Caesarius of Heisterbach’s Dialogue on Miracles: The Time an Angel Shamed a Prior for Not Listening to a Monk’s Confession

Today’s post will be on the latter half of Book One, Chapter Six of Dialogue on Miracles. I’ve decided to focus on the second half as it’s a fascinating story filled with angels, confessions, and some good old fashioned Catholic guilt. The first half discusses what is better for the soul, going on a crusade, pilgrimages, or becoming a monk. While it does give us this zinger:

“Novice.—You think then that the Order is a higher vocation than a pilgrimage?

Monk.—It is judged higher, not by my authority, but by that of the Church.”

(Caesarius of Heisterbach, pg. 13)

I’m more interested in a story about an angel than that debate. (And I have strong feelings about people forcing others to convert to their religion, so I’m not going to touch that, lest this becomes an angry rant. If you’re interested in reading exactly what Caesarius has to say on the matter, there is a link to this chapter at the end of the post.)

 

Harley MS 1527 f.4v
Pretty Sure This is Zechariah Being Struck by an Angel, But I’m Not 100% Sure. Either Way, That Angel is Really Letting Him Have It And an Angry Angel is Relevant to Today’s Article | Harley MS 1527 f.4v | Source: The British Library

 

Starting at the top of page 14, the Monk sets the scene by giving the Novice a bit of context regarding the setting of the tale. A man and his buddy Walter have become monks after listening to Saint Bernard preach. Oddly enough, Walter is given a name despite barely being mentioned again, while the man the story is actually about is never named. After living at Clairvaux Abbey for a bit, a group of monks is going to Aulne. The man wants to join them, however, he doesn’t want to ask permission to go because he thinks his abbot will think he only wants to leave for a change of scenery. But he really wants to go, so he prays on it.

Luckily for the man, God happens to be listening. “A voice came to him” (pg. 14), basically tells him to just ask, and he’ll get what he wants if he actually makes the request. So the man does. His abbot says yes and gives him his blessing. So off the man goes to Aulne with Walter. And it’s a good thing he went too as he’s made the convent’s prior soon after his arrival.

One day the new prior is saying sext. (One of the Divine Offices, not the other definition!) As he’s doing so, a monk signs to him requesting the prior listen to his confession. Because the prior is, you know, busy saying the service, he signs back telling him to wait until he’s done.

Eventually, sext is over. They go into the choir (the part of the church where monks sit/stand to pray, not a choir that sings) so the prior can listen to the monk’s confession.

However, not is all as it seems. The monk isn’t the monk. Instead, it’s his guardian angel in disguise. And it’s a good disguise too. He looks exactly like the man, from his physical appearance to the clothes he’s wearing. But the prior does not know this. Well, not at first. It’s only when the prior goes to help the angel up after he “prostrated himself” (pg. 14) at his feet does he realize it’s an angel. But only because the angel disappeared before he could do so!

It occurs to the prior that this God’s way of scolding him for making the monk wait a bit for confession. After all, confession is good for the soul. Denying people salvation isn’t a great look. To drive the point home, the narrator Monk offers this nugget of wisdom to the Novice:

“When our superiors refuse us that which they are bound to use for our soul’s health, and especially that which is suggested to us by our guardian angel for our help, it is as if the refusal were made to the angels themselves.

(Caesarius of Heisterbach, pg. 14)

(Emphasis mine.)

After the disappearing angel incident, the prior immediately calls the monk who wanted confession over so he can perform the sacrament. The monk, feeling guilty about asking while the prior is busy, basically tells him that it’s alright and he can wait until tomorrow.

This is not satisfactory for the prior.

Still feeling his own guilt thanks to the angel, the prior threatens not to eat until he hears the monk’s confession. It just happens to be dinner time, so if he misses that meal he can’t eat for a while. Sufficiently guilty (and probably quite alarmed!) the monk obeys.

Then the prior makes a vow to God that no matter the time, how busy he is, or even if he’s in an Extremely Important Divine Office, he will always hear confession whenever he is asked to do so.

