Caesarius of Heisterbach - An Administrator Carried Off Alive by the Devil

Caesarius of Heisterbach (d. 1240), The Dialogue of Miracles

An Administrator Carried Off Alive by the Devil


A certain abbot of the Cistercian order in the diocese of Bremen told me a few years ago about a certain gentleman who was the Administrator of an abbey and had charge of a number of small towns. He was a man without any pity, and he feared neither God nor the devil; he was avaricious beyond measure, and he collected frequent and heavy fees from those who were subject to him.

One day he was going to a certain town to collect his fees and, as he was going along, he met the devil in the guise of a man. When -- as much from the stranger's horrible appearance as from the conversation -- he understood that this was the devil, he greatly feared to go along with him; yet by no means, neither by prayers nor by crossing himself, could he get away from him, because he was damned and delivered to the devil by the Highest Judge because of his sinful demands.

And so as they went along together, a man approached them, leading a pig by a rope. When this animal tried to wander off here and there, the man was enraged and shouted, "May the devil have you!" When the Administrator heard these words, hoping by this chance to be free from the devil, he said to him, "Listen, friend; that pig was given to you; go and take it."

The devil answered, "He did not give it to me from the bottom of his heart, and therefore I can't take it."

Next, as they were passing through a small town, a baby was crying; its mother, standing in the door of the house, was upset, and in an angry voice she said, "May the devil take you! Why do you bother me with your crying?"

Thereupon the gentleman, again hoping to free himself from his comrade, said, "Look, you've gained a soul! Take that baby, for it is yours. Look, the mother has given it to you!"

The devil answered him as before, "But she did not give it to me from her heart; this is just the way people talk when they are angry."

When they were finally approaching the place to which they were travelling, the men of the town saw the Administrator from afar and, knowing why he was coming, they cried with one voice, "May the devil have you, and he is welcome to you!"

When he heard this, the devil, nodding his head and snickering, said to the gentleman, "Aha! They gave you to me with all their heart, and so you are mine!" And at that very moment the devil grabbed him, but what he did with him or where he took him is not known to this very day.

The words of the conversation between the gentleman and the devil were revealed and told by the servant of this gentleman.

May those who rob the poor listen to this exemplum, for their number is infinite in these days! What is more terrible than an unrepentant man whom the devil carries off alive, taking him away in the very act of crime to the eternal punishment and endless tortures of hell?


From Larry D. Benson and Theodore M. Andersson, The Literary Context of Chaucer's Fabliaux. Indianapolis and New York, 1971. Pp. 363-65.