The Fate of Fortune 02: First Wishes

The Fate of Fortune is now posted.

Part 02 of 03.

It is customary in Deal with the Devil stories that the wishes asked of the devil actually be granted. That is part of the allure.

By odd coincidence, I read the following tale to my children as part of Sunday reading just this week, from the Legenda Aurea of Jacob de Voragine. This is from the tale of the Life of Saint Basil. I repeat the tale here as a Lenten gift for my readers, since it is a story of repentance.

I make a comment below, after the conclusion of the tale.

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A highly respected man named Heradius had an only daughter whom he intended to consecrate to the Lord, but the devil, foe of the human race, got wind of this and inflamed one of Heradius’s slaves with love for the girl. The man, knowing that as a slave he could not possibly win the embraces of so noble a lady, turned to a sorcerer and promised him a lot of money if he could advance his suit.

The sorcerer told him: “I can’t do that, but, if you wish, I’ll send you to the devil my master, and if you do as he tells you, you will get what you desire.”

The young man said: “I’ll do it!” Therefore the soothsayer wrote a letter to the devil and sent it by the hand of the slave.

The letter read: “Since it behooves me, my lord, with care and dispatch to draw people away from the Christian religion and attract them to your service so that you may grow day by day, I am sending you this youth who is burning with desire for a certain young woman. I ask that he may have his wish, so that in this individual I may gain glory and may be able to win over others to you.”

 When he gave the letter to the slave, he said: “Go and stand on the tomb of a heathen at midnight and cry out to the demons. Hold this letter up in the air, and they will come right away!”

So the youth went and summoned the demons, throwing the letter into the air. In an instant the prince of darkness, surrounded by a swarm of demons, was at hand; and when he had read the letter, he asked: “Do you believe in me, that I can bring about what you want?”

“I believe, my lord!” he answered.

The devil: “And do you renounce your Christ?”

The slave: “I renounce him!”

“You Christians are a perfidious lot,” the devil retorted. “Sometimes when you need me, you come to me. Then, when your wish is gratified, you deny me and turn to your Christ; and he, out of the abundance of his clemency, takes you back! But if you want me to fulfill your desire, write me a script in your own hand, in which you profess to renounce Christ, your baptism, and the Christian faith; to be my servant; and to be condemned with me at the Last Judgment.”

The slave wrote as directed, repudiating Christ and indenturing himself to the service of the devil. At once his new master called up the spirits who were in charge of fornication, and commanded them to go to the aforesaid maiden and set her heart afire with love for the slave.

They carried out his orders so thoroughly that the girl threw herself sobbing on the ground and cried out to her father: “Have pity on me, father, have pity on me! I am sorely tormented by my love for one of our slaves! Show me your fatherly love, and wed me to this man whom I love and for love of whom I suffer torture! Otherwise you will shortly see me dead and will have to account for me on the Day of Judgment!”

Her father wailed aloud and said: “Oh, wretched me! What has happened to my poor child? Who has stolen my treasure? Who has put out the soft light of my eyes? I had hoped to join you to your heavenly spouse, and counted on winning my salvation through you, and here you are, maddened by a lascivious love! O my daughter, let me join you to the Lord as I had planned! Do not drive my old age to the netherworld with grief!”

The girl, however, continued to cry out: “Either grant my wish quickly, father, or you will see me dead very soon!”

She was weeping bitterly and almost raving; and finally her father, in the depths of desolation and being badly advised by his friends, gave in to her wish, had her married to the slave, and handed over all he owned to her, saying: “Be on your way, my poor, poor daughter!”

  Now, while the couple had made their home together, the young man did not go to church or make the sign of the cross, nor did he commend himself to God in any way. Some of their acquaintances noticed this and said to his wife: “Do you know that your husband, whom you chose for yourself, is not a Chris- tian and never enters a church?”

When she heard this, she was filled with dread, threw herself to the ground, tore her flesh with her fingernails, beat her breast, and said: “O wretched me! Why was I born, and when I was born, why did not death take me at once?”

She told her husband what she had heard, and he declared that there was not a word of truth in it; what she had been told was entirely false. “If you want me to believe you,” she said, “you and I will go to church together tomorrow!”

  Seeing that he could no longer hide the truth, the former slave then told his wife the whole story from the beginning, and the young woman groaned aloud. Then she hurried to blessed Basil and told him all that had happened to her husband and to herself.

Basil summoned the husband, heard the story from him, and asked: “My son, do you want to turn back to God?” “I want to, my lord,” he answered, “but I can’t! “I made my profession to the devil, renounced Christ, put my renunciation in writing, and gave it to the devil.”

  “Don’t worry, my son!” said Basil. “The Lord is kind and will accept you as a penitent.” He laid his hands on the youth and made the sign of the cross on his forehead.

Then he shut him in a cell for three days, after which he visited him and asked him how things were with him. “I can’t stand it, my lord,” he said. “They shout at me and terrorize me and attack me! They hold up my script as an excuse for their treatment, saying: ‘You came to us, not we to you!'”

“Don’t be afraid!” Basil said. “Just believe!”

He gave him a little food, again made the sign of the cross on his forehead, closed his cell, and prayed for him. A few days later he visited him and said: “How are things now, my son?”

“I still hear their shouting and their threats, father,” the man answered, “but I no longer see them.”

Basil again gave him food and blessed him, closed the door, and continued to pray for him.

After a number of days he went back and asked: “How now?” The young man replied: “I’m doing well, O saint of God! Today I saw you in a vision, fighting for me and beating the devil!”

  The bishop then led him out of his cell, summoned all the clergy and religious and the whole populace, and urged all to pray for the man. Then he took him by the hand and led him to the church. There the devil came on with a horde of demons and, though invisible, took hold of the slave and tried to tear him away from the bishop’s grasp.

The young man called out: “Saint of God, help me!” But the evil one assaulted him with such force that in dragging the one he wanted he was also pulling the saint along.

Basil said to him: “Most wicked spirit, is your own damnation not enough for you, that you try to bring down God’s handiwork with you?”

“You wrong me, Basil!” said the devil. “I did not go after him, it was he who came to me! He denied his Christ and made his profession to me, and I have it in his own handwriting!”

Basil answered: “We will not stop praying until you give up the script.”

And as Basil prayed and held up his hands to heaven, the script, carried down by the breeze, came and settled in Basil’s hands as all looked on. He caught it and asked the youth: “Do you recognize this writing, brother?”

“Yes, it is my own hand,” he replied. Where- upon Basil destroyed the script, led him into the church, made him worthy to receive the sacrament, instructed him and gave him rules for right living, and restored him to his wife.

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I am particularly delighted with the nicety of letter writing to the Devil, and with how the post is delivered, as mentioned in this tale.

CS Lewis, who once intercepted the letters of the Lowerarchy, was also familiar with their postal system. (I did not include a mention in my report on Professor Fortune, as too diligent an inquiry into the infernal Postmaster General, his works and his ways, is not to be encouraged.)

I note that, in the tale above, Devil actually grants the wish as asked, and arranges for the temptation of the bride: but I wonder if, speaking as a lawyer, there is grounds for annulling the marriage as arranged.

A point not emphasized is that she uses the same hysterical approach of threatening harm to herself to compel her new husband as she did her father — the irony being that she saves his soul thereby.

Again, from a lawyer’s point of view, the contract renouncing baptism is null and void ab initio, as the chrism is ineradicable and unalienable.

Modern attention seekers in the news announcing their renunciation of baptism is likewise null and void, not to mention silly.