Gildas (Breton: Gweltaz; c. – c. ) — also known as Gildas the Wise or Gildas Sapiens — was a 6th-century British monk best known for his scathing. Gildas’. ‘On the Ruin of Britain’. Translated by J. A. Giles and T. Habington. For convenience, this text has been composed into this PDF document by. Camelot. The Preface, History and Epistle of Gildas’ principal work, De Excidio Britanniae, a sermon in three parts condemning the acts of his contemporaries, both.
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The Ruin of Britain.
WHATEVER my attempt shall be in this epistle, made more in tears than in denunciation, in poor style, I allow, but with good intent, let no man regard me as if about to speak under the influence of contempt for men in general, or with an idea of superiority to all, because I weep the general decay of good, and the heaping up of evils, with tearful complaint. On the contrary, let him think of me as a man that will speak out of a feeling of condolence with my country’s losses and its miseries, and sharing in the joy of remedies.
It is not so much my purpose to narrate the dangers of savage warfare incurred by brave soldiers, as to tell of the dangers caused by indolent men.
I have kept silence, I confess, with infinite sorrow of heart, as the Lord, the searcher of the reins, is my witness, for the past ten years or even longer; I was prevented by a sense of inexperience, a feeling I have even now, as well as of mean merit from writing a small admonitory work of any kind. I used to read, nevertheless, of the wonderful legislator, that he did not enter the desired land because of hesitation in a single word; that the priest’s sons, through bringing strange fire to the altar, perished in sudden death; that the people who transgressed the words of God,of them, two faithful ones exceptcd, although beloved of God, because unto them the way was made plain over the bed of the Red Sea, heavenly bread was given as food, new drink from the rock followed them, their army was made invincible by the mere lifting up of handsthat this people fell in different places by wild beasts, sword and fire throughout the desert parts of Arabia.
After their entrance by an unknown gate, the Jordan, so to say, and the overthrow of the hostile walls of the city at the mere sound of trumpets by God’s command, I read that a small mantle and a little gold appropriated of the devoted thing laid many prostrate; that the covenant with the Gibeonites, when broken though won by guilebrought destruction upon some: I saw that in our time even, as he wept: The widowed city sat solitary, heretofore filled with people, ruler of the Gentiles, princess of provinces, and had become tributary.
By this is meant the Church. The gold hath become dim, its best colour changed; which means the excellence of God’s word. The sons of Zion, that is, of the holy mother the Church, famous and clothed with best gold have embraced ordure. What to him, a man of eminence, grew unbearable, has been so to me also, mean as I am, whenever it grew to be the height of grief, whilst he wailed over the same distinguished men living in prosperity so far as to say: These passages and many others I regarded as, in a way, a mirror of our life, in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and then I turned to the Scriptures of the New; there I read things that previously had perhaps been dark to me, in clearer light, because the shadow passed away, and the truth shone more steadily.
I read, that is to say, of the Lord saying: I am not come but unto the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And on the other side: But the sons of this Kingdom shall be cast into outer darknesses, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is not good to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs. Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. Many shall come from east and west and recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven; and on the other hand: And then shall I say unto them: Blessed are the barren and the breasts that have not given suck; and on the contrary: Those who were ready, entered with him to the marriage feast, then came also the other virgins saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; to whom the answer was made, I know you not.
He who believeth and is baptised, shall be saved, he, however, who believeth not shall be condemned. I read in the apostle’s word that a branch of the wild olive had been grafted into the good olive tree, but that it must be broken off from partaking in the root of fatness of the same, if it did not fear, but should be highminded. I knew the mercy of the Lord, 7 but feared his judgment also; I praised his grace, but dreaded the rendering unto each one according to his works.
As I beheld sheep of one fold unlike one another, I called Peter, with good reason, most blessed on account of his sound confession of Christ, but Judas most unhappy because of his love of covetousness; Stephen I called glorious, because of the martyr’s palm; Nicolas, on the contrary, miserable, owing to the mark of unclean heresy. They had all things in common, but I read also: Why did ye agree to tempt the Spirit of God? I saw, on the contrary, what great indifference had grown upon the men of our age, as if there were no cause for fear.
