The Northern Way

The Life of St. Eligius, 588-660

Book 2

17. This summation of so many of the man's familiar admonitions must be enough to narrate. It does not represent anything he said in a particular day in order but is a digest of the precepts which he taught the people at all times. And at the end, he inferred saying: "For this, brothers, if you take care, you will have your reward.


But enough has been said about this. Now let us proceed as we proposed to his virtues.

18. There was a certain man dwelling in a suburb of Paris, doubtless staying at the basilica of blessed Peter prince of the apostles, whom Eligius loved familiarly for his faith and devotion, and who loved him in turn for reverence of his unique sanctity. One day, as Eligius circled the estates of his monastery, he passed through Gentilly on his way back to Paris. And he and his nobles were not far from his house when, as usual, he waylaid the company on the road, having spied them from a height, for he knew Eligius would be passing there. On meeting, he began to embrace his knees saying: "There is a drop of Falernian in a large jar at my house; turn, I beg you my Lord, for a moment into the house of your servant, that those who are with you may drink it down and the Lord my bless me at your coming." And when he wished to excuse himself he was conquered by the prayers of the company and at last turned to his house. Now the man had two or three vessels in his cellar which the vulgar call tuns holding about a metreta of wine each. So when he had entered he was asked to receive some by way of benediction and blessing the cup he drank from it to his satisfaction. And at the same time his companions drank very freely. Then, having blessed the house and saying farewell to the man, he left and turned to his monastery which was in the city. But as soon as he had gone, through the exuberant grace of divinity, the jar which had been emptied for the sake of his followers was filled to the brim. And another event that day: the man fortuitously entered into cellar found the tun which the day before stood nearly empty full even to the lip. Greatly astonished, he began to marvel and committing the merits of his guest to memory, he hurried to him telling him how much the lord had rewarded him for his entertainment. But when Eligius heard this, giving thanks to the Lord, he said to him: "Peace to you, brother, keep these words to yourself nor suffer to divulge them to anyone but go and give thanks that the lord has been generous to you [for having] expended necessaries in use.' And then he began to ask him if he would deign to rest at his house again and bless that liquor and take something from that same vessel. He swore that unless he would do so, he would never take a single drop of it. And seeing the man's devotion, he hurried to the house and at the entrance prostrated himself on the floor and poured out prayer. After the prayer he considered the full jar and ordered it to be opened and the wine in the vessel to be poured. And when it was done and he had tasted some and all who were with him had drunk heartily from the liquor, he raised his eyes and hands to the heavens and giving thanks and glorifying the name of the Lord returned on his road.

19. But neither do I think I should be silent about something which I trust would incite my readers and listeners to study humility because of his example, lest at some time rascals should presume recklessly to cast frivolous words against holy men when they should fear to succumb to a like disaster. One day an ill-starred man with a rash and lazy mind, a familiar of Ebroin, complained for many days against Eligius wishing with the greatest pertinacity to cut down the trees of his church and steal its property. For which reason, he frequently harassed him and finally provoked him to injury with his frivolous words; whence one day the man went to Eligius and began violently to repeat them to him in front of a great multitude. And when Eligius answered him mildly, he, with human boastfulness, put himself forward boldly, berating him further with many hostile words. Bearing this patiently, Eligius strove to calm him with soft words saying: "Friend, restrain your greed! Don't you blush to covet so blindly what belongs to others? If you asked me for what is my own, I might give you what you asked. But now you ask from me what is not mine but belongs to the church. I will not give you what is dedicated to the needs of the poor." Thus incited, he violently insulted him with harsh words saying: "If you won't give it to me willingly, I will take it, willy-nilly." At last, Eligius reacted and said with a menacing face: "My Creator knows, unless you desist immediately from this intention, you will receive the excommunication worthy of your deserts." No sooner did he hear the words than he broke out into raucous laughter, frivolously hurling many shameful and abusive insults. Then, seeing that nothing else would calm him, Eligius pointed at him with his right hand and inflicted the terrible bolt of excommunication upon him. Oh wondrous power of virtue! Immediately, divine indignation took the man at his word. He found all strength and vigor and every sign of life drained from him, falling on the floor even as Eligius spoke. He was so stricken by the Divinity all the bystanders thought he had died. And all who saw this were stupefied that the wrath of God repaid an injury to Eligius. So they carried away that miserable man and prepared him for a funeral. Meanwhile all who were there prayed the man of God to overlook that ill-starred frenzy and pray that, restored to health, the man might repent what he had done against him. Whether he did so or not, we are still uncertain. We will offer no more than this for [your] admiration: his word obtained from divine largesse the great power that threw the proud to earth and humiliated the arrogant without whips but only by the power of the word. How dear God held him to visit such swift revenge on a man simply at his word. But lest you think his words were his only power, listen to what else he did.

