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Gildas:  De Excidio Britonum - Concerning the Ruin of Britain

J A Giles edition

The Epistle 85 - 101

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85. To you also may this kind of alienation from our Lord be meant by the prophet Amos, saying, "I have hated and rejected your festival days, and I will not receive the savour in your solemn assemblies, because albeit ye offer your burnt sacrifices and hosts, I will not accept them, and I will not cast mine eye on the vows of your declaration. Take away from me the sound of your songs, and the psalm of your organs I will not hear." For the famine of the evangelical meat consuming, in your abundance of victuals, the very bowels of your souls, rageth violently within you, according as the aforesaid prophet hath foretold, saying, "Behold, the days shall come, saith our Lord, and I will send out a famine upon the earth; not the famine of bread, nor the thirst of water, but a famine in hearing the word of God, and the waters shall be moved from sea to sea, and they shall run over from the north even unto the east, seeking the word of our Lord, and shall not find it."

86. Let holy Micah also pierce your ears, who like a heavenly trumpet soundeth loudly forth against the deceitful princes of the people, saying, "Hearken now ye princes of the house of Jacob, Is it not for you to know judgment, who hate goodness, and seek after mischief, who pluck their skins from off men, and their flesh from their bones? Even as they have eaten the flesh of my people, and flayed their skins from them, broken their bones to pieces, and hewed them small as meat to the pot, they shall cry to God, and he will not hear them, and in that season turn his face away from them, even as they before have wickedly behaved themselves in their inventions. Thus speaketh our Lord of the prophets who seduce my people, who bite with their teeth, and preach against them peace, and if a man giveth nothing to stop their mouths, they raise and sanctify a war upon him. Night shall therefore be unto you in place of a vision, and darkness unto you in lieu of divination, and the sun shall set upon your prophets, and the day shall wax dark upon them, and seeing dreams they shall be confounded, and the diviners shall be derided, and they shall speak ill against all men, because there shall not be any one that will hear them, but that I myself shall do mine uttermost and strongest endeavour in the spirit of our Lord, in judgment and in power, that I may declare unto the house of Jacob their impieties, and to Israel their offences. Hearken, therefore, unto these words, ye captains of the house of Jacob, and ye remnants of the house of Israel, who abhor judgment, and overthrow all righteousness, who build up Sion in blood, and Jerusalem in iniquities: her rulers did judge for rewards, and her priests answered for hire, and her prophets did for money divine, and rested on our Lord, saying, And is not the Lord among us? Evils shall not fall upon us. For your cause, therefore, shall Sion be ploughed up as a field, and Jerusalem as the watch-house of a garden, and the mountain of the house as the place of a woody wilderness." And after some words ensuing: "Woe is me for that I am become as he that gathereth stubble in the harvest, and a cluster of grapes in the vintage, when the principal branch is not left to be eaten. Woe is me that a soul hath perished through earthly actions, the reverence of sinners ariseth even with reverence from the earth, and he appeareth not that shall use correction among men. All contend in judgment for blood, and every one with tribulation afflicteth his neighbour, for mischief he prepareth his hands.

87. Listen ye likewise how the famous prophet Zephaniah debated also in times past, concerning your revellers (for he spake of Jerusalem, which is spiritually to be understood the church or the soul), saying, "O the city that was beautiful and set at liberty, the confiding dove hath not hearkened to the voice, nor yet entertained discipline, she hath not trusted in our Lord, and to her God she hath not approached." And he showeth the reason why, "Her princes have been like unto roaring lions, her judges as wolves of Arabia did not leave towards the morning, her prophets carrying the spirit of a contemptuous despising man; her priests did profane what was holy, and dealt wickedly in the law, but our Lord is upright in the midst of his people, and in the morning he will not do injustice, in the morning will he give his judgment."

88. But hear ye also blessed Zachariah the prophet, in the word of God, admonishing you: "For thus saith our Almighty Lord, Judge ye righteous judgment, and work ye every one towards his brother mercy and pity, and hurt ye not through your power the widow, or orphan, or stranger, or poor man, and let not any man remember in his heart the malice of his brother; and they have been stubborn not to observe these, and have yielded their backs to foolishness, and made heavy their ears that they might not hearken, and framed their hearts not to be persuaded that they might not listen to my law and words, which our Almighty Lord hath sent in his Spirit, through the hands of his former prophets, and mighty wrath hath been raised by our Almighty Lord." And again; "Because they who have spoken, have spoken molestations, and diviners have uttered false visions and deceitfu1 dreams, and given vain consolations; in respect hereof they are made as dry as sheep, and are afflicted because no health was to be found; my wrath is heaped upon the shepherds, and upon the lambs will I visit." And within a few words after: "The voice of lamenting pastors, because their greatness is become miserable. The voice of roaring lions, because the fall of Jordan is become miserable: thus saith our Almighty Lord: They who possessed have murdered, and yet hath it not repented them, and they who sold them, have said, Our Lord is blessed and we have been enriched, and their pastors have suffered nothing concerning them. For which I will now bear no sparing hand over the inhabitants of the earth, saith our Lord."