These things, and many others which I have decided to omit for the sake of brevity, I pondered over with compunction of heart and astonishment of mind. I ponderedif the Lord did not spare a people, peculiar out of all the nations, the royal seed and holy nation, to whom he had said: Israel is my first born if he spared not its priests, prophets, kings for so many centuries, if he spared not the apostle his minister, and the members of that primitive church, when they swerved from the right path, what will he do to such blackness as we have in this age?
An age this to which has been added, besides those impious and monstrous sins which it commits in common with all the iniquitous ones of the world, that thing which is as if inborn with it, an irremovable and inextricable weight of unwisdom and fickleness.
Do I say to myself, wretched one, is such a charge entrusted to thee as if thou wert a teacher of distinction and eminencenamely to withstand the rush of so violent a torrent, and against this array of growing crimes extending over so many years and so widely, keep the deposit committed to thec, and be silent?
Otherwise this means, to say to the foot, watch, and to the hand, speak. Britain has rulers, ruib has watchers. ruln
Why with thy nonsense art thou inclined to mumble? Yea, it has these; it has, if not too many, not too few. But, because they are bent clown under the pressure of so great a weight, they have no og to breathe. My feelings, therefore, as if fellow debtors with myself, were alternately engrossed by such objections, and by such as had much sharper teeth than these.
These feelings wrestled, as I said, for 9 no short time, when I read: At length the creditor prevailed and conquered. If thou hast not britan boldness to feel no fear of being branded with the mark that befits golden liberty among truth-telling creatures gileas a rational origin second to the angels, at least shrink not from imitating that intelligent ass, inspired, though mute, by the Spirit of God. Unwilling it was to britxin the carrier of the crowned magician about to curse the people of God; it bruised his feeble foot in the narrow path near the wall of the vineyards, though it had on that account to feel his brihain like those of an enemy.
She pointed out to him the angel from heaven, as if with the finger, holding his naked sword and opposing them whom he in the blindness of cruel stupidity had not observedthough the magician, ungrateful and furious, was unrighteously beating her innocent sides.
In my zeal, therefore, for the holy law of the Lord’s house, constrained by the reasons of my own meditation or overcome by the pious entreaties of brethren, I am now paying the debt 1 exacted long ago. The work is, in fact, poor, but, I believe, faithful and friendly to all noble soldiers of Christ; 2 but severe and hard to bear to foolish apostates. The former of ruib, if I am not mistaken, will, peradventure, receive it with the tears that flow from tuin love of God; the others, also, with sorrow, but the sorrow which is britaon from the anger and timidity of an awakened conscience.
Before, however, fulfilling my promise, let me attempt to say a little, God willing, concerning the geographical brltain, the stubbornness, the subjection and rebellion of our country; also of its second subjection and hard service; of religion, persecution, and holy martyrs, of diverse heresies; of tyrants, of the two nations which wasted it; of defence and of consequent devastation; of the second revenge and third devastation, of famine; of the letter to Agitius; of victory, of crimes; of enemies suddenly 11 announced; of the great well-known plague; of counsel; of enemies far more fierce than the first; of the ruin of cities, of the men who survived; of the final victory won by the mother country, which is the gift granted by the will of God in our own times.
Reference to the rise of Christianity under Tiberius, and its progress in Britain inserted cc. THE island of Britain is situated in almost the furthest limit of the world, towards the north-west and west, poised in the so-called divine balance which holds the whole earth.
It lies somewhat in the direction of the north pole from the south-west. It is miles long, broad, 4 not counting the longer tracts of sundry promontories which are encompassed by the curved bays of the sea. It is protected by the wide, and if I may so say, lf circle of the sea on all sides, with the exception of the straits on the south coast where ships sail to Belgic Gaul.
It has the advantage of the estuaries of two noble rivers, the Thames and the Severn, arms, as it were, along which, of old, foreign luxuries were wont to be carried by ships, and of other smaller streams; it is beautified by 28 cities, 5 and some strongholds, and by great works built in an unexceptionable manner, walls, bitain towers, gates, nritain, the roofs of which, stretching aloft with threatening height, were firmly fixed in strong structure.
The flowers of divers colours on these, trodden by human footsteps, gave them the appearance of a fine picture, like a chosen o adorned gilldas various jewels. It is irrigated by many clear springs, with their full waters moving snow-white gravel, and by shining rivers flowing with gentle murmur, extending to those who recline on their banks a pledge of sweet slumber, and by lakes overflowing with a cool stream of living water.
