An 11th-Century Catholic Reformer on a Cleric at the King’s Court


He is Saint Peter Damian.  He was no court evangelical.

Here is a passage from C. Stephen Jaeger’s The Origins of Courtliness: Civilizing Trends and the Formation of Courtly Ideals, 939-1210:

To illustrate that no sin goes unpunished, the church reformer Petrus Damiani tells the following story.  A cleric of the church of Cologne is fording a river, when suddenly a man appears next to him, takes hold of the reins of his horse, and stops him.  It is Saint Severin, once archbishop of Cologne, now a spirit wandering the earth.  The cleric, struck dumb by the apparition, recovers sufficiently, to ask what so famous a man is doing in this sorry place. “Take my hand,” the saint replies, “and you will learn my story by feeling rather than by hearing.  They clasp hands and proceed.  But the cleric at once notices that the saint’s hand is hot. The heat increases and becomes so intense that the flesh begins to melt away. Soon the cleric holds in his hand only bare bones with small pieces of flesh clinging to them. “Why is so terrible an affliction visited on a man so revered by the church?” he asks.  The saint replies that only one thing was found punishable in him: that as a cleric at the king’s court, he took so keen an interest in the affairs of state that he neglected chanting the liturgy at the prescribed hours.  For this sin he now suffers, and he begs the cleric and his fellows to pray for him so that he can be redeemed and enter heaven.