before the twelfth century. In the fourth century the Apostolic Constitutions had recommended ‘prayer that is fed by lectio divina, exercised in psalmody, prolonged and assimilated by brief prayers’.2 It was in the same tradition that Bede wrote of ‘the majestas Domini which is communicated to us in the majestas scripturae’.

The other side of the same coin is seen in the writings of the Fathers: their theology is continually rising up into prayer, or rather there is no distinction between the two. In Cyprian, Irenaeus, and especially Origen, prayer welled up spontaneously as they wrote their commentaries. Their theology, in the ancient sense of the word, was a hymn, a prayer, the point where knowledge and love become praise. The Sanctus, the Te Deum, were therefore called theologies and conversely theologians were those whose prayer is true. In Origen this prayed theology was prompted by a devotion to Christ which has at times a medieval sound, as in this sentence from a homily on the Feet Washing: ‘Jesus, my feet are dirty. Come and be my slave; pour water into your basin and wash my feet.’3 To take only two other examples of this personal aspect of theology, St Hilary’s discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity breaks into this petition: ‘Almighty God, bestow upon us the meaning of words, the light of understanding, the nobility of diction, and the faith of the true nature. And grant that what we believe we may also speak.’4 And there is this familiar passage from the greatest of the confessions: ‘To praise you is the desire of man who is but a part of your creation. You stir him to take delight in praising you, for you have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.’5

It was through the Rule of St Benedict that this way of prayer was mediated to Anselm. As Dom Butler has shown,6 St Benedict transmitted the teaching of Cassian on prayer which in its turn was based on the theology of Origen. Here the way into prayer was through meditative reading, with the aim of purity of heart and compunction of tears. Abbot Nestorius is recorded as saying, ‘Strive to apply yourselves to holy reading so that this continual meditation may finally impregnate your soul and form it in its own image.’7 And the two Conferences attributed to Abbot Isaac deal with the subject in detail.8 St Benedict says little about prayer but it is all in this tradition of meditative reading as the way into prayer. In the brief chapter Of the Oratory of the Monastery he merely says, ‘If anyone wishes to pray secretly, let him just go in and pray’,9 but at once he makes the connection with Cassian by adding, ‘with tears and fervour of heart.’ There is the same connection in the chapter On Reverence in Prayer – ‘our prayer therefore ought to be short and pure,’ ‘we shall be heard… for purity of heart and compunction of tears.’10 In the chapter On the Observance of Lent this prayer is linked to reading: ‘Let us refrain from all sin, and apply ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart, and to abstinence.’11 Here reading, compunction and prayer are all classed together. Nor is there a contradiction of this way of reading in the chapter Of the Daily Manual Work where the books given out for reading during Lent are to be read ‘per ordinem ex integro’.12 The fact that the book was to be read in its entirety may have been mentioned specifically here in order to underline the penitential nature of this particular piece of reading: it was to be an ascesis, much as the Desert Fathers had recited a great number of psalms ‘per ordinem’, but the next chapter makes it clear when it refers to reading that even in this case the continuous reading of the book was not to take precedence over the impulses of grace; the point of the reading, as always, was prayer.

It was this perspective of reading meditatively that Anselm re-affirmed in his Prayers and Meditations. By the eleventh century for all practical purposes lectio divina was identified with lectio continua, the corporate liturgical reading of the scriptures and the Fathers. At Bec the time for reading may have been more than that at Cluny but it was not great, and the more usual way of reading the scriptures was to listen to them being read. The prayers Anselm composed provided material for reading, in the tradition of lectio divina as a starting point for prayer.

The way into prayer could be through the reading of the scriptures, through the recitation of the Office, through reflecting on liturgical texts or the psalms in private; it could also be through the use of the material Anselm provided. And in all these the basis was the Bible and its assimilation. The Prayers and Meditations are not, like those of John of Fécamp, full of direct quotation, but they are made up from the remembered language of the Bible: Anselm had so assimilated divine truth through reading, that the scriptures had become his spontaneous prayer. The texture of the Prayers and Meditations is composed of biblical words and images, and Anselm’s personal devotion is given mysterious depth by this. He writes according to that medieval view which sees life as being entirely transfigured by the redemption wrought by Christ; it is a world in which everything becomes a revelation of love so amazing that nothing is insignificant. The Old Testament, therefore, is seen as a revelation of Christ just as much as the New, so that when Anselm gives instances of the raising of the dead he refers to Elijah and Elisha as well as St Paul;13and the fiat of Mary reaches ‘all just men who died before his birth’.14 Anselm was to extend this even further by proposing the understanding and analysis of the very nature of the existence of God as a subject for meditation, in the Monologion and the Proslogion, a step which in his successors led to a division of theology and prayer, in which the term ‘theology’ came to be limited to a study of the nature of God. But in the Prayers and Meditations the old tradition of lectio divina is still basic.

