The Northern Way

The Life of St. Eligius, 588-660

Book 2

11. Once he had to go to a certain place in Provence. And one day he was travelling a road in that province with a certain noble of his comitatus and a certain unclean man met them, filled with a raging spirit. When he saw the holy man, struck with fear, frothing and turning pale, he said to him: "Why are you here, Eligius?" And turning to him, holy Eligius said: "And what [is that] to you, unclean devil? In the name of Jesus Christ shut up and get out of him." And immediately violently shaking the man, he left him. For fifteen years that vile spirit had occupied and tormented the man. But now he was swiftly restored to health and arose, whole from that hour forth.

12. So Eligius came to a villa called Ampuis which is situated on the banks of the Rhone and pertains to the estate of Erchenbert, an illustrious man. There was a woman there who had long been infested with a demon. Eligius entered into the basilica in that place to pray and when he finished and came out the women met him and began to cry out his name loudly and insolently. Then Eligius fixed his attention on her, knelt on the ground and prayed. Then he turned to her and said: "I adjure you, malign spirit, through God the almighty Father, and Jesus Christ His Son and the Holy Spirit Paraclete, that by their virtue you leave this vessel whom you have held captive." And immediately at his word, the spirit struck the woman to the ground and she seemed like the dead; then by the great power of the demon, blood from her very guts poured out the woman's mouth and he was poured out from her and fled from the face of the man of God. Then holy Eligius ordered the woman to be relieved and gave her a blessing with water and oil in a cup and when she had tasted it her spirit was rekindled and she was well without harm from that hour.

13. Now beyond all this I think, although it may be ignoble, that the blessed man had another experience on that same road. When he had completed the business for which he came and visited all his friends and bishops in Provence, Eligius prepared to pack all his things and leave for his own country from the house of Aspasius of the Iuvini family, a most illustrious Christian man. Last of all, he met with Bishop Aurelian of Uzes, who told him that amidst the bustling of the servants of both their houses one of his servants had suddenly lost a basket which he always kept with him to lead the pack-camel so that in the confusion he could keep him to the road. Then Eligius secretly called a man whom he knew to be the thief to him and ordered him saying: "Go to that nearby cliff. There among the thorns you will find what you seek bound with a thong and hidden. Cut it free and take what is yours and without any injury, without harsh words, return to the designated man the basket in which the bundle was tied." And when he had done that, the man was struck by such shame and amazement, that he prayed for pardon offering reparations to the offended man.