20. Once when the diocese was celebrating the natal day of the most blessed Peter the Apostle in the town of Noyon, Eligius went to the vicus and preached as was his constant custom, the word of God with skillful constancy, denouncing all demonic games and wicked leapings and all remnants of inane superstitions as things to be thoroughly abominated. Some of the leading people in that place bore his preaching most grudgingly, resenting that he would upset their feasts and weaken their customs, which they deemed legitimate. Chief among these depraved ones were the servants of Erchenwald who, as praepositus of the palace at the time, emulated Eligius but not to the good. They decreed together that, if Eligius should again attack their frivolities, they would kill him boldly. When Eligius learned of this, stimulated by the desire for martyrdom, he swiftly rose and ordered all his people that none should follow him but two priests and a deacon. So he went into the middle of a crowd of people and stood on a high place before the basilica where he began to preach urgently. Heatedly, he abjured the people that by turning their backs on his admonitions to salvation, they would be extremely threatened by diabolical phylacteries. Violently moved by this exhortation, the crowd answered him with shameful and impudent words, threatening him: "Never, Roman, however hard you try, shall you uproot our customs but we will attend our solemnities always and forever as we have done till now nor can any man forbid us our ancient and gratifying games." When he saw that he was getting nowhere and further games were being organized, he was moved with indignation and called forth to Lord Jesus from his heart, saying: "Lord, I seek your divine clemency. May you permit these, who dare to contradict your holy admonitions with such pride and audacity and prefer the seductions of demons to your precepts, be given an example of such ferocity and terror that they shall know whose work they are and your Holy Name shall be glorified by men who believe in you." As soon as he spoke these words, many people were suddenly possessed by unclean spirits, particularly Erchenwald's partisans who, despising divine mandates, had been prepared to raise their hands against him and they began to rave. The whole crowd except those who were with [Eligius] were filled with terror and began to lick his footsteps showing reverence lest they suffer the same fate, each one begging to be enrolled among his sincere followers. To them, the blessed man said: "Don't be afraid, but rather glorify the just judgment of God, seeing that it is worthy of respect that he draws those who seem to run against His will to face what they love that their preceptors may feel whose cult they serve. You too, if you obey the precepts of Christ willingly, should fear nothing because you will always be safe from these robbers." Many then prayed for those who were being harassed but he did not wish to pray for them immediately. Rather, he said: "Let it be, let it be; they must bear it; they must bear it; they must know whom they despised and whose orders they have obeyed until now." So when a year had passed and the anniversary of that festivity arrived, he ordered all the harassed to come to him. And when they were present, he prayed, exorcised some water, and gave it to them for a cure, freeing them immediately from the devil's traps. For there were more than fifty of them. Healing them in this way he corrected them and sent them home healed and punished.

