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Gildas:  De Excidio Britonum - Concerning the Ruin of Britain

J A Giles edition

The Epistle 70 - 84

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70. Which of them, inflamed with the admirable zeal of God, hath courageously risen to punish fornication, curing without delay by the present medicine of penance, the affection of filthy lust, lest the fire of the wrath of God should otherwise consume the people, as Phineas the priest did, that by these means justice for ever might be reputed unto him? Which of them hath in moral understanding imitated Joshua, the son of Nun, either for the utter rooting forth, even to the slaughter of the last and least of all, the seven nations out of the land of promise, or for the establishing of spiritual Israel in their places? Which of them hath showed unto the people of God their final bounds beyond Jordan that it might be known what was suited to every tribe, in such sort as the aforenamed Phineas and Jesus have wisely divided the land? Who is he that to overthrow the innumerable thousands of Gentiles, adversaries to the chosen people of God, hath, as another Jephtha, for a votive and propitiatory sacrifice, slain his own daughter (by which is to be understood his own proper will), imitating also therein the apostle, saying, "Not seeking what is profitable to me, but to many, that they may be saved;" which daughter of his met the conquerors with drums and dances, by which are to be understood the lustful desires of the flesh? Which of them, that he might disorder, put to flight, and overthrow the camps of the proud Gentiles, by the number of three hundred, (being, as we before said, the mystery of the blessed Trinity,) and with his men holding in their hands those noble sounding trumpets, (which are prophetical and apostolical senses, according as our Lord said to the prophet, "Exalt thy voice as a trumpet;" and the psalmist of the apostles, "Their sound hath passed throughout the whole earth,") and bearing all those famous flagons shining in the night with that most glittering fiery light, (which are to be interpreted the bodies of saints joined to good works, and burning with the flame of the Holy Ghost, yea having, as the apostle writes, "This treasure in earthen vessels,") hath after hewing down the idolatrous grave (by which is morally meant dark and foul desire) marched on like Gideon, with an assured faith in the evident sign of the fleece, which to the Jews was void of the heavenly moisture, but to the Gentiles made wet with the dew of the Holy Ghost?

71. Who is he among them that (earnestly wishing to die to this world, and live to Christ) hash, as another Sampson, utterly cut off such innumerable luxurious banqueters of the Gentile, while they praised their gods, (by which is meant, while the senses of men extolled these earthly riches, according to the apostle speaking thus: "And covetousness, which is idolatry"), shaking with the power of both his arms the two pillars (by which are to be understood the wicked pleasures of the soul and body), by which the house of all worldly wickedness is in a sort compacted and underpropped? Which of them, like Samuel, with prayers and the burnt sacrifice of a sucking lamb, hath driven away the fear of the Philistines, raised unexpected thunderclaps, and showering clouds, established without flattery a king, deposed him when he displeased God, and anointed another his better in his place and kingdom; and when he shall give to the people his last farewell, shall appear like Samuel in this sort, saying, "Behold, I am ready, speak ye before our Lord and his anointed, whether I ever took away the ox or ass of any man, if I have falsely accused any one, if I have oppressed anybody, if I have received a bribe from the hands of any?" Unto whom it was answered by the people, "Thou hast not wrongfully charged us, nor oppressed us, nor taken anything from the hands of any." Which of them, like the famous prophet Elias, who consumed with heavenly fire the hundred proud men, and preserved the fifty that humbled themselves; and afterwards denounced without flattery or dissimulation, the impending death of the unjust king (that sought not the counsel of God by his prophets, but of the idol Accaron), hath utterly overthrown all the prophets of Baal (by which are meant the worldly senses ever bent, as we have already said, to envy and avarice), with the lightning sword (which is the word of God)? And as the same Elias, moved with the zeal of God, after taking away the showers of rain from the land of the wicked, who were now shut up with famine in a strong prison, as it were of penury, for three years and six months, being himself ready to die for thirst in the desert, hath, complaining, said, "They have murdered, O Lord, thy prophets, and undermined thine altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life?"

