Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Saint Benedict Chases the Devil off a Boulder

A Miracle of Saint Benedict by Luca Giordano (ca. 1678).
Today is the feast of one of my all-time favorite saints, Benedict of Nursia. To celebrate, here is a passage from a biography written shortly after Saint Benedict's death in the 6th century AD by none other than Pope Saint Gregory the Great, detailing one of the great hermit's many miracles:
Upon a certain day, when the monks were building up the cells of the same Abbey, there lay a stone which they meant to employ about that business: and when two or three were not able to remove it, they called for more company, but all in vain, for it remained so immovable as though it had grown to the very earth: whereby they plainly perceived that the devil himself did sit upon it, seeing so may men's hands could not so much as once move it: wherefore, finding that their own labors could do nothing, they sent for the man of God, to help them with his prayers against the devil, who hindered the removing of that stone. The holy man came, and after some praying, he gave it his blessing, and then they carried it away so quickly, as though it had been of no weight at all.
This passage is found in The Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great which is an excellent read. For another anecdote about Benedict meeting with Totila, king of the Goths, click here.

Here is my own version of this vignette which I have added to the forthcoming third volume of my Belisarius series. Here's a pre-edited excerpt. See what you think:
Arriving at the town of Casinum, Belisarius was surprised to find a thriving community of monks diligently building cells on the hillside high above. Directing the army to bivouac outside the town for the evening, Belisarius and a few of his guardsmen scaled the steep hill to see what information they could glean from these hermits.
“Greetings, good brothers,” Belisarius shouted. “Can you spare a little water for my friends and I?”
Forthcoming. Click here
for info on the previous
volumes in the series.
“Yes, tribune, you are most welcome,” a stout monk replied, throwing down his mattock. “Your arrival provides a timely excuse for us to rest from our labors. We have been trying to move this rock for hours now, yet it will not budge. We have summoned Father Benedictus to help us.”
“Allow us to assist,” Belisarius replied, removing his helm and unbuckling his corselet. “As soldiers, we are used to imposing our will upon the stubborn earth.”
He gratefully accepted a full skin of water from the monk as he appraised the great boulder before them. He perceived that the monks had cleared the earth from its base, yet the stone remained firmly stuck in the ground as if attached to the mountain itself. With help from his biscuit-eaters, Belisarius leaned into the bolder attempting to push it free by main strength. Unigastus swung a pick at its base while Athenodorus used a mattock for a lever. Sweating and straining, the three were unable to move it at all. After an hour of such fruitless labor and two broken picks, the three collapsed at the base of the boulder, worn out.
On a ridge above them, a tall monk with a long brown beard appeared in the company of two others. He had penetrating pale green eyes the color of cut white grapes that seemed to radiate sanctity, and a stern face that reflected the divine authority bestowed upon him by the Almighty. Surveying the obstinate stone, the the tall monk quickly offered a diagnosis: “It is plain that the devil sits upon this rock. Until he is removed, none of you will be able to move it.” Raising his eyes and spirit to heaven, he offered a blessing over the boulder, then turned and departed the way he had come.
Belisarius looked skeptically at Unigastus and Athenodorus. “Dare we try it now?” he said with a laugh. His two men leapt to their feet. To their astonishment, the stone immediately shifted as they put their shoulders to it. With a further push, they dislodged it, then rolled it easily onto a great wheeled oxcart as the long-laboring monks rejoiced.
“Who was he who offered the blessing?” Belisarius demanded. “Was that Father Benedictus of whom you spoke? If so, I would meet with him at once.”
The stout monk smiled, and began to lead Belisarius up the rocky hill, but they were intercepted by one of those who had gone previously to fetch the holy man. “Father Benedictus told us that he will not meet with you, Belisarius. Yes, he knows who you are, and he knows why you are here. You serve the great and the powerful of this world, while he is humble and weak. No, it is better that you don’t speak with him.”
“Why?” Belisarius retorted. “I wish to do him honor. Did we not just help his monks in their labor?”
“But for God, your help would have been in vain. Father Benedictus said that a man of your stature is too tall to hear someone as diminutive as he.”
Stinging from the rebuke, Belisarius felt a hot rage boiling up inside him. A thought entered his mind: Do they think they can shrug me off so easily? I am the emperor’s representative in Italy. If I wish to speak to this hermit, by God, I will speak to him. These haughty monks won’t thwart me.
But his anger subsided as quickly as it had arisen. Unbidden, an image of the Theotokos and her heavenly Child appeared before his mind’s eye, and he recalled his failure to visit the Hodegetria shrine before leaving Constantinople. Now downcast, he picked up his helm and armor, and turned to leave.
“Be of good cheer, though, Belisarius,” the monk said. “Father Benedictus also said that his prayers will go with you to Rome. You are to greet the Holy Father on his behalf.”
I am happy to report that I am now more than halfway through this third book, which has consumed more time than either the previous two. Hopefully, it will be worth the wait!

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