A Legend of St. Gundleus

Hermit in Wales, about A.D. 500

{5} THE Christian lives in the past and in the future, and in the unseen; in a word, he lives in no small measure in the unknown. And it is one of his duties, and a part of his work, to make the unknown known; to create within him an image of what is absent, and to realise by faith what he does not see. For this purpose he is granted certain outlines and rudiments of the truth, and from thence he learns to draw it out into its full proportions and its substantial form,—to expand and complete it; whether it be the absolute and perfect truth, or truth under a human dress, or truth in such a shape as is most profitable for him. And the process, by which the word which has been given him, "returns not void," but brings forth and buds and is accomplished and prospers, is Meditation.

It is Meditation [Note] which does for the Christian what Investigation does for the children of men. {6}Investigation may not be in his power, but he may always meditate. For Investigation he may possess no materials or instruments; he needs but little aid or appliance from without for Meditation. The barley loaves and few small fishes are made to grow under his hand; the oil fills vessel after vessel till not an empty one remains; the water-pots become the wells of a costly liquor; and the very stones of the desert germinate and yield him bread. He trades with his Lord's money as a good steward; that in the end his Lord may receive His own with usury.

This is the way of the divinely illuminated mind, whether in matters of sacred doctrine or of sacred history. Here we are concerned with the latter. I say then, when a true and loyal lover of the brethren attempts to contemplate persons and events of time past, and to bring them before him as actually existing and occurring, it is plain, he is at loss about the details; he has no information about those innumerable accidental points, which might have been or have happened this way or that way, but in the very person and the very event did happen one way,—which were altogether uncertain beforehand, but which have been rigidly determined ever since. The scene, the parties, the speeches, the grouping, the succession of particulars, the beginning, the ending, matters such as these he is obliged to imagine in one way, if he is to imagine them at all. The case is the same in the art of painting; the artist gives stature, gesture, feature, expression, to his figures; what sort of an abstraction or a nonentity would he produce without this allowance? it would be like telling him to {7} paint a dream, or relations and qualities, or panic terrors, or scents and sounds, if you confine him to truth in the mere letter; or he must evade the difficulty, with the village artist in the story, who having to represent the overthrow of the Egyptians in the sea, on their pursuing the Israelites, daubed a board with red paint, with a nota bene that the Israelites had got safe to land, and the Egyptians were all drowned. Of necessity then does the painter allow his imagination to assist his facts; of necessity and with full right; and he will make use of this indulgence well or ill according to his talents, his knowledge, his skill, his ethical peculiarities, his general cultivation of mind.

In like manner, if we would meditate on any passage of the gospel history, we must insert details indefinitely many, in order to meditate at all; we must fancy motives, feelings, meanings, words, acts, as our connecting links between fact and fact as recorded. Hence holy men have before now put dialogues into the mouths of sacred persons, not wishing to intrude into things unknown, not thinking to deceive others into a belief of their own mental creations, but to impress upon themselves and upon their brethren, as by a seal or mark, the substantiveness and reality of what Scripture has adumbrated by one or two bold and severe lines. Ideas are one and simple; but they gain an entrance into our minds, and live within us, by being broken into detail.

Hence it is that so much has been said and believed of a number of Saints with so little historical foundation. It is not that we may lawfully despise {8} or refuse a great gift and benefit, historical testimony, and the intellectual exercises which attend on it, study, research, and criticism; for in the hands of serious and believing men they are of the highest value. We do not refuse them, but in the cases in question, we have them not. The bulk of Christians have them not; the multitude has them not; the multitude forms its view of the past, not from antiquities, not critically, not in the letter; but it develops its small portion of true knowledge into something which is like the very truth though it be not it, and which stands for the truth when it is but like it. Its evidence is a legend; its facts are a symbol; its history a representation; its drift is a moral.

Thus then is it with the biographies and reminiscences of the Saints. "Some there are which have no memorial, and are as though they had never been;" others are known to have lived and died, and are known in little else. They have left a name, but they have left nothing besides. Or the place of their birth, or of their abode, or of their death, or some one or other striking incident of their life, gives a character to their memory. Or they are known by martyrologies or services, or by the traditions of a neighbourhood, or by the title or the decorations of a Church. Or they are known by certain miraculous interpositions which are attributed to them. Or their deeds and sufferings belong to countries far away, and the report of them comes musical and low over the broad sea. Such are some of the small elements which, when more is not known, faith is fain to receive, love dwells on, meditation unfolds, disposes, and forms; till by the sympathy {9} of many minds, and the concert of many voices, and the lapse of many years, a certain whole figure is developed with words and actions, a history and a character,—which is indeed but the portrait of the original, yet is as much as a portrait, an imitation rather than a copy, a likeness on the whole, but in its particulars more or less the work of imagination. It is but collateral and parallel to the truth; it is the truth under assumed conditions; it brings out a true idea, yet by inaccurate or defective means of exhibition; it savours of the age, yet it is the offspring from what is spiritual and everlasting. It is the picture of a Saint who did other miracles, if not these; who went through sufferings, who wrought righteousness, who died in faith and peace,—of this we are sure; we are not sure, should it so happen, of the when, the where, the how, the why, and the whence.

