You Must Care for Your Kairos

The codex Renbaudus was found in 1962 in Southeastern France. It contains the memoirs in Latin of an 11th century Norman knight, Renbaudus of Bernay. The codex mainly narrates his pilgrimage to Jerusalem between 1095 and 1099.

Even though many pages of the codex have been lost, it is now understood that it originally contained different sections. In one of the few surviving ones, Renbaudus describes his childhood and the lessons he learned from the Benedictine monks who raised him at Cluny abbey.

As a codicologist, my aim is to translate and share with you what he wrote more than 10 centuries ago, hoping these timeless lessons will be useful. I have taken some stylish liberties and you can find a glossary at the bottom for place names, difficult words and Latin words. You may also hover over the dotted-underlined words to get the definitions.



During the summer of 1079, the sun blazed throughout Burgundy. When I reached Berzé, I was sweating. So was my horse. I didn’t see Father Eusebius on his bench, but I was not surprised. It was too hot.

I found him in his cool cell where he sat at a table, writing. He stopped as soon as I entered the tiny room where he kept all his treasures. A couple of frocks, a stack of manuscripts, and a few bowls.

“Renbaudus!” he said, “I didn’t think you would come in this hot weather.”

“I needed to talk to you, Father, but am I interrupting? You were writing…”

“That can wait. I am just writing down a few thoughts. One day you will read them.” He cleared his throat and pointed toward a stool. “So, what is your challenge?”

“Yesterday Josseran and I wanted to go hear Cantus Planus at the church,” I said as I sat on the stool. “A group of monks from St. Gallus Abbey was singing, and we didn’t want to miss it. Unfortunately Josseran’s mother, Clementia refused to let us go. She said it was too late and too dangerous for young boys to be outside in the night.”

Father Eusebius nodded. “So you two became frustrated.”

“Yes,” I said. “Every time I want to do something with Josseran, we never know if his mother will agree or not. And often we are disappointed.”

“Renbaudus, are you talking as if the Great Shadow of Death were coming?”

I waved my hands. “No Father, I am sorry. I came to you because we want to solve the problem. I taught Josseran the three secrets to convince people, but Ethos, Pathos, and Logos don’t seem to have any effect on his mother.”

Father Eusebius slowly stood up and, bones creaking, he shuffled to the darkest corner of his cell. He brought back a container. “I have here some pimen, which will help me focus on your challenge,” he said. “When did you ask permission to go to hear Cantus Planus?”

“Just after the prandium.”

Father Eusebius carefully poured some pimen in a bowl. “What was she doing when you asked?”

“I don’t exactly remember. I think she was storing the leftovers and preparing to wash the dishes.”

“I see.” The good Father took a sip of pimen, enjoying the moment, taking his time.

I was getting frustrated. “Father, what do you see?”

He didn’t answer, taking another sip. Finally he looked at me and said, “What exactly did she do after she refused your request?”

“I don’t remember,” I sighed. “We were so disappointed that we quickly left her.”

“I see.”

Father Eusebius was getting on my nerves. He had explained to me many times how to be patient with others, but sometimes people could be so slow! Like now. “Father, what the hell do you see?”

His reaction was swift. “Renbaudus, if you want to curse, you must leave the house of God. Cursing make me uncomfortable.”

I lowered my head. “I am sorry, Father. Sometimes I want to get answers quickly.”

“Not sometimes: maybe all the time!” he answered with a smile.

I nodded.

He took another sip, then looked into my eyes and said, “You would do so much better with Josseran’s mother if you would care for your Kairos.”


“My Kairos?”

“Brother Servius hasn’t taught you about Kairos?”

“No Father, unless I was sleeping,” I answered sarcastically.

He laughed. “Kairos is another word coming from ancient Greece and used by Aristotle.


“Yes, I told you Aristotle was one of the greatest thinkers, and he still influences our way of thought today. I suspect he will be influential for a long time.”

He finished his bowl of pimen. “Kairos,” he said, “is a Greek word meaning the right moment, the right opportunity. The Greeks had two words for ‘time’. One was Chronos and the other one, Kairos. The difference between the two is that Chronos is linear. It symbolizes the time that goes on.”

I frowned. “Which time? Now?”

