The Poor Peasant who Gained Paradise

11 November 2019

Tales from Old French (12th/13th century)
A tale of folk theology which perhaps bears out Saint Paisios’ saying that there will be many surprises in Paradise

We find in writing a wondrous adventure that occurred to a poor peasant. He died one Friday morning and it so happened that neither angel nor devil was at hand at the hour of his death, when the soul departed from his body. Nobody asked anything of him or laid any command on him. He was very glad of this, since he’d been sorely afraid. But then, as he looked to the right, towards heaven, he saw Saint Michael the Archangel bearing a soul in great joy. So he set out after the Archangel and followed him so long that eventually he came to Paradise.

Saint Peter was keeping the gate, received the soul borne by the Archangel and, having done so returned to the entrance. There he found the soul of the peasant and asked what he was doing there. ‘For no-one has lodging here unless they’ve gained it by judgement. Besides, by Saint Alain, we have little love for rogues here, since scoundrels can’t enter’. The soul replied: ‘Yet there’s no greater scoundrel than you, fair Sir Peter, since you were always harder than a rock [Peter]. By the holy Paternoster, God made a mistake when He made you an Apostle, because you denied your Lord three times. How little was your faith when you denied him thrice, even though you were one of His companions. Paradise isn’t for you. Take you leave immediately, you disloyal soul. I am true and of good faith, so bliss is rightfully mine’.

Sorely abashed, Saint Peter turned away and, as he went, he met Saint Thomas, to whom he related his misadventure, word for word, and all his wrath and bitterness. Then said Saint Thomas: ‘I myself will go to this scoundrel. He’s not staying here, God willing’ So he went into the square and found the peasant. ‘Rogue’, he said, ‘this dwelling belongs as of right to us and to the martyrs and confessors. What righteousness have you performed that you think you can abide here. You can’t stay, for this is the hostel of the true-hearted’. ‘Thomas, Thomas’, he replied. ‘you’re like a man of law, too quick to make an answer. But aren’t you the one who, as is well known, spoke with the Apostles when they’d seen the Lord after His resurrection? You swore you wouldn’t believe unless you felt His wounds with your hands. You were false and disbelieving’ Then Saint Thomas hung his head and admitted he was right. He went away, came across Saint Paul and told him of his discomfiture. ‘By my head’, said Saint Paul, ‘I’ll go and see if he’ll argue the toss with me’.

In the meantime, the soul, who was not afraid of destruction, was enjoying himself in Paradise. ‘Soul’, said Saint Paul, ‘who brought you here? What righteousness have you done that the gates should be opened to you? Get out of paradise, you false rogue’. ‘How is it, Don Paul of the bald pate, that you are now so angry, who were once such a dreadful tyrant? There’ll never be another as cruel as you. Saint Stephen paid dearly when you had him stoned to death. I know well the story of your life’. And Saint Paul was very sad. He left at once and came across Saint Thomas, who was deep in discussion with Saint Peter. He told them that the peasant had vanquished him. ‘He’s rightfully won Paradise as far as I’m concerned, and so I grant it to him’.

All three of them took their complaint to God. Saint Peter very fairly told Him of the peasant who had shamed them: ‘He silenced us with his tongue, and I was so abashed that I’ll never speak of this again’. Then said our Lord: ‘I will go there myself and hear this new thing’.

He came to the soul and enquired how it had come about that he was there without permission. ‘No soul, man or woman, has ever entered here without consent. You’ve slandered and scorned and outraged my Apostles and still you think you can stay here?’

‘Lord’, said the peasant, ‘to be fair, my right to dwell here is as good as theirs. I never denied you, I never doubted you nor did anyone come to their death through me. They’ve done all these things, yet are now in Paradise. While I lived on earth, my life was just and upright. I gave of my bread to the poor. I harbored them morning and evening. I warmed them at my fire and made sure they wanted for neither shirt nor hose. I kept them even until death and brought them to your holy church. And now I don’t know if I did the right thing. And besides, I made true confession and received your body with true rites. We’re told that to people who die in this way God forgives their sins. You know the truth of it. I entered here, wasn’t denied, so why should I have to leave? If I have to, you’ll break your word, because you said that those who enter here won’t ever leave’. And the Lord granted it.