Gregory the Great, Dialogues (1911) Book 1. pp.1-48
Being upon a certain day too much over-charged with the troubles of worldly business, in which oftentimes men are enforced to do more than of duty they are bound, I retired myself into a solitary place, very fit for a sad and melancholy disposition; where each discontentment and dislike concerning such secular affairs might plainly show themselves, and all things that usually bring grief, mustered together, might freely be presented before mine eyes. In which place after that I had sat a long while, in much silence and great sorrow of soul, at length Peter, my dear son and deacon, came unto me; a man whom, from his younger years, I had always loved most entirely, and used him for my companion in the study of sacred scripture: who, seeing me drowned in such a dump of sorrow, spake unto me in this manner: "What is the matter? or what bad news have you heard? for certain I am, that some extraordinary sadness doth now afflict your mind." To whom I returned this answer: "O Peter, the grief which continually 1 endure is unto me both old and new: old through common use, and new by daily increasing. For mine unhappy soul, wounded with worldly business, doth now call to mind in what state it was, when I lived in mine Abbey, and |4 how then it was superior to all earthly matters, far above all transitory and corruptible pelf, how it did usually think upon nothing but heavenly things; and though it was enclosed in mortal body, yet did it by contemplation pass far beyond earthly bounds, and penetrate to the very height of heaven; and as for death, the memory whereof is almost to all men grievous, that it did love and desire, as the end of all misery, the reward of her labours, and the very entrance to an everlasting and blessed life. But now, by reason of my pastoral charge, my poor soul is enforced to endure the burden of secular men's business, and after so excellent and sweet a kind of rest, denied it is with the dust of worldly conversation: and when it doth, at the request of others, attend to outward affairs, no question but it returneth back, far less fit to think upon those that be inward, spiritual, and heavenly. Wherefore, at this present, do I meditate what I suffer, and consider what my soul hath lost: and the memory of my former loss doth make that more grievous which I do now endure. For do you not behold at this present, how I am tossed with the waves of this wicked world, and see the ship of my soul beaten with the storms of a terrible tempest? and therefore, when I remember my former state of life, I cannot but sigh to look back, and cast mine eyes upon the forsaken shore.
"And that which doth yet grieve me more is because I see myself so carried away amain with the boisterous blasts of this troublesome world, that I cannot now scarce behold the port from whence I did first hoist sail;1 for such be the downfalls of our soul, that first it loseth that goodness and virtue which before it possessed; yet so that it doth still remember what it hath lost; but afterwards, carried away more and more, and straying further from the path of virtue, it cometh at length to that pass, that it doth not so much as keep in mind what before it did daily practise: and so in conclusion, it falleth out as |5 I said before, that sailing farther on, we go at length so far, that we do not so much as once behold the sweet harbour of quiet and peace from whence we first set forth. Sometime also my sorrow is increased, by remembering thrives of certain notable men, who with their whole soul did utterly forsake and abandon this wicked world: whose high perfection when I behold, I cannot also but see mine own infirmities and imperfection: very many of whom did, in a contemplative and retired kind of life, much please God: and lest by dealing with transitory business they might have decayed in virtue, God's goodness vouchsafed to free them from the troubles and affairs of this wretched world. But that which I have now said will be far more plain, and the better perceived, if the residue of my speech be dialogue wise distinguished, by setting down each of our names, you asking what you shall think convenient, and I by answer, giving satisfaction to such questions as you shall demand at my hands."
PETER. I do not remember any in Italy, that have been very famous for virtue; and therefore ignorant I am who they be, that, comparing your life to theirs, you should be so much inflamed to imitate their steps; for although I make no doubt but that there have been many good men, yet do I verily think that none of them wrought any miracles, or at least they have been hitherto so buried in silence that, whether any such thing hath been done or no, not any one man can tell.
GREGORY. If I should, Peter, but report only those things which myself alone have understood by the relation of virtuous and credible persons, or else learned by myself, concerning the life and miracles of perfect and holy men, I should sooner in mine opinion lack day to talk in, than matter to speak of.
PETER. Desirous I am that you would vouchsafe to make me partaker of some of them: and not to think |6 much, if, upon so good an occasion, you interrupt your other study of interpreting the scripture, because no less edification doth grow by the relation of miracles. For as by the exposition of that, we learn how virtue is to be found and kept: so by recounting the miracles of holy men, we know how that which is found out and possessed, is declared and made manifest to the world. And some there are that be sooner moved to the love of God by virtuous examples than by godly sermons: and oftentimes, by the lives of holy fathers, the heart doth reap a double commodity; for if, by comparing of his own life with theirs, he findeth himself inflamed with the love of heaven, although before he had haply a good opinion of himself, yet seeing now how far others do excel him, he becometh also more humble, and is brought to have a more lowly conceit of his own actions and virtue.
GREGORY. Such things as venerable and holy men have told me, I will now, without any further delay, make you partaker of, and that following the example of sacred scripture: for sure I am that St. Luke and St. Mark learned that gospel which they wrote, not by sight but by the relation of others: yet lest any in reading should have occasion to doubt whether such things as I write be true or no, I will set down by what means and of whom I have learned them: yet in some of them you have to know that I remember not all the particulars, but only the matter: in other some, both the matter and also the words. And besides, if I should have been so curious as to have kept in mind each man's particular words, many, uttered after the country manner, would have made the style of my discourse nothing handsome nor seemly. Tnac story which I mean first to begin with, I had by the report of passing reverent men and of great years.
Chapter One: of Honoratus, abbot of the Monastery of Funda.
In times past one Venantius, a noble man, had a living in the country of |7 Samnium; the farmer whereof had a son called Honoratus, who from his very childhood by the virtue of abstinence did thirst after the joys of heaven: and as in other things he led an holy life, and refrained from all idle talk, so did he much, as I said before, subdue his body by means of abstinence. His parents, upon a certain day, had invited their neighbours to a banquet which consisted altogether of flesh, whereof because for the love of mortification he refused to eat, his father and mother began to laugh at him, willing him to fall to that which they had: "For can we," quoth they, "get you any fish here in these mountains?" (for in that place they used sometimes to hear of fish, but seldom to see any.) But whiles they were thus jesting, and mocking at their son, suddenly they lacked water: whereupon a servant with a wooden bucket (as the manner is there) went to the well to fetch some: into which, as he was a drawing, a fish entered in, which upon his return, together with the water, he poured forth before them all. And the fish was so great, that it served Honoratus very well for all that day. At this strange chance all were stroken in admiration, and his parents abstained now from further scoffing at his virtue, and began to have him in reverence for his abstinence, whom before for that very cause they did mock and scorn: and by this means, the fish, brought miraculously from the well, discharged God's servant from that shame, which he had endured through their uncivil jesting. Honoratus, proceeding forward in virtue, at length was made free by the foresaid Lord Venantius: and afterward, in that place which is called Funda,2 he built an Abbey, wherein he was the father almost of two hundred monks: and he lived in so great holiness that he gave good example to all the country round about. Upon a certain day, it fell so out, that a stone of an huge greatness, which was digged out of the |8 mountain that hung over the top of his Abbey, tumbled down by the side of the hill, threatening both the ruin of the house and the death of all the monks within: which danger the holy man seeing ready to come upon them, called often upon the name of Christ, and, putting forth his right hand, made against it the sign of the cross, and by that means did he stay it, and pin it fast to the side of that steep hill: which thing Lawrence, a religious man, affirmed to be most true. And because it found not there any place upon which it might rest, it hangeth at this time in such sort, that all which now look upon it do verily think that it would continually fall.
PETER. I suppose so notable a man as he was, and who afterward became master to so many scholars, had himself some excellent teacher of whom he was instructed.
GREGORY. I never heard that he was scholar to any: but the grace of the Holy Ghost is not tied to any law. The usual custom of virtuous men is, that none should take upon him to rule, who first hath not learned to obey: nor to command that obedience to his subjects, which before he hath not given to his own superiors. Yet some there be which are so inwardly taught by the doctrine of God's holy spirit, that although they have no man to instruct them outwardly, yet do they not want the direction of an inward teacher: which liberty of life notwithstanding is not to be taken for an example by such as be weak and infirm, lest, whiles each one doth in like manner presume to be full of the Holy Ghost, and contemn to learn of any, they become themselves erroneous masters. But that soul which is full of God's holy spirit, hath for proof thereof most evident signs, to wit, the other virtues, and especially humility, both which if they do perfectly meet in one soul, apparent it is that they be testimonies of the presence of heavenly grace. And so we read not that John Baptist |9 had any master, nor yet that Christ, who by his corporal presence taught his Apostles, took him in amongst the number of his other disciples, but vouchsafed to instruct him inwardly, and left him, as it were, in the sight of the world to his own liberty. So Moses, likewise, was taught in the wilderness, and learned by the Angel what God gave him in charge, which by means of any mortal man he knew not: but these things, as before hath been said, are of weaklings to be reverenced, and not by any means to be followed.
PETER. I like very well of your opinion: yet I beseech you to tell me, whether so notable a father as he was, left not some scholar behind him, that did imitate his master's steps.
