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Medieval Sourcebook:
Agobard of Lyons (9th Century): On Hail and Thunder


I.

In these regions, nearly all men, noble and common, city and country dwellers, old and young, believe that hail and thunder can be produced by human will. For as soon as they hear thunder and see lightning, they say ‘a gale has been raised’. When they are asked how the gale is raised, they answer (some of them ashamedly, with their consciences biting a little, but others confidently, in a manner customary to the ignorant) that the gale has been raised by the incantations of men called ‘storm-makers’, and it is called a ‘raised gale’.

It is necessary that we examine by the authority of Holy Scripture whether it is true as the masses believe. Moreover, if it is false, as I believe without any doubt, then it must be emphasized most strongly how much lying a person is guilty of when he attributes divine actions to men. For by making this claim he is shackled between two deadly and enormous lies, since he claims that man can do what God alone is capable of, and that God does not do what He in fact does. And if we are truly to believe what is written concerning lies about lesser matters (Wisdom 1:11): "An obscure speech shall not go for nought, and the mouth that belieth killeth the soul," and also (Psalm 5:7), "Thou wilt destroy all that speak a lie," and (Proverbs 21:28), "A lying witness shall perish," and (Proverbs 19:5), "A false witness will not go unpunished", and also this, which is written in the Apocalypse of John the apostle (22:14-15): "Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying" -- if we believe these, then how much more would it apply to a lie so serious that it (this topic about which we are now speaking) can be shown to be considered no less than the lies of certain heretics.

The blessed apostle Paul said (1 Corinthians 15:15-16), "Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, Whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised." If therefore, all who preach that Christ the Lord was resurrected by the Father were found to be false witnesses against God if the dead were not raised, then someone who takes God’s amazing and quite terrifying work away from God, so as to attribute it to man, is without doubt a false witness against God.

II.

But we have seen and heard of many people overcome with so much foolishness, made crazy by so much stupidity, that they believe and say that there is a certain region, which is called Magonia, from which ships come in the clouds. In these ships the crops that fell because of hail and were lost in storms are carried back into that region; evidently these aerial sailors make a payment to the storm-makers, and take the grain and other crops. Among those so blinded with profound stupidity that they believe these things could happen we have seen many people in a kind of meeting, exhibiting four captives, three men and one woman, as if they had fallen from these very ships. As I have said, they exhibited these four, who had been chained up for some days, with such a meeting finally assembling in our presence, as if these captives ought to be stoned. But when truth had prevailed, however, after much argument, the people who had exhibited the captives, in accordance with the prophecy (Jeremiah 2:26) "were confounded … as the thief is confounded when he is taken."

III.

But yet, because this error, which so generally possesses the minds of almost everyone in this region, should be judged by everyone gifted with reason, we offer proofs from Scripture by which it can be judged. When these proofs have been considered, then it is not we, but Truth herself who may overcome the most foolish error, and everyone who discerns with truth may denounce the vessels of error, saying along with the Apostle (1 John 2:21), "No lie is of the truth." And whatever is not of the truth is assuredly not of God, and whatever is not of God does not hear His words as Truth herself said (John 8:47): "He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God." He also says this in different words in another place (cf. John 10:26-27): "My flock hear my voice. You do not hear because you are not of my flock," and in another place (John 18:37), "Everyone who is of truth hears my voice."

And everyone who believes or speaks a lie, or who adds on something that is not so –- by maintaining something or other that is not –- to what is he heading except to non-being? Further, because he is heading toward non-being, he is doubtless drawing back from the One-Who-Is, Who said to Moses (Exodus 3:14): "Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel, ‘He-Who-Is hath sent me to you," and the One of Whom the blessed Job said (Job 23:13), "For He only is."