This island, of proud neck and mind, since it was first inhabited, is ungratefully rebelling, now against God, at other times against fellow citizens, 7 sometimes even against the kings over the sea and their subjects. For what deeper baseness, brktain greater unrighteousness, can be or be introduced by the recklessness of men, than to deny to God fear, to ln fellow briatin love, to those placed in higher position the gritain due gilda them, without detriment to the faiththan to break faith with divine and human sentiment, and having cast away fear of heaven and earth, to be governed by one’s own inventions and lusts?
I, therefore, omit 8 those ancient errors, common to all nations, by which before the coming of Christ in the flesh the whole human race was being held in bondage; nor do I enumerate the truly diabolical monstrosities 9 of my native country, almost surpassing those of Egypt in number, of which we behold some, of ugly features, to this day within or without their deserted walls, stiff with fierce visage as yhe the custom. Neither do I, by name, inveigh against the mountains, valleys or rivers, once destructive, but now suitable for the use of man, upon which divine honour was then heaped by the people in their blindness.
I keep silence also as to the long years of savage tyrants, who are spoken of in other far distant countries, so that Porphyry, the rabid eastern dog 10 in hostility 19 to the Church, added this remark also in the fashion of his madness and vanity; Britain, he says, is a province fertile ruih tyrants. Those evils only will I attempt to make public which the island has both suffered and inflicted upon other and distant citizens, in the times of the Roman Emperors.
I shall do it, however, to the best of my ability, not so much by the aid of native writings or records of authors, inasmuch as these if they ever existed vritain been burnt by the fires of enemies, or carried far away in the ships which exiled my countrymen, and so are not at hand, but shall follow the account oon foreign writers, which, because broken by many gaps, is far from clear.
The Emperors of Rome acquired the empire of the world, and, by the subjugation of all neighbouring countries and islands towards the east, secured through the might of their superior fame their first peace with the Parthians 11 on the borders of India. When this peace was accomplished, wars ceased at that time in almost every land.
The keenness of this flame, however, in its persistent career towards the west, could not be checked or extinguished by the blue tide of the sea; crossing the channel it carried to the island laws for obedience without opposition; it subjugated an unwarlike but faithless people not so much as in the case of other nations by sword, fire, and engines, as by mere threats or menaces of judgments who in to the edicts merely a skin-deep obedience, with resentment sunk deep into their hearts.
Immediately on their return to Rome, owing to deficiency, as they said, of necessaries provided by the land, and with no suspicion 21 of rebellion, the treacherous lioness 12 killed the rulers who had been left behind by them to declare more fully, and to strengthen, the enterprises of Roman rule. After this, when news of such deeds was carried to the senate, and it was hastening with speedy army to take vengeance on the crafty foxes, as they named them, there was no preparation of a fighting fleet on sea to make a brave struggle for country, nor a marshalled army or right wing, nor any other warlike equipment on land.
They present their backs, instead of their shields, to the pursuers, their necks to the sword, while a chilling terror ran through their bones: The Romans therefore, having slain many of the faithless ones, reserving some for slavery, lest the land should be reduced to destitutionreturn to Italy leaving behind them a land stripped of wine and oil.
They leave behind governors as scourges for the backs of the natives, as a yoke for their necks, so that they should cause the epithet of Roman slavery to cling to the soil, should vex the crafty race not so much with military force as with whips, and if necessary, apply the unsheathed sword, as the saying is, to their sides. In this way the island would be regarded not as Britannia but as Romania, and whatever it might have of copper, silver, or gold would be stamped with the image of Caesar.
Meanwhile, to the island stiff with frost and cold, and in a far distant corner of the earth, remote from the visible sun, He, the true sun, even Christ, first yields His rays, I mean His precepts. He spread, not only from the temporal firmament, but from the highest arc bfitain heaven beyond all times, his bright gleam to the whole world in the latest days, as we know, of Tiberius Caesar.
At 23 that time the religion of Christ 14 was propagated britzin any hindrance, because the emperor, guin to the will of the senate, threatened with death informers against the soldiers of that same religion.
Though these precepts had a lukewarm reception from the inhabitants, 15 nevertheless they britwin unimpaired with some, with others less so, until the nine years’ persecution of the tyrant Diocletian. What flights there were then, what slaughter, what punishments by different modes of death, what ruins of apostates, what glorious crowns of martyrs, what mad fury on the part of persecutors, and, on the contrary, what 25 patience of the saints, britaij history of the church narrates.