Chapter Two: of Libertinus, Prior of the same Abbey.
GREGORY. The reverent man, Libertinus, who, in the time of Totila,3 king of the Goths, was Prior of the same Abbey of Funda, was brought up and taught by him: of whom, albeit the certain report of passing many hath made his sundry virtues known to the world, yet the foresaid religious man, Lawrence, who still liveth and that time had very familiar acquaintance with him, hath often told me many things, whereof some few, which now come to my mind, I will here set down. In the same province of Samnium, as Libertinus was in his journey about business of the Abbey, it so fell out that Darida, captain of the Goths, with his army, met him, by whose soldiers the man of God was thrown from his horse; which injury he taking very patiently, offered them also his whip, saying: "Take this, that you may make him the better to go"; and having said so, he betook himself to his prayers. The army marched on very fast, and quickly came to the river called Vulturnus, where they began to beat their horses both with their lances and also to spur them, till the blood came, and all this to |10 make them take the water; but yet no beating nor spurring could enforce them forward: for they were as much afraid to enter the river as though it had been some deep downfall. At length, when they were all wearied with beating, one amongst the rest said, that the reason why they were thus punished was for taking away the horse from God's servant: whereupon returning straightways back, they found Libertinus prostrate at his prayers; and calling upon him to rise and take his horse, he bade them go on a God's name, saying that he needed him not; but for all that they alighted and set him perforce upon his own beast, and so in all haste departed, and returning back to the river they passed over so quickly as though in the channel there had been no water at all; and so it fell out that God's servant having restitution made him of his one horse, that all the soldiers came likewise to enjoy the use of their own.
At the same time one Buccellinus 4 entered Campania with an army of French men, and because it was commonly said that the Abbey in which the holy man lived had great store of money, the French men, very greedy of so good a booty, came thither, and with raging minds went into his oratory (where he lay prostrate at his prayers) seeking and crying out for Libertinus; and a strange thing it was, for though they came in, and stumbled upon him, yet could they not see him, and so, deceived through their own blindness, away they departed as empty as they came.
At another time likewise upon business of the monastery, at the commandment of the Abbot who succeeded his master Honoratus, he took his journey to Ravenna. And for the great love which he bare to venerable Honoratus, always did he bear about him in his bosom one of his stockings. Being in his way it fell so out that a certain woman was carrying the corpse of her |11 dead son; who no sooner saw the servant of God, but, for the love of her child, she laid hold upon his bridle, protesting with a solemn oath that he should not depart, before he had raised up her dead son. The holy man, not acquainted with so strange a miracle, was much afraid, to hear her make such a request, and willing to have got away, yet seeing no means how to effect his desire, greatly did he doubt what was best to be done. Here it is worth the noting to consider what a conflict he had in his soul: humility and the mother's piety striving together: fear to presume upon so unusual a miracle, and grief not to help the desolate, mother. At length, to the greater glory of God, piety and compassion overcame that virtuous soul, which therefore may truly be called invincible, because it did yield and was conquered; for a virtuous soul it had not been, if piety and compassion had not overcome it: wherefore, lighting from his horse, he fell upon his knees, lift up his hands to heaven, drew the stocking out of his bosom, laid it upon the breast of the dead corpse; and behold, whiles he was at his prayers, the soul of the child returned into the body, which he perceiving, took it by the hand and delivered it alive to his sorrowful mother, and so went on the rest of his journey.
PETER. What is to be said in this case? For was it the merit of Honoratus, or the prayers of Libertinus, that wrought this miracle?
GREGORY. In the working of so notable a miracle, together with the faith of the woman, the virtue of both did concur; and therefore, in mine opinion, Libertinus had power to raise up that dead child, because he had learned to trust more upon the virtue of his master than his own: for when he laid his stocking upon the child's breast, no doubt but he thought that his soul did obtain that for which he did then pray. For we read the like |12 of Heliseus, who carrying his master's cloak, and coming to the river of Jordan, stroke the waters once, and yet divided them not; but when straight after he said, Where is now the God of Helias? and then stroke the river with the same cloak, he made a way open for himself to pass through.5 Whereby you perceive, Peter, how much humility availeth for the working of miracles, for then the merit of the master had force to do that which he desired, when he called upon his name; and when with humility he did submit himself to his master, he wrought the same miracle which his master had done before him.
PETER. I am well pleased with your answer: but is there, I pray you, anything else of him yet remaining, which may serve for our edification? GREGORY. Surely there is, if there be yet any that list to imitate so notable an example: for I make no doubt, but that the patience of so worthy a man did far excel all his signs and miracles, as you shall now hear. Upon a certain day, the Abbot, who succeeded Honoratus, fell so pitifully out with venerable Libertinus, that he stroke, him with his fists: and because he could find never a staff, up he took a footstool, and with that did so strike his head and his face, that they both swelled and became black and blue. Being thus unreasonably beaten, without giving any words, he went quietly to bed. The next day, he was to go forth about business of the Abbey, and therefore, when matins were ended, he came to his Abbot's bedside, and humbly demanded of him leave. The Abbot, knowing how greatly all did honour and love him, supposed that he would for the former injury have forsaken the Abbey: and therefore he asked him, whither he meant to go: to whom he answered: "Father," quoth he, "there is a certain matter concerning the Abbey to be handled, where I must needs |13 be, for yesterday I promised to come, and therefore I am determined to travel thither." Then the Abbot, considering from the bottom of his heart his own austerity and hard dealing, and the humility and meekness of Libertinus, suddenly leapt out of his bed, gat hold of his feet, confessed that he had sinned and done wickedly, in presuming to offer unto so good and worthy a man so cruel and contumelious an injury. Libertinus, on the contrary, prostrate upon the earth, fell down at his feet, attributing all that he had suffered, not to any cruelty of his, but to his own sins and demerits. And by this means, the Abbot was brought to great meekness; and the humility of the scholar became a teacher to the master. Going afterward abroad about the foresaid business of the Abbey, many gentlemen of his acquaintance, that had him in great reverence, much marvelled, and diligently enquired by what means he came by such a swollen and black face: to whom he answered: "Yesterday," quoth he, "at evening, for punishment of my sins, I met with a footstool, and gat this blow which ye see." And thus the holy man, preserving both truth in his soul and the honour of his master, did neither bewray the fault of his father, nor yet incurred the sin of lying. PETER. Had not so venerable a man as this Libertinus was, of whom you have told so many miracles and strange things, in so great a convent, some that did imitate his holy life and virtues?
Chapter Three; of a certain monk, that was gardener to the same Abbey.
GREGORY. Felix, called also Corvus, one whom you know very well, and who not long since was Prior of the same Abbey, told me divers very strange things, some of which I will pass over with silence, because I hasten to other, but one there is which by no means I can omit. This it was. |14
In the same Abbey there lived a certain monk, very virtuous, who was the gardener. A thief likewise there was, that used to climb over the hedge, and so to steal away the worts. The holy man, seeing that he did set many which afterward he could not find, and perceiving that some were trodden down, and other stolen away, walked round about the garden to find the place where the thief came in, which when he had found, by chance also as he was there, he lighted upon a snake, which he willed to follow him, and bringing him to the place where the thief entered, gave him this charge: "In the name of Jesus," quoth he, "I command thee to keep this passage, and not to suffer any thief to come in." Whereupon the snake forthwith, obeying his commandment, laid itself across in the way, and the monk returned to his cell. Afterward in the heat of the day, when all the monks were at rest, the thief, according to his custom, came thither, and as he was climbing over the hedge and had put one leg on the other side, suddenly he saw the snake, which stopped the way, and for fear falling backward, he left his foot hanging there by the shoe upon a stake, and so he hung with his head downward, until the return of the gardener; who, coming at his usual hour, found the thief hanging there in the hedge, whom when he saw, he spake thus to the snake: "God be thanked, thou hast done what I bade thee, and therefore now go thy way": upon which licence, the snake by and by departed. Then, coming to the thief, he spake thus unto him: "What meaneth this, good brother? God hath delivered you, as you see, into mine hands: why have you been so bold as so often to rob away the labour of the monks?" and speaking thus, he loosed his foot, without doing him any harm, willing him also to follow him; who brought him to the garden gate, and gave him those worts which he desired to have stolen, speaking also to him in sweet |15 manner after this sort: "Go your way, and steal no more; but when you have need, come hither to me, and what sinfully you would take, that will I willingly bestow upon you for God's sake."
PETER. I have hitherto, as I now perceive, lived in an error: for never did I think that there had been any holy men in Italy, which had wrought miracles.
