Gregory the Great, Dialogues (1911) Book 3. pp. 105-174
Chapter Thirty-two: of certain Bishops of Africa, who had their tongues cut out by the Vandals, that were Arian heretics, for the defence of the Catholic faith; and yet spake still as perfectly as they did before.
Being careful to entreat of such fathers as lived not long since, I passed over the worthy acts of those that were in former times: so that I had almost forgot the miracle of Paulinus, Bishop of Nola, who both for time was more ancient, and for virtue more notable, than many of those which I have spoken of: wherefore I will now speak of him, but as briefly as I can. For as the life and actions of good men are soonest known to such as be like them, so the famous name of venerable Paulinus became known to mine holy elders, and his admirable fact served for their instruction: who, for their gravity and old years, are as well to be credited, as if that which they reported they had seen with their own eyes.
Chapter One: of St. Paulinus, Bishop of the City of Nola.1
When as in the time of the cruel Vandals, that part of Italy which is called Campania was overrun and sacked, and many were from thence carried captive into Africa: then the servant of God, Paulinus, bestowed all the wealth of his Bishopric upon prisoners and poor people. And not having now anything more left, a certain widow came unto him, lamenting how her son was taken prisoner by one that was son-in-law to the king of the Vandals, and by him carried away to be his slave: and therefore she besought him, that he would vouchsafe to help her with a ransom for the redeeming of her son. But the man of God, seeking what he had |106 to give the poor woman, found nothing left but himself alone, and therefore he answered her in this manner: "Good woman, nothing have I to help thee withal but myself, and therefore take me, and a God's name say that I am your servant, and see whether he will receive me for his slave, and so set your son at liberty": which words she hearing from the mouth of so notable a man, took them rather for a mock, than to proceed indeed from true compassion. But as he was an eloquent man, and passing well learned in humanity, so did he quickly persuade the doubtful woman to give credit to his words, and not to be afraid to offer a Bishop for the ransom of her son; whereupon awaythey travelled both into Africa. And when the king's son-in-law came abroad, the widow put up her petition concerning her son, humbly beseeching him that he would vouchsafe to set him now at liberty, and bestow him upon his mother. But the barbarous man, swelling with pride and puffed up with the joy of transitory prosperity, refused not only to do it, but disdained also to give any ear to her petition. This way therefore taking no success, the desolate widow tried the next, and said unto him: "Behold, I give you here this man instead of him, only take compassion on me, and restore to me mine only son." At which words he, casting his eyes upon Paulinus, and seeing him to have an honest and good face, asked him of what occupation he was: to whom the man of God answered: "Trade or occupation I can none, but some skill I have in keeping of a garden." This pleased the Pagan very well, whereupon he admitted him for his servant, and restored the widow her son, with whom she departed out of Africa, and Paulinus took charge of the garden. The king's son-in-law coming often into the garden, demanded certain questions of his new man, and perceiving him to be very wise and of good judgment, he began to give over the company of his old familiar friends, and conversed much with his gardener, |107 taking great pleasure in his talk. Every day Paulinus brought him to his table divers sorts of green herbs, and after dinner returned to his garden. After he had used this a long time, upon a day, as his master and he were in secret talk together, Paulinus spake unto him in this manner: "Consider, my Lord, what is your best course, and how the kingdom of the Vandals shall be disposed of, for the king is to die shortly": which news, because he was in special grace with the king, he gave him to understand, adding that his gardener, who was a passing wise man, had told him so much. The king, hearing this, was desirous to see the man he spake of: "Your Majesty," quoth he, "shall see him, for his manner is to bring me in daily fresh herbs for my dinner, and I will give orders that he shall do it in your presence": which direction being given, as the king sat at dinner, Paulinus came in, bringing with him divers sallettes and fresh herbs: whom so soon as the king beheld, he fell a trembling, and sending for Paulinus' master (who by the marriage of his daughter was so near allied unto him), acquainted him with that secret which before he had concealed, saying: "It is very true that which you have heard, for the last night, in a dream, I saw certain judges in their seats sitting upon me, amongst whom this man also sat for one: and by their sentence that whip was taken from me, which for the punishment of others some time I had. But inquire, I pray you, what he is, for I do not think one of so great merit to be an ordinary man, as he outwardly seemeth." Then the king's son-in-law took Paulinus in secret, and asked him what he was: to whom the man of God answered: "Your servant I am," quoth he, "whom you took for the ransom of the widow's son "; but when he would not be satisfied with that answer, but did instantly press him to tell, not what he was now, but what he had been in his own country, and did urge him very often to answer to this point: the man of God, |108 adjured so strictly, not being able any longer to deny his request, told him that he was a Bishop; which his master and lord hearing became wonderfully afraid, and humbly offered him, saying: "Demand what you will, that you may be well rewarded of me, and so return home to your country." To whom the man of God, Paulinus, said: "One thing there is wherein you may much pleasure me, and that is, to set at liberty all those that be of my city": which suit he obtained, for straightways throughout Africa all were sought out, their ships laden with wheat, and to give venerable Paulinus satisfaction, they were all discharged, and in his company sent home: and not long after the king of the Vandals died, and so he lost that whip and severe government, which to his own destruction and the punishment of Christians by God's providence he had before received. And thus it came to pass that Paulinus, the servant of almighty God, told truth, and he that voluntarily alone made himself a bondman, returned not back alone, but with many from captivity: imitating him who took upon him the form of a servant, that we should not be servants to sin: for Paulinus, following his example, became himself for a time a servant alone, that afterward he might be made free with many.
PETER. When I hear that which I cannot imitate, I desire rather to weep than to say anything.
GREGORY. Concerning this holy man's death, it remaineth yet in the records of his own church, how that he was with a pain of his side brought to the last cast: and that, whiles all the rest of the house stood sound, the chamber only in which he lay sick was shaken with an earthquake, and so his soul was loosed from his body: and by this means it fell out, that they were all stricken with a great fear that might have seen Paulinus departing this life. But because his virtue by that which I spoke of before is sufficiently handled, now, if you please, we will come |109 to other miracles, which are both known to many, and which I have heard by the relation of such persons, that I can make no doubt but that they be most true.
Chapter Two: of St. John, the Pope.
In the time of the Goths, when the most blessed man John, Bishop of this church of Rome, travelled to the Emperor Justinian the elder,2 he came into the country of Corinth, where he lacked an horse to ride upon: which a certain noble man understanding, lent him that horse which, because he was gentle, his wife used for her own saddle, with order that when he came where he could provide himself of another, his wife's horse should be sent back again. And so the Bishop rode upon him, until he came to a certain place where he got another, and then he returned that which he had borrowed. But afterward, when his wife came to take his back, as before she used, by no means could she do it, because the horse, having carried so great a Bishop, would not suffer a woman to come any more upon his back, and therefore he began with monstrous snorting, neighing, and continual stirring, as it were in scorn, to shew that he could not bear any woman, upon whom the Pope himself had ridden: which thing her husband wisely considering, straightways sent him again to the holy man, beseeching him to accept of that horse, which by riding he had dedicated to his own service. Of the same man, another miracle is also reported by our ancestors: to wit, that in Constantinople, when he came to the gate called Aurea, where he was met with great numbers of people, in the presence of them all, he restored sight to a blind man that did instantly crave it: for laying his hand upon him, he banished away that darkness which possessed his eyes.
Chapter Three; of St. Agapitus, the Pope.3
Not long after, about business concerning the Goths, the most blessed man Agapitus, Bishop of this holy church of Rome (in which by God's providence I do now serve), |110 went to the Emperor Justinian. And, as he was travelling through Greece, a dumb and lame man was brought unto him for help. The holy man carefully demanded of his kinsfolk, that brought him thither and stood there weeping, whether they did believe that it was in his power to cure him: who answered, that they did firmly hope that he might help him in the virtue of God by the authority of St. Peter: upon which words forthwith the venerable man fell to his prayers, and beginning solemn mass, he offered sacrifice in the sight of almighty God: which being ended, he came from the altar, took the lame man by the hand, and straightways, in the presence and sight of all the people, he restored him to the use of his legs: and after he had put our Lord's body into his mouth, that tongue, which long time before had not spoken, was loosed. At which miracle all did wonder, and began to weep for joy: and forthwith both fear and reverence possessed their minds, beholding what Agapitus could do in the power of our Lord, by the help of St. Peter.
Chapter Four: of Datius, Bishop of Milan.4
In the time of the same Emperor, Datius, Bishop of Milan, about matters of religion, travelled to Constantinople. And coming to Corinth, he sought for a large house to receive him and his company, and could scarce find any: at length he saw afar off a fair great house, which he commanded to be provided for him: and when the inhabitants of that place told him that it was for many years haunted by the devil, and therefore stood empty: "so much the sooner," quoth the venerable man, "ought we to lodge in it, if the wicked spirit hath taken possession thereof, and will not suffer men to dwell in it." Whereupon he gave order to have it made ready: which being done, he went without all fear to combat with the old enemy. In the dead of the night, when the man of God was asleep, the devil began, with an huge noise and great outcry, to imitate the roaring of lions, the bleating of |111 sheep, the braying of asses, the hissing of serpents, the grunting of hogs, and the screeching of rats. Datius, suddenly awaked with the noise of so many beasts, rose up, and in great anger spake aloud to the old serpent, and said: "Thou art served well, thou wretched creature: thou art he that diddest say: I will place my seat in the north, and I will be like to the highest:5 and now through thy pride, see how thou art become like unto hogs and rats; and thou that wouldest needs unworthily be like unto God, behold how thou dost now, according to thy deserts, imitate brute beasts." At these words the wicked serpent was, as I may well term it, ashamed, that he was so disgraciously and basely put down, for well may I say that he was ashamed, who never after troubled that house with any such terrible and monstrous shapes as before he did: for ever after that time, Christian men did inhabit the same; for so soon as one man that was a true and faithful Christian took possession thereof, the lying and faithless spirit straightways did forsake it. But I will now surcease from speaking of things done in former times, and come to such miracles as have happened in our own days.
Chapter Five; of Sabinus, Bishop of Camisina.6
Certain religious men, well known in the province of Apulia, do report that which many both far and near know to be most true, and that is of Sabinus, Bishop of Camisina: who, by reason of his great age, was become so blind that he saw nothing at all. And for as much as Totila, King of the Goths, hearing that he had the gift of prophecy, and would not believe it, but was desirous to prove whether it were so or no, it fell so out, that coming into those parts, the man of God did invite him to dinner. And when the meat was brought in, the King would not sit at the table, but sat beside at the right hand of venerable Sabinus: and when |112 the Bishop's man brought him, as he used to do, a cup of wine, the King softly put forth his hand, took the cup, and gave it himself to the Bishop, to try whether he could tell who he was that gave him the wine. Then the man of God taking the cup, but not seeing him that did deliver it, said: "Blessed be that hand." At which words the King very merrily blushed, because, albeit he was taken, yet did he find that gift in the man of God which before he desired to know. The same reverent man, to give good example of life to others, lived until he was passing old: which nothing pleased his Archdeacon, that desired his Bishopric: and therefore upon ambition he sought how to dispatch him with poison, and for that purpose corrupted his cup-bearer, who, overcome with money, offered the Bishop at dinner that poison in his wine which he had received of the Archdeacon. The holy man, knowing what he brought, willed himself to drink that which he offered him. The wretch trembled at those words, and perceiving his villany to be detected, thought better to drink it, and so quickly dispatch himself, than with shame to suffer torments for the sin of so horrible a murder: but as he was putting the cup to his mouth, the man of God hindered him, saying: "Do not take it, but give it me, and I will drink it myself, but go thy way, and tell him that gave it thee, that I will drink the poison, but yet shall he never live to be Bishop": and so blessing the cup with the sign of the cross, he drunk it without any harm at all; at which very time the Archdeacon, being in another place, departed this life; as though that poison had by the Bishop's mouth passed to his Archdeacon's bowels: for although he had no corporal poison to kill him, yet the venom of his own malice did destroy him in the sight of the everlasting Judge.
PETER. These be strange things, and much in our days to be wondered at: yet the life of the man is such, that |113 he which knoweth his holy conversation hath no such cause to marvel at the miracle.
Chapter Six: of Cassius, Bishop of Narni.
GREGORY. Neither can I, Peter, pass over with silence that thing, which many of the city of Narni, which be here present, affirm to be most true. For in the time of the same Goths, the foresaid King Totila coming to Narni, Cassius, a man of venerable life, Bishop of the same city, went forth to meet him, whom the king utterly contemned, because his face was high-coloured, thinking that it proceeded not from any other cause than drinking. But almighty God, to show how worthy a man was despised, permitted a wicked spirit before his whole army, in the fields of Narni, where the king also himself was, to possess one of his guard, and cruelly to torment him. Straight ways was he brought to the venerable man Cassius, in the presence of the king: who praying to God for him, and making the sign of the cross, forthwith he cast out the devil, so that never after he durst presume any more to enter into his body. And by this means it fell out that the barbarous king, from that day forward, did with his heart much reverence the servant of God, whom before by his face he judged to be a man of no account: for seeing him now to be one of such power and virtue, he gave over those proud thoughts which before he had conceived.
Chapter Seven: of Andrew, Bishop of Funda.