89. Hear ye moreover what the holy prophet Malachi denounceth unto you, saying: "Ye priests who despise my name, and have said: Wherein do we despise thy name? in offering on mine altar polluted bread: and ye have said; Wherein have we polluted it? In that ye have said: The table of our Lord is as nothing, and have despised such things as have been placed thereon; because if ye bring what is blind for an offering, is it not evil? If ye set and apply what if lame or languishing, is it not evil? Offer therefore the same unto thy governor, if he will receive it, if he will accept of thy person, saith our Almighty Lord. And now do ye humbly pray before the countenance of your God, and earnestly beseech him (for in your hands have these things been committed) if happily he will accept of your persons." And again: "And out of your ravenous theft ye have brought in the lame and languishing, and brought it in as an offering. Shall I receive the same at your hands, saith our Lord? Accursed is the deceitful man who hath in his flock one of the male kind and yet making his vow offereth the feeble unto our Lord, because I am a mighty king, saith our Lord of hosts, and my name is terrible among the Gentiles. And now unto you appertaineth this commandment, O ye priests, if ye will not hear, and resolve in your hearts to yield glory unto my name, saith our Lord of hosts, I will send upon you poverty, and accurse your blessings, because ye have not settled these things on your hearts. Behold I will stretch out my arm over ye, and disperse upon your countenances the dung of your solemnities." But that ye may in the meantime, with more zeal prepare your organs and instruments of mischief, to be converted into goodness, hearken ye (if there remain ever so little disposition to listen in your hearts) what he speaketh of a holy priest, saying "My covenant of life and peace was with him (for historically he did speak of Levi and Moses): I gave fear unto him, and he was timorous of me, he dreaded before the countenance of my name; the law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips, he walked with me in peace and equity, and turned many away from unrighteousness. For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and from out of his mouth they shall require the law, because he is the Angel of our Lord of hosts." And now again he changeth his style, and ceaseth not to rebuke and reprove the unrighteous, saying: "Ye have departed from the way, and scandalized many in the law, and made void my covenant with Levi, saith our Lord of hosts. In regard whereof I have also given you over as contemptible and abject among my people, according as ye have not observed my ways, and accepted countenance of men in the law. What, is there not one Father of us all? What, hath not one God created us? Why therefore doth every one despise his brother?" And again, "Behold our Lord of hosts will come, and who can conceive the day of his coming, and who shall endure to stand to behold him? For he shall pass forth as a burning fire, and as the fuller's herb, and shall sit melting and trying silver, and ye shall purge the sons of Levi, and cleanse them as gold and as silver." And somewhat afterwards: "Your words have grown strong against me, saith our Lord, and ye have spoken thus: He is vain who serveth God, and what profit because we have kept his commandments, and walked sorrowfully before our Lord of hosts. We shall therefore now call the arrogant blessed, for because they are erected and builded up, while they work iniquity, they have tempted God, and are made safe." 

90. But hear ye also what Ezechiel the prophet hath spoken, saying, "Woe upon woe shall come, and messenger upon messenger shall be, and the vision shall be sought for of the prophet, and the law shall perish from the priests, and counsel from the elders." And again: "Thus saith our Lord: In respect that your speeches are lying, and your divinations vain. For this cause, behold, I will come unto you, saith our Lord; I will stretch out my hand on your prophets, who see lies, and them who speak vain things; in the discipline of my people they shall not be, and in the Scripture of the house of Israel, they shall not be written, and into the land of Israel they shall not enter, and ye shall know that I am the Lord, because they have seduced my people, saying, The peace of our Lord, and there is not the peace of our Lord. Here have they built the wall, and they anointed it, and it shall fall." And within some words afterwards: "Woe be unto these who fashion pillows, apt for every elbow of the hand, and make veils upon every head of all ages to the subversion of souls, and the souls of my people are subverted, and they possess their souls, and contaminated me unto my people for a handful of barley, and a piece of bread to the slaughter of the souls, whom it behoved not to die, and to the delivery of the souls, that were not fit to live, while ye talk unto my people that listeneth after vain speeches." And afterwards: "Say, thou son of man, thou art earth which is not watered with rain, neither yet hath rain fallen upon thee in the day of wrath, in which thy princes were in the midst of thee as roaring lions, ravening on their prey, devouring souls in their potent might, and receiving rewards, and thy widows were multiplied in the midst of thee, and her priests have despised my law, and defiled my holy things. Between holy and polluted, they did not distinguish, and divided not equally between the unclean and clean, and from my sabbaths they veiled their eyes, and in the midst of them they defiled."