Chapter Four: of Equitius, abbot in the Province of Valeria.6
GREGORY. By the relation of venerable Fortunatus, Abbot of the Monastery which is called Cicero's Bath, and also of other reverent men, I have come to the knowledge of that which now I mean to tell you. There was a passing holy man called 'Equitius, dwelling in the province of Valeria, who, for his virtuous life, was in great admiration with all men, with whom Fortunatus was familiarly acquainted. This Equitius, by reason of his great holiness of life, was the father and governor of many Abbeys in that province. In his younger years, many and sore carnal temptations he endured, which made him more fervent and diligent in prayers, and to persevere continually in that holy exercise, which he did, craving most instantly of God to afford him some remedy. Living in that manner, it fell so out, that in vision, upon a certain night, he saw an Angel come unto him, who made him an eunuch, and so delivered him from all those carnal motions in such sort that never after he felt any more, as though he had not been any man at all. Trusting now upon this great grace received by the special goodness of God, as before he was a governor of men, so afterward he took charge likewise of women, and yet, for all that, did he continually admonish his scholars not easily to credit themselves herein, nor to follow his example, nor yet to trust upon that gift, which they had not in themselves, lest it turned to their own ruin and destruction. |16
At such time as divers witches were here in this city of Rome apprehended, one Basilius, that was a principal man in that wicked art, put upon him the habit of a monk, and so fled away to Valeria; and coming to the reverent Bishop of the city of Amirtin,7 he desired his help, that he would, for the good of his soul, commend him to Abbot Equitius. The Bishop went with him to the Abbey, where he made suit to the servant of God, that he would vouchsafe to receive into his convent that monk which he brought, whom so soon as the holy man beheld, he said to the Bishop: "This man, good brother," quoth he, "whom you commend unto me, seemeth in mine eyes to be a devil, and not any monk"; whereunto the Bishop replied and said, that he sought excuses not to grant his petition. "Not so," quoth the servant of God, "but I do denounce him to be such a one as I see him, and because you shall not think that I will be disobedient, what you command I will perform." Whereupon he was received into the Abbey. Not many days after, God's servant travelled far off to preach unto the people in the country; after whose departure it fell out that, in the monastery of virgins which was under his charge, one of them, which in respect of her corruptible carcase seemed beautiful, fell into an ague, to be afflicted with sore fits, and not so much to speak as pitifully to cry out in this manner: "I shall die forthwith, unless Basilius come unto me, and by his skill in physic restore me to my health." But, in the absence of their father, none of the monks durst presume to enter into the monastery of virgins, much less was he permitted, that was yet but a novice, and whose life and conversation was not known to the rest of the brethren. A messenger, therefore, with all speed was dispatched to the servant of God, Equitius, to let him understand how such a Nun was fallen into a terrible burning ague, and how she did earnestly |17 desire to be visited of Basilius: which news so soon as the holy man did hear, in an anger he smiled, and said: "Did I not say beforehand that this companion was a devil and not a monk? Go your ways, and turn him out of the Abbey; and as. for the virgin that is so sick of a fever, take no further care, for hereafter it shall not trouble her any more, nor she make any further inquisition after Basilius." The monk that was the messenger returning back, understood that the Nun was at that very hour restored to her health, in which the servant of God, Equitius, far distant, affirmed that she should: no question but by special miracle, like to the example of our Saviour, who, being desired to visit the son of a lord, did by his only word restore him to his health, so that the father at his return knew his son to be restored to life at that very hour in which he heard so much from the mouth of truth itself.8 The monks, putting their father's commandment in execution, turned Basilius out of the Abbey, who being so expulsed did often say, that he had by his incantations hanged Equitius his cell in the air, and yet that he could not hurt any of his monks. This wretch not long after, in this city of Rome, through the zeal of good people, for his wickedness was burnt, and so ended his life.
Upon a certain day, one of the Nuns of the same monastery, going into the garden, saw a lettice that liked her, and forgetting to bless it before with the sign of the cross, greedily did she eat it: whereupon she was suddenly possessed with the devil, fell down to the ground, and was pitifully tormented. Word in all haste was carried to Equitius, desiring him quickly to visit the afflicted woman, and to help her with his prayers: who so soon as he came into the garden, the devil that was entered began by her tongue, as it were, to excuse himself, saying: "What have I done? What have I done? |18 I was sitting there upon the lettice, and she came and did eat me." But the man of God in great zeal commanded him to depart, and not to tarry any longer in the servant of almighty God, who straightways went out, not presuming any more to touch her.
A certain noble man likewise called Felix, of the province of Nursia, father to Castorius,9 who now dwelleth here with us in Rome, understanding that Equitius had not received holy orders, and yet that he did visit many places and preach unto divers, upon a day very boldly went and asked him, how he durst presume to preach, not having received holy orders, nor yet licence of the Bishop of Rome, under whom he did live; upon which demand, the holy man, being thus compelled, gave him to understand by what means he had obtained licence to preach: speaking thus unto him: "What you say unto me, myself have seriously thought upon; but, on a certain night, a young man in vision stode by me, and touched my tongue with such an instrument as they use in letting of blood, saying: 'Behold, I have put my word into thy mouth, go thy way and preach.' And since that day, though I would, I can not but talk of God."
PETER. Desirous I am to know, what manner of life he led, who is said to have received such gifts at God's hand.
GREGORY. The work, Peter, proceedeth of the gift, and not the gift from the work, otherwise grace were not grace: for God's gifts do go before all works of ours, although the gifts by the works which follow do increase; but to the end that you may understand what life he led, which was known to the reverent man Albinus, Bishop of Reatino; and many there be yet alive, which might very well remember the same. But what do you seek for further works, when as his purity of life was answerable to his diligence in preaching? for |19 such a zeal to save souls had inflamed his heart, that albeit he had the charge of many monasteries, yet did he diligently travel up and down, and visit churches, towns, villages, and particular men's houses, and all this to stir up the hearts of his auditors to the love of heavenly joys. The apparel which he ware was so base and contemptible, that such as knew him not would have thought scorn so much as to have saluted him, though himself had first offered that courtesy. And whithersoever he went, his manner was to ride, but that upon the most forlorn beast which could be found; his bridle was but an halter, his saddle no better than plain sheep's skins. His books of divinity were put into leather bags, and those he did carry himself, some hanging on the right side of his horse, and some upon the left: and to what place soever he came, he did so open the fountains of sacred scripture, that he watered their souls with the heavenly dew of his sermons. Whose grace in preaching was so great, that the fame thereof came even to Rome itself: and as the tongues of flatterers do with their glorious words kill the souls of such as give them the hearing, at the same time some of the Roman clergy did in flattering sort complain unto the Bishop of this Apostolic see, saying: "What manner of rustical companion is this, that hath taken upon him authority to preach, and, being without learning, presumeth to usurp unto himself the office of our Apostolical Lord? wherefore, if it please you, let him be sent for before your presence, that he may taste of the severity of ecclesiastical discipline." And as it falleth out, that he which hath much business is overcome sometime by flattery, if that pleasing venom be not speedily dispatched from the soul, at the persuasion of his clergy the Pope gave his consent that he should be sent for to Rome, to understand what talent and gift he had received from God. And so one Julianus,10 who afterward was made Bishop of Sabinum, was sent, |20 having yet commandment given him to bring him up with great honour, to the end that the servant of God might not thereby sustain any injury or detriment in his fame: who, to gratify the Pope's clergy, went in post to the Abbey, and finding there in his absence certain antiquaries writing, demanded of them for the Abbot; who told him that he was in the valley at the bottom of the Abbey, mowing of hay. Julianus had a man very proud and stubborn, and such a one that he could scarce rule him. This man he sent in all haste for the Abbot; who in an angry mood went his way, and coming quickly into the meadow where beholding all that were there cutting of grass, he demanded which of them was Equitius; and when they shewed him where he was, being yet far off, he fell into a great fear, and became therewith so faint, that he could scarce go upon his legs: trembling in that manner he came to the man of God, and humbly bowing down his head, he embraced his knees and kissed them, telling him that his master was desirous to speak with him. After God's servant had saluted him again, he willed him to take up some of the grass, and to carry it home for their horse, "and I will," quoth he, "straightways come, when I have dispatched this little work which remaineth."
In this meantime, Julianus much marvelled what the matter was, why his man tarried so long, and seeing him at length to come laden with grass upon his neck, in great rage he cried out to him, saying: "Sirrah, what meaneth this? I sent you to fetch me the Abbot, and not to bring meat for mine horse." "Sir," quoth his man, "he will come to you by and by": and forthwith the man of God came in base apparel and a pair of shoes beaten full of nails, carrying his scythe upon his neck; and being yet far off, his man told him that he was the Abbot. So soon as Julianus beheld him attired in that base sort, he contemned him, and devised with himself how to |21 speak unto him in the most cross and crooked manner he could. But when God's servant drew nigh, such an intolerable fear came upon Julianus, that he fell a trembling, and his tongue so faltered, that he could scarce deliver the message for which he came: whereupon he fell down at his feet, and desired that he would vouchsafe to pray for him; and withal gave him to understand, that his Apostolical father the Pope was desirous to see him. Upon the receipt of which news the venerable man, Equitius, gave almighty God most hearty thanks, saying that heavenly grace had visited him by means of the highest Bishop; and straightways he called for some of his monks, commanding horse to be made ready in all haste: but Julianus, weary of his journey, told him that he could not travel so soon, but of necessity must rest himself that night. "I am very sorry for that," quoth the holy man, "for if we go not to-day, to-morrow we shall not": and thus, by reason of the other's weariness, he was enforced that night to remain in the Abbey. The next morning, about the dawning of the day, came a post with a tired horse, bringing letters to Julianus, commanding him not to presume to molest or to draw the servant of God out of his monastery. And when he required the reason of this counter-command, the messenger told him that, the next night after his departure, the Pope was terribly frighted in a vision, for presuming to send for the man of God: whereupon Julianus, rising suddenly out of his bed, and commending himself to the venerable man's prayers, spake thus unto him: "Our father desireth you not to trouble yourself any further, but to stay in your monastery": which when God's servant heard, very sorry he was, and said: "Did not I tell you, that if we did not set forward on our journey by and by, that afterward we should not?" Then upon charity he entertained his messenger a little while with him in his Cloister, and though by all means |22 he refused, yet he enforced upon him a reward for the pains he had taken. See therefore, Peter, how God doth preserve and keep them, who in this life do contemn themselves, and how they are secretly honoured of the citizens in heaven, who are not ashamed outwardly to be little esteemed in this world; and on the contrary, in the sight of God they be of no account, who in the eyes of their own friends and neighbours do swell through desire of vain glory. And therefore our Saviour Christ, who was truth itself, said to certain: You are they that justify yourselves before men, but God knoweth your hearts, for that which is high to men is abominable in the sight of God.11
PETER. I marvel very much how so great a Bishop could be deceived in so worthy a man.
