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Gildas:  De Excidio Britonum - Concerning the Ruin of Britain

J A Giles edition

The Epistle 101 - 110

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101. Also in his second epistle unto the Corinthians; "Having therefore," saith he, "this administration, according as we have obtained mercy, let us not fail, but let us cast away the secrets of shame, not walking in subtility, nor yet corrupting the word of God," (that is, by evil example and flattery.) And in that which followeth, he thus discourseth of wicked teachers, saying: "For such false apostles are deceitful workmen, transfiguring themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no wonder: for Satan himself transfigureth himself into an angel of light. It is not much therefore if his ministers are transfigured as ministers of justice, whose end will be according unto their works."

102. Hear likewise what he speaketh unto the Ephesians; and consider if ye find not your consciences attainted as culpable of this that followeth? where he denounceth thus: "I say and testify this in our Lord, that ye do not as now walk like the Gentiles in the vanity of their own sense, having their understanding obscured with darkness, alienated from the way of God, through ignorance, which remaineth in them in regard of the blindness of their heart, who despairing, have yielded themselves over to uncleanness of life, for the working of all filthiness and avarice." And which of ye hath willingly fulfilled that which next ensueth? "Therefore be ye not made unwise, but understanding what is the will of God, and be ye not drunk with wine, wherein there is riotousness, but be ye fulfilled with the Holy Ghost."


103. Or that which he saith to the Thessalonians. "For neither have we been with you at any time in the, speech of flattery, as yourselves do know; neither upon occasion of avarice, neither seeking to be glorified by men, neither by you, nor any others, when we might be honoured, as other apostles of Christ. But we have been made as little ones in the midst of you; or even as the nurse cherisheth her small tender children, so desiring you, we would very gladly deliver unto you, not only the gospel, but also our very lives." If in all things ye retained this affection of the apostle, then might ye be likewise assured, that ye lawfully possessed his chair. Or how have ye observed this that followeth? "Ye know," saith he, "what precepts I have delivered unto you. This is the will of our Lord, your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication; and that every one of you know how to possess his own vessel, in honour and sanctification, not in the passion of desire, like the Gentiles who are ignorant of God; and that none of you do encroach upon or circumvent his brother in his business, because our Lord is the revenger of all these. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto sanctification. Therefore whoso despiseth these, doth not despise man, but God." What one also among you hath advisedly and warily kept this that ensueth: "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness of life, lust, and evil concupiscence, for which the wrath of God hath come upon the children of diffidence?" Ye perceive therefore upon what offences the wrath of God doth chiefly arise.

104. In which respect hear likewise what the same holy apostle, with a prophetical spirit, foretelleth of you, and such as yourselves, writing plainly in this sort to Timothy: "For know you this, that in the last days there shall be dangerous times at hand. For men shall be self-lovers, covetous, puffed up, proud, blasphemous, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, wicked, without affection, incontinent, unmeek, without benignity, betrayers, froward, lofty, rather lovers of sensual pleasures, than of God, having a show of piety, but renouncing the virtue thereof." Avoid thou these men, even as the prophet saith: "I have hated the congregation of the malicious, and with the wicked I will not sit." And a little after, he uttereth that (which in our age we behold to increase), saying: "Ever learning, and never attaining unto the knowledge of truth; for even as Jannes and Mambres resisted Moses, so do these also withstand the truth: men corrupted in mind, reprobate against faith, but they shall prosper no further; for their folly shall be manifest unto all, as theirs likewise was."

105. And evidently doth he also declare how priests in their office ought to behave themselves, writing thus to Titus: "Show thyself an example of good works, in learning, in integrity, in gravity, having thy word sound without offence, that he who standeth on the adverse part may be afraid, having no evil to speak of us." And moreover he saith unto Timothy, "Labour thou as a good soldier of Christ Jesus; no man fighting in God's quarrel entangleth himself in worldly business, that he may please him unto whom he hath approved himself; for whoso striveth in the lists for the mastery, receiveth not the crown, unless he hath lawfully contended." This is his exhortation to the good. Other matter also which the same epistles contain, is a threatening advertisement to the wicked (such as yourselves, in the judgment of all understanding persons, appear to be). "If any one," saith he, "teacheth otherwise, and doth not peaceably assent to the sound sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that doctrine which is according to piety, he is proud, having no knowledge, but languishing about questions, and contentions of words, out of which do spring envies, debates, blasphemies, evil suspicions, conflicts of men corrupted in mind, who are deprived of truth, esteeming commodity to be piety."