And, to put it more clearly, truth has existence, or rather, existence is in its particular substance because truth subsists. But a lie, because it has no existence (for it is nothing) does not subsist. Therefore only God ‘is’, because only he who has not received something in order to exist has true ‘existing’. All things have been created by Him, and indeed exist, but they do not have that true and highest ‘existing’ because they receive something in order to exist. Lies, in turn, because they have not received something in order to exist, have no ‘existing’. And for this reason, whoever adheres to a lie, adheres to a thing that does not exist (in fact, it shouldn’t even be called a ‘thing’). And whoever adheres to something that is not, not only draws back from the One Who created him, but also from the very thing that was created. Because there are no more than two ‘existing’s: one, the highest, which does not receive its ‘existing’ from another; and the other, the great, because it receives its ‘existing’ from God – that is, then, the Creator and the creature. A lie, therefore, because it is not a creator, is not a highest ‘existing’, because it is not a creature, is not a great ‘existing’, and because it has no existence, it is not any ‘existing’.

Therefore let whoever wishes to persist in that which exists not draw back from the One Who gave him being. Further, let whoever does not wish to draw back from the One Who truly exists flee whatever does not exist at all, that is, a lie.

IV.

Therefore, because every liar is an advocate of falsehood, and every advocate of falsehood is a false witness, acting against the truth, we may see now whether those who say that a divine work is accomplished by a human agent are upheld by any authority.

Now, in Holy Scripture the place where hail is first mentioned is found among the plagues by which Egypt was struck; for this in fact is the seventh plague of Egypt (Exodus 9:18): "Behold, I will cause it to rain tomorrow at this same hour, an exceeding great hail: such as hath not been in Egypt form the day that it was founded until this present time." In these words, the Lord said that He Himself, not some human, would send hail on the next day -- certainly not Moses or Aaron, who were righteous and men of God, nor Jamnes or Mambres, the Egyptian enchanters, who are recorded as the Pharaoh’s magicians, whom the apostle said resisted Moses (cf. 2 Timothy 3:8), and thus they also oppose the truth. For indeed, as has been written, using Egyptian incantations and certain mysteries, they stretched out their staffs one at a time in the presence of the Pharaoh and the staffs were turned into serpents, although Aaron’s staff devoured theirs (cf. Exodus 7:11-12). And they turned water into blood, and brought forth frogs from rivers, although they were not able to stop the frogs, as Moses did through the command of the Lord that they remain only in the river. But when it came to gnats, and the magicians were able to do nothing thereafter, they said the finger of God was against them and they attempted nothing further of that kind.

Certainly, if any man had been able to unleash hail, Jamnes and Mambres would have unleashed it, since they turned water into blood and brought forth frogs from rivers, while those who are called ‘storm-makers’ are unable to do these things.

V.

The same place in Scripture continues (Exodus 9:23-24): "And Moses stretched forth his rod towards heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightning running along the ground: and the Lord rained hail upon the land of Egypt. And the hail and fire mixed with it drove on together." See how this passage shows the Lord alone as the creator and producer of hail, not some man.

Perhaps the ones who attribute the making of hail to men would say that Moses reached his staff up to heaven and in this sense the storm was sent by human agency. Certainly Moses, the servant of God, was good and righteous, but these people do not dare to say that the so-called ‘storm-makers’ are good and righteous, but rather evil and unrighteous, deserving of both temporal and eternal condemnation, nor are they servants of God, except perhaps by circumstance rather than willing service. For if there were men who could cause hail, in imitation of Moses, they would surely be servants of God, not servants of the devil; although the passages cited above show that neither servants of God nor those of the devil cause of hail, but only omnipotent God.

So also the Psalmist, who also recalled this hail, said of God (Psalm 77:47-48): "He destroyed their vineyards with hail, and their mulberry trees with hoar frost. And he gave up their cattle to the hail and their stock to the fire." But because in this very spot the Psalmist adds (Psalm 77:49), "… sent by evil angels", one must understand that God wields the whips of vengeance and trial by means of evil angels, who indeed on their own possess the will to do harm, but who receive the capability from God. And just as the desire to harm belongs to the evil angels, so the capability of doing what they desire belongs to God alone. It is certainly not a capability of humans, neither of good ones or evil ones, nor is it a capability of the opposing power, but of God alone, Who grants to their evil will as much capability as He wants, and takes away as much as He does not want them to be capable of. For thus the Psalmist also speaks of God in another place (Psalm 104:32-33): "He gave them hail for rain, a burning fire in the land. And He destroyed their vineyards and their fig trees: and He broke in pieces the trees of their coasts." Indeed someone struck and someone shattered, but it was not a man and it was not an evil angel, but none other than God alone, without Whom the legion of evil angels could not harm swine and hurl them into the sea (see Matthew 8:30-32). Plainly it is God of Whom it is said (Psalm 17:13-14): "At the brightness that was before Him the clouds passed, hail and coals of fire. And the Lord thundered from heaven, and the Highest gave his voice: hail and coals of fire." And to Him we have sung (Psalm 144:6): "Flash forth lightning and scatter them; send out your arrows and rout them", (Psalm 147:8): "Who covers the heavens with clouds, who provides rain for the earth?", (Psalm 147: 16-18): "Who giveth snow like wool … He sendeth his crystal-like morsels, He shall send out his word, and shall melt them; His wind shall blow and the waters shall run." Of earthly things not only serpents and abysses praise Him but also "fire, hail, snow, ice, stormy winds, which fulfill His word," (cf. Psalm 148:8) not a man’s word or an evil angel’s word.