GREGORY. Why do you marvel, Peter? for the reason why we are deceived is, because we be men. What? have you forgotten how David, who usually had the spirit of prophecy, pronounced sentence against innocent Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, when he gave credit to the lying words of his servant Siba? 12 which thing notwithstanding because it was done by David, we both believe to be just in the secret judgment of God, and yet by human reason how it was just we cannot perceive. What marvel then is it, if we, that be not prophets, be sometimes by lying tongues abused, and otherwise transported than charity and justice would: for it is much to be considered, that every Bishop hath his mind troubled with a world of business, and it cannot be, when the mind is distracted about many things, but that it is the less able sufficiently to examine those that be particular, and so much the sooner is he deceived in some special case, by how much he is busied with the multitude of many.
PETER. It is most true that you say.
GREGORY. But I must not pass over with silence that which the reverent man Valentinus,13 some time mine |23 Abbot, told me concerning Equitius. For he said, that his body being buried in the oratory of St. Lawrence the martyr, a certain country man set upon his grave a chest full of wheat, little considering or respecting how worthy and notable a man lay there buried. Whereupon suddenly a miraculous whirlwind came, and overthrew that chest and cast it far off, all other things remaining still in their former places; by which all did plainly perceive of what worth and merit that man was, whose body lay there buried.
To this must I also add another thing, which I heard of venerable Fortunatus, a man that doth much please me for his years, life, and simplicity. At such time as the Lombards came into the province of Valeria,14 the monks of the monastery of the reverent man Equitius fled from thence into the oratory, to the holy man's sepulchre, into which place the cruel men entering, they began by violence to pull the monks forth, either to torment them, or else with their swords to kill them. Amongst whom one sighed, and for very bitter grief cried out: "Alas, alas, holy Equitius, is it thy pleasure, and art thou content, that we should be thus miserably haled and violently drawn forth, and dost not thou vouchsafe to defend us?" Which words were no sooner spoken, but a wicked spirit possessed those savage soldiers in such sort that, falling down upon the ground, they were there so long tormented, until all the rest of the Lombards which were without understood of the matter, to the end that none should be so hardy as to presume to violate that holy place. And thus, as the holy man at that time defended his own monks, so did he likewise afterward succour and preserve many more that fled unto the same place.
Chapter Five: of Constantius, Clerk of the Church of St. Stephen.
That which I intend now to tell you, I learned by the relation of one of my |24 fellow Bishops, who lived in a monk's weed many years in the city of Ancona, and led there a good and religious life. Many also of mine own friends, who be now of good years and live in the same parts, affirm it to be most true. Near to the foresaid city of Ancona there is a church of the blessed martyr St. Stephen, in which one called Constantius, a man of venerable life, did serve there for clerk, who for his virtue and holiness was famous far and near, being one that utterly despised all worldly things, and with the whole power of his soul thirsted after the joys of heaven. Upon a certain day, it fell so out that there wanted oil in the church, by reason whereof the foresaid servant of God had not wherewith to light the lamps: whereupon he filled them all with water, and, as the manner is, put a piece of paper in the midst, and then set them on fire, and the water did so burn in the lamps as though it had been very oil; by which you may gather, Peter, of what merit this man was, who, enforced by necessity, did change the nature of the element.
PETER. Very strange it is that you say, but desirous I am to know what humility he had inwardly in his soul, who outwardly was so wonderful in the eyes of the world.
GREGORY. Among miracles very fitly do you enquire the inward state of the mind; for it is almost incredible how miracles, wrought in the sight of men, do with their temptation inwardly assault the soul. But after you have heard only one thing, which this venerable Constantius did, you will quickly perceive what an humble man he was.
PETER. Having now told me one of his miracles, it remaineth that you do edify me also with the humility of his soul.
GREGORY. Because the report of his holy life was very much spread abroad, many from divers countries travelled |25 to Ancona, being very desirous to see him; and amongst others a certain country fellow was come far off, for that very purpose: at which time it so chanced that the holy man was standing upon a pair of wooden stairs, busying himself there in mending of lamps. A very little person he was of stature, with a thin face, and to the outward view contemptible. This fellow that came to see him enquired earnestly which was the man for whose sake he had travelled so long a journey. Those that knew him forthwith told him, pointing to Constantius. But as foolish souls do measure the merits of men by the quality of their bodies, so he, beholding him so little and contemptible, by no means could be persuaded that they told him truth; for in the country fellow's mind there fell out, as it were, a great contention betwixt that which he had heard, and that which he saw; and he verily persuaded himself that he could not be so little in his eyes, who was so great in his former conceit; and therefore, when very many did constantly affirm that he was the man, the simple soul despised him, and in scoffing manner said: "I verily believed that he had been a goodly great man, but this fellow hath not any thing at all in him that is like a man." Which words of his the servant of God, Constantius, hearing, forthwith left his lamps which he was in hand with, and in great haste came merrily down the stairs, embraced the country clown, and of exceeding love held him fast in his arms, kissed him, gave him great thanks for having that opinion, and spake thus unto him: "Thou only," quoth he, "hast thine eyes open, and dost truly behold what I am." By which fact we may easily gather what an humble man he was, that loved the country fellow the more for contemning him; for injurious words and contumelious usage try what a man is inwardly in his soul: for as proud men are glad of honour, so those that be humble for the most part rejoice in contempt and disgrace, and when they |26 behold themselves to be of no account in the opinion of others, glad they are, because they see that to be confirmed by the judgment of others which inwardly in their own souls they had of themselves.
PETER. This man, as I perceive, was outwardly great in miracles, but yet greater by his inward humility of soul.
Chapter Six: of Marcellinus, Bishop of Ancona.
GREGORY. Marcellinus, also a man of holy life, was Bishop of the same city of Ancona; who was so sore troubled with the gout, that being not able to go, his servants were enforced to carry him in their hands. Upon a day, by negligence, the city was set on fire, and though many laboured by throwing on of water to quench it, yet did it so increase and go forward that the whole city was in great danger; for it had laid hold of all the houses that were next it, and consumed already a great part of the town, none being able to help or withstand it. In so pitiful a necessity and great danger, the Bishop, carried by his servants, came thither, and commanded himself to be set down right against those furious flames, and in that very place whither the force of the fire did seem most to bend: which being done, the fire marvellous strangely turned back into itself, and as it were cried out, that it could not pass the Bishop; and by this means was it stopped from going forward, [and] went out of itself, not being able to touch any other buildings. By which, Peter, you see what an argument of great holiness it was, for a sick man to sit still, and by his prayers to quench those raging flames.
PETER. I do both see it and much wonder at so notable a miracle.
Chapter Seven: of Nonnosus, Prior of the Abbey in Mount Soracte.
GREGORY. Now I intend to let you understand somewhat of a place not far distant, which I heard of the reverent Bishop Maximianus,15 and |27 of the old monk Laurio, one whom you know: both which are yet living; and as for Laurio, he was brought up under that holy man Anastasius, in the Abbey which is hard by the city of Nepi; and Anastasius, both by reason of the nearness of the place, equal love of virtue, and like profession of life, was daily in the company of holy Nonnosus, Prior of the Abbey which is in mount Soracte. This Nonnosus had for his Abbot a very sharp man, whose rough conditions notwithstanding he did always bear with wonderful patience, and did in such sweet sort govern the monks, that oftentimes by his humility he appeased the Abbot's anger. The Abbey, standing in the top of an hill, had never an even and plain place fit for a garden; one only little plot of ground there was, in the side of the mountain, but that was taken up of a great stone which did naturally grow there, so that by no means it could serve for a garden. Yet venerable Nonnosus, upon a day, began to think with himself that at least that piece of ground would serve very well to set worts, if by any means that huge stone could be taken away; but then he likewise thought that five hundred yoke of oxen would not be able to stir it; whereupon, despairing of all human help, he betook himself to God's goodness, and in that very place gave himself to prayer in the quiet time of the night, and behold, on the morning, when the monks came thither, they found that huge stone removed far off, and a very fit plot of ground left to make them a garden.