106. But why in using these testimonies, here and there dispersed, are we any longer, as it were, tossed up and down in the silly boat of our simple understanding, on the waves of sundry interpretations? We have now therefore at length thought it necessary to have recourse to those lessons, which are gathered out of Holy Scriptures, to the end that they should not only be rehearsed, but also be assenting and assisting unto the benediction, wherewith the hands of priests, and others of inferior sacred orders, are first consecrated, and that thereby they may continually be warned never, by degenerating from their priestly dignity, to digress from the commandments, which are faithfully contained in the same; so as it may be plain and apparent unto all, that everlasting torments are reserved for them, and that they are not priests, or the servants of God, who do not with their utmost power follow and fulfil the instructions and precepts. Wherefore let us hear what the prince of the apostles, Saint Peter, hath signified about this so weighty a matter, saying: "Blessed be God, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who through his mercy hath regenerated us into the hope of eternal life, by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, into an inheritance which can never corrupt, never wither, neither be defiled, preserved in heaven for you, who are kept in the virtue of God;" why then do ye fondly violate such an inheritance, which is not as an earthly one, transitory, but immortal and eternal? And somewhat afterwards: "For which cause be ye girded in the loins of your mind, sober, perfectly hoping in that grace which is offered to you in the revelation of Jesus Christ: "examine ye now the depths of your hearts, whether ye be sober and do perfectly preserve the grace of priesthood, which shall be duly discussed and decided in the revelation of our Lord. And again he saith: "As children of the benediction, not configuring yourselves to those former desires of your ignorance; but according unto him who hath called you holy, be ye also holy in all conversation. For which cause it is written, Be ye holy, because I am holy." Which one of you, I pray, hath with his whole mind so pursued sanctity, that he hath earnestly hastened, as much as in him lay, to fulfil the same? But let us behold what in the second lesson of the same apostle is contained: "My dearest," saith he, "sanctify your souls for the obedience of faith, through the Spirit, in charity, in brotherhood, loving one another out of a true heart perpetually, as born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, living and remaining for ever."


107. These are truly the commandments of the apostle; and read in the day of your ordination, to the end ye should inviolably observe the same, but they are not fulfilled by you in discretion and judgment, nay not so much as duly considered or understood. And afterwards: "Laying therefore aside all malice, and all deceits, and dissemblings, envy, and detractions, as infants newly born, reasonable and without guile covet ye milk, that ye may thereby grow to salvation, because our Lord is sweet." Consider ye also in your minds, if these sayings which have sounded in your deaf ears have not often likewise been trodden by you under foot: and again: "Ye truly are the chosen lineage, the royal priesthood, tile holy nation, the people for adoption, that ye may declare his virtues who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light." But truly by you are not only the virtues of God not declared and made more glorious, but also through your wicked examples are they (by such as have not perfect belief) despised. Ye have perchance at the same time likewise heard, what is read in the lesson of the Acts, on this wise: "Peter arising in the midst of the disciples said: Men and brethren, it is expedient that the Scripture be fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost hath by the mouth of David foretold of Judas." And a little after: "This man therefore purchased a field, of the reward of iniquity." This have ye heard with a careless or rather blockish heart, as though the reading thereof nothing at all appertained unto yourselves. What one of you (I pray you) doth not seek the field of the reward of iniquity? For Judas robbed and pillaged the purse, and ye spoil and waste the sacred gifts and treasures of the church, together with the souls of her children. He went to the Jews to make a market of God, ye pass to the tyrants, and their father the devil, that ye may despise Christ. He set to sale the Saviour of the world for thirty pence, and you do so even for one poor half-penny.

108. What need many words? The example of Matthias is apparently laid before you for your confusion, who was chosen into his place, not by his own proper will, but by the election of the holy apostles, or rather the judgment of Christ, whereat ye being blinded, do not perceive how far ye run astray from his merits, while ye fall wilfully and headlong into the manners and affection of Judas the traitor. It is therefore manifest that he who wittingly from his heart termeth you priests, is not himself a true and worthy Christian. And now I will assuredly speak what I think: this reprehension might have been framed after a milder fashion, but what availeth it to touch only with the hand, or dress with gentle ointment, that wound which with imposthumation or stinking corruption is now grown so horrible, that it requireth the searing iron, or the ordinary help of the fire, if happily by any means it may be cured, the diseased in the meanwhile not seeking a medicine, and the physician much erring from a rightful remedy? O ye enemies of God, and not priests! O ye traders of wickedness, and not bishops! O ye betrayers, and not successors of the holy apostles! O ye adversaries, and not servants of Christ! Ye have certainly heard at the least, the sound of the words, which are in the second lesson taken out of the apostle Saint Paul, although ye have no way observed the admonitions and virtue of them, but even as statues (that neither see nor hear) stood that day at the altar, while both then, and continually since he hath thundered in your ears, saying: "Brethren, it is a faithful speech, and worthy of all acceptance." He called it faithful and worthy, but ye have despised it as unfaithful and unworthy. "If any man desireth a bishopric, he desireth a good work." Ye do mightily covet a bishopric in respect of avarice, but not for spiritual convenience and for the good work which is suitable to the place, ye want it. "It behoveth therefore such a one to be free from all cause of reprehension." At this saying we have more need to shed tears than utter words; for it is as much as if the apostle had said, he ought to be of all others most free from occasion of rebuke. "The husband of one wife," which is likewise so condemned among us, as if that word had never proceeded from him; "Sober, wise;" yea, which of ye hath once desired to have these virtues engrafted in him, "using hospitality." For this, if perchance it hath been found among you, yet being nevertheless rather done to purchase the favour of the people, than to accomplish the commandment, it is of no avail, our Lord and Saviour saying thus: "Verily, I say unto you, they have received their reward." Moreover, "A man adorned, not given to wine; no fighter, but modest; not contentious, not covetous:" O lamentable change! O horrible contempt of the heavenly commandments! And do ye not continually use the force of your words and actions, for the overthrowing or rather overwhelming of these, for whose defence and confirmation, if need had required, ye ought to have suffered pains, yea, and to have lost your very lives. 