VI.

We likewise read about hail in the book of Jesus Nave thus (Joshua 10:5): "So the five kings of the Amorrhites being assembled together went up: the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jerimoth, the king of Lachis, the king of Eglon, they and their armies, and camped about Gabaon, laying seige to it." And a little later (Joshua 10:8): "The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not fear them, for I have delivered them into your hands," and a little later (Joshua 10:11), "And when they were fleeing from the children of Israel and were in the descent of Beth-horon, the Lord cast down upon them great stones from heaven, as far as Azeca: and many more of them were killed with the hailstones than were slain by the swords of the children of Israel." See how it appears, therefore, in this passage, too: the Lord, without any prayers from men, sent hail down on those whom He judged deserving of such a punishment. For if evil men, such as the ones whom these deluded people call ‘storm-makers’, were able to do this, then hail would have been brought down on the children of Israel, not on their enemies. But that evil men are not capable of making it hail down on good men, nor good men of making it hail down on evil men is already shown most in this passage. The Book of Wisdom also attests to this when it says of the Lord (Wisdom 16:15-17): "It is impossible to escape Thy hand. For the wicked that denied to know Thee, were scourged by the strength of Thy arm; being persecuted by strange waters, and hail, and rains, and consumed by fire. And which was wonderful, in water, which extinguisheth all things, the fire had more force, for the world fighteth for the just," and a little later (Wisdom 16:22): "But snow and ice endured the force of fire, and melted not; that they might know that fire burning in the hail, and flashing in the rain, destroyed the fruits of the enemies."

VII.

Therefore, if the omnipotent God, whose hand is impossible to flee, punishes the enemies of the righteous by the strength of His arm using strange waters and hail and rains, then people who believe that men can do these things are completely ignorant of God. For if men were able to send hail, obviously they would also be able to send rain, for no one ever saw hail without rain. They would also be able to avenge themselves on their enemies, not only by destroying their crops, but also by taking their lives. For when it happens that the enemies of the storm-makers are on the road or in the fields, in order to kill them the storm-makers would be able to pour down a vast hailstorm on them in a single mass and overwhelm them. For some people also say that they are acquainted with storm-makers of such a sort that they can cause scattered hail falling widely throughout an area to pour down on a single spot of river or useless woods, or over a single barrel, as they say, under which one has hidden himself.

Indeed, we have repeatedly heard it said by many people that they know such things have certainly happened in places, but we have yet to hear someone swear that he has seen these things. At one time I was told about someone who claimed that he himself saw these events. I undertook with great eagerness to see him and so I did. But when I spoke with him, and he tried to say he had seen such things, I bound him with many prayers and oaths, even with threats of God, asking him repeatedly not to say anything other than the truth. Then he swore that what he had said was true, naming a man, a time, and a place, but nevertheless he admitted that he himself had not been present at that time.