At another time, the same holy man being washing of lamps made of glass, one of them by chance fell out of his hands, and brake into many pieces; who, fearing the great fury of the Abbot, did forthwith gather up all the fragments, laid them before the altar, and there with great sighing fell to his prayers; and afterward, lifting up his head, he found the lamp entire and whole. And thus, in these two miracles, did he imitate two notable |28 fathers, to wit, Gregory and Donatus; the first of which removed a mountain, and the other made a broken chalice safe and sound.
PETER. We have, as I perceive now, miracles after the imitation of old saints.
GREGORY. How say you? are you content also in the conversation of Nonnosus, to hear how he did imitate the fact of the prophet Heliseus?
PETER. Content I am, and most earnestly desire it.
GREGORY. Upon a certain day, when the old oil was spent, and the time to gather olives was now at hand, the Abbot, because their own trees took not, thought it best to send the monks abroad to help strangers in the gathering of theirs, that for the recompense of their labour they might bring home some oil for the necessities of their own house. This determination the man of God, Nonnosus, in great humility did hinder, lest the monks, going abroad from their cloister to get oil, might lose somewhat in the devotion of their souls. And therefore, because he saw that their own trees had yet a few olives, he willed those to be gathered and put into the press, and that oil which came forth to be brought unto him, though it were never so little; which being done, he set the little vessel before the altar, and after their departure he offered his prayers to God, which being ended, he called for the monks, commanding them to take away the oil which they brought, and to pour a little thereof into all the vessels which they had, that each of them might have some of the benediction of that oil: which being done, he caused the vessels, empty as they were, to be close stopped, and the next day they found them all full.
PETER. We find daily the words of our Saviour to be verified, who saith: My Father even to this time doth work, and I do work.16 |29
Chapter Eight: of Anastasius, Abbot of the Monastery called Suppentonia.17
GREGORY. At the same time the reverent man Anastasius, of whom I spake before, was notary to the church of Rome, whereof by God's providence I have now the charge; who desirous only to serve God, gave over his office, and made choice of a monastical life: and in that Abbey which is called Suppentonia, he lived many years virtuously, and governed that place with great care and diligence. Over the Abbey there hangeth an huge rock, and beneath it there is a steep downfall. Upon a certain night, when God had determined to reward the labours of venerable Anastasius, a voice was heard from the top of that rock, which very leisurely did cry out: "Come away, Anastasius"; who being so called, straight after, seven other monks were severally called by their names. And then the voice stayed for a little time, and then called again the eighth monk. Which strange voice the Convent hearing very plainly, made no doubt but that the death of them that were so called was not far off; wherefore not many days after, before the rest, Anastasius himself, and then the others in order, departed this mortal life, as they were before called from the top of the rock. And that monk who was called after some pausing did a little while survive the rest, and then he also ended his life: whereby it was plain that the staying of the voice did signify that he should live a little longer than the other. But a strange thing happened, for when holy Anastasius lay upon his death-bed, a certain monk there was in the Abbey, that would needs die with him, and therefore fell down at his feet, and there began with tears to beg of him in this manner: "For his love to whom you are now going, I beseech and adjure you, that I may not remain in this world seven days after your departure"; and indeed it so fell out, that before the seventh day was come, that he left this mortal life, and yet was not he |30 that night named by that voice amongst the rest, so that it appeareth plainly that it was only the intercession of Anastasius which obtained that his departure.
PETER. Seeing that monk was not called amongst the other, and yet by the intercession of that holy man was taken out of this life: what other thing can we gather hereof, but that such as be of great merit, and in favour with God, can sometime obtain those things which be not predestinate?
GREGORY. Such things as be not predestinate by God, cannot by any means be obtained at his hands; but those things which holy men do by their prayers effect, were from all eternity predestinate to be obtained by prayers. For very predestination itself to life everlasting, is so by almighty God disposed, that God's elect servants do through their labour come unto it, in that by their prayers they do merit to receive that which almighty God determined before all worlds to bestow upon them.
PETER. Desirous I am to have this point more plainly proved: to wit, that predestination may by prayers be holpen.
GREGORY. That which I inferred, Peter, may quickly be proved; for ignorant you are not that our Lord said to Abraham: In Isaac shall seed be called to thee;18 to whom also he said: I have appointed thee to be a father of many nations;19 and again he promised him, saying: I will bless thee, and multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand of the sea.20 Out of which place it is plain that almighty God had predestinate to multiply the seed of Abraham by Isaac, and yet the scripture saith: Isaac did pray unto our Lord for his wife because she was barren, who did hear him, and Rebecca conceived.21 If, then, the increase of Abraham's posterity was predestinate by Isaac, how came it to pass that his wife was barren? by which most |31 certain it is, that predestination is fulfilled by prayers, when as we see that he by whom God had predestinate to increase Abraham's seed obtained by prayer to have children.
PETER. Seeing reason hath made that plain, which before I knew not, I have not herein any further doubt.
GREGORY. Shall I now tell you somewhat of such holy men as have been in Tuscania;22 that you may be informed what notable persons have flourished in those parts, and how greatly they were in the favour of almighty God?
PETER. Willing I am to give you the hearing; and therefore beseech you to proceed forward.
Chapter Nine: of Bonifacius, Bishop of Ferenti.23
GREGORY. A man of holy life there was, called Bonifacius, Bishop of the city of Ferenti, one that with his virtuous conversation did well discharge his duty. Many miracles he did, which Gaudentius the Priest, who yet liveth, doth still report: and seeing he was brought up under him, no question but by reason of that his presence he is able to tell all things the more truly.
His Bishopric was passing poor (a thing which to good men is the preserver of humility), for he had nothing else for his revenues, but only one vineyard, which was also at one time so spoiled with a tempest of hail, that very few grapes did remain. Bonifacius coming in, and seeing what was happened, gave God great thanks, for that he had sent him further poverty to his former necessity. And when the time came that those few grapes which remained were ripe, he appointed one, according to the custom, to keep his vineyard, commanding him carefully to look well unto it. And upon a certain day, he willed Constantius, who both was a Priest and his nephew, to make ready, as before they were wont to do, all the barrels and wine-vessels they had: which thing when his nephew the Priest understood, he marvelled much |32 to hear him command so mad a thing, as to make ready the vessels for wine, himself having no wine at all to put in: yet durst he not enquire the reason why he gave that charge, but did as he commanded, and made all the vessels and other things ready, as before they had always used to do. Then the man of God caused the poor remnant of grapes to be gathered and carried to the wine-press, and dispatching all others away, himself tarried there still with a little boy whom he commanded to tread those grapes, and when he perceived that a little wine began to run forth, the man of God took it, and put it into a little vessel, and poured somewhat thereof into all the other barrels and vessels which were made ready, as it were to bless them with that little quantity: when he had so done, he called straightways for the Priest, commanding him to send for the poor, upon whose coming the wine in the press began to increase and run out so plentifully, that it did fill all the pots and other vessels which they brought. When they were all served, he bade the boy to leave treading, and come down; then, locking up the storehouse, into which he had put his own vessels, and setting his own seal upon the door, to the church he went, and three days after he called for Con-stantius, and having said a few prayers, he opened the door, where he found all the vessels into which he had before poured but a very little liquor working so plentifully, that, if he had not then come, they had all run over into the floor. Then he straightly commanded the Priest his kinsman, not to reveal this miracle to any, so long as he lived, fearing lest, by means thereof, the outward opinion of men might through vain glory inwardly have hurt his soul: following therein the example of our master Christ, who, to teach us to walk in the path of humility, commanded his disciples concerning himself, not to tell any what they had seen, until the Son of Man was risen again from death. |33
PETER. Because fit occasion is now offered, desirous I am to know what the reason was, that when our Saviour restored sight unto two blind men, and commanded them to tell nobody; yet they, after their departure, made him known throughout all that country. For had the only-begotten Son of God, who is co-eternal to his Father and the Holy Ghost, a desire herein to do that which he could not perform: to wit, that the miracle which he would have kept secret, could not yet be concealed?
GREGORY. All that which our blessed Saviour wrought in his mortal body, he did it for our example and instruction, to the end that, following his steps, according to our poor ability, we might without offence pass over this present life: and therefore, when he did that miracle, he both commanded them to conceal it, and yet it could not be kept in, and all this to teach his elect servants to follow his doctrine; to wit, that when they do any notable thing whereof glory may arise to themselves, that they should have a desire not to be spoken of, and yet for the good of others, contrary to their own mind, they should be laid open and known: so that it proceed of their great humility to desire that their works may be buried with silence, and yet, for the profit of others, it should fall so out, that they can not be concealed. Wherefore our Lord would not have any thing done which he could not effect: but what his servants ought to desire, and what also, contrary to their minds, was convenient to be done, like a good master he taught us by his own example.
PETER. I am very well satisfied with this your answer.