109. But let us see what followeth: "Well governing," saith he, "his house, having his children subjected with all chastity." Imperfect therefore is the chastity of the parents, if the children be not also endued with the same. But how shall it be, where neither the father, nor the son, depraved by the example of his evil parent, is found to be chaste? "But if any one knoweth not how to rule over his own house, how shall he employ his care over the church of God?" These are the words, that with apparent effects, should be made good and approved. "Deacons in like manner, that they should be chaste, not doubled tongued, not overgiven to much wine, not followers of filthy gain having the mystery of faith in a preconseience, and let these also be first approved, and so let them administer, having no offence." And now trembling truly to make any longer stay on these matters, I can for a conclusion affirm one thing certainly, which is, that all these are changed into contrary actions, in so much that clerks (which not without grief of heart, I here confess,) are shameless and deceitful in their speeches, given to drinking, covetous of filthy lucre, having faith (or to say more truly) unfaithfulness in an impure conscience, ministering not upon probation of their good works, but upon foreknowledge of their evil actions, and being thus defiled with innumerable offences, they are notwithstanding admitted unto the holy office; ye have likewise heard on the same day (wherein ye should with far more right and reason have been drawn to prison or punishment, than preferred unto priesthood) when our Lord demanded whom his disciples supposed him to be, how Peter answered, "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God;" and our Lord in respect of such his confession, said unto him: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonas, because flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven." Peter therefore, instructed by God the Father, did rightly confess Christ; but ye being taught by the devil your father, do, with your lewd actions, wickedly deny our Saviour. It is said to the true priest, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church:" but ye resembled "the foolish man, who hath builded his house upon the sand." And verily it is to be noted, that God joineth not in the workmanship with the unwise, when they build their house upon the deceitful uncertainty of the sands, according unto that saying: "They have made kings unto themselves, and not by me." Similarly that (which followeth) soundeth in like sort, speaking thus: "And the gates of hell (whereby infernal sins are to be understood) shall not prevail." But of your frail and deadly frame, mark what is pronounced: "The floods came, and the winds blew, and dashed upon that house and it fell, and great was the ruin thereof." To Peter and his successors, our Lord doth say, "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." But unto you, "I know you not, depart from me all ye workers of iniquity," that being separated with the goats of the left hand, ye may together with them go into eternal fire. It is also promised unto every good priest, "Whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, shall be likewise loosed in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, shall be in like sort bound in heaven." But how shall ye loose any thing, that it may be loosed also in heaven, since yourselves for your sins are severed from heaven, and hampered in the bands of your own heinous offences, as Solomon saith, "With the cords of his sins, every one is tied?" And with what reason shall ye bind any thing on this earth, that above this world may be likewise bound, unless it be your only selves, who, entangled in your iniquities, are so detained on this earth, that ye cannot ascend into heaven, but without your conversion unto our Lord in this life, will fall down into the miserable prison of hell?

110. Neither yet let any priest flatter himself upon the knowledge of the particular cleanness of his own body, since their souls (over whom he hath government) shall in the day of judgment be required at his hands as the murderer of them, if any through his ignorance, sloth, or fawning adulation, have perished, because the stroke of death is not less terrible, that is given by a good man, than that which is inflicted by an evil person; otherwise would the apostle never have said that which he left unto his successors, as a fatherly legacy, "I am clear and clean from the blood of all: for I have not forborne to declare unto you all the counsel of God." Being therefore mightily drunken with the use and custom of sins, and extremely overwhelmed with the waves (as it were) of increasing offences, seek ye now forthwith the uttermost endeavours of your minds (after this your shipwreck), that one plank of repentance which is left, whereby ye may escape and swim to the land of the living, that from you may be turned away the wrath of our Lord, who saith, "I will not the death of a sinner: but that he may be converted and live." And may the same Almighty God, of all consolation and mercy, preserve his few good pastors from all evil, and (the common enemy being overcome) make them free inhabitants of the heavenly city of Jerusalem, which is the congregation of all saints; grant this, O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to whom be honour and glory, world without end. Amen. 

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