But as I am thus busied in telling the acts of holy men, there cometh to my mind what God of his great mercy did for Andrew, Bishop of the city of Funda: which notable story I wish all so to read, that they which have dedicated themselves to continency, presume not in any wise to dwell amongst women: lest in time of temptation their soul perish the sooner, by having that at hand which is unlawfully desired. |114 Neither is the story which I report either doubtful or uncertain: for so many witnesses to justify the truth thereof may be produced, as there be almost inhabitants in that city. When, therefore, this venerable man Andrew lived virtuously, and with diligent care, answerable to his priestly function, led a continent and chaste life: he kept in his house a certain Nun, which also had remained with him before he was preferred to that dignity; for assuring himself of his own continency, and nothing doubting of hers, content he was to let her remain still in his house: which thing the devil took as an occasion to assault him with temptation: and so he began to present before the eyes of his mind the form of that woman, that by such allurements he might have his heart wholly possessed with ungodly thoughts. In the meantime it so fell out, that a Jew was travelling from Campania to Rome, who drawing nigh to the city of Funda, was so overtaken with night, that he knew not where to lodge, and therefore, not finding any better commodity, he retired himself into a temple of the god Apollo, which was not far off, meaning there to repose himself: but much afraid he was, to lie in so wicked and sacrilegious a place: for which cause, though he believed not what we teach of the cross, yet he thought good to arm himself with that sign. About midnight, as he lay waking for very fear of that forlorn and desert temple, and looked suddenly about him, he espied a troop of wicked spirits walking before another of greater authority: who coming in took up his place, and sat down in the body of the temple: where he began diligently to inquire of those his servants, how they had bestowed their time, and what villany they had done in the world. And when each one told what he had done against God's servants, out stepped a companion, and made solemn relation, with a notable temptation of carnality he had put into the mind of |115 Bishop Andrew, concerning that Nun which he kept in his palace: whereunto whiles the master devil gave attentive ear, considering with himself what a notable gain it would be, to undo the soul of so holy a man; the former devil went on with his tale, and said that the very evening before he assaulted him so mightily, that he drew him so far forth, that he did merrily strike the said Nun upon the back. The wicked serpent and old enemy of mankind hearing this joyful news, exhorted his agent with very fair words, diligently to labour about the effecting of that thing which he had already so well begun, that for so notable a piece of service, as the contriving the spiritual ruin of that virtuous Prelate, he might have a singular reward above all his fellows. The Jew who all this while lay waking, and heard all that which they said, was wonderfully afraid: at length the master devil sent some of his followers to see who he was, and how he durst presume to lodge in their temple. When they were come, and had narrowly viewed him, they found that he was marked with the mystical sign of the cross: whereat they marvelled and said: "Alas, alas, here is an empty vessel, but yet it is signed": which news the rest of those hell-hounds hearing, suddenly vanished away. The Jew, who had seen all that which then passed among them, presently rose up, and in all haste sped himself to the Bishop, whom he found in the church: and taking him aside, he demanded with what temptation he was troubled: but shame so prevailed, that by no means he would confess the truth. Then the Jew replied and told him, that he had cast his eyes wickedly upon such a one of God's servants; but the Bishop would not acknowledge that there was any such thing. "Why do you deny it," quoth the Jew, "for is it not so true that yesternight you were brought so far by sinful temptation, that you did strike her on the back?" When the Bishop, by these particulars, |116 perceived that the matter was broken forth, he humbly confessed what before he obstinately denied. Then the Jew, moved with compassion to his soul, and tendering his credit, told him by what means he came to the knowledge thereof, and what he heard of him in that assembly of wicked spirits. The Bishop, hearing this, fell prostrate upon the earth, and betook himself to his prayers: and straight after he discharged out of his house, not only that Nun, but all other women that attended upon her. And not long after, he converted the temple of Apollo into an oratory of the blessed Apostle, St. Andrew: and never after was he troubled with that carnal temptation: and the Jew, by whose means he was so mercifully preserved, he brought to everlasting salvation: for he baptized him, and made him a member of holy Church, And thus, by God's providence, the Jew having care of the spiritual health of another, attained also himself the singular benefit of the same: and almighty God by the same means brought one to embrace piety and virtue, by which he preserved another in an holy and godly life.
PETER. This history which I have heard worketh in me fear, and yet withal giveth me cause of hope.
GREGORY. That is not amiss, Peter, for necessary it is that we should both trust upon the mercy of God, and yet, considering our own frailty, be afraid: for we have now heard how one of the cedars of Paradise was shaken, and yet not blown down, to the end that, knowing our own infirmity, we should both tremble at his shaking, and yet conceive hope, in that he was not overthrown, but kept his standing still.
Chapter Eight: of Constantius, Bishop of Aquinum.
Constantius, likewise a man of holy life, was Bishop of Aquinum, who not long since died, in the time of Pope John of blessed memory,7 my predecessor: many that knew him familiarly, say that he had |117 the gift of prophecy. And amongst divers other things which he did, religious and honest men then present report that, lying upon his deathbed, the citizens that stood about him wept bitterly, and asked him with tears, who should be their father and Bishop after him. To whom by the spirit of prophecy he answered, saying: "After Constantius, you shall have a muleteer, and after a muleteer, a fuller of cloth: and these men," quoth he, "be now in the city of Aquinum": and having spoken these prophetical words, he gave up the ghost. After whose departure one Andrew, his Deacon, was made Bishop: who in times past had kept mules and post horses. And when he died, one Jovinus was preferred to that dignity, who in former times had been a fuller in the same city: in whose days all the citizens were so wasted, some by the sword of barbarous people, and some by a terrible plague, that after his death neither could any be found to be made Bishop, nor yet any people for whose sake he should be created. And so the saying of the man of God was fulfilled, in that his church, after the death of two that followed him, had no Bishop at all.
Chapter Nine: of Frigidianus, Bishop of Lucca.8
But I must not forget to tell you what I heard of the reverent man Venantius, Bishop of Luna, some two days ago: who said that there was, nigh unto him, a man of rare virtue called Frigidianus, Bishop of Lucca, who wrought a strange miracle, which, as he saith, all the inhabitants of that place do speak of, and it was this. Hard by the walls of the city, there runneth a river called Anser, which divers times doth so swell and overflow the banks, that it drowneth many acres of ground, and spoileth much corn and fruit. The inhabitants, enforced by necessity, seeing that this did often happen, went about by all means possible to turn the stream another way: but when they had bestowed |118 much labour, yet could they not cause it to leave the old channel. Whereupon the man of God, Frigidianus, made a little rake, and came to the river, where all alone he bestowed some time in prayer; and then he commanded the river to follow him, and going before, he drew his rake over such places as he thought good, and the whole river, forsaking the old channel, did follow him, and kept possession of that which the holy man by that sign of his rake had appointed: and so never afterward did it hurt any more either corn or other things planted for the maintenance of men.
Chapter Ten; of Sabinus, Bishop of Placentia.
The same Venantius told me likewise another miracle, done as he said in the city of Placentia,9 which one John, the servant of God, and a man of credit living now here amongst us, and who was born and brought up in that city, affirmeth also to be most true. For in that town of Placentia, they say that there was a Bishop of wonderful virtue, called Sabinus: who understanding by one of his Deacons, that the great river of Po was broken forth, and had overflowed the land which belonged to the church, and done much harm, he bad him go unto the river, and deliver it this message from him: "The Bishop commandeth you to retire, and keep yourself within your own bounds." His Deacon, hearing these words, scornfully contemned to be employed in any such business. Then the man of God, Sabinus, sent for a notary, and willed him to write these words: "Sabinus, the servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, sendeth admonition to Po. I command thee, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou come not out of thy channel, nor presume any more to hurt the lands of the church." This short letter he bad the notary write, and when he had so done, to go and cast it into the river. The notary did as he bad him, and the river obeyed the precept of the holy man, for straightways it withdrew |119 itself from the church-lands, returned to his own channel, and never presumed any more to overflow those grounds. By which fact, Peter, the pride of disobedient men is confounded, seeing that the very senseless element, in the name of Jesus, obeyed the holy man's commandment.
Chapter Eleven: of Cerbonius, Bishop of Populonium.10
Cerbonius, also a man of holy life, Bishop of Populonium, hath made great proof in our time of his rare virtue. For being much given to hospitality, upon a certain day he gave entertainment to divers soldiers, which, for fear of the Goths (that passed likewise by his house), he conveyed out of the way, and so saved their lives from those wicked men. Totila, their impious king, having intelligence thereof, in great rage and cruelty commanded him to be brought unto a place called Merulis (eight miles from Populonium), where he remained with his whole army, and in the sight of the people to be cast unto wild bears to be devoured. And because the wicked king would needs be present himself, to behold the Bishop torn in pieces, great store of people were likewise assembled, to see that pitiful pageant. The Bishop was brought forth, and a terrible bear provided, that might in cruel manner tear his body in pieces, so to satisfy the mind of that bloody king. Out of his den was the beast let loose, who in great fury and haste set upon the Bishop: but suddenly, forgetting all cruelty, with bowed neck and humbled head, he began to lick his feet: to give them all to understand that men carried towards the man of God the hearts of beasts, and the beasts as it were the heart of a man. At this sight the people, with great shouting and outcries, declared how highly they did admire the holy man: and the king himself was moved to have him in great reverence: and so by God's providence it fell out, that he which before refused to obey and follow God by saving |120 the Bishop's life, was brought to do it by the miraculous meekness of a cruel bear. Many of them which were then present, and saw it, be yet living, who do all affirm this to be most true.
Another miracle concerning the same man I heard of Venantius, Bishop of Luna, and it was this. Cerbonius had in the church of Populonium a tomb provided for himself; but when the Lombards invaded Italy, and spoiled all that country, he retired himself into the island of Elba. Where falling sore sick, before his death he commanded his chaplains to bury his body in the foresaid tomb at Populonium: and when they told him how hard a thing it was by reason of the Lombards, which were lords of the country, and did range up and down in all places: "Carry me thither," quoth he, "securely, and fear nothing, but bury me in all haste, and that being done, come away as fast as you can." For performing of this his will they provided a ship, and away they went with his body towards Populonium: in which journey there fell great store of rain, but that the world might know whose body was transported in that ship, in that twelve miles' space which is betwixt the island and Populonium, a great storm of rain fell upon both sides of the ship, but not one drop within. When they were come to the place, they buried his body, and, according to his commandment, returned to their ship with all speed: and they were no sooner aboard, than there entered into the church, where the Bishop was buried, a most cruel captain of the Lombards called Gunmar. By whose sudden coming to that place, it appeared plainly that the man of God had the spirit of prophecy, when he willed them in all haste to depart from the place of his burial.
Chapter Twelve: of Fulgentius, Bishop of Otricoli.11
The very same miracle, which I told you concerning the division of the rain, happened likewise to the great veneration of another Bishop. For a certain |121 old Priest, who yet liveth, was then present when it happened, and saith that Fulgentius, Bishop of Otricoli, was in disgrace with that cruel tyrant Totila: and therefore, as he was passing that way with his army, the Bishop did carefully beforehand by his chaplains send him certain presents, by that means, if it were possible, to mitigate his furious mind. But the tyrant contemned them, and in great rage commanded his soldiers hardly to bind the Bishop, and to keep him safe until he had heard his examination. The merciless Goths executed his cruel commandment: and setting him upon a piece of ground, they made a circle round about him, out of which they commanded him not to stir his foot. Whiles the man of God stood there in great extremity of heat, environed round about with those Goths, suddenly there fell such thunder and lightning, and such plenty of rain, that his keepers could not endure that terrible storm: and yet for all that, not one drop fell within the circle, where the man of God, Fulgentius, stood. Which strange news being told to that tyrannical king, his barbarous mind was brought to have him in great reverence, whose torment before he desired and so cruelly thirsted after his blood. Thus almighty God, to bring down the lofty minds of carnal men, doth work miracles by such as they most contemn: that truth, proceeding from the mouths of his humble servants, may subdue those, which of pride do extol and advance themselves against the doctrine of truth.
Chapter Thirteen: of Herculanus, Bishop of Perusium.12
Not long since, the virtuous Bishop Floridus told me a notable miracle, which was this. "The great holy man," quoth he, "Herculanus, who brought me up, was Bishop of Perusium, exalted to that dignity from the state of a monk: in whose time the perfidious king Totila besieged it for seven years together, and the famine within was so great that many of the townsmen |122 forsook the place: and before the seventh year was ended, the army of the Goths took the city. The commander of his camp dispatched messengers to Totila, to know his pleasure what he should do with the Bishop, and the rest of the citizens: to whom he returned answer, that he should, from the top of the Bishop's head to his very foot, cut off a thong of his skin, and that done, to strike off his head: and as for the rest of the people, to put them all to the sword. When he had received this order, he commanded the reverent Bishop Herculanus to be carried to the walls, and there to have his head strooken off, and when he was dead, that his skin should be cut from the very crown down to the very foot, as though indeed a thong had been taken from his body; after which barbarous fact they threw his dead corpse over the wall. Then some upon pity, joining the head to the body, did bury him, together with an infant that was there found dead. Forty days after, Totila making proclamation that the inhabitants, which were gone, should without all fear come back again: those, which upon extremity of hunger departed, returned home to their houses, and calling to mind the holy life of their Bishop, they sought for his body, that it might, as he deserved, be buried in the church of St. Peter. And when they came to the place where it lay, they digged, and found the body of the infant that was buried together with him, putrefied and full of worms: but the Bishop's body was so sound as though it had been newly put into the earth, and that which is more to be admired, and deserveth greater reverence, his head was so fast joined to his body as though it had never been cut off, neither did any sign of his beheading appear at all. Then they viewed likewise his back, whether that were also whole and sound, and they found it so perfect and well, as though never any knife had touched the same."
PETER. Who would not wonder at such miracles of them |123 that be dead: wrought, no question, for the spiritual good of the living?
Chapter Fourteen: of the servant of God, Isaac.13
GREGORY. At such time as the Goths first invaded Italy, there was, near to the city of Spoleto, a virtuous and holy man called Isaac: who lived almost to the last days of the Goths, whom many did know, and especially the holy virgin Gregoria, which now dwelleth in this city, hard by the church of the blessed and perpetual Virgin Mary: which woman, in her younger years, desiring to live a nun's life, fled to the church from marriage, already agreed upon by her friends, and was by this man defended: and so, through God's providence, obtained to have that habit which so much she desired, and so,leaving her spouse upon earth, she merited a spouse in heaven. Many things also I had by the relation of the reverent man Eleutherius,who was familiarly acquainted with him; and his virtuous life doth give credit to his words. This holy man Isaac was not born in Italy; and therefore I will only speak of such miracles as he did living here in our country. At his first coming out of Syria to the city of Spoleto, he went to the church, and desired the keepers that he might have free leave to pray there, and not to be enforced to depart when night came. And so he began his devotions, and spent all that day in prayer, and likewise the night following. The second day and night he bestowed in the same manner, and remained there also the third day: which when one of the keepers of the church perceived, who was a man of a proud spirit, he took scandal by that, whereof he ought to have reaped great profit. For he began to say that he was an hypocrite and cozening companion, who in the sight of the world remained at his prayers three days and three nights together: and forthwith running upon the man of God, he strook him, to make him by that means with shame to depart the church as an hypocrite, and one that desired |124 to be reputed an holy man. But to revenge this injury, a wicked spirit did presently possess his body, who cast him down at the feet of the man of God, and began by his mouth to cry out: "Isaac doth cast me forth, Isaac doth cast me forth." For what name the strange man had, none at that time did know, but the wicked spirit told it, when he cried out that he had power to cast him out. Straightways the man of God laid himself upon his body, and the cursed devil that was entered in, departed in all haste. News of this was by and by blown over the whole city, and men and women, rich and poor, came running, every one striving to bring him home to their own house: some for the building of an Abbey, did humbly offer him lands, others money, and some such other helps as they could. But the servant of almighty God, refusing to accept any of their offers, departed out of the city, and not far off he found a desert place, where he built a little cottage for himself: to whom many repairing began by his example to be inflamed with the love of everlasting life, and so, under his discipline and government, gave themselves to the service of almighty God. And when his disciples would often humbly insinuate, that it were good for the necessity of the Abbey to take such livings as were offered, he, very careful to keep poverty, told them constantly, saying: "A monk that seeketh for livings upon earth is no monk": for so fearful he was to lose the secure state of his poverty, as covetous rich men are careful to preserve their corruptible wealth.