72. Which of them, like Elisha, hath punished his dearly beloved disciple, if not with an everlasting leprosy, yet at least by abandoning him, if burdened too much with the weight of worldly covetousness for those very gifts which his master before (although very earnestly entreated thereto) had despised to receive? And which of these among us hath like him revealed unto his servant, (who despaired of life, and on a sudden trembled at the warlike army of the enemies that besieged the city wherein he was), through the fervency of his prayers poured out unto God, those spiritual visions, so that he might behold a mountain replenished with a heavenly assisting army, of warlike chariots and horsemen, shining with fiery countenances, and that he might also believe that he was stronger to save, than the foe to hurt? And which of them, like the above-named Elisha, with the touch of his body, being dead to the world, but living unto God, shall raise up another, whose fate had been different from his, namely, death to God, but life to his vices, so that instantly revived, he may yield humble thanks to Christ for his unexpected recovery from the hellish torments of his mortal crimes? Which of them hath his lips purified and made clean with the fiery coals carried by the tongues of the cherubim, from off the altar, (that his sins may be wiped away with the humility of confession), as it is written of Esaias, by whose effectual prayers, together with the aid of the godly king Ezechias, a hundred fourscore and five thousand of the Assyrian army, through the stroke of one angel, without the least print of any appearing wound, were overthrown and slain? Which of them, like blessed Jeremiah, for accomplishing the commandments of God,-for denouncing the threats thundered out from heaven, and for preaching the truth even to such as would not hear the same, hath suffered loathsome stinking prisons as momentary deaths? And to he brief, what one of them (as the teacher of the Gentiles said) hath endured like the holy prophets to wander in mountains, in dens, and caves of the earth, to be stoned, to be sawn in sunder, and assailed with all kinds of death, for the name of our Lord?

73. But why do we dwell in examples of the Old Testament as if there were none in the New? Let, therefore, those, who suppose they can, without any labour at all, under the naked presence of the name of priesthood, enter this strait and narrow passage of Christian religion, hearken unto me while I recite and gather into one a few of the chiefest flowers out of the large and pleasant meadow of the saintly soldiers of the New Testament. Which of you (who rather sleep than lawfully sit in the chair of the priesthood), being cast out of the council of the wicked, hath, after the stripes of sundry rods, like the holy apostles, from the bottom of his heart, given thanks to the blessed Trinity that he was found worthy to suffer disgrace for Christ's true deity? What one, for the undoubted testimony of God, having his brains dashed out with the fuller's club, hath, like James the first, a bishop of the New Testament, suffered corporal death? Which of you, like James the brother of John, has by the unjust prince been beheaded? Who, like the first deacon and martyr of the gospel, (having but this only accusation, that he saw God, whom the wicked could not behold), has ungodly hands been stoned to death? What one of you, like the worthy keeper of the keys of the heavenly kingdom, has been nailed to the cross with his feet upward, in reverence for Christ, whom, no less in his death than in his life, he endeavoured to honour, and hath so breathed his last? Which of you, for the confession of the true word of Christ, hath, like the vessel of election, and chosen teacher of the Gentiles, after suffering imprisonment and shipwreck, after the terrible scourges of whips, the continual dangers of seas of thieves, of Gentiles, of Jews, and of false apostles, after the labours of famine, fasting, and watching, after incessant care over all the churches, after his trouble for such as scandalized, after his infirmity for the weak, after his wonderful travels over almost the whole world in preaching the gospel of Christ, lost his head at last by the stroke of the descending sword ?"

