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Medieval Sourcebook:
Caesarius of Heisterbach:
The Eucharist as a Charm
(from Dialogus Miraculorum)


[Adapted from Coulton Introduction, p.58] Caesarius of Heisterbach was possibly born and certainly educated in Cologne. After some inward struggle he became a Cistercian monk at the monastery of Heisterbach, where he eventually became prior and Teacher of the Novices. It was for the novices that he wrote his Dialogus Miraculorum, one of the most intimate documents of the Middle Ages. This, some biographical and chronological treatises and some homelies were all apparently written between 1220 and 1235. The Dialogue was printed five times between 1475 and 1605. His faults are those of his time, but his earnestness and vividness are apparent also. Modern commentators have note, however, his credulousness. The citation here are to the volume and page numbers of Joseph Strange's critical edition (Cologne: 1851).

 

THE EUCHARIST AS A CHARM

(Caes. Heist. vol. II, p. 170-)

MONK: I THINK it is less than two years now since a certain priest who doubted of the Sacrament of Christ's Body celebrated mass in the town of Wildenburg. As he was reciting the canon of the mass, with some hesitation concerning so marvelous a conversion of bread into Christ's Body, the Lord showed him raw flesh in the host. This was seen also by Widekind, a noble standing behind his back, who drew the priest aside after mass and enquired diligently what he had done or thought during the canon; he, therefore, terrified both by the vision and by the question, confessed and denied not how at that hour he had doubted of the sacrament. And each told the other how he had seen raw flesh in the host. This same Widekind had to wife the daughter of Siegfried of Runkel, a niece of the abbess of Rheindorf, who told me this vision last year. Would you also know what the Lord shows to priests of evil life, for that He is crucified by them? ... A certain lecherous priest wooed a woman; and, unable to obtain her consent, he kept the most pure Body of the Lord in his mouth after mass, hoping that, if he thus kissed her, her will would be bent to his desire by the force of the Sacrament. But the Lord, (who complains through the mouth of the Prophet Zachariah, sayin "You crucify me daily, even the whole nation of you" [a misquote of Zach. 3:9] thus hindered his evildoing. When he would fain have gone forth from the church door, he seemed to himself to grow so huge that he struck his head against the ceiling of the sacred building. The wretched man was so startled that he drew the host from his mouth, and buried it, not knowing what he did, in a corner of the church [note: churches were commonly unpaved at this date]. But, fearing the swift vengeance of God, he confessed the sacrilege to a priest his familiar friend. So they went together to the place and threw back the dust, where they found not the appearance of bread, but the shape, though small, of a man hanging on the cross, fleshy and blood-stained. What was afterwards done with it or what the priest did, I forget, for it is long since this told me by Hermann our Cantor, to whom the story was well-known..

NOVICE. If all priests heard such stories, and believed in them, I think that they would honor Divine Sacraments more than they do now.

MONK: It is somewhat pitiful that we men, for whose salvation this sacrament was instituted, should be so lukewarm about it; while brute beasts, worms, and reptiles recognize in it their Creator... A certain woman kept many bees, which throve not but died in great numbers; and, as she sought everywhere for a remedy, it was told her that if she placed the Lord's Body among them, this plague would soon cease. She therefore went to church and, making as though she would communicate, took the Lord's Body, which she took from her mouth as soon as the priest had departed, and laid it in one of her hives. Mark the marvelous power of God! These little worms, recognizing the might of their Creator, built their sweetest Guest, out of their sweetest honeycombs, a chapel of marvelous workmanship, wherein they set up a tiny altar of the same material and laid thereon this most holy Body: and God blessed their labors. In process of time the woman opened this hive, and was aware of the aforesaid chapel whereupon she hastened and confessed to the priest all that she had done and seen. Then he took with him his parishioners and came to the hive, where they drove away the bees that hovered round and buzzed in Praise of their creator; and, marveling at the little chapel with its walls and windows, roof and tower, door and altar, they brought back the Lord's Body with praise and glory to the church. For though God be marvelous in the saints, yet these His smallest creatures preached Him yet more marvelously. Yet, lest any presume to do this again, I will tell you of a terrible thing which the mistress [of novices] at Sankt Nicolas Insel [a convent of nuns on an island in the river Moselle] told me last year. There was in that island a demoniac girl, a laywoman, whom I also have seen there. A certain priest inquired of the devil that was in her, why Hartdyfa of Cochem had been so cruelly tormented for so long a time; and the demon answered through the girl's mouth, "Why? she has well and abundently deserved it; for she sowed the most High on her cabbage beds." The priest understood not this saying, nor would n it further; he therefore sought out the woman Hartdyfa and told her of the devil's words, warning her not to deny if she understood them. She confessed her fault forthwith, saying, " I understand only too well; but I have never yet told it to any man. When I was young, and had got me a garden-plot to till, I took in a wandering woman one night as my guest: to whom when I complained of the ravage of my garden, telling how my cabbages were eaten up with caterpillars, she replied, 'I will teach thee a good remedy. Take thou the Lord's Body and crumble it up and sprinkle the crumbs over thy cabbages; so shall that plague cease forthwith.' I, wretched woman, caring more for my garden than for the Sacrament, having received the Lord's Body at Easter, took it from my mouth and used it as she had taught me, which did indeed turn to the comfort of my cabbages, but to mine own torment, as the devil has said."

NOVICE:. That woman was more cruel than Pilate's minions, who spared the dead Jesus and would not break His bones.

MONK:. Wherefore even to this day she is punished for that enormous fault, and her tortures are unheard-of. Let those who turn God's sacraments to temporal profit -or, more abominable still, to witchcraft-mark well this chastisement, even though they fear not the guilt.

From C.G. Coulton, ed, Life in the Middle Ages, (New York: Macmillan, c.1910), Vol 1, 70-72 [slightly modernized]


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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(c)Paul Halsall August 1996
halsall@murray.fordham.edu