Thus talked that wretch in despair, and dying soon after, he is now in vain suffering in eternal torments that penance which he refused to suffer during a short time, that he might obtain forgiveness. Of whom it is manifest, that (as the holy Pope Gregory writes of certain persons) he did not see these things for his own sake, since they availed him only for the instruction of others, who, knowing of his death, should be afraid to put off the time of repentance, whilst they have leisure, lest being prevented by sudden death, they should depart impenitent. His having books laid before him by the good or evil spirits, was done by Divine dispensation, that we may keep in mind that our actions and thoughts are not lost in the wind, but are all kept to be examined by the Supreme Judge, and will in the end be shown us either by friendly or hostile angels. As to the angels first producing a white book, and then the devils a black one; the former a very small one, the latter one very large; it is to be observed, that in his first years he did some good actions, all which he nevertheless obscured by the evil actions of his youth. If, on the contrary, he had taken care in his youth to correct the errors of his more tender years, and to cancel them in God’s sight by doing well, he might have been associated to the number of those of whom the Psalm says, “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are hid.” This story, as I learned it of the venerable Bishop Pechthelm, I thought proper to relate in a plain manner, for the salvation of my hearers.
CHAP XIV. —
OF ANOTHER, WHO BEING AT THE POINT OF DEATH, SAW THE PLACE OF PUNISHMENT APPOINTED FOR HIM IN HELL.
Of another vision. 704-9.
I KNEW a brother myself, would to God I had not known him, whose name I could mention if it were necessary, and who resided in a noble monastery, but lived himself ignobly. He was frequently reproved by the brethren and elders of the place, and admonished to adopt a more regular life; and though he would not give ear to them, he was long patiently borne with by them, on account of his usefulness in temporal works, for he was an excellent carpenter; he was much addicted to drunkenness, and other pleasures of a lawless life, and more used to stop in his workhouse day and night, than to go to church to sing and pray, and hear the word of life with the brethren. For which reason it happened to him according to the saying, that he who will not willingly and humbly enter the door of the church will certainly be damned, and enter the gate of hell against his will. For he falling sick, and being reduced to extremity, called the brethren, and with much lamentation, and like one damned, began to tell them, that he saw hell open, and Satan at the bottom thereof; as also Caiaphas, with the others that slew our Lord, by him delivered up to avenging flames. “In whose neighbourhood,” said he, “I see a place of eternal perdition provided for me, miserable wretch.” The brothers, hearing these words, began seriously to exhort him, that he should repent even then whilst he was in the flesh. He answered in despair, “I have no time now to change my course of life, when I have myself seen my judgment passed.”
Whilst uttering these words, he died without having received the saving viaticum, and his body was buried in the remotest parts of the monastery, nor did any one dare either to say masses or sing psalms, or even to pray for him. How far has our Lord divided the light from darkness! The blessed martyr, Stephen, being about to suffer death for the truth, saw the heavens open, the glory of God revealed, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And where he was to be after death, there he fixed the eyes of his mind, that he might die with the more satisfaction. On the contrary, this carpenter, of a dark mind and actions, when death was at hand, saw hell open and witnessed the damnation of the Devil and his followers; the unhappy wretch also saw his own prison among them, to the end that, despairing of his salvation, he might die the more miserably; but might by his perdition afford cause of salvation to the living who should hear of it. This happened lately in the province of the Bernicians, and being reported abroad far and near, inclined many to do penance for their sins without delay, which we hope may also be the result of this our narrative.
CHAP XV. —
SEVERAL CHURCHES OF THE SCOTS, AT THE INSTANCE OF ADAMNAN, CONFORMED TO THE CATHOLIC EASTER; THE SAME PERSON WROTE A BOOK ABOUT THE HOLY PLACES.
AT this time a great part of the Scots in Ireland, and some also of the Britons in Britain, through the goodness of God, conformed to the proper and ecclesiastical time of keeping Easter. Adamnan, priest and abbot of the monks that were in the isle of Hii, was sent ambassador by his nation to Alfrid, king of the English, where he made some stay, observing the canonical rites of the church, and was earnestly admonished by many, who were more learned than himself, not to presume to live contrary to the universal custom of the Church, either in relation to the observance of Easter, or any other decrees whatsoever, considering the small number of his followers, seated in so distant a corner of the world; in consequence of this he changed his mind, and readily preferred those things which he had seen and heard in the English churches, to the customs which he and his people had hitherto followed. For he was a good and wise man, and remarkably learned in Holy Scripture. Returning home, he endeavoured to bring his own people