Letter of Anselm to Pope Paschal

The relationship between Anselm and William Rufus was a difficult one; still two men more unlike you could hardly hope to meet. Anselm was ascetic, intellectual, hard working, conscientious and a worrier. William wasn’t. This letter is rather lovely. One the one hand it lays out why Anselm fled the kingdom and his objections to William. And then, there’s the lovely line ‘I implore you not to order me to return to England…’. This is a man at the end of his tether. 

Letter of Archbishop Anselm to Pope Paschal III: 1099/1100

To the lord and reverend father Paschal, supreme pontiff, Anselm, servant of the church of Canterbury, offers with heart-felt submission his devout supplication, however unworthy.

I have delayed sending a message to your highness, after  giving thanks to God for the certain knowledge of your elevation, for the following reason. A messenger from the king of the English came to the venerable archbishop of Lyons concerning our case, but did not report what the king had undertaken. Hearing the archbishop’s reply, he went back, promising to return soon to Lyons. I waited to find out what to tell you about the king’s will, but the messenger did not return. I shall now summarise our case, because when in Rome I often recounted it to lord Urban the pope and to many others, as I believe your holiness knows.

I saw in England many ills which I could not correct, although it was my duty to do so, and which I could not tolerate without sinning myself. Also, the king demanded my assent in the name of justice to his wishes, which were contrary to the law and will of God. Moreover he refused to allow a papal legate to be received in England, or to be appealed to. This he did to prevent me sending a letter to a legate, receiving mass from him or obeying his decrees. He has not permitted a council to be held in his kingdom for thirteen years. He gives church lands to his men.

In these and similar matters, no-one in the kingdom, not even my suffragan bishops, will give me counsel without the king’s permission. Having seen these and many other things contrary to the will and law of God, I sought the king’s permission to come to the apostolic see, there to seek counsel for my soul and my office. He replied that I wronged him by asking for permission. He said that, as in a criminal case, I should either satisfy his will and give surety never to seek a legate, or leave the country immediately. I considered it better to leave than to consent to this abomination. I came to Rome, as you know, and put the entire matter before the lord Pope [Urban].

Soon after I had left England, the king, having taxed the mensal and ‘shroud’ lands of our monks, usurped the entire lands of the archbishopric and appropriated them to his own use. Despite papal requests, he was contemptuous and persisted in his action. Three years have now passed since I left England. I have spent the little money I brought with me and much that I have borrowed and still owe. Thus I stay as a debtor with our venerable father the archbishop of Lyons, sustained by his beneficient liberality.

I do not tell you this because I wish to return to England, but lest your highness be angry with me for not reporting our condition to you. I implore you not to order me to return to England, unless it is possible for me to carry out the law and will of God and the apostolic decrees for the will of man; unless the king returns to me the church lands and everything he took from the archbishopric; and unless he does good to the church and gives adequate compensation. Without these, I would show that I was seeking to put man before God and to have been justly disgraced for seeking the apostolic see. This clearly shows what an injurious and accursed example it would be to those who come after me. Those of little understanding ask why I do not excommunicate the king. Those who are wiser and of sound judgement understand and advise me not to do so, because it is not for me to make complaint or to seek vengeance. Further, our friends under the king’s rule trust me to use excommunication sparingly, for the king would think  little of it and treat it with derision.

Your wise judgement and authority is very important as a guide to us. We implore almighty God, if it 50 please Him, to rule all your acts and to cause His church, under your government, to rejoice in everlasting prosperity. Amen.

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