G. G. (George Gordon) Coulton.

A medieval garner; human documents from the four centuries preceding the reformation online

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worth five florins a year by way of indemnity, until you have paid the
hundred florins you owe him ; " " that Caiaphas is in heaven." Busch
first confuted these errors by quotation and logic, meeting No. 2 by the
pertinent retort, " If that were true, then there could not be a soul left
now in purgatory ; seeing that more masses are daily sung in the whole
world than the number of Christian men who die every day ; wherefore
it is in vain that masses are daily sung for the dead, since there is not a
soul left there ! " After which he roundly declared to the preachers,
convinced or unconvinced, that they must pubhcly revoke forthwith
or never piBach again within his archdeaconry of Halle (for such
authority he now had ex officio as Provost of Neuwerk) ; and he des-
cribes with much humour how three of them contrived to save their
face under these trying circumstances. After which he gives the other
side of the medal, p. 733.

299.— a Detecminet) ipteacfter.

jIR GERARD DEBELER, my o^vn preacher
at Halle, whom I brought thither from
Hildesheim, was a man of exceeding zeal
for the people of God and well-beloved of
them ; oftentimes he preached to the people
that they should keep God's commandments. For he
preached three or four sermons on a single precept of
our Lord, until all in his parish of St. Mary the Virgin
at the City Market should keep it effectually. And
when some showed themselves too slow to begin
keeping it, then he said publicly to all the folk of both
sexes in congregation, " Wherefore are ye so slow to
begin keeping this precept of God ? Perchance ye
may say : ' My father and mother were good folk, just
andl truthful and good Cliristians ; I know that they
have gone long since to the Kingdom of Heaven ; why
then are we now compelled so strictly to keep God's
precepts, beyond what they then did ? ' Hear what I

648 A Medieval Garner.

answer thereunto. Hast thou sealed letters to show
that thy parents, who were so good, went indeed to
heaven ? I would gladly see them ; but I trow ye
have none such. Now I say to thee : If thy parents
lived as thou now livest, and kept not God's command-
ments, then I have sealed letters to show that they are
now burning in hell fire ; and my letters are the missals
that lie on the altar, wherein are written gospels which
our Lord God Jesus Christ sealed as true with His own
blood. For therein is written : If thou wilt enter into
life, keep the commandments ; and again, // any one
love Me, he will keep My word, and many suchlike. Now
such transgressors of God's commandments as died
and deceased in their wicked sins are now in hell, as
the Catholic Faith holdeth, and as Jesus Christ's gospel
saith ; but those who kept His commandments in this
life, though their bodies be dead, yet in soul they now
live with God in heaven, and at the resurrection of the
dead they shall possess eternal life in body and soul,
with God and the holy angels and all the saints. Think
therefore where are now your parents who seemed to
you so good according to this world ; think thereon,
and amend your lives ! "

How much good that preacher did among the people
at Halle by his notable sermons, I have told more fully
above in the Reform of the Monastery of Neuwerk.
He did not quote much of scripture,* but went straight
to the point and made it plain to all men's eyes, saying,
" Thou with the long cloak and the parti-coloured
hosen — ^thou Rathsherr there — ^thou rich man — thou
poor man — what wilt thou say to these things when
thou liest on thy back breathing forth thy ghost ?
Think these things over now beforehand, that thou
mayest study to amend thy life and keep God's com-
mandments strictly with all thy might."

* A term wMcli included not only the Bible, but Church Doctors, etc.

Exorcism by Common Sense.


300.— (^rorcism bj) Common %zmt.

{Lib. Be/. Ill, 21, p. 701).

^]NCE as I went from Halle to Calbe, a man
who was ploughing ran forth from the field
and said that his wife was possessed with
a devil, beseeching me most instantly that
I would enter his house (for it was not far
from our way) and liberate her from this demon. At
last, touched by his prayers, I granted his request,
coming down from my chariot and following him to his
house. When therefore I had looked into the woman's
state, I found that she had many fantasies, for^that she
was wont to sleep and eat too little, whence she fell into
feebleness of brain and thought herself possessed by a
demon ; yet there was no such thing in her case. So I
told her husband to see that she kept a good diet, that
is, good meat and drink, especially in the evening when
she would go to sleep ; " for then " (said I) " when all
her work is over, she should drink what is called in the
vulgar tongue een warme iaute, that is a quart of hot
ale, as hot as she can stand, without bread but with a
little butter of the bigness of a hazel-nut. And when
she hath drunken it to the end, let her go forthwith to
bed ; thus will she soon get a whole brain again."