GREGORY. For as much as we have now made mention of Bonifacius, let us prosecute a few more of his acts, not yet spoken of. At another time, upon the feast-day of St. Proculus the martyr, one Fortunatus, a noble man that dwelt in that town, did heartily entreat the Bishop |34 that, after he had done the solemnity of mass, he would vouchsafe to come unto his house, to bless his meat and dine with him. The man of God was content to satisfy his request, so charitably was he invited: and therefore, when mass was done, he went thither: but before the table was yet blessed, suddenly (as some men by such means get their living) one came to the gate with an ape, who began to play upon an instrument, which the holy man hearing, was discontented, and said: "Alas, alas, this wretched man is dead, this wretched man is dead. Behold, I am come hither to dinner, and have not yet opened my lips to praise God, and he is here with his ape, playing upon his instrument." Then he desired them to give him some meat and drink: "Yet I would have you know," quoth he, "that he is a dead man." When the unhappy wretch had filled himself and was going out at the gate, a great stone fell from the house, and brake his head. Of which blow he fell down, and was taken up half dead, and being carried away the next day, as the man of God had before said, he departed this life; wherein, Peter, we have to consider how holy men are with fear to be reverenced: for they no question be the temples of God, and when an holy man is enforced to anger, who is then moved but he that dwelleth in that temple? wherefore we have so much the more cause to fear how we provoke such kind of persons to wrath, seeing we know that he is present in their souls, who hath power and might sufficient to inflict what punishment himself best pleaseth.
At another time, the aforesaid Priest Constantius, his nephew, had sold his horse for twelve crowns, which money he laid up in his chest; and being abroad about other business, it so happened, that certain poor people pitifully begged of the holy Bishop, that he would vouchsafe to bestow something upon them for the relief of their necessity. The man of God, not having anything |35 to give them, was much, grieved to send them away empty: whiles he was thus troubled, suddenly it came to his mind how his nephew had sold his horse, and that the money was in his chest; whereupon, in his absence, by virtuous violence, he brake open the lock, took away the twelve crowns, and bestowed them as best pleased himself upon the poor people. Constantius, returning home and finding his chest open, locked for his money, and finding it not, he began to exclaim, and with great noise and fury to cry out against his uncle, saying: "All other can live here in quiet, only I can not." The Bishop, hearing him crying out in that manner, came unto him, as also the rest of his family; and when he began with sweet speech to mitigate his fury, in great anger he replied, saying: "All other can live with you, only I can not be suffered to be in quiet: give me my money, which you have taken out of my chest." The Bishop, moved at his words, departed away, and went into the church of the blessed virgin Mary, where, lifting up his hands with his vestment upon them, he began standing to pray, that she would help him to so much money, that he might quiet the fury of the mad Priest: and casting suddenly his eyes upon the garment that lay between his arms stretched out, he found twelve crowns lying there, so fair and bright, as though they had then newly come from the mint; who forthwith going out of the church, cast them to the raging Priest with these words: "Lo, there is your money which you have kept such a stir for; but know you that after my death you shall never be Bishop of this place, and that for your covetous mind." By which true censure of his we gather that the Priest provided that money for the getting of the Bishopric. But the words of the man of God did prevail: for the same Constantius ended his life without any further promotion than to the dignity of Priesthood. At another time, two Goths came unto him for |36 hospitality, saying that they were travelling to Ravenna; unto whom he gave with his own hands a little wooden bottle full of wine, enough, haply, for their dinner; of which, notwithstanding, they drank until they came to Ravenna, and though they stayed some days in that city, yet they had no other wine than that which the holy man bestowed upon them: and so likewise they continued until they returned back again to the same venerable Bishop, drinking daily of the same, and yet never lacking wine to serve their necessity: as though, in that wooden bottle which he gave them, wine had grown, and not there increased.
Not long sithence, there came from the same country a certain old man that is a clerk, who reporteth divers notable things of him, which must not be passed over with silence. For he saith that going upon a day into his garden, he found it all full of caterpillars, and seeing all his worts spoiled, turning himself to them, he spake thus: "I adjure you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to depart from hence, and not to eat any more of these worts ": after which words, those worms did forthwith so vanish away, that there was not one to be found in all the whole garden. But what great marvel is it, to hear such things reported of him that was now a Bishop, being then, both by reason of his orders, and also holy conversation of life, grown into favour with almighty God, seeing those are more to be admired which this old clergyman said that he did, being yet but a little boy? For he affirmeth, that at such time as Bonifacius dwelt with his mother, and went abroad, that sometime he came home without his shirt, and oftentimes without his coat: for no sooner did he see a naked man, but he gave away his clothes, and put them upon him, to the end that himself might be clothed with a reward in the sight of God. His mother rebuked him often for doing so, and told him that it was no reason |37 that, being poor himself, he should give away his apparel to other. Upon another day, going into the barn, she found almost all her wheat, which she had provided for the whole year, given away by her son to the poor: and as she was, for very grief thereof, beating and tearing of herself, the child of God, Bonifacius, came, and with the best words he could began to comfort his afflicted mother; but when by no means she would be quieted, he entreated her to go out of the barn where the little wheat that remained was. When she was departed, the virtuous youth fell straightway to his prayers; and after a little while, going out, he brought his mother back again, where she found it as full of wheat as before it was: at the sight of which miracle, she, being touched in soul, exhorted him to give as he pleased, seeing he could so soon obtain at God's hands what he asked. His mother also kept hens before her door, which a fox, that had his berry not far off, used to carry away: and upon a certain day, as the youth Bonifacius was standing in the entry, the fox, after his old manner, came and took away one of the hens; whereupon in all haste he ran to the church, and prostrate there in prayer, with loud voice he spake thus: "Is it thy pleasure, O Lord, that I shall not eat of my mother's hens? for behold, the fox doth devour them up ": and rising from his prayers, he went out of the church, and straightways the fox came back again with the hen in his mouth, leaving it where he found it, and forthwith fell down dead in the presence of Bonifacius.
PETER. It seemeth strange unto me, that God vouchsafeth in such small things to hear the prayers of them that put their trust in him.
GREGORY. This falleth out, Peter, by the great providence of our Creator, to the end that by little things which we receive at his hands, we should hope for greater: for the holy and simple lad was heard in |38 praying for small matters, that by them he should learn how much he ought to trust in God, when he prayed for things of greater importance. PETER. What you say pleaseth me very well.
Chapter Ten: of Fortunatus, Bishop of the City of Tuderti.24
GREGORY. Another man also there was in the same parts, called Fortunatus, Bishop of Tuderti, who had a most singular grace in casting out of devils, in so much that sometime he did cast out of possessed bodies whole legions; and by the continual exercise of prayer, he overcame all their temptations. Julianus, who had an office here in our church, and not long since died in this city, was familiarly acquainted with him, by whose relation I learned that which I will now tell you: for by reason of his great and inward familiarity, often was he present at such miracles as he wrought, and did divers times talk of him to our instruction and his own comfort.
A certain noble matron there was, dwelling in the hither parts of Tuscania, that had a daughter-in-law, which, not long after the marriage of her son, was, together with her mother-in-law, invited to the dedication of the oratory of the blessed martyr, St. Sebastian: and the night before this solemnity, overcome with carnal pleasure, she could not abstain from her husband; and though in the morning her former delight troubled her conscience, yet shame drave her forth to the procession, being more ashamed of men than fearing the judgment of God, and therefore thither she went together with her mother-in-law. And behold, straight upon the bringing of the relics of St. Sebastian the martyr into the oratory, a wicked spirit possessed the foresaid matron's daughter-in-law, and pitifully tormented her before all the people. The Priest of the oratory, beholding her so terribly vexed and lifted up, took a white linen cloth and cast upon her; and forthwith the devil also entered |39 into him, and because he presumed above his strength, enforced also he was by his own vexation, to know what himself was. Those that were present took up the young gentlewoman in their hands, and carried her home to her own house. And for as much as she was by the enemy continually and cruelly tormented, her kinsfolk that carnally loved her, and with their love did persecute her, cause her to be carried for help to certain witches; so utterly to cast away her soul, whose body they went about by sorcery for a time to relieve. Coming into their hands, she was by them brought to a river, and there washed in the water, the sorcerers labouring a long time by their enchantments to cast out the devil, that had possessed her body: but by the wonderful judgment of almighty God, it fell out that whiles one by unlawful art was expelled, suddenly a whole legion did enter in. And from that time forward, she began to be tossed with so many varieties of motions, to shriek out in so many sundry tunes, as there were devils in her body. Then her parents, consulting together, and confessing their own wickedness, carried her to the venerable Bishop Fortunatus, and with him they left her: who, having taken her to his charge, fell to his prayers many days and nights, and he prayed so much the more earnestly, because he had against him, in one body, an whole army of devils: and many days passed not, before he made her so safe and sound, as though the devil had never had any power or interest in her body.