God, therefore, as willing that all men should be saved, magnified his mercy unto us, and called sinners no less than those who regard themselves righteous.
He of His own free gift, in the above mentioned time of persecution, as we conclude, 18 lest Britain should be completely enveloped in the thick darkness of black night, 27 kindled for us bright lamps of holy martyrs. The graves where their bodies lie, and the places of their suffering, had they not, very many of them, been taken from us the citizens on account of our numerous crimes, through the disastrous division caused by the barbarians, would at the present time inspire the minds of those who gazed at them with a far from feeble glow of divine love.
I speak of Saint Alban of Verulam, Aaron and Iulius, 19 citizens of Caerlleon, and the rest of both sexes in different places, who stood firm with lofty nobleness of mind in Christ’s battle. The former of these, through love, hid a confessor when pursued by his persecutors, and on the point of being seized, imitating in this Christ laying down his life for the sheep. He first concealed him in his house, and afterwards exchanging garments with him, willingly exposed himself to the danger of being pursued in the 29 clothes of beitain brother mentioned.
Being in this way well pleasing to God, during the time between his holy confession and cruel death, in the presence of the impious men, who carried the Roman standard with hateful haughtiness, he was wonderfully adorned with miraculous signs, so that by fervent prayer he opened an unknown way through the bed of the noble river Thames, similar to that dry little-trodden way of the Israelites, when the ark of the covenant stood long on the gravel in the middle of Jordan; accompanied by a thousand men, he walked through with dry foot, the rushing waters on either side hanging like abrupt precipices, and converted first his executioner, as he saw such wonders, from a wolf into a lamb, and caused him together with himself to thirst more deeply for the triumphant palm of martyrdom, and more bravely to seize it.
Others, however, were so tortured with diverse torments, and mangled with unheard of tearing of limbs, that without delay they raised trophies of their glorious martyrdom, as if at the beautiful gates of Jerusalem. Those who survived hid themselves in woods, deserts, and secret caves, expecting from God, the righteous ruler of all, to their persecutors, sometime, stern judgment, to themselves protection of life.
They repair the churches, 31 ruined to the ground; briyain found, construct, and complete basilicae in honour of the holy martyrs, and set them forth in many places as emblems of victory; te celebrate feast days; the sacred offices they perform with clean heart and lip; all exult as children cherished in the bosom of their mother, the church.
For this sweet harmony between Christ the head and the members continued, until the Arian unbelief, fierce as ggildas snake vomiting forth upon us its foreign poison, caused deadly separation between brethren dwelling together.
In this way, as if a path were made across brtain sea, all manner of wild beasts began to inject with horrid mouth the fatal poison of every form ruuin heresy, and to inflict the lethal wounds of their teeth upon a country always wishful to hear something new and, at all events, desiring nothing steadfastly.
Gildas, The Ruin of Britain &c. (). pp. The Ruin of Britain.
This man, through cunning art rather than by valour, first attaches to his guilty rule certain neighbouring countries or provinces against the Roman power, by nets of perjury and falsehood. He then extends one wing to Spain, the other to Italy, fixing the throne of his iniquitous empire at Trier, and raged with such madness against his lords that he drove two legitimate emperors, the gidas from Rome, the other from a most pious life.
Though 33 fortified by hazardous deeds of so dangerous a character, it was not long ere he lost his accursed head at Aquileia: Completely ignorant of the practice of war, she is, for the first time, open to be trampled upon by two foreign tribes of extreme cruelty, the Scots from the north-west, the Picts from the north; and for many years continues stunned and groaning.
Owing gildaas the inroads of these tribes and the consequent dreadful prostration, Britain sends an embassy with letters to Rome, entreating in tearful appeals an armed force to avenge her, and vowing submission on her part to the Roman power, uninterrupted and with all strength of heart, if the enemy were driven away. A legion 22 is forthwith prepared, with no remembrance of past evil, and fully equipped.
Having crossed over the sea in ships to Britain, it came into close engagement with the oppressive enemies; it killed a great number of them and drove all over the borders, and freed the humiliated inhabitants rjin so fierce a violence and threatening bondage.