Today we have a rather grisly chapter. It is so grisly and the logic behind this is so incredibly stupid, that this article will mostly be a rant. So just a heads up in case you are expecting my usual semi-academic content. There is really no other way to go about this other than a rant.
To start off, Chapter Fourteen is a cautionary tale about what will happen to you if you (a novice) decide to run away from your monastery. Long story short (which you can read in full in the source down below) this novice named Leo is convinced to return to the world by his brothers. (Who are, of course, knights.) They convince him to return because of his debts and once Leo has paid them off he can go back to being a monk.
Leo goes and does not return. In fact, his sinning is even worse now that he has returned to the world!
So Leo goes back to his old job as a canon. He ends up spending most of his money on prostitutes than on actually paying his debts.
After a few years of being lustful, he eventually gets really, really sick. The side effect of this illness (blamed on “the just judgment of God” (pg. 22) by our narrator Monk) is madness. When his friends try to convince him to say confession and take communion, Leo is so unwell and so mentally out of it that he just keeps yelling out the names of all the women he’s slept with. Not exactly a great thing to say when someone is trying to talk to you about God!
Obviously, Leo’s friends want to comfort him. He’s dying and scared and wants people to be there that are not there. So what do they do? What bright idea do these idiots have? Do they go fetch Leo’s favorite prostitute to comfort him? Do they get Leo’s second favorite prostitute to hold his hand? Do they get any of the women he so desperately wants by his side as he dies? (They know their names after all! Theoretically, they could find them!)
No. They do none of those things.
Instead, they have the bright idea to do this:
“Then they cut up puppies and placed their warm flesh upon his head as if for a remedy…” (pg. 22)
Yup. You read that right. Leo’s friends CUT UP PUPPIES AND PUT THE BODIES ON HIM. Like WTF. Why would anyone think that was a good idea?! And it raises so many questions too! Where did they get the puppies? Were they just strays? If not, did they buy them? Where did they buy them from? Wouldn’t it just have been easier to find the women Leo wanted then chase down a bunch of dogs? Where did they cut the puppies? How bloody was it? AND WHY ON EARTH DID THEY THINK THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA IN THE FIRST PLACE?!
And the Monk just says this all like it’s a super normal thing to do! Like puppy dismemberment is a common practice to cure a dying person’s madness! He doesn’t even comment on it! All the Monk says is this:
“…for no flesh could heal his madness, which was sent him as the penalty of apostasy.” (pg. 22)
That’s it! That is the most commentary we get on the whole scenario! Just how madness was his punishment for running away! No comment on the puppy thing!
And no. No, it does not work. And if I had to guess, I’m sure the dead puppies made his madness worse.
In Chapter Thirteen of The Dialogue on Miracles, we begin to see Caesarius of Heisterbach’s strong dislike of knights. Based on the text, Caesarius seems to think that all knights want to do is bring monks back to the secular world. Sometimes the knights succeed. And sometimes they do not. Today’s story is about a few knights who fail in their mission to bring a monk back into the world.
The Monk begins his part of the dialogue by setting the scene. In the German city of Bonn, there is a canon named Henry. Henry is devout and has received a calling to be a monk. Instead of telling anyone about this calling, he decides to secretly join the Cistercian Order. (However, unlike a few others who secretly attempted to become monks, Henry is significantly more determined to take the cowl. It helps that he actually has a calling and isn’t joining because he lost a ton of money.)
So Henry mosies on over to Heisterbach Abbey. (For context, Bonn is about seven miles away from the abbey and it’s approximately a two-hour walk. At least according to Google Maps.) While he’s still staying in the guesthouse, his brothers, two knights, find him there. Turns out his secret journey to the monastery wasn’t as secret as he thought!