74. Which of you, like the holy martyr Ignatius, bishop of the city of Antioch, hath after his miraculous actions in Christ, for testimony of him been torn by the jaws of lions, as he was once at Rome? whose words, as he was led to his, passion, when you shall hear (if ever your countenances were overcome with blushing), you will not only, in comparison of him, esteem yourselves no priests, but not so much even as the meanest Christians; for in the epistle which he sent to the church of Rome, he writeth thus: "From Syria even unto Rome, I fight with beasts, by land and sea, being bound and chained unto ten leopards, I mean the soldiers appointed for my sustody, who for our benefit bestowed upon them become more cruel, but I am the better instructed by their wickedness, neither yet am I in this justified; oh! when shall those beasts come the workers of my salvation, which are for me prepared? when shall they be let loose at me? when shall it be lawful for my carcass to enjoy them? whom I do most earnestly wish to be eagerly enraged against me, and truly I will incite them to devour me; moreover, I will humbly pray, lest perchance they should dread to touch my body (as in some others they have before done), yea also, if they hesitate, I will offer violence, I will force myself upon them. Pardon me, I beseech you, I know what is commodious for me, even now I begin to be the disciple of Christ; let all envy, whether of human affection or spiritual wickedness cease, that I may endeavour to obtain Christ Jesus; let fires, let crosses, let cruelty of beasts, let breaking of bones, and rending of limbs, with all the pains of the whole body, and all the torments devised by the art of the devil, be together poured out on me alone, so that I may merit to attain unto Christ Jesus." Why do you behold these things with the sleepy eyes of your souls? why do you hearken unto them with the deaf ears of your senses? Shake off, I beseech you, the dark and black mist of slothfulness from your hearts, that so you may see the glorious light of truth and humility. A Christian, and he not mean, but a perfect one, and a priest not base, but one of the highest, a martyr of no ordinary sort, but one of the chiefest, saith: "Now I begin to be the disciple of Christ." And you, like the same Lucifer, who was thrown down out of heaven, are puffed up with words, and not with power, and after a sort do chew under the tooth, and make presence in your actions, as the author of this your wickedness hath thus expressed: "I will mount up into the heavens, and be like unto the Highest." And again: "I have digged and drunk water, and dried up with the steps of my feet all the rivers of the banks." You would more rightly have imitated him and hearkened unto his words, who is without doubt the most true example of all goodness and humility, saying by his prophet, "I am verily a worm and not a man, the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people." Oh unspeakable matter! that he called himself "the reproach of men," when he washed away the reproaches of the whole world. And again in the gospel; "I am not able to do any thing of myself," when at the same time he was co-eternal with the Father, coequal with the Holy Ghost, and consubstantial with both, and created, not by the help of another, but by his own almighty power, the heaven and earth, with all their inestimable ornaments; and ye nevertheless have arrogantly lifted up your voices, notwithstanding the prophet saith, "Why do earth and ashes swell with pride?"

75. But let us return unto our subject. Which of you, I say, like Polycarp, the famous bishop of the church of Smyrna, that witness of Christ, hath courteously entertained as guests at his table, those who violently drew him out to be burned? and when for the charity which he did bear unto Christ, he was brought to the stake, said, "He who gave me grace to endure the torment of the fire, will likewise grant me without fastening of nails to bear the flames with patience." And now passing over in this my discourse the mighty armies of saints, I will yet touch on one only, for example's sake, Basil the bishop of Caesaria, who when he was thus by the unrighteous prince threatened that, unless he would on the next day be as the rest, defiled in the dirty dunghill of the Arian heresy, he should be put to death, answered, as it is reported, "I will be to-morrow the same as to-day, and for thee, I do not wish thee to change thy determination." And again, "Would that I had some worthy reward to bestow on him that would discharge Basil from the bands of this breathing bellows." Which one of you doth endeavour to daunt the menaces of tyrants, by inviolably keeping the rule of the apostolical speech, which in all times and ages hath been observed by all holy priests, to suppress the suggestion of men when they sought to draw them into wickedness, saying in this manner; "It behoveth us to obey God rather than men."

