The Rude Priest

Dear friends, there is a tale:

Once a country priest was so rude that when riding his horse on the narrow road, he would shout at passer-bys coming his way as soon as he could spot them: “Be gone! Go off! Out of the way! Here comes the priest!”

One day he was shouting at a person quite far off, but as he rode closer it became apparent that the traveler happened to be the king himself. The priest quickly grew quiet, cast his glance downwards, and pulled on his hood to conceal his face. As the king’s horse strode past, it was the priest who moved off the road. But instead of passing, the King stopped and turned to him, saying, “Tomorrow you shall come see me at my country palace. If you cannot answer three questions, then on behalf of your pride, you shall lose your hood and gown.”

The priest was much vexed by this challenge, and back in the chapel complained to the clerk. “There’s no use,” said the priest, “I’ll never be able to satisfy the king. A single fool can always ask more than ten wise men can answer.” The clerk did not understand, and suggested merely obliging the king’s questions honestly. “How simple you are!” said the priest. “The questions are sure to be riddles. Here, take my gown. Tomorrow you shall go to the king instead, and then you’ll see how he has a laugh at you.”

The next morning the clerk, dressed in the priestly gown and hood, went to see the king. After a brief greeting, the king began: “Well well, priest. Tell me this first: How far exactly is the east from the west?”

“Why, exactly a day’s journey” replied the clerk.

“And how is that?” asked the king.

“Is it not true that the sun rises in the east, and sets in the west, and does so quite nicely in just one day?”

“So it’s true!” said the king. “But tell me now what you think I am worth, as I stand before you.”

“Well," it happens that our Lord was valued at thirty pieces of silver,” said the clerk, “so I think you must be valued at most twenty-nine.”

“All too clever!” said the king. “But if you are so wise, tell me then, what am I thinking of right now?”

“You think you are standing before the priest, but forgive me my king, you are wrong, for I am but the clerk in his robes. He asked me to come in his place.”

At this the king had a great laugh. “Be off home with you,” the king said, “but keep the robes, for starting today you are the priest, and let him be the clerk.”

And so it was.

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Rembrandt’s son Titus, dressed as a Monk, 1600