August Neander.

Memorials of Christian life in the early and middle ages. Including his Light in dark places. online

. (page 39 of 54)
Online LibraryAugust NeanderMemorials of Christian life in the early and middle ages. Including his Light in dark places. → online text (page 39 of 54)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

who commits no theft, bears no false witness, lies not, is not
guilty of adultery, hates no man, but loves all as himself;

* It is narrated of Sampson, bishop of Dot, in Bretagne, in the sixtli
century, that after he had preached with success in an island on the first
of January against the usual heathen customs at the beginning of the year,
he collected around him the children who, on account of the usual
festivities were running about, and when lie had told them aflectionately, in
the name of the Lord, that they ougiit to abstain in future from heathenish
superstitions, he presented each witli a piece of money, in order, by this
token of love, to secure a further entrance to his admonitions into their
young hearts.


who does not recompense evil to his enemies, but rather prays
for them ; who stirs up no strife, but leads back to harmony
those who are at variance ; for the Lord himself gave this
command [he quotes Matt. xix. 18 ; vii. 12] ; and still greater
(v. 44), ' Love your enemies : bless them that curse you ; do
good to them that hate you ; pray for them that despitefully
use you and persecute you.' See here a strong command ; to
men it seems somewhat severe, but it has a great reward ; and
what ? hearken ! — ' that you may be the childi-en of your
Father in heaven.' O, what grace ! Of ourselves we are not
at all worthy to be the servants of God, and by loving our
enemies we become the children of God. Therefore, my
brethren, love your friends in God, and your enemies for God's
sake. For whoever loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law,
as the apostle says. Whoever will be a true Christian must
obev these commands. If he does not obey them, he deceives
himself. A good Christian, then, is the man who trusts to no
amulets or devices of Satan, but places all his hopes on Christ
alone : "who receives strangers with joy, as if they were Christ
himself, since he himself says, ' I was a stranger, and ye took
me in. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of
these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.' He is a Chris-
tian who believes no false report, who lives chastely himself,
and teaches his sons and neighbours to live chastely, and in
the fear of God ; who knows the Lord's Prayer and the Creed
by heart, and instructs his children and all his household in
them. In such a man Christ dwells ; for he has said : ' I and
my Father will come to him, and make our abode with him.'
He admonished them to train up their children (for whom they
pledged themselves at their baptism) in the fear of God, — and
to visit the sick and those in prison ; he warned them against
the various forms of pagan superstition, not to hang amulets
about the necks either of men or beasts, even if they were
made by ecclesiastics, and although they were told that they
were holy, containing passages of Holy Writ ; for such things
are not Christ's remedies, but the devil's poison.''-' ' Let no

* Chrysostom, Jerome, and Augustin, had aheady spoken against this
superstitious practice of making amulets of fragments or passages of the
Gospels. We may see how superstition, which does not enter into man
from without, but proceeds from the copious fountain of liis internal
depravity, always takes the same direction, it we notice how the Mahom-
medans in Asia and ASrica. sell for amulets sentences in Arabic, taken from


married woman hang amber about her neck ; let no one,
in weaving or colouring, call on Minerva, or one of the other
heathen goddesses, but let every female "svish in every work
that the grace of Christ may be present with her, and let her
trust with all her heart in the power of his name. Let no
one cry if the moon should be eclipsed, for at God's com-
mand it is eclipsed at certain times ; and let no one fear to
commence any undertaking at the new moon, for God has
created the moon for that purpose, that it should mark the
times and lessen the darkness of the night, not to hinder any
one's business, or to make any one insane, as foolish people
believe. Let no one believe in fate, or in the influence of the
stars, so as to say, as the nativity of a man may be, so will it
be with him in after-life ; for God wills that all men should
be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth ; and he
guides everything with wisdom, as he has ordained before the
creation of the world. Certainly heaven is high ; the earth is
great, the sea is immeasurable, the stars are beautiful, but
more immeasurable and more beautiful must He be who
created all things ; for if these visible things are so incompre-
hensible, the manifold fruits of the earth, the beauty of the
flowers, the various species of animals, if visible things are of
such a nature that we cannot comprehend them, what repre-
sentation can we form to ourselves of those heavenly things
which we have not seen ? Or what must the Creator of all
these things be, at whose nod all these things were created,
and by whose will they are all governed ? Fear Ilim, there-
fore, above all, my brethren ; pray to Him at all times ; love
Him above all ; trust in his mercy ; never despair of his
grace. Let no one anxiously observe as an omen, when he
goes in or out, what meets him, what he hears any one call,
or a bird sing, or what he sees any one carrying ; for he who
does so, acts like a heathen ; but whoever despises this, let him
rejoice that he can apply to himself the words of the Psalmist
(Psa. xl. 4) : ' Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his
trust, and respecteth not such as turn aside unto lies.' F'or
this reason the apostle enjoins : AVhatever ye do, do all in
the name of the Lord Jesus.'" He laid particular stress on
despising dreams ; since, as the Holy Scriptures testify, they
are vain, and he appealed to Lev. xix. 26 : " Have Christ