76. Wherefore after our accustomed manner, taking refuge in the mercy of our Lord, and in the sentences of his holy prophets, that they on our behalf may now level the darts of their oracles at imperfect pastors (as before at tyrants), so that thereby they may receive compunction and be amended, let us see what manner of threats our Lord doth by his prophets utter against slothful and dishonest priests, and such as do not, both by examples and words, rightly instruct the people. For even Eli, the priest in Shilo, because he did not severely proceed, with a zeal worthy of God, in punishing his sons, when they contemned our Lord, but, as a man overswayed with a fatherly affection? too mildly and remissly admonished them, was sentenced with this judgment by the prophet speaking unto him: "Thus saith our Lord; I have manifestly showed myself unto the house of thy father, when they were the servants of Pharaoh in Egypt, and have chosen the house of thy father out of all the tribes of Israel, for a priesthood unto me." And a little after, "Why hast thou looked upon mine incense, and upon my sacrifice, with a dishonest eye? and hast honoured thy children more than me, that thou mightest bless them from the beginning in all sacrifices in my presence? And now so saith our Lord: Because whoever honoureth me I will honour him again; and whoso maketh no account of me shall be brought to nothing. Behold the days shall come, and I will destroy thy name, and the seed of thy father's house. And let this be to thee the sign, which shall fall upon thy two sons, Hophni and Phineas, in one day shall they both die by the sword of men." If thus therefore they shall suffer, who correct them that are under their charge, with words only and not with condign punishment, what shall become of those who by offending exhort you, and draw others unto wickedness?

77. It is apparent also what befell unto the true prophet, who was sent from Judah to prophesy in Bethel, and forbidden to taste any meat in that place, after the sign which he foretold was fulfilled, and after he had restored to the wicked king his withered hand again, being deceived by another prophet, as he was termed, and so make to take but a little bread and water, his host speaking in this sort unto him: ''Thus saith our Lord God: Because thou hast been disobedient to the mouth of our Lord, and hast not observed the precept which the Lord thy God hath commanded, and hast returned, and eaten bread, and drunk water in this place, in which I have charged thee that thou shouldest neither eat bread nor drink water, thy body shall not be buried in the sepulchre of thy forefathers. And so (saith the scripture) it came to pass, that after he had eaten bread and drunk water, he made ready his ass, and departed, and a lion found him in the way and slew him."

78. Hear ye also the holy prophet Isaias, how he speaketh of priests on this wise. "Woe be to the ungodly, may evil befall him; for the reward of his hands shall light upon him. Her own exactors have spoiled my people, and women have borne sway over her. O my people, they who term thee blessed, themselves deceive thee, and destroy the way of thy footsteps. Our Lord standeth to judge, and standeth to judge the people. Our Lord will come unto judgment with the elders of the people and her princes. Ye have consumed my vine, the spoil of the poor is in your house. Why do ye break in pieces my people, and grind the faces of the poor? saith our Lord of hosts." And also; "Woe be unto them who compose ungodly laws, and in their writing have written injustice, that they may oppress the poor in judgment, and work violence to the cause of the lowly of my people, that widows may be their prey, and they make spoil of the orphans; what will ye do in the day of visitation and calamity approaching from afar off?" And afterwards: "But these also in regard of wine have been ignorant, and in respect of drunkenness have wandered astray; the priests have not understood, because of drunkenness, and have been swallowed up in wine, they have erred in drunkenness, they have not known him who seeth, they have been ignorant of judgment. For all tables are filled with the vomit of their uncleanness, in so much as there is not any free place to be found."