91. And again: " And I sought among them a man of upright conversation, and one who should altogether stand before my face, to prevent the times that might fall upon the earth, that I should not in the end utterly destroy it, and I found him not. And I poured out upon it, the whole design of my mind, in the fire of my wrath for the consuming of them: I repaid their ways on their heads, saith our Lord." And somewhat after: "And the word of our Lord was spoken unto me, saying: O son of man, speak to the children of my people, and they shalt say unto them: The land whereupon I shall bring my sword, and the people of the land shall take some one man among them, and ordain him to be a watchman over them, and he shall espy the sword coming upon the land, and sound with his trumpet, and signify unto the people, whoso truly shall then hear the sound of the trumpet, and yet hearing shall not beware: and the sword shall come and catch him, his blood shall light upon his own head, because when he heard the sound of the trumpet, he was not watchful, his blood shall be upon him, and this man, for that he hath preserved his own soul, hath delivered himself. But the watchman if he shall see the sword coming, and not give notice with his trumpet, and the people shall not be aware, and the sword coming shall take away a soul from among them, both tile soul itself is caught a captive for her iniquities, and I will also require her blood at the hand of the watchman. And thou, O son of man, I have appointed thee a watchman over the house of Israel, and if thou shalt hear the word from out of my mouth, when I shall say to a sinner, Thou shalt die the death, and yet wilt not speak whereby the wicked may return from his way: both the unjust himself shall die in his iniquity, and truly I will require his blood also at thy hands. But if thou shalt forewarn the wicked of his way, that he may avoid the same, and he nevertheless will not withdraw himself from his course, this man shall die in his impiety, and thou hast preserved thine own soul."

92. And so let these few among a multitude of prophetical testimonies suffice, by which the pride or sloth of our stubborn priests may be repelled, to the end they may not suppose that we act rather of our own invention, but by the authority of the laws, and saints, denounce such threats against them. And now let us also behold what the trumpet of the gospel, sounding to the whole world, speaketh likewise to disordered priests; for as we have often said, this our discource tendeth not to treat of them, who obtain lawfully the apostolical seat, and such as rightly and skilfully understand how to dispose of their spiritual food (in time convenient) unto their fellow servants, if yet at this time there remain any great number of these in this our country; but we only talk of ignorant and unexpert shepherds, who leave their flock, and feed on vain matters, and have not the words of a learned pastor. And therefore it is an evident token that he is not a lawful pastor, yea not an ordinary Christian, who rejecteth and denieth these sayings, which are not so much ours (who of ourselves are very little worth), as the decrees of the Old and New Testament, even as one of ours right well doth say, "We do exceedingly desire that the enemies of the church should also, without any manner of truce be our adversaries: and that the friends and defenders thereof should not only be accounted our confederates, but also our fathers and governors." For let every one, with true examination, call his own conscience unto account, and so shall he easily find, whether according to true reason he possesseth his priestly chair or no. Let us see, I say, what the Saviour and Creator of the world hath spoken. "Ye are," saith he, "the salt of the earth, if that the salt vanisheth away, wherein shall it be salted? it prevaileth to no purpose any farther, but that it be cast out of doors, and trampled under the feet of men."