 

 

 

Source:

Heiscerbach, Caesarius of, and G.G. Coulton. Dialogue on Miracles. Translated by H. Von E. Scott and C.C. Swinton Bland, vol. 1, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1929, https://archive.org/details/caesariusthedialogueonmiraclesvol.1/page/n35/mode/2up

Caesarius of Heisterbach’s The Dialogue on Miracles: A Quick Overview

So far I’ve analyzed two primary medieval texts on this blog (Bede’s Ecclesiastical History and The Rule of Saint Benedict). Very soon I will be writing about a third. As you may have guessed from the title, our next text will be Caesarius of Heisterbach’s The Dialogue on Miracles. It is written as a dialogue (hence the name) between a curious novice and a wise monk.

 

Caesarius_von_Heisterbach_als_Novizenmeister
Caesarius of Heisterbach and a Novice | Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

The Dialogue on Miracles is a collection of short stories dedicated to, well, miracles. Or at the very least occurrences that may or may not be miracles. I hesitate to call all the stories miracles as some of them are extremely mundane. In my analysis, I will be ignoring the boring stories and focus primarily on the more interesting ones.  It’s a long text divided into two volumes. These two volumes are further divided into twelve separate books. Each book is dedicated to a specific topic. The topics are as follows:

  1. Of Conversion

  2. Of Contrition

  3. Of Confession

  4. Of Temptation

  5. Of Demons

  6. Of Singleness of Heart

  7. Of the Blessed Virgin Mary

  8. Of Divers Visions

  9. Of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ

  10. Of Miracles

  11. Concerning the Dying

  12. Of the Punishment and the Glory of the Dead

 

While I may not get through the entire text, there are certainly a lot of different things to cover! And because I might not be able to cover everything I’ve included a link to volume one down below. That way you can read the entire text as well. As of the time I’m writing this, you can access and download the book for free on Archive.org. (Which is where the link will send you.)

 

 

Source:

Heiscerbach, Caesarius of, and G.G. Coulton. Dialogue on Miracles. Translated by H. Von E. Scott and C.C. Swinton Bland, vol. 1, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1929, https://archive.org/details/caesariusthedialogueonmiraclesvol.1/page/n4/mode/2up.

 

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Forty-Two, Medieval Monastic Bedtime Stories

While Chapter Forty-Two of The Rule of Saint Benedict is titled “That no one may Speak after Compline” (Saint Benedict pg. 57) the majority of the chapter focuses on what books a monastic community should (and should not) read before everyone goes to bed.

 

Harley MS 5431 f.69v beginning of chap42 rule of st. benedict
The Beginning of Chapter Forty-Two in a Medieval Manuscript | Harley MS 5431 f.69v | Source: The British Library

 

However, before Saint Benedict starts off his reading list, the first line of the text stresses that “monks should love silence at all times…especially during the hours of the night” (Saint Benedict pg. 57). Silence was also discussed back in Chapter Six, but it seems like Saint Benedict is reminding his monkish readers of this “traditional monastic value” (Kardong pg. 345). (Similar to the way Saint Benedict constantly reminds his audience about obedience and humility. You know, just in case the monks forgot.) In his commentary, Terrence G. Kardong notes that the language Saint Benedict uses implies that he knows the brethren won’t be quiet all the time. This idea is further proven at the end of the chapter with this quote:

“[In regards to talking] unless the presence of guests should make it necessary, or the Abbot should chance to give any command. Yet, even then, let it be done with the utmost gravity and moderation.”

(Saint Benedict, pg. 58)

I would also like to note that there is a difference in translation between my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict and Kardong’s. The Latin word Saint Benedict uses when referring to a monk’s love of silence is studere. Studere is the present infinitive of the word studeo. Studeo has a few meanings, but one meaning is ‘to strive after.‘ Kardong’s translation is much more direct (“Monks ought to strive for silence at all times”) while my copy of The Rule, translated by D. Oswald Hunter Blair, is a bit more poetic in its phrasing (“monks should love silence at all times”). 

After this reminder, Saint Benedict begins discussing what the after supper routine should be. No matter if it’s a fast day “or otherwise” (Saint Benedict pg. 57) all the brethren are to gather together and listen to “four or five pages being read, or as much as time alloweth” (Saint Benedict, pg. 58). And yes, every monk is supposed to gather together to do this, “even those who may have been occupied in some work” (Saint Benedict pg. 58). The after supper reading is a group activity and it’s important monastic communities treat it as such.

