James 5:9 (NKJV)9 Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!
The medieval historian Gregory, the Bishop of Tours, recounts for us numerous events from the tumultuous 5th and 6th centuries in modern day France. His tale is well told and his characters are multi-faceted – some full of faith and wit, others of wickedness and treachery.
Among the stories he tells, one of the most gripping is his account of the local priest of Clermont-Ferrand, a man by the name of Anastasius. Anastasius was apparently a righteous man, a faithful priest, and a good husband and father – this was before the days when the Roman Bishop interfered in the government of the Church and forced celibacy upon her leaders. As a reward for his labors, the lately departed Queen of the Franks, Clotild, had left him a piece of property so that he might be able to provide for himself and his family.
But not all was well in the Church in Anastasius’ day. There were greedy, money-grubbing priests alongside the good ones. Indeed, there were greedy, money-grubbing bishops in charge of the the good priests. Unfortunately for Anastasius, his bishop was such a man. Since Clotild had died and since communication back then was not nearly so effective as now, Anastasius’ bishop set his eyes on Anastasius’ property and, like a new Jezebel, determined to use whatever means necessary to obtain it.
He began with flattery, endeavoring to convince the priest as a dutiful subject of his superiors, to sign over the property to him. The priest refused. The bishop then began to make threats, Anastasius still refused. And so the bishop followed through on his threats – he had Anastasius arrested and locked up in an abandoned prison, stating that he would starve him to death unless he signed over the property. Anastasius still refused saying that he would not be so base as to leave his children destitute.
At this point, Gregory tells the tale better than I ever could:
“In the church of Saint Cassius the Martyr there was a crypt which had been there for centuries and where no one ever went. It contained a great sarcophagus of Parian marble, in which, so it seems, lay the body of some person dead these many years. In this sarcophagus, on top of the body which was mouldering away there, they buried Anastasius alive. The stone slab which they had removed was put back and guards were posted at the crypt door. These guards were convinced that Anastasius must have been crushed to death by the slab. It was winter time, so they lit a fire, warmed some wine and fell asleep after they had drunk it. Meanwhile our priest, like some new Jonah, from the confines of his tomb, as if from the belly of hell, was praying for God’s compassion. The sarcophagus was quite big, as I have told you. Anastasius could not turn over completely, but he could stretch out his hands in all directions. Years afterwards he used to describe the fetid stench which clung about the dead man’s bones, and tell how this not only offended his sense of smell but turned his stomach over. If he stuffed his cloak into his nostrils he could smell nothing as long as he held his breath; but whenever he removed his cloak, for fear of being suffocated, he breathed in the pestilential odour through his mouth and his nose and even, so to speak, through his ears! To cut a long story short, God finally took pity on him, for that is what I think must have happened. Anastasius stretched out his right hand to touch the edge of the sarcophagus and discovered a crowbar. When the lid had been lowered on top of him, this had been left between the stone slab and the edge of the sarcophagus. He levered the crowbar to and fro until, with God’s help, he felt the lid move. Once it was edged far enough along for the priest to be able to stick his head out he was able to make a bigger opening and so creep out of the tomb.” (205-206)
From there, Gregory tells us, Anastasius fled to the king, Clotild’s son, who was horrified to hear of the bishop’s wickedness. He confirmed Anastasius in his property and sent a subtle threat to the bishop. The bishop was so taken with fear, both of the king and of God whom he had for so many years scorned, that he died shortly thereafter.
James tells us today that we are not to grumble against our brethren. The story from Gregory gives us perspective – if you think your brothers are bad, just consider Anastasius' bishop. And when you do, thank God that the biggest thing you have to grumble about is that Sally didn’t smile at you last Sunday.
Reminded that we grumble against our brothers and forget that God is the righteous Judge who oversees all our relationships, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.