At another time, the same servant of almighty God cast forth a devil out of one that was possessed: which wicked spirit, when it was now night and saw few men stirring in the streets, taking upon him the shape of a stranger, began to go up and down the city, crying out: "O holy Bishop Fortunatus, behold what he hath done; he hath turned a stranger out of his lodging, and now |40 I seek for a place to rest in, and in his whole city can find none." A certain man, sitting in his house by the fire, with his wife and his little son, hearing one to cry out in that manner, went forth, and enquired what the Bishop had done, and withal invited him to his house, where he caused him to sit with them by the fire: and as they were among themselves discoursing of divers matters, the same wicked spirit on a sudden entered into his little child, cast him into the fire, and forthwith killed him: then the wretched father, by the loss of his son in this manner, knew full well whom he had entertained, and the Bishop turned out of his lodging.
PETER. What was the cause, that the old enemy presumed to kill his son in his own house: who, thinking him to be a stranger, vouchsafed him of lodging and entertainment?
GREGORY. Many things, Peter, seem to be good and yet are not, because they be not done with a good mind and intention; and therefore our Saviour saith in the gospel: If thy eye be naughty all thy body shall be dark.1 For when the intention is wicked, all the work that followeth is naught, although it seem to be never so good; and therefore this man who lost his child, though he seemed to give hospitality, yet I think that he took not any pleasure in that work of mercy, but rather in the detraction and infamy of the Bishop: for the punishment which followed did declare that his entertainment going before, was not void of sin. For some there be, which are careful to do good works, to the end they may obscure the virtue of another man's life; neither take they pleasure in the good thing which they do, but in the conceit of that hurt which thereby they imagine re-doundeth to others; and therefore I verily suppose that this man, which gave entertainment to the devil, was more desirous to seem to do a good work than to do
1 Matt. 6, 23.
|41 it indeed; to the end that he might seem more charitable than the Bishop, in that he entertained him whom the man of God, Fortunatus, had thrust out of his house
PETER. It is verily so, as you say: for the end of the work declared that the intent of the doer was not good.
GREGORY. At another time, likewise, one that had lost his eyesight was brought unto him, who craved his intercession and obtained it: for so soon as the man of God had prayed for him, and made the sign of the cross upon his eyes, straightways he received his sight. Beside this, a certain soldier's horse became so mad, that he could scant be holden by many, and so cruel he was, that he rent and tare the flesh of all such as he could reach with his teeth. At length, as well as they could, they tied him with ropes, and so brought him to the man of God; who putting forth his hand, made upon his head the sign of the cross, and forthwith all his madness departed, in such sort that he became more gentle than ever he was before. Then the soldier, seeing his horse so miraculously cured, determined to bestow him upon the Bishop: which because he refused, and yet the other instantly entreated that he would not reject his poor gift, the holy man took the middle way, and yielded so to the soldier's request, that yet he would not take any reward for the doing of that miracle; for he gave him first so much money as the horse was worth, and then received him; for perceiving that the soldier would have been grieved, if he had refused his courteous offer, upon charity he bought that whereof he had then no need.
Neither must I pass over with silence that which I heard almost twelve days since: for a certain poor old man was brought unto me (because I loved always to talk with such kind of men), of whom I enquired his country; and understanding that he was of the city of |42 Tuderti, I asked him whether he knew the good old father, Bishop Fortunatus; to which he answered that he knew him, and that very well. "Then I beseech you," quoth I, "tell me whether you know of any miracles which he did, and because I am very desirous, let me understand what manner of man he was." "This man," quoth he, "was far different from all those which live in our days; for he obtained at God's hands whatsoever he requested. One of his miracles which cometh to my mind, I will now tell you.
"Certain Goths, upon a day, travelling not far from the city of Tuderti, as they were in their journey to Ravenna, carried away with them two little boys from a place which belonged to the said city. News hereof being brought to the holy Bishop Fortunatus, he sent straightways, desiring those Goths to come unto him: to whom he spake very courteously, being willing by fair speech to pacify their fierce and cruel natures; and afterward told them that they should have what money they desired, so they would make restitution of the children: 'and therefore, I beseech you,' quoth he, 'gratify my request in this one thing.' Then he which seemed to be the chief of them two told him, that whatsoever else he commanded they were ready to perform, but as for the boys, by no means they would let them go. To whom the venerable man (threatening in sweet sort) spake unto him in this manner: 'You grieve me, good son, to see that you will not be ruled by your father; but give me not any such cause of grief, for it is not good that you do.' But for all this the Goth, continuing still hard-hearted, denied his request, and so went his way, yet coming again the next day, the holy man renewed his former suit concerning the children; but when he saw that by no means he could persuade him, in sorrowful manner he spake thus: 'Well I know that it is not good for you to depart in this |43 manner, and leave me thus afflicted.' But the Goth, not esteeming his words, returned to his inn, set those children on horseback, and sent them before with his servants, and straightways himself took horse and followed after; and as he was riding in the same city by the church of St. Peter the Apostle, his horse stumbling, fell down, and brake his thigh in such sort that the bone was quite asunder: up was he taken, and carried back again to his inn; who in all haste sent after his servants, and caused the boys to be brought back again. Then he sent one to venerable Fortunatus with this message: 'I beseech you, father, to send unto me your deacon'; who when he was come unto him lying in his bed, he made those boys, which before upon no entreaty he would restore, to be brought forth, and delivered them to him, saying: 'Go and tell my Lord the Bishop: Behold you have cursed me, and I am punished, but I have now sent you those children which before you required, take them, and I beseech you to pray for me.' The deacon received the children, and carried them to the Bishop; whereupon the holy man forthwith gave his deacon some holy water, saying: 'Go quickly and cast it upon him where he lieth '; who went his way, and coming to the Goth, he sprinkled all his body with holy water: and O strange and admirable thing! the holy water no sooner touched his thigh but all the rupture was so healed, and himself so perfectly restored to his former health, that he forsook his bed that very hour, took his horse, and went on his journey, as though he had never been hurt at all: and thus it fell out, that he which refused for money and upon obedience to restore the children, was by punishment enforced to do it for nothing." When the old man had told me this strange story, ready he was to proceed unto other; but because I was at that time to make an exhortation to some that expected me, and the day was well spent, I |44 could not at that time hear any more of the notable acts of venerable Fortunatus; and yet if I might, never would I do any thing else, than give ear to such excellent stories.
The next day, the same old man reported a thing far more wonderful: for he said that in the same city of Tuderti, there dwelt a good virtuous man called Marcellus, together with two of his sisters, who, falling sick, somewhat late upon Easter even departed this life: and because he was to be carried far off, he could not be buried that day. His sisters having now longer respite for his burial, with heavy hearts ran weeping unto the Bishop; where they began to cry out aloud in this manner: "We know that thou leadest an Apostolical life, that thou dost heal lepers, restore sight to the blind: come, therefore, we beseech you, and raise up our dead brother." The venerable man, hearing of their brother's death, began himself likewise to weep, desired them to depart, and not to make any such petition unto him: "for it is our Lord's pleasure," quoth he, "which no man can resist." When they were gone, the Bishop continued still sad and sorrowful for the good man's death; and the next day being the solemn feast of Easter, very early in the morning he went with two of his deacons to Marcellus' house, and coming to the place where his dead body lay, he fell to his prayers; and when he had made an end, he rose up and sat down by the corpse, and with a low voice called the dead man by his name, saying: "Brother Marcellus "; whereat, as though he had been lightly asleep, and awaked with that voice, he rose up, opened his eyes, and looking upon the Bishop, said: "O what have you done? O what have you done?" To whom the Bishop answered, saying: "What have I done?" "Marry," quoth he, "yesterday there came two unto me, and discharged my soul out of my body, and carried me away to a good place, and this day one was |45 sent, who bade them carry me back again, because Bishop Fortunatus was gone to mine house." And when he had spoken these words, straightways he recovered of his sickness, and lived long after. And yet for all this we must not think that he lost that place which he had, because there is no doubt, but that he might, by the prayers of his intercessor, live yet more virtuously after his death, who had a care before he died to please almighty God.
But why do I spend so many words in discoursing of his wonderful life, when as we have so many miracles, even at these days, wrought at his body? for, as he was wont to do when he lived upon earth, so doth he now continually at his dead bones dispossess devils, and heal such as be sick, so often as men pray for such graces with faith and devotion. But I mean now to return to the province of Valeria, of which I have heard most notable miracles from the mouth of venerable Fortunatus, of whom long before I have made mention, who, coming often to visit me, whiles he reporteth old stories, continually he bringeth me new delight.
Chapter Eleven: of Martirius, a Monk in the Province of Valeria.
A certain man lived in that province, called Martirius, who was a very devout servant of almighty God, and gave this testimony of his virtuous life. For, upon a certain day, the other monks, his brethren, made a hearth-cake, forgetting to make upon it the sign of the cross: for in that country they use to make a cross upon their loaves, dividing them so into four parts: when the servant of God came, they told him that it was not marked: who, seeing it covered with ashes and coals, asked why they did not sign it, and speaking so, he made the sign of the cross with his hand against the coals: which thing whiles he was in doing, the cake gave a great crack, as though the pan had been broken with the fire: after it was baked and |46 taken out, they found it marked with the sign of the cross, which yet not any corporal touching, but the faith of Martirius had imprinted.
Chapter Twelve: of Severus, a Priest in the same Province.