79. "Hear therefore the word of our Lord, O ye deceivers, who bear authority over my people that is in Jerusalem. For ye have said, We have entered into a truce with death, and with hell we have made a covenant. The overflowing scourge when it shall pass forth shall not fall upon us, because we have placed falsehood for our hope, and by lying we have been defended." And somewhat after: "And hail shall overthrow the hope of lying, together with the defence. Waters shall overflow, and your truce with death shall be destroyed, and your covenant with hell shall not continue, when the overflowing scourge shall pass forth; ye shall also be trodden under foot, whensoever it shall pass along through you, it shall sweep you away withal." And again: "And our Lord hath said: Because this people approacheth with their mouth, and with their lips glorify me, but their heart is far from me; behold, therefore, I will cause this people to wonder by a great and stupendous miracle. For wisdom shall decay and fall away from her wise men, and the understanding of her sages shall be concealed. Woe be unto you that are profound in heart, to conceal counsel from our Lord, whose works are in darkness, and they say, who seeth us? And who hath known us? for this thought of yours is perverse." And afterwards: "Thus saith our Lord, Heaven is my seat, and the earth my footstool. What is this house that ye will erect unto me, and what place shall be found for my resting-place? all these things hath my hand made, and these universally have been all created, saith our Lord. On whom truly shall I cast mine eye, but on the humble poor man, and the contrite in spirit, and him that dreadeth my speeches? he that sacrificeth an ox, is as he that killeth a man; he that slaughtereth a beast for sacrifice, is like him who beateth out the brains of a dog; he that offereth an oblation, is as he that offereth the blood of a hog; he that is mindful of frankincense, is as he that honoureth an idol: of all these things have they made choice in their ways, and in their abominations hath their soul been delighted."

80. Hear also what Jeremy, that virgin prophet, speaketh unto the unwise pastors in this sort: "Thus saith our Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, because they have removed themselves far off from me, and walked after vanity, and are become vain?" And again: "And entering in, ye have defiled my land, and made mine inheritance abomination. The priests have not said, Where is our Lord? and the rulers of the law have not known me, and the pastors have dealt treacherously against me. Wherefore I will as yet contend in judgment with you, saith our Lord, and debate the matter with your children." And a little afterwards: "Astonishment and wonders have been wrought in the land. Prophets did preach lying, and priests did applaud with their hands, and my people have loved such matters. What therefore shall be done in her last and final ends? To whom shall I speak and make protestation that he may hear me? Behold their ears are uncircumcised, and they cannot hear. Behold the word of our Lord is uttered unto them for their reproach, and they receive it not: because I will stretch out my hand upon the inhabitants of the earth, saith our Lord. For why, from the lesser even unto the greater, all study avarice, and from the prophet even unto the priest, all work deceit, and they cured the contrition of the daughter of my people, with ignominy, saying, Peace, peace, and peace there shall not be. Confounded they are, who have wrought abomination: but they are not with confusion confounded, and have not understood how to be ashamed. Wherefore they shall fall among those who are falling, in the time of their visitation shall they rush headlong down together, saith our Lord." And again: "All these princes of the declining sort, walking fraudulently, being brass and iron, are universally corrupted, the blowing bellows have failed in the fire, the finer of metals in vain hath melted, their malicious acts are not consumed, call them refuse and reprobate silver, because our Lord hath thrown them away." And after a few words: "I am, I am, I have seen, saith our Lord. Go your ways to my place in Shilo, where my name hath inhabited from the beginning, and behold what I have done thereunto for the malice of my people Israel. And now because ye have wrought all these works, saith our Lord, and I have spoken unto you, arising in the morning, and talking, and yet ye have not heard me, and I have called you, and yet ye have not answered, I will so deal towards this house, wherein my name is now called upon, and wherein ye have confidence, and to this place which I have given unto you, and to your fathers, as I have done to Shilo, and I will cast you away from my countenance."

81. And again: "My children have departed from me, and have no abiding, and there is none who any more pitcheth my tent, and advanceth my pavilion: for the pastors have dealt fondly and not sought out our Lord. Wherefore they have not understood, and their flock hath been dispersed." And a little after: "What is the matter that my beloved hath in my houses committed many offences? shall the holy flesh take away thy maliciousness from thee, wherein thou hast glorified? our Lord shall call thy name a plentiful, fair, fruitful, goodly olive; at the sound of the speech a mighty fire hath been inflamed in her, and her orchards have been quite consumed therewith." And again: "Come ye to me, and be ye gathered together, all ye beasts of the earth, make haste to devour. Many pastors have thrown down my vine, they have trampled my part under foot, they have given over my portion which was well worthy to be desired, into a desert of solitariness." And again he speaketh: "Thus saith our Lord unto this people, which have loved to move their feet, and not rested, nor yet pleased our Lord; now shall he remember their iniquities and visit their offences. Prophets say unto them, Ye shall not see the sword, and there shall be no famine among you, but our Lord shall give true peace unto you in this place. And our Lord hath said unto me, The prophets do falsely foretell in my name; I have not sent them, nor laid my commandment on them; they prophesy unto you a dying vision, and divination together with deceitfulness, and the seducement of their own hearts. And therefore thus saith our Lord: In sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed; and the people to whom they have prophesied shall by means of the famine and sword be cast out into the streets of Jerusalem, and there shall be none to bury them."

