Golden Legend – Saint Arsenius

[Saint Arsenius icon]Article

Here followeth of Saint Arsenius.

When Arsenius was yet master in the palace of a prince, he prayed unto God that he would address him unto the way of health, so that in a time he heard a voice that said to him: Arsenius, flee the company of men and thou shalt be saved. Then he went and took upon him the life of a monk, and as he prayed there, he heard a voice saying: Arsenius, flee hence, speak not and rest thee. It is read in the same place as to coveting this rest, that there were three monks new made, and the first of them chose for to bring men that were at debate and in discord to rest and peace, the second for to visit sick men, and the third for to rest in wilderness and in desert. The first man, that laboured to set them at accord that were at debate, could not please all men, and was weary and grieved and half overcome, and he came to the second and found him all mat and failing for weariness, and might not perform that he had emprised, and then by assent they two came to the third that was in desert, and when they had told their tribulations to him he put water in a cup and said: Look, and behold this water, and they saw that it was thick and troubled, and soon after he said: See it now, how it is now fair and clear. And when they looked therein they saw their visages therein, and then he said: Whosomever dwelleth among the men, he may not, for the multitude of people see his sins, but when he resteth, then he may see his sins.

And on a time there was a man found another in desert eating herbs and grass, all naked as a beast, and he ran after him, and that other fled, and he that followed said: Abide and tarry, for I follow thee for the love of God, and that other said: I flee from thee for God’s sake, and that other cast away his mantle from him, and then he tarried and said: Because thou hast thrown the matter of the world from thee I have abiden thee. And then he asked of him: How shall I be saved? And he answered and said: Flee from the company of men, and say nothing.

There was a noble lady, which was old, came for to see the abbot Arsenius by devotion, and Theophilus the archbishop prayed him that he would suffer that she might see him, but he would not grant him in no wise. And at the last she went into his cell, and found him without tofore his door, and she fell down to his feet, and he took her up with great indignation, saying to her: If thou wilt see my face, see, and she for great shame and confusion considered not his visage. To whom he said: How durst thou presume upon thee that art a woman to make such a voyage? Thou shalt now go to Rome and say to other women that thou hast seen Arsenius, and they shall also come for to see me. And she said to him: If God will that I return to Rome I shall never stir woman to come to thee, but only I pray thee that thou pray for me and always remember me. And he said to her: I pray to God that he put out of my heart the remembrance of thee. And when she heard that, she was much angry, and came into the city and began to tremble and shake for sorrow in the fevers or axes; and when the archbishop knew it, he went for to comfort her, and she said: I die for sorrow and heaviness, and the archbishop said to her: Knowest thou not that thou art a woman, and the fiend overcometh holy men ofttimes by women, and therefore the old man said to thee those words, howbeit he prayed always for thy soul? And then the woman was comforted and was all whole, and returned home to her own house.

Also it is read of another old father, that when his disciple said to him: Thou art waxen all old, father, let us now go dwell near to the world, and he said: Let us go thither whereas no woman is, and his disciple said: Where is any place but that women be therein, save in desert? To whom he said: Then bring me into that desert. There was another brother which, when he bare his mother over the water, he wound his hands in his mantle, to whom she said: Wherefore hast thou covered thy hands so, my son? To whom he answered: The body of a woman is as fire that burneth, and because the mind of other women should not come in my remembrance, therefore I do it. And Arsenius all the days of his life, when he sat at the work of his hands, he had a linen cloth in his bosom for to dry the tears with, that ran fast from his eyes, and all the night he would not sleep, and in the morning, when he must sleep for weariness of nature, he would say to sleep: Come, wicked servant, and then would take a little sleep sitting, and would arise anon, and said: It sufficeth to a monk if he sleep an hour, if he be a fighter against vices.

When the father of Saint Arsenius, which was a great senator and a right noble man, should finish his life, he left to Arsenius by his testament much heritage, and one, Magistrianus, brought unto him the said testament, and when he had received it he would have broken it. Then Magistrianus fell down at his feet praying him that he would not do so, for his head then should he lose, for it should be smitten off. To whom Arsenius said: I was dead tofore him, he therefore that is but now dead, how may he make me his heir? And sent again the testament, and would nothing have. On a time there was a voice came to him and said: Come, and I shall show to thee the works of the men, and led him into a certain place and showed to him a man of Ethiopia, that is a black man, that hewed wood and made a great fardel, so great that he might not bear it, and always he hewed and put to the fardel, and thus he did long, and after he showed to him a man that drew water out of a lake and cast it into a cistern pierced, by which the water ran again into the lake, and he would fill the cistern and might not. And after, he showed to him a temple and a man on horseback which bare a long tree athwart, and would enter into the temple, and he might not because the tree lay athwart. Then he expounded him this thing, and said: He that beareth the tree is like the burden of justice with pride, and will not meek him, therefore he abideth without the realm of heaven. And he that heweth the wood is like a man that is in sin, and putteth none away by penance, but putteth always wickedness to wickedness. And he that draweth the water is a man that doeth good works here in this present world, but because that his evil works be meddled with them, he loseth his good works. And when the evensong time of the Saturday came, on the Sunday, he left all his works behind him, and held up his hands to heaven till the sun arose in the morning of the Sunday tofore his face, and so abode all the night in prayers and in orisons. And hæc in Vitis Patrum.