Abbo of Saint-Germain, Sermon Against the Robbers of Other People’s Property.

Translation by Charles West, February 2016.

Abbo was a Frankish monk at the monastery of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, best known today for his poetic account of the Viking sieges of Paris in the 880s, the Bella Parisiacae Urbis. He also however collected together a number of sermons, including this one. It is apparently aimed at the instruction of laymen, in the context of continuing Viking raiding. The sermon has much to say about conceptions of Frankish society towards the end of the Carolingian Empire, about the nature of the Viking threat, and about how prominent clerics thought that threat should best be met. Particularly notable are the text's references to the labouring poor, to the fate of Britain (Anglo-Saxon or Roman?), and to a developed idea of holy war.

Edition: U. Önnefors, Abbo von Saint-Germain-des-Prés. 22 Predigten (Frankfurt, 1985), pp. 94-99. Further reading: C. West, '"Every day you see how this kingdom goes to perdition": Abbo of St-Germain and the End of the Carolingian Empire', forthcoming

Brothers, every day you see how this kingdom goes to perdition. Our men, the villains, the male and female serfs and everyone who holds our estates and ploughs our land and pay their dues to us, from which we used to be owed food and clothing, and from which we used to buy horses and weapons – now they are dead or captured. What are we going to do now, without these people? We do not know how to plough the lands or to so, or to prune vines or ditches. What shall we do now?

Certainly God is angry with us, and therefore so many evils come upon us from the pagans and the sterility of the earth. Certainly, just as Saint Augustine says: "The land accuses us before God and cries out every day, that it is not able to support upon it so many wicked inhabitants." And therefore the land does not give us good harvests or the fruits of the trees or grass in the meadows, as it used to in the time of good men. Truly as the Lord said "There is no good tree which produces bad fruit, or bad tree that produces good fruit". The good tree is the good person who produces good fruit, that is good works. And the bad tree is the bad person producing bad fruit, that is bad works.

Therefore, if you used to be bad trees up till now, from today and henceforth be good trees, that is good people, and produce the fruit of good works, and in that moment God will be pious and merciful to you. But how are you able to please God and to have victory, you who always have your hands full of perjury and rapine? Whenever you travel on a journey, you always eat up the poor people and you prey upon the estates of the churches of God, and therefore your hands are fastened with the chains of sin, and you are not able to have victory. The lord God commends this to every one of us when he says "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor". Our lord God commands you to give your possessions to the poor, and you by contrast take it from them? Certainly the Holy Scriptures say of you robbers (rapinatores): "And nor shall the rapacious possess the Kingdom of God".

So therefore, if you wish to have peace and victory, do what Zacchaeus the rich Jew did. Do you want to hear what he did? He came to our Lord, and asked him, "Lord, what shall I do in order that I may have eternal life?" The Lord replied to him, "If you wish to have eternal life, then whatever you took from someone, repay it fourfold." And that is what Zacchaeus did, fearing God and fearing Hell. From whomever he took one siclus of silver, he gave him back four sicli, and for one measure of wine he returned four measures. He did similarly with the other things that he took, and you should do likewise if you are able to. And whoever is not able to, let him promise before God and his angels and before the priests, that he shall no longer be a robber or a predator in the estates of the saints, and thus you will have God as your helper in all your difficulties.

Nor should you abstain only from rapine, but also from luxuria and fornication and drunkenness, which is the mother of luxuria. It is certainly because of these four sins that the fighting men (vassali homines) are not able to have victory. And if you do not want to take an example from your good forefathers who defended this kingdom before you, then take an example from the Romans who were pagans before Christ the Lord was born from the Virgin Mary. Certainly these Romans, because they lived justly and chastely and soberly, because of that they defeated and they conquered all the peoples.

You can also take an example from the Jews who lived before the coming of the Lord. Whenever those Jews sinned and denied the Lord God, then foreign peoples always came upon them and killed them and captured them and burned their castles. And then the Jews recognised themselves, as they were led in captivity to foreign kingdoms, and then they did the penance in a foreign land that they did not want to do in their own land. And because of that penance, our pious Lord led them back to Jerusalem and gave them peace and an abundance of all good things, and gave a total victory against the pagans to them, while the Jews were living justly.

Similarly turn yourselves to our Lord, and live justly and soberly and chastely, without concubines. For as the blessed Augustine says, "The man who has a concubine is an adulterer whether he wants to be or not, and that concubine is an adulteress whether she wants to be or not".

Listen, brothers, to what our Lord cries out to you every day: "Turn back to me, and I shall turn back to you", and therefore if you have truly been converted, so that you fear God and His saints and you promise God that you will no longer live from rapine but from your justice, our Lord will show mercy to you, and He will free you from all your enemies. And if you love living from injustice more than from justice, and if you wish always to lie in luxuria, like the horse and the mule who do not have understanding (intellectus), then it is greatly to be feared that such a great evil will come upon us as came upon the king and the counts and the bishops of the British. Certainly the king fled the crown, and the bishops of Britain. Certainly the king fled the crown and loosened his kingdom. Similarly the other princes, bishops and counts fled, and were made pilgrims in a foreign land.

A similar evil befell Zedekiah the king of the Jews. For truly, after the pagans devastated the whole kingdom of the Jews, at last they came to Jerusalem where King Zedekias was with all his princes. And after they captured the city, those pagans killed the two sons of Zedekiah and all the princes of the kingdom with the sword, in the king’s presence. And they blinded King Zedekiah and took him with them as a captive into Babylon.

O Francia, watch out for yourself! Do not let your enemies multiply and grow but, as Scripture commends, fight for your homeland (patria), do not fear to die in God's war (bellum Dei). Certainly if you die there, you will be holy martyrs. And know truly that no man will die before his term, foreknown by God. A man is not able to be killed amongst all the swords, if it is not his time. For it is written, "You have set the limits which they cannot pass". And therefore enter confidently into the Lord God’s war. And when you enter into God's war, shout out with a loud voice, "Christ conquers, Christ rules, Christ commands!". And in that hour the devil, the prince of the pagans, will flee when he hears such a terrible voice of the Christians. And then the pagans will flee after the devil, their prince. And thus you who have God as your king and prince will take the victory, given by our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom with God the Father and the Holy Spirit belongs the kingdom and the power, for ever and ever, Amen.