Guide Eighteen Pieces. No. 8. Dialogue

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And when they went with that through the fields, praying to God, forthwith they had such plenty of rain as the dryness of the ground required: whereby it was apparent, what virtue and merits were in his soul, whose garment shewed outwardly did pacify the anger of almighty God. Not long since, there was a reverent man in Campania, called Marcius, who lived a solitary life in the mountain of Marsico: and many years together did he continue in a narrow and straight cave: whom many of our acquaintance knew very well, and were present at such miracles as he did, and many things concerning him have I heard from the mouth of Pope Pelagius of blessed memory, my predecessor, and also of others, who be very religious men.

His first miracle was that, so soon as he made choice of that cave for his habitation, there sprung water out of the hollow rock, which was neither more nor less than served for his necessity: by which almighty God did shew what great care he had of his servant, seeing miraculously, as in ancient time he had before done to the children of Israel, he caused the hard rock to yield forth water. But the old enemy of mankind, envying at his virtues, went about by his ancient slight to drive him from that place: for he entered into a serpent, his old friend, and so thought to have terrified him from thence.

For the serpent alone would come into the cave where he lived also alone, and when he was at his prayers, it would cast itself before him, and when he took his rest, it would lie down by his side. The holy man was nothing at all dismayed at this: for sometime he would put his hand or leg to his mouth, saying: "If thou hast leave to sting me, I hinder thee not ": and when he had lived thus continually the space of three years, upon a day the old enemy, overcome with his heavenly courage, made a great hissing, and tumbling himself down by the side of the mountain, he consumed all the bushes and shrubs with fire: in which fact by the power of God he was enforced to shew of what force he was, that departed with loss of the victory.

Consider, I pray you then, in the top of what mountain this man of God stood, that continued three years together with a serpent, without taking any harm at all.

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This reverent man, when he first shut himself up, was determined never to behold women any more: not because he contemned them, but for that he feared lest their sight might be the occasion of sinful temptation: which resolution of his a certain woman understanding, up she went boldly to the mountain, and forgetting all modesty, impudently approached to his cave.

He seeing her a good way off, and perceiving by the apparel that it was a woman, he fell straight to his prayers, with his face upon the earth, and there he lay prostrate, until the shameless creature, wearied with staying at his window, departed: and that very day after she was descended the mountain, she ended her lire; to give all the world to understand how highly she displeased almighty God, in offending his servant with that her bold enterprise.

At another time, many of devotion going to visit him, a young boy, taking little heed to his feet, and by reason the path was so straight upon the side of the mountain, fell down, and tumbled until he came to the bottom of the valley, which was very deep: for the mountain is so high, that huge trees growing beneath seem to them that be above nothing else but little shrubs.

The people present were at this chance much dismayed, and very diligently did they seek, to see where they could find his dead body: for who would have thought any otherwise but that he was slain, or once imagined that his body could ever have come safe to the ground, so many rocks being in the way to tear it in pieces? Then they perceived very well, that the reason why he was not hurt was because Marcius' prayers did preserve him in his falling.

Over his cave there was a great rock, which seemed to hang but by a little piece unto the mountain, and therefore daily was it feared that it would fall, and so kill the servant of God. For preventing of which mischief, the honourable man Mascatus, nephew to Armentarius, came thither with a great number of country people, desiring him to leave his cave so long until they had removed that rock, to the end he might afterward continue there without any danger: but the man of God could not by any means be persuaded to come forth, bidding them notwithstanding do what they thought convenient, only he retired himself to the farthest part of his cell: yet none made any doubt, but that if so huge a rock as that was did fall, but that it would both spoil his cave and kill himself.

Wherefore they laboured what they might, to see if they could remove that mighty stone without any danger to the man of God, and forthwith, in the sight of them all, a strange thing happened: for that rock, severed by their labour from the rest of the mountain, not touching Marcius' cave, did skip clean over, and avoiding, as it were, to hurt God's servant, it fell far off: which thing no man can doubt but that it was done by the hands of Angels, at the commandment of almighty God.

At such time as this holy man came first to inhabit that mountain, and had not yet made any door for his cave, he fastened the one end of an iron chain to the stony wall, and the other he tied to his leg, to the end he might go no farther than the length of that chain did give him leave: which thing the reverent man Benedict hearing of, sent him this word by one of his monks: "If thou be God's servant, let the chain of Christ, and not any chain of iron, hold thee": upon this message Marcius forthwith loosed his chain, yet did he keep still the same compass, and go no farther than he did before.