The next extract will suffice, out of a dozen equally unfavourable
but less entertaining which might be quoted from various sources, to
exemplify the difficulties which beset monastic reform in the Middle
Ages. The nunnery of Wennigsen, near Hanover, was the first with
which Busch dealt ; in this and other cases the full context implies,
what he says in so many words concerning seven out of twenty-four
nunneries which at different times needed his visitations, that the
inmates neglected all three " substantial " vows of their Rule — Poverty,
Obedience, and Chastity. A strikingly close parallel to all this story
may be found in the attempted reformation of Klingental nunnery in
1462, which is very fully narrated by Abbe L. Dacheux in his Jean
Geiler (Paris, 1876, pp. 310 fi.)

650 A Medieval Garner.

301.-3 Qisitot'js €jcperiencei8f.

{Lib. Rtf. II, 1, p. 555. a.d, 1455).

I HEN first we attempted to reform the convent
of nuns at Wennigsen in the diocese of
Minden, of the Order of Canons Regular,
we found the Bishop of Minden and the
great men of the country against us every-
where in the towns, but Duke William the Elder of
Brunswick on our side, together with the authority of
the Pope and of the Council of Bale.* Wherefore this
Duke William entered into the nuns' choir, together
with his supreme counsellor Ludolph von Barum,
Roger Prior of Wittenburg, and myself. Here the
lord Duke, removing his hat, said to the assembled nuns
with their Prioress, in our presence : " My lady Prioress,
and ye sisters all ! It is my will that ye accept the
reform and observe your Rule." They, standing with
hands folded on their breasts, made answer with one
voice : " We have all alike determined and sworn
together that we v/ill not reform ourselves nor observe
our Rule. We beseech you, compel us not to perjure
ourselves." Then said the Duke : "Ye answer ill ;
be better advised." Then they left the choir, but
returned hastily and fell at his feet with arms folded,
and made the same answer, " We have sworn together
that we will not keep the reform. We beseech you,
make us not perjured." Then said the Duke again,
" Your answer is nought ; wherefore be better advised."
Then they went out and returned a second time, and

* This was the frequent experience of orthodox Visitors in all
countries and at all times, as the official records show. Apart from
the well-earned popularity of the monastic houses at their best, even
at their worst they still enjoyed much popularity of a certain kind,
both among the neighbouring landowners who used them as dumping-
grounds for younger sons and daughters, and among the people who
came to the doors for doles ; so that even the most lawful and necessary
reforms were often the most violently resisted. This undoubted fact
has been too much obscured recently by historians of the Dissolution
of the Monasteries in England.

A Monastic Visitor. 651

fell flat on their faces in the choir, with their hands
folded across their breasts, and answered for the third
time in the same words : " Seeing that we have all
sworn together not to observe our Rule, therefore we
pray you not to make us perjured." Then said the
Duke : " Arise, I am not worthy that ye should worship
me." With this they arose, and certain from among
them .began to quarrel with the lord Ludolph von
Barum, the Duke's counsellor. Then said I to the
Duke : " What profit have we from standing here and
chiding with the nuns ? Let us quit the choir and take
counsel what we should now do." So we left the choir
and went about the dormitory ; whereupon the nuns
lay down forthwith with one accord flat upon the
choir pavement, with arms and legs outstretched in
the form of a cross, and chanted at the top of their
voices, from beginning to end, the antiphon. In the
midst of life we are in death. We therefore, hearing
their voices, believed that it was the responsory The
heavens will reveal the iniquity of Judas ; wherefore the
Duke was afraid lest his whole land should perish.* I
therefore said unto him : " If I were Duke of this land,
I would rather have that chant than a hundred florms ;
for it is no curse upon your land but rather a blessing
and a dew from heaven ; albeit upon the nuns it is a
stern rebuke and a token that they shall be reformed.
But we are few here, for there are but four of us, and
the nuns are many. If they made assault upon us with
their distaffs and with stones bound up in their long
sleeves, what could we do ? Let more be called to
audience with us." Then the Duke went alone into
their choir and said, " Ye sing this upon your o\vi\

* The latter formula is one of solemn excommunication ; the former
is one of the many ways in which ecclesiastics used the church services
for maledictory purposes. The antiphon is of course Notker's beautiful
one from the funeral service (see introduction to Extract No. 8), and
the object of the performance was to invoke an evil death upon the
intruders. This maledictory chanting of the Media Vita had been
forbidden by the Synod of Cologne as early as 1310 a.d., but in vain.
For similar abuses of solemn services as maledictions see Petrus Cantor's
words in No. 50.