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15. At that time, with the affection of piety and the solicitous care of a pastor, he came to visit his own paternal possessions in the city of Limoges. Hearing the holy fame of the monasteries constituted after his example in that same town, he greatly desired to cast his gaze on his own and particularly on all the institutions which imitated his own venerable monastery. When his company neared the city of Bourges, having directed each of his comrades on their way, he himself with a few others headed for the memorial of Sulpicius to adore the confessor. When he arrived there and had made his prayer, he heard that recently several persons condemned to death had been bound in the fiscal prison. They had killed a fiscal judge and therefore were held in chains. Eligius, mindful of the Lord's word, "I was in prison and you visited me," and "Whatever you do for one of the least of mine, you do for me," asked to be taken to them. But when he approached the prison guard, the soldiers rising soon obstructed him violently and would not permit him to come nearer. Sorrowful and indignant in spirit, he left and returned to the original road. When he came to his destination, he remained there for some time near the city of Limoges, and made the circuit of all the monasteries in the city and its suburbs, listening devoutly to all their benedictions. He visited his own monastery of brothers and placed a second abbot over them--for the first had been captured to the episcopate--showing paternal solicitude for each of them exhorting all to serve God in truth and simplicity of heart and daily come together in the better, to follow the accepted plan with all zeal even to the end. Then he went to the estate of his parents where his brother Alicius had built a monastery in his father's dwelling. There too he comforted the convent of brothers and then prepared to return to his own city. And when the road passed Bourges, he wished again to turn off at that city. His spirit moved since he had not been of any help before to those who were held there in prison and could not free them. Acting on this, therefore, he prayed on the road that the Lord would not suffer his labor on behalf of the prisoners to be consumed in vain. Therefore on the day he entered the city, at dawn, he raised his eyes to the heavens which were exceedingly darkened with storm and clouds so that the city-dwellers could barely see beyond a stone's throw. No sooner had Eligius entered the city than he approached the prison gates and, by God's nod, immediately with a great bang they were broken open, the hinges torn off, the gates yawned and all the chains were loosened from the men's feet. Then Eligius pretending that the power conceded to him had nothing to do with himself, went swiftly away to the prison; he gave the prisoners advice that as soon as they left the prison they should seek refuge in the church. And coming out they hurried straight to the church of St. Sulpicius and when they were all there they found the gates of the church barred. Though they searched high and low, they could find no way in until suddenly one of the largest windows in the front of the church burst and one of the side gates opened. They got into the basilica and hurried to the throne of the altar. So when Eligius came there in his circuit of all the places where he prayed, he found them all around the altar and before the sepulchre of the aforesaid primate. And when the soldiers found the prison emptied, they followed them to that place and entered the basilica, and attempted to lay hands on them and drag them into iron chains. Blessed Eligius spoke mildly to them saying: "Don't, I beg you, men of God, don't behave this way in a holy place. Why do you strain to slay those whom the pious Lord has freed? Wherefore do you act so impiously in the house of God? Why do you not fear the guilt of such wickedness? For this house is the house of life, not death. It is a refuge for the delinquent, not damnation for the refugee. This is the place of prayer, not a den of thieves." But when none of his words would move them, then he said, "The Lord God sees what you are doing. You, if you refuse to listen to me, must, I believe, hear him who never deserts those who trust him." So turning to his accustomed guide, he prostrated himself on the earth between the altar and the memorial of the confessor and prayed urgently to the Lord. And when he raised his head from prayer, immediately, the chains fell to the ground and all on whom they had been placed were instantly freed with a mighty blow. Seeing this, the soldiers were struck with fear and trembling threw themselves at the feet of Eligius praying for his pardon, saying: "We have sinned, lord father, we have done evil, we were stupid to try and contend with you. We admit that we have done wrong and pray you to overlook our impiety." And then he said to them: "and I realize that you have acted in ignorance. For the Lord works as he will. I pray that he who freed them give pardon to you and, propitiated, absolve you from all sin. For not I, as you suppose, but the holy Sulpicius defends those who flee to him." And in this way Eligius, or the Lord through Eligius, absolved criminals twice from dire danger of death. The pious one, the merciful one, who ripped Peter from raging Herod, putting his guards to sleep, now worked in Bourges with his servant Eligius. He who freed His vessel of election, Paul, from the chains of prison now emptied the prison to humble the arrogance of the proud. Therefore praise to him, glory to him through whom his servant can do such wonders in the world. So therefore, Eligius gave the freed criminals, who were practically naked, clothes and alms and ordered that in future they amend their lives as should many others as well, and that same day he distributed money to various paupers and monasteries. Then he resumed his original path and at last came to his own. Every day attending to people entrusted to him, he tirelessly worked for their salvation. Evidently burning with zeal for the truth, he wished to show the people that they should maintain fearless faith, ordering all to serve God in truth and do justice at all times and that they should be mindful of the benefices of Christ and bless his name every day of their lives. Collecting crowds from all around into the church, he offered them many great admonitions encompassed in sermons that were brief but rich in spiritual edification, exalting his voice with prophetic assurance.

16. I ask you dearest brothers and admonish you with great humility to command your intent spirit to listen to what I wish to suggest to you for your salvation.