Living afterward in the same cave, he began to entertain certain disciples, which dwelt apart from his cell, who, having no other water but that which with a rope and a bucket they drew out of a well, great trouble they had, because their rope did often break: and therefore they came unto him, craving that chain which he had loosed from his leg, that they might tie the rope to that, and fasten the bucket upon it: and from that time forward, though the rope was daily wet with water, yet did it break no more; for having touched the holy man's chain, it became strong like unto iron, so that the water did not wear it, nor do it any harm.

These worthy acts of his do please me, seeing they are strange, and that very much, because they were so lately done, and be yet fresh in memory. Not long since in our time, a certain man called Quadragesimus was subdeacon in the church of Buxentin, 20 who in times past kept a flock of sheep in the same country of Aurelia: by whose faithful report I understood a marvellous strange thing, which is this. At such time as he led a shepherd's life, there was an holy man that dwelt in the mountain of Argentario: whose religious conversation and inward virtue was answerable to the habit of a monk, which outwardly he did wear.

Every year he travelled from his mountain to the church of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles: and in the way took this Quadra-gesimus' house for his lodging, as himself did tell me. Coming upon a day to his house, which was hard by the church, a poor woman's husband died not far off, whom when they had, as the manner is, washed, put on his garments, and made him ready to be buried, yet it was so late, that it could not be done that day: wherefore the desolate widow sat by the dead corpse, weeping all night long, and to satisfy her grief she did continually lament and cry out.

The man of God, seeing her so pitifully to weep and never to give over, was much grieved, and said to Quadragesimus the subdeacon: "My soul taketh compassion of this woman's sorrow, arise, I beseech you, and let us pray": and thereupon they went to the church, which, as I said, was hard by, and fell to their devotions.

For, desirous to avoid all temporal honour, he so handled the matter, that they which saw him work that miracle, did never see him more so long as he lived. What others think I know not: but mine opinion is, that it is a miracle above all miracles, to raise up dead men, and secretly to call back their souls, to give life unto their bodies again. If we respect outward and visible things, of necessity we must so believe; but if we turn our eyes to invisible things, then certain it is that it is a greater miracle, by preaching of the word and virtue of prayer, to convert a sinner than to raise up a dead man: for in the one, that flesh is raised up which again shall die: but in the other, he is brought from death which shall live for ever.

For I will name you two, and tell me in which of them, as you think, the greater miracle was wrought. The first is Lazarus, a true believer, whom our Lord raised up in flesh; the other is Saul, whom our Lord raised in soul. Behold how this blessed Apostle lived, who from hell returned in his soul to the life of virtue: wherefore less it is for one to be raised up in body, except perchance, by the reviving thereof, he be also brought to the life of his soul, and that the outward miracle do serve for the giving of life to the inward spirit.

I thought that far inferior, which I perceive now to be incomparably superior: but prosecute, I beseech you, your former discourse, that we spend no time without some spiritual profit to our souls. A certain monk lived with me in mine Abbey, passing cunning in holy scripture, who was elder than I, and of whom I learned many things which before I knew not. By his report I understood that there was in Campania, some forty miles from Rome, a man called Benedict, young in years, but old for gravity: one that observed the rule of holy conversation very strictly.

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When the Goths in the time of King Totila found him, they went about to burn him, together with his cell; and fire for that end was put to, which consumed all things round about, but no hold would the fire take upon his cell: which when the Goths saw, they became more mad, and with great cruelty drew him out of that place, and espying not far off an oven made hot to bake bread, into those flames they threw him, and so stopped the mouth.

But the next day he was found so free from all harm, that not only his flesh, but his very apparel also, was not by the fire anything touched at all.

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  5. I hear now the old miracle of the three children, which were thrown into the fire, and yet were preserved from those furious flames. That miracle, in mine opinion, was in some thing unlike to this: for then the three children were bound hand and foot, and so thrown into the fire, for whom the King looking the next day, found them walking in the furnace, their garments being nothing hurt by those flames: whereby we gather that the fire into which they were cast, and touched not their apparel, did yet consume their bands, so that at one and the same time, for the service of the just, the fire had force to bring them comfort, and yet had none to procure them torment.