In the same country there is a valley, which is called of the plain people Interocrina 25; in which there lived a certain man of a rare life, called Severus, who was a parish priest of the church of our blessed Lady the mother of God and perpetual virgin. One that lay at the point of death sent for him in great haste, desiring him to come with all speed, and by his prayers to make intercession for him, that doing penance for his wickedness, and loosed from his sins, he might depart this life. So it chanced, that the Priest at that time was busy in pruning of his vines; and therefore he bade them that came for him to go on before: "and I will," quoth he, "come after by and by." For seeing he had but a little to do, he stayed a pretty while to make an end of that, and when it was dispatched, away he went to visit the sick man; but as he was going, the former messengers met with him, saying: "Father, why have you stayed so long? go not now any further, for the man is dead." At which news the good man fell a trembling, and cried out aloud that he had killed him; whereupon he fell a weeping, and in that manner came to the dead corpse, where before the bed he fell prostrate upon the earth, pouring out of tears. Lying there weeping very pitifully, beating his head against the ground, and crying out that he was guilty of his death, suddenly the dead man returned to life: which many that were present beholding cried out, and began to weep more plentifully for joy, demanding of him where he had been, and by what means he came back again; to whom he said: "Certain cruel men," quoth he, "did carry me away; out of whose mouth and nostrils fire came forth, which I could not endure; and as they were leading me |47 through dark places, suddenly a beautiful young man with others met us, who said unto them that were drawing me forward: 'Carry him back again; for Severus the Priest lamenteth his death, and our Lord, for his tears, hath given him longer life.'" Then Severus rose up from the earth, and by his intercession did assist him in doing of penance. And when the sick man that revived had done penance for his sins by the space of seven days, upon the eighth with a cheerful countenance he departed this life. Consider, Peter, I pray you, how dearly our Lord loved this Severus, that would not suffer him to be grieved for a little time.
PETER. They be marvellous strange things which you report, and which before this time I never heard of: but what is the reason that in these days there be not any such men now living?
GREGORY. I make no doubt, Peter, but that there be many such holy men now living; for though they work not the like miracles, yet for all that, may they be as virtuous and as holy. For true judgment of one's life is to be taken from his virtuous conversation, and not from the working of miracles, for many there be who, although they do not any such strange things, yet are they not in virtue inferior to them that do them.
PETER. How, I beseech you, can it be maintained for true, that there be some that work not any miracles, and yet be as virtuous as they which work them?
GREGORY. Sure I am that you know very well that the Apostle St. Paul is brother to St. Peter, chief of the Apostles in Apostolical principality.
PETER. I know that indeed, for no doubt can be made thereof: for though he were the least of the Apostles, yet did he labour more than all they.
GREGORY. Peter, as you well remember, walked with his feet upon the sea; Paul in the sea suffered ship-wreck. And in one and the same element, where Paul |48 could not pass with a ship, Peter went upon his feet; by which apparent it is, that though their virtue in working of miracles was not alike, yet their merit is alike in the kingdom of heaven.
PETER. I confess that I am well pleased with that you say, for I know most assuredly that the life, and not the miracles, are to be considered; but yet, seeing such miracles as be wrought do give testimony of a good life, I beseech you, if any more be yet remaining, that you would, with the examples and virtuous lives of holy men, feed mine hungry soul.
GREGORY. Desirous I am, to the honour of our blessed Saviour, to tell you some things now concerning the miracles of the man of God, venerable St. Benedict: but to do it as it ought, this day is not sufficient; wherefore we will here make a pause, and to handle this matter more plentifully, take another beginning.
[Footnotes moved to the end and combined with editorial notes]
1. Introduction, p. 4. Similarly in the letter addressed to Leander of Seville, prefixed to the Moralia, or Exposition of the Book of Job (composed before his elevation to the papacy), St. Gregory had written : "Now that the times are disturbed through multiplied evils, the end of the world being at hand, we ourselves, who are believed to be devoted to the inner mysteries, are involved in external cares." Cf. below, Bk. III. chap. 38 ; Bk. IV. chap. 41.
2. Chapter I. p. 7. Funda, more correctly Fundi (the translator is somewhat casual in his rendering of the Latin names of places), is the modern Fondi, in the province of Caserta, between Terracina and Formia. Cf. Horace, Sat. I. 5, 34-36. Honoratus is celebrated in the Roman Martyrology on January 16.
3. Chapter II. p. 9. For Totila, see below, Bk. II. chap. 14. He was king of the Ostrogoths in Italy from 541 to 552.
4. Ibid, p. 10. In 553, after the death of Totila's successor, Teias, Leutharand Butilin (here called Buccellinus), chiefs of the Alamanni, who were subject to the king of the Franks, invaded Italy in support of the scattered remnants of the Goths. Butilin ravaged Campania in 554, until defeated and slain by Narses at the battle of Capua. See Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders, V. bk. vi. chap. I.
5. 1 4 Kings 2. 12
6. Chapter IV. p. 15. The province of Valeria included the cities of Reate (Rieti) and Tibur (Tivoli), and the modern province of Aquila (Abruzzi). St. Equitius is commemorated on March 7. It is uncertain whether the monastery quod appellatur Balneum Ciceronis was at Tusculum, or (as seems more probable from the context) on the site of the present abbey of San Domenico Abbate near Isola del Liri in the diocese of Sora.
7. Ibid. p. 16. Amiternum, an ancient Sabine town, the birthplace of Sallust, is some five miles from the modern city of Aquila ; its site is occupied by the village of San Vittorino. Two letters of Cassiodorus, written in the name of King Theodoric, refer to this Basilius, who, together with another Roman noble named Praetextatus, was imprisoned for practising magical arts, but made his escape. Theodoric ordered that he should be recaptured, and examined by a board of five persons, one of whom was the patrician Symmachus (Cf. Bk. IV. chaps. 13 and 30). See Hodgkin, The Letters of Cassiodorus, pp. 246, 247. Baronius places these events in the year 504 or thereabouts. Nothing is known of the subsequent fate of Basilius, to which St. Gregory refers ; he is evidently not the same person as the Basilius mentioned by Boe'thius, in the De Consolatione Philosophiae, as one of his accusers.
8. 1 John 4, 53.
9. Ibid. p. 18. Castorius (or Castus) was a military officer (magister militum), who shared in the defence of Rome against the Lombards, and is mentioned with high praise by St. Gregory himself in a letter of 595 to the Emperor Mauritius (Registrum, Epist. v. 36, ed. Ewald and Hartmann, i. p. 317). For "Bishop of Reatino" (Reatinae antistes ecclesiae) read "Bishop of Reate" (Rieti). The Bishop of Rome mentioned in this chapter is probably Pope Symmachus I. (498-514), for whom see below, Bk. IV. chap. 40.
10. Ibid. p. 19. Julianus is described in the Latin text as being then defensor (of the Church of Rome). The Defenders of the various Churches were ecclesiastical lawyers, clerics appointed to look after the interests of the Church. See Moroni, Dizionario di Erudiziotie storico-ecclesiastica, xx. pp. 38 et seq., and St. Gregory, Registrum, Epist. v. 26, ed. Ewald and Hartmann, i. p. 307.
11. 1 Luke 16, 15.
12. 2 2 Kings, 16 and 19.
13. Ibid. p. 22. Valentinus was the second Abbot of Sant' Andrea, the monastery into which St. Gregory converted his palace on the Caelian Hill.
14. Ibid. p. 23. The Lombards came into the province of Valeria in 571, three years after their first appearance in Italy.
15. Chapter VII. pp. 26, 27. For Maximianus, Bishop of Syracuse, see Bk. III. chap. 36. The "Abbey which is hard by the city of Nepi" is the monastery "called Suppentonia," mentioned in the next chapter. There were a number of early mediaeval monasteries on Mount Soracte ; the one presided over by Nonnosus was, perhaps, that traditionally associated with St. Sylvester, which was afterwards in the eighth century refounded by Carloman the Frank.
16. 1 John 5, 17. 28
17. Chapter VIII. p. 29. Suppentonia is the modern Castel Sant' Elia, between Nepi and Civita Castellana. Anastasius is commemorated on January n.
18. 1 Gen. 21, 12.
19. 2 Gen. 27, 29.
20. 3 Gen. 22, 17.
21. 4 Gen. 25, 21.
22. Ibid. p. 31. Tuscania, more properly Tuscia, is, of course, the modern Tuscany.
23. Chapter IX. p. 31. The place meant is apparently Ferentinum (Ferentino), near Frosinone, which, however, is in Latium not Tuscany. Bonifacius is commemorated on May 14.
24. Chapter X. p. 38. Tuder is now Todi in Umbria. Fortunatus died in 537, and is commemorated on October 14. The Julianus here mentioned, nostrae ecclesiae defensor, is not the same person as the Julianus connected with St. Equitius (Bk. I. chap. 4), who previously held the same office of "defender."
25. Chapter XII. p. 46. "In eo etiam loco Interorina vallis dicitur, quae a multis verbo rustico Interocrina nominatur." The place is apparently Interocrea, or Intocrium, the modern Antrodoco, between Rieti and Aquila.
This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, 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|