In that place, therefore, he became famous for the spirit of prophecy: and his life was renowned far and near, for the notable miracles which he wrought. For upon a day, towards evening, he caused his monks to lay a certain number of spades in the garden. The night following, when according to custom they rose up to their prayers, he commanded them, saying: "Go your ways, and make pottage for our workmen, that it may be ready very early |125 in the morning." And when it was day, he bad them bring the pottage which they had provided; and going with his monks into the garden, he found there so many men working as he had commanded them to lay spades: for it fell so out, that certain thieves were entered in to spoil and rob it; but God changing their minds, they took the spades which they found there, and so wrought from the time of their first entrance, until the man of God came unto them: and all such parts of the ground as before were not manured, they had digged up and made ready. When the man of God was come, he saluted them in this wise: "God save you, good brethren: you have laboured long, wherefore now rest yourselves ": then he caused such provision as he had brought to be set before them, and so after their labour and pains refreshed them. When they had eaten that was sufficient, he spake thus unto them: "Do not hereafter any more harm: but when you desire anything that is in the garden, come to the gate, quietly ask it, and take it a God's blessing, but steal no more": and so bestowing upon them good store of worts, he sent them away. And by this means it fell out that they which came into the garden to do harm, departed thence not doing any damage at all, and besides had the reward of their pains, and somewhat also of charity bestowed upon them.
At another time, there came unto him certain strange men a begging, so torn and tattered, that they had scant any rags to cover them, humbly beseeching him to help them with some clothes. The man of God, hearing their demand, gave them no answer: but secretly calling for one of his monks, bad him go into such a wood, and in such a place of the wood to seek for an hollow tree, and to bring unto him that apparel which he found there. The monk went his way, and brought closely to his master that which he had found. Then the man of God called for those poor naked men, and gave them that apparel, |126 saying: "Put on these clothes to cover your naked bodies withal." They, seeing their own garments, were wonderfully confounded: for thinking by cunning to have gotten other men's apparel, with shame they received only their own.
Again, at another time, one there was that commended himself to his prayers, and sent him by his servant two baskets full of meat: one of the which, as he was in his journey, he took away, and hid in a bush till his return back again; and the other he presented to the man of God, telling him how his master had sent him that, heartily commending himself to his prayers. The holy man took that which was sent very kindly, giving the messenger this good lesson: "I pray thee, my friend, to thank thy master, and take heed how thou dost lay hand upon the basket, for a snake is crept in, and therefore be careful, lest otherwise it doth sting thee.'' At these words the messenger was pitifully confounded, and though glad he was that by this means he escaped death, yet somewhat grieved that he was put to that shame. Coming back to the basket, very diligent and careful he was in touching it; for as the man of God had told him, a snake in very deed was got in. This holy man, therefore, albeit he were incomparably adorned with the virtue of abstinence, contempt of worldly wealth, the spirit of prophecy, and perseverance in prayer: yet one thing there was in him which seemed reprehensible, to wit, that sometime he would so exceed in mirth, that if men had not known him to have been so full of virtue, none would ever have thought it.
PETER. What, I beseech you, shall we say to that? for did he willingly give himself sometime to such recreation: or else excelling in virtue, was he, contrary to his own mind, drawn sometime to present mirth?
GREGORY. God's providence, Peter, in bestowing of his gifts, is wonderful: for often it falleth out, that upon |127 whom he vouchsafeth the greater, he giveth not the less: to the end that always they may have somewhat to mis-like in themselves: so that desiring to arrive unto perfection and yet can not: and labouring about that which they have not obtained, and can not prevail: by this means they become not proud of those gifts which they have received, but do thereby learn that they have not those greater graces of themselves, who of themselves cannot overcome small faults. And this was the cause that, when God had brought his people into the land of promise, and destroyed all their mighty and potent enemies, yet did he long time after reserve the Philistines and Caananites, that, as it is written, He might in them try Israel.14 For sometime as hath been said, upon whom he bestoweth great gifts, he leaveth some small things that be blameworthy, that always they may have somewhat to fight against, and not to be proud, though their great enemies be vanquished, seeing other adversaries in very small things do put them to great trouble: and therefore it falleth out strangely, that one and the self same man is excellent for virtue, and yet of infirmity sometime doth offend, so that he may behold himself on the one side strong and well furnished, and on another open and not defended: that by the good thing which he seeketh for, and is not able to procure, he may with humility preserve that virtue which already he hath in possession. But what wonder is it that we speak this concerning man, when as heaven itself lost some of his citizens, and other some continued sound in God's grace: that the elect Angels of God, seeing others through pride to fall from heaven, might stand so much the more steadfast, by how much with humility they preserved God's grace received? They, therefore, took profit by that loss which heaven then had, and were thereby made to persevere more constantly in God's service for all eternity. In like manner |128 it fareth with each man's soul, which sometime for preserving of humility, by a little loss it attaineth to great spiritual perfection.
PETER. I am very well pleased with that you say.
Chapter Fifteen: of the servants of God Euthicius and Florentius.15
GREGORY. Neither will I pass over that with silence, which I heard from the mouth of that reverent Priest, Sanctulus, one of the same country: and of whose report I am sure you make no doubt, for you know very well his life and fidelity.
At the same time, in the province of Nursia there dwelt two men, observing the life and habit of holy conversation: the one was called Euthicius and the other Florentius; of which Euthicius bestowed his time in spiritual zeal and fervour of virtue, and laboured much by his exhortations, to gain souls to God; but Florentius led his life in simplicity and devotion. Not far from the place where they remained, there was an Abbey, the governor whereof was dead, and therefore the monks made choice of Euthicius, to take the charge thereof: who, condescending to their petition, governed the Abbey many years. And not to have his former oratory utterly destitute, he left the reverent man Florentius to keep the same; who dwelt there all alone, and upon a day, being at his prayers, he besought almighty God to vouchsafe him of some comfort in that place; and having ended his devotions, he went forth, where he found a bear standing before the door, which by the bowing down of his head to the ground, and shewing in the gesture of his body no sign or cruelty, gave the man of God to understand that He was come thither to do him service, and himself likewise did forthwith perceive it. And because he had in the house four or five sheep which had no keeper, he commanded the bear to take charge of them, saying: "Go and lead these sheep to the field, and at twelve of the clock come back again ": which charge he |129 took upon him, and did daily come home at that hour: and so he performed the office of a good shepherd, and those sheep, which before time he used to devour, now fasting himself, he took care to have them safely kept. And when God's servant determined to fast until three of the clock, then he commanded the bear to return with his sheep at the same hour; but when he would not fast so long, to come at twelve. And whatsoever he commanded his bear, that he did, so that bidden to return at three of the clock, he would not come at twelve; and commanded to return at twelve, he would not tarry till three. And when this had continued a good while, he began to be famous far and near for his virtue and holy life. But the old enemy of mankind by that means which he seeth the good to come unto glory, by the same doth he draw the wicked through hatred to procure their own misery; for four of Euthicius' monks, swelling with envy that their master wrought not any miracles, and that he who was left alone by him was famous for so notable a one, upon very spite went and killed his bear. And therefore, when the poor beast came not at his appointed hour, Florentius began to suspect the matter: but expecting yet until the evening, very much grieved he was that the bear, whom in great simplicity he called his brother, came not home. The next day, he went to the field, to seek for his sheep and his shepherd, whom he found there slain; and making diligent inquisition, he learned quickly who they were that had committed that uncharitable fact. Then was he very sorry, bewailing yet more the malice of the monks than the death of his bear; whom the reverent man Euthicius sent for, and did comfort him what he might; but the holy man Florentius, wonderfully grieved in mind, did in his presence curse them, saying: "I trust in almighty God, that they shall in this life, and in the sight of the world, receive the reward of their malice, that have thus killed my bear which did |130 them no harm"; whose words God's vengeance did straight follow, for the four monks that killed the poor beast were straight so stricken with a leprosy, that their limbs did rot away, and so they died miserably: whereat the man of God, Florentius, was greatly afraid, and much grieved, that he had so cursed the monks; and all his life after he wept, for that his prayer was heard, crying out that himself was cruel, and that he had murdered those men. Which thing I suppose almighty God did, to the end that he should not, being a man of great simplicity, upon any grief whatsoever, afterward presume to curse any.
PETER. What? is it any great sin, if in our anger we curse others?
GREGORY. Why do you ask me whether it be a great sin, when as St. Paul saith: Neither cursers shall possess the kingdom of God?16 Think, then, how great the sin is, which doth exclude a man out of heaven.
PETER. What if a man, haply not of malice, but of negligence in keeping his tongue, doth curse his neighbour?
GREGORY. If before the severe judge idle speech is reprehended, how much more that which is hurtful. Consider, then, how damnable those words be, which proceed of malice, when that talk shall be punished which proceedeth only from idleness.
PETER. I grant it be most true.
GREGORY. The same man of God did another thing which I must not forget. For, the report of his virtue reaching far and near, a certain Deacon, that dwelt many miles off, travelled unto him, to commend himself to his prayers. And coming to his cell, he found it round about full of innumerable snakes; at which sight being wonderfully afraid, he cried out, desiring Florentius to pray: who came forth, the sky being then very clear, |131 and lifted up his eyes and his hands to heaven, desiring God to take them away in such sort as he best knew. Upon whose prayers, suddenly it thundered, and that thunder killed all those snakes. Florentius, seeing them all dead, said unto God: "Behold, O Lord, thou hast destroyed them all, but who shall now carry them away?" And straight as he had thus spoken, so many birds came as there were snakes killed, which took them all up, and carried them far off, discharging his habitation from those venomous creatures.
PETER. Certainly he was a man of great virtue and merit, whose prayers God did so quickly hear.
GREGORY. Purity of heart and simplicity, Peter, is of great force with almighty God, who is in purity most singular, and of nature most simple. For those servants of his, which do retire themselves from worldly affairs, avoid idle words, labour not to lose their devotion, nor to defile their soul with talking, do especially obtain to be heard of him, to whom, after a certain manner, and as they may, they be like in purity and simplicity of heart. But we that live in the world, and speak oftentimes idle words, and that which is worse, sometime those that be hurtful: our words and prayers are so much the farther off from God, as they be near unto the world: for we are drawn too much down towards the earth, by continual talking of secular business: which thing the prophet Esaye did very well reprehend in himself, after he had beheld the King and Lord of armies, and was penitent, crying out: Woe be to me for being silent, because I am a man that have defiled lips: and he sheweth straight after the reason why his lips were defiled, when he saith: I dwell in the midst of a people that hath defiled lips.17 For sorry he was that his lips were defiled, yet concealeth not from whence he had them, when he saith, that he dwelt in the midst of a people |132 that had defiled lips. For very hard it is that the tongues of secular men should not defile their souls, with whom they talk; for when we do sometime condescend to speak with them of certain things, by little and little we get such a custom, that we hear that spoken with pleasure which is not meet to be heard at all, so that afterward we are loath to give that over, to which at the first, to gratify others, we were brought against our wills. And by this means we fall from idle words to hurtful speeches, and from talk of small moment to words of great importance: and so it cometh to pass that our tongue is so much the less respected of God when we pray, by how much we are more defiled with foolish speech, because, as it is written: He that turneth away his ear that he hear not the law, his prayer shall be execrable.18 What marvel, then, is it, if, when we pray, God doth slowly hear us, when as we hear God's commandments, either slowly or not at all? And what marvel if Florentius, when he prayed, was quickly heard, who obeyed God in observing his commandments?
PETER. The reason alleged is so plain, that nothing with reason can be said against it.
GREGORY. But Euthicius, who was companion to Florentius in serving of God, was famous also for miracles after his death. For the inhabitants of that city do speak of many: but the principal is that which, even to these times of the Lombards, almighty God hath vouchsafed to work by his coat: for when they had any great drougth the citizens, gathering themselves together, did carry that, and together with their prayers offer it in the sight of our Lord. And when they went with that through the fields, praying to God, forthwith they had such plenty of rain as the dryness of the ground required: whereby it was apparent, what virtue |133 and merits were in his soul, whose garment shewed outwardly did pacify the anger of almighty God.
Chapter Sixteen: of Marcius, the Monk of Mount Marsico.19
Not long since, there was a reverent man in Campania, called Marcius, who lived a solitary life in the mountain of Marsico: and many years together did he continue in a narrow and straight cave: whom many of our acquaintance knew very well, and were present at such miracles as he did, and many things concerning him have I heard from the mouth of Pope Pelagius of blessed memory, my predecessor, and also of others, who be very religious men. His first miracle was that, so soon as he made choice of that cave for his habitation, there sprung water out of the hollow rock, which was neither more nor less than served for his necessity: by which almighty God did shew what great care he had of his servant, seeing miraculously, as in ancient time he had before done to the children of Israel, he caused the hard rock to yield forth water. But the old enemy of mankind, envying at his virtues, went about by his ancient slight to drive him from that place: for he entered into a serpent, his old friend, and so thought to have terrified him from thence. For the serpent alone would come into the cave where he lived also alone, and when he was at his prayers, it would cast itself before him, and when he took his rest, it would lie down by his side. The holy man was nothing at all dismayed at this: for sometime he would put his hand or leg to his mouth, saying: "If thou hast leave to sting me, I hinder thee not ": and when he had lived thus continually the space of three years, upon a day the old enemy, overcome with his heavenly courage, made a great hissing, and tumbling himself down by the side of the mountain, he consumed all the bushes and shrubs with fire: in which fact by the power of God he was enforced to shew of what force he was, that |134 departed with loss of the victory. Consider, I pray you then, in the top of what mountain this man of God stood, that continued three years together with a serpent, without taking any harm at all.
PETER. I do consider it, and do tremble at the very hearing of the story.