the Koran. " No need," says an old proverb, full of meaning, " to paint
the devil on the wall ; he comes in self-invited."


always in your hearts, and his sign on your foreheads. A
great thing is the sign of Christ — the cross of Christ ; but it
is of use only to those who obey Christ's commands. Let no
one deceive you ; he that doeth righteousness is righteous ;
but he that committeth sin is of the devil ; and no sin, be it
adultery or theft, or lying, is done without the influence of
the devil. Let no one deceive himself; whoever hates any
man in this world, he loses everything which he presents to )
God in good works ; for the apostle does not utter falsehood I
who pronounces those fearful words : ' He that hateth his *
brother is a murderer, and walke th in darkness.' By the
term ' brother ' we must understand every man, for we are all I
brethren in Christ. Also despise not the poor man, nor the
slave, for perhaps in God's sight he is better than thou art.
Strive to separate yom-selves from the devil ; but remain united
to God, for he has redeemed you. I wish that the heathen
may be astonished at your conduct ; and if they ridicule your
Christian life, let not that unsettle you ; they must render an
account to God. Wherever you may be, be mindful in your
intercourse of Christ, for he says : ' Wherever two or three are
met together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.' As
an incentive to beneficence, he reminded them that all were
redeemed with the same price, and served one common Lord.
He represented the Redeemer as thus addressing the sinner
at the last judgment : ' I made thee a man with my hand from
a clod of earth ; I placed thee, without thy deserving it, in the
delights of Paradise, but despising me and my commands,
thou preferredst to follow the tempter, and hence hast merited
righteous condemnation. Afterwards I had pity upon thee ;
I appeared in flesh, and dwelt among sinners upon earth ; I
bore shame and suffering for thy sake ; I took thy pains upon
me, in order to heal thee. I have taken thy punishment on
myself, in order to bestow glory on thee.'" "Let us love
God above all," he says in another place, " for it is truly a
crime not to love Hiin to whom we can repay nothing, even
if we love him ; for what return can we, poor sinners, make
to the gracious Lord for all that he has bestowed upon us ? to
Him who, without our merit, has bestowed such great blessings
on us unworthy creatures .^ to Him who, in order to save us
from horrible condemnation, descended from the abode of his
Father's glory, and endured the utmost ignominy on earth .^"
The affectionate disposition of Eligius, and the constant


tendency of his heart to eternal life, are beautifully exhibited
in his epistle to his old friend Dcsiderius/'' bishop of Cahors;
" Above all, I beg that as often as thy soul is able to rise
above worldly cares to the life of eternal rest, thou wilt not
omit to connect the remembrance of my insignificant j)erson
with thy prayers. It is indeed certain that nothing in this
world penetrates the heart and soul with such intense solici-
tude, as the thought of eternal life and of the blessed father-
land of the just. With whatever the heart, the mouth over-
flows. Therefore, my Desiderius, whom I bear in my heart,
think always of thy Eligius, when thou pourest out thy
prayer before the Lord. And although wc are separated in
space from one another, let us always be near one another in.
Christ ; and let us always so strive to live that, after no long
period, soul and body may be connected with one another,
and we may live for ever connected with one another. I
hope that our most gracious Lord Jesus Christ will grant
this in answer to our persevering and believing prayers."