82. And moreover: "Woe be to the pastors who destroy and rend in pieces the flock of my pasture, saith our Lord. Thus, therefore, saith our Lord God of Israel, unto the pastors who guide my people, Ye have dispersed my flock, and cast them forth, and not visited them. Behold I will visit upon you the malice of your endeavours, saith our Lord. For the prophet and the priest are both defiled, and in my house have I found their evil, saith our Lord, and therefore shall their way be as a slippery place in the dark, for they shall be thrust forward, and fall down together therein, for I will bring evils upon them, the year of their visitation, saith our Lord. And in the prophets of Samaria I have seen foolishness, and they did prophesy in Baal, and deceived my people Israel, and in the prophets of Jerusalem, have I seen the like resemblance, adultery, and the way of lying, and they have comforted the hands of the vilest offenders, that every man may not be converted from his malice: they have been all made to me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as those of Gomorrha. Thus, therefore, saith our Lord to the prophets: Behold, I will give them wormwood for their food, and gall for their drink. For there hath passed from the prophet of Jerusalem pollution over the whole earth. Thus saith our Lord of hosts, Listen not to the words of prophets, who prophesy unto you, and deceive you, for they speak the vision of their own heart, and not from the mouth of our Lord. For they say unto those who blaspheme me, Our Lord hath spoken, peace shall be unto you; and to all that walk in the wickedness of their own hearts, they have said, evil shall not fall upon them. For who was present in the counsel of our Lord, and hath seen and heard his speech, who hath considered of his word, and hearkened thereunto? Behold, the whirlwind of the indignation of our Lord passeth out, and a tempest breaking forth, shall fall upon the heads of the wicked; the fury of our Lord shall not return, until the time that he worketh, and until he fulfilleth the cogitation of his heart. In the last days of all shall ye understand his counsel."

83. And little also do ye conceive and put in execution that which the holy prophet Joel hath likewise spoken in admonishment of slothful priests, and lamentation of the people's suffering for their iniquities, saying: "Awake, ye who are drunk, from your wine, and weep and bewail ye all, who have drunk wine even to drunkenness, because joy and delight are taken away from your mouths. Mourn, ye priests, who serve the altar, because the fields have been made miserable. Let the earth mourn, because corn hath become miserable, and wine been dried up, oil diminished, and husbandmen withered away. Lament ye possessions, in regard of wheat and barley, because the vintage hath perished out of the field, the vine withered up, the figs diminished; the pomegranates, and palm, and apple, and all trees of the field are withered away, in respect that the children of men have confounded their joy." All which things are spiritually to be understood by you, that your souls may not wither away with so pestilent a famine, for want of the word of God. And again, "Weep out ye priests, who serve our Lord, saying, Spare, O Lord, thy people, and give not over thine inheritance unto reproach, and let not nations hold dominion over them, that Gentiles may not say, Where is their God?" And yet ye yield not your ears unto these sayings, but admit of all matters by which the indignation of God's fury is more vehemently inflamed.

84. With diligence also attend ye what holy Hosea the prophet hath spoken unto priests of your behaviour. "Hear these words, O ye priests, and let the house of Israel, together with the king's house, mark them; fasten ye them in your ears, for unto you pertaineth judgment, because ye are made an entangling snare to the espying watch, and as a net stretched over the toils which the followers of hunting have framed."




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