“Yes, Renbaudus! Since you came into my cell, time is going, never stopping. This is Chronos.”

“This I understand. But what about Kairos? Is there a time other than fleeting time?”


Father Eusebius thought for a moment. “Do you know the difference between quantity and quality?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Give me an example.”

I thought for a moment. “I can drink a lot of hypocras, but it doesn’t mean that this very hypocras is good.”

Father Eusebius was surprised. “Good example, Renbaudus,” he said, looking at his empty bowl. “I can tell you that the quantity of hypocras I just drank was small but its quality was great.”

He looked back at me. “With time, it is the same. Chronos is quantity and Kairos is quality. Chronos is just the sun going through the sky and Kairos is your best work during that motion.”

I raised my hand. “Now I understand Kairos. But how does it relate to Josseran’s mother?”

“Actually, Kairos affects everyone, not just his mother. Kairos is how you relate to others, what do you do to make your time worthwhile. You often talk about playing ‘Knights & Heathens’. What do you think? Is it Kairos or not?”

Even though it was cooler in the cell, I had a few beads of sweat on my forehead. I wiped them off, thinking.

“Hesitating?” asked the good Father.

“Yes, because to me it seems to be Kairos since I am improving my skills as a miles every time I play.”

“But you are right to hesitate. The correct answer would be: it depends.”

I nodded. I understood, but I listened carefully to his explanation, hoping to learn something more.

“If you play during your free time it is indeed Kairos,” he said, “but if you use your study time to play your favorite game, you clearly see that it is not.”

“Kairos is doing things at the right time?”

“Exactly!” answered Father Eusebius.

“And I believe we didn’t pick the right moment to talk to Josseran’s mother.”

Father Eusebius extended his arms in a Iesu-like gesture and smiled. “I have nothing else to teach you. Kairos is yours from now on!”


I was surprised. “You are finished? I don’t need to know anything else?”

“No, Renbaudus. You understand the concept of Kairos. Now just go and use it.”

“But Father,” I said, “there is one thing you didn’t explain.”

“What is it?”

I took a deep breath. “How do I know when it’s the right time? It is easy to figure out regarding my games versus my study time, but how about when I have to ask someone else? How do I know if I am choosing the right moment?”

Father Eusebius chuckled. “If we had the answer for that one,” he said, “the world would be much different.”

“So nobody knows?”

“Yes,” he said. “Kairos is not an exact science. That’s why you have to practice. Picture a battle between two armies. When is the right time to launch the attack and ensure victory? There is no formula.”

I frowned. “So our life is a succession of Kairos?”

“Yes! Thucydides was a Greek historian and he studied a lot of the decisions taken by past governments. Was it the right timing or not? What were the consequences? If you are interested, I think the librarium has a translation in Latin of one of his books.”

I waved his offer away as I didn’t want to get dragged towards this Thucydides’ analysis. Boring.

Father Eusebius was now on a roll. “You can see the effects of Kairos everywhere! Even in arts,” he said. “When do you stop adding colors or polishing your masterpiece? When is the right time?”

He stood up, looking somewhere behind me and talking to himself. “Yes, what is the essence of a masterpiece? When is it perfect? Sometimes I wonder if maybe perfection is in imperfection.”

He sat back. Then noticed me. “I am sorry, Renbaudus.”

“That’s fine, Father.” I smiled. “Sometimes I also get carried away by things I like.”

He looked at his empty cup and sighed. “I think Caerus has run away.”

“Caerus? Who is he?”

“In Greek mythology, he was the representation of Kairos,” he said. “Caerus was a handsome man, son of Zeus, but he had a peculiar hairstyle. Just a tuft of hair hanging over his forehead.”

“Why is that?”

“Caerus was always depicted tiptoeing with little wings to his feet. This was supposed to symbolize time flying. He carried a razor, which suggested the fleeting moment of the right opportunity. It’s there…and then…” Father Eusebius made a razor-like movement with his backhand, “it’s gone. It’s cut.”

He misjudged his strength and hit the bowl. It crashed against the wall. I rushed to pick it up. Fortunately it was empty. I turned toward him. “But you haven’t answered my question.”

“Thank you,” said Father Eusebius, taking the bowl from me.

