Saint Brice of Tours (c. 370 – 444 AD) was the fourth Bishop of Tours, succeeding Martin of Tours in 397. A bit of a lad in his early days, he was accused by his people of living a less than holy life. Even miracles wouldn’t convince them of his innocence, so he went to Rome to confess to the Pope and be absolved of his ill-spent youth…
The Confession of Saint Brice: a little mystery play
Whom should one call a saint? Perhaps you think
One who’s not given to swearing or to drink,
Who lives a simple life of chastity,
With fervent prayer and acts of charity,
One who with thoughts of love doth fill his mind
Though only the agapёistic kind.
Yes, you might think God wants us all to be
Such holy paragons: but sometimes He
Works through the lives of sinners, so that we,
Whose own lives aren’t exemplary
But rather ordinary, can see
In human frailty
The face of Christ.
That’s me! It’s time to see the Pope
Here on the seven hills of Rome
For seven years I’ve lived in hope
Where is this fellow Brice?
In exile far from Tours, my home.
Will he forgive my sins? The Pope
Zosimus… a funny name- but no!
I must not mock! This time I must bow low.
Ah, there you are at last.
You’ve had a chequered past.
Bless me Holy Father, I have sinned…
I’ve heard a lot of things about you, Brice,
And have to say they were not very nice.
Holy Father, I am here
To make confession.
And how have you sinned, my son?
It’s a long story.
Then get on with it.
…It’s very long story.
When I was just a lad I went to live
With Bishop Martin in his monastery
I think the idea was that he could give
Me guidance how I might live decently…
So I, your bishop Martin, once more say,
Be kind to all:
You know, one day
As I was riding back home from the war
A starving beggar stopped me, and I saw
In that poor fellow’s face the face of Christ-
I gave that starving beggar half my cloak.
My downfall started then. I made a joke.
What, only half? I said, a Christian act.
It seems your charitable giving lacked
A certain level of commitment, then.
Be quiet, foolish boy!
You deal with men, strive earnestly to see
The Christ in them.
Can you see Christ in me?
Intolerable! Bishop, we
Shall throw this youth out of the monastery!
Should we shun someone because he
Is not always polite?
But he’s so rude –
Arrogant- just the sort we should exclude.
Remember, brethren, none of us is sinless:
And after all, Our Lord put up with Judas.
Oh God, you move in a mysterious way!
This youth whom we’d have turned away
Martin looked after for some seven years,
And then he made him deacon it appears!
A deacon, yes, but only so in name.
Oh Bryce, my boy, my son, have you no shame?
The brethren in the monastery are poor,
But you live here behind a stout oak door
Which cringing servants open when I knock.
Another thing- I’ve heard it said you mock
And laugh at me, your teacher, and your friend.
Old man, I don’t see why I should defend
My way of life to you or anyone.
Who are you anyway to lecture me?
Where did you go to school? In Hungary?
What did you learn there, except how to fight?
You foul old soldier, get out of my sight!
You grieve me, oh my son, but I shall pray.
You are to me as Judas was to Jesus,
But we must not shun those the Good Lord sends us.
Perhaps you’ll come to know the Lord some day.
Oh, shut up, Martin – ah, the old fool’s gone.
Noble Sir, have pity on
A man to whom the world has been unkind.
Who’re you? A beggar? You should go and find
Old Martin. He’s the one for charity.
He’s still got half a cloak left- go and see.
How shall I know him?
Go into the church,
That stony shrine to poverty, and search
For one who stares at heaven with mad eyes,
Howls hymns and prays all day and night with sighs…
Why thank you, Sir, God bless, I’ll seek him now.
You do that.
Brice, you think that life is good:
For you it is. But you’ve not understood.
While men like you lie easy and don’t care
That others suffer still, angels despair:
To leave men lost in sin is not God’s way
And he can shape sound vessels from our clay.
Brice, God has planned great work for you to do
See- Martin’s back, with solemn words for you.
So, Brice, it seems you think that I am mad?
Who told you that?
The man you sent to me.
What him? His wits all warped by poverty?
Brice, you may mock me, and I understand.
Uneducated, in a distant land
I grew up. None of your advantages
Were mine, and now I’m old. Oh yes,
I understand. But listen, Brice, our God
Will ride over your life of ease rough shod.
I’m old, and soon shall die, and when I do
The Lord has chosen my successor- you!