Eligius had reached his seventieth year, in constant
unwearied activity, when he jDcacefully found death approach-
ing. As he was one day walking about in Noyon with the
young clergy who were educated under him, he noticed some-
thing threatening to fall in a church to which they were
coming ; immediately he sent for a w^orkman, in order to
repair it. His pupils said it would be better to wait for a more
convenient season, in order that the work might be done
more firmly; he replied, " Let it be done, my children, for if it
is not now repaired, I shall never live to see it done." Deeply
troubled by this declaration, his pupils answered, "• God
forbid ! may the Lord preserve you yet many years for the

* To give some notion respecting this friend of Eligius, we would
quote some expressions of his to an abbess who had fallen into sin :
" Moved by thy tears, I have selected this evangelical narrative
(Luke vii. 38) for thee, for it will occasion thee both comfort and tear.
Comfort, since the soul that sought relief from the burden of sin by re-
pentance was not rejected by the Lord. Fear, because the soul that
gives itself up to the service of the Lord must be prepared for tlie steady
endurance of temptations, as Sirach says (ii. 1) : ' My son, if thou wilt be
the servant of God, prepare for temptation,' Thy tears spread joy in
heaven, since thou voluntarily condemnest sins voluntarily committed.
Repent to the utmost of thy power, and keep thy heart with all diligence.
The more thou seest thyself forsaken by human aid, so much the more
pray for divme aid. I advise thee once more to read this narrative


honour of his church and the benefit of his poor." But
Eligius admonished them to acquiesce in the will of God,
and said : "Be not troubled, my children ; but rather
rejoice, and congratulate me, for I have long earnestly
desired for dismission from the tedious vexations of this life."
A slight fever was to him a sure sign of approaching death.
He called all his attendants together, announced to them the
speedy termination of his life, and exhorted them to love and
harmony. His illness lasted five or six days, and during that
time he went about with the assistance of a staff, for he was
always active. On the last day of his life he again assembled
all his domestics and all his young clergy, and said to them :
" If you love me as I love you, you will willingly hearken to
my last words. Strive to fulfil God's commands, always long
after Jesus, let his teachings be deeply impressed on our hearts.
If you truly love me, love the name of Christ as I love it.
Think continually of the uncertainty of the present life ; keep
the judgment of God constantly before your eyes, for I am
now going the way of all flesh : from this time you will live
without me in this world, for it pleases the Lord to call me
away now, and I long after my release, after rest, if it pleases
the Lord." He then called the young men whom had edu-
cated and trained for the clerical office, individually, to him,
and told each one to what monastery he should betake him-
self after his death. For a long time their lamentations and
tears prevented him from speaking ; and much as he longed
after eternal life, and rejoiced in the approach of his end, he
was yet deej^ly moved by his sympathy with the sorrow of
his friends. At last he began again, " Do not grieve so much,
nor trouble me any more by your tears. If you are wise, you
wdll rather rejoice than mourn, for though I shall be far from
you as to my bodily presence, yet in spirit I shall be present
among you in a far superior manner, and if it were not so,
yet God is always with you, to whom I commend you, to
whose care I commit you. If I have been able to do any
good, how I have laboured for your advancement in all things
you will know in that day when the Lord will judge the
secret thoughts of men. I know indeed that as an unprofi-
table servant I have done nothing as I ought to do; yet
the Lord knows what has been my will hitherto." After
adjm-ing them in the most solemn manner to abide faithful to
his instructions,— to take care of his clerical establishments