“When Caerus comes along, you have to grab his tuft before he passes you, because the back of his head is bald. Wait too long and there is nothing anymore to catch. You missed your Kairos, your right opportunity,” concluded the good Father, sitting down on his stool.

I was fascinated. “Those Greeks were very imaginative. I can almost see Caerus!”

“Good, my son.” Father Eusebius yawned. “I think it’s a good time for you to go and see if you can grab Caerus’ hair. I think I will catch Morpheus instead.”

I frowned. “Morpheus?”

“That will be another story, Renbaudus.”


I recounted the whole story to Josseran, who became quite fascinated with Caerus. But his analytical mind found a problem.

“This story is flawed,” he said. “If Caerus is the only one to have this tuft of hair, in this case you just pay attention and wait for someone with a similar feature to pass nearby. Just grab it regardless of what you are doing! It must be the perfect timing for something.”

His line of thinking was interesting. I had to submit that to Father Eusebius.

“Enough!” I said, to capture his attention. “We need to work on your mother’s case to make sure we succeed.”

“That’s right!” he exclaimed. “Where do we start?”

I thought for a moment. “As Father Eusebius explained, we must pick the right time. Grab this lock of hair. When is your mother the happiest?”

Josseran looked at me with surprise. “Happiest? I rarely see her happy. She is always worrying about something. Usually related to me.”

“That doesn’t make it easy for us,” I said. “Think, Josseran! She must enjoy something…sometime!”

The Lord of Bagé scratched his head. “She looks peaceful when she comes back from the missa. Or when she eats bread with honey.

“We could seize the moment, just after the missa, and offer her that very treat,” I suggested.

Josseran was surprised. “Renbaudus, you are right! This is a great idea! We can double our chances of success,” he said. “We should try this as soon as possible.”

“What do you want to ask for?”

“I would like to go with you to Berzé. Henry is often allowed to sleep there, but my mother gets really edgy if I want to sleep away from home.”

“You are right.” I nodded. “This is a real challenge.”

“She likes to attend None in the afternoon,” he said. “We should talk to her after that and before she starts preparing dinner.”

Our plan sounded good. We worked next on the rhetoric using Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, so Josseran’s lines would be perfect. He repeated his speech while I acted out the part of a grumpy mother.

“When should we try for real?” I asked.

“Tomorrow is fine. I will make sure that we have some extra bread and honey.”

“I will check on her just after the missa,” I said. “If she is smiling, we will do it. Otherwise we will postpone until the next opportunity.”

Josseran lifted his head up as if talking to the Greek gods. “Caerus, we are going to catch your tuft!”


The next day after the schola, Josseran rushed home instead of going to the scriptorium.

Clementia, his plump mother, was surprised. “Brother Rucelinus didn’t want you to stay today?”

“I decided to come home.”

“For what reason?”

“I wanted to air the hay in our beds,” he said. “It smells stale.”

“That would be very useful. Thank you, my little one.”

Clementia grabbed Josseran and squeezed him like a lemon. “You are being very nice. How is the schola going?” she asked, giving him kisses all over his head. Josseran thought it was fortunate they were home. He didn’t like his mother’s displays of affection. But he had one more question, “You are going to the None prayers, right?”

“Of course, my little prince,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to miss them.”

Josseran was relieved. Everything was going well.

Later in the afternoon, when None was rung in the church to call for the monks to come for their prayers, Clementia left home and Josseran took care of both beds.

Then he checked for the tenth time to make sure that there was enough honey. He even cleaned the plain dirt floor of their room, shooing away a couple of their hens.

A little bit after the end of None, he heard someone running, followed by frantic knocks at the door. I had run as fast as I could to reach his home long before his mother.

“She was smiling!” I said, exulting.

We were ready. The bread and honey sat waiting on the table. The room was cleaner than usual and Josseran had again rehearsed his speech.

We heard several footsteps and muffed voices before Josseran’s mother stepped into the room. She was not alone. Brother Rucelinus was with her.

Clementia’s plump cheeks were pink. “The good brother here was complimenting me for my attendance to the church.”

She then noticed me. “Renbaudus? Welcome to my humble house.” And after that she spotted the honey on the table, and said, “I think a little angel did great deeds today.”