652 A Medieval Garner.

bodies and souls ! " And to his servants, who stood
with the nuns in the choir, he said, " Come hither to
us ; " so they hastened forth at once to us.

Then the nuns, who had ended their anthem, followed
those servants to us, for they believed that we purposed
to break open their chests and boxes and to carry all
off with us. When therefore they were all assembled
before us, the Duke said, " How dared ye to sing that
anthem Media Vita over me ? Here I stretch out my
fingers to God's holy gospels and swear that ye must
reform yourselves, or I will no longer suffer you in my
dominions. If the Bishop of Minden and your friends
will withstand me in this matter, either will I drive
them forth in banishment from my land, or I myself
will go forth with my [pilgrim's] staff ! " The Prioress
and her nuns, hearing this, were afraid, and besought
the Duke that they might be permitted to call their
friends and kinsfolk, by whose counsel they might
guide themselves as they should. The Duke at last
granted this at our intercession, yet unwillingly. So
their friends and parents and kinsfolk assembled there
to meet us at a certain time which the Duke fixed for
us and them ; and, even as the nuns had petitioned, in
like words did these men petition on their behalf.
Twice or thrice we gave them time for deliberation ;
until, seeing that they persisted in their purpose, the
Duke at length said to them by our counsel, " It is my
will that ye depart hence. I will not harm them ; yet
it is my settled purpose that they should reform them-
selves." Then their friends and kinsfolk ran forth
from the convent, followed by young men with bucklers.

Then the Duke commanded that [the nuns] should
open the convent door to us. They sent a messenger
to say that they had lost the keys. Then at our com-
mand (for by his own authority he might not have done
it) the Duke seized a long bench and, with the help of
certain villeins and countryfolk, he smote so hard upon
the precinct-gate that he burst it open together with
the steel bolt that fastened it ; so that the oaken bar
also was driven inwards ; and it carried away in its fall,
from the wall on either side, certain hewn stones of the

Tlie Alibiy of Maull)Ponn


jrom d contempordrij drmn^ -^^


ShowiuR precinct-walls and Kates.

A Monastic Visitor. 653

bigness of chair-cushions, together with other smaller
stones. Thus violently did they break in that door,
even as the said Duke had oftentimes done in storming
and conquering fortresses of war. The door being thus
opened, we entered into the convent and went up to
their choir. There they all lay flat in the form of a
cross, having round them in a circle little stone or
wooden images of saints of a cubit in height, and
between every two images a lighted taper ; that,
albeit neither walls nor bars could defend them against
the Duke and us, yet at least the saints, moved by
these tapers and prayers, might vouchsafe to protect

When therefore they saw the Duke and us standing
about them, they all arose and came to us. Then the
Duke removed his hood or his cap and said in the
hearing of all, "If ye will yet reform yourselves, then
will I keep you in my land ; otherwise, the chariots
are already harnessed to carry you forth from my
dominions, never perchance to return." " Nay," said
they, " but fu-st cast off these monks from about our
necks ; then will we gladly perform all your bidding.
Whereunto the Duke made answer : " All that I now
do and say unto you, I do it after their counsel,
pointing to me and Roger the Prior of Wittenburg.
Then said I to a nun that stood by me, " Sister ! do
as the lord Duke desireth ; we will deal gently and
mercifully with you." Then answered she in indigna-
tion, " You are not my brother, wherefore then call me
sister ? My brother is clad in steel, and you in a linen
frock ! " for she took it that I had done her contumelj^
in calling her not Klosterfrau but Sister ! Yet, seeing
that the Duke persisted in his purpose, they answered
at last that they had no Provost ; if therefore they had
a Provost to begin the reform with them, then all
would be ready to begin. To this word the Duke and
we all consented. . . .