GREGORY. This reverent man, when he first shut himself up, was determined never to behold women any more: not because he contemned them, but for that he feared lest their sight might be the occasion of sinful temptation: which resolution of his a certain woman understanding, up she went boldly to the mountain, and forgetting all modesty, impudently approached to his cave. He seeing her a good way off, and perceiving by the apparel that it was a woman, he fell straight to his prayers, with his face upon the earth, and there he lay prostrate, until the shameless creature, wearied with staying at his window, departed: and that very day after she was descended the mountain, she ended her lire; to give all the world to understand how highly she displeased almighty God, in offending his servant with that her bold enterprise.
At another time, many of devotion going to visit him, a young boy, taking little heed to his feet, and by reason the path was so straight upon the side of the mountain, fell down, and tumbled until he came to the bottom of the valley, which was very deep: for the mountain is so high, that huge trees growing beneath seem to them that be above nothing else but little shrubs. The people present were at this chance much dismayed, and very diligently did they seek, to see where they could find his dead body: for who would have thought any otherwise but that he was slain, or once imagined that his body could ever have come safe to the ground, so many rocks being in the way to tear it in pieces? yet for all this, he was found in the valley, not only alive, but also without |135 any harm at all. Then they perceived very well, that the reason why he was not hurt was because Marcius' prayers did preserve him in his falling.
Over his cave there was a great rock, which seemed to hang but by a little piece unto the mountain, and therefore daily was it feared that it would fall, and so kill the servant of God. For preventing of which mischief, the honourable man Mascatus, nephew to Armentarius, came thither with a great number of country people, desiring him to leave his cave so long until they had removed that rock, to the end he might afterward continue there without any danger: but the man of God could not by any means be persuaded to come forth, bidding them notwithstanding do what they thought convenient, only he retired himself to the farthest part of his cell: yet none made any doubt, but that if so huge a rock as that was did fall, but that it would both spoil his cave and kill himself. Wherefore they laboured what they might, to see if they could remove that mighty stone without any danger to the man of God, and forthwith, in the sight of them all, a strange thing happened: for that rock, severed by their labour from the rest of the mountain, not touching Marcius' cave, did skip clean over, and avoiding, as it were, to hurt God's servant, it fell far off: which thing no man can doubt but that it was done by the hands of Angels, at the commandment of almighty God.
At such time as this holy man came first to inhabit that mountain, and had not yet made any door for his cave, he fastened the one end of an iron chain to the stony wall, and the other he tied to his leg, to the end he might go no farther than the length of that chain did give him leave: which thing the reverent man Benedict hearing of, sent him this word by one of his monks: "If thou be God's servant, let the chain of Christ, and not any chain of iron, hold thee": upon this message Marcius forthwith loosed his chain, yet did he keep still the same |136 compass, and go no farther than he did before. Living afterward in the same cave, he began to entertain certain disciples, which dwelt apart from his cell, who, having no other water but that which with a rope and a bucket they drew out of a well, great trouble they had, because their rope did often break: and therefore they came unto him, craving that chain which he had loosed from his leg, that they might tie the rope to that, and fasten the bucket upon it: and from that time forward, though the rope was daily wet with water, yet did it break no more; for having touched the holy man's chain, it became strong like unto iron, so that the water did not wear it, nor do it any harm.
PETER. These worthy acts of his do please me, seeing they are strange, and that very much, because they were so lately done, and be yet fresh in memory.
Chapter Seventeen: how a Monk of Mount Argentario raised up a dead man.
GREGORY. Not long since in our time, a certain man called Quadragesimus was subdeacon in the church of Buxentin,20 who in times past kept a flock of sheep in the same country of Aurelia: by whose faithful report I understood a marvellous strange thing, which is this. At such time as he led a shepherd's life, there was an holy man that dwelt in the mountain of Argentario: whose religious conversation and inward virtue was answerable to the habit of a monk, which outwardly he did wear. Every year he travelled from his mountain to the church of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles: and in the way took this Quadra-gesimus' house for his lodging, as himself did tell me. Coming upon a day to his house, which was hard by the church, a poor woman's husband died not far off, whom when they had, as the manner is, washed, put on his garments, and made him ready to be buried, yet it was so late, that it could not be done that day: wherefore the desolate widow sat by the dead corpse, weeping all night long, and to satisfy her grief she did continually lament |137 and cry out. The man of God, seeing her so pitifully to weep and never to give over, was much grieved, and said to Quadragesimus the subdeacon: "My soul taketh compassion of this woman's sorrow, arise, I beseech you, and let us pray": and thereupon they went to the church, which, as I said, was hard by, and fell to their devotions. And when they had prayed a good while, the servant of God desired Quadragesimus to conclude their prayer; which being done, he took a little dust from the side of the altar: and so came with Quadragesimus to the dead body; and there he began again to pray, and when he continued so a long time, he desired him not, as he did before, to conclude their prayers, but himself gave the blessing, and so rose up: and because he had the dust in his right hand, with his left he took away the cloth that covered the dead man's face; which the woman seeing, earnestly withstood him, and marvelled much what he meant to do: when the cloth was gone, he rubbed the dead man's face a good while with the dust, which he had taken up; and at length, he that was dead received his soul again, began to open his mouth and his eyes, and to sit up, and as though he had awakened from a deep sleep, marvelled what they did about him; which when the woman, that had wearied herself with crying, beheld, she began then afresh to weep for joy, and cry out far louder than she did before: but the man of God modestly forbad her, saying: "Peace, good woman, and say nothing, and if any demand how this happened, say only, that our Lord Jesus Christ hath vouchsafed to work his pleasure." Thus he spake, and forthwith he departed from Quadragesimus, and never came to his house again. For, desirous to avoid all temporal honour, he so handled the matter, that they which saw him work that miracle, did never see him more so long as he lived.
PETER. What others think I know not: but mine opinion is, that it is a miracle above all miracles, to raise |138 up dead men, and secretly to call back their souls, to give life unto their bodies again.
GREGORY. If we respect outward and visible things, of necessity we must so believe; but if we turn our eyes to invisible things, then certain it is that it is a greater miracle, by preaching of the word and virtue of prayer, to convert a sinner than to raise up a dead man: for in the one, that flesh is raised up which again shall die: but in the other, he is brought from death which shall live for ever. For I will name you two, and tell me in which of them, as you think, the greater miracle was wrought. The first is Lazarus, a true believer, whom our Lord raised up in flesh; the other is Saul, whom our Lord raised in soul. For of Lazarus' virtues after his resurrection we read nothing: but after the raising up of the other's soul, we are not able to conceive what wonderful things be in holy scripture spoken of his virtues: as that his most cruel thoughts and designments were turned into the bowels of piety and compassion; that he desired to die for his brethren, in whose death before he took much pleasure; that knowing the holy scriptures perfectly, yet professed that he knew nothing else but Jesus Christ and him crucified; that he did willingly endure the beating of rods for Christ, whom before with sword he did persecute; that he was exalted to the dignity of an Apostle, and yet willingly became a little one in the midst of other disciples; that he was rapt to the secrets of the third heaven, and yet did turn his eye of compassion to dispose of the duty of married folks, saying: Let the husband render debt to the wife, and likewise the wife to the husband;21 that, he was busied in contemplating the quires of Angels, and yet contemned not to think and dispose of the facts of carnal men; that he rejoiced in his infirmities, and took pleasure in his reproaches; that for him to live is Christ, and gain to die; that although he lived |139 in flesh, yet was he wholly out of the flesh. Behold how this blessed Apostle lived, who from hell returned in his soul to the life of virtue: wherefore less it is for one to be raised up in body, except perchance, by the reviving thereof, he be also brought to the life of his soul, and that the outward miracle do serve for the giving of life to the inward spirit.
PETER. I thought that far inferior, which I perceive now to be incomparably superior: but prosecute, I beseech you, your former discourse, that we spend no time without some spiritual profit to our souls.
Chapter Eighteen: of Benedict the Monk.22
GREGORY. A certain monk lived with me in mine Abbey, passing cunning in holy scripture, who was elder than I, and of whom I learned many things which before I knew not. By his report I understood that there was in Campania, some forty miles from Rome, a man called Benedict, young in years, but old for gravity: one that observed the rule of holy conversation very strictly. When the Goths in the time of King Totila found him, they went about to burn him, together with his cell; and fire for that end was put to, which consumed all things round about, but no hold would the fire take upon his cell: which when the Goths saw, they became more mad, and with great cruelty drew him out of that place, and espying not far off an oven made hot to bake bread, into those flames they threw him, and so stopped the mouth. But the next day he was found so free from all harm, that not only his flesh, but his very apparel also, was not by the fire anything touched at all.
PETER. I hear now the old miracle of the three children, which were thrown into the fire, and yet were preserved from those furious flames.23
GREGORY. That miracle, in mine opinion, was in some thing unlike to this: for then the three children were |140 bound hand and foot, and so thrown into the fire, for whom the King looking the next day, found them walking in the furnace, their garments being nothing hurt by those flames: whereby we gather that the fire into which they were cast, and touched not their apparel, did yet consume their bands, so that at one and the same time, for the service of the just, the fire had force to bring them comfort, and yet had none to procure them torment.
Chapter Nineteen: of the church of blessed Zeno the Martyr: in which the water ascended higher than the door, and though it were open, yet entered not in.24
Like unto this ancient miracle we had in our days another, but yet in a divers element: for not long since John the Tribune told me that, when the Earl Pronulphus was there, and himself also with Antharicus the king, how there happened at that time a strange miracle, and he affirmeth that himself doth know it to be true. For he said that, almost five years since, when the river of Tiber became so great that it ran over the walls of Rome, and overflowed many countries: at the same time in the city of Verona, the river Athesis did so swell, that it came to the very church of the holy martyr and Bishop Zeno; and though the church doors were open, yet did it not enter in. At last it grew so high, that it came to the church windows, not far from the very roof itself, and the water standing in that manner, did close up the entrance into the church, yet without running in: as though that thin and liquid element had been turned into a sound wall. And it fell so out, that many at that time were surprised in the church, who not finding any way how to escape out, and fearing lest they might perish for want of meat and drink, at length they came to the church door, and took of the water to quench their thirst, which, as I said, came up to the windows, and yet entered not in; and so for their necessity they took water, which yet, according to the nature of water, ran not in: and in that manner it |141 stood there before the door, being water to them for their comfort, and yet not water to invade the place: and all this to declare the great merit of Christ's martyr. Which miracle I said truly, that it was not unlike to that ancient one of the fire: which burnt the three children's bands, and yet touched not their garments.
PETER. Marvellous strange are these acts of God's saints which you tell; and much to be admired of us weak men, that live in these days. But because I understand now, by your relation, what a number of excellent and virtuous men have been in Italy, desirous I am to know whether they endured any assaults of the devil, and did thereby more profit in the service of God.
GREGORY. Without labour and fighting, none can obtain the crown of victory: whence, then, come so many conquerors but from this, that they fought valiantly, and resisted the assaults of the old enemy? For the wicked spirit doth continually watch our thoughts, words, and works: to find something whereof to accuse us before the eternal Judge. For proof whereof I will now let you understand, how ready he is always to entrap and deceive us.
Chapter Twenty: of a priest called Stephen, in the province of Valeria: whose stockings the devil would have drawn off.
Some that are yet living with me, affirm this to be true which 1 will now speak of. A man of holy life there was, called Stephen, who was a Priest in the province of Valeria, nigh of kindred to my deacon Bonifacius: who, coming home upon a time from travel, spake somewhat negligently to his servant, saying: "Come, sir devil, and pull off my hose": at which words, straightways his garters began to loose in great haste, so that he plainly perceived that the devil indeed, whom he named, was pulling off his stocking: whereat being much terrified, he cried out aloud, and said: "Away, wretched caitiff, away; I spake not to thee, |142 but to my servant." Then the devil gave over, leaving his garters almost quite off. By which we may learn, that if the devil be so officious in things concerning our body, how ready and diligent he is to observe and note the cogitations of our soul.
PETER. A very painful thing it is and terrible, always to strive against the temptations of the devil, and, as it were, to stand continually armed ready to fight.
GREGORY. Not painful at all, if we attribute our preservation not to ourselves, but to God's grace; yet so notwithstanding, that we be careful what we may for our parts, and always vigilant under God's protection. And it falleth out sometime by God's goodness, that when the devil is expelled from our soul, that he is so little of us to be feared, that contrariwise he is rather terrified by the virtuous and devout life of good people.
Chapter Twenty-one: of a Nun that, by her only commandment, dispossessed a devil.
For the holy man, old father Eleutherius, of whom I spake before, told me that which I will now tell you: and he was himself a witness of the truth thereof: this it was. In the city of Spoleto, there was a certain worshipful man's daughter, for years marriageable, which had a great desire to lead another kind of life: whose purpose her father endeavoured to hinder: but she, not respecting her father's pleasure, took upon her the habit of holy conversation: for which cause her father did disinherit her, and left her nothing else but six little pieces of ground. By her example many noble young maids began under her to be converted, to dedicate their virginity to almighty God, and to serve him. Upon a time, the virtuous Abbot Eleutherius went to bestow upon her some good exhortation: and as he was sitting with her, discoursing of spiritual matters, a country man came from that piece of ground which her father had left her, bringing a certain present: and as he was |143 standing before them, suddenly a wicked spirit possessed his body; so that straightways he fell down before them, and began pitifully to cry and roar out. At this the Nun rose up, and with angry countenance and loud voice, commanded him to go forth, saying: "Depart from him, thou vile wretch, depart." "If I depart," quoth the devil, speaking by the mouth of the possessed man, "into whom shall I go?" By chance there was at that time a little hog hard by: into which she gave him leave to enter, which he did, and so, killing it, went his way.
PETER. I would gladly be informed, whether she might bestow so much as that hog upon the devil.
GREGORY. The actions of our Saviour be a rule for us, according to which we may direct our life: and we read in the scripture, how the legion of devils that possessed a man said unto our Saviour: If thou dost cast us forth, send us into the herd of swine:25 who cast them out, and permitted them to enter in as they desired, and to drown that herd in the sea. By which fact of our Saviour we learn also this lesson, that, except almighty God giveth leave, the devil cannot have any power against man, seeing he cannot so much as enter into hogs, without our Saviour's permission. Wherefore, necessary it is that we be obedient to him, unto whom all our enemies be subject, that we may so much the more be stronger than our enemies, by how much through humility we become one with the author of all things. And what marvel is it, if God's chosen servants, living yet upon earth, can do many strange things, when as their very bones, after they be dead, do oftentimes work miracles?
Chapter Twenty-two: of a Priest in the province of Valeria, who detained a thief at his grave.