As brother Rucelinus closed the door, she squeezed Josseran and again began covering him with kisses. The Lord of Bagé blushed and gently tried to push her away. “Mother,” he said, “we have guests today.”

“Yes, of course!” she said, “brother Rucelinus was so nice after the prayers.”

“My compliments were well deserved,” he said. “I have rarely seen a lay sister attending the office with such passion. This is a tribute to the late Lord of Bagé, your father,” he said putting thin, bony hands on Josseran’s shoulders.

Clementia’s face grew sad. “Oh my dear Lord of Bagé, I miss you so much!” She began weeping softly.

That was not good for us. Josseran tried to change the mood in the room. “My father was a blessed man and he would have wanted us to share these goods in his memory,” he said pointing at the bread and honey.

Clementia wiped the tears away. “You are right, my son! We must be strong. Soon you will be the new Lord of Bagé and our people will rely on you.”

Josseran looked at me, eyes twinkling. I understood. He had just seen Caerus coming along, his tuft of hair waving in the wind.


We all settled around the small table, cutting bread and spreading honey, after a short blessing. Josseran and I sat on the edge of a bed, while Clementia and brother Rucelinus sat on stools.

The latter looked at Josseran. “You didn’t feel like coming to the scriptorium today?”

“The hay of our beds needed to be changed.” He paused.

“Sometimes I wonder if I am doing the right thing by staying in there so much. One day, I will have to manage the Lordship of Bagé. I cannot find all the answers to my questions while copying and reading manuscripts.”

Brother Rucelinus nodded. “It’s a shame, because God blessed you with so much talent. But I understand your concern.” He turned his stern face to Clementia. “Your son is right: he needs to learn more than reading and writing.”

“What should he practice?” she asked him, concerned.

Josseran had the answer. “At the barns of Berzé,” he said, “the monks manage their finances with the surrounding peasants’ families. They hire them to farm the abbey’s plots, to harvest the crops, and then they store them in the barns to help feed Cluny during the winter.”

I smiled. I could feel Josseran grabbing Caerus’ lock.

“If I could learn from them,” he continued, “I would be able to manage my own lordship with ease, since the size of Bagé is smaller than Cluny’s lands around Berzé.”

What a masterful introduction. Josseran was perfect in his delivery! Even though he hadn’t yet started his argument.

“Wouldn’t it be better to learn here at the heart of the abbey with the grand cellarer who supervises all Cluny’s lands?” argued brother Rucelinus.

“And you wouldn’t be far from home,” added Clementia.

The tuft was slipping away.

Josseran stood up. “You all know me,” he said, looking around the table. “I am very serious about my studies, and I do my best at the schola. Brother Rucelinus, you have seen me for hours every afternoon and evening learning the difficult art of copying a manuscript.”

The grand claustrum nodded.

“If I learn more skills in Berzé, I will be happier. Why? Because my confidence in handling the Lordship will rise. Hence my subjects, well fed, will be contented too.”

I thought the delivery was a little bit solemn, but Josseran was skillfully advancing his rhetoric. Now on to the Logos.

“The skills I can learn in Berzé,” he said, “perfectly match what will be needed in Bagé. If I can manage the cultivation of different crops, then my Lordship, even though small, will prosper. This gives the Duchy of Burgundy another reliable vassal.”

He then sat down, his right hand closed in a fist as if he had Caerus’ hair in it.


A few days later I was back in Berzé. Father Eusebius was not to be seen on his bench because of the hot weather.

The buildings, made of stone, were much cooler. Wiping sweat from my forehead, I headed for his cell. The good Father was sitting on his bed reading a manuscript in a language I couldn’t figure out. He stopped to greet me.

“Ah Renbaudus! It’s been a while. I was wondering if the heat was keeping you in Cluny.”

“The weather is not the reason, Father,” I said. “Homework is. I wish I could come more often.”

“Any questions today?”

“No. Just an update about Kairos.”

He thought for an instant and finally remembered.

“Did you use it?”

“I told Josseran what you taught me, Father,” I said, “because he wanted to escape the iron grip of his mother.”

“Did he make any progress?”