93. This only testimony might abundantly suffice to confute all such as are impudent; but that it may be yet, by the words of Christ, more evidently proved with what intolerable bonds of crimes these false priests entangle and oppress themselves, some other sayings are also to be adjoined; for it followeth: "Ye are the light of the world. A city placed on a mountain cannot be hid: neither do they light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine unto all who are in the house." What priest therefore of this fashion and time, who is so possessed with the blindness of ignorance, doth, as the light of a most bright candle, shine with the lamp of learning and good works, in any house, to all that sit in the darksome night? What one is so accounted a safe public and conspicuous refuge, to all the children universally of the church, that he may be to his countrymen a defensible and strong city, situated on the top of a high mountain? Moreover, which one of them can accomplish one day together, that which followeth: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven:" since rather a certain most obscure cloud of theirs, and the black night of offences, hang over the island, in such a manner, that they all turn almost away from the righteous course, and make them to wander astray through unpassable and cumbersome paths of wickedness, and so their heavenly Father is not only by their works not magnified, but also by the same intolerably blasphemed. These testimonies of holy scripture, which are either already cited, or hereafter to be intermixed in this epistle, I would gladly wish to interpret in some historical or moral sense, as far as my meanness would allow.

94. But for fear lest this our little work should be immeasurably tedious unto those who despise, loathe, and disdain, not so much our speeches as God's sayings, I have already alleged, and mean hereafter to affirm these sentences plainly without any circumstance. And to proceed, within a few words after: "For whoever shall break one of the least of these commandments, and so instruct men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven." And again: "Judge ye not that ye may not be judged; for in what judgment ye shall judge, ye shall be judged." And which one, I pray you, of your company will regard this same that followeth: "But why cost thou see," saith he, "the mote in thy brother's eye, and considerest not the beam in thine own eye? or how dost thou say to thy brother, suffer me to cast the mote out of thine eye, and behold the beam remaineth still in thine own eye?" Or this which follows: "Do not give what is holy to dogs, neither yet shall ye cast your pearls before swine, lest perchance they tread them under their feet, and turn again and rend you," which hath often befallen you. And, admonishing the people, that they should not by deceitful doctors, such as ye, be seduced, he saith: "Keep yourselves carefully from false prophets, who come unto you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves: by their fruit shall ye know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? So every good tree beareth good fruit, and the evil, evil fruit." And somewhat afterward: "Not every one who saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but whoso doeth the will of my Father that is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven."


95. And what shall then become of you, who, as the prophet hath said, believe God only with your lips, and do not adhere to him with your hearts? And how do ye fulfil that which followeth: "Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves?" Whereas you act quite contrariwise, and proceed as wolves against a flock of sheep: or the other following sentence: "Be ye wise as serpents and simple as doves?" since ye are only wise to bite others with your deadly mouths, and not, with the interposition of your whole body, to defend your head, which is Christ, whom with all the endeavours of your evil actions you tread under foot; neither yet have ye the simplicity of doves, but the resemblance rather of the black crow, which taking her flight out of the ark, that is, the church of God, and finding the carrion of earthly pleasures, did never with a pure return back thither again. But let us look on the rest. "Fear not," saith he, "them who kill the body, but are not able to slay the soul; but fear him who can overthrow both soul and body in hell." Revolve in your minds which of these ye have performed? And what one of you is not wounded in the very secrets of his heart, by this testimony following, which our Saviour uttereth unto his apostles, of evil prelates, saying, "Do ye suffer them, the blind leaders of the blind, but if the blind be a guide to the blind, both shall fall into the ditch?" But the people doubtless whom ye have governed, or rather beguiled, have just occasion to listen hereunto.

96. Mark ye also the words of our Lord speaking unto his apostles, and to the people, which words likewise (as I hear) ye yourselves are not ashamed to pronounce often in public: "Upon the chair of Moses have the scribes and pharisees sat, observe ye therefore and accomplish all that they shall speak unto you, but do not according to their works. For they only speak, but of themselves do nothing." It is truly to priests a dangerous and superfluous doctrine, which is overclouded with sinful actions. "Woe be unto you, hypocrites, who shut up the kingdom of heaven before men, and neither yourselves enter in, nor yet suffer those that would to enter in. "For ye shall with horrible pains be tormented, not only in respect of your great offences, which ye heap up for punishment in the world to come, but also in regard of those who daily perish through your bad example, whose blood in the day of judgment shall be required at your hands.

Yield ye also diligent attention unto the misery, which the parable setteth before your eyes, that is spoken of the servant, who saith in his heart, "My Lord delayeth his coming," and upon this occasion, perchance, "hath begun to strike his fellow servants, eating and drinking with drunkards. The Lord of the same servant, therefore, saith he, will come on a day when he doth not expect him, and in an hour whereof he is ignorant, and will divide him, away from his holy priests, and will place his portion with the hypocrites (that is, with them who under the presence of priesthood do conceal much iniquity), affirming that there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth;" such as they have not experienced in this present life, either for the daily ruin of the children of our holy mother church, or for the desire of the kingdom of heaven. 