21. Another time, when he was visiting his diocese following episcopal custom, he interdicted the course of the oblation being celebrated in a basilica for a particular reason. For there was a priest there suffering in bad conscience whom he excommunicated because of his guilt. He took the bishop's words lightly, not thinking that he had to obey the order. When he thought [Eligius] had gone far enough away from the place, he began to ring the bell at the usual hour as was his custom. Then confuting the human presumption, the creature more insensible than rational heeded the bishop's words imposing silence on it and not a sound emerged from his strenuous ringing of the bell. For a long time the priest pulled at the rope, until he realized that the bells would remain mute. Then he went out of the basilica, the cause being made clear at the same time. Then mindful of Eligius' excommunication, he hurried after him praying that he would reconcile the basilica. But although he was kind, he did not want to act hastily but first to have satisfaction that his sentence reflected. Thus a day and a night passed while the priest vainly tried to ring the bells and no sound attended his ringing. Then another night and day and still no ringing. A third day and night went by, still with no sound. But then nuncios came with letters from the optimates and seniors and at last their prayers overcame and the prelate was satisfied with the penitence and the place was reconciled with a single word from Eligius and soon, when the signal was touched, the bells were restored to their tintinnabulation.

22. Another day taking the road for necessary purposes, he came to a place not far from the royal estate at CompiŠgne. Weary from traveling, he turned into a certain colonus's field. There was an arbor of nut trees there, heavily laden with edible fruit. And when Eligius had rested a while, some of his servants went out and began to pick nuts from the trees for it was time for them to eat together. Rushing forward, the lord of the orchard loudly complained that his nuts were being stolen from him. Eligius called his men to him and softly and mildly soothed him saying: "Friend, don't be a nuisance to us because of this. If the boys took a little, there is much still remaining and I will give you money in satisfaction for anything that they have taken." But with swollen mind, spurning his mildness, he reviled him, taxing him closely with hard words. Thus Eligius with unruffled spirit, scolded his servants more harshly for what they had done and ordered them to give the man three gold pieces for the substance he had lost. Then, after the example of the Lord with the fig tree, he turned toward the orchard and ordered: "Since we were so attacked for you, nevermore till eternity shall you bear fruit." And, oh wonderful power of God, whose example was followed in this word, his virtue achieved the same effect. For after a little while the arbor dried up and remained permanently arid. So in this case he merited to follow the Lord's example, ordering the orchard with confidence, because he had put his whole faith in the Lord's words Who said, "He who believes in me, not only shall he do what I do but what is more it shall be done."



----- meanwhile Eligius flourished in such sincerity of mind, sedulously serving God with hymns and prayers. The most sublime virtues of the spirit flowered so that no one could be in his presence for long before he foretold their future about which I would be criminal not to tell a little.

27. Once a certain praepositus from Erckenwald's palace for some reason asked to travel to a town in his company. But considering the size of his group, he refused to accompany him. But the elders and abbots of his city pressed him to agree lest the man should use the excuse of the trip to take offense or become an enemy. At last, forced to answer them straightforwardly, he said: "What is the need, brothers, for us to get all upset about this? For unquestionably I know what none of you know, that if we hurry off there, we will suffer great injury. This man will get there in a hurry but he will not return alive but will die there." Indeed after several days his words were fulfilled for when they came in their own time to the said estate they learned that it had happened as he predicted. Then one night when everyone else was deep in sleep, Eligius happened to leave his tent and as he walked about before the vestibule, revolving I don't know what psalm internally, he suddenly saw a column of fire descend from heaven and violently penetrate Erckenwald's chamber. And silently considering the event within himself, he indicated the death of that beast to his deacon who was always with him at that time. Immediately struck with divine punishment, Erckenwald was afire with a sudden conflagration in his inmost bowels and straight off ordered that Eligius be called to him. When called, he came. Seeing him violently choking, he began to persuade him as he was about to die to do what he had not done willingly when he was alive, because faith had not been alive in him. Without delay, he must give the great sacks bursting with unrefined golden metal which traveled with him on horses to the poor for the refreshment of his soul. He added that nothing could be beneficial to him except to relinquish that treasure that had undoubtedly damaged his soul. But greedy as always, tenacious and avaricious, he kept dithering and in his long delay exhaled his spirit. Taking his corpse with him for mercy, Eligius brought him to burial and so the fulfillment of his prophecy was complete.

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