“Yes and no.” I hesitated. “We applied your strategy for grabbing Caerus’ tuft and it was flawless. Josseran added to that a perfect Ethos, Pathos, and Logos that would have influenced any reluctant mother.”

“And it didn’t work?”

“It did! Brother Rucelinus agreed with his words, and you know how fond he is of Josseran.”

“So what is the problem?” Father Eusebius said, raising his white eyebrows. “His mother?”

“She agreed, too.”

“So he did take care of his Kairos?” said Father Eusebius, breaking into a smile.

“Clementia, Josseran’s mother, will…” I hesitated again before going on, “…will come to see you tomorrow.”

What?” The good Father jumped from his bed in a way I had never seen. “She is coming to visit me?”

I nodded.

He sat back down. “Why?”

I could hear some anguish in his voice. I paused and tried a diplomatic answer. “She knows you well, because I often tell her how wise you are and how much you are teaching me through your informal lectures.”

“You do, Renbaudus?”

“Yes, Father, and now that Josseran wants to come here, she is trying to make sure everything will go well. You are like a beacon of knowledge. She wants to be reassured.”

Father Eusebius scratched his white-haired head. “Well,” he said, “I think it’s not too much if all she wants is to make sure her son will be well taken care of. I can do that. I can give her a few words of reassurance.”

I shook my head.

Father Eusebius was surprised. “Is that not enough? What should I do then?”

“She would like to stay here,” I said. “And learn from you.”


Father Eusebius almost fell from the edge of his bed. “What nonsense are you talking about?”

“Clementia thinks that while Josseran learns here about managing crops, she could stay too and spend time with you to learn new concepts.”

“This is not possible! Why do that?”

“She thinks she can learn valuable lessons from you and pass them on to her son,” I said.

The good Father was now sitting straight up on the edge of his bed. “I can help her,” he said, “but I don’t want to have someone around me all the time. If I am here in Berzé it’s because I wanted to be in a quiet place to write and be able to meditate.”

“You can tell her tomorrow.”

“I will.”

“That might put in jeopardy Josseran’s ability to stay here.”

“Renbaudus,” Father Eusebius said with a frown, “please don’t use this kind of tactic with me.”

I smiled. “I learned many things from you.”

“This one? A disguised threat?” he said rather sharply. “I don’t think I have ever taught you that.”

I lowered my head. “True. But I want Josseran to come here.”

“And what do I always say when you are facing a problem?”

“Think!” I said, “That’s what you say.”

“So let’s think and solve this problem.”

The bell of Berzé was ringing Terce when Josseran and his mother arrived. I had stayed there, thinking with Father Eusebius about how we would handle the Bagé family. This visit needed to be just that: a short visit. Josseran could get acquainted with Berzé and his mother could get reassured about the safety of her son.

Clementia had made an effort to dress up. Instead of her usual dark loose gown, she wore a neat green gown that clung to her rotund figure. The top was open to show a white chemise. A loose-fitting wimple tied with a yellow band of silk was draped around her head and shoulders.

Nonetheless, her face showed some signs of worry. The only time she had traveled in all her life was to come from Bagé with her son, after the death of her husband, to Cluny. Since then, the Lordship had been taken care of by Josseran’s aged grandfather who was expecting his grandson to succeed him as soon as possible.

As they dismounted their horses, I rushed to them, happy to see my friend. “Welcome to Berzé! Was it a quick trip, as I told you?”

“Yes it was,” said Josseran. “I am finally glad to see it.”

Josseran was all smiles. But not his mother. “I didn’t know it was so small.”

“If you compare it to Cluny, it is true that it is very small, but it’s peaceful. Berzé is just one of the many barns of the abbey.” I lowered my voice. “It is one of the most favorite places of the great abbot Hugh.”

Clementia nodded. “That’s what he told me when I requested the authorization to move here permanently. He also warned me that Berzé was not Cluny and that I might get bored quickly,” she said. “But I explained that as long as there was a chapel I could go to and pray, I would never get bored.”

I swallowed hard. She was determined to settle in Berzé. We’d better not miss Caerus’ next appearance.


I showed them around. The barns, the chapel, the refectorium and the cells. It took some time.

“Where do you sleep?” asked Josseran.

“In the guestroom,” I said. “Which most of the time is empty.”