Also, in the Book of Ecclesiasticus, which is attributed to Jesus son of Sirach, it is written (Ecclesiasticus 39:33-36): "There are spirits that are created for vengeance, and in their fury they lay on grievous torments; in the time of destruction they shall pour out their force: and they shall appease the wrath of Him that made them. Fire, hail, famine and death – all these were created for vengeance. The teeth of beasts, and scorpions, and serpents, and the sword taking vengeance upon the ungodly unto destruction." Therefore, if hail is created, just as the other things mentioned here, it is doubtless created by God and not by men. We also read in the afore-mentioned book (Ecclesiasticus 43:12-25): "Look upon the rainbow, and bless Him that made it: it is very beautiful in its brightness. It encompasseth the heaven about with the circle of its glory, the hands of the most High have displayed it. By His command He maketh the snow to fall apace, and sendeth forth swiftly the lightnings of His judgment. Through this are the treasures opened and the clouds fly out like birds. By His greatness He hath fixed the clouds, and the hailstones are broken. At His sight shall the mountains be shaken, and at His will the south wind shall blow. The noise of His thunders shall strike the earth, so doth the northern storm, and the whirlwind. And as the bird lighting upon the earth, he scattereth snow, and the falling thereof, is as the coming down of locusts. The eye admireth at the beauty of the whiteness thereof, and the heart is astonished at the shower thereof. He shall pour frost as salt upon the earth, and when it freezeth, it shall become like the tops of thistles. The cold north wind bloweth, and the water is congealed into crystal; upon every gathering together of waters it shall rest, and shall clothe the waters as a breastplate. And it shall devour the mountains, and burn the wilderness, and consume all that is green as with fire. A present remedy of all is the speedy coming of a cloud and a dew that meeteth it, by the heat that cometh, shall overpower it. At His word, the wind is still, and with His thought He appeaseth the deep, and the Lord Jesus hath planted [islands] therein."

 

VIII

See how in this great and extensive passage from the Book of Ecclesiasticus, anything that occurs in the sky is attributed to the command of God, with the most subtle admiration -- as well as anything that descends from the sky to earth -- the appearance, the splendor, and arc of the rainbow, the flurrying of the snow, the terror of lightning, the swiftness of fog, the vault of the winds, the quaking of the earth, the battles of the upper airs, the freezing of water, not only in clouds, as with hail and snow, but also on land, the freezing of snows, rains, and standing water or rushing rivers, and the desiccation of greenery by ice, as we often see, and also the undoing of these things, which occurs in the season of dew-giving fogs, with the breaths of the South Wind and the West Wind. It says that all these things also grow quiet and are calmed at the command of God. Therefore no human assistant should be sought in such events, because none will be found, except perhaps the saints of God, who have brought about, and are yet to bring about, many things. Some of them have the power to close up the heavens, lest it rain on days when they are prophesying, like Elijah; and to change water into blood and torment the earth with every plague as many times as they wish, as Moses and Aaron did to Egypt. Truly no other person sends hail in the summer, other than the one who sends snow in the winter. For there is a single reason for both these occurrences, when clouds are at either time raised higher than usual.

IX

In the book of the blessed Job it is written (Job 37:9-12): "Out of the inner parts shall a tempest come, and cold out of the north. When God bloweth there cometh frost, and again the waters are poured out abundantly. Corn desireth clouds and the clouds spread their light: which go roundabout, whithersoever the will of Him that governeth them shall lead them, to whatsoever He shall command them upon the face of the whole earth." What is said should be closely attended to: "The clouds go roundabout," but, "whithersoever the will of God that governeth them shall lead them." Therefore, if God governs them, no unrighteous man can turn them to another region, because he is not able to command God, nor is he worthy of obtaining them through prayer. And this is added: "to whatsoever He shall command them upon the face of the whole earth" –- how else is this to be understood except ‘to whatsoever God shall command’ the clouds, either as a scourge or as a help to man, as snow, as hail, as rain, as lightning or lightning-bolts, or thunder, by which tall buildings are often cast down, produced, of course, not by human command, but by the command of God, as we read in this passage? A little below in this section is added (Job 37:15-16): "Dost thou know when God commanded the rains, to shew the light of His clouds? Knowest thou the great paths of the clouds, and the perfect knowledges?" In these words it should also be noted that, if man does not know the paths of the clouds, nor their perfect knowledges, much less would he know how to aid or to harm people by their agency, except, as has been noted, for the saints, who are able to do many things in accordance with the will of God, through Him, when He Himself grants it -– not indeed by their own strength or any opposing strength, but by the will of the Creator, just as many of the servants of God are often able to obtain by their prayers that the Lord may deign to bestow rain during a period of drought.