So Duke William, who had withdrawn about a mile
from us in the evening, came to us on the morrow with
two or three hundred men, and said to me, " My lord
Father and Provost," (for so was he wont to call me)

654 A Medieval Garner.

" I would rather that the Bishops of Hildesheim or
Minden, or the Counts of Hoyen, had defied me to
mortal combat, than that I should thus come with an
armed band against women and nuns. But, seeing
that this is your counsel, and that it is profitable for
my soul's salvation, therefore I gladly do and have
done whatsoever ye desire." . . . When therefore all
the nuns were come to the Prioress in our presence and
were swearing obedience to her, one cried aloud, " This
will I never do ! " With that she fell forthwith to the
earth and lost her senses ; and, even though the other
nuns cast cold water in her face and unlaced her bodice,
if by chance she might get her breath again, yet she
remained senseless. When we had thus waited an
hour, and she had yet neither voice nor sense, then two
men bore her in a litter to the infirmary, where they
left her. The other nuns, seeing this, and how the
Lord was with us, were afraid and all laid their hands
in ours, gladly receiving that which we had willed and
commanded. All therefore that could be fetched,
and the private vessels wherein they had been wont
to eat or drink or cook, they now brought at our com-
mand and in our presence to the refectory, to be put
into the common stock. Yet some, grieved that they
ynust thus resign their private possessions, cast down
their pots so violently that they brake the feet thereof
against the pavement. After this, all made confession
to me or to the Prior of Wittenburg in their Chapter-
House, he sitting in one corner and I in the other;
and then they were absolved from the sentences of
excommunication which they had incurred through
their disobedience.

Though this was not the end of the difficulties, and Busch's own life
was twice in serious danger from the outside partisans of the rebellious
nuns, yet the backbone of the resistance was now broken, and even the
bishop was finally overawed by the Duke into helping the reforms.
Busch found even more serious difficulties with other visitations, at the
risk not only of his life but also of his reputation, since the desperate
nuns were ready to catch at any chance of compassing his ruin by
slander. With government assistance, he succeeded in working a real
reform in a considerable number of monasteries, of which scarcely any
fell away again before his death. A generation later, however, the

Monastic Decay. 6^^

great reformed congregation of Bursfeld, which Busch had helped to
found, was already in a bad state again. Johann von Tritheim, or
Trithemius, one of the most distinguished monks of any country in his
day, wrote in 1493 a long treatise On the State and Ruin of the Monastic
Order, which he addressed to the Abbot President for circulation among
the other Abbots of the Bursfeld congregation. In this book he repeats
more briefly what he had already said at length in his Homilies and
Sermons to Monks and his Booh of Illustrious Men. The following
extract is from Chapter XI. of the De Statu et Ruina, which is sometimes
also called Liber Pentichus. We must make some allowance for Trit-
heim's rhetorical indignation — he complains elsewhere that for the
last 70 years scarcely one Abbot of his own house of Spanheim had died
in harness ; nearly all had resigned in despair sooner or later. But his
indictment is borne out in substance by equally distinguished and
orthodox churchmen of the 15th century in England, France, Germany,
and Italy, whose repeated testimony is entirely ignored by those who
have written on this subject in England during the last 20 years.

302.— a^onastic Decap,

OW sorely some diligent reformation of the
monasteries in our province is needed, ye
yourselves know, my Fathers ; for ye are
] not ignorant of the state of monasticism in
our time. I know that ye are aware with
how great labour, expense and travail the Fathers
reformed our Order in the past ; whereof we find few
and faint relics in these days. Now, among all the
reformations of our Order in this province, three have
been specially distinguished above the rest in these
days : namely, those called GastellensiSy Mellicensis,
and Bursfeldensis after the monasteries of their origin.
Yet all these, for all their first fervour, have grown
cold by degrees and now draw near to their end ; for
the first two, as though worn out with age, have shrunk
to small numbers ; while the last, formed after the rest,
seemeth as yet to be firmer even as it is also younger ; but
it too seemeth to grow cold in some of its members,
and to decline again to the laxity of its former life. So
in old days the world-wide reform of Cluny, while it
spread far and wide, failed little by little as though its
strength had been spent in its diffusion ; for the