For, in the province of Valeria, this strange thing happened: which I had from the mouth of Valentius, mine Abbot,26 who was a blessed man. In that country |144 there was a Priest, who in the company of divers other clerks served God, and led a virtuous and holy life: who, when his time was come, departed this life, and was buried before the church. Not far off, there belonged to the church certain sheep-cotes: and the place where he lay buried was the way to go unto the sheep. Upon a night, as the Priests were singing within the church, a thief came to the said place, took up a wether, and so departed in all haste: but as he passed where the man of God was buried, there he stayed, and could go no farther. Then he took the wether from his shoulders, and would fain have let it go, but by no means could he open his hand: and therefore, poor wretch, there he stood fast bound, with his prey before him; willingly would he have let the wether go, and could not; willingly also have carried it away, and was not able. And so very strangely the thief, that was afraid to be espied of living men, was held there against his will by one that was dead; for his hands and feet were bound in such sort, that away he could not go. When morning was come, and the Priests had ended their service, out they came: where they found a stranger, with a wether in his hand. And at the first they were in doubt, whether he had taken away one of theirs, or else came to give them one of his own: but he that was guilty of the theft told them in what manner he was punished: whereat they all wondered, to see a thief, with his prey before him, to stand there bound by the merits of the man of God. And straightways they offered their prayers for his delivery, and scarce could they obtain that he, which came to steal away their goods, might at least find so much favour as to depart empty as he came: yet in conclusion, the thief that had long stood there with his stolen wether, was suffered to go away free, leaving his carnage behind him. |145
PETER. By such facts almighty God doth declare, in what sweet manner he doth tender us, when he vouchsafeth to work such pleasant miracles.
Chapter Twenty-three: of the Abbot of Mount Preneste, and his Priest.27
GREGORY. Above the city of Preneste there is a mountain, upon which standeth an Abbey of the blessed Apostle, St. Peter: of the monks of which place, whiles I lived in an Abbey myself, I heard this miracle: which, those religious men said, they knew to be very true. In that monastery they had an Abbot of holy life, who brought up a certain monk, that became very virtuous, whom he perceiving to increase in the fear of God, he caused him in the same monastery to be made Priest: who, after his taking of orders, understood by revelation that his death was not far off; and therefore desired leave of the Abbot to make ready his sepulchre, who told him that himself should die before him: "but yet for all that," quoth he, "go your way, and make your grave at your pleasure." Away he went, and did so. Not many days after, the old Abbot fell sick of an ague, and drawing near to his end, he bad the foresaid Priest that stood by him, to bury his body in that grave which he had made for himself: and when the other told him that he was shortly to follow after, and that the grave was not big enough for both, the Abbot answered him in this wise: "Do as I have said, for that one grave shall contain both our bodies." So he died, and according to his desire, was buried in that grave which the Priest had provided for himself. Straight after, the Priest fell sick, and lay not long before he departed this life; and when his body was by the monks brought to the grave, which he had provided for himself, they opened it, and saw that there was not any room, because the Abbot's corpse filled the whole place: then one of them, with a loud voice, said: "O father, where is your promise, that this grave should hold you |146 both?" No sooner had he spoken those words, than the Abbot's body, which lay with the face upward, did, in all their sight, turn itself upon one side, and so left place enough for the burial of the Priest: and so after his death he performed what he promised alive, concerning the lying of both their bodies in that one grave. But because we have now made mention of St. Peter's Abbey in the city of Preneste, where this miracle happened, are you content to hear something of the keepers of his church which is in this city where his most holy body remaineth?
PETER. Most willing I am, and beseech you that it may be so.
Chapter Twenty-four: of Theodorus, Keeper of St. Peter'sChurch, in the City of Rome.
GREGORY. There be yet some alive that knew Theodorus, keeper of that church: by whose report a notable thing that befell him came to my knowledge. For rising somewhat early one night to mend the lights that hung by the door, and was upon the ladder (as he used) to pour oil into the lamps, suddenly St. Peter the Apostle in a white stole, standing beneath upon the pavement, appeared unto him, and spake to him in this manner: "Theodorus, why hast thou risen so early?" and when he had said so, he vanished out of his sight: but such a fear came upon him, that all the strength of his body did forsake him, so that he was not able to rise up from his bed for many days after. By which apparition what meant the blessed Apostle else, but to give those which serve him to understand by that his presence, that whatsoever they do for his honour, himself for their reward doth always behold it?
PETER. I marvel not so much at his apparition: as that being before very well, he fell sick upon that sight.
GREGORY. What reason have you, Peter, to marvel at that? for have you forgotten how the prophet Daniel, when he beheld that great and terrible vision at which |147 he trembled, speaketh thus of himself: I became weak, and was sick for very many days;28 for the flesh cannot conceive such things as pertain to the spirit, and therefore sometimes when a man's mind is carried to see somewhat beyond itself, no remedy but this earthly and frail vessel of ours, not able to bear such a burthen, must fall into weakness and infirmity.
PETER. Your reason hath taken away that scruple which troubled my mind.
Chapter Twenty-five: of Abundius, Keeper of the same Church of St. Peter.
GREGORY. Not very many years since (as old men say) there was another keeper of the same church, called Abundius, a grave man, and of great humility: who served God so faithfully, that the blessed Apostle St. Peter did by miracle declare what opinion he had of his virtue. For a certain young maid, that frequented his church, was so pitifully sick of the palsy, that she crept upon her hands, and, for very weakness, drew her body upon the ground. Long time had she prayed to St. Peter for help of this her infirmity: who upon a night in a vision, stood by her and spake thus: "Go unto Abundius, and desire his help, and he shall restore thee to thine health." The maid, as she made no doubt of the vision, so not knowing this Abundius, up and down she crept through the church, enquiring for the man, and suddenly met with him whom she sought for; and asking for him of himself, he told her that he was Abundius. Then quoth she: "Our pastor and patron, blessed St. Peter the Apostle, hath sent me, that you should help me of this my disease." "If you be sent by him," quoth Abundius, "then rise up": and taking her by the hand, he forthwith lifted her up upon her feet: and from that very hour, all the sinews and parts of her body became so strong, that no sign of her former malady remained. But if I should recount all the miracles in |148 particular, which are known to have been done in his church, questionless no time would be left for the relation of any other; wherefore I will speak no more of them, but come to such holy men as have been famous in divers other places of Italy.
Chapter Twenty-six: of a solitary Monk called Menas.
Not long since, in the province of Samnium, there was a reverent man called Menas, who some ten years since led a solitary life, and was known to many of our friends: and for the truth of such his notable acts as I shall report, I will not name any one author, because I have so many witnesses as there be men that know that province of Samnium. This holy man had no other wealth to live upon, but a few hives of bees, which a certain Lombard would needs have taken away: for which cause the holy man reprehended him, and by and by he fell down before him, and was tormented of a devil: upon which accident his name became famous, both to his neighbours and also to that barbarous nation: so that none durst after that but in humility come into his cell. Oftentimes also there came certain bears out of the wood which was hard by, to devour up his honey, whom he strook with a little stick which he carried in his hand; and the bears so feared his stripes, that they would roar out and run away, and they which little feared naked swords were now afraid to be beaten by him with a small wand. He desired not to possess aught in this world, nor to seek for any thing; and his manner was, by heavenly talk to inflame all such as of charity came to visit him, with the desire and love of eternal life. And if at any time he understood that others had committed any great sin, he would never spare them, but with true love to their souls reprehend them for their faults. His neighbours, and others also that dwelt farther off, used upon a custom, every one upon certain days in the week, to send him their presents and offerings, to the end |149 he might have somewhat to bestow upon such as came to visit him. A certain man there was, called Carterius, who, overcome of filthy concupiscence, violently took away a Nun, and by unlawful matrimony made her his wife: which thing so soon as the man of God understood, he sent him by such as he could that message which his fact deserved. The man, guilty in his conscience of that wickedness which he had committed, durst not himself go unto God's servant, fearing lest, as his manner was, he would sharply have rebuked him: and therefore he sent his offerings among others, that at least through ignorance he might receive what he sent him. But when all the offerings were brought before him, he sat still, viewing them all in particular, and laying the rest aside, he took those which Carterius sent, and cast them away, saying: "Go and tell him: Thou hast taken away God's offering, and dost thou send me thine? I will none of thy offering, because thou hast taken from God that which was his." By which fact all that were present fell into a great fear, perceiving that he could certainly tell what they did which were absent.
PETER. Many such men as he was might, in mine opinion, have been martyrs, if they had lived in times of persecution.
GREGORY. There be, Peter, two kinds of martyrdoms, the one secret, the other open: for if a man hath a burning zeal in his mind to suffer death for Christ, although he endureth not any external persecution, yet hath he in secret the merit of martyrdom. For that one may be a martyr without suffering death openly, our Lord doth teach us in the Gospel: who said unto the sons of Zebedeus, desiring as then, through infirmity of soul, the principal places to sit upon in his kingdom: Can you drink the chalice which I shall drink? and when they answered that they could, he said to them both: My chalice verily shall you drink, but to sit at my right hand |150 or left, is not mine to give you:29 in which words what is signified else, by the name of chalice, but the cup of passion and death? And seeing we know that James was put to death for Christ, and that John died when the Church enjoyed peace: undoubtedly we do gather that one may be a martyr without open suffering: for as much as he is said to have drunk our Lord's chalice, who yet in persecution was not put to death. But concerning those notable and excellent men of whom I have made mention before, why may we not truly say, that if they had fallen into a time of persecution, they might have been martyrs, when as by enduring the secret assaults of the devil, and by loving their enemies in this world, by resisting all carnal desires, and in that they did in their heart sacrifice themselves to almighty God, they were also martyrs in the time of peace? seeing that now in our days we see that mean men and of secular life, yea, and even those of whom one would have supposed that they did little think of heaven, have by occasion of persecution obtained the glorious crown of martyrdom.
Chapter Twenty-seven: of forty country husbandmen that were slain by the Lombards, because they would not eat flesh sacrificed to idols.30
For about fifteen years since, as they report who might very well have been present, forty husbandmen of the country were taken prisoners by the Lombards, whom they would needs have enforced to eat of that which was sacrificed to idols: but when they utterly refused so to do, or so much as once to touch that wicked meat, then they threatened to kill them, unless they would eat it: but they, loving more eternal than transitory life, continued constant, and so they were all slain. What then were these men? what else but true martyrs, that made choice rather to die than, by eating of that which was unlawful, to offend their Creator? |151
Chapter Twenty-eight: of a great number of prisoners that were slain, because they would not adore a goat's head.
At the same time, the Lombards, having almost four hundred prisoners in their hands, did, after their manner, sacrifice a goat's head to the devil: running round about with it in a circle, and by singing a most blasphemous song did dedicate it to his service. And when they had themselves with bowed heads adored it, then would they also have enforced their prisoners to do the like. But a very great number of them choosing rather by death to pass unto immortal life, than by such abominable adoration to preserve their mortal bodies, refused utterly to do what they commanded them; and so would not by any means bow down their heads to a creature, having always done that service to their Creator: whereat their enemies, in whose hands they were, fell into such an extreme rage, that they slew all them with their swords, which would not join with them in that sacrilegious fact. What marvel then is it, that those notable men before mentioned might have come to martyrdom, had they lived in the days of persecution, who in the time of peace, by continual mortification, walked the straight way of martyrdom: when as we see that, in the storm of persecution, they merited to obtain the crown of martyrdom, who, the Church being quiet, seemed to walk the broad way of this world? Yet that which we say concerning the elect servants of God, is not to be holden for a general rule in all. For when open persecution afflicteth the Church, as most true it is that many may arrive to martyrdom, who, when no such tempest did blow, seemed contemptible, and of no account: so likewise sometimes they fall away for fear, who before persecution, and when all was quiet, seemed to stand very constant: but such holy men as before have been mentioned, I dare boldly say that they might have been |152 martyrs, because we gather so much by their happy deaths: for they could not have fallen in open persecution, of whom it is certain that, to the very end of their lives, they did continue in the profession of piety and virtue.
PETER. It is as you say: but I much wonder at the singular providence of God's mercy, which he sheweth to us unworthy wretches, in that he doth so moderate and temper the cruelty of the Lombards, that he suffereth not their wicked priests to persecute the faith of Christians: when as they see themselves, as it were, the conquerors and rulers of Christian people.
Chapter Twenty-nine: of an Arian Bishop that was miraculously struck blind.
GREGORY. Many, Peter, have attempted that, but miracles from heaven have stayed the course of their cruelty: and one will I now tell you, which I heard three days since of Bonifacius, a monk of my Abbey, who, until these four years last past, remained amongst the Lombards. An Arian Bishop of theirs coming to the city of Spoleto, and not having any place where to exercise his religion, demanded a church of the Bishop of that town: which when he constantly denied him, the Arian prelate told him, that the next day he would by force take possession of St. Paul's church, which was hard by his lodging. The keeper of the church, understanding this news, in all haste ran thither, shut the doors, and with locks and bolts made them as fast as he could: and when it was night he put out all the lamps, and hid himself within. The next morning, very early, the Arian Bishop came thither with many in his company: meaning by force to break open the doors. But suddenly by miracle the locks were cast far off, and the doors of themselves, making a great noise, flew open: and all the lamps, before put out, were lightened again by fire descending from heaven: and the Arian Bishop that came to |153 enter the church by violence, was suddenly struck blind, so that other men were fain to lead him back again to his own lodging. Which strange accident when the Lombards there about understood, they durst not any more presume to violate Catholic places: and so it fell out wonderfully, by God's providence, that for as much as the lamps in St. Paul's church were by reason of him put out: that at one and the self same time, both he lost the light of his eyes, and the church received her former light again.
Chapter Thirty: how a church of the Arians in Rome was hallowed according to the Catholic manner.31
Neither is that to be passed over in silence which God of his mercy vouchsafed, two years since, to shew in this city, to the great condemnation of the Arian heresy: for part of that which I intend now to speak of, many of the people know to be true: part the Priest and keepers of the church affirm that they saw and heard. A church of the Arians, in that part of the city which is called Subura, remained until two years since with the doors shut up; at which time, being desirous thatdt should be hallowed in the Catholic faith, we brought with us thither the relics of the blessed martyrs St. Stephen and St. Agatha: and so with great multitudes of people, singing of praises to almighty God, we entered the church: and when the solemnity of mass was in celebrating, and the people, by reason of the straight place, thrust one another, some of them that stood without the chancel heard an hog running up and down through their legs, and each one perceiving it told it to his next fellow: but the hog made towards the church door to go forth, striking all those into great admiration by whom he passed; but though they heard him, yet none there was that saw him: which strange thing God of piety vouchsafed to shew, to the end we should understand how that the unclean spirit, which before possessed that place, was now departed and |154 gone. When mass was done we went away, but the night following such a noise was heard in the top of the church, as though somebody had there run up and down; and the next night after that a far greater, and withal, of a sudden, such a terrible crack there was, as though the whole church had been quite falling down: which forthwith vanished away, and never after was the church troubled any more by the old enemy: but by the great stir which he kept before his departure, he made it apparent that he went very unwillingly from that place, which so long time he had possessed.