X

For thus the blessed apostle James, setting forth for us as an example what the prophet Elijah did, exhorts us to turn to prayer in the face of sorrow, of infirmity, for the forgiveness of sins, saying (James 5:16-18) "Pray for one another, that you may be saved, for the unceasing player of a just man is of great avail. Elijah was a man like ourselves, subject to the same infirmities, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain upon the earth, and it did not rain for three years and six months. And he prayed again and the sky bestowed rain and the earth gave forth her fruit. He prayed again, and the heavens gave rain and the earth brought forth its fruit." So Elijah prayed that it would not rain and it did not for three years and six months. He did this to chastise and correct his people, that is, so that they might first be chastised for turning their minds away in that they had left off the worship of omnipotent God, and had gone off after the filth of idols; after that, scourged and exhausted, they were corrected by their expectation of rain and returned to the Lord God, Whom they had abandoned.

XI

Thus also, when Samuel, the prophet and leader of the Israelites, chastised that people because of their repeated transgressions, revealing to them the blessings of omnipotent God and how they, on contrary, had turned away, he brought it about through his prayers that rain was granted at an unexpected season, fearsomely with thunder and lightning so that they might understand that they had committed a great evil and offended God when they sought a king for themselves,. Then it is written that Samuel said to the people (1 Kings (= 1 Samuel) 12:16-19): "Now then stand, and see this great thing which the Lord will do in your sight. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, and he shall send thunder and rain; and you shall know and see that you yourselves have done a great evil in the sight of the Lord in desiring a king over you. And Samuel cried unto the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day. And all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel, and all the people said to Samuel: ‘Pray for thy servants to the Lord thy God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for a king.’" For they were terrified by the voices of thunder and the flashes of lightning, and although they were sinners, still, as faithful ones, they asked for the intercession of the holy prophet – not like these half-faithful of ours, who, as soon as they hear thunder, or when there is a breath of light wind, say ‘a gale is raised’ and curse, saying, ‘Cursed be the tongue that did these things, and may it be dried up and now be cut off.’ Pray tell, whom are you cursing? A righteous man or a sinner? For a sinner, partly unbelieving like you, cannot raise a gale, as you put it, because he is not able to by his own strength, nor can he command evil angels (nor do evil angels even have power in these matters). He has not beseeched the Lord in order that he might obtain this power by praying, because even these people whom you deem ‘storm-makers’ assume, like yourselves, that these things are done by evil tricks, not by the will of God. Nevertheless, even if they were to ask this of the Lord God, they do not deserve to receive it, because even if the people asking something of the Lord in such matters were among the righteous, not the unrighteous, still they would be asking faithlessly and with a duplicitous mind, not in the sureness of faith.

XII

Furthermore, at that time, when there was a drought in the land of Israel because of the prayer of Elijah, pasturage was even denied to the livestock; for it is written (3 Kings (=1 Kings) 18:5): "Ahab said to Adias, ‘Go into the land unto all the fountains of waters, and into all valleys, to see if we can find grass, and save the horses and mules, that the beasts may not utterly perish.’" See how, being desperate for rain, as it appears, because there was none except according to the word of Elijah, they sought grass for the cattle near the springs and rivers of waters, for now they realized that what Elijah had said to Ahab himself was true (3 Kings (=1 Kings) 17:1): "as the Lord liveth the God of Israel, in Whose sight I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to the words of my mouth." And indeed, Elijah told how many years there would be. Therefore, why didn’t Ahab, as I have said, ask some storm-makers to raise storms and, as you put it, ‘risen gales’, since with the land watered by these, he would have been able to have grass for his horses and mules and other livestock about which he was so worried (especially since he was not afraid of losing the crops in the fields and the vineyards, which did not exist at that time)?

XIII

In our own time, too, we sometimes see, after the crops and vintage have been gathered, that the farmers are unable to sow on account of drought. Why don’t you arrange with your storm-makers that they send ‘risen gales’ which would water the earth, and afterwards you would be able to sow?

