chapter  4
32 Pages

The Drama of the Saints

Friendship in the Prayers and Letters of Anselm of Canterbury
WithR. Jacob McDonie

In Chapter 4, contrary to scholarly tradition, I consider Anselm of Canterbury’s Prayers more fertile ground than his letters. Scholars who tend to see Ciceronian friendship rhetoric appearing only in letter collections are not looking broadly enough or beyond the boundaries of similar word phrasing. In his Prayers, Anselm understands with Cicero that friendship (with the saints in prayer, in Anselm’s case) can be dramatically performed, as if on a theatrical or oratorical stage. I examine Anselm’s rhetoric of metaphysical friendship between a sinner-petitioner and the saints, invoked as friends, to whom Anselm prays. The saints in prayer are especially palatable to Anselm because they theoretically accept the petitioner in his abject, indigent state: the saints offer Anselm Ciceronian-rhetorical compassio, present in that moment in a Ciceronian oration when the members of a jury are asked to see the possibility of an abject client’s predicament in their own lives. Indeed, saints were once like Anselm: sinners requiring mercy. Anselm uses a preponderance of rhetorical and dramatic techniques to work his way into friendship with the saints so that they will triangulate his relationship to God. The saints and their recorded Scriptural narratives oblige them to accept Anselm as a friend, because of their shared experience as sinners rendering them equals, and the saints become the grammar of the language of prayer that Anselm otherwise cannot seem to fathom in speaking directly to God.