If it’s not a fast day, then Saint Benedict recommends reading ‘”Conferences [of Cassian], or the lives of the Fathers, or something else which may edify” (Saint Benedict, pg. 57). He explicitly bans the “Heptateuch” or “the Books of Kings” (Saint Benedict, pg. 57) from being read. It can “be read at other times” (Saint Benedict, pg. 57) but not before bedtime. According to the footnote in D. Oswald Hunter Blair’s translation, these biblical texts were considered “too exciting to the imagination” (pg. 57) to listen to before going to sleep. In his commentary, Terrence G. Kardong explains that these parts of the bible are filled with “erotic episodes” and “violence” (pg. 347). Neither of which are great things to listen about just before bed. After all, the night time reading is supposed to enrich the monks’ spirits, not excite them. 

If it is a fast day then Conferences are also to be the text of choice. However, during fast days the reading will happen at a different time. Instead of being after supper, it will occur “a short time after Vespers” (Saint Benedict, pg. 58). This allows the brethren to take a short break between the services and to prevent exhaustion (Kardong, pg. 348).

After all these instructions, Saint Benedict finally discusses what the chapter is supposed to be about: Compline. And it’s only discussed within a few sentences. Because everyone is already conveniently together Compline is said after the reading. Once the service is finished, “let none be allowed to speak to anyone” (Saint Benedict, pg. 58). If anyone does speak he is to be “subjected to severe punishment” (Saint Benedict, pg. 58). Unless, of course, the exceptions mentioned at the start of this post occurred.

 

 

Main Sources:

  • Saint Benedict. Blair, D. Oswald Hunter, translator. The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.

(I bought my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict on Amazon. You can purchase my edition of it here.)

  • Terrence G. Kardong, OSB. Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary. Liturgical Press, 1996. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/book/46804.

(You can access it for free on Project MUSE during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Other Sources:

Wikipedia’s overview of The Rule of Saint Benedict to double-check my interpretations of the text. Link to that article here.

Religion During The Wars of The Roses – The Nobility and The Church

Posted with permission from  faithsaysstuff.wordpress.com 

It’s obvious that the Wars of the Roses had a massive impact on English royalty and nobility. However, what was its impact on religion and the Church during the time the Wars occurred? The Wars of the Roses must have had some sort of effect, even if it was only a subtle one. After all, religion was a major factor in the lives of medieval people. The Church had a massive influence on society and it shaped every aspect of a person’s life either directly or indirectly. So how exactly did religion cause the Wars of the Roses to change and vise versa?

One way religion factored into the Wars of the Roses was with the idea of divine right. Nobility often used the clergy to justify their claims to the crown (Davies 137). This could be in the form of sermons or official documents. One such document was a letter that was signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as the bishop of Exeter (Storey 83). In 1461 “the archbishop…and…the bishop of Salisbury…[decided] that Edward of York should assume the crown” (Storey 83). After all, bishops and priests were considered to be voices for God. If they were saying that a certain nobleman should be king, that meant God wanted him to be king.

However, if you ignore divine right, the Wars of the Roses had a very small impact on the Church’s hierarchy and vise versa. Of course clergymen, especially higher up clergymen, supported different sides of the conflicts but very rarely did these men seem to be severely punished for doing so. Most of the time, “in terms of personal hurt, the episcopate was afflicted surprisingly little” (Davies 141). However, when bishops and other clergymen were punished their punishments were usually the equivalent of being gently slapped on the wrist and told what they did was bad and they should feel bad.

Of course, there were harsher punishments, but the clergyman usually had to push his luck a lot. For example, Archbishop George Neville “after Edward [IV] had bided his time, was seriously punished” (Davies 141) by being imprisoned. However, “the archbishop was released quite quickly…and in theory restored to full authority” (Davies 141). And just because clergymen were involved in politics, it did not mean they had enough experience to know what they were doing. In Edward IV’s case, he “could not use many of [the clergy] in public life, not for their lack of loyalty but for lack of the right skills” (Davies 138).

 

WORKS CITED

Davies, Richard G.. “The Church and the Wars of the Roses”. The Wars of the Roses, edited by A.J. Pollard, MacMillan Press, 1995, pp. 134-161.

Storey, R.L.. “Episcopal King-Makers in the Fifteenth Century”. The Church, Politics and Patronage In the Fifteenth Century, edited by R.B. Dobson, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1984, pp. 82-98.

 

FURTHER READING

Shinners, J.R., editor. Medieval Popular Religion, 1000-1500: A Reader, University of Toronto Press, 2007.