Who, for instance, can reasonably find fault with the Acts of St. Andrew, even though they be not authentic, for describing the Apostle as saying on sight of his cross, "Receive, O Cross, the disciple of Him who once hung on thee, my Master Christ"? For was not the Saint sure to make an exclamation at the sight, and must it not have been in substance such as this? And would much difference be found between his very words when translated, and these imagined words, if they be such, drawn from what is probable, and received upon rumours issuing from the time and place? And when St. Agnes was brought into that horrible house of devils, are we not quite sure that angels were with her, even though we do not know any one of the details? {10} What is there wanton then or superstitious in singing the Antiphon, "Agnes entered the place of shame, and found the Lord's angel waiting for her," even though the fact come to us on no authority? And again, what matters it though the angel that accompanies us on our way be not called Raphael, if there be such a protecting spirit, who at God's bidding does not despise the least of Christ's flock in their journeyings? And what is it to me though heretics have mixed the true history of St. George with their own fables or impieties, if a Christian George, Saint and Martyr, there was, as we believe?

And we in after time, who look back upon the legendary picture, cannot for very caution's sake and reverence, reject the whole, part of which, we know not how much, may be, or certainly is, true. Nor have we means to separate ascertained fact from fiction; the one and the other are worked in together. We can do nothing else but accept what has come down to us as symbolical of the unknown, and use it in a religious way for religious uses. At the best it is the true record of a divine life; but at the very worst it is not less than the pious thoughts of religious minds,—thoughts frequent, recurrent, habitual, of minds many in many generations.

The brief notice of St. Gundleus, which is now to follow, is an illustration of some of these remarks. It will be but legendary; it would be better were it not so; but in fact, nothing remains on record except such tokens and symbols of the plain truth, in honour of one whose name has continued in the Church, and to the glory of Him who wrote it in her catalogue. {11}

St. Gundleus was a king or chieftain, whose territory lay in Glamorganshire, and he lived about A.D. 500. He was the father of the great St. Cadoc, and his wife was Gladusa, the eldest of ten daughters of King Brachan. Of these ladies one was St. Almehda; another, St. Keyna; a third, little deserving any honourable memory herself, was the mother of St. David.

One night a supernatural voice broke in upon the slumbers of St. Gundleus and Gladusa. "The King of heaven, the Ruler of earth, hath sent me hither;" thus it spoke; "that ye may turn to His ministry with your whole heart. You He calls and invites, as He hath chosen and redeemed you, when He mounted on the Cross. I will show you the straight path, which ye must keep, unto the inheritance of God: lift up your minds, and for what is perishable, slight not your souls. On the river's bank there is a rising ground; and where a white steed is standing, there is the place of thy habitation."

The king arose in the morning; he gave up his sovereignty to his son Cadoc; he left his home, he proceeded to the hill, and found the animal described. There he built a Church, and there he began an abstinent and saintly life; his dress a haircloth; his drink water; his bread of barley mixed with wood ashes. He rose at midnight and plunged into cold water; and by day he laboured for his livelihood. Holy Cadoc his son, who at length became Abbot of Carvan, a neighbouring monastery, often came to him and made him of good heart, reminding him that the crown is the {12} reward not of beginners, but of those who persevere in good things.

The hill wanted water; St. Gundleus offered up his prayers to God, and touched the dry soil with his staff; a spring issued from it clear and unfailing.

When his end was approaching, he sent to St. Dubricius, Bishop of Llandaff, and to St. Cadoc his own son. From the hands of the latter he received his last communion, and he passed to the Lord on the 29th of March. An angelic host was seen about his tomb, and sick people, on invoking his intercession, were healed.

His Church, which became his shrine, was near the sea, and exposed to plunderers. Once when pirates from the Orkneys had broken into it, and carried off its contents, a storm overtook them on their return, and, dashing their vessels against each other, sunk all but two. At another time a robber, who had made off with a sacred chalice and vestments, was confronted by the sea apparently mounting up against him and overwhelming him. He was forced back into the Church, where he remained till morning, when he was arrested, and, but for the Bishop of Llandaff, would have undergone capital punishment.

Whether St. Gundleus led this very life, and wrought these very miracles, I do not know; but I do know that they are saints whom the Church so accounts, and I believe that, though this account of him cannot be proved, it is a symbol of what he did and what he was, a picture of his saintliness, and a specimen of his power.

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Note

Some excellent remarks on this subject will be found in the Introduction to a work which has appeared since these pages were sent to press, "Life of Christ, from the Latin of St. Bonaventura."
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