Now, the Monk does not like that two knights decided to bring Henry home. The language he uses when describing their character make his opinion on them pretty clear:
“…and being worldly men who set more value upon carnal and temporal pleasures than upon spiritual and eternal happiness, they were much troubled by what should have been a joy to them.” (pg. 20)
That being said, the Monk does not think highly of anyone attempting to bring their religiously inclined kin/friend back into the secular world. It seems that because Henry has an actual calling the Monk is much harsher describing his brothers than he is when the potential monk is joining for silly or sinful reasons.
On the trip to Heisterbach, Henry’s brothers had some time to think of a plan to get him back home. Their plan is rather effective. They send a boy to Henry with a message that is supposedly from their mother (it’s not). Henry follows the boy outside where his brothers quite literally kidnap him. They throw him onto a horse and despite Henry’s attempts to fight back, he is dragged away from the monastery, much to the monks’ distress. To make things worse, Henry wasn’t officially a monk so there was nothing the monastery could do. If he had been tonsured then things would be a much different story! Monks aren’t allowed to leave their communities without permission after all!
Henry ends up staying with his brothers for a while. However, unbeknownst to them, he still wants to take the cowl. He waits until they are sure he won’t run away. And then he books it back to Heisterbach. Once there Henry becomes a monk (or “put on the habit” (pg. 21) as the text describes it) as fast as he can. Now officially part of the community, he cannot leave. (Though I will note that there are cases of tonsured monks returning to the world. But that’s a different article for a different time!)
The remainder of the chapter is the Monk talking about why the tale of Henry’s conversion is different from the previous tales (Henry had a calling, the others were joining to flee from their troubles or to steal stuff), the Novice commenting on how sinful it is for a novice to leave, the Monk saying yes it is, setting up for some stories of novices doing just that and getting their divine punishments. (Which we will see in the next few chapters!)
Just because someone wants to become a monk, doesn’t mean that they should. Sometimes they try to become monks because the devil is making them do it, sometimes they just want to steal stuff, and other times they have a really bad gambling addiction and see no other way out of their debts. Today’s article will be discussing Chapters Nine through Twelve of Caesarius of Heisterbach’s Dialogue on Miracles. Each chapter is pretty short, so if you’re interested in reading them in full, I’ve provided a link to page 17 at the end of this article.
Our first story is from Book One, Chapter Nine. A doctor named Stephen de Vitry has decided that he wants to be a monk at Clairvaux Abbey. He’s educated, important, and everyone knows who he is. At least it’s implied that everyone knows who he is as “the whole valley was rejoicing at his coming” and they are positively thrilled that the monastery will receive “so important a convert” (pg. 18). However, things are not as they seem.
Everyone else may be excited Stephen wants to be a monk, but our good friend St. Bernard is suspicious. He has a bad feeling that Stephen isn’t there for the right reasons. And he’s not. Turns out that the devil convinced him to be a novice so Stephen can lure more committed novices back into the secular world. Specifically, novices that Stephen taught through letters.
Despite St. Bernard’s concerns regarding Stephen’s predatory nature, he lets the man be a novice. Though he only does this so “he might not cause pain to the weaker brethren” (pg. 18). I believe this means that St. Bernard doesn’t want to upset the more delicate monks by telling them that the famous Stephen de Vitry is a jerk. Or maybe St. Bernard just didn’t want to listen to people pester him about letting Stephen in. Either way, he lets the man in despite the fact Stephen will never become a monk.
And Stephen de Vitry doesn’t. He spends the year of his novitiate trying to lure other novices back to the secular world (or at least the “evil spirit” (pg. 18) in Stephen does) but to no avail. None of the novices are tempted and Stephen leaves the monastery, humiliated.
Chapter Tenbegins with two priests coming to Heisterbach Abbey to become monks. As is custom, they are turned away. After all, how do you know someone really wants to be a monk unless they spend a few days begging to be let in? One of the priests skedaddles, but the other, Goswin, begs so much and so hard that eventually he’s let in.