    Like unto this ancient miracle we had in our days another, but yet in a divers element: for not long since John the Tribune told me that, when the Earl Pronulphus was there, and himself also with Antharicus the king, how there happened at that time a strange miracle, and he affirmeth that himself doth know it to be true.

    For he said that, almost five years since, when the river of Tiber became so great that it ran over the walls of Rome, and overflowed many countries: at the same time in the city of Verona, the river Athesis did so swell, that it came to the very church of the holy martyr and Bishop Zeno; and though the church doors were open, yet did it not enter in. At last it grew so high, that it came to the church windows, not far from the very roof itself, and the water standing in that manner, did close up the entrance into the church, yet without running in: as though that thin and liquid element had been turned into a sound wall.

    And it fell so out, that many at that time were surprised in the church, who not finding any way how to escape out, and fearing lest they might perish for want of meat and drink, at length they came to the church door, and took of the water to quench their thirst, which, as I said, came up to the windows, and yet entered not in; and so for their necessity they took water, which yet, according to the nature of water, ran not in: and in that manner it stood there before the door, being water to them for their comfort, and yet not water to invade the place: and all this to declare the great merit of Christ's martyr.

    Which miracle I said truly, that it was not unlike to that ancient one of the fire: which burnt the three children's bands, and yet touched not their garments. Marvellous strange are these acts of God's saints which you tell; and much to be admired of us weak men, that live in these days. But because I understand now, by your relation, what a number of excellent and virtuous men have been in Italy, desirous I am to know whether they endured any assaults of the devil, and did thereby more profit in the service of God.

    Without labour and fighting, none can obtain the crown of victory: whence, then, come so many conquerors but from this, that they fought valiantly, and resisted the assaults of the old enemy?

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    For the wicked spirit doth continually watch our thoughts, words, and works: to find something whereof to accuse us before the eternal Judge. For proof whereof I will now let you understand, how ready he is always to entrap and deceive us. Some that are yet living with me, affirm this to be true which 1 will now speak of.

    A man of holy life there was, called Stephen, who was a Priest in the province of Valeria, nigh of kindred to my deacon Bonifacius: who, coming home upon a time from travel, spake somewhat negligently to his servant, saying: "Come, sir devil, and pull off my hose": at which words, straightways his garters began to loose in great haste, so that he plainly perceived that the devil indeed, whom he named, was pulling off his stocking: whereat being much terrified, he cried out aloud, and said: "Away, wretched caitiff, away; I spake not to thee, but to my servant.

    By which we may learn, that if the devil be so officious in things concerning our body, how ready and diligent he is to observe and note the cogitations of our soul. A very painful thing it is and terrible, always to strive against the temptations of the devil, and, as it were, to stand continually armed ready to fight. Not painful at all, if we attribute our preservation not to ourselves, but to God's grace; yet so notwithstanding, that we be careful what we may for our parts, and always vigilant under God's protection. And it falleth out sometime by God's goodness, that when the devil is expelled from our soul, that he is so little of us to be feared, that contrariwise he is rather terrified by the virtuous and devout life of good people.

    For the holy man, old father Eleutherius, of whom I spake before, told me that which I will now tell you: and he was himself a witness of the truth thereof: this it was. In the city of Spoleto, there was a certain worshipful man's daughter, for years marriageable, which had a great desire to lead another kind of life: whose purpose her father endeavoured to hinder: but she, not respecting her father's pleasure, took upon her the habit of holy conversation: for which cause her father did disinherit her, and left her nothing else but six little pieces of ground.

    By her example many noble young maids began under her to be converted, to dedicate their virginity to almighty God, and to serve him. Upon a time, the virtuous Abbot Eleutherius went to bestow upon her some good exhortation: and as he was sitting with her, discoursing of spiritual matters, a country man came from that piece of ground which her father had left her, bringing a certain present: and as he was standing before them, suddenly a wicked spirit possessed his body; so that straightways he fell down before them, and began pitifully to cry and roar out.

    At this the Nun rose up, and with angry countenance and loud voice, commanded him to go forth, saying: "Depart from him, thou vile wretch, depart. The actions of our Saviour be a rule for us, according to which we may direct our life: and we read in the scripture, how the legion of devils that possessed a man said unto our Saviour: If thou dost cast us forth, send us into the herd of swine: 25 who cast them out, and permitted them to enter in as they desired, and to drown that herd in the sea.