Not many days after, in a passing fair and clear day, a cloud miraculously descended upon the altar of the same church: covering it as it had been with a canopy: and filled the church with such a kind of terror and sweetness, that though the doors were wide open, yet none durst presume to enter in. The Priest also and the keepers of the church, and those which were come thither to say mass, beheld the selfsame thing, yet could they not go in, although they felt the sweetness of that strange perfume.
Likewise upon another day, the lamps hanging without light, fire came from heaven and set them a burning: and a few days after, when mass was ended, and the keeper of the church had put out the lamps, and was departed, yet returning back again, he found them burning which before he had put forth; but thinking that he had done it negligently, he did it now more carefully the second time, and so departed the church and shut the door; but returning three hours after, he found them again burning as before: to the end that by the very light the world might manifestly know, how that place was from darkness translated to light.
PETER. Although we be in great miseries and tribulations, yet these strange miracles, which God vouchsafeth to work, do plainly declare that he hath not utterly forsaken and given us over. |155
GREGORY. Albeit I was determined to recount unto you only such strange things as were done in Italy, are you for all that content, to the further condemnation of the said Arian heresy, that I turn a little my speech to Spain, and so by Africa return back again to Italy?
PETER. Go whither you will, willingly will I travel with you, and joyfully return home again.
Chapter Thirty-one: of King Hermigildus, son to Leuigildus, King of the Visigoths; who was, for the Catholic faith, put to death by his father.32
GREGORY. Not long since, as I have learned of many which came from Spain, king Hermigildus, son of Leuigildus, king of the Visigoths, was from Arian heresy lately converted to the Catholic faith by the most reverent man Leander, Bishop of Seville, with whom I was not long since familiarly acquainted; which young Prince, upon his conversion, his father, being an Arian, laboured both by large promises and terrible threats to draw again to his former error: but when most constantly his son answered, that he would never forsake the true faith which he had once embraced, his father in great anger took away his kingdom, and beside deprived him of all wealth and riches; and perceiving that, with all this, his mind was nothing moved, he committed him to straight prison, laying irons both upon his neck and hands. Upon this, the young king Hermigildus began now to contemn his earthly kingdom, and to seek with great desire after the kingdom of heaven: and lying in prison fast bound, he prayed to almighty God in hair-cloth to send him heavenly comfort: and so much the more did he despise the glory of this transitory world, by how much he knew himself in that case that he had now nothing that could be taken from him.
When the solemn feast of Easter was come, his wicked father sent unto him in the dead of the night an Arian Bishop, to give him the communion of a sacrilegious |156 consecration, that he might thereby again recover his father's grace and favour: but the man of God, as he ought, sharply reprehended that Arian Bishop which came unto him, and giving him such entertainment as his deserts required, utterly rejected him; for albeit outwardly he lay there in bands, yet inwardly to himself he stood secure in the height of his own soul. The father, at the return of the Arian prelate, understanding these news, fell into such a rage that forthwith he sent his officers of execution to put to death that most constant confessor, in the very prison where he lay: which unnatural and bloody commandment was performed accordingly: for so soon as they came into the prison, they clave his brains with an hatchet, and so bereaved him or mortal life, having only power to take that from him which the holy martyr made small account of. Afterward, for the publishing of his true glory to the world, there wanted not miracles from heaven: for in the night time singing was heard at his body: some also report that, in the night, burning lamps were seen in that place: by reason whereof his body, as of him that was a martyr, was worthily worshipped of all Christian people. But the wicked father and murtherer of his own son, albeit he was sorry that he had put him to death, yet was not his grief of that quality that it brought him to the state of salvation. For although he knew very well that the Catholic faith was the truth, yet, for fear of his people, he never deserved to be a professor thereof.
At length, falling sick, a little before his death, he commended his son Recharedus, who was to succeed him in the kingdom, and was yet an heretic, unto Bishop Leander, whom before he had greatly persecuted: that by his counsel and exhortation, he might likewise make him a member of the Catholic Church, as he had before made his brother Hermigildus; and when he had thus done, he departed this life. After whose death, |157 Recharedus the king, not following the steps of his wicked father, but his brother the martyr, utterly renounced Arianism: and laboured so earnestly for the restoring of religion, that he brought the whole nation of the Visigoths to the true faith of Christ, and would not suffer any that was an heretic in his country to bear arms and serve in the wars. And it is not to be admired that he became thus to be a preacher of the true faith, seeing he was the brother of a martyr, whose merits did help him to bring so many into the lap of God's Church: wherein we have to consider that he could never have effected all this, if king Hermigildus had not died for the testimony of true religion; for, as it is written: Unless the grain of wheat falling into the earth doth die, itself remaineth alone; but if it diey it bringeth forth much fruit. 33 This we see to prove true in the members, which before was verified in the head: for one died amongst the Visigoths that many might live, and of one grain that was sown for the faith, a great crop of faithful people sprung up.
PETER. A wonderful thing, and much to be admired in these our days.
Chapter Thirty-two: of certain Bishops of Africa, who had their tongues cut out by the Vandals, that were Arian heretics, for the defence of the Catholic faith; and yet spake still as perfectly as they did before.34
GREGORY. Likewise, in the time of Justinian the Emperor, when as the Vandals, that were Arian heretics, did grievously persecute the Catholic faith, certain Bishops, continuing constant, were openly examined: whom when the king of the Vandals saw that he could neither by any words or rewards draw to embrace his heretical religion, yet he thought that by torments he might do it: and therefore, when he commanded them not to speak in defence of truth, and they |158 refused to obey his precept, lest by silence they might seem to give consent unto wicked heresy, in a great fury he commanded their tongues to be cut out by the roots. A miraculous thing, and yet known to many old men: they did as perfectly afterward speak in defence of true religion, as they did before, when they had their tongues safe and sound.
PETER. You tell me of a marvellous strange thing, and greatly to be admired.
GREGORY. It is written, Peter, of the only Son of the eternal Father: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.35 Of whose virtue and power it straightways followeth: All things were made by him. Why then should we marvel, if that eternal Word could speak without a tongue, which made the tongue?
PETER. What you say pleaseth me very well.
GREGORY. These Bishops, therefore, flying at that time from the persecution, came unto the city of Constantinople: and at such time as myself, about the affairs of the Church, was sent thither unto the Emperor, I found there a Bishop of good years, who told me that he saw them himself speak without tongues: for they opened their mouths, and said: "Behold and see how we have no tongues, and yet do speak"; for, as he said, their tongues being cut off by the roots, there seemed as it were a deep hole in their throat: and yet, though their mouths were empty, they pronounced their words very plain and distinctly. One of which, falling afterward in that place into carnal sin, was forthwith deprived of that supernatural gift: and that by the just judgment of almighty God, seeing reason requireth that he which was careless to preserve the continency of his body which he had, should not any longer utter the words of truth without the tongue of his body which he had not. But because I have now spoken sufficient for the |159 condemnation of Arianism, therefore I will return to entreat of such other miracles as have lately fallen out here in Italy.
Chapter Thirty-three: of the servant of God, Eleutherius.
Eleutherius, of whom I made mention before, father of the Abbey of the Evangelist St. Mark, which is in the suburbs of the city of Spoleto, lived long time together with me in this city in my monastery, and there ended his days. Of whom his monks do report that by his tears he raised up one that was dead: for he was a man of such simplicity and compunction, that no doubt but those tears, coming from his humble and simple soul, were of force to obtain many things of almighty God. One miracle of his I will now tell you, which himself, being demanded by me, did with great simplicity confess. As he was travelling upon a certain day, and not finding at night any other place to lodge in, he went to a Nunnery, wherein there was a little boy which the wicked spirit did usually every night torment. The Nuns, giving entertainment to the man of God, desired him that the said little boy might remain with him all night: wherewith he was well content. In the morning, the Nuns diligently enquired of the father, if the child had not been sore troubled and tormented that night: who, marvelling why they asked that question, answered that he perceived not any such thing. Then they told him how a wicked spirit did every night pitifully afflict the child, and earnestly desired him that he would take him home to his own Abbey, because their hearts could not endure to behold any such misery. The old man yielded to their request, and so carried away the boy home to his own monastery: where he remained long time safe and sound, the devil not presuming to touch him. Whereupon the old man, seeing him to continue so well, was immoderately glad thereof, and therefore, in |160 the presence of the monks, he spake thus: "The devil did dally with those sisters: but now he hath to do with the servants of God, he dare not come near this boy." He had scarce uttered these words, when as in that very instant the poor child was, in the presence of them all, possessed, and pitifully tormented: which the old man beholding, straightways lamented and fell a weeping, and persevering so a long time, the monks came to comfort him; but he answered them, saying: "Believe me," quoth he, "none of you shall this day eat any bread, unless this boy be dispossessed." Then, with the rest of the brethren, he fell prostrate to his prayers, and there they continued so long, until the boy was delivered from his former torments, and besides so perfectly cured, that the wicked spirit never after presumed to molest him any more.
PETER. I verily suppose that he sinned a little in vain glory: and that God's pleasure was, that the other monks should co-operate to the dispossessing of the devil.
GREGORY. It is even so as you say: for seeing he could not alone bear the burthen of that miracle, it was divided amongst the rest of his brethren. Of what force and efficacy this man's prayers were, I have found by experience in myself: for being upon a time, when I lived in the Abbey, so sick that I often swooned: and was by means thereof, with often pangs, continually at death's door, and in such case that, unless I did continually eat something, my vital spirit was going away: Easter day was at hand, and therefore when I saw that upon so sacred a vigil I could not refrain from often eating, in which not only old persons, but even children use to fast, I was more afflicted with grief, than grieved with mine infirmity: yet at length my sorrowful soul quickly found out a device, and that was, to carry the man of God secretly into the oratory, and there to |161 entreat him that he would by his prayer obtain for me of God so much strength and ability as to fast that day: which fell out accordingly: for so soon as we came into the oratory, with humility and tears he fell to his prayers, and after a while (having made an end) he came forth, and upon the words of his blessed prayers, my stomach grew so strong, that I did not so much as think of any meat, nor feel any grief at all. Then I began to marvel at myself, and to think in what case I was before, and how I felt myself now: and when I thought upon my former sickness, I found none of those pangs with which before I was troubled: and when my mind was busied about the affairs of the Abbey, my sickness was quite out of my memory; yea, and as I said, if I did think thereof, yet feeling myself so well and strong, I began to doubt whether I had eaten or no. When evening was come, I found myself so lusty that I could very well have fasted until the next day. And by this means, having experience of his prayers in myself, I made no doubt but those things also were true which in other places he did, though myself was not then present.
PETER. Seeing you told me that he was a man of great compunction, desirous I am to be better informed touching the efficacy of compunction and tears: and therefore I pray you, let me understand how many kinds of compunction there be.
Chapter Thirty-four: of the divers kinds of compunction.
GREGORY. Compunction is divided into many kinds: to wit, when every sin is of penitent men in particular bewailed: whereof the prophet Jeremy, in the person of penitent sinners, speaketh thus: Mine eye hath brought forth divisions of waters.36 But speaking more properly, there be especially two kinds of compunction: for the soul that thirsteth after God is first sorrowful in |162 heart for fear, and afterward upon love. For first it is grieved and weepeth, because, calling to mind former sins committed, it feareth to endure for punishment of them everlasting torments: but when long anxiety and sorrow hath banished away that fear, then a certain security of the hope of pardon doth follow: and so the soul is inflamed with the love of heavenly delights, and whereas before it did weep for fear of eternal pain, afterward it poureth out tears, that it is kept from everlasting joys. For the soul doth then contemplate those glittering quires of Angels, that heavenly company of those blessed spirits, that great majesty of the eternal beholding the face of God; and doth lament so much more now, because it wanteth that everlasting felicity, than it wept before at the fear of eternal punishment. Which thing in scripture is mystically set down, in an holy and true history: for there we read how Axa, the daughter of Caleb, riding upon an ass, did sigh: and when her father demanded what the matter was, she answered him thus: Give me your blessings a southern and dry land you have given me, join also a watery: and he gave her a watery ground above and beneath.37 For Axa then rideth upon the ass, when our soul doth subdue and govern the sensual motions of the flesh: which sighing doth crave wet ground of her father, when it doth with contrition and sorrow of heart desire of our Creator the grace of tears and weeping. For some there be, upon whom God hath bestowed such a gift, that they will speak freely in defence of justice, help them that be oppressed, give alms to the poor, and be zealous in religion, but yet have they not obtained the grace of tears: these be they, that have ground towards the south, and that which is dry: but yet do they want that which is moist and wet: because, albeit they be diligent and fervent in good works, yet requisite it is |163 that they should also, either for fear of hell or the love of heaven, bewail the sins of their life past. But because, as I said, there be two kinds of compunction, therefore her father gave her that which was wet above and also wet beneath: for our soul doth then receive that which is wet above, when it is grieved, and doth weep for the desire of heaven; and it doth then possess that which is wet beneath, when it is afraid, and poureth forth tears for the fear of hell fire: and albeit that which is wet beneath is bestowed upon our soul, before that which is wet above, yet because the compunction of love is the more excellent, convenient it was that the ground which was wet above should be first named, and afterward that which was wet beneath.
PETER. Your discourse pleaseth me very well: but seeing you have now told me of that reverent man Eleutherius, and his great grace of compunction, desirous I am to know whether there be now any such men living in the world.
Chapter Thirty-five: of Amantius, a Priest in the Province of Tuscania.
