Hermann Hesse Selects Fairy Tales from the Gesta Romanorum:
Of Satan’s Wickedness and How God’s Judgment Often Remains Hidden
In ancient times a hermit, who piously served God day and night, lived in his cave. Now it happened that a shepherd was tending his flock next to this hermit’s cell. One day while the shepherd was overcome by sleep, a robber came and drove off his sheep. When the owner of the sheep returned, he asked the shepherd where his sheep had gone. The shepherd admitted he had indeed lost the animals, but he wasn’t quite sure how it had happened. When the owner heard this, he fell into a rage and killed the shepherd. When the hermit saw this, he said to himself: “See, dear God, how the owner has accused and killed an innocent man? Because you allow things like this to happen, I will return to the world and live like other men.”
After having these thoughts, he left his hermitage and went out into the world. But God did not want to ruin him, so He sent an angel in human shape to be his companion. When the angel met the hermit on the road, he said to him “My dear man, where are you going?” The hermit replied :”I am going to the city that lies before me.” The angel said to him: “I will be your companion on the journey, for I am an angel of God and have come to you so that we can walk together on this path." Together they made their way to the city.
But when they entered it, they asked a knight to provide shelter in the name of God. The knight received them cordially and humbly gave them food and drink, all the finest he had to offer. This knight had an only child, whom he loved dearly and the boy lay in his cradle. At night after they had eaten the evening meal, the sleeping chamber was opened and proper beds were prepared for the angel and the hermit. At midnight the angel got up and strangled the child in his crib. When the hermit saw this, he thought to himself: “This is not an angel of God. This brave soldier has satisfied our every need and has stilled our thirst. He had nothing except his innocent little son. And he killed this small babe.” But the hermit did not dare say anything.
In the morning, they both rose early and made their way to another city, where they were honorably received in the house of a burgher. This burgher had a golden cup, which he valued and of which he was very proud. At midnight the angel got up and stole the cup. When the hermit saw this, he thought: “I believe this is an evil angel; that burgher only did good things for us, and in return he stole his cup.” But the hermit said nothing, because he was frightened of the angel.
Early in the morning they got up and went their way, until they came to a river, over which a bridge was spanned. When they stepped upon the bridge, they met a poor man. The angel spoke to him: “My dear fellow show me the way to the city,” The poor man turned around and pointed in the same direction. But when he had turned around the angel grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him off the bridge, so that the poor man soon vanished beneath the waves. When the hermit saw this, he said to himself: “Now I know this is the devil, not a good angel of God.” What evil had the poor man done, and still the angel killed him! He now mulled over how he could be rid of him. But because he was frightened, he said nothing. When they arrived in the city in the evening hour, they entered the house of a rich man and asked him for a night’s lodgings in the name of God. But the rich man refused. The angel then spoke to the man:
“In the name of God, let us sleep below the roof of your house, so that wolves or other wild animals do not eat us!” But the man replied: “See, here is the stall where my pigs reside. If you desire it, you can sleep with them. But leave me; I shall not give you another place to sleep.” The angel replied: “Because we cannot find anything better, we shall sleep with the pigs;” and so it happened.
Early in the morning when they got up, the angel called to the innkeeper and said: “My dear man, here I give you a cup,” and with these words he gave the man the cup he had stolen before. When the hermit saw this he said to himself: “Now I know with certainty that he is the devil. It was a good man who received us humbly and from whom he stole that cup. Now he has given it to that rogue, who didn’t even give us a room for sleeping.” And so he said to the angel: “I don’t want to consort with you any more. I commend you to God.”
The angel replied: “Listen to me and then you may go on your way. When you lived in your hermitage, you witnessed how the owner of the sheep slew his shepherd. Certainly the shepherd did not deserve death, because another man had performed the crime. He should not have died. But God allowed him to be killed and through this punishment he avoided eternal death. He had committed a sin before, for which he never did penance. The robber, who escaped with all the sheep, will suffer eternal agony and the owner of the sheep, who killed the shepherd, shall repent for what he has done unwittingly, by richly donating alms and performing acts of kindness. Afterward, I strangled the son of the knight who had given us good lodgings. But you should know that before the child was born, this knight was the best alms-giver and performed many deeds of charity. But since the child’s birth, he has become frugal and stingy. He collects and hoards everything to make the boy rich. This child is the cause of his ruin and that is why I killed the babe. The man has become what he was before, namely a good Christian. Then I stole the cup from the man who received us so humbly. But you should know that before his cup was finished, no man walked the earth, who was more sober. But since he has been in possession of the cup, he is so happy to own it, that he drinks the entire day from it and is inebriated two or three times a day. That is why I stole his cup and now he is as sober as before. Then I pushed the poor man into the water. Know that the poor man was a good Christian. But if he had continued only a short way, he would have committed the mortal sin of murder. Now he is saved and sits near God’s throne in heaven. Finally, I gave the cup to the man, who denied us hospitality. You should know that nothing happens on earth without a reason. He only offered us accommodations with his pigs, and that is why I gave him the cup, and when he dies, he will sit in hell. In the future bridle your mouth and do not complain to God, because He knows everything.”
When the hermit heard these words, he fell down at the feet of the angel and begged for forgiveness. He then returned to his hermitage and became a good Christian.