    By which fact of our Saviour we learn also this lesson, that, except almighty God giveth leave, the devil cannot have any power against man, seeing he cannot so much as enter into hogs, without our Saviour's permission. Wherefore, necessary it is that we be obedient to him, unto whom all our enemies be subject, that we may so much the more be stronger than our enemies, by how much through humility we become one with the author of all things.

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    And what marvel is it, if God's chosen servants, living yet upon earth, can do many strange things, when as their very bones, after they be dead, do oftentimes work miracles? For, in the province of Valeria, this strange thing happened: which I had from the mouth of Valentius, mine Abbot, 26 who was a blessed man.

    In that country there was a Priest, who in the company of divers other clerks served God, and led a virtuous and holy life: who, when his time was come, departed this life, and was buried before the church. Not far off, there belonged to the church certain sheep-cotes: and the place where he lay buried was the way to go unto the sheep.

    Upon a night, as the Priests were singing within the church, a thief came to the said place, took up a wether, and so departed in all haste: but as he passed where the man of God was buried, there he stayed, and could go no farther. Then he took the wether from his shoulders, and would fain have let it go, but by no means could he open his hand: and therefore, poor wretch, there he stood fast bound, with his prey before him; willingly would he have let the wether go, and could not; willingly also have carried it away, and was not able.

    And so very strangely the thief, that was afraid to be espied of living men, was held there against his will by one that was dead; for his hands and feet were bound in such sort, that away he could not go. When morning was come, and the Priests had ended their service, out they came: where they found a stranger, with a wether in his hand. And at the first they were in doubt, whether he had taken away one of theirs, or else came to give them one of his own: but he that was guilty of the theft told them in what manner he was punished: whereat they all wondered, to see a thief, with his prey before him, to stand there bound by the merits of the man of God.

    And straightways they offered their prayers for his delivery, and scarce could they obtain that he, which came to steal away their goods, might at least find so much favour as to depart empty as he came: yet in conclusion, the thief that had long stood there with his stolen wether, was suffered to go away free, leaving his carnage behind him.

    By such facts almighty God doth declare, in what sweet manner he doth tender us, when he vouchsafeth to work such pleasant miracles. Above the city of Preneste there is a mountain, upon which standeth an Abbey of the blessed Apostle, St. Peter: of the monks of which place, whiles I lived in an Abbey myself, I heard this miracle: which, those religious men said, they knew to be very true.

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    In that monastery they had an Abbot of holy life, who brought up a certain monk, that became very virtuous, whom he perceiving to increase in the fear of God, he caused him in the same monastery to be made Priest: who, after his taking of orders, understood by revelation that his death was not far off; and therefore desired leave of the Abbot to make ready his sepulchre, who told him that himself should die before him: "but yet for all that," quoth he, "go your way, and make your grave at your pleasure.

    Not many days after, the old Abbot fell sick of an ague, and drawing near to his end, he bad the foresaid Priest that stood by him, to bury his body in that grave which he had made for himself: and when the other told him that he was shortly to follow after, and that the grave was not big enough for both, the Abbot answered him in this wise: "Do as I have said, for that one grave shall contain both our bodies. Straight after, the Priest fell sick, and lay not long before he departed this life; and when his body was by the monks brought to the grave, which he had provided for himself, they opened it, and saw that there was not any room, because the Abbot's corpse filled the whole place: then one of them, with a loud voice, said: "O father, where is your promise, that this grave should hold you both?

    But because we have now made mention of St. Peter's Abbey in the city of Preneste, where this miracle happened, are you content to hear something of the keepers of his church which is in this city where his most holy body remaineth? There be yet some alive that knew Theodorus, keeper of that church: by whose report a notable thing that befell him came to my knowledge.

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    For rising somewhat early one night to mend the lights that hung by the door, and was upon the ladder as he used to pour oil into the lamps, suddenly St. Peter the Apostle in a white stole, standing beneath upon the pavement, appeared unto him, and spake to him in this manner: "Theodorus, why hast thou risen so early? By which apparition what meant the blessed Apostle else, but to give those which serve him to understand by that his presence, that whatsoever they do for his honour, himself for their reward doth always behold it?

    I marvel not so much at his apparition: as that being before very well, he fell sick upon that sight.