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Before all else, I denounce and contest, that you shall observe no sacrilegious pagan customs. For no cause or infirmity should you consult magicians, diviners, sorcerers or incantators, or presume to question them because any man who commits such evil will immediately lose the sacrament of baptism. Do not observe auguries or violent sneezing or pay attention to any little birds singing along the road. If you are distracted on the road or at any other work, make the sign of the cross and say your Sunday prayers with faith and devotion and nothing inimical can hurt you. No Christian should be concerned about which day he leaves home or which day he returns because God has made all days. No influence attaches to the first work of the day or the [phase of the] moon; nothing is ominous or ridiculous about the Calends of January. [Do not] make [figures of?] vetulas, little deer or iotticos or set tables at night or exchange New Years' gifts or supply superfluous drinks. No Christian believes impurity or sits in incantation, because the work is diabolic. No Christian on the feast of Saint John or the solemnity of any other saint performs solestitia [solstice rites?] or dancing or leaping or diabolical chants. No Christian should presume to invoke the name of a demon, not Neptune or Orcus or Diana or Minerva or Geniscus or believe in these inept beings in any way. No one should observe Jove's day in idleness without holy festivities not in May or any other time, not days of larvae or mice or any day but Sunday. No Christian should make or render any devotion to the gods of the trivium, where three roads meet, to the fanes or the rocks, or springs or groves or corners. None should presume to hang any phylacteries from the neck of man nor beast, even if they are made by priests and it is said that they contain holy things and divine scripture because there is no remedy of Christ in these things but only the devil's poison. None should presume to make lustrations or incantations with herbs, or to pass cattle through a hollow tree or ditch because this is to consecrate them to the devil. No woman should presume to hang amber from her neck or call upon Minerva or other ill-starred beings in their weaving or dyeing but in all works give thanks only to Christ and confide in the power of his name with all your hearts. None should presume to shout when the moon is obscured, for by God's order eclipses happen at certain times. Nor should they fear the new moon or abandon work because of it. For God made the moon for this, to mark time and temper the darkness of night, not impede work nor make men mad as the foolish imagine, who believe lunatics are invaded by demons from the moon. None should call the sun or moon lord or swear by them because they are God's creatures and they serve the needs of men by God's order. No one should tell fate or fortune or horoscopes by them as those do who believe that a person must be what he was born to be. For God wills all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth and dispenses wisdom to all as he disposed it before the constitution of the world. Above all, should any infirmity occur, do not seek incantators or diviners or sorcerers or magicians, do not use diabolic phylacteries through springs and groves or crossroads. But let the invalid confide solely in the mercy of God and take the body and blood of Christ with faith and devotion and ask the church faithfully for blessing and oil, with which he might anoint his body in the name of Christ and, according to the apostle, "the prayer of faith will save the infirm and the Lord will relieve him." And he will not only receive health for the body but for the soul and what the Lord promised in the Gospel will be fulfilled saying: "For whatever you shall ask, you will receive through believing prayer." Before everything, wherever you are, at home or on the road or at table, let no foul and lustful language drop from your mouth because the Lord announced in the Gospel: "For all the idle words which men speak while on earth, they will give account on the judgment day." Diabolical games and dancing or chants of the gentiles will be forbidden. No Christian will do them because he thus makes himself pagan. Nor is it right that diabolical canticles should proceed from a Christian mouth where the sacrament of Christ is placed, which it becomes always to praise God. Therefore, brothers, spurn all inventions of the enemy with all your heart and flee these sacrileges with all horror. Venerate no creature beyond God and his saints. Shun springs and arbors which they call sacred. You are forbidden to make the crook which they place on the crossroads and wherever you find one you should burn it with fire. For you must believe that you can be saved by no other art than the invocation and cross of Christ. For how will it be if groves where these miserable men make their devotions, are felled and the wood from them given to the furnace? See how foolish man is, to offer honor to insensible, dead trees and despise the precepts of God almighty. Do not believe that the sky or the stars or the earth or any creature should be adored beyond God for he created and disposes of them all. Heaven is high indeed, and the earth vast, and the sea immense and the stars beautiful but more immense and more beautiful by necessity is he who created them. For if the things seen are so incomprehensible, that is none of the variety of fruits of the earth, the beauty of flowers, the diversity of fruits, the types of animals, some on earth, some in water, some in the air, the prudence of bees, the breath of the wind, the dewy clouds and clashing thunder, the turning of the seasons, the alternation of days and nights, can be comprehended by the human mind. If all this is so, as we see, and we cannot comprehend them at any point, what should we think of those heavenly things which we cannot see? What of that artisan at whose nod all this was created and at whose will all is governed? Therefore, fear him, brothers, above all; adore him among all; love him over all; hold to his mercy and never despair of his clemency.

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