The letters from Theobald of Bec, Archbishop of Canterbury to Henry Blois bishop of Winchester.


Letter 1. c.1156.

In church and the glitches of the ills suffered by the churches of Christ through the absence of the Shepherd, although not unknown to us in the past, we might well have learned merely from the loss caused by your residence abroad. For it is two years since the famine began in your land, not indeed a famine of victuals, on which the people waxed fat and gross and thick, so that by their satiety they are turned away from the worship of God and oft times kick against his laws, but a famine of the word of God which is denied him. Indeed, the little children have lacked bread and there was none to break it for them. But if we go to any of our neighbours to borrow only three loaves of the gospel for your household, we at once get into difficulty with those from whom we would borrow; we are met with such a host of excuses, that because his children are in bed scarce any man rises to answer our importunity and open the door even to us out of respect for our office. If out of sheer necessity we take refuge with a stranger or alien, we are afraid lest, if we ask for a fish he may give us a serpent, or if we ask for an egg he may give us a scorpion. Moreover, your sheep either do not hear the voice of strangers or at best hear them but ill. In a word we cannot describe to you the loss of the Lord God, which they daily suffer in their life and character. Here therefore, dearest brother in the Lord the lamentation of the hungry, hear the voices of the little ones as they cry, hear the voice of the bride who is sick with love and pines with longing for you. Here also the voice of her spouse, who has set you over his family that you may give them their food in due season. Return to your church and illumine all this island with the rays of your wisdom and virtue; and do not, care for the loss of worldly goods, whose concern is the peril of men’s souls. Surely it is better and more just that you should devote your vigilance and care to the churches committed to your charge rather than those that belong to others. Our Lord the King has assured us of your safety, and except for two persons, whom he excludes by name, you will be able to introduce to his favour anyone you please; and we shall rejoice at your return and gladly give you all the help or counsel that we can. Farewell.

Letter 2. Written late 1156 to early 1157

We believe it to be our duty to point out to our friends in the hour of their temptation that path of wisdom which it seems to us should be chosen before all others being no less advantageous than it is honourable. And even though the mind of one in doubt may refuse to obey the righteous counsel of another, nonetheless the persistence of love will never rest until it draws the reluctant friend to follow the way of righteousness, even though it be against his will. Even so, my reverend and most loving brother in the Lord, we have already had demolished due to return to your own duties, for we believe that nothing could more conduce to your own honour or to the profit of the church. For to say nothing of other considerations, too long to set down here, assuredly the decay of walls; nor should you grieve for the loss of things temporal when you are incurring the loss of things eternal. For of two griefs within the same heart the greater diminishes the importance of the other. God forbid that any man should dare to suspect of one as wise as you, that wealth, the most worthless of all things should move you, when the peril for men’s souls is so important. God forbid that malice should be enabled to assail you with the ancient proverb of which it is so fond saying: that which you weep for, proves you loved it once.

You have the choice between two alternatives. Either you desire to risk a quarrel, or you wish for peace. If you preferred the uncertainties of a quarrel, note that nothing is more shameful than to be defeated by your own weapons and to have your throat cut by your own sword; if you wish the peace, return, and it is peace. But you are afraid, and that too, when there is nothing to fear. It has never entered into the mind of our serene Lord the King to tarnish the innocence of his life, the integrity of his reputation and the glory of his realm with such dishonourable crime that he should for any reason stretched forth his hand upon the Lord’s anointed, or should suffer him to be insulted by any man. He is indeed much distressed that you believe it necessary to seek for a safe conduct, since he has never hurt any of those who have come to him, however great that quarrel in the past. Why then were you afraid when he summoned you home by his letters and his voice, which was the voice of us all? But, you say, the mandate of the Lord Pope and the necessity of your Cluniacs detains you. Nay, the Lord Pope himself will rejoice at your return, for he does not wish that this mandate should be prejudicial to your interest, and you surely do not doubt that you are far more strongly bound to the churches of Winchester and Glastonbury than to that of Cluny. Indeed you were given your release by the Cluniacs when you undertook the rule of those two churches. Why then did you leave them for Cluny? It is just that while they are hungry, Cluny should feed on their bread? This is the complaint, not merely of our Lord the King, but of almost everyone. Do you consider whether that complaint be just? He further complains that by your absence he has been deprived of your counsel and your aid in the necessities of the realm, although, according to the Lord’s commands, the things that are Caesar’s should be rendered to Caesar. Consequently, there were a number of persons who urged him to deal hardly with your entire household and to lay hands on all the goods of your church, including its innermost treasured chambers. But he himself, though many egg him on, holds his hands and wait for your return, leaving matters as they are. If by this obstinacy you expose your church and all your followers to the King’s indignation, it is to be feared that worse things even than you fear may come to pass and that you may find that the troubles which you foresee and are not willing to meet, may subsequently prove far more serious. We therefore pray you and in virtue of our love for you, counsel you to return; as soon as we hear that you have reach Boulogne, we will hasten to meet you on our shore, in order that we may arrange that you shall come to the King with all honour and that all your heavy toils may find a happy conclusion.

Letter 3. Written late 1157

We greatly rejoice to hear from your messenger that you are safe, but for your integrity of mind, which is steeled against all material loss, we thank the most high, the giver of all good things. The loss of your possessions would have been a grievous trial, had it not fallen on a courageous spirit; but your courage shall shine forth more brightly, if after having been tried by the fire of tribulation, you return to your fold, which owing to the absence of its Shepherd is exposed to the fangs of those who lie in wait for it. You need have no fear for the future, dear brother, because the King himself is longing for your return and promises peace and security of every kind; and that you may not have the least doubt of this, we are taking your safety into our hands by giving you safe conduct from the coast to the King’s presence, and we will provide for your lodging there, and return thence, if it be expedient. If therefore you love your church and if you love your soul, or rather because you do love both, not that the opportunity is offered delay your return no longer, lest, which God forbid it, as we have often said, your last state be ever worse than the first. For the indignation of the ruler whom the Lord has set over us will be doubled, if he sense that the favour he has offered has been scorned.

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