in the monasteries, and liacl bidden them an affeetionate fore-
well, he fell down on his knees and commended to the Eternal
Shepherd the sheep that had been intrusted to his care. In
his last moments he once more assembled his pupils round his
bed, and while they embraced one another weepinu; he said
again, " I cannot now say anything more to you, and you will
not see me any longer with you ; live then in peace, and let
me go to rest." It was noticed that for a long time he prayed
silently, looking up to heaven. lie then prayed aloud, " O
Lord, now leitest thou thy servant depart in peace, as thou
hast said. O remember that thou hast made me out of a clod
of earth. Enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in
thy sight no llesh living can bo justified, llemember me, O
thou Avho art alone without sin. Christ, Saviour of the world!
deliver me from the body of this death, and redeem me to
thy heavenly kingdom. Thou hast always been my protector ;
into thy hands I commend my spirit. I know that I do not
deserve to behold tliy face. Yet thou knowest that my hope
has always been placed in thy mercy, and that I firmly abide
in thy faith, and with my last breath confess thy name.
Keceive me therefore, of thy great mercy, and let not my hope
be brought to shame. Let thy gracious hand protect me and
lead me to the place of rest, the final habitation which thou
hast prepared for thy servants and for those who fear thee."
Having uttered this prayer, he departed.*

* To the examples adilucccl in the foregoing biographies of the power
which religion exerts over rude uncultivated minds, we may here add the
following. The Abbot Ebrolf (Euroul) had settled with his monks in a
thick forest inhabited by wild beasts and robbers. One of the robbers
came to them, and, struck with awe at their appearance, said to them :
" You have not chosen a suitable place for yourselves. The inhabitants
of this foreftt live by robbery, and can endure no ojie among them who
supports himself by the labour of his own hands. You cannot remain
here any longer in saftty. But what do you wish to do in this wild, un-
fruitful district?" The Abbot I'' brolf answered : "Know, my brother,
that the Lord is with us ; and since we are under his jjrot'ction, we fear
not the threatcnings of men, for he himself has said, ' i-'ear not them who
can kill the body, but c.mnot kill the soul.' And know that he will
supply his servants abundantly with food even in a desert. And thou
also canst be a partaker of these riches if thou wilt renounce thy evil
vocation, and vow to serve the true and living God ; for our God forgets
all the evil which a sinner has done on the day when he turns from all his
sins, as the prophet declares (Ezek. xviii. 2i). Therefore, my brother,

2 c




God, to whom all his works are known from eternity, by
means of a twofold preparation fitted Gregory for the great
and onerous office of guiding the church in the West, agitated
at that time by so many storms. He who was to be involved
in an enormous multitude of engagements of various kinds,
was prepared to bear so great a burden by having filled to
his fortieth year an important civil office in the state. Then,
following a long-felt impulse of his heart, he retired to a
monastic life, and here in calm consecrated repose he was to
cultivate self-acquaintance, and to acquire power and stability
for the inner life.

From this calm repose, upon which he frequently looked
back with regret, he was then drawn out into a restless mani-
fold activity, into a whirl of business for the most part alto-
gether foreign to the ecclesiastical life and calling, as he

despair not of God's goodness on account of the greatness of thy sins,
but according to the exhortation of that psalm (Psa. xxxiv.), ' Depart
from evil and do good,' and be convinced that 'the eyes of the Lord are
upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.' But let that
terrible word resound also in thy ears, * The face of the Lord is against
them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.'
Upon this, the robber departed ; but the forcible tones of the words he
had heard left a deep impression on his soul. The nest morning he
hastened back to the monks — he brought to the abbot a present (such as
his poverty could furnish) three coarse loaves and a honeycomb ; he
vowed amendment of his life with all his heart, and remained there as a
monk. And after his example many other robbers of this forest were
moved by the exhortations of the pious abbot either to become monks or
to begin agriculture and support themselves in an honest way by the
labour of their hands.

Another French abbot of this age, Laumann (Loumon) was suddenly
attacked by robbers in his cell, but his venerable appearance so overawed
them that they fell at his feet, embraced his knees, and exclaimed,
" Spare us, O holy man of God!" He answered, " Why do you ask
me to spare you, my children? why are you come hither?" They
confessed everything to him, and he replied, full of gentleness, '* The
Lord have mercy on you, my beloved children stand up and renounce
your robberies, that God's mercy may be granted to you."


