Of a Hermit who fought to know whom he should have for his companion in Paradise, and of the leap made by King Richard of England.

September 8, 2016

One day Count Lucanor having called Patronio, said to him, “Patronio, I have great faith in your understanding, and believe that in any matter which you could not comprehend or give advice about no other man could succeed; I beg therefore that you will advise me as best you can on that which I am now going to tell you.”

Count Lucanor and Patronio“You know very well that I am no longer young and that I have been engaged all my life in one war or another; sometimes against the Christians, at other times the Moors, or kings to whom I owe allegiance, and again, with my more powerful neighbors. Now, whenever I chanced to be engaged against the Christians I always carefully avoided, as far as possible, being the aggressor; nevertheless, it was difficult to act without sometimes inflicting serious damage on many who did not deserve it. Now, for these and the other sins which I have committed, I know I shall one day have to answer; and as death is certain, and at my age cannot be very far distant, I desire, while I have yet time, to obliterate by good works and deeds of penance my numerous offences, so that, when I appear in the presence of God, I may be worthy of His mercy and a place in Paradise. I pray you, Patronio, as you know how I have hitherto lived, to counsel me now how to act, so as to make reparation for past errors, and attain the happy end I so ardently desire.”

“My lord,” said Patronio, “I am much pleased at all you have just told me, particularly for the permission you have given me to advise you concerning your present state of life; had I less confidence in your friendship I might think you merely sought to prove me as the king did his favorite, the history of which I related to you the other day. But I am most pleased to see you really desire to make reparation for the sins you have committed against God, without however renouncing your duties or sacrificing your honor; for certainly, were you to retire from the world and become a monk, you would be guilty of one or both of the above-named faults.

“Firstly, people would say that you were deficient in judgment or courage to be contented merely to live useless amongst the good men of this century; and secondly, it would surprise me very much if you could endure the continued asperities of a monkish life, which, if you were afterwards to forsake or continue to live therein, careless of fulfilling or forgetful of the duties of your state, it would be a very serious injury to your soul, a dishonor to your name, and a blot on your reputation.

Inferno

“But since you have formed the good resolution to save your soul, permit me to recount to you what God revealed to a very holy hermit, as also what happened to him and King Richard of England.”

“I pray you,” replied the Count, “to inform me of these particulars.”

“My lord,” said Patronio, “there was a hermit who led a very good life, and who labored much, enduring many hardships for the glory of God, insomuch that God in His great mercy and grace promised him that he should be admitted to the glory of Paradise.

“The hermit thanked God very sincerely and on this point was well satisfied, but prayed that yet another favor might be granted him, which was that he might see who was to be his companion in Paradise. The Lord made known to him by an angel that he ought not to ask these questions; but so earnest were his prayers, that God thought well to send one of his heavenly spirit’s a second time to inform him that he should have Richard, King of England, for his companion in Paradise.

“Although this revelation pleased the hermit, yet it very much astonished him, for he knew King Richard, and also that he was a great warrior, causing the death of many innocent people, and pillaging towns and driving the inhabitants into exile; now that this man was to be his companion in Paradise, having always led a life so contrary to his, appeared passing strange, as he had always thought King Richard very far removed from the road to salvation.

“The Lord seeing his little faith, again sent an angel to tell him not to doubt, but to believe implicitly that which had been revealed to him.

“ ‘Know you not,’ said the angel, ‘that King Richard has done no less service to God than yourself, and equally merits Paradise in reward for his leap, as you do for all the good works performed during your life.’ Now this information only increased the astonishment of the hermit, who wondered what this could be.

Richard Çœur de Lion having the Saracens beheaded.

Richard Çœur de Lion having the Saracens beheaded.

“The angel replied thus, ‘The Kings of France, of Navarre, and of England joined in the crusade beyond seas; when they arrived at the port they saw, as they prepared to land, so large a multitude of Moors on the coast that they feared being able to disembark. It was then that the King of France sent to the King of England who was already on horseback. On hearing what the envoy had to say, and that the King of France desired his presence on board his ship to counsel together as to what was best to be done, he replied, That for his part his resolution was taken, come what might; feeling very sensible that he had often failed in the due performance of his duty to God, and had committed many sins in this world, nevertheless he had always prayed for forgiveness and that an opportunity might be granted him during his life to make amends; now he praised God, for he saw the way he had long hoped for, since, if he was killed, being truly penitent, he felt certain that for what he was about to do God would pardon his manifold sins; and if, on the contrary, the Moors were conquered, it would be rendering a great service to God; so that, come what would, all was for the best.