But since you have not done this, nor have you seen or heard of anyone doing this, listen now to what God Himself, the Creator of all things, the Ruler, the Sovereign, the Arranger and Dispenser, would say among other things concerning matters of this sort to his blessed servant Job. For when the devil, inventor of evil, prince and chief of all evils, accuser of brothers, had accused the blessed Job before God, saying that Job did not serve God with the correct intention (that is, the intention of pleasing God alone and rejoicing in Him), but for the increase and protection of his earthly possessions, and had asked to tempt Job, in order that he might truly show how vile, proud and extremely stupid he was in thus tempting, as if he might know the mind of the man of God better than his Creator, then the Lord, both just and compassionate (just in his confounding the devil, compassionate in exalting his faithful servant) conceded this power to the devil – first the power against Job’s belongings, then indeed against his sons, and after that even against the health of his body, and then against the support of his wife, and at the very end in the reproaches and manifold contempt of his companions. But the devil drew back vanquished and confused, for the servant of God rose up victorious and triumphant.

Therefore, according to what the apostle says concerning himself, the holy Lord wanted him to be humble, lest the magnitude of his revelations raise him up and lest the magnitude of his victory make him exalted (cf. Corinthians 12: 7) -– to be humbled not by the removal of the things that he had lost, not by the attacks on his body, by which he has already been tried like the gold in the furnace, not by comparison with some great man, because there was no one like him on the earth, not even anyone who was mighty among the men of the Orient -– but He begins to humble him vigorously, sublimely showing him the immensity of His power, so that His faithful servant might despise himself on recognizing the ineffable greatness of the inestimable and unbounded Creator, and in despising himself, sink down – and thus it happened. For this appears in his words, where he says (Job 42:6): "Therefore I reprehend myself, and do penance in dust and ashes," which another translator declares more openly, saying "I have despised myself, and melted away and valued myself as dust and ashes."

During this humbling, when omnipotent God questions his faithful servant, he asks whether Job is able to do this deed or that, or knows who can do them, and where he was when they were done, speaking indeed with reference to such things that no one except the Almighty alone can do. And He says (Job 38:4-8): "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth," and "who hath laid the measurements thereof," and "upon what are its bases grounded? … Who shut up the sea with doors?" and (Job 38:31-35): "Shalt thou be able to join together the shining stars, the Pleaides or canst thou stop the turning about of Arcturus?" and "Dost thou know the order of heaven?" and "Canst thou send the lightnings, and will they go?" and more of this sort. Among such great and so many deeds, as I say, He also asks of Job (Job 38:22-30): "Hast thou entered into the storeouses of the snow, or hast thou beheld the treasures of the hail: which I have prepared for the time of the enemy, against the day of battle and war? By what way is the light spread, and heat divided upon the earth? Who gave a course to violent showers, or a way for noisy thunder: that it should rain on the earth without man in the wilderness, where no mortal dwelleth: that it should fill the desert and desolate land, and should bring forth green grass? Who is the father of rain? Or who begot the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice; and the frost from heaven who hath generated it? The waters are hardened like a stone, and the surface of the deep is congealed."

XIV

Therefore, behold the great works of God, works whose arrangement even the blessed Job himself in earlier times had not been able to marvel at so sublimely and so subtly. If the Lord has the treasury of hail, and He alone can look on the things that not even the blessed Job had looked on, then where would these storm-makers find the things what blessed Job did not find, and which we cannot find or even imagine where they might be found.

The Lord asks his faithful servant whether he knows who has given ‘a course to violent showers, and a way for noisy thunder’. But the people against whom this discourse is directed show us weaklings, strangers to holiness, justice and wisdom, bereft of faith and truth, hated by their neighbors; weaklings who they say are able to produce the most violent rainstorms, and rumbling thunder, and ‘risen gales’.

The Lord says that He prepared these things for the time of the enemy, that is, for vengeance. But these people say that the very enemies themselves and adversaries of equity (against whom as much vengeance as possible must be taken, after those who shift boundaries, who carry of fthe widow’s cow as a pledge, who crush the strength of orphans, who send men without wealth forth unclothed, who drive the needy from their homes, who cause men grief) possess the power of doing those things that the Lord prepared for defence against His enemies.

The Lord calls Himself the father of rain, and affirms that He produces ice from the sky. But these people say that the most wretched of men possess a great portion of His dispensation. The Lord presents it to us as something to be marveled at, that water is hardened to the likeness of stone. If this could sometimes be done at the will of these most wretched men, it certainly would not be anything to marvel at.