GREGORY. Floridus, Bishop of Tivoli, a man (as yourself knoweth very well) of holy life, and worthy to be credited, told me that he had dwelling with him a certain Priest called Amantius, of marvellous simplicity: who, like unto the Apostles, had such a grace given him of God, that, laying his hand upon them that were sick, he restored them to their former health; and although the disease were very great and dangerous, yet upon his touching did it forthwith depart. Moreover he said that he had also this miraculous gift, that wheresoever he found any serpents or snakes, though never so cruel, yet did he with the sign of the cross dispatch and kill them: for by virtue of the cross, which the man of God made with his hand, their bowels did break, and they suddenly die: and if by chance the snake gat into any hole, then did he with the sign of the cross bless |164 the mouth thereof, and it wrought the same effect; for any might straightways find it there dead. Myself having understanding of this great grace bestowed upon him, was desirous to see him: and when he was brought unto me, I caused him to be lodged in a chamber amongst the sick men: thereby to try what his gift was in curing of diseases. At that time, there was one amongst them beside himself, being fallen into a phrensy: who one night did so cry out like a mad man, that with his noise he disquieted all the rest that were sick, so that they could not sleep or take any rest: and so it fell out very strangely that, one being ill, all the rest fared the worse. But as I had before learned of the reverent Bishop Floridus, who was at that time there present with the said Priest, and afterward also plainly understood of him that attended that night upon the sick persons, the foresaid venerable Priest, rising out of his bed, went softly to the place where the mad man lay, and there prayed, laying his hands upon him; whereupon the man became somewhat better. Then he carried him away unto the higher part of the house, into the oratory: where more plentifully he prayed unto God for his recovery: and straight after he brought him back again to his own bed safe and sound, so that he cried out no more, neither troubled any of the other sick persons. By which one fact of his, I had sufficient reason to give credit to all the rest that before had been told me.
PETER. A great edification it is, to see men working such notable miracles: and to behold, as it were upon earth, heavenly Jerusalem in her citizens.
Chapter Thirty-six: of Marimianus, Bishop of Syracusis.38
GREGORY. Neither is that miracle to be passed over with silence, which almighty God vouchsafed to work by his servant Maximianus, now Bishop of Syracusis, but then the father and governor of mine Abbey. For at such time as I was, upon the |165 commandment of my Bishop, sent to Constantinople to the Emperor, about affairs of the Church, the same reverent man, Maximianus upon charity, with other of his monks, came thither unto me: who in his return homeward to Rome, fell into a great tempest upon the Adriake sea: in which both himself and all those that were in his company, after a most strange and miraculous manner, tasted both of the indignation and favour of almighty God. For the sea did so rage with the fury of the winds, that they had spent their mast: the sails floated upon the waves: and the ship, beaten and torn with boisterous billows, did leak water so fast, that it was now come to the upper deck, in such sort that the ship seemed not so much to be in the waters, as the waters in the ship.
The mariners and passengers, troubled with the fear of death, not as a thing far off, but even present before their eyes, void of all hope of this life, prepared themselves for the next: and so, mutually giving the pax or kiss of peace one to another, they received the body and blood of our Saviour: commending themselves to almighty God, that he would vouchsafe mercifully to receive their souls, who had delivered their bodies to so fearful a death: but God, who had wonderfully terrified their minds, did more wonderfully preserve their lives. For the same ship although full of water, yet did it hold on her course for eight days together, and upon the ninth, it arrived at the port of Cothronum:39 and when all the rest were safely gone out, then last of all the reverent man Maximianus went also forth: and no sooner was he upon land, than the ship sunk in the haven: as though, by their departure, it had wanted that which did preserve it: and whereas before, being at sea, it was full of men, and carried also abundance of water, and yet sailed onward: now when Maximianus with his monks were landed, it could not in the haven carry the waters alone: whereby God gave them to understand, that, when it was laden, himself |166 with his divine hand did govern and preserve it: seeing when it was empty it could not for a small time continue above the water.
Chapter Thirty-seven: of Sanctulus, a Priest in the Province of Nursia.
About forty days since, you saw with me one called Sanctulus, a reverent Priest, who every year came unto me out of Nursia: but three days ago, a certain monk, coming from those parts, brought me very heavy news of his death. The holy life and virtue of which man was such, that although I can not but fetch sweet sighs when I remember it, yet now I may without all fear report and publish to the world such miracles as I have learned by the relation of very virtuous and holy Priests, that were his neighbours: and as amongst dear friends familiarity causeth one to presume much in charity, oftentimes myself did so courteously urge him, that he was enforced to tell me some small miracles which himself had done.
Certain Lombards being upon a time pressing of olives to make oil, Sanctulus, as he was both merry in countenance and heart, came unto them, and saluted them pleasantly: and shewing them his bottle which he brought, rather willed than desired them to fill it with oil. But they being infidels, and having laboured all day in vain, and not pressed out any oil at all, took his words in ill part, and gave him very bad speech: but the man of God, notwithstanding this, spake unto them yet with a more merry countenance, and said: "If you desire to do me a good turn, you will fill this bottle for Sanctulus, and so he will depart from you very well contented." But they, seeing no oil to run forth, and hearing him yet for all that so earnest to have his bottle filled, fell into a great rage, and railed mightily upon him. Then the man of God, seeing that no oil came from the press, called for water, which he blessed before them all, and with his own hands cast it upon the press: and forthwith, by virtue |167 of that benediction, such plenty of oil ran forth, that the Lombards, who before had long laboured in vain, did not only fill their own vessels, but also his bottle: giving him thanks for that, coming to beg oil, by his blessing he bestowed that upon them which himself had demanded.
At another time, when a great dearth was in the country, the man of God being desirous to repair the church of St. Lawrence, burnt before by the Lombards, he hired for that end many cunning workmen and divers other labourers, who of necessity were daily to be maintained: but so great was the scarcity, that he wanted bread to relieve them; whereupon his workmen cried out for meat, because they were faint and could not labour. The man of God, hearing this, gave them comfortable words, promising to supply their want; yet inwardly very much was he grieved, being not able to perform what he had said. Going therefore up and down in great anxiety, he came to an oven, wherein the neighbours that dwelt by had the day before baked bread: and stooping down, he looked in, to see whether they had by chance left any bread behind them, where he found a loaf both greater and whiter than commonly they used: which he took away, but yet would he not by and by give it to his workmen, lest perhaps it belonged to some other body, and so might as it were, of compassion to other, have committed a sin himself: and therefore he did first shew it to all the women there about, enquiring whether it were any of theirs: but all denied it, saying that they had all received their just number of loaves. Then the man of God in great joy went with that one loaf to many workmen, wishing them to give thanks to almighty God, telling them how his goodness had provided them of necessary food; and forthwith he set that loaf before them, whereof, when they had satisfied themselves, he gathered up more pieces of bread which remained, than the whole loaf itself was before in quantity. The day |168 following, again he set it before them, and again the pieces remaining were far more than the former fragments: and so, for the space of ten days together, all those artificers and workmen lived upon that one loaf, and were very well satisfied: some thing remaining every day for the next, as though the fragments had by eating increased.
PETER. A strange thing, and not unlike to that notable miracle of our Saviour; and therefore worthy to be admired of all.
GREGORY. Our Saviour at this time, Peter, vouchsafed by his servant to feed many with one loaf, who in times past, by himself, fed five thousand with five loaves: and doth daily of a few grains of corn produce innumerable ears of wheat: who also out of the earth brought forth those very grains; and more than all this, created all things of nothing. But to the end you should not marvel any longer, what by God's assistance the venerable man Sanctulus wrought outwardly: I will now tell you what, by our Lord's grace, he was inwardly in his soul. Upon a certain day, the Lombards had taken a Deacon, whom they kept in prison, with a purpose to put him to death. When evening was come, the man of God, Sanctulus, entreated them to set him at liberty, and to grant him his life: but when he saw that he could not obtain that favour at their hands, but that they were fully resolved to have his life: then he beseeched them, that they would at least commit him to his keeping: wherewith they were content, but with this condition, that if he scaped away, that then himself should die for him. The man of God was very well content, and so he received the Deacon into his own charge and custody.
The midnight following, when he saw all the Lombards fast asleep, he called up the Deacon, willing him quickly to rise up and to run away as fast as he could: "and almighty God," quoth he, "deliver thee out of their |169 hands." To whom the Deacon (knowing what he had promised) said: "Father, I can not run away, for if I do, out of all doubt they will put you to death." Yet for all this, Sanctulus enforced him to be gone with all speed, saying: "Up, and away: and God of his goodness defend and protect you: for I am in his hands, and they can do no more unto me than his divine Majesty shall give them leave." Upon these words away went the Deacon; and he that had undertaken his safe keeping, as one that had been deceived, remained behind.
In the morning the Lombards demanded of Sanctulus for their prisoner: who told them that he was run away. "Then," quoth they, "you best know what is convenient for you to have." "Yea, marry, that do I," answered the servant of God, with great constancy. "Well," quoth they, "thou art a good man, and therefore we will not by divers torments take away thy life; but make choice of what death thou wilt." To whom the man of God answered in this manner: "Here I am, at God's disposition and pleasure, kill me in such sort, as he shall vouchsafe to give you leave." Then all the Lombards that were present agreed to have him beheaded: to the end an easy and quick death might soon dispatch him. When it was given out abroad that Sanctulus was to die, whom for his virtue and holiness they greatly honoured, all the Lombards that were in those parts repaired thither, being glad (such cruel minds they have) to behold him put to death: and when all the army was gathered together, they brought him forth to execution, and the strongest man amongst them was chosen out, to cut off his head at one blow.
The venerable man, beset with armed soldiers, betook himself to his usual weapons: for he desired them to give him a little leave to pray: which when he had obtained, he cast himself prostrate upon the earth, and fell to his devotions: in which after he had continued for a good |170 space, the executioner spurned him up with his foot, bidding him rise, kneel down, and to prepare himself for death. The man of God rose up, bowed down his knee, and held forth his head, and beholding the drawn sword ready to dispatch him, these only words they said that he spake aloud: "O Saint John, hold that sword." Then the foresaid executioner, having the naked weapon in his hand, did with all his force lift up his arm to strike off his head; but by no means could he bring it down again, for it became suddenly so stiff that it remained still above, the man being not able once to bend it downward. Then all the Lombards who came to feed their eyes with the lamentable sight of his death, began with admiration to praise God's name, and with fear to reverence the man of God: for they now saw apparently of what great holiness he was, that did so miraculously stay the arm of his executioner above in the air.
Then they desired him to rise up, which he did; but when they required him to restore his executioner's arm to his former state, he utterly refused, saying: "By no means will I once pray for him, unless beforehand he swear unto me, that he will never with that arm offer to kill any Christian more." The poor Lombard, who, as we may truly say, had stretched out his arm against God, enforced with this necessity, took an oath never more to put any Christian to death. Then the man of God commanded him to put down his arm, which forthwith he did; he commanded him also to put up his sword, which in like manner he performed. All the Lombards, by this perceiving him to be a man of rare virtue, began in all haste to present him with the gifts of such oxen and other cattle as before they had taken from others: but the man of God utterly refused all such kind of presents, desiring them rather, if they meant to bestow anything upon him worth the giving, that they would deliver unto him all such prisoners as they had in their |171 keeping: that he might have some cause in his prayers to commend them to almighty God. To which request of his they condescended, and so all the poor captives were discharged: and thus, by God's sweet providence, one offering himself to die for another, many were delivered from death.
PETER. A strange thing it was: and although I have heard the same story by the relation of others, yet I cannot deny, but so often as I hear it repeated, it seemeth still unto me as though it were fresh news.
GREGORY. There is no cause why you should admire Sanctulus for this thing: but ponder with yourself, if you can, what manner of spirit that was, which possessed his simple soul, and did advance it to so high a perfection of virtue. For where was his mind, when he offered himself with such constancy to die for his neighbour; and to save the temporal life of his brother, contemned his own, and put his head under the executioner's sword? What force of true love did then harbour in that heart, when he nothing feared death to preserve the life of another? Ignorant I am not, that this venerable man Sanctulus could scant read well, and that he knew not the precepts of the law: yet because charity is the fulfilling of the law, by loving God and his neighbour, he kept the whole law: and that which outwardly lacked in knowledge, did inwardly by charity live in his soul. And he, perhaps, who never read that which St. John the Apostle said of our Saviour, to wit, that as he yielded his life for us, so we likewise should yield our lives for our brethren:40 yet that great and high precept of the Apostle he knew more by action than by speculation. Let us here, if you please, compare his learned ignorance with our unlearned knowledge: where our kind of learning is nothing worth, his is of great price and estimation: we, destitute of virtue, do speak thereof, and, as it were in the midst of plentiful |172 trees smell of the fruit, but do not eat thereof. He knew full well how to gather and taste of the fruit itself, although he lacked the smell of words and vain speech.
PETER. What, I pray, do you think, is the cause that good men are still taken away; and such as for the benefit and edification of many, might live still in this world, either are not to be found at all, or at least very few can be heard of?
GREGORY. The malice and wickedness of them that remain behind in the world deserveth that those should quickly be taken away, who by their life might much help us: and for as much as the world draweth towards an) end, God's chosen servants are taken out of it, that they fall not into more wicked times: and therefore from hence it cometh that the prophet saith: The just man doth perish, and there is none that doth ponder it in his heart: and men of mercy are gathered together, because there is none that hath understanding.41 And from hence also it proceedeth that the scripture saith: Open ye, that they may go forth which do tread it under foot.42 Hence, likewise, it is that Solomon saith: There is a time of casting stones abroad, and a time of gathering them together.43 And therefore the nearer that the world draweth to an end, so much the more necessary it is that the living stones should be gathered together, for the heavenly building: that our celestial Jerusalem may arrive to the full measure of his whole perfection. And yet do I not think that all God's elect servants are so taken out of the world, that none but the wicked remain behind: for sinners would never be converted to the sorrow of true penance, if they had not the examples of some good people to provoke them forward.
PETER. Without cause do I complain of the death of good men, when as daily I see them also that be wicked in great numbers to depart this life. |173
Chapter Thirty-eight: of the vision of Redemptus, Bishop of the City of Ferenti.44
GREGORY. Wonder nothing at this, Peter, for you knew very well Redemptus, Bishop of the city of Ferenti, a man of venerable life, who died almost seven years since: with whom I had familiar acquaintance, by reason that he dwelt not far from the Abbey in which I lived. This man, when I asked him (for the matter was very well known far and near), told me that which by divine revelation he had learned concerning the end of the world, in the time of John the younger, who was my predecessor. For he said that upon a certain day, as he was, according to his manner, visiting of his diocese, he came to the church of the blessed martyr Euthicius: and when it was night he would needs be lodged nigh to the sepulchre of the martyr, where after his travel he reposed himself. About midnight, being, as he said himself, neither perfectly waking, nor yet sleeping, but rather heavy of sleep, he felt his waking soul oppressed with great sorrow: and being in that case, he saw the same blessed martyr Euthicius standing before him, who spake thus: "Art thou waking, Redemptus?" to whom he answered, that he was. Then the martyr said: "The end of all flesh is come: the end of all flesh is come": which words after he had repeated thus three times, he vanished out of his sight.