97. But let us see what Paul, the true scholar of Christ, and master of the Gentiles, who is a mirror of every ecclesiastical doctor, "Even as I am the disciple of Christ," speaketh about a work of such importance in his first epistle on this wise: "Because when they have known God, they have not magnified him as God, or given thanks unto him; but vanished in their own cogitations, and their foolish heart is blinded; affirming themselves to be wise, they are made fools." Although this seemeth to be spoken unto the Gentiles, look into it notwithstanding, because it may conveniently be applied to the priests and people of this age. And after a few words, "Who have changed," saith he, "the truth of God into lying, and have reverenced and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever; therefore hath God given them over unto passions of ignominy." And again, "And even as they have not approved themselves to have God in their knowledge, so God hath yielded them up to a reprobate sense, that they may do such things as are not convenient, being replenished with all iniquity, malice, uncleanness of life, fornication, covetousness, naughtiness, full of envy murder (i.e. of the souls of the people), contention, deceit, wickedness, backbiters, detractors, hateful to God, spiteful, proud, puffed up, devisers of mischief, disobedient to their parents, senseless, disordered, without mercy, without affection, who, when they had known the justice of God, understood not that they who commit such things, are worthy of death.

98. And now what one of the aforesaid sort hath indeed been void of all these? And if he were, yet perhaps he may be caught in the sense of the ensuing sentence, wherein he saith: "Not only those who do these things, but those also who consent unto them," for none of them truly are free from this wickedness. And afterwards, "But thou, according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, cost lay up for thyself wrath, against the day of wrath, and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will yield unto every one according unto his works." And again, "For there is no acceptation of persons with God. For whosoever have offended without the law, shall also without the law perish; whosoever have offended in the law, shall by the law be judged. For the hearers of the law shall not with God be accounted just, but the doers of the law shall be justified." How severe a sentence shall they therefore sustain, who not only leave undone what they ought to accomplish, and forbear not what they are forbidden, but also flee away from the very hearing of the word of God, as from a serpent, though lightly sounding in their ears.

99. But let us pass over to that which followeth to this effect: "What shall we therefore say, shall we continue still in sin that grace may abound? God forbid, for we who are dead to sin, how shall we again live in the same?" And somewhat afterwards, "Who shall separate us," saith he, "from the love of Christ, tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword?" What one, I pray you, of all you, shall with such an affection be possessed in the inward secret of his heart, since ye do not only labour for achieving of piety, but also endure many things for the working of impiety, and offending of Christ? Or who hath respected this that followeth? "The night hath passed, and the day approached. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light, even as in the day: let us honestly walk, not in banqueting, and drunkenness, not in couches, and wantonness, not in contention, and emulation; but put ye on our Lord Jesus Christ, and make no care to bestow your flesh in concupiscences."

100. And again, in the first Epistle to the Corinthians, he saith: "As a wise workmaster have I laid the foundation, another buildeth thereupon, but let every man consider how he buildeth thereon. For no other man can lay any other foundation besides that which is laid, even Christ Jesus. But if any man buildeth upon this, gold, and silver, precious stones, hay, wood, stubble, every one's work shall be manifest; for the day of our Lord shall declare the same, because it shall be revealed in fire, and the fire shall prove what every man's work is. If any man's work shall remain, all by the fire shall be adjudged. Whoso shall build thereupon, shall receive reward. If any man's work shall burn, he shall suffer detriment. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? But if any man violate the temple of God, God will destroy him." And again, "If any man seemeth to be wise among you in this world, let him be made a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." And within a few words afterwards, "Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven corrupteth the whole mass? Purge ye, therefore, the old leaven that ye may be a new sprinkling." How shall the old leaven, which is sin, be purged away, that from day to day with your uttermost endeavours is increased? And yet again, "I have written unto you in mine epistle, that ye be not intermingled with fornicators, not truly the fornicators of this world, or the avaricious, ravenous, or idolatrous, otherwise ye ought to depart out of this world. But now have I written unto you, that ye be not intermingled, if any one is named a brother, and be a fornicator, or avaricious, or an idolator, or a slanderer, or a drunkard, or ravenous, with such an one ye should not so much as eat." But a felon condemneth not his fellow thief for stealing, or other open robbery, whom he rather liketh, defendeth, and loveth, as a companion of his offence.

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