XV

This stupidity is not the smallest part of their unbelief, and it has already ripened into such an evil that in many places there are wretched men who say that indeed they do not know how to send storms, but that they do, however, know how to guard against them. The inhabitants of a place have an agreement with these men as to how much of their crop they will give, and they call this ‘tribute’. And yet there are many who never willingly give their tithe to the priests, and do not contribute alms for widows and orphans and other needy people. These duties are often preached to them, and repeatedly read out; they are constantly exhorted to do them, and yet they do not agree. But they willingly pay out this ‘tribute’, as they call it, to their defenders (by whom they believe that they are defended from storms) with no preaching, no warnings or exhortation, but with the devil seducng them.

Finally, they place the hope of their life to a great extent in such people, as if they were alive thanks to them. This is not a part, but well nigh the fullness of unbelief, and if we consider closely, we would announce without uncertainty, that this is the fullness of unbelief. For there are three virtues, according to Holy Scripture, in which all religion is contained and through which God is worshipped; that is, faith, hope and charity. Therefore, whoever has divided his faith and hope so that he believes partly in God, and partly that what is of God is of men, and trusts partly in God, but partly in men – God certainly does not accept his divided faith and hope, and for this reason he cannot be numbered among the faithful. Without a doubt the abyss of unbelief swallows up the man whose divided faith and hope separates him from the number of the faithful, and such a one deservedly incurs the curse of the prophet saying (Jeremiah 17:5): "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man," nor indeed may he console himself by saying, ‘I trust more in God than in man,’ because hope cannot be divided into parts. For either it is whole and secure, or it is insecure and nothing.

XVI

A certain stupidity was spread a few years ago, when some cattle died, so that people said that Grimaldus, the Duke of Benevento, had sent men with powder that they sprinkled through the fields and mountains, meadows and springs – because he was hostile to the most Christian Emperor Charles, and cattle died from this sprinkled powder. We have heard of, and seen, many men seized for this reason, some of them struck down and slain, but most of them tied to boards, thrown into the river, and killed. And, what is truly amazing, the very ones who were seized would give evidence against themselves, saying that they had such a powder and they had sprinkled it. For thus the devil, when his power was received into them by the secret and righteous justice of God, was able to enter them to such an extent that they became false witnesses against themselves to the point of death. And neither instruction nor torture nor death itself deterred them from daring to speak this falsehood against themselves.

This was believed by everyone, so that there was scarcely anyone to whom it seemed absurd. They did not consider rationally, how such a powder that would kill only the cattle and not the rest of the animals could have been made, or how such stuff could have been carried across regions so broad that people could not have sprinkled them with powder, not even if all the Beneventan men and women, old and young, had come through the region with three full carts of powder.

So much stupidity has already oppressed the wretched world that Christians now believe things so absurd that no one ever before could persuade the pagans to believe them, even though these pagans were ignorant of the Creator of all things. On this account, therefore, we have brought this last incident into the midst to our discourse, because it is similar to the topic on which we are speaking and can give an example of inane seduction and true impoverishment of sense.


Source.

Translated by W. J. Lewis (aided by the helpful comments and suggestions of S. Barney) from the Latin text in p. 3-15 of: Agobardi Lugdunensis Opera Omnia, edidit L. Van Acker. Turnholt: Brepols, 1981 (Corpus Christianorum. Continuatio Mediaevalis, 52); Biblical quotations are translated following the Douai translation of the Vulgate with adjustments as necessary.

© W. J. Lewis, 2001. The text may be used for non-commercial educational purposes, including use course packets. Further publication in other forms (including by university presses) requires permission. Do not reproduce this text on other websites.

Notes:

NOTE: Selected passages of this work have also been translated by P. E. Dutton in: Carolingian civilization: a reader (Peterborough, Canada: Broadview Press, 1993). Dutton also provides a discussion of this text as it relates to medieval concepts of weather in "Thunder and hail over the Carolingian countryside", found in: Agriculture in the Middle Ages, ed. D. Sweeney (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1995)


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© Paul Halsall, February 21, 2001
halsall@fordham.edu