“ ‘And, having said this, he commended his body and soul to God, and praying for His holy protection, made the sign of the Cross, and ordering his soldiers to follow him, stuck his spurs into his horse and jumped into the sea facing the coast where the Moors were assembled; this being near the port, the sea was very deep, yet the king and his horse did not disappear.

“ ‘But God, as a merciful Lord and full of power, remembering what He had said in the Gospel, “That He did not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live,” helped the King of England, and saved him from the death of this world, so that he escaped the perils of the sea. The English, seeing this brave act of their king, followed him into the water and joined him in battle against the Moors.

“ ‘When the Navarrais and French saw this they felt ashamed to remain on board their ships, and, not being accustomed to endure disgrace, jumped also into the sea and joined in the conflict. The Moors seeing them approach, and admiring this brave contempt of danger, durst not wait for them, but abandoned the port and fled towards the country, but many were overtaken and killed. The Christians were very prosperous and gained much glory for God, all of which resulted from the brave leap made by King Richard of England!’

A bronze sculpture of Richard the Lionheart, outside the Houses of Parliament in London, England.

A bronze sculpture of Richard the Lionheart, outside the Houses of Parliament in London, England.

“When the hermit heard this he was well pleased, and saw how that God favored him in permitting him to be the companion in Paradise of a man who had done so well in the service of God and in exalting the Catholic Faith.

“And you, Count Lucanor, if you wish to serve God and obtain forgiveness of your sins, try, before you leave this earth, to make amends for the wrongs which you have done to others, be penitent for your sins without taking thought for the things of this world, which are but vanity. Take no heed of those who may say your acts are but to obtain worldly credit, nor of those who would engage you in unworthy enterprises to gratify your self-love, by which much evil is committed; for, after all, what is ambition? Far from following such a course, full of peril, direct your energies so that you may merit eternal life, and as it has pleased God to place you in a country where you can fight against the Moors, both by sea and land, so also let all you efforts be directed to the service of your country, being sure that, having made amends to God for the sins you have committed, and being truly penitent, you will undoubtedly receive the reward for the good which you have done and will do, together with complete forgiveness, so that you can rest satisfied in the service of God even to the end of your days. This, I think, is the best plan you can adopt for the salvation of your soul and the preservation of your estates and honor; and should you be slain while in the service of God, your death will be that of a martyr: also, should you die when in the enjoyment of peace, you will be blessed for the good works you have done; nor could any man speak ill of you, for all would know that you have done everything required of an honorable knight and a faithful servant of God, and that you had ceased to be a slave of the devil, abstaining from all the vanities of this world, which are so deceitful.

“And now, Count Lucanor, I have given you my advice as you have demanded, and have instructed you how to save your soul in your present state of life; hold fast your good resolutions, and you will resemble King Richard of England in the leap which he made.”

Confession. Painting by Egbert Van Heemskerck the Younger.

Confession. Painting by Egbert Van Heemskerck the Younger.

And the Count was well pleased with the counsels which Patronio gave him, and prayed that an opportunity might be granted him in like manner to serve God as he desired in his heart.

And Don Juan saw that this example was very good, and ordered it to be written in this book, and composed the following lines: —

So shall a man reach, by a leap, to heaven,

Obeying trustfully the laws that God hath given.

 

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NOTES.

The wild project of Peter the Hermit, which roused all Europe to arms in the 11th century, has been a fruitful source of laudatory prose and verse even to the present day; nor has it, as we see, escaped the versatile genius of our author, Don Manuel, who, in this chapter, has not only illustrated the heroism and self-devotion of the age, but has also depicted the Pharisaism of the hermit, recalling to our minds also, in the record of the heroic leap of Richard Cœur de Lion, the parable of Jesus, wherein the householder rewards the workman of the eleventh hour, saying to him who murmured, “Take that thine is, and go thy way; I will give unto this last even as unto thee.”

Prince Don Juan Manuel, Count Lucanor: of the Fifty Pleasant Stories of Patronio, trans. James York (London: Gibbings & Company, Limited, 1899).

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 541

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