He’s there for less than six weeks before he takes a bunch of stuff and flees. (It is not specified what exactly that stuff is.) Turns out Goswin didn’t actually want to join the monastery. Literally, the only reason he was there was to steal “in obedience to the orders of him who had brought him there” (pg. 18).
After the Monk tells this story (there’s a reason this text is called Dialogue on Miracles!), the Novice suggests that maybe, just maybe, Goswin came to the monastery with a genuine desire to be a monk. His hopeful suggestion is answered with an extremely blunt “Assuredly not” (pg. 18).
The Monk goes on to explain that theft was Goswin’s intention the entire time. He knows this because a lay brother overheard Goswin and his friend plotting to lie to the monks. It makes you wonder why the lay brother neglected to tell any superior about what he heard. Though in the lay brother’s defense he didn’t actually overhear them mention any sort of specific scheme for thievery. But still. Blatantly discussing lying is something you mention to the people in charge. Especially when there is a heavy vetting process for new monastic recruits!
However, our good Monk does not go into this further. Instead, he begins the story of the next chapter.
Chapter Eleven is about a young canon with a severe gambling addiction. The canon is from Cologne. According to Google Maps, it is about an eight-hour walk from Cologne to Heisterbach Abbey or twenty-three miles. So it’s long-distance but not undoable. (The trip can definitely be done on an impulse, is what I’m saying.)
When the canon arrives, the younger monks are thrilled that he wants to join their community. They are so excited that they beg and beg and beg the abbot, Gevard. Despite their extremely annoying pleas, Gevard says no. See, Gevard has more than two brain cells. It’s pretty obvious to him that the canon is only there because he has a severe gambling addiction. Gevard knows this because by the time the canon arrived he had already gambled away the majority of his clothes and is only wearing a tunic. After being told to leave, the canon goes back to Cologne and he never mentions wanting to be a monk again.
While this reaction by the abbot may seem harsh, it’s pretty obvious the canon was just coming to the monastery to run away from all his problems. As stated before, it was common practice to refuse entry to any new recruit a few times before letting them become a novice. (Chapter Fifty-Eight of The Rule of Saint Benedict goes into this practice in detail!) Again, you want to make sure the newest member of the community is there for the right reasons. And speaking of reasons a person may try to be a monk, Chapter Eleven isn’t the only story of a man attempting to join a monastic community to escape his gambling debts.
Chapter Twelvetells the story of a youth deep in debt. Or to be more specific, a youth from a noble and wealthy family (so someone relatively important). The youth came to the monastery without telling his parents. The Monk comments on how it was relatively easy for him to become a novice (in stark contrast to the others who struggled to get in!). The Monk also comments on how he’s not going to name who the youth is as he really hopes that the young man will come back and he doesn’t want to embarrass the kid. (Though I suspect the fact that the youth’s family is rich and powerful is another reason the Monk is keeping quiet!)
A few days after the youth becomes a novice, his friends show up to bring him home. Apparently, the only reason he wanted to be a monk in the first place was because he lost a good amount of money at a game, and in his humiliation, he panicked. To quote the text:
“They knew that he had lost a sum of money at some game and had taken the vows more from chagrin than from devotion.” (pg. 19)
His friends spend an unspecified amount of time trying to convince him to come back home. Eventually, they tell the youth that he really should pay off his debt, and once he does that he can come back ASAP. (Monks can’t own anything thus he can’t pay people back while at the monastery.) The youth deems this a good argument and goes with them.
It seems that the youth came to his senses about his devotion because the last few sentences of Chapter Twelve is dedicated to how he had to go through a bunch of legal processes to prove he made his vows “thoughtlessly and in distress and confusion of mind” (pg. 20). And to add the cherry on top, the youth assures them all if he had made his vows while in a state of mental clarity, he totally would have stayed.
In my opinion, I think the youth’s friends were doing him a solid by taking him home, but the Monk certainly doesn’t see it like that! He refers to the friends as “cunning” and in general his phrasing has a lot of negative connotations.