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57

LETTER XV (circa A.D. 1129)

To Alvisus, Abbot of Anchin

To Alvisus, Abbot of Anchin.1818    A monastery of the Benedictine Order on the river Scarpe two miles from Douai. It dates from 1029, and was at first named S. Saviour.

1. May God render to you the same mercy which you have shown towards your holy son Godwin. I know that at the news of his death you showed yourself unmindful of old complaints, and remembering only your friendship for him, behaved with kindness, not resentment, and putting aside the character of judge, showed yourself a father in circumstances that required it. Therefore, you strove to render to him all the duties of charity and piety which a father ought to render to a son. What better, what more praiseworthy, what more worthy of yourself could you have done? But who believed this? Truly no one knows what is in man, except the spirit of man which is in him (1 Cor. ii. 11). Where is now that austerity, that severity, that indignation which tongue, eyes, and countenance were accustomed to display and terribly to pour upon him? Scarcely is the death of your son named to you than your fatherly bosom is moved. Suddenly all these sentiments which were adopted for a purpose, and therefore only for a time, disappeared, and those which were truly yours, 58but were concealed—charity, piety, benignity—appeared. Therefore, in your pious mind, mercy and truth have met together, and because mercy has certainly prevailed over judgment, righteousness and peace have kissed each other (Ps. lxxxv. 10). For as far as I seem to be able to form an idea, I think I see what passed in your mind then, when truth, fired with zeal for justice, prepared to avenge the injury which it seemed to you had been done. The sentiment of mercy which, after the example of Joseph, prudently dissimulated at first, yet not enduring longer to be concealed, and in this also like to Joseph (Gen. xlv. 1), burst forth from the hidden fount of piety, and making common cause with truth, repressed agitation, calmed wrath, made peace with justice.

2. Then from the pure and peaceful fountain of your heart poured forth like limpid streams such thoughts as these: What need have I to be angry? Would it not be better to pity him, and not to forget what is written, I will have mercy and not sacrifice (Hos. vi. 6), and to fulfil what is ordered, Study to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. iv. 3), so as to be able to count on what is promised, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (S. Matt. v. 7)? After all, was not that man my son? And who can rage against his son?—unless, perhaps, he was only then my son when he was with me, and not also when he deserted me. In withdrawing from me in body for a time, has he withdrawn equally from my heart, or can even death take him away from me? Must the necessity of the body and of place so hamper the freedom of 59souls which love each other? I am quite sure that neither distance of places, nor the absence, or even the death, of our bodies would be able to disjoin those whom one spirit animates, one affection binds together. Finally, if the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God (Wisd. iii. 1), we, both those who are already at rest, having laid down the burden of the flesh, and those who, being still in the flesh, do not war according to the flesh, beyond a doubt are still together. Mine he was when living, mine he will be dead, and I shall recognize him as mine in the common fatherland. If there is any who is able to tear him from the Hands of God, then he may be able to separate him from me also.

3. Thus your affection, father, has enabled you to make excuses for your son. But what has it said of me, or what satisfaction from me will be worthy of you, which you could impose for the great injury inflicted upon you, because when your son left you he was received by me? What can I say? If I should plead I have not received him (would I were able to say so without sin) it would be a falsehood. If I should plead I received him, indeed, but with good reason, I should seem to wish to excuse myself, The safer way will be to answer, I did wrong. But how far did I do wrong? I do not say it by way of defence, but by whom would he not be received? Who, I say, would repel that good man from his door when he knocked, or expel him when once received? But who knows if God did not wish to supply our need out of your abundance, so that He directed to us one of the many holy men who were then in great number in your house, for our 60consolation, indeed, but none the less for a glory to you? “For a wise son is the glory of his father” (Prov. x. 1). Moreover, I did not make any solicitation to him beforehand. I did not gain him over by promises to desert you or to come to us. Quite on the contrary, God is my witness. I did not consent to receive him until he begged me to do so, until he knocked at my door and entreated to have it opened, until I had tried to send him back to you, but as he would not agree to that I at length yielded to his importunity. But if it is a fault that I received him, a monk, a stranger, alone, and received him in the way I did, it will not be unworthy of you to pardon such a fault, which was committed once only, for it is not lawful for you to deny forgiveness even to those who sin against you seventy times seven.

4. But yet I wish that you should know that I do not treat this matter lightly or negligently, and, on the contrary, that I cannot pardon myself for ever having offended your Reverence in any manner. I call God to witness that often I have in mind (since I was not able to do it in body) thrown myself at your feet as a suppliant, and I often see myself before you making apology on my knees. Would that the Holy Spirit who perhaps inspired me with these feelings make you also feel with what tears and regrets worthy of pity I humble myself at this moment before your knees as if you were present. How many times with bare shoulders, and bearing the rods in my hands, prepared, as it were, to strike at your bidding; I seek your pardon, and trembling wait for your forgiveness! I earnestly desire, my father, to learn from you, if it is not too painful for 61you to write to me, that you receive my excuses, so that if they are sufficient I may be consoled by your indulgence, but if, on the contrary, I must be more humiliated (as it is just) that I may endeavour, whatever else I can do, to give you fuller satisfaction. Farewell.


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