“But when the great abbot comes, he has a private room?” said Clementia.

“Not at all,” I said. “He sleeps in the guestroom or in the common room with the other monks. Like in Cluny. There is little private space here. Cells are reserved for the oldest monks.”

“I will sacrifice my privacy for Josseran’s future,” said Clementia, lifting her head. “Where is Father Eusebius? We haven’t seen him yet.”

“During the summer, he goes out very early to get some fresh air before retreating to his cell,” I said. “We will find him on his bench on the other side of the barns.”

Reaching the area of the benches, we noticed that Father Eusebius was praying. “We have to wait,” I whispered. “He doesn’t like to be interrupted.”

We found some benches and sat, waiting. The good Father was mumbling some prayers. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, he lifted his head as if awakening. He waved to us to come.

“You must be Josseran,” he said, smiling, “and you must be his dedicated mother.”

Clementia blushed. “Father, you are too nice to me,” she said. “We are just a modest family trying to make ends meet for the next generation.” She placed her hand on Josseran’s shoulder.

“Renbaudus has told me so much about you,” said the little Lord of Bagé, eyes twinkling. “I’ve been eager to meet you!”

The good Father laughed. “I am afraid Renbaudus is overconfident in his judgment.” He offered Clementia a seat on the bench.

“I am sure he is not,” answered Clementia, while settling on the bench, “and I want to learn from you too.”

“It will be my pleasure to share with you my knowledge, gleaned throughout my trips.”

I stiffened. Was Father Eusebius pushing Caerus out of his hiding place?

“Where did you go?” asked Clementia.

“Many places,” he said. “It would take too long to tell you the details. But I spent many years in the land of the Saracens.”

“In…with the heathens?”

“Yes. I became acquainted with them, learned their language, their customs and read their books,” he said. “My knowledge comes mainly from those readings.”

Josseran was impressed. “You must have fought them hard to get their knowledge!”

Father Eusebius laughed. “Not at all! I befriended them. Otherwise how would I be able to learn their language?”

“Can you say something in the heathens’ tongue?” said Josseran. “I heard that you can get sick just by hearing it.”

The good Father opened his mouth, but Clementia suddenly stood up. “Wait! I would love to hear it,” she said, “but I think it is time to go. We have already taken too much of your time.”

“Mother, already?”

“Josseran, you may stay here today and come back with Renbaudus tonight. I will wait for you. Praying,” she concluded, her voice trembling.

Caerus had been a little bit elbowed and pushed around, but his tuft had been seized.

As Father Eusebius had told me the night before, sometimes the perfect Kairos will not show up for a long while. But it is possible to help it by pushing forward.

By making things happen.


Berzé: small village near the abbey of Cluny.
Cluny: abbey located in Burgundy, France. Cluny was the head of the most powerful monastic movement in the Middle Ages.
None: mid-afternoon prayer around 3 pm. It is supposed to be the ninth hour of the day, hence the name. It is interesting to know that the word “afternoon” comes from “after none.”
Cantus Planus: also called “plain chant” or “plain song”. That was the popular music in Medieval era, sung exclusively in churches and monasteries with no instruments and only one tone. Gregorian chants were a very popular form of Cantus Planus. You can hear one at the beginning of each videoblog.
Great Shadow of Death: of course you know the meaning! (Ahem, just in case, go to this episode to learn more about it.)
Pimen: it is a drink made from wine mixed with spices.
Prandium: lunch.
Aristotle (384BC-322BC): He was one of the Greek founding fathers of Western philosophy along with Socrates and Plato. His views are still actively studied today.
Miles: soldier
Thucydides (460BC-395BC): He was a Greek historian. He is considered the father of scientific history because of his careful research about facts and analysis of decisions taken by governments.
Librarium: you can guess by yourself ;)
Morpheus: he is the Greek god of dreams. He has wings and can take any human form to appear in your dreams. Much better than The Matrix guy!
Scriptorium: it means “place of writing”. It didn’t always exist in a monastery. Often monks would copy manuscripts in their own cells.
Grand cellarer: Do you need any explanations?
Grand claustrum: he was in charge of the librarium and the scriptorium.
Terce: mid-morning prayer around 9am. It is supposed to be the third hour of the day, hence the name.

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