656 A Medieval Garner.

proverb saith, " All that groweth old draweth near to
its death " ; so also even the most famous and holy
reformation will gradually vanish away unless it be
frequently renewed by the wisdom of the prelates ; for,
the more it groweth in time, the more it is diminished
in fervour. For when those were dead whose works
showed their zeal for the Order, then new Abbots arose
after them, who neglected the holy fervour of reforma-
tion and fell back into the old deformities ; and (to
come to more recent times), where now is that reforma-
tion which Cardinal Nicolaus von Cusa, Papal Legate,
began [in 1451] with incredible zeal ? Where are those
terrible oaths of all the Abbots of our province, where-
with they bound themselves to keep the Rule, laying
their hands within those of this Cardinal before the
altar of St. Stephen at Wiirzburg ? Where is their
promised observance of the Rule ? Behold, Father,
ye have 127 Abbots under your Chapter, whereof scarce
70 out of the three above-named Observances have
held to their reformation. There are some, I doubt
not, who think themselves excellently reformed ; but
their conversation belieth their claim. Would that our
Abbots might heed that repeated commination of our
holy founder, who said that the cure of souls doth
indeed expose us to a most strict account ! See the
conversation both of Abbots and monks, whose smoke
goeth up round about ; which, though it be laiown, I
blush to tell, and ye (most worshipful Fathers) shudder
to hear. For the three vows of Religion which for
their excellence are named Substantial, are as little
heeded by these men as if they had never promised to
keep them. All is confusion, profanity, presumption.
If we look to divine service, they perform this so
confusedly and disorderly and dissolutely that there is
no sound of sense in their words nor of due melody in
their chants ; for they lack all erudition in the liberal
arts, so that they understand no whit of all that they
sing ; wherefore they not so much recite, as confound
their canonical services, without either affection or
devotion or savour of inward sweetness. Never are
the Holy Scriptures seen in their hands, never do they

Monastic Decay. 657

do their duty in edifying discourse, never do they take
account of training in morals. The Avhole day is spent
in filthy talk ; their whole time is given up to play and
gluttony ; never is a word spoken of reformation ; the
fury of brawling Brethren rageth in the cloister ; cowl
warreth against cowl, and the convent is entangled in
mad litigation, to the violation of its own laws. Here
the javelin is made ready, with the sword and the bow^
so that the whole monastery seems in a state of siege.
In open possession of private property,* in violation
of statutes and laws and the Rule, each dwelleth in his
own private lodging, wherein they follow the pursuits
of clerks rather than monks. They neither fear nor
love God ; they have no thought of the life to come,
seeing that they prefer their fleshly lusts to the needs
of the soul. They read not the monastic Rule, they
heed not the Statutes, they despise the decrees of the
Fathers. They scorn the vow of poverty, know not
that of chastity, revile that of obedience ; and would
that, in refusing chastity, they would at least deign to
live in continence ! yet the smoke of their filth goeth
up all around, and we alone, who are bidden to reform
them, ignore that which all the world knoweth. . . . O
holy father Benedict, who wast of old so solicitous for
thine Order, why dost thou forsake us at the last ? . . .
Who will bring succour among these evils ? The
Bishop ? — Yet he careth for his own, seeketh his own
profit, and scorneth ours. The Prince ? — Yet he selleth
his favours, refuseth discipline, seeketh worldly things.
There is none to sorrow at the distress of thine Order,
none to succour, none to bring help ; for all who have
power to restore, neglect it ; while others, who seem

* The attempts to prevent monks from possessing private property,
renewed from generation to generation for centuries, at last broke down
openly in face of steady passive resistance ; see for instance the report of
the Benedictine Chapter-General for England in 1344 (Reynerus De
Antiq. Bened. in Anqlia, Douai, 1626, p. 122). Yet Busch, like other
visitors, complains that this abandonment of the vow of poverty must
always react disastrously upon the other two substantial vows, obedience
and chastity. This violation of the vow of poverty was however more
ilagrant in Germany than in England, or perhaps any other of the great
countries of Europe.


658 A Medieval Garner.

to have a zeal for discipline, do indeed try to help but
have no power. Abbots, Abbots, who are cause of
all evils in your convents ! . . . Ye, who should
correct the faults of your monks, are faulty yourselves
and dissemble the transgressions of others lest your
own be reproved. Ye see, most reverend Fathers, the
state of your Order, what Abbots ye have and what
monks ; for there are none to correct the wicked ; we
only meet with such as should be corrected. Why

Online LibraryG. G. (George Gordon) CoultonA medieval garner; human documents from the four centuries preceding the reformation → online text (page 55 of 61)