St. Gregory the Great’s Bath-house Ghost

Okay, one more story from a Church Father before the weekend. This is one of the more famous tales, and it comes from Pope St. Gregory the Great’s marvelously entertaining grab bag of useful stuff, the Dialogues.

This is an example of the way the Church used ghost stories to prove the benefit of the mass and the reality of purgatory. Enjoy, and have a pleasant weekend free of spectres and spooks.

Bishop Felix…said that he had been told of such a case by a saintly priest who was still living two years ago in the diocese of Centum Cellae as pastor of the Church of St. John in Tauriana. This priest used to bathe in the hot springs of Tauriana whenever his health required. One day, as he entered the baths, he found a stranger there who showed himself most helpful in every way possible, by unlatching his shoes, taking care of his clothes, and furnishing him towels after the hot bath.

The Mass of St Gregory, by Robert Campin, 15th century

The Mass of St Gregory, by Robert Campin, 15th century

After several experiences of this kind, to priest said the himself: ‘It would not do for me to appear ungrateful to this man who is so devoted in his kind services to me. I must reward him in some way.’ So one day he took along two crown-shaped loaves of bread to give him.

When he arrived at the place, the man was already waiting for him and rendered the same services he had before. After the bath, when the priest was again fully dressed and ready to leave, he offered the man the present of bread, asking him kindly to accept it as a blessing, for it was offered a token of charity.

But the man sighed mournfully and said, ‘Why do you give it to me, Father? That bread is holy and I cannot eat it. I who stand before you was once the owner of this place. It is because of my sins that I was sent back here as a servant. If you wish to do something for me, then offer this bread to almighty God, and so make intercession for me, a sinner. When you come back and do not find me here, you will know that your prayers have been heard.’

With these words he disappeared, thus showing that he was a spirit disguised as a man. The priest spent the entire week in prayer and tearful supplications, offering Mass for him daily. When he returned to the bath, the man was no longer to be found. This incident points out the great benefits souls derive from the Sacrifice of the Mass. Because of these benefits the dead ask us, the living, to have Masses offered for them, and even show us by signs that it was through the Mass that they were pardoned.

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Me, On the Radio

Yeah, I know: whoop-de-do. Anyway, I’m on Register Radio Talking about The Rule and St. Benedict’s Prep.

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St. Martin and the Thief’s Ghost

The main role of ghosts in the literature of the early church was to display the power of the saints. While Augustine was still alive, Sulpitius Severus wrote The Life of St. Martin, in which we find the following tale of Martin confronting and vanquishing the evil ghost of a thief who was being worshiped by mistake:

Not far from the town and very close to the monastery was a place [a village called Calitonnum] which enjoyed a certain sanctity because of the mistaken opinion that martyrs were buried there. Even an altar was maintained, erected there by former bishops.

Reliquary for the head of St. Martin

Reliquary for the head of St. Martin

But Martin was disinclined to believe what was uncertain. He kept asking those who were older, priests and clerics alike, to reveal the name of the martyr and the date of his martyrdom. He felt, he said, considerable scruple in the matter, since nothing certain had been handed down by any reliable report from his predecessors. He himself abstained from visiting the place for a while: he neither disparaged the cult, since his own position was uncertain, nor granted the populace the support of his authority, lest he fortify a superstition.

One day, taking a few of the brothers with him, he went to the place. He stood upon the tomb itself and prayed to the Lord to reveal who was buried there and what his merits were.

He then turned to the left and saw standing near him a grim, unclean spirit. He ordered him to speak out his name and his deserts. The spirit announced his name and confessed his criminal life: formerly a brigand, he had been executed for his crimes and was receiving veneration through the mistaken opinion of the populace; he had nothing in common with the martyrs—heavenly glory was their portion; punishment, his.

Strange wonder: those who were with Martin heard the voice, yet saw no one.

Martin then recounted what he had seen and ordered the altar which had been in that place to be removed. Thus he freed the people from the error of that superstition.

Augustine’s view of ghostly visions—both waking and oneiric—dominated discourse from the 4th century until about the 10th. The unseen world was divided between God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, angels and saints on the one side and Satan and demons on the other. Between the unseen and material worlds, there was little place for intermediary spirits or ghosts except for those doing work for God or the Devil.

Gradually, however, this bright line between this world and the next began to fade. Hagiography continued to depict saints vanquishing demons and evil spirits, and the niceties that vexed St. Augustine’s subtle mind were gradually cast aside. His concerns about the barrier between the living the dead, the nature of a being that could be perceived after death, the type of vision the witness used to see them: none of these could withstand the vigorous European culture that would see a flowering of creative forces in the Carolingian Renaissance.

“Down From Dover” [Dark Country: Songs For October]

Series introduction and other entries.

Dolly Parton: “Down From Dover”

The one and only Dolly, with one of her most poignant songs, about a woman left pregnant and abandoned by her lover. Controversial in its time, she later recut it for her bluegrass album Little Sparrow. The later version is superior and adds a verse, but I can’t find it to embed.