Guibert de Nogent

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(c. 1107-8)

Benedictine historian.

Dei gesta per Francos (The Deeds of God through the Franks).

Latin.


When the hermit, like a herald, went everywhere before him, Mahomet was believed by everyone to be a prophet. When far and wide, in the opinion of everyone, his growing reputation shone, and he saw that people in the surrounding as well as in distant lands were inclining towards his teachings, after consulting with his teacher, he wrote a law, in which he loosened the reins of every vice for his followers, in order to attract more of them. By doing this he gathered a huge mob of people, and the better to deceive their uncertain minds with the pretext of religion, he ordered them to fast for three days, and to offer earnest prayers for God to grant a law. He also gives them a sign, because, should it please God to give them law, he will grant it in an unusual manner, from an unexpected hand. Meanwhile, he had a cow, whom he himself had trained to follow him, so that whenever she heard his voice or saw him, almost no force could prevent her from rushing to him with unbearable eagerness. He tied the book he had written to the horns of the animal, and hid her in the tent in which he himself lived. On the third day he climbed a high platform above all the people he had called together, and began to declaim to the people in a booming voice. When, as I just said, the sound of his words reached the cow's ears, she immediately ran from the tent, which was nearby, and, with the book fastened on her horns, made her way eagerly through the middle of the assembled people to the feet of the speaker, as though to congratulate him. Everyone was amazed, and the book was quickly removed and read to the breathless people, who happily accepted the licence permitted by its foul law. What more? The miracle of the offered book was greeted with applause over and over again. As though sent from the sky, the new license for random copulation was propagated everywhere, and the more the supply of permitted filth increased, the more the grace of a God who permitted more lenient times, without any mention of turpitude, was preached. All of Christian morality was condemned by a thousand reproofs, and whatever examples of goodness and strength the Gospel offered were called cruel and harsh. But what the cow had delivered was considered universal liberty, the only one recommended by God. Neither the antiquity of Moses nor the more recent Catholic teachings had any authority. Everything which had existed before the law, under the law, under grace, was marked as implacably wrong. If I may make inappropriate use of what the Psalmist sings, "God did not treat other nations in this fashion, and he never showed his judgements to any other people." The greater opportunity to fulfil lust, and, going beyond the appetites of beasts, by resorting to multiple whores, was cloaked by the excuse of procreating children. However, while the flow of nature was unrestrained in these normal acts, at the same time they engaged in abnormal acts, which we should not even name, and which were unknown even to the animals. At the time, the obscurity of this nefarious sect first covered the name of Christ, but now it has wiped out his name from the furthest corners of the entire East, from Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, and even the more remote coasts of Spain - a country near us. But now to describe how this marvellous law-giver made his exit from our midst.

...

If Christ had not died and been buried in Jerusalem, had not lived there at all, if all these things had not taken place, surely this fact alone should be enough to drive you to come to the aid of the land and the city: that the law came from Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem. If all Christian preaching flows from the fountain of Jerusalem, then let the rivulets, wherever they flow over the face of the earth, flow into the hearts of the Catholic multitude, so that they may heed of what they owe to this overflowing fountain. If "rivers return to the place whence they flow, so that they may continue to flow," according to the saying of Solomon, it should seem glorious to you if you are able to purify the place whence you received the cleansing of baptism and the proof of faith. And you should also consider with the utmost care whether God is working through your efforts to restore the church that is the mother of churches; he might wish to restore the faith in some of the eastern lands, in spite of the nearness of the time of the Antichrist. For it is clear that the Antichrist makes war neither against Jews, nor against pagans, but, according to the etymology of his name, he will move against Christians. And if the Antichrist comes upon no Christian there, as today there is scarcely any, there will be no one to resist him, or any whom he might justly move among. According to Daniel and Jerome his interpreter, his tent will be fixed on the Mount of Olives, and he will certainly take his seat, as the Apostle teaches, in Jerusalem, "in the temple of God, as though he were God, " and, according to the prophet, he will undoubtedly kill three kings pre-eminent for their faith in Christ, that is, the kings of Egypt, of Africa, and of Ethiopia. This cannot happen at all, unless Christianity is established where paganism now rules. Therefore if you are eager to carry out pious battles, and since you have accepted the seedbed of the knowledge of God from Jerusalem, then you may restore the grace that was borrowed there. Thus through you the name of Catholicism will be propagated, and it will defeat the perfidy of the Antichrist and of the Antichristians. Who can doubt that God, who surpasses every hope by means of his overflowing strength, may so destroy the reeds of paganism with your spark that he may gather Egypt, Africa and Ethiopia, which no longer share our belief, into the rules of his law, and "sinful man, the son of perdition," will find others resisting him? See how the Gospel cries out that "Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the time of the nations will be fulfilled." "The time of nations" may be understood in two ways: either that they ruled at will over the Christians, and for their own pleasures have wallowed in the troughs of every kind of filth, and in all of these things have found no obstruction (for "to have one's time" means that everything goes according to one's wishes, as in "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready," and one customarily says to voluptuaries, "You have your time;") or else the "time of nations" means the multitudes of nations who, before Israel is saved, will join the faith. These times, dearest brothers, perhaps will now be fulfilled, when, with the aid of God, the power of the pagans will be pushed back by you, and, with the end of the world already near, even if the nations do not turn to the Lord, because, as the Apostle says, "there must be a falling away from faith."

...

But the prince of Babylon, less concerned with the loss of Jerusalem than with the proximity of the Frankish settlement, set out to launch a heavy offensive against the new king, often striving to attack the port city of Acre. Count Robert of Normandy had besieged Acre when the army of the Lord was advancing to besiege Jerusalem, but duke Godfrey had brought him away, in expectation of a more successful undertaking. The Babylonian then gathered a vast army and challenged the Christian king to battle. He gathered his small band, to whom the Lord said, "Fear not," and, setting his troops in order as well as he could, he attacked the impious ones. Killing them swiftly, like brute beasts, he scattered them, like a hurricane driving dust. A second time he sent his 9000 knights forward, supported by 20,000 Ethiopian common foot-soldiers. The pious king assembled against him scarcely 1000 knights and foot-soldiers, forming seven battalions out of them, and he sent them with great confidence directly at the thickest ranks of the enemy. When the prince saw far off a pagan knight, he rushed at him with such force that he drove his spear, together with its standard, into the man's breast, and when he pulled the spear from the wound, the standard remained in the man's breast. Frightened by the courage of the prince and his men, the enemy retreated at first, but their courage returned, because of the strength of their numbers, and they united to attack our men, compelling them to think of fleeing. They said that this misfortune had happened to them because, in their foolishness, they had not brought the cross of the Lord to this battle. They said that, guided by a Syrian or some Armenian, they found this cross, which, like the Lance, had lain buried somewhere. They drew a lesson from this incident, which was more blemish of a victory in the process of being won than defeat, and when the army of the Babylonian prince, as strong as the previous one, came forward to fight for the third time, the splendid king, together with what forces he could gather, deriving his confidence from God, went up against them. After he had drawn up his troops as well as he could, the clash of men was so great that, although the armies were unequal, both sides suffered severe losses, as 6000 pagan soldiers, and 100 Christians, lay dead. And because they had no prideful concern for banners with eagles and dragons, they raised aloft the sign of the humiliating Crucifixion, the Cross, and as praiseworthy conquerors drove their enemies to flight.


Selected edition

Guibert of Nogent, The Deeds of God through the Franks, trans. R. Levine (Suffolk, 1997).