A Case from 1098 A.D.


Hac fide in ipso proficiente, ad hoc quoque lapsus est ut Dei judicio incredulus fieret, injustitiaeque illud arguens, Deum aut facta hominum ignorare aut aequitatis ea lance nolle pensare, astrueret. Exempli causa, Quinquaginta circiter viri, quibus adhuc illis diebus ex antiqua Anglorum ingenuitate divitiarum quaedam vestigia arridere videbantur, capti sunt et calumniati quod cervos regis ceperint, mactaverint, manducaverint. Negant illi. Unde statim ad judicium rapti judicantur injectam calumniam examine igniti ferri a se propulsare debere. Statuto itaque die, praefixi poenae judicii pariter subacti sunt, remota pietate et misericordia. Erat ergo miseriam videre. Verum Omnipotens Deus, cui misericordiam et judicium canit Davidicus psalmus, innocentiam eorum, servatis misericorditer ab exustione manibus omnium, cunctis ostendit, et malitia hominum eos impie destruere cupientium quam injusta fuerit justo judicio declaravit. Igitur cum principi esset relatum, condemnatos illos tertio judicii die simul omnes inustis manibus apparuisse, stomachatus taliter fertur respondisse: ''Quid est hoc? Deus est justus judex? Pereat qui deinceps hoc crediderit. Quare, per hoc et hoc, meo judicio amodo respondebitur, non Dei, quod pro voto cujusque hinc inde plicatur.''




As he [king William Rufus] became more and more confirmed in this belief, he fell also into such a state of mind that he became sceptical of God's judgment and, accusing it of injustice, asserted that God either has no knowledge of men's actions or does not weigh them in an equal balance. As an instance of this there is the following story. Some fifty men, who in those days seemed still blessed with some traces of wealth from the old English nobility, were apprehended and falsely accused of having taken, killed and eaten the king's deer. They denied it. Thereupon they were promptly hauled off to the seat of judgment where judgment was given that they must clear themselves of the accusation brought against them by the ordeal of the red-hot iron. So a day was fixed, and without scruple or mercy they were made to undergo the punishment prescribed by that judgment. It was a pitiful sight. But Almighty God, whose mercy and judgment are celebrated in the psalter of David, by mercifully preserving the hands of all of them from burning made clear to all their innocence, and by His just judgment declared how unjust was the malice of the men who so wickedly sought to ruin them. When the king was told that on the third day after the ordeal these men who had been condemned all presented themselves in a body with hands un-burnt, he is said to have exclaimed in disgust: ''What is this? God a just judge? Perish the man who after this believes so. For the future, by this and that I swear it, answer shall be made to my judgment, not to God's, which inclines to one side or the other in answer to each man's prayer.'''


Source: EADMER, Historia Novorum, 102 (1098), as reprinted in R.C. van Caenegem (ed.), English Lawsuits from William I to Richard I 122 (London, Selden Society, 1990).