himself laments : " As the end of the world ap])roaches,* the
times are full of disquiet, and evil increases ; and thus we our-
selves, whose life is apparently devoted to divine mysteries,
are embroiled with earthly cares." Gre<^ory himself drew vivid
sketches of the depopulated state of the world at that time,
and took occasion from it to admonish his contemporaries of
the vanity of earthly things, and to direct their regards to
eternity. Thus, in one of his sermons, he says : " Those saints
on whose graves we stand, raised themselves in spirit to
despise the then flourishing world. There was then long life
among men — prosperity, rest, and peace — and yet, while the
world still flourished in itself, it had already withered in the
hearts of those men. Behold ! now the world is withered in
itself, and yet it flourishes in our hearts. Everywhere there
is death, and mourning, and destruction ; we are smitten on
all sides, the bitter cup is handed to us from every quarter,
and yet with the blindness of earthly desires we love even the
bitterness of the world, we pursue the fleeting world, we hold
fast to the sinking world, and since we cannot keep it from
sinking, we sink ourselves with it, wishing to retain it as it
sinks. Once the world enchanted by its amusements ; now it
is so full of suffering that of itself it points us to God. The
downfall of these earthly things shows how worthless they
were, even when they appeared to stand firm. Therefore
think upon this, in order to direct your hearts to the love of
the Eternal, so that, despising earthly glory, you may attain
through our Lord Jesus Christ to that glory which you already
possess in faith." And in another sermon he says : " I pray
you, what now can give joy in this world ? Everywhere we
behold sorrow ; on every side we hear groans. Cities are
destroyed, fortresses are pulled down, the fields are laid waste,
the land is become desolate. The villages are empty, and
scared v an inhabitant is left in the cities, and even this small
remnant of the human race is daily and incessantly massacred.
The scourge of divine justice docs not rest, because no amend-
ment has followed under it. We see how some are dragged
to prison, some are mutilated, others are put to death. What

* The devastations which God, who kills in order to make alive and
who knows how to call new life out of death, permitted to be the har-
bingers of a new creation, appeared to those who suflered from them as
omens of the end of all things.

2o 2


is there, my brethren, that can give joy in this life r If we
still love such a world, we love not pleasures but pains. What
has become of that city which was once the empress of the
world ? "' He then points out how other great cities had met
with a similar fate, and closes with the exhortation : " There-
fore let us despise with all our hearts the present world, at
least, as one that has perished ; may our longing after the
world find an end with the end of the world, and let us imi-
tate the works of the pious as we are able." He availed him-
self of the state of the world to remind bishojDS of their
responsibilities. "You see," he said, " b}' what sword the
world is smitten to the ground ; you see under what strokes
the world daily sinks. Does not this come to pass through the
guilt of our sins ? Behold ! cities are ruined ; fortresses are
destroyed ; churches and monasteries are pulled down ; the
land is laid waste. But we are the cause of the death of
the people M^ho perish, we who ought to be their guides to life."
Italy was laid waste by the Longobards, who frequently
threatened the Roman territory, and Gregory, as one of the
most powerful vassals of the Greek emperor, had to take
measures for the defence of the country, placed between the
Longobards thirsting for conquest, the governors of the Greek
empire, often forgetful of their duties, and a court full of
intrigues. We may imagine what a melancholy situation it
must have been for a man wlio would so gladly have devoted
himself entirely to his spiritual duties ! Moreover, he had to
attend to the management of the numerous estates which the
Romish church possessed in various parts of the world and in
different kingdoms, and the revenues of which were indis-
pensable to the bishop that, as the duties of his office re-
quired, he might provide for the maintenance of a multitude
of poor persons, and the redemption of a number of captives.
How much Gregory regarded this as the duty of a bishop, is
evident from one example. Some poor aged persons came to
him at Ravenna, who told him how much had been given
them everywhere for their journey; and when he asked them
what they had received from Marinian, the new bishop of
Ravenna, who in his youth had been a monk with him, they
answered, he had refused to give them anything, alleging that
he had nothing to give. Gregory wrote, therefore, to a
friend, whom he commissioned to remonstrate with Bishop


Marinlan on the subject. "It seems stranj^e to me that a
person who has clothes, and silver, and a cellar, should have
nothin£^ to give to the poor. Tell him, therefore, that with his
condition he must also alter his manner of livin«^. Let him
not think that readiiij>; and 2:)rayer will now be enough for

Online LibraryAugust NeanderMemorials of Christian life in the early and middle ages. Including his Light in dark places. → online text (page 39 of 54)