The Life of Saint Thaïs the Whore, by an Unknown Hand

From Anatole France's novel.
This is my translation of the anonymously written Vita Sanctae Thaïsis Meretricis, found in Patrologia Latina, Vol. 73. You can find my commentary on it here, and I recommend reading that because this isn't something easily taken on its own. It's pretty repetitive and blunt, but that reflects the Latin. It has no flourishes, no art to it. It is blank and brutal.

Trigger warning for emotional and physical abuse of women and gendered slurs. 

Chapter 1
There was once a whore called Thaïs. She was so beautiful that for her many men sold all their possessions and bankrupted themselves. Violent confrontations between her lovers often caused the girl's threshold to be flooded with the blood of young men.

When Abbot Paphnutius heard of her, he dressed in the best clothes he had and took a single golden coin, and he travelled to where she was, in a city in Egypt. And he gave her the gold piece, as a payment for sin.

She took the payment and said, "Let's go into my house." So he went in, and she invited him to lie on the opulently made bed.

"If there is a more private bedroom, let's go in there,"  he said.

"I have one, but if you're afraid of people coming in, nobody else is going to come into the outer bedroom. If you're afraid of God seeing, well, there's no place hidden from his eyes."

The old man, hearing this, said to her, "So you know that God exists?"

"I know God will rule the world to come," she replied, "And I am not unaware of the torments in store for sinners."

"But if you know this," he said, "Why have you utterly destroyed so many souls? You will be damned, not only for your crimes, but also all of theirs!"

When Thaïs heard these words she flung herself at the feet of Paphnutius the monk and pleaded with him. "Punish me, Father! I believe that you can gain redemption for one who prays for it! I only ask that you give me three hours, and then, after that I'll go wherever you command me and do whatever you order."

So Paphnutius decided on a place for her to go, and she collected together all the things that she had earned from her sin, and then she piled it up in the middle of the city with all the people watching, and set fire to it. "Come!" She cried. "All you who sinned with me, come and see how I am burning the things you gave me!"

And the goods were worth forty pounds of gold.

Chapter 2
When everything had been burnt up, she went to the place the Abbot had decided on, a convent. He led her into a small cell and gave instructions that the door be sealed, and that a little hatch should be left through which her meals would be passed. He said that each day she should only have a little bread and water.

After the door had been sealed behind her she called out to him, "Tell me, Father, where do I urinate?"

And he replied, "In your cell, as you deserve."

And then she asked how she should pray to God, and he said, "You don't deserve to call on God, or bring His Name to your lips, or raise your hands to Heaven, because your lips are full of evil and your hands are sullied with filth. No. Sit, looking to the east and repeat these words, over and over: 'Have mercy on me, You who made me.'"

Chapter 3
When she had spent three years shut away like this, Paphnutius took pity on her. He went to the Abbot Antony, and asked him if God had forgiven her sins or not.

After he'd visited, and in secret had told the whole story, Antony called together his disciples and told them all to spend the night in prayer, and each one of them should ask God about the reason why Paphnutius had come. And so each went off to his own cell and prayed continuously.

Abbot Paul, one of St. Antony's better disciples, suddenly saw a bed in the sky, opulently made, which was looked after by three virgins with brightly shining faces. Paul said to himself, "This must be some blessing rewarded to my Father Antony!"

He heard a voice then. "It is not for your Father Antony, but for Thaïs, the whore."

When Abbot Paul told him what had happened, Paphnutius knew the will of God and left, heading back to the convent where she was still imprisoned.

He tore down the threshold that blocked her in, but she insisted that she remain imprisoned there, even though the door was open.

"Come out!" he said. "God has forgiven your sins!"

"I bear witness to God," she said, "because of whom I am in here, that all of my sins appear to me as if on a tray before my eyes, and I can't stop seeing them."

"It wasn't your punishment that removed your sins," Paphnutius cried, " but the fact that you always have the guilt of them in your mind."

And then they led her out. Thaïs lived for another fifteen days, and then died, peacefully.

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