4. John of Fécamp

In this tradition of meditative reading there is a writer close in time, place, and outlook to Anselm; indeed some of his writings have been attributed to Anselm until very recently. John of Fécamp, or Jeannelin, as he called himself, with the diminutive that recalls Anselm’s term for himself, homuncio, lived first as a hermit near Ravenna. Then he joined his uncle, the great Benedictine reformer, William of Volpiano, at Fruttuaria. In 1017 John was sent to the Abbey of the Holy Trinity at Fécamp, where eleven years later he became abbot. He ruled Fécamp conscientiously but without enthusiasm until he died in 1078, never ceasing to regret his lost solitude and with his real interest in prayer rather than administration. Anselm became Abbot of Bec in the year of John’s death, so that the years of his first writings, which included the Prayers, overlapped with the last years of John. Fécamp is not far from Bec and John must have known at least by repute so notable a young teacher and scholar, but nothing is known of any direct contact between them. The Confessio Fidei, which belongs to John’s last years, has a more philosophic tone than his other writings, an expansion possibly due to the influence of Anselm; and there is a reference of his which fits Anselm well: ‘Unde modernos laudo doctores et eorum scripta libenter lectito qui dum antiquorum dicta revolvunt, ex multorum lectione radicem veritatis remandendo inveniunt, Quanto enim sunt iuniores tanto perspicaciores, et eo magis florent ingenio quo de pluribus fontibus hauserunt.’1 *

What Anselm knew of his older contemporary is still more uncertain, but from internal evidence it would seem likely that Anselm had read at least the Confessio Theologica, and was familiar with John’s style and thought. This passage in particular from the second book of the Confessio Theologica has close affinities with Anselm’s meditations:

At that tremendous judgement ‘scarcely shall the just be saved’; and I, the most wretched of men, what will be done to me, what shall be said of me, when I am brought before his judgement seat, who knows all the transgressions I have committed? But I pray you, my King, Father, and my God, by that eternal judgement, by the propitiation of sinners, make my heart contrite and a fount of tears, that I may weep for the wounds of my soul day and night, until the accepted time, until the day of salvation. Otherwise my great iniquities, my innumerable sins, which are now hidden, will on that tremendous day appear in the sight of the waiting angels, archangels, prophets and apostles, saints, and all just men. Have mercy upon me, Lord, have mercy on me; cast me not away in my sins, vices, guilt, and negligences. For you do not desire the death of a sinner, but that he be converted and live. Have mercy upon me; do not keep my evils stored up to be punished in the next life, in the pains of hell, in the tremendous judgement, but punish them in this present life as much as and how you please. Behold, I am in your hand; do unto me as seems good to you.2

Anselm’s Prayers and Meditations are closer to John’s writings than they are to the liturgical tradition and the Carolingian preces, but in themselves they are as different as the men who wrote them. The chief note of John’s work is a profound serenity and peace, ‘tranquilla et secura’, and he is filled with longing for ‘the one thing necessary’, the vision of God. As Dom Wilmart put it, John ‘a pris plaisir à traiter les mêmes sujets par les mêmes moyens et dans les mêmes terms’.3 He finds the way to that one thing necessary through the words of the scriptures and the Fathers. His own description of his work, ‘my words are the words of the Fathers’,4 is true; his writings are a tissue of quotation from the Bible and the Fathers, though they are put together in a way entirely his own, and also contain fine original passages. Like Anselm he knows the Bible intimately, but, characteristically, he is selective: he quotes mostly from St John’s Gospel, Revelation, Ephesians, Hebrews, the Psalms, and the Song of Songs, the books in fact that correspond to his own contemplative way. By contrast, there is no book of the Bible that Anselm does not use freely, and yet he quotes far less from the Bible and not at all from the Fathers. John is a mosaic of quotations from Augustine and Gregory, his words are the words of the Fathers; but Anselm, equally in the tradition of Augustine and Gregory, writes as being himself one of the Fathers.

Both men have an ardent desire for God, and experience it in the piercing of contrition and love which is compunction; both turn their energies to shake off the ‘torpor’ that holds them back, but in doing this John has none of the intellectual fire of Anselm; again, he restricts his thought to the one thing necessary; Jean Leclercq suggests that this was a deliberate asceticism on his part.5

Both men sent their prayers to other people and gave detailed instructions for their use. John wrote to the Empress Agnes in much the same terms as Anselm to Mathilda and Adelaide – the prayers are to be ‘read with reverence and meditated with fear’ – but John has a warning which Anselm never chose to give: ‘This book ought to be read only by those whose minds are not involved in carnal desires… but with tears and great devotion… the proud mind should not dare to touch the secret and sublime words of divine eloquence, lest by chance it speaks to them wrongly.’6John’s prayers are for the elect, for the contemplatives, but Anselm’s apparently for any who need and want them.

In another way also they differ: John does not produce finished meditations. For him writing is not an act of prayer; he offers material for reading which can thus become prayer. But in many cases Anselm does write and pray at the same time; his prayers are already written as prayers, with the exclamations and spontaneous expressions in the text. This gives them for the modern reader the sense of being too much; they seem overwrought, too finished, as Dom Wilmart said, ‘un peu abondant’,7 but there is on the other hand great profit in having a prayer exactly as a saint has prayed it, down to the intimate communications of his soul with God.

In the prayers of John of Fécamp and Anselm we have the forerunners of the great meditations of the next century, such as those of William of St Thierry; in Anselm the stream of liturgical piety joins the tradition of lectio et meditatio. It remains to be seen what Anselm made out of this inheritance in his teaching about prayer and in the Prayers and Meditations themselves.

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