Martin, you’re mad indeed. How could I be
The bishop after you? If piety
And poverty are called for, leave me out!
You don’t need to tell me you’re not devout.
But God has ways of bringing sinners back
Into the fold of faith. You’ll hear the crack
Of God’s whip; feel his rod upon your back
Until you find the gentleness you lack…
Shut the door, old fellow, when you leave…
O God, how fleeting is the flower of grass:
How soon the threescore years and ten do pass.
Now Martin’s blessèd soul has taken flight,
Out of this vale of tears into the light
Of heaven. Who will take his place? How can
We find our way without a holy man
To lead us? Let us pray. Sweet Jesu Christ,
Who shall it be? Who, Lord?
Old Martin’s choice?
What – Brice?!
Yes, they chose me. I’m still not quite sure why.
But Martin, ere he us left for the sky
Said I should be the next bishop, and so
You might say, ours not to know
The reason why…
Oh God, God… why?
Though I’m not worthy, I will take the job,
And try my best not to be such a knob-
Oh, sorry- have to watch my tongue now I’m
A bishop! Yes- I’ll get it right in time.
I said you are
We thought it was a bit too good to last:
This fellow has a dim and dingy past.
The leopard cannot change its spots and Brice,
It seems, is still indulging in the vice
You got me with child.
What nonsense! I am pure and undefiled.
All right, then. Bring the infant here.
Now then, my child, what is this tale I hear?
Come, tell these folk if you are truly mine.
What? It’s four weeks old- you’ve lost your mind!
Hush hush, you’ll frighten it with your palaver.
Now then, child, speak!
The Bishop’s not my father!
A miracle! Praise be to Jesus Christ.
But all the same, we don’t trust Bishop Brice.
Let’s ask him who the father really is.
The child’s words prove it wasn’t me and this
Is all you need to know.
But we desire
More proof? All right- bring coals of fire.
I’ll put them in my cloak and carry them
To Martin’s grave. Here, let me lift the hem.
Now put the coals in. That’s it. Right, I’m off.
It isn’t burnt!
That should teach you to scoff.
A miracle! Praise be to Jesus Christ.
Should we believe the nun, or Bishop Brice?
A bishop wearing flame-proof raiment
Is certainly good entertainment,
But he’s done wrong! He should be stoned!
A charge of fornication – well, you know…
All right. I’ll go to Rome and see the Pope.
Good riddance! If we give him enough rope,
He’ll hang himself.
He ain’t my dad no how!
Be quiet! He’s gone. It doesn’t matter now.
Thank heavens Brice has gone. Nevertheless
We cannot manage if we’re bishopless.
Deo volente we’ll appoint a man
To replace Brice: let’s have Justinian.
I’ve heard a lot about this fellow Brice,
And not much of it, frankly, very nice.
He’s pleading, is he, with the Pope in Rome?
I’ll go and stop his tricks: I’ll soon be home.
But God’s ways are not our ways, as we’ve said.
Justinian set out, but he fell dead
Upon the way, in Vercellence: for sure
God did not want him in the see of Tours.
Then they asked me to fill the vacant slot-
I took it like a shot,
Not knowing that it was a poisoned chalice.
He’d hardly moved into the bishop’s palace
When word came in:
What? Brice is back in town?
Within the hour,
Death had struck him down.
But we anticipate,
For the mortal fate
Of poor Armentius at this time
Lies hid in the unfathomable mine
Of God’s foreknowledge still.
Back to Rome, if you will:
The time is almost run-
Brice’s confession’s done.
So, Holy Father, here I am. Yes, that, I think, is all.
I honestly cannot seem to recall
Another sin. The nun …
Enough, my son!
I think if you can just control your tongue
And not offend the people with your speech
I see no reason why you should not preach
The Gospel and baptise and celebrate
The Eucharist, teach, and initiate
New churches anywhere you choose to go.
You might even return to Tours, although …
I hope my act of penance will suffice…
Absolvo te in nomine- Oh Brice,
Do get up, please. Don’t grovel on the floor.
And on the way out, kindly shut the door.
…and he still ain’t my dad.
Oh, hush, child.
And I want a moral too.
Story ain’t no good without a…
The moral of this story is that God
Moves in a way which can seem rather odd.
His idea of a holy man just ain’t
What we conventionally would call a saint.
But what God wants us all to see
Is no deep dark hard mystery:
Men like Saint Brice show us the way
We can all get it right some day: Amen!