Then the man of God rose up, and fell to his prayers with many tears: and straight after, those fearful sights in heaven followed; to wit, fiery lances, and armies appearing from the north. Straight after likewise the barbarous and cruel nation of the Lombards, drawn as a sword out of a sheath, left their own country, and invaded ours: by reason whereof the people, which before for the huge multitude were like to thick corn-fields, remain now withered and overthrown: for cities be wasted, towns and villages spoiled, churches burnt, monasteries of men and women destroyed, farms left desolate, and the country |174 remaineth solitary and void of men to till the ground, and destitute of all inhabitants: beasts possessing those places, where before great plenty of men did dwell. And how it goeth in other parts of the world I know not, but here in this place where we live, the world doth not foretell any end, but rather sheweth that which is present and already come. Wherefore so much the more zealously ought we to seek after eternal things, by how much we find all temporal so quickly to be fled and gone. Surely this world were to be contemned, although it did flatter us, and with pleasant prosperity contented our mind: but now, seeing it is fraught with so many miseries and divers afflictions, and that our sorrows and crosses do daily increase and be doubled, what doth it else but cry unto us that we should not love it?
Many more things yet remain of the worthy acts of God's servants, but because I have resolved now upon another course, I will now pass them over with silence.
PETER. For as much as I perceive that many Christians do doubt of the immortality of the soul, after the dissolution of the body: I beseech you for the spiritual good or many, to set down some reasons for proof thereof: or the examples of some souls which have testified the same, if you remember any: to the end that those which be troubled with any such temptations, may learn that the soul doth not die together with the body.
GREGORY. This is a work of great labour, especially for one that is busied with other affairs, and hath other things to attend unto: yet if any profit by my means may redound to others, willingly do I prefer that before mine own will and pleasure: and therefore, God's grace assisting me, in this fourth book following, I will clearly show that the soul doth live after the death of the body.
[Footnotes moved to the end and combined with editorial notes]
1. Chapter I. pp. 105-108. St. Paulinus (Meropius Pontius Anicius Paulinus) was born at Bordeaux in 353 or 354, of a noble house with vast estates in Gaul, Italy, and Spain. In middle life he left the world, and from 409 until his death in 431 was Bishop of Nola in Campania (a province of which he had been governor in early manhood). Many of his letters and poems (he had been a pupil of Ausonius) have been preserved. His feast is on June 22. The story here told by St. Gregory presents various chronological difficulties. The Vandals established their kingdom in Africa between 429 and 439 (in which latter year Gaiseric, or Genseric, took Carthage) ; their ravages in Italy (culminating in the sack of Rome by Gaiseric in 455) did not begin in the lifetime of Paulinus ; and Gaiseric himself, who is evidently the king here referred to, did not die until 477, more than forty years after the death of Paulinus. As a matter of fact, Alaric took Nola in 410, after his sack of Rome, and Paulinus, then newly appointed Bishop, was made prisoner. "Our Paulinus, Bishop of Nola," writes St. Augustine, "who from one most wealthy had become voluntarily poor and most abundantly holy, when the Barbarians sacked Nola, and he was held captive, prayed thus in his heart, as we afterwards learned from him : Lord, let me not be tormented on account of gold and silver, for Thou knowest where all I have is" (De Civitate Dei, i. 10). Alaric died within the year. It seems not impossible, as M. André Baudrillart suggests (Saint Paulin Evêque de Nole, pp. 167-170), that the foundation for St. Gregory's story is some tradition connected with the taking of St. Paulinus in 410, and that the Vandals have been confused with the Visigoths, Gaiseric with Alaric. There is no evidence that St. Paulinus was ever a prisoner in Africa.
2. Chapter II. p. 109. For "Justinian the elder" read "Justin the elder " (the mistake is not the translator's, but due to the Latin text that he used). John I., a Tuscan by birth, was elected Pope in 523, in succession to Pope Hormisdas, whose reconciliation of the Roman See with the Eastern Empire, as represented by Justin I., had weakened the power of Theodoric in Italy. In 525 he was compelled by the Gothic king to go on an embassy to Justin, here recorded by St. Gregory, with a view of persuading the Emperor to adopt less vigorous methods against the Arians. At Constantinople he crowned the Emperor. On his return to Ravenna, Theodoric threw him into a dungeon, where he died in May, 526. He is the last Pope whom the Church of Rome venerates as a martyr. Cf. below, Bk. IV. chap. 30.
3. Chapter III. p. 109. Agapitus I., a Roman noble, was elected Pope in 535, when Justinian, the nephew and successor of Justin, was preparing to reconquer Italy from the Goths. He went to Constantinople, at once to make peace (in which he was unsuccessful) and to procure the deposition of the patriarch Anthimus, who adhered to the Monophysite heresy and was supported by the Empress Theodora. There the Pope suddenly died in April 536. Dante (Par. vi. 10-21) makes Justinian represent himself as converted from the Monophysites by the words of Agapitus :
" Cesare fui, e son Giustiniano,
Che, per voler del primo amor ch'io sento,
D'entro le leggi trassi il troppo e il vano.
E prima ch'io all'opra fossi attento,
Una natura in Cristo esser, non piue,
Credeva, e di tal fede era contento ;
Ma il benedetto Agapito, che fue
Sommo pastore, alia fede sincera
Mi dirizzò con le parole sue.
Io gli credetti, e ciò che in fede sua era
Veggio ora chiaro, si come tu vedi
Ogni contraddizion e falsa e vera."
4. Chapter IV. p. 110. Datius, Archbishop of Milan, a great champion of orthodoxy and an active ecclesiastical politician, was closely associated with Pope Vigilius in his struggle with Justinian and Theodora. He died at Constantinople in 552. This legend probably refers to his earlier visit to the Byzantine Court, circa 544.
5. 1 Isai. 14, 13, 14.
6. Chapter V. p. 111. Sabinus, Bishop of Canosa in Apulia, has been already mentioned, Bk. II. chap. 15. This story shows Totila in a different light from that in which he usually appears in Gregory's pages.
7. Chapter VIII. p. 116. The Pope in question is usually identified with John III. (561-574) ; but the previous reference to Constantius, Bishop of Aquino, as a contemporary of St. Benedict (cf. Bk. II. chap. 16), seems to point to John II. (533-535).
8. Chapter IX. p. 117. Frigidianus or Frigdianus (in Italian, San Frediano) was an Irishman. He died in 588, and is celebrated on March 18 and November 18. For "Anser" read Auser, now called the Serchio.
9. Chapter X. p. 118. Placentia is the modern Piacenza, in Lombardy.
10. Chapter XI. p. 119. Cerbonius died about 575. Populonium, or Populonia, a few miles from Piombino in the Maremma of Tuscany, was an important place in antiquity by reason of the smelting of the iron from Elba. It was the chief Etruscan seaport.
11. Chapter XII. p. 120. Otricoli (Ocriculum) is near Orte in Umbria. This St. Fulgentius (d. 540) is not to be confused with his contemporary, St. Fulgentius, Bishop of Ruspe (d. 533).
12. Chapter XIII. p. 121. The capture of Perusia (the modern Perugia) by the Goths and the martyrdom of St. Herculanus (Sant' Ercolano) took place in 549, after a siege of three years, during which the city was gallantly defended by a Greek imperial garrison under Cyprian. According to the legend, when the defenders were reduced to extremities, Herculanus ordered a lamb or an ox to be fed with all the store of grain that remained, and then hurled down from the walls, in order that the besiegers might suppose that supplies abounded, and abandon their hope of reducing the city by starvation. A young ecclesiastic, either accidentally or by treachery, revealed the trick to the Goths, who straightway took the city by storm.
13. Chapter XIV. p. 123. There were a number of Syrian monks in Italy during the sixth century (Herculanus of Perugia is said to have been a Syrian). Nothing more is known concerning this Isaac of Spoleto, who, if he lived "almost to the last days of the Goths," must have died about the middle of the century (Teias, the successor of Totila, and the last king of the Goths in Italy, was slain in 553). He is not to be confused with two other Syrians of the same name, the presbyter Isaac of Antioch (middle of fifth century) and Isaac of Nineveh, the Nestorian bishop of that city in the latter half of the seventh century. For the last-named, see J. B. Chabot, De S. Isaaci Ninivitae vita, scriptis, et doctrina (Paris, 1892), and a more recent article by J. P. Arendzen in the Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. viii. (New York, 1910). The Latin Liber de contemptu mundi is a kind of collection from the writings of Isaac of Nineveh (translated from a Greek version of the Syriac original) ; upon this is based an Italian work of the fourteenth century, variously entitled De la perfectione de la vita contemplativa and Collazione dell' Abate Isaac, erroneously attributed to St. Gregory's Isaac of Spoleto, which has been several times reprinted (the latest edition is that of Bartolommeo Sorio, published at Rome in 1845, together with the letters of Giovanni dalle Celle).
14. 1 Judges 3, 1. 127
15. Chapter XV. p. 128. Euthicius (better, Eutychius) died about 540 ; Florentius about 547.
16. 1 1 Cor. 6, 10.
17. 1 Isai. 6, 5.
18. 1 Prov. 28, 9. 132
19. Chapter XVI. p. 133. Marcius is called Martinus in the Latin text. Mons Marsicus is either Monte Marsicano in the Abruzzi, or the mountain of the same name near Marsico Nuovo in Basilicata. Pope Pelagius II., Gregory's immediate predecessor, reigned from 579 to 590.
20. Chapter XVII. p. 136. Buxentum, in Lucania, is either Pisciotta or Policastro on the coast of Calabria. Monte Argentario, in the Tuscan province of Grosseto (formerly a part of the republic of Siena) is famous in the annals of the order of the Passionists.
21. 1 I Cor. 7, 3. 138
22. Chapter XVIII. p. 139. This monk Benedict (who, of course, is not the same person as his more famous contemporary, St. Benedict of Nursia) is commemorated on March 23.
23. 1 Daniel 3.
24. Chapter XIX. p. 140. For "Antharicus" read Autharicus. Authari, king of the Lombards, reigned from 584 to 590. These great floods were in 589. Athesis is the modern Adige. St. Zeno, whose feast is on April 12, was Bishop of Verona in the fourth century, and, according to the legend, delivered the daughter of the Emperor Galienus from an unclean spirit. Nothing is known about his having suffered martyrdom. Cf. Acta Sanctorum, Aprilis Tom II., pp. 68-78. Two books of Tractatus, or Sermones, attributed to him are in Migne, P.L., XI.
25. 1 Matt. 8,31.
26. Chapter XXII. p. 143. Valentius is the same person as the Valentinus mentioned on pp. 22, 202. He is variously called Valentinus, Valentius, or Valentio.
27. Chapter XXIII. p. 145. Praeneste is the mediasval Palestrina, near which St. Gregory's own ancestral lands lay. The mountain, upon the side of which the city stands, is crowned by Castel San Pietro, with a church probably occupying the site of the abbey here mentioned and a ruined castle of the Colonna.
28. 1 Daniel 8, 27.
29. 1 Matt. 20, 22-23.
30. Chapters XXVII. and XXVIII. pp. 150-151. Dr. Hodgkin (VI. p. 97) conjectures that these atrocities were not committed by the Lombards properly so called, who were Arians, but by their barbarian auxiliaries, Bulgarians, Sarmatians, and Gepidae, who had come with them into Italy, and who were idolaters.
31. Chapter XXX. p. 153. The church in question is Sancta Agatha in Subura, now known as Santa Agata de' Goti. It had been built (or, perhaps, restored) as a church of the Arians by Ricimer, the Visigothic patrician, shortly before 472, and was taken for Catholic worship by St. Gregory in 591 or 592, and dedicated to St. Agatha, to whom he had a special devotion. In a letter written early in 594, St. Gregory commends the church to the acolyth Leo: "ecclesia sanctae Agathae sita in Subora, quae spelunca fuit aliquando pravitatis hereticae, ad catholicae fidei culturam, Deo propitiante, reducta est." (Registrum, Epist. iv. 19, ed. Ewald and Hartmann, i. p. 253) ; but makes no mention of any miracle. Subura is the district between the Esquiline, Quirinal, and Viminal hills, and had a bad repute in classical times. Cf. Horace, Epod. v., 57. For "St. Stephen," read "St. Sebastian." The Latin runs : "introductis illic beati Sebastiani et sanctae Agathae martyrum reliquiis."
32. Chapter XXXI. pp. 155-157. Leander, Bishop of Seville (to whom St. Gregory dedicated his Moralia), was the brother of Theodosia, the first wife of King Leovigild, the mother of Hermenigild and Rechared. Hermenigild, who had been converted from Arianism by his young wife Ingunthis (a Catholic Frank princess), was associated with his father in the kingdom, ruling at Seville, while Leovigild held his court at Toledo. He rebelled against his father in 583, and was either murdered or put to death by the latter (the circumstances are not clear) in 585. Leovigild died in 586, and his successor, Hermenigild's brother Rechared, became a Catholic in the following year. St. Leander died in 599, and was succeeded in the see of Seville by his more famous brother, St. Isidore, the great apostle of Latin culture and Catholic orthodoxy among the Visigoths of Spain.
33. 1 John 12, 24.
34. Chapter XXXII. p. 157. St. Gregory's chronology is here at fault. The great persecutor of the Catholics in Africa, King Hunneric of the Vandals (the son and successor of Gaiseric), reigned from 477 to 484, in the time of the Emperor Zeno. Justinian did not ascend the imperial throne until 527.
35. 1 John 1, 1.
36. 1 Lamentations 3, 48.
37. 1 Joshua 15, 19.
38. Chapter XXXVI. p. 164. Maximianus, Bishop of Syracuse and formerly abbot of St. Gregory's abbey of Sant' Andrea on the Caelian Hill, was a constant friend and correspondent of the latter ; he died in 594. St. Gregory was sent to Constantinople as apocrisiarius or papal legate, by Pope Pelagius II., in 579, and stayed there until about 585. While there he composed his great Moralia.
39. Ibid, p, 165. "Cothronum" is Cotrone, on the east coast of Calabria.
40. 1 1 John 3,16.
41. 1 Isai. 57, 1.
42. 2 Jerem. 50, 26.
43. 3 Eccles. 3, 5.
44. Chapter XXXVIII. p. 173. For "Ferenti" (Ferentino), cf. Bk. I. chap. 9. "John the younger" is apparently Pope John III, who was Bishop of Rome from 561 to 574. The Lombards entered Italy in 568. Eutychius is the more usual form of this martyr's name.
This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2004. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font, free from here.
|Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts|