1. Jeremiah has assured us that our sweet, heavenly Lord desires that no man shall perish. He wishes that all men shall come to know him and to enjoy life without end in Eternal Bliss: ‘Stand upon the ways,’ Jeremiah said, ‘see old paths and ask about them (that is to say, old ways of thinking). Ask: ‘Which is the good way?’ and walk in that way; then you will find refreshment for your souls.’
The spiritual paths that lead a person to Our Lord Jesus Christ and to the kingdom of glory are many and various. Of these ways, there is one which is particularly suitable and noble and which will not fail to guide those men and women who have lost their way to the celestial Jerusalem through sin. This way is called penitence, which a man should enquire about and pay careful attention to with all his heart, so that he may learn what penitence is, why it is so-named and how many ways there are of showing penitence, as well as how many kinds of penance there are, the things which are appropriate to penance and the things which are harmful to it.
2. Saint Ambrose said: ‘Penitence is the lamentation of man for the sins that he has done, and an assurance that he will do nothing more that will require such penitence.’ One learned scholar has said: ‘Penitence is the bewailing of man for his sinful deeds.’
Penitence is the repentance of a man who believes himself to be guilty of sin. To show penitence, he must first regret his failings and have resolved to confess them and to do penance for them, and never to do these things again but to do good from henceforth. Otherwise his repentance will not help him. Saint Isidore said: ‘A man is a complete fool if he goes straight back and does the same thing over again, when he has just repented it.’ Weeping for his sins, but still committing them, will not help him in the least. Nevertheless, every time a man stumbles, however often, he may hope to arise through penitence, with God’s grace and if he is sincere; but it cannot be certain that he will.
Saint Gregory said: ‘It is hard for a man to draw himself out of sin if it is ingrained in his soul.’ Therefore repentant folk, who cease their sinful acts and discard sin before sin discards them, are assured of salvation, according to the Church. He who sins, and then sincerely repents on his deathbed, however, Holy Church hopes for his salvation through the mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But take the certain path.
3. Now I have described to you what penitence is, I shall tell you that there are three main actions of penitence. The first is that a man should be baptised after he has sinned. Saint Augustine said: ‘Unless he repents his old, sinful life, a man cannot begin a new, clean life.’ Certainly, if he is baptised without feeling any shame for his old ways, he receives the mark of baptism but not its grace, nor any remission of his sins, until he truly repents. Another main action of penitence is that which is required to follow a deadly sin committed after being baptised. The third harm requiring penitence comes through the fact that men habitually perform venial sins after their baptism. About this, Saint Augustine says: ‘The penitence of good and humble folk for these sins should be continual and ongoing.’
4. There are three ways for the penitent man to do penance for his sins. One is extravagant, another is done in common with other people and the third is done privately. The penance that may be termed extravagant is of two sorts: those such as are given by Holy Church during Lent for the murder of children and other such things, and another when someone’s sin is widely known about; then Holy Church judges that it is fitting that a man’s penance should be widely known about and visible as well. Common penance is done when priests allow men to do penance together in some way, such as to go naked on pilgrimage, or barefoot. Private penance is done for small sins, which have been confessed and the penance is done in private.
5. Now understand what is necessary for penitence to be complete. It stands on three things: the heart’s contrition, the mouth’s confession and the carrying out of a penance. Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, said: ‘Penitence forces a man to accept without question every pain that his penance requires, through contrition, through confession and through satisfaction, and all of this with humility.’ Satisfaction is the punishment of penance accepted with contrition and following confession. This penance wards against three of the things that angers Our Lord Jesus Christ: that is to say, taking a joy in thinking sinful thoughts, speaking unadvisedly and doing wicked, sinful things. Penitence is the antidote to these wicked crimes and may be likened to a tree:
6. The root of this tree is contrition, which resides concealed in the heart of a person who is genuinely repentant, just as the roots of a tree are concealed within the ground. From this root of contrition comes a shoot that bears the branches and leaves of confession and the fruits of penance. Christ said: ‘Bear the fruit that is penance.’ By this fruit may true penitence be recognised and not by the roots of contrition, which are hidden, nor by the branches and leaves of confession. Jesus said: ‘By their fruit shall ye know them.’
From this fruit comes a seed of grace which guarantees salvation and is fertile and eager to grow. The grace of this seed springs from God, through remembrance of the Day of Judgement and the torments of hell. Solomon said, concerning this, that: ‘Man abandons sin because of his fear of God.’ The energy that drives the growth of this seed is the love of God and the desire for life everlasting. This energy draws a man’s heart to God and causes him to hate his own sin. Truly, there is nothing more pleasant to a child than the milk of its nurse and nothing more unpleasant than to have this milk mixed with anything else. In just this same way, a sinful man who loves his sin thinks that it is the most wonderful thing around; but from the moment he loves Our Lord Jesus and craves everlasting life, there is nothing more abominable to him than this sin. Truly, the law of God is the love of God. The prophet David said: ‘I have loved your law and hated wickedness.’ He who loves God keeps his laws and his commands.
The prophet Daniel saw this spiritual tree when he was called to interpret the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar, and advised him to do penance. Penitence is the Tree of Life to those who receive it, and he who carries out his penance to the full is blessed, as Solomon said.
7. Concerning the root of penitence that is contrition, a man should understand four things: what contrition is, what the causes or the reasons are that urge a man to contrition, how he should experience contrition and how contrition will help him.
What contrition is
Contrition is the pain and anguish a man feels in his heart for his sins, with a serious intent to confess them, do penance for them and never to do them again.
This sorrow shall take the following form, as Saint Bernard said: ‘It shall be heavy and grievous, a sharp stab in the heart; firstly, because he has wronged his lord and creator, but more so because he has wronged his celestial father and most grievously so because he has wronged He who redeemed him with His precious blood and saved us all from the consequences of sin, from the cruelty of the devil and the agonies of hell.
Reasons for contrition
8. There are six reasons that ought to move a man to contrition. Firstly, a man shall be reminded of his sins and feel ashamed; and he must be careful that this memory in no way instils any feelings of delight or of nostalgia but only shame and remorse. Job said: ‘Sinful men do things that it is good to confess to.’ Ezekiel said: ‘I shall remember these things for the rest of my life, in sorrow and shame.’ God says in the Revelation: ‘Remember from where you have fallen.’ Before the time you first sinned you were the children of God and part of the Kingdom of God, but for your sins you have been made foul and evil, an instrument of the devil, the enemy of angels and slanderer of Holy Church, food for the false serpent and fuel for the flames of hell. Yet, even worse than this, you sin again and again like a dog that returns to eat its own vomit. You continue in your sinful way of life, which makes you rotten to the very core, like an animal wallowing in its own filth. The thought of such things should make a man feel ashamed for what he has done; in no way should he feel any delight at the sins he has committed. God said to the prophet Ezekiel: ‘You shall remember your former ways, and they shall displease you.’ Truly, sins are the paths that lead people to hell.
9. The second thing that should cause a man to feel anguish over his sins is, as Saint Peter said: ‘Whoever commits sin is the servant of sin.’ Sin places a man quickly under its power and makes him its servant. Ezekiel said: ‘I had no respect for myself.’ Certainly, a man should have no respect for sin and remove himself from its influence and from its servitude. Lo! What did Seneca say in this regard? ‘Even if I believed,' he said, 'that neither God nor man would learn anything about it, I would still be loath to do wrong.’ Seneca also said: ‘I am worth more than to be simply a slave to the pleasures of my body, or to make my body into a slave.’ And a man or woman can make no worse slave of their body than to give themselves over to sin. Even the foulest ruffian, the commonest and least of value, will thus be made fouler and more in servitude still, by continuing in sin. And the further a man falls, the more is he enslaved and the more vile and abominable still, to God. Oh good God, a man therefore has good reason to repudiate sin, if it will tie him up and make him its slave.
Saint Augustine said: ‘If you deal severely with your servant's mistakes, deal just as severely with your own.’ Have regard to your own reputation. Alas! If one allows oneself to be a servant to sin, one should be ashamed! God in his endless goodness has set humans above all other creatures, given them intelligence, bodily strength, health, beauty and prosperity. He redeemed them from hell with his heart’s blood. Should they then repay Him with villainy, to the detriment of their own souls? Oh good God, you women of great beauty, remember the proverb of Solomon: ‘The beautiful woman who sins with her body is like a gold ring stuck up a sow’s arse. Just as a sow pokes about in every sort of stench, so this beautiful woman immerses her beauty in the stench of sin.
10. The third reason that should propel a man to contrition is fear of Judgement Day and the horrible pains of hell. As Saint Jerome said: ‘Every time I remember the Day of Judgement, I shake with fear. When I eat or drink, or whatever I do, I can hear the trumpet sounding in my ear: “Rise up, those of you who are dead, and come to the Judgement!” the voice calls.’ A man has good reason to fear such a judgement, ‘where we shall arrive,’ says Saint Paul, ‘before the throne of Our Lord Jesus Christ,’ and He will call a general congregation from which no one may be excused. There can be no leave of absence. Not only will our sins be judged but all our deeds shall be openly declared. As Saint Bernard said: ‘There can be no horse-trading and no deception. We will have to account for every idle word we have ever said.’ We will have a judge who is never corrupt and who can never be deceived, because He knows all our thoughts and cannot be influenced in any way, neither by entreaty nor by bribery.
Solomon said: ‘The anger of God will spare nobody, whatever gifts or prayers are offered to Him.’ When the Day of Judgement arrives, there will be nowhere to escape. This has prompted Saint Anselm to declare: ‘Sinful people will be very frightened at this time. A stern and angry judge will sit above them, and beneath Him the horrible pit of hell will be open and ready to consume any pitiable wretch whose sins must now be made known before God and every creature. On the left-hand side will be more devils than one can imagine, ready and waiting to seize those sinful souls and drag them into hell. Within the hearts of everybody will be a pricking conscience while outside, the world burns.
Where will the sinful then run to hide? There is no hiding-place. Every man must step forward and show himself.’
Saint Jerome said: ‘The Earth shall cast a man out, and the sea and the air will be full of thunder and lightning.’ Whoever remembers this will not recall his sins with any delight but with great sorrow, I should imagine. Job said to God: ‘Allow me a little time, Lord, to weep and cry out in sorrow, before I have to return to the dark land, covered with the darkness of death, to the land of discomfort and darkness, where lies the shadow of death, where there is no rule but only disorder and a horrible anxiety that lasts forever.’ Here you can see that Job prayed simply for a small delay, in order to regret and lament his sins; for truly, a single day of respite will be worth all the gold in the world. And because a man can improve his chances before God by penance in this world and not by treasure, then he should pray to God to allow him a little time to weep and lament his sins before the Day of Judgement arrives. Certainly, all the sorrow a man may have, since the beginning of the world, is nothing compared to the sorrow he will feel in hell.
To understand why Job called hell the ‘land of darkness’, you should be aware that by ‘land’, or earth, he meant its stability and endurance, since it will last forever, and by ‘dark’ he meant that there is no light in hell. Certainly, the dark light that shall be emitted by the fire which burns without end will cause his torment, for it will reveal him to the horrible devils that will torture him. ‘Covered with the darkness of death’ means that those in hell are beyond the sight of God, for to be in the sight of God is to be in life everlasting. The ‘darkness of death’ is the sin that the wretched man has committed, that prevents him from seeing the face of God, just as when a dark cloud comes between us and the sun. Job names it the ‘land of discomfort’ because there are three basic things lacking in it, which folk in the present world are able to enjoy: honours, pleasures and wealth.
There is no applause or recognition in hell, but only shame and confusion. Honour, as you know, means the respect and reverence that one man gives to another. In hell there is none of this; no more respect is given to a king there than to a child. God said, through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘Those who despise me shall be despised.’
Honour is also a measure of service; but nobody serves another in hell; there is only pain and torment.
Honour is also a measure of dignity and elevation, but in hell, everybody is trodden underfoot by devils. God said: ‘Horrible devils shall walk upon the heads of the damned.’ And this is because the more esteemed they have been in this present life, the more reviled they will be in hell. Against the wealth of this world shall be set the discomfort of poverty in hell, and this poverty shall comprise of four things: a lack of money and gold, concerning which David said: ‘all the rich folk, who gave themselves to the acquisition of wealth, shall sleep in death and have nothing of their treasure to comfort themselves with.’ Moreover, the discomforts of hell include a lack of food and water. God told us through Moses, that: ‘They will be tortured by hunger, the ravens of hell will devour them, there will be dragon’s gall to drink and dragon’s venom to eat, nothing else.’ They will have no clothes, their bodies will be naked and exposed, except for the fire and filth that surrounds them and their souls will be naked as well, bereft of all virtue, which is the clothing of the soul. Where, now, are the delightful robes and the soft sheets and the fine shirts? What did God say about them through the prophet Isaiah? ‘Under them all shall be strewn moths and their blankets shall be the worms of hell.'
Fourth and last, their discomfort in hell shall be through a lack of friends. Nobody who has friends is ever poor, but in hell there are no friends, neither God nor any other creature will be friends with them. Each will despise the other with a deadly hate. ‘Sons and daughters will rebel against mothers and fathers, kith will despise kin and each will hate the other,’ both day and night, as God has told us. Children who seemed loving to one another in this fleshly world will now rather eat each other if they can! How can they love one another in the pain of hell, when they hated each other in the prosperity of this life? For their fleshly love was a deadly hate, as the prophet David said: ‘Whoever loves wickedness hates his own soul,’ and the person who hates his own soul can certainly not love anyone else. Therefore there is no comfort and no friendship in hell and in fact, the more relatives and friends who find themselves together, the more will be the cursing, anger and deadly hate amongst them.
Moreover, those in hell are bereft of all pleasures, for pleasure come from the five senses, that is, sight, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. But in hell, their eyes will be full of darkness and smoke, and therefore of tears, and their ears full of the sounds of wailing, screaming and the grinding of teeth, as Christ described, and their nostrils will be full of stench. The prophet Isaiah said: ‘They shall taste nothing but bitter gall.’ And as regards touch, their bodies will be ‘covered with everlasting fire and with worms that never die,’ as God said through the mouth of Isaiah. And so that they will not imagine that they can die of pain and therefore escape from all this horror through a second death, the words of Job tell us: ‘There you will find the shadow of death.’
A shadow has the likeness of the thing of which it is the shadow, but it is not the thing itself. The pain of hell is like this; it is similar to death because of the fear and dread, but it is not death. Why? Because it is like continually being on the point of death but death never comes. As Saint Gregory said: ‘To wretches shall come death without death, end without end and failure without destruction. Their deaths shall live on, their ends continually begin and their needs continually remain.’ Saint John the Evangelist said: ‘They shall follow death but not find it, they shall desire to die, but death shall elude them.’ Job said: ‘In hell there is no law and no reason.’
Albeit that God has created all things in good order and with good reason, nonetheless, those who are damned are outside this order. The Earth shall bear them no fruit. As the prophet David said: ‘God shall destroy for them the fruit of the Earth.’ Water shall give them no moisture, the air no refreshment and fire no light. Saint Basil of Caesarea said: ‘God shall give from the fire of this world the scorching heat to those damned in hell, but its light and clarity He shall give to his children in heaven,’ just as the good man gives meat to his children and the bones to the dogs. And so that they may have no hope of escape, says Job: ‘This horror will endure without end.’
Horror is always the fear of harm that is to come, and this horror shall remain in the hearts of those who have been damned. For this reason they are bereft of all hope, and the causes of this are sevenfold. Firstly, God, who is their judge, will show them no mercy. They have no further power to please him, and have no power to ask any of his saints to intervene. They can give nothing in return for any leniency on His part. They have no voice with which to speak to him. They may not flee from their torment and they have no goodness in them which they may show to God to gain alleviation from their suffering. For this reason Solomon said: ‘When the wicked man dies, he has no hope of escape from damnation and suffering.’
Whoever, then, recognises and understands the pains of hell and considers that he has well-deserved them, will certainly have more inclination to weep and lament for his sins than to sing and play. Solomon said: ‘If a man could see for himself the pain and torment that has been set aside for sin, he would shudder.’ As Saint Augustine said: ‘This knowledge would make a man weep.’
11. The fourth point, that should cause a man to show contrition, is the realisation of the good that he could still do here on Earth, and the good that he has already done and which may now have been lost. Certainly, the good works that he has abandoned are either the good things that he did before he fell into deadly sin or the good things that he has done while he was in sin. But unfortunately, the good works he did before he fell into sin are all rendered inert and frozen by the subsequent and frequent sinning, and the other good works, those which he did while he languished in deadly sin, are completely destroyed, as far as any reward in heaven is concerned.
Those good works that have been put into deep storage by subsequent sinning – works which he did when he was living well – can only be reanimated and brought to bear again through penance. God, through the mouth of Ezekiel, asked: ‘If the good man turns away from his goodness and embraces evil, shall he live?’ The answer is no, for all the good things he has ever done will be forgotten. He will die in his sin. On this matter Saint Gregory says: ‘We must understand this principle: that when we do deadly sin, it is no use recalling and bringing to memory the good things we did beforehand.’ Certainly, as far as deadly sin goes, there can be no trust in any good things that we have done before, regarding our chances of going to heaven. But nevertheless, these good works can be made to count again – can be made to come back into currency and help us to gain everlasting life in heaven – when we show contrition. But in all honesty, the good things we did while we were in deadly sin, because they were done in this sinful state, are lost forever. Certainly a thing which has never had life cannot be reanimated. But despite this, although these good works can have no beneficial effect on the question of one’s entry to heaven, they may serve to lessen the pain of hell, or gain reward in this life, or if God wills it, to illuminate and lighten the heart of the sinful man and encourage him to show repentance, or to make it more difficult for the devil to gain a hold of his soul. And so, the noble Lord Jesus Christ desires that no good work should be lost, but shall do a little good at least.
Inasmuch as the good things that a man has done whilst living well and before falling into sin are rendered frozen and inert as soon as he sins, and all the good things done whilst in deadly sin are totally useless as far as entry to heaven goes, well may the man who has never done anything good in his life sing that current French song: 'This whole thing’s been a complete disaster!'
Sin deprives a man of everything that is good. The grace of the Holy Ghost is like a flame that cannot be still; and just as a flame fails when it stops flickering, so when we cease to do its work, the grace of the Holy Ghost leaves us. Sinful men lose this grace of God. It is only bestowed upon good men who commit themselves to the furtherance of His work. He has good reason to be sorry, then, the man who owes his life to God, and all the years that he has left to him, if he has nothing good to repay his debt with. You can be sure: ‘He will be made to give an account,’ as Saint Bernard said, ‘of all the things he has received in this life, and how he has spent them.’ There will not perish one hair of his head, nor the moment of an hour, that he will not have to give an account of.
12. The fifth thing that should urge a man to show contrition is remembrance of the crucifixion that Our Lord Jesus suffered for our sins. As Saint Bernard said: ‘While I live, I shall remember the tribulations that Jesus suffered when preaching, his weariness and exhaustion, the temptations he had to battle against when he fasted, his long vigils at prayer, the tears that he shed in pity for the suffering of good people, the slander and filth and shame that was hurled at him, the spitting in his face, the blows he received, the foul gestures and ignorant comments he had to endure, the nails that were hammered into his flesh on the cross and all the rest of the crucifixion which he suffered on my behalf and for my sins, and not for his.’
When a man sins, every command and entreaty that he has been given is turned upside-down; for it is true that God and reason, the senses and the emotions of man have been so created and their roles ordained so that each of them should keep their place in relation to the other. God should have lordship over reason, reason over the senses and the senses over the emotions of man. But truly, when a man sins, all this good order is turned upside-down. Forasmuch as the mind and reason of man will not be subject to the will of God and obedient to it, who is its lord by right, then it loses the natural lordship it has over the senses and emotions. Why? Because just as reason is in rebellion against God, so the senses and emotions can now rebel against reason. But such rebellion and disobedience was redeemed by Christ upon the cross, and because reason is now in rebellion with God, a man therefore deserves to have sorrow and death because Jesus suffered this for man after he had been betrayed by Judas, captured and bound ‘so that the blood burst out of every nail on every finger of his hands,’ as Saint Augustine said.
Moreover, forasmuch as the reason of man will not seize mastery over the senses and emotions when it ought to, then it is right that it should feel shame. Jesus suffered this for man when people spat in his face. And because, therefore, the wretched body is in rebellion against both reason and the senses, it deserves to die. Jesus suffered this for man upon the cross, when his entire body was nailed in suffering and agony. All this was suffered by Christ, who never did any wrong himself.
It can therefore be rightly said of Christ: ‘I suffer too much for those things that I have never done and the shame that only man deserves.’ So the sinful man may well say, as Saint Bernard said: ‘Cursed be the bitterness of my sin, for which so much bitterness must be suffered.’
Certainly, following the various manifestations of our wickedness, the suffering of Jesus Christ was ordained to take many forms. The sinful man’s soul is betrayed by the devil with the promise of worldly prosperity and scorned by the deceit of craving fleshly desires. It is tormented by adversity, abused by servitude and sinful thoughts and in the end it is slain. Because of this, Jesus Christ was betrayed and then bound, He who came to unbind us of our sin. Then he was scorned, He who deserved only honour in all things, and by all things. Then his face, which angels have pleasure looking at and all mankind should desire to see, was cruelly spat upon. Then he was beaten, He who was guiltless, and then finally crucified and slain. Then the words of Isaiah were born out: ‘He was wounded for our misdeeds and mistreated for our sins.’ Since Christ took upon himself the pain of all our wickedness, the sinful man should weep and lament that, for these sins, God’s Heavenly Son should endure all this suffering on our behalf.
13. The sixth thing that ought to move a man to contrition is the hope of three things. These are: the forgiveness of his sins, the gift of grace to do things well in the future, and the glory of heaven everlasting, which is the reward God gives us for our good deeds.
Forasmuch as Christ bestows these gifts upon us through his lordship and sovereign goodness, he was called Jesus Nazarenus, King of the Jews. Jesus Christ is the Saviour, through whom men shall hope to have forgiveness of their sins. For this reason the angel said to Joseph: ‘You will call him Jesus, who will save his people from their sins.’ Saint Peter said: ‘There is no other name given to any man, by whom men shall be saved, but Jesus.’ Nazarenus means ‘flourishing’, through which a man may hope that He who offers forgiveness for a man's sins will also offer him the grace to do well in the future. A flower offers the hope of a fruit in due course, and in the forgiveness of sins, the hope of grace to do well. ‘I was at the door of your heart,’ said Jesus, ‘and called out to enter. He who opens his heart to me shall receive forgiveness for his sins. I will enter into him, through my grace, and take nourishment from him,’ – by the good works that he will do, which are the food of God – ‘and he shall take nourishment from me, from the great joy that I shall give him.'
In this way a man will hope, through his penitence, that God will give him his reward in heaven, as He promises in the gospel.
How a man should experience contrition
14. Now it is time to explain the manner in which a man should experience contrition. It should be universal and total, that is to say, a man should repent all his sins and repudiate all the thoughts that he has formerly delighted in; for getting delight by thinking about sin is a dangerous thing. There are two ways in which sin is consented to. One is when a man is encouraged to contemplate something sinful from the great pleasure he gets just by thinking about it. He knows that it is sinful and yet he permits himself this indulgence, although he knows that it is wrong. Although his reason would not consent to actually allowing him to commit this sin, yet some learned clerics are of the opinion that if such a pleasure becomes a habit, it is dangerous, even if it seems a small thing.
A man should repent every pleasure that he has ever had thinking about something that is against God’s law, for such thoughts constitute a deadly sin. Certainly, there is no deadly sin that was not first conceived in a man’s thoughts, which were delighted in, consented to and finally carried out.
Some men never repent such thoughts and never confess them, but only admit to those sins that they have actually committed. But I say that such evil delights and wicked thoughts beguile those who are destined to be damned. And as well as his thoughts, a man should sorrow for those wicked things he has said, as well as those that he has done. Certainly, repentance for a single sin, leaving all the others untouched, or for every sin except one, even, is no good. God Almighty is entirely good, so therefore he forgives everything, or else nothing. Saint Augustine said: ‘I know for sure that God is the enemy of every sinner.’ So how shall it be? Shall a man who persists in one sin still hope to receive forgiveness for his remaining sins? No, not at all.
Contrition should be sorrowful and make a man dreadfully anxious; enough that God will want to show him mercy. A man should think: 'When my heart was full of anxiety, I remembered God and wanted to pray to Him.' Moreover, contrition must be continuous and ongoing, a man must have the desire to confess his sins and he must resolve to live his life better from now on. For truly, while contrition lasts, a man can have good hope of forgiveness, and from this comes a hatred of evil which will vanquish all sin, both the sin in himself and in those around him. David said: ‘Those who love God hate wickedness.’ For be assured, to love God is to love what he loves and hate what he hates.
How contrition will help
15. The last thing that a man should understand about contrition is how it will help. I would argue that often contrition can save a man from sin. David said: ‘I held a firm intention to be penitent and you, Lord, released me from my sin.’ And just as contrition does not help if not accompanied by sincere confession, when the opportunity is there, then confession and penance will not help without there being contrition in the first place.
Contrition destroys hell’s prison and renders the devil weak and feeble, restores the gifts of the Holy Ghost and all virtue, cleanses the soul of sin and rescues it from the pain of hell and from the devil’s company and from the shackles of sin. It restores a soul to the glory of God and to the communion of Holy Church. Moreover, it turns a man who was a son of ire and violence into a son of calm and knowledge. All this is proved by Holy Scripture. Therefore, he who would aspire to this is wise, for he would then live a blameless life and have no desire to sin but would give all his body and heart into the service of Jesus Christ. For truly, our sweet Lord Jesus has spared us so generously from our follies that, were it not for His pity, we might all be singing a sorry song.
16. The second part of penitence is confession, which is a sign of contrition. I will now explain confession to you, when it needs to be done, whether it does, or not, and those things which are applicable to a sincere confession.
17. First, you must understand that confession is the honest revealing of one’s sins to a priest. The emphasis is on ‘honest’, because a man must confess to all the circumstances surrounding his sin, as far as he is able. All must be said, and nothing excused or hidden or dressed up with boasting of a man's good works. Moreover, it is necessary to understand where sins come from, how they multiply and what they are.
18. Saint Paul said this concerning the origin of sins: ‘Just as sin first entered this world through the actions of a man, and through that sin, death, then death enters all men who have sinned.’ This man was Adam; because of him, sin first entered this world. When he disobeyed God, Adam, who was previously so strong and powerful that he could not die, was now compelled to die at the end of his life, whether he liked it or not. All his progeny in this world have inherited his sin. Remember how, in a state of innocence, when Adam and Eve went about naked in Paradise and had no shame from being naked, the snake, the most wily of all the creatures that God had made, said to the woman: ‘Why has God forbidden you from eating the fruit of every tree in Paradise?’
‘We satisfy our hunger from all the trees of Paradise except for one; for truly, God has forbidden us to eat from the tree that stands in the centre of Paradise, nor even to touch it, because if we do so, we will die.’ answered Eve.
‘No, you won’t die,’ replied the snake, ‘for God knows, the day that you eat from the fruit of this tree, your eyes will open and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.’
The woman then saw that the fruit on this tree looked good to eat and rather lovely, and so she ate some and gave some to her husband to eat, and the eyes of both of them were opened. When they realised that they were naked, they sewed together fig leaves to make a covering for their private parts.
So you see that deadly sin was first suggested to man by the devil, in the form of a snake, and grew by delight in the flesh, represented by Eve, and finally by the consent of the reason, as shown here by Adam. For be assured, even though the devil tempted Eve, that is to say, the flesh, and the flesh had delight in the beauty of the fruit, it was not until reason, that is to say, Adam, consented to eat the fruit that his innocence was lost. We have inherited this original sin from Adam, for we are all descended in the flesh from him and engendered from foul and corrupt material and when our soul is put into our body it immediately inherits this original sin. Therefore we are all born sons of wrath and of eternal damnation, were it not for baptism, which takes away our guilt. But the torture of temptation remains with us, which we call concupiscence, or a strong desire. When it is not properly suppressed in a man it makes him covetous and lecherous, craving fleshly delights, wishing to possess the things that he sees and it makes him proud and self-centred.
19. To speak of the foremost desire, that is, the libido and the desire to possess another’s body, whose sexual organs were lawfully made by God for their proper purpose, it must be said that as far as mankind is disobedient to God, who is his Lord, then his flesh is made to be disobedient as well, through these uncontrollable desires which are known to be sinful. Therefore, all the while that a man has within him a strong desire to possess, it is impossible for him not to be tempted from time to time and allow himself to commit fleshly sin. This will continue for as long as he lives. This desire may grow weak and inert, through baptism and, by the grace of God, through penance, but it can never be fully quenched so that he never feels the urge, unless he is racked by illness, or bewitched or given cold showers or iced drinks! For lo! What did Saint Paul say? ‘The flesh desires what is damaging to the spirit and the spirit desires what is damaging to the flesh; they are so different and so antagonistic that a man cannot satisfy both.’
Saint Paul also said, after his great penance, immersed in water by day and by night, in great peril and discomfort, and then cold, naked, thirsty and hungry on land, and once almost stoned to death: ‘Alas, I, wretched man! Who will release me from the prison of my lecherous body!’
Saint Jerome, when he had lived for a long while in the desert, where he had no company but that of wild beasts, no food but wild herbs, nothing to drink but water and no bed but the hard ground, and his skin was as black as an Ethiopian’s because of the sun and nearly destroyed with cold, yet he said: ‘The flames of a desire for sex still burned within me.’ For which reason I know for sure that those who say that they are never tempted are deceiving themselves and others. Let Saint James the Apostle bear witness that: ‘Everyone is tempted by the desires of the flesh.’ That is, everybody succumbs now and again to the urges of the sin that is in his body. Saint John the Evangelist said: ‘If we say that we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and do not speak the truth.
20. Now I will explain how sin grows within us. The first way is through those urges that I have just described, those overwhelming fleshly desires. Then come the stirrings of the devil, that is to say, the devil’s belly, through which he farts into a man the fire of lust. Following this, a man will consider whether he will allow himself to succumb to these temptations, and if a man withstands this first enticement of the devil, then it is no sin. But if he does not withstand it, but begins to feel the flames of passion and delight, then it is good to beware and to watch out, or else he will soon fall into consenting to this sin and then carrying it out, if he has the opportunity.
Moses said of the devil: ‘The fiend says, I shall pursue a man by putting wicked thoughts into his mind and seize him when sin takes a hold. I will capture my prey through his own mind and my lust shall find expression in his delight. I shall be able to draw my sword if he agrees to my doing so.’ For certainly, just as a sword cuts a thing into two pieces, so consenting to sin severs a man from God. ‘Then I will kill him with my hand, through that sin that he commits.’ This is what the devil says, for certainly, a man’s soul is then destroyed.
In this way then, sin is accomplished through temptation, through pleasure at the thought and then by consenting to it, by which stage the sin is termed ‘actual’.
21. Truly, there are two kinds of sin; sin is either venial or deadly. When a man loves anything more than our creator Jesus Christ, then it is a deadly sin. It is a venial sin is a man loves Jesus less than he ought to.
Certainly, venial sin is perilous, for it constantly diminishes the love than men ought to have for God and makes deadly sin more probable. For if a man burdens himself with many such venial sins, unless he unburdens himself through confession, the time will come when they have removed all the love that he has for Jesus and in this way, venial sin will inexorably lead to deadly sin. Certainly, the more a man burdens his soul with venial sins, the more he is inclined to fall into deadly sin. Therefore, let us not be negligent in ridding ourselves of venial sins; as the proverb says: ‘Small things can grow into a large stack.’
Here is an example. A great wave may approach a ship with such violence that it overwhelms it and fills it with water. But the same swamping can be caused by little drops of seawater that leak in through a crack in the boat’s hull and settle in the bilges, if sailors are negligent and do not see what is happening and fail to pump the water out. Although there is a difference between these two causes of swamping, the net result is the same.
There is a similar relationship between deadly sins and those incremental venial sins, when they multiply in a man so greatly that the worldly things that he has come to love, and which constitute these venial sins, start to mean more to him than the love of God. Therefore, the love of anything that is not established in God or done principally for God’s sake, even though a man may love it less than he loves God, is a venial sin. It is deadly sin when this love weighs as heavily in a man’s heart as his love for God, or more so. ‘Deadly sin,’ said Saint Augustine, ‘is when a man turns his heart away from God, who is the highest and most sovereign pinnacle of goodness, constant and unchanging, and gives his heart instead to something that is fleeting and insubstantial,’ and that includes everything except for God in heaven. For the truth is, that if a man gives his love, which he owes to God with all his heart, to some other creature, then as much of his love as he is giving to this creature he is necessarily denying to God. This is a sin; for this man, who is in God’s debt, is refusing to yield to God all that he owes to Him, that is to say, all the love of his heart.
22. Since men, for the most part, understand generally what a venial sin is, it is fitting to focus upon those sins which many people would not regard as sins at all and will not seek to confess, although they are, indeed, sins.
Truly, as learned clerics have written, these unacknowledged sins include every occasion in which a man eats or drinks more than is necessary for his sustenance, when he speaks more than is necessary or when he does not listen with a sympathetic ear to the complaints of the poor. It is a sin if he is healthy but will not fast when others do, without a reasonable excuse. It is a sin if a man sleeps more than he needs to, especially if this causes him to be late for church or at occasions at which alms are distributed. It is a sin if he makes love to his wife without the express desire of producing a child, to the honour of God, or without the sole intention of paying his debt to his wife. Also, it is a sin if a man will not visit the sick or those in prison, when he has the opportunity to. It is a sin if he loves his wife or his child, or any other worldly thing, more than is reasonable, or if he flatters and fawns in front of those he wishes to impress. It is a sin if he reduces or withdraws the alms given to the poor. It is a sin if he uses more spices on his food than is necessary, if he makes his food taste too delicious or if he gobbles it up too quickly. It is a sin if a man does not show due humility in church, or if he spreads gossip and slander; for such things he shall be called to account on the Day of Judgement. It is a sin if a man promises to do things which are beyond his powers to do. It is a sin if a man exchanges insults and false accusations with his neighbour, however inconsequential the exchange may seem. It is a sin if a man harbours wicked suspicions that are groundless. All these things, and countless others as well, are sins, according to Saint Augustine.
It must be understood that, although no earthly man can hope to be free of all the venial sins, he can still avoid most of them by harbouring a burning love for Our Lord Jesus Christ, by prayers and confession and by other good works, so that these sins may cause him little anguish. Saint Augustine said: ‘If a man loves God so much that all he ever does is truly for the love of God, because he burns with this love, then look! – does a tiny drop of water have any effect when it falls into a raging furnace? In the same way, the venial sins have little effect upon a man who holds a perfect love for Jesus.’
Men can also protect themselves from venial sin by receiving the precious body of Jesus Christ and by receiving holy water, by giving alms, by the general confession at Mass and other religious services, by the blessings of bishops and priests and by other good works.
Seven Deadly Sins
23. Now is the appropriate time to explain the seven deadly sins and which they are, that is to say, the principal sins. They all run about in the same pasture, so to speak, but manifest themselves in different forms. They are the chief sins because all other sins spring from them. At the root of them is Pride, which is the root of all evil, and from this root grow the stems and branches of anger, envy, indolence, avarice or covetousness (as most people understand it to be), gluttony and lechery. Each of these deadly sins has its own smaller branches and twigs, as shall be described in the following sections.
24. Although it is impossible to estimate the number of evil branches and twigs that grow directly from the stem of Pride, yet I will demonstrate some of them. They are: disobedience, boasting, hypocrisy, conceit, arrogance, impudence, contempt, insolence, pomposity, impatience, rebelliousness, resistance to authority, presumption, lack of respect, stubbornness, vanity and a host of other things that I could mention.
A man is disobedient when, out of contempt, he disregards the commandments of God, who is his spiritual father, or those with authority over him. A man is boastful when he brags about all the harm or all the good that he has done. A man is a hypocrite when he conceals his true self and presents to the world a false persona. A man is conceited when he shows no concern for his neighbours – that is, for his fellow Christians – or begrudges his duty as a Christian. A man is arrogant if he imagines that he possesses virtues which he does not possess, or believes that he deserves them when he doesn’t. A man is impudent if he feels no shame for his sins. A man is contemptuous when he takes pleasure in doing harm. A man is insolent when he believes the opinions of others to be irrelevant or despises these people in comparison to his own worth. A man is pompous when he refuses to acknowledge any superior, or even an equal. A man is impatient if he refuses to acknowledge his vices and will take no instruction. A man is rebellious if, through indignation, he refuses to accept the authority of those who rightfully have power over him. A man is presumptuous if he takes on something that is beyond his powers to complete, or which he has no authority to embark upon. A man shows a lack of respect when he fails to honour those whom he ought to honour, but waits instead for them to honour him. A man shows stubbornness if he defends his folly and trusts too much in his own intelligence. Vanity and vainglory manifest themselves when a man takes delight in his worldly status, and pride in his own worth. Chattering is when men speak too much and go on and on without stopping, like a mill, and have no regard for what they say.
25. There is also a private kind of Pride that waits to be greeted before deigning to greet, or is eager to sit down or to go in precession or to kiss the osculatorium at Mass or to be wafted with incense or go to make an offering before his neighbour, and other such things; perhaps when his proper duty is to wait and defer. But his heart is so filled with pride that he desires to be magnified and honoured above everybody else.
26. Now there are two kinds of Pride. One resides within the heart of a man and the other lies outside it. Truly, these things that I have described, and many others as well, belong to the pride that lies within the heart of a man. The other kind of pride lies without. Nevertheless, the presence of one of these forms of pride betrays the presence of the other; just as a sign outside a tavern betrays the presence of wine in its cellar. This indicator can take many forms, such as speech and deportment, or outrageous clothing; for certainly, if there was no sin in clothing, Christ would not have noticed and remarked upon the rich man’s clothes in the gospel. Saint Gregory tells us that costly clothes are blameworthy for their skimpy tailoring and fine material, or their intricacy and adherence to the whims of fashion, for the extravagant ways that they hide the body, or the inordinate skill with which they manage to reveal it! Alas! Cannot men see, in our time, how much money is sinfully spent on these fine clothes, resulting either in far too much abundance, or in far too little!
27. As to the first sin, that is, overabundance and extravagance in clothing – which makes it so expensive, to the detriment of the people – not only is it the cost of embroidering, the intricate cutting, elaborate stitching, the winding and twisting and similar waste of cloth for the sake of vanity, but there is also the costly fur used to adorn the garment, the holes to be chiselled and stitched and so much use made of the scissors. And when the gown is finished, it’s inordinate length makes it trail in the muddy puddle and the dung so that the cloth is eroded, consumed, made threadbare and rotten with dung and all that effort quickly wasted; effort that should have been expended on the poor.
This consequent harm to the poor takes many forms. The more the cloth is wasted, the higher goes the price of what remains. And if people give such gowns to the poor, they are not appropriate for them to wear, don’t satisfy their needs or keep them warm or the rain off. And on the other hand, one may speak of the horrible, inordinate scantiness of some clothes, like the short jackets that are so short that they leave a man’s cock exposed to view beneath his hose, with wicked intention. Alas! Some of them clearly reveal a man’s horrible swollen balls and his cock like some malignant hernia visible through his hose! His buttocks are displayed like those of a she-ape at the time of the full moon! Even worse, these wretched swollen members can look, if the hose is divided into red and white, as though half the sexual organs have been flayed! If it happens that the hose is patterned in other colours, like white and black or white and blue, or black and red and so forth, then it seems, through this variation in colour, that half of the privy members are engulfed in Saint Antony’s fire, or racked with cancer or some other such misfortune. By exposing their horrible buttocks they proudly display, to all who care to look, that part of their body from which they expel their stinking shit, in defiance of all modesty – the kind of modesty that Jesus Christ and his friends were careful to preserve all their lives.
As to the outrageous array of women – God knows, although their faces often look innocent and demure, they often betray their true pride and lechery through the clothes that they chose to wear. I’m not saying that all pleasant clothing, in men and women, is dishonest, but certainly the extravagance or the inordinate skimpiness of much clothing is reprovable.
The sin of adornment and apparel is applicable also to riding. This is the case when many fine horses are kept through vanity, with all the accompanying expense, all the boys who need to be fed and clothed to look after them, all the fine equipment such as elaborate saddles, bridles, cruppers and other accessories, covered in fine cloth and plates of silver and gold. God said through the prophet Zechariah: ‘I shall confound the riders of such horses!’ These folk take little account of the ass that Jesus rode, with no other bridle than the poor clothes of his disciples; and we read of no other horse that Jesus Christ ever rode. I mean this to illustrate the sin of extravagance and not to criticise necessity, when it is honestly met.
Another symptom of pride is the maintenance of a retinue of men when there is no reason to do so, or no lawful profit to be gained by doing so, particularly when this entourage is dishonest and a menace to the good folk around them, through the offices and appointments that their lord has bestowed upon them. Certainly, a lord can then be said to have sold his authority to the devil, when he sustains and encourages the malpractices of his followers. Or else, when folk of low degree, such as those who keep inns and suchlike, are accessories to theft by their staff, for example, and this deceit can be accomplished in many ways. These sorts of people are the wasps that follow the honey pot, or the dogs that seek out the dead meat. Such people do great harm to their authority. The prophet David said: ‘Wicked death shall descend upon such figures of authority and may God throw them all into hell, for in their houses there is evil and deception,’ and nothing of God. Certainly, if they don’t repent and change their ways, then just as God gave his blessing to the Egyptian Pharaoh by sending Joseph to serve him, so God will send his curses to such employers and figures of influence and authority who sustain the wickedness of their servants, unless they repent.
Pride at the table is very common. Rich men are called to feasts, while poor men are turned away from the hall with a kick up the arse. The table is full of a diverse array of food and drink, roast meats and pies, stews and flambé, all decorated and adorned with paper doilies made to look like crenelated battlements and similar waste; the whole thing is scandalous and absurd. It is sin when the serving vessels are made of gold and silver and there is elaborate minstrelsy and things that ignite a man into an even greater desire for luxury, if this means that he gives less thought to Our Lord Jesus Christ as a result. Certainly, this delight can become so great that a man falls quickly into deadly sin.
Pride and indignation at perceived dangers caused by forecasts, horoscopes or other imaginings can lead to deadly sin, of this there can be no doubt. But when such imaginings arise spontaneously through weakness and are then defeated just as quickly, although they are grievous sins, I would imagine that these are not deadly.
Now the question might be asked: where does such pride come from? I would reply that sometimes it comes from gifts of nature, sometimes from gifts of fortune and at other times from gifts of grace. Certainly the benefits of nature lie either in the gifts of the body or the gifts of the soul. The gifts of the body include those things that constitute physical wellbeing, such as health, strength, ability, beauty, physical upbringing and environment. The gifts of the soul include intelligence, wit, subtlety, natural virtue and a good memory. The benefits of fortune include wealth, positions of authority, privilege and widespread acclaim. The gifts of grace include understanding, a power to suffer spiritual hardship, kindness, patience, an ability to withstand temptation and other such things. Of all these things, it is a huge folly for a man to derive any feelings of pride from any of them.
As far as the gifts of nature go, God knows, sometimes we possess them as much to our damage as to our profit. For as regards the wellbeing of the body, certainly, this can disappear very quickly and is often a cause of sickness in our soul. The flesh is a great enemy to the soul; the healthier our body is, the greater the chance we have of stumbling spiritually. It is therefore folly to pride oneself upon one’s bodily strength. One’s body seeks to draw its strength from the spirit and the stronger the flesh becomes, the sorrier may the soul be. Moreover, bodily strength, endurance and hardy worldliness lure many a man into peril and disaster. Also, for a man to take pride in his birth and upbringing is folly, for often a vigorous raising of the body is to the detriment of the soul. In addition, we all derive from God the father, one father and one mother, and we are all of a similar nature, rotten and corrupt, both rich and poor. In truth, only one upbringing is to be praised and that is the one which adds to a man’s courage the benefits of virtue and morality and makes him Christ’s child. For be assured, whatever a man’s sin finds mastery over, that sin will make him its servant.
28. There are general signs that pride has not taken hold, such as the rejection of vice and ribaldry and other sinful things, both in one’s words, in one’s actions and in one’s habits, the using of virtue, cleanness and courtesy, and being generous; that is, in proportion to one’s wealth, for being overgenerous beyond one’s means is folly and sin. Another sign is when a man remembers good things done to him by other people and when he is always kind and fair to those good people over whom he has authority; about which Seneca said: ‘There is nothing more praiseworthy in a man of high estate than moderation, graciousness and pity. For this reason, these flies that men call bees, when they chose their king, pick one who has no sting.’ Another sign is when a man has a noble and diligent heart, and aspires to high and noble things.
For a man to take pride in the gifts of grace bestowed upon him is an outrageous folly, for those gifts of grace which should have turned him towards goodness and healing have obviously turned him instead towards poison and confusion, as Saint Gregory said. And in the same way, someone who takes pride in his fortune is a great fool, for sometimes the man who is a great lord in the morning has become a prisoner and a wretch before nightfall. Sometimes, a man’s wealth is the cause of his death and sometimes a man’s pleasures are the cause of the grievous malady that kills him. Sometimes, the support of the people is deceptive and a fragile thing in which to trust; this day they praise, tomorrow they blame. God knows, a fervent desire to please the people has caused many an energetic populist to die.
Remedy for Pride
29. Now, since you know what is understood by pride, what comprises it, its manifestations and where it comes from, you should now understand what the remedy for it is, and that is humility and meekness. Humility is a virtue through which a man gains knowledge of himself and holds himself to be of little value in regard to his frailty and weakness, and his achievements to be worth little. There are three kinds of humility: humility in the heart, humility manifested in a man's words and that which is made plain by a man’s works.
Humility of the heart comes in four ways: the first is when a man acknowledges that he is worth nothing in comparison to God. Another is when he learns not to despise any other man. The third is when he genuinely doesn’t care if men hold him to be worthless. The fourth is when humiliation causes him no sorrow.
Humility of mouth also manifests itself in four ways: in moderate speech, in humility of speech, and thirdly, when a man can properly acknowledge with his words the humility he feels in his heart. The fourth is when he can praise the goodness of another man and doesn’t try to lessen it in any way.
Humility is manifested in one's actions in four ways also. The first is when a man puts other men in front of him. The second is when he is able to choose the lowest place. The third is when he can happily assent to good advice and the fourth is when he can willingly comply with the decisions of those who stand in authority above him; certainly, this requires great humility.
30. Following Pride, I shall speak of the foul sin of Envy. According to the philosopher, this is a feeling of sorrow at another man’s prosperity, or according to Saint Augustine, sorrow at another man’s good fortune and joy at his ill-fortune. This foul sin is completely against the Holy Spirit. Albeit that every sin is against the Holy Spirit, nonetheless, forasmuch as all good derives from the Holy Spirit, then all envy is directed entirely against the goodness of the Holy Spirit.
Now wrongdoing is of two different sorts: it can derive from a hardness of heart that stems either from conceit or from blind ignorance, as when a man either wrongly considers that what he is doing is not sinful or just doesn’t care; which is the hardness of the devil. The other sort is when a man battles against truth when he knows it to be the truth, or battles against the grace of God which God has chosen to give to his neighbour. Certainly, in this case, envy is the worst sin there is, for truly, all other sins are contrary only to a specific virtue, whereas envy pits itself against everything that is good, for it derives sorrow from the bestowal of all good things. In this way it differs from all the other sins, inasmuch as there is scarcely one which doesn’t at least take a delight in itself, except for envy, which delights in nothing.
These are the kinds of envy there are: first, there is sorrow at a man’s lawful prosperity, when prosperity should by its very nature be an occasion for joy. Envy is then a sin against the natural order. The second sort of envy is when joy is felt at a man’s harm; which is the condition of the devil, for the devil continually rejoices at mankind's harm. From these two kinds of envy comes backbiting. This sin of backbiting, or of being a detractor, itself comes in different shapes and forms. Some men will praise others with wicked intent, always having a subtle sting at the end of what they say; there is always a ‘but’ at the end which carries more blame than all the praise that has come before it. The second kind of backbiting happens when a good man who speaks or acts with good intention has all this goodness turned upside down and thrown back at him in a disparaging light. A third kind of backbiting tries to subtly diminish a man's virtue. The fourth kind of backbiting is this: if men are speaking well of somebody, the backbiter will interrupt and say: ‘Of course, this third man is even better still,’ in order to steer the praise away from the original recipient. A fifth kind of backbiting listens willingly and agrees to all the slander that others are spreading about somebody. This is a very great sin, and increases with the degree of intent.
After backbiting comes grumbling and irritability, which sometimes comes from impatience with God, sometimes from impatience with man. It is against God when a man complains about the torments of hell, of poverty, or the loss of possessions, or the weather, or complains that the wicked are prospering or that good men are not receiving their due. All these things should be suffered patiently, for they come through the will and judgement of God, which is as it should be.
Sometimes there is grumbling that involves jealousy, as was the case when Judas grumbled against Mary Magdalene when she anointed the head of Our Lord Jesus Christ with her precious ointment. This kind of grumbling involves a man complaining of something that he would have liked to have done himself.
Sometimes the murmur of Pride can be heard, as when Simon the Pharisee grumbled at Mary Magdalene when she fell at Jesus’s feet weeping for her sins. At other times grumbling stems from envy, as when someone reveals another person’s secret, or tells somebody something that isn’t true. Servants often grumble when they are asked to do a thing that their master has every right to ask, but because they cannot openly defy him they resort instead to grumbling and gossiping and revealing things that they shouldn’t, in private and out of spite. These words are called the Devil’s Our Father, despite the fact that the devil has never had an Our Father, but ignorant people use this term.
Sometimes grumbling comes from anger or from a concealed animosity that fosters turmoil in the heart, which I shall describe in a moment. This rancour causes bitterness which makes a man view every good deed that his neighbour does with loathing and alarm. This ruins every good friendship, however good a neighbour may be, and along with a desire to annoy comes accusation, which is like the work of the devil, who labours night and day to reveal our innermost faults. This may escalate to a point where a man tries to subtly injure his neighbour if he can; and if he can’t, his evil desires will not be thwarted because he will resort to burning a man’s house down or poisoning his cattle and other such despicable things.
Remedy for Envy
31. Now I shall speak of the remedy for this dreadful sin of envy. First and foremost a man shall love God and love his neighbour as himself; for truly, the one cannot be without the other. Be assured that in the name of your neighbour is the name of your brother, for we all have the same fleshly father and mother, that is to say, Adam and Eve, and the one spiritual father, that is, Our Heavenly Father, God. You are required to love your neighbour and wish that everything good might happen to him, for God said: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ that is to say, to the salvation of your life and soul. You should love your neighbour in what you say, even if this requires gentle admonishing or reminding him what is good and what is bad, to comfort him when he is troubled and pray for him with all your heart. And in your actions, you should love him similarly and give him such support as you would hope that someone might one day give to you in a similar situation. Therefore, you will not seek to harm him through slander and accusation nor try to hurt him physically, nor do damage to his property, nor endanger his soul through leading him on or planting wicked thoughts in his mind. You will not desire his wife or eye up any of his possessions.
Understand also that by ‘neighbour’ is included a man’s enemy as well. A man should love his enemy. This is God's commandment. Therefore, a man should certainly love his friend.
I say that you shall love your enemy. This is because of God's commandment and also because if it was reasonable for a man to hate his enemy, then God would not offer us His love when we are his enemies. Against three kinds of wickedness that his enemy throws against him, a man should respond in these ways: against hate he should offer love; against slander and insult, he should pray for his enemy; against the wicked deeds of his enemy, he should return goodness. Christ said: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who speak out against you and pursue you, and offer goodness to those who hate you.’ Lo! This is how Our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to treat our enemies. Truly, nature causes us to love our friends but by Christ, our enemies have more need of our love than our friends do and those who have more need shall receive more that is good. Certainly, by doing this we should remember the love shown by Jesus Christ, who died for his enemies.
Inasmuch as this love for one's enemies is more difficult to perform, it attracts correspondingly more merit as well; therefore the loving of our enemies acts as a good antidote to the poison of the devil; for, just as the devil is harmed when we show humility, so he receives a mortal wound when we love our enemies. Love, then, is the medicine that counteracts the poison of envy within a man’s heart.
32. Following envy, I shall describe the sin of anger. Truly, whoever envies his neighbour will shortly find himself succumbing to an anger directed against this person of whom he is envious. Anger is equally likely to come from pride as from envy, and the man who is proud and envious is easily stirred to anger.
33. The sin of anger, as defined by Saint Augustine, involves a craving to be avenged, either by word or by deed. According to the philosopher, anger is brought about when the blood is so stirred by the heart that a man wishes down every kind of harm upon those he hates. Certainly, the heart of a man, by heating and moving his blood during a rage, grows so tempestuous that the man is beyond all judgement or reason.
But you should understand that anger is of two sorts: one is good and the other bad. Good anger is when it is directed against the enemies of goodness and against wickedness, which has caused a wise man to say: ‘Anger is better than complacency.’ This sort of anger is accompanied by calmness and a cool head; it is anger without any bitterness and is not directed against the man himself who has sinned, but against his misdeeds alone.
Wicked anger is of two kinds. There is sudden or hasty anger, which flares up without any warning and is not premeditated or consented to by a man’s reason. This is to say that a man’s reason is not a party to this sudden surge of anger and therefore it is a venial sin. Another sort of anger, however, is wicked and comes from the heart’s iniquity; it is premeditated and planned, with a wicked desire to do vengeance and therefore condoned by a man’s reason and because of this it is a deadly sin. This anger is so unpleasant to God that it disturbs heaven and chases the Holy Spirit from a man’s soul and destroys the likeness of God within him, that is to say the virtue that lies in a man’s soul. It replaces this with the likeness of the devil and removes the man from God completely, who is his rightful lord.
This sort of wicked anger is a great delight to the devil; it is his furnace which burns with the fires of hell and just as ordinary fire is most able to destroy earthly things, so the fire of this kind of anger is best at destroying spiritual things. In the same way that the heat and fire in small coals amongst grey ashes will quickly burst into life again when they are touched with sulphur, so anger bursts once more into flame when it is touched by the pride in a man’s heart. Certainly, fire does not spring from nothing but has to be present naturally in the thing from which it comes, as when fire is drawn from a flint with steel, and in the same way, just as pride gives a home to anger, so ill-feeling and malice nourish it and keep it alive.
There is a kind of tree, as Saint Isidore tells us, that when men make a fire from its wood and cover the hot coals with ashes, the heat will last for a year or more. It is just the same with malice and ill-feeling. When it has been formed in the hearts of some men, it will last perhaps from one Eastertide to the next Eastertide following. Certainly, the man who harbours it for this long will be far from being in the mercy of God all this while.
34. In the fire of this devil’s furnace, three evils are forged and created: the first is pride, which is forever blowing the flames into a greater heat through its wicked words and complaints. The second is envy, which holds the hot iron to a man’s heart with the long tongs of malice. Then there is the sin of wilful rebelliousness, strife and discord, battering and bashing with villainous curses. Certainly, this dreadful sin is a bane to both the man affected and to his neighbours, for almost every harm that a man does to his neighbour derives from anger. Certainly, extreme anger does everything that the devil asks of it, sparing neither Christ nor His dear mother. And through outrageous anger and wrath, alas, many a man feels at that moment nothing but antipathy for Christ and his saints. Is this not a cursed vice? Certainly, it is. Alas! It strips a man of his reason and his intelligence and utterly destroys the calm spirituality that should protect his soul. It also destroys God’s due sovereignty, which is the very soul of man, and the love of his neighbours. It wages war against truth. It takes from him the equanimity of his heart and damages his soul.
35. From anger come these stinking offspring: hate, which is old anger; discord, which causes a man to turn against his friend whom he has loved for so long; war, involving every kind of harm that a man can do to his neighbour, both to his body and to his possessions. From this cursed sin of anger comes manslaughter and murder; and be aware that manslaughter can take many forms. Some kinds of homicide are spiritual, others bodily. Spiritual manslaughter is of six kinds. The first is by hate; as Saint John said: ‘He who hates his brother is a homicide.’ Homicide also takes place through backbiting. Solomon said of backbiters: ‘They have two swords with which they kill their neighbours.’ Certainly, it is as wicked to take away a man’s good name as it is to take away his life. Homicide is also when someone gives wicked and fraudulent advice, for example, by suggesting the imposition of evil customs or unjust taxes. Solomon said of this: ‘They are like roaring lions and hungry bears,’ those lords who withhold or reduce the chattels or livestock they owe in payment, or the wages of servants, or else by charging extortionate rates of interest or withdrawing charitable donations to the poor. A wise man has said: ‘Feed the man who is dying of hunger; for truly, unless you feed him, you will kill him, and this is a deadly sin.’ It is manslaughter if you command a man to kill someone, or advise him to do it.
The act of manslaughter is of four sorts. The first is that done in accordance with the law, as when a judge condemns a man to death. But the judge should be certain that he is acting rightfully in upholding the law and not simply because he delights in the spilling of blood. Another sort of homicide is that which is done in self-defence, when a man has to kill in order to avoid being killed himself. But if he is able to escape without going to these lengths but kills his adversary anyway, then it is a deadly sin and he will have to do penance for it. Also, if a man by accident shoots an arrow or throws a stone that kills a man, he commits a homicide. If a woman accidentally smothers her baby through negligence, by turning and lying upon it as she sleeps, for example, it is homicide and a deadly sin. Contraception and abortion also, as when a man gives a woman herbal infusions to drink that make her barren, or infusions that will make her miscarry, or perform a physical abortion by inserting things into her private parts to kill the foetus, or uses methods of unnatural sex in order to avoid the conception of a child, or else, if a woman deliberately hurts herself and kills her child, it is homicide. What can we say about a woman who murders her baby in order to avoid the shame it would otherwise cause to her, perhaps because of her young age or unmarried state? Certainly, this is horrible murder. It is homicide also if a man has violent sex with a woman causing the child she bears to perish as a result, or strikes her intentionally, to the same effect. All these are homicides and horrible, deadly sins.
From anger come many more sins as well, like a man who accuses God, or blames God, for things of which he himself is guilty, despising God and all His saints as do these cursed gamblers and hazard-players in different countries. They commit this cursed sin when they think wickedly of God and all His saints, or treat His holy sacrament with disrespect on the altar – a sin so heinous that it can scarcely be forgiven, were it not that God’s mercy is so great and forgiving that it surpasses all his other works.
From anger also comes indignant rage, as when a man is sharply admonished by his confessor and urged to change his ways, but answers scornfully and angrily and tries to excuse his sin by claiming that he couldn’t help it, or else he did it because all his friends were doing it, or else, he will say, the devil enticed him, or his youth is to blame, or he will claim that his temperament is so impetuous that he can’t help doing it, or else that it is his destiny to do it, or that he does it because it is a right of his high-born ancestry, and similar things. These people wrap themselves in their sins so tightly that they refuse all help. For in all truth, nobody who makes excuses for his sins can ever hope to be saved from them, until he can humbly acknowledge them for what they are.
After this comes swearing, which is expressly against God’s commandments and is often a result of getting angry. God said: ‘You shall not take the name of your God in vain.’ Our Lord Jesus Christ said in the gospel of Saint Matthew: ‘You shall not swear; neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne, nor by Earth, for it is the bench for His feet, nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of a great king, nor by your head, for you have no power even to turn a single hair black or white. Just say yes or no; anything more is evil.’ Jesus said this. For the sake of Christ, don’t dismember Him into heart, bones, soul and body. Certainly, you make it sound as though the cursed Jews didn’t rip apart the precious person of Christ enough, but you have to do it some more.
If it happens that the law compels you to swear, then follow God’s rule in swearing and keep three conditions: you should swear in truth, in judgement and in justice. That is to say, you should swear truth, for every untruth is against Christ, since Christ is perfect truth. You should swear in judgement, when you are constrained by a judge to swear that you are telling the truth as a witness, and you shall not swear out of envy, or as a favour or for a reward, but so that justice may be done, to the glory of God and for the benefit of your fellow Christians.
Every man who takes God’s name in vain, or falsely swears in the name of Christ, may be a Christian man but he is living against Christ’s teaching. ‘There is no other name under heaven,’ said Saint Peter, ‘through which men might be saved,’ that is, except by the name of Christ. Take care, therefore, of His precious name. ‘Every creature in heaven, hell and Earth should bow before the name of Jesus,’ said Saint Paul, for His name is so high and so worshipful that the devil himself should tremble when he hears it.
So it seems that those who swear horribly by His blessed name must despise him more than did the Jews, or the devil.
36. Certainly, if swearing, unless lawfully done, is highly forbidden, then much worse still is swearing in denial of the truth.
37. And what of those who simply delight in swearing and hold it to be a sign of good breeding or a manly thing to swear great oaths? And what of those who swear great oaths out of habit, over the most insignificant things? Certainly, this is a horrible sin. Swearing suddenly and unthinkingly is no less a sin. But let us touch now upon that awful, heinous swearing that accompanies the raising of spirits in exorcism or Satanism, which these false enchanters and black magicians shout over basins full of water or over a bright sword, in a circle or in a fire, or over the shoulder bone of a sheep. I can only say that they act cursedly and damnably, against Christ and all the faith of Holy Church.
38. What do we say of those who believe in divination, by regarding the flight or the sound of birds, or of animals, or by the throwing of sticks randomly or the making of random marks in the earth, by dreams, by the creaking of doors or houses or by the gnawing of rats and other such wretchedness? Certainly, all this is forbidden by God and Holy Church; practitioners of these arts are cursed until they renounce their filthy beliefs.
Regarding charms for wounds or sickness in men, however, or in animals, if they have any effect it may be the case that God might reluctantly allow them, particularly if people show greater reverence for His name as a result.
39. Now I shall speak of lies, which are falsehoods intended to deceive fellow Christians. Some lies give no advantage to anyone but others work to the advantage of someone and to the disadvantage and damage of somebody else. Lies, of course, can be told in order to save a man’s life, or his possessions, and they are sometimes told simply through a delight in telling untruths, where a man may tell a tall story and embellish it with all kinds of nonsense in order to impress. Some lies are told in order to support previous lies or opinions that might otherwise prove to be false, others are told through recklessness, impetuosity and other such things.
40. But let us now speak of flattery, which is usually done for self-advancement or out of fear. Flattery may generally be considered wrongful praise. Flatters are the devil’s nurses who suckle his children with the milk of vanity. Truly, Solomon said: ‘Flattery is worse than detraction,’ for detraction can make a haughty man more humble if he fears worse detraction still, but flattery will make a man’s heart swell with pride. Flatterers are the devil’s enchanters, for they make a man believe that he is something which he is not. They are like Judas who betrayed a man in order to sell him to the devil. Flatterers are the devil’s chaplains who constantly sing Praise! I count flattery to be one of the sins of anger for it is often used to gain allies in a quarrel.
41. Now we touch upon cursing in anger. Cursing is generally understood to be the calling down of every conceivable harm upon somebody. Such cursing divides a man from God, as Saint Paul told us. Often, such wrongful cursing returns to he who curses, like a bird that returns to its own nest. Above all, men must refrain from cursing their children and giving their children to the devil; it causes great peril and is a great sin.
42. Chiding and reproach also; these cause great wounds to open up in a man’s heart, for the stitched seams of friendship are ripped apart as a result. Certainly, it is difficult for a man to be friends with someone who has openly reviled and shamed him. This is a terrible sin, as Christ said in the gospel. Be aware that he who rebukes his neighbour does so either by calling attention to some imperfection or disfigurement on his body, like calling him a ‘leper’ or a ‘twisted miscreant’, or to some sin that he has committed, or still commits. Now if he reproves him for some pain or disfigurement that he suffers, then he also reproves Jesus Christ, for pain and disfigurement are sent by God through His sufferance, be it leprosy, maiming or illness. And if he reproves a man uncharitably for some sin that he commits, such as calling out: ‘You dirty old man!’ or: ‘You drunken wretch!’ and so forth, then this only serves to delight the devil, who always finds joy in sin.
Certainly, insults come from a villain’s heart, for the mouth reflects the heart’s condition. Beware also of intervening with chastisement of your own, when a man is rebuking another, for unless you are very careful, you will stoke the fire of wrath which you ought to be trying to quench, and maybe even end up killing a man you should have calmed instead, with soft words. Solomon said: ‘The amiable tongue is the Tree of Life,’ that is to say, the spiritual life; and certainly a foul tongue destroys the spirit of the person who rebukes, as well as he who is rebuked. Lo! What did Saint Augustine say? ‘There is nothing quite like the devil’s child as a man who is constantly criticising and scolding.’ Saint Paul said: ‘I, a servant of God, shall not rebuke.’
Such insults and rebukes are bad enough between ordinary folk and are certainly horrible when they take place between a husband and wife, for in this case there is no let up! Solomon said, regarding a man’s happiness: ‘There is no difference between a leaking and ruinous house and a scolding wife.’ In a leaking house, a man may not escape from the drips; if he moves to another position, the drips still fall on him, and it is the same with a scolding wife. She will scold him in one place and scold him in another. There is no escape. Therefore he also said: ‘A crust of bread given with joy is better than a fine banquet given with scolding.’ Saint Paul said: ‘Oh you women, be obedient to your husbands and you men, love your wives.’
43. Disparagement is another dreadful sin, as when a man belittles another man’s achievements. Such belittlers are like the foul toad, which cannot bear to smell the sweet perfume of the vine when it is growing. These people are the companions of the devil, for they take delight when the devil wins and sorrow when he loses. They are the adversaries of Jesus Christ for they hate what he loves, that is, the salvation of the soul.
44. Now we must turn to malicious encouragement. Anyone who purposely gives misleading advice is a traitor and a deceiver to those who trust him. Nonetheless, their malicious suggestions are to the detriment, principally, of themselves; for every disagreeable way of living has its roots in the poison within a man’s own soul, as the wise man says. But nobody should take advice from liars or deceivers, nor from angry folk nor folk who harbour a grudge, nor from people who are too fond of their own profit, nor from worldly folk who are not competent to give advice on spiritual matters.
45. It is a sin also to sow discord. Christ hates this sin and no wonder, for Christ died to foster concord amongst men. These people do more shame to Christ than those who crucified him, for Jesus loves to see people living in friendship together – loves it more than He loved His own body which he sacrificed for unity. These spreaders of discontent can therefore be likened to the devil, who is constantly on the lookout for ways of sowing discord.
46. It is a sin to say one thing to some people and then quite another when these same people are out of earshot; to speak pleasantly to their faces and then wickedly behind their backs. Or when folk sound as though they have good intentions, or are joking perhaps, and yet their intentions are wicked.
47. Some people will betray a confidence, to the harm of the person involved. The damage involved may be difficult to restore. Other folk menace people with threats, often threats which they have no power to carry out. Idle words may be spoken, that do no good to either the speaker or the listener. These words are utterly superfluous and unnecessary. Although the use of idle words is usually a venial sin, men should fear them, because an account of them will have to be made before God.
Chattering is also a sin. Solomon said: ‘It is a sin to talk rubbish.’ A philosopher said, when he was asked how a man should please the people: ‘Do many good works and don’t talk rubbish to them.’
Finally, there are jokers, who are the devil’s monkeys, for they do things just so that people will laugh at them, as people laugh at the pranks of an ape. Saint Paul was very critical of this. Just as virtuous and holy words comfort those who work in the service of Christ, so the words of villains and tricksters and other jokers comfort those who work in the service of the devil.
These are the sins that come from the tongue, which usually spring from anger, although sometimes from other sins as well.
Remedy against Anger
48. The remedy against anger is a virtue that men call meekness or humility, to be calm and gracious and also to display another virtue, which is called patience or sufferance.
49. Graciousness and meekness dampen the stirrings and impetuosity in a man’s heart, in such a way that these don’t escape in the form of anger. Sufferance sweetly suffers all the annoyances and wrongs that men do to one another. Saint Jerome said this of graciousness: that ‘It does no harm to anything and says no harm to anything; and whatever harm is directed against it, it treats calmly and with reason.’ A man sometimes possesses this virtue naturally, for as the philosopher says: ‘A man is a living thing, by nature gracious and amenable to reason and to goodness; but when natural graciousness is enhanced by God’s grace, then it is more valuable still.’
50. Patience is another remedy against anger. It allows the person possessing it to sweetly applaud every man’s goodness and it does not let him get angry at the harms directed at him. The philosopher said: ‘Patience is that virtue which calmly suffers all the outrages of adversity and every wicked word.’ This virtue brings a man closer to God; it makes him God’s own dear child, as Christ said. This virtue discourages and defeats your enemies, therefore the wise man says: ‘If you wish to vanquish your enemy, learn patience.’ But you should understand that there are four kinds of grievance which a man often has to face in normal life, against which he must learn four different sorts of patience.
51. The first grievance is from wicked words. Jesus suffered these without complaint when the Jews constantly insulted him. Suffer things patiently, therefore, for the wise man says: ‘If you struggle against a fool, no matter whether he laughs or shouts, you shall have no rest from him.’ Another grievance is to have your property damaged. Christ suffered this with great patience when he was despoiled of all that he had, except for the few clothes he was wearing. The third grievance that a man may suffer is harm to his body. Christ suffered this patiently during his crucifixion. The fourth grievance is outrageous labour, as when people make their servants work too hard, or during time which should be their own, as on holidays; truly, this is a great sin. Christ suffered this patiently and taught us patience when he bore upon his blessed shoulder the cross upon which he was to be crucified. By this example may a man learn to be patient. Certainly, not only are Christian men patient for the love of Jesus, or the reward of heaven and everlasting life, but even the old pagans, who were never Christians, praised and practiced this virtue of patience.
52. A philosopher once fetched a stick to hit his disciple with, because he was so annoyed at his wrongdoing. When the child saw this stick he asked: ‘What are you going to do with that?’
‘I am going to beat you with it,’ replied the philosopher, ‘for your correction.’
'Then you ought to beat yourself first,' said the child, 'for having lost your patience over the misdemeanour of a child.’
‘In all honesty, you are right,’ said the philosopher, weeping. ‘Take this stick, my dear son, and beat me with it for my impatience.’
From patience comes obedience, by which a man is obedient to Christ and to all whom he ought to be obedient to, in Christ. And you must understand that this obedience should be complete, when a man does gladly, quickly and willingly all that he should do, with a happy heart. Obedience is to carry out the wishes of God and of all those in authority under God.
Laziness and Indolence
53. Following the sins of envy and anger, I will now speak of the sin of laziness and indolence. Envy blinds the heart of a man, anger disturbs a man and laziness makes him heavy and fretful, worrying about inconsequential things. Envy and anger make the heart bitter and this bitterness is the mother of indolence and removes from a man all the love of goodness that he might have had. Indolence, then, is the anguish of a disturbed heart. Saint Augustine said: ‘It shows disquiet at goodness and joy at harm.’ Certainly, this is a damnable sin for it wrongs Jesus Christ, inasmuch as it prevents the service that men ought to perform diligently for Christ, as Solomon said. Laziness is minded to do no such service. It does everything with ill-will, with vexation, weariness and hesitancy, with excuses and reluctance. The Bible says: ‘Cursed is he who is negligent in performing the service due to God.’
Indolence is the enemy of every man, whatever his estate; for the estate of man is of three kinds. Either it is the state of innocence, which is the state Adam was in before he sinned, whose work is to worship and adore God. Another state is that of sinful men, who are required to labour in prayer to God for forgiveness and for the correction of their sins, so that He might lift them out of sin entirely. The third estate is that of grace, in which a man is required to perform works of penance for past sins, and certainly in all these states, laziness is unhelpful and is, indeed, an enemy, for indolence baulks at any sort of work.
Certainly, this foul sin of indolence is also detrimental to the sustenance of the body; it stops it from providing for its physical needs, it wastes and spoils and lets everything rot in the fields through its carelessness and lack of concern.
54. The fourth thing is that laziness is like those who are in the pain of hell, because of their sloth and their heaviness; for those in hell are so tightly bound that they can hardly move or even think. The first sign of laziness is when a man can’t be bothered to do anything that is good, which causes God to consider laziness such an abomination, as Saint John says.
55. Next is sloth, which cannot endure anything that is difficult or which requires effort; for truly, sloth is so weak and tender, and so delicate, as Solomon says, that it will ruin everything it does. Against this rotten-hearted sin of sloth men should be sure to exercise themselves by doing good works and stir themselves in a virtuous and manly way, in the knowledge that Our Lord Jesus Christ will reward every good deed, however small.
Physical work is a fine thing, for it gives the labourer strong arms and hard sinews, as Saint Bernard said. Sloth makes him weak and unable to withstand knocks and abrasions, and from this comes a fear of attempting any kind of work at all, however good; for certainly, the man who is inclined towards sin thinks that it requires a great effort to undertake good works and imagines that doing so will be such an insufferable burden to him that he dare not begin it, as Saint Gregory said.
56. Next is despair, which fears the withdrawal of God’s mercy. This is caused sometimes by too much sorrow, sometimes by too much fear, as when a man imagines that he has sinned too greatly for any repentance to have any effect. This may cause him to throw himself into sinful acts with complete abandon, thinking that nothing matters any more. Such damnable sinning, if it continues to his death, is called ‘sinning against the Holy Spirit’ and is so perilous because in such despair there is no sin that a man is frightened of committing, as can be seen by the example of Judas. Certainly, this sin above all others is most hated by Christ and most contrary to His teaching.
The man who despairs is like the coward champion who disloyally surrenders, acknowledging himself beaten when he is not. Alas! Alas! His capitulation is needless, and so is his despair. The mercy of God is ready and waiting for every penitent – it is the highest of all His attributes. Alas! Cannot a man remember the gospel of Saint Luke, where Christ says: ‘There is as much joy in heaven over one sinful man who repents than over ninety-nine good men who have no need to repent.’ Look further in the same gospel and you will find the story of a man who had lost his son; the son returned repentantly and the father was so joyful that he put on a great feast. Can they not remember how the thief who was crucified beside Jesus, according to Saint Luke, said: ‘Lord, will you remember me when you enter into your kingdom?’
'I can tell you,' replied Christ, 'that you will be with me in Paradise before the day is out.’
Certainly, there is no sin of man so horrible that it cannot, during his lifetime, be expunged through penance, because of the crucifixion and the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Alas! What need is there for despair, when mercy is so close at hand, so certain and so all-encompassing? Ask and you shall receive!
Then there is drowsiness and lethargy, which makes a man heavy and dull, both in body and in soul, and this sin stems from sloth. Is it not reasonable that men should stop sleeping when morning comes, unless there is a good reason not to? Certainly, the morning is the most appropriate time for a man to say his prayers, to think about God, to honour God and to give alms to the poor who first arrive to receive it in the name of Christ. Lo! What did Solomon say? ‘Whoever wakes up in the morning and looks for me, will find me.’
Then there is negligence, or being reckless and irresponsible. If ignorance is the mother of all harm, then irresponsibility is its nurse. Negligence just doesn’t give a damn about anything, and when it does get around to doing something it couldn’t care less whether it does it well or badly.
57. Concerning the remedy for these two sins, as the wise man says: ‘He who fears God, makes sure that he does everything that he ought to do.’ He who loves God will do his utmost to please Him in the things he does and devote himself with all his energy to doing good works.
Idleness is the gateway to all the vices. An idle man is like a house that has no walls; devils can approach him from all directions and shoot at him with impunity, with temptations from every side. Idleness is a stinking sinkhole for all wicked and villainous thoughts, all tricks and nonsense. Certainly, heaven is given to those who will work, and not to idle folk. King David said: ‘If they have not been working with other men, they will not be whipped with other men,’ that is to say, in Purgatory. So it seems, then, that these people will be tormented with the devil in hell, unless they do penance.
58. Next comes the sin that men call ‘waiting until the last moment’, when a man tarries or dawdles and doesn’t care if he is late turning to God; and certainly, this is a great folly. It is like the man who falls into a ditch and will not get out. This vice derives from a false hope, for the man believes that he will live for a long time; but this hope often proves to be false.
59. Then there is idle faithlessness; that is, when a man will start good works but never finish them and always abandons them halfway through; or like those who have guardianship of someone, but the moment their charge annoys them or disobeys them, they lose all interest. It is like these new shepherds who lose interest and let their sheep go running towards the wolf in the bracken and don’t seem to care. From this comes poverty and destruction, both of worldly things and in the spiritual realm. There comes a sort of chill that freezes the heart, and such a lack of devotion that a man becomes blinded, as Saint Bernard said, and develops such a sluggishness of soul that he cares neither to read nor sing in holy church, nor hear nor think of anything devotional, nor do any good works with his hands, for all these things serve only to annoy him. He becomes slow and lethargic, quick to anger and easily roused to hatred and envy.
Then there is the sin of despair, which is called depression and which can kill a man, as Saint Paul says. Certainly, such sorrow can bring about the death of the soul and the death of the body also, for it can cause a man to grow weary of his own life. Sorrow and unhappiness often shortens a man’s life and causes him to die before his time.
Remedy for Laziness and Indolence
60. Against this horrible sin of laziness and indolence, and all its offshoots, there is a virtue called fortitude and strength of will, which is a state of mind through which a man comes to despise all annoyances. This virtue is so powerful and so vigorous that it dares to do mighty battle against all the wicked perils of life and defends itself strongly against them, and the assaults of the devil. It elevates and strengthens the soul, just as indolence weakens the soul and makes it feeble. Fortitude is able to endure this work through long sufferance and make it agreeable.
61. This virtue has many aspects. The first is courage, that is to say, a great heart. Certainly, there needs to be great courage against indolence, lest it swallow the soul through the sin of depression, or destroy it through despair. This virtue allows folk to take on hard and difficult endeavours, through their own will, wisely and reasonably; and because the devil strives against man more by subtle ploys and clever tricks than by strength, therefore men can withstand him by their intelligence and reason and discretion.
Then there is the virtue of faith in God and His saints and the assurance that they will help him to achieve the good works that he has set his mind to and the assurance also that a man should not waver, therefore, through fear of the work that he has set himself. Then there is amplification of worth, that is, when a man does these great works of goodness that he has set himself; and this is the reason why men should do great works, because by accomplishing them they receive a correspondingly greater reward in heaven. Perseverance is the keeping-up of one’s courage, steadfast resolution and faith, shown in the heart, in the bearing, in one’s speech and in one’s actions.
There are, in addition, special remedies against indolence, through diverse activities, a consideration of the pains of hell and the joys of heaven, and by instilling a trust in the grace of the Holy Ghost that will give a man the desire and the means to perform good works.
Avarice and Covetousness
62. Following laziness and indolence I shall speak of avarice, covetousness and the love of money. Saint Paul said: ‘Covetousness is the root of all evil.’ Truly, when a man’s heart is troubled and his soul has lost contact with the comfort of God, then he looks for idle solace in the material things of this world.
63. Avarice, according to Saint Augustine, is a lust for earthly things. Others say that it is the acquisition of wealth while giving nothing to those who are in need. And you must understand that avarice applies not only to land and other possessions but also to knowledge and acclamation, the applause of others and many other outrageous things.
The difference between avarice and covetousness is this: covetousness is a lust for those things which one doesn’t already possess, avarice is the desperate need to hang on to what one already owns and not to lose it or give it away. Truly, avarice is a damnable sin; the whole Bible curses it and criticises it, for it wrongs Jesus Christ by taking away the love that men owe to him. It makes a man have more affection for his possessions than for Jesus Christ, and pay more attention to the protection of his wealth than to the service of Christ. This has led Saint Paul to say: ‘An avaricious man is a slave to idolatry.’
64. What difference is there between an idolater and an avaricious man, except that an idolater has only one Mohammed, or two, while the avaricious man has countless objects of reverence and desire? Certainly, every florin in his chest is his Mohammed. The sin of idolatry is the first thing that God forbade in the Ten Commandments, as the Book of Exodus tells us: ‘Thou shalt worship no god higher than me, nor shall you make any carved images of me.’ So an avaricious man, who loves his treasure better than he loves God, is an idolater.
From covetousness come these money-grabbing lords who wring every last penny from their tenants, way and beyond all that is customary and fair. They seize fines and levies from their servants and labourers which might more properly be called extortions. The stewards of some of these noblemen say that it is right to exact such taxes and levies from their tied cottages, and even ransoms, since a churl possesses nothing that is not already the property of his lord. Certainly, these lords who take from their bond labourers things which they did not give to them do wrong. The truth is that the reason for serfdom and the rationale behind it is a sin.
65. It is right that the guilty should be bound in servitude, but this should not be a natural state. Therefore, these lords should not derive any glory from their high position since, in the natural course of things, they are not rightfully lords over their servants unless such servitude has been deserved through sin. Furthermore, where the law says that the worldly possessions of a bondservant belong to his lord, this should be understood to mean that a lord has a right to defend them as though they were his own, but not to rob or thieve them. Seneca said: ‘Your prudence should live comfortably and benignly with your servants.’ Those whom you call your serfs are God’s people, for humble folk are Christ’s friends; they share the same tent with the Lord.
66. Think also, that the seed from which churls are produced also produces lords. A churl may just as easily be saved as a lord. Death will take a churl at the end of his life, and will take a lord in exactly the same way. Therefore, I advise you, treat your servants as you would hope to be treated by your own lord, if you were in his position. Every sinful man is a servant to sin. I advise you, certainly, that you, lord, should deal with your servants in such a way that they love you rather than fear you. I quite accept that there is a hierarchy in human dealings and that everyone should do their duty as befalls their station in life, but certainly, extortion and contempt for those in your service is a damnable sin.
67. Furthermore, you should remember that conquerors and tyrants often make slaves of those whose blood is a royal as their own. This word ‘servant’ was never known before Noah declared that his son [Ham] should be a servant to his brothers for his sins. What should we say, then, about those who pile taxes and extortions on Holy Church? Certainly, the sword that is given to a knight when he is first dubbed is a symbol which means that he must defend Holy Church, not rob and pillage it. Whoever does so is a traitor to Christ. Saint Augustine said: ‘Those who prey upon the sheep of Jesus Christ are the devil’s wolves.’ They do worse than wolves; for when a wolf has eaten his fill, he stops killing sheep, but these robbers and destroyers of God’s Holy Church don’t stop, they keep on thieving.
Now, as I have said, since sin was the initial cause of servitude, then it must be the case that, when this entire world was in sin, then this entire world was also in servitude and thraldom. But with the arrival of the Age of Grace, God ordained that some folk should be of higher degree than others and have authority over them, others should be of lower degree and obey their lord, but all of them properly served in his estate and in his degree. And therefore, in some countries, where slaves can be purchased, if they can be persuaded to become Christians they are set free. And it can certainly be said that a lord and his servants each owe something to the other. The Pope refers to himself as Servant to the Servants of God.
But inasmuch as Holy Church might not exist, nor the fields be tilled nor the peace be kept if God had not ordained that some men should be of higher degree than others, then sovereignty was created in order to protect and maintain and defend those of lower degree, to the utmost of a lord’s power, and not to pillage and steal from them. So I say to those lords who are like wolves and who wrongly devour the possessions of the poor folk with scant mercy, that they will receive this same mercy in the same measure from Jesus Christ, unless they amend their behaviour.
Then there is deceit between those in trade. But first you should understand that there are two sorts of merchandise: the one is material and the other spiritual. The one is honest and lawful, and the other is dishonest and unlawful. Concerning material merchandise which is honest and lawful, it should be said that where God has ordained that a country or a kingdom is self-sufficient in material goods, it is honest and proper that, when there is a surplus in that country, it should be used to help another country that is in need. Therefore, it is right that there are merchants to bring the goods from one country into another. But that other merchandise, which men hover around with fraud and deceit and treachery, with lies and false oaths, is cursed and damnable. Spiritual merchandise is properly called simony, that is, an eager desire to buy spiritual goods, which are things that pertain to God’s love and to the welfare of the soul. This desire, if a man strives hard to attain it and even if he fails in this regard, is nevertheless to him a deadly sin.
Simony is so-called because of Simon Magus who offered material wealth for the gifts that God had given, through the Holy Spirit, to Saint Peter and to the apostles. Understand, therefore, that both the seller and the buyer in this unwholesome business are engaging in simony, whether the thing exchanged involves money, or influence, or the benefit of prayers, or whether the participants are friends or colleagues. If friends, they may be either relatives or acquaintances, but if the person acquiring the benefice is not worthy of the position offered to him. then it is simony, but not if he is. Another instance would be when a man or a woman asks for promotion because they are aware of a wicked, fleshly attraction that the person offering the benefice feels for them. This is foul simony.
Certainly, in service, when men give spiritual duties to their servants, it must be understood that the service should be honest, or else it shouldn’t be given. It must be awarded without any bargaining and the appointee must be capable of fulfilling his duties. For as Saint Damasus said: ‘All the sins in the world, compared to this one, are as nothing,’ for it is the greatest sin that can possibly be, after the sin of Lucifer and the Antichrist. By this sin, God risks losing the Church and the soul that He bought with His precious blood, because of these people who give Church benefices to people who are not fit to receive them. They install thieves who take from Christ the souls due to Him and destroy His rightful kingdom. Through such unworthy priests and curates, ordinary men have less respect for the sacraments of Holy Church. Such givers of churches put out the children of Christ and install the devil’s children in their place and sell the lambs, which should be protected, to the very wolf who would eat them, so preventing these lambs from ever tasting the lush pasture that is promised to them, that is, heaven.
Now I shall speak of gambling in all its manifestations, such as backgammon and taking part in lotteries. With these come deceit, false oaths, thefts and denunciations, blaspheming and oaths against God, the falling-out of neighbours and the waste of money, property and time, and sometimes manslaughter.
Certainly, gamblers remain in great sin all the while that they persist in this vice. From such covetousness comes lying and theft, bearing false witness and swearing to things which are not true. You must understand that these are all great sins and expressly against the commandments of God, as I have said. One can swear falsely both in word and in deed: in word, one might soil a neighbour’s good name, or keep him from his rightful inheritance by telling lies, perhaps through envy, for a reward or through anger, if you swear to something that is not true, or deny something that is. Take note of this, you jurymen and recorders of legal documents. In the Bible, Susannah suffered greatly because of others bearing false witness, and so have many others besides.
The sin of theft is also expressly against God’s commandments. Theft can be either material or spiritual: material theft is when a man takes another man’s possessions against his will, either by force or by deception. It is stealing also if false documents are drawn up claiming possession, or if things are borrowed without any intention of returning them, and similar things to this. Spiritual theft includes sacrilege, that is to say, the damage of holy things or of things sacred to Christ, in two ways: by reason of the location, if it is holy, such as a church or a churchyard – and in fact anything villainous done in these places may be termed sacrilege and every act of violence committed there – or if the rights due to Holy Church are falsely withdrawn or denied. In short, sacrilege is to remove what is holy and spiritual from a holy place, or what is unholy from a holy place, or even what is holy from an unholy place.
Remedy for Avarice and Covetousness
68. Now I shall tell you what the remedy for avarice is: it is mercy and pity in generous amounts. But you may ask: why mercy and pity? Well, the avaricious man shows no pity or mercy to a man in need, for his sole enjoyment lies in keeping his wealth to himself, not in relieving his fellow Christians and rescuing them from poverty. So I shall speak first of mercy.
Mercy, said the philosopher, is the virtue by which the heart and mind of a man are stirred by the discomfort of those who are discomfited. From this mercy comes pity, and the performing of charitable works through pity. Certainly, a man should be moved to pity through Jesus Christ, since he sacrificed His life for our guilt and suffered death through His mercy and forgave us our original sin, releasing us from the pain of hell and allowing us to lessen the pain of Purgatory through penance. He thereby gave us the grace to do well and to achieve the bliss of heaven at last. The manifestations of mercy include lending and giving, forgiving and releasing, having pity in your heart and compassion for the misfortunes of your fellow Christians and rebuking them when there is need.
Another remedy for avarice is reasonable generosity to one’s peers; but here the grace of Jesus Christ must be borne in mind, a consideration of a man’s worldly goods and the everlasting possessions that Christ has given to us, and to remember that a man will die, he knows not when, nor where, nor how and that he will lose all that he has except for that good that he has done by spending what he has on good works.
69. Some men can be over-generous by giving away their wealth improperly and this sort of largesse should be avoided because it is called waste. Certainly, the man who is foolishly over-generous does not give away his possessions but simply loses them, The gifts that he gives to minstrels and other folk, out of vanity and simply to impress everybody and raise his own esteem, is a sin and not a virtue. It is an ignominious loss when a man seeks nothing but sin with his gifts. He is like a horse that seeks out stagnant and filthy water to drink from, rather than a clear spring. And forasmuch as these people give, in this way, what they should not give, they will be allocated that curse that Christ will give on the Day of Judgement to those who shall be damned.
70. After avarice comes gluttony, which is another of the deadly sins. Gluttony is an uncontrolled appetite to eat and drink, or a willingness to go some way towards pandering to such an uncontrolled appetite. This sin corrupted the entire world, as can be seen from the story of Adam and Eve. Hear what Saint Paul says about gluttony: ‘There are many, as I have often told you and now tell you with tears in my eyes, who are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end will be death, for their stomachs are their God and their glory. This will be to the confusion of all these who cherish the sensory world.’ The man who is a glutton is an easy prey to all the other sins as well; he will be a servant to all of the vices, for it is the devil’s hoard in which he rests and hides.
This sin has many manifestations; the first is drunkenness, which is the horrible overwhelming of a man’s reason. When a man is drunk, he has lost all his reason, and this is a deadly sin. But truly, when a man is not used to strong drink, and perhaps is unaware of the strength of the drink, or is a little stupid perhaps, or has laboured hard and worked up a strong thirst, then to be found suddenly drunk under these circumstances is a venial sin and not a deadly one.
The second kind of gluttony is when the spirit of a man grows tempestuous, for drunkenness takes away all discretion from him. The third kind of gluttony is when a man eats his food in a disgusting way. The fourth is when, through a great abundance of food, a man’s constitution is knocked out of balance and the humours in his body thrown into disarray. The fifth is forgetfulness through too much drinking, by which I mean that a man may have forgotten in the morning what he did the night before.
71. There are other ways of sub-classifying gluttony, one according to Saint Gregory. The first is to eat between meals, or before it is time to eat. The second is to acquire a taste for refined and delicate food and drink. The third is overindulgence. The fourth is spending too much time in the preparation of meals. The fifth is to stuff food into one’s mouth greedily. These are the five fingers of the devil’s hand, by which he draws people towards him.
Remedy for Gluttony
72. Against gluttony there is the remedy of abstinence, as Galen said, although I would not consider it meritorious if the intention is only the relief of a physical ailment caused through gluttony. Saint Augustine insists that abstinence should be practiced for virtuous reasons and with patience. Abstinence, he says, is worth little unless it is done willingly, pursued with patience and charity and performed in the name of God and for His sake and through the hope of heavenly bliss.
73. Alongside abstinence there is moderation, which takes the middle way in all things; also shame, which rejects all dishonesty; temperance, which seeks no rich foods or strong drinks and has no regard for any fancy, dressing-up of meals or extravagant presentation; willpower, which, by the use of one’s wits, controls an unrestrained appetite for eating; sobriety, which restrains the urge to drink too much, and a sense of good measure, which prevents a man sitting too long at his meal, and through which some folk make it a habit to eat standing up, in order to be less comfortable during their meal and therefore inclined to take less time over it.
74. After gluttony comes the sin of lechery. These two sins are such close cousins to one another that they are often found together. This sin is truly abhorrent to God, who has warned us against it explicitly. He took great pains to highlight it in the Old Testament. If a female slave was found to be sinful in this way, she was to be beaten with sticks until she was dead. If she was of higher estate, she was to be stoned to death. If she was a bishop’s daughter, she was to be burned. This was God’s command. God destroyed the entire world in the Deluge because of its lechery, and afterwards burnt five cities and caused them to sink down into hell, for this same reason.
75. Let us speak of that odious sin of lechery that men call adultery amongst married folk, that is to say, if one of them is married, or if both of them are. Saint John said that adulterers will be cast into hell in stinking flames of burning sulphur; fire for their lechery and sulphur for the nauseous stench of their activities. Certainly, the breaking of the sacrament of marriage is a horrible thing; this sacrament was created by God himself in Paradise and confirmed by Jesus Christ, as Saint Matthew bears witness to in the gospel: ‘A man shall leave his father and mother and find himself a wife, and they shall be two in one body.’ This sacrament denotes the knitting-together of Christ and Holy Church.
Not only has God forbidden adultery in deed but also in thought. You must not ogle your neighbour’s wife. Saint Augustine explains that in this commandment may be read all manner of prohibitions against lechery. Lo! What does Saint Matthew say in the gospel? ‘Whoever looks at a woman and imagines what he might do to her, performs lechery in his heart.’ Here, then, it is plain that not only is it forbidden to do the deed, but it is sinful even to think about it.
This cursed sin is terribly damaging to those who practise it; firstly, to their soul, which is then condemned to the pain of a death which is everlasting. But it is dreadfully damaging to the body as well, for it drains a man, wastes him and destroys him, causing him to sacrifice his blood to the fiend of hell; it also wastes his possessions and his wealth. And certainly, if it is a foul thing for a man to waste his money on women, then it is a worse thing still for a woman to waste her money on a man! This sin, as the prophet said, denies men and women their good names and their honour, and pleases the devil no end because in this way he gets to control the greater part of the world. Just as a merchant gets most delight from that merchandise which gives him the most profit, so the fiend gets his greatest delight from the stench of these activities.
76. These are the other five fingers which the devil uses to draw people towards him: the first is the lecherous glance of a foolish woman or a foolish man, a glance that kills, just as the basilisk kills people just by looking at them; for the covetous glance reflects the intentions of the heart. The second finger is the villainous groping and wicked touching, which Solomon likened to a man handling a scorpion, which might suddenly sting him and kill him with its venom, or a man handling hot tar that will burn him dreadfully if he is not very careful. The third is lascivious language that is like fire which burns the heart. The fourth finger is kissing; and certainly the man is a great fool who would kiss the mouth of a hot oven or a furnace. And an even greater fool is he who would kiss another place, for that mouth is the mouth of hell; I speak of these old lechers who like to kiss and taste a little, although they cannot perform. They are like dogs, for when a dog comes to a rose or some other bush he will lift up his leg and make as though to piss, even when he cannot.
Concerning the opinion which many men hold, that whatever they do with their wives cannot be a sin, certainly this opinion is false. God knows, a man is quite capable of killing himself with his own knife or making himself drunk by drinking from his own barrel and whether it is his wife or his child or anything else whom he loves more than he loves God, it is idolatry. A man should love his wife with discretion, patiently and moderately, as though she were his sister.
The fifth finger on the devil’s hand is the stinking deed of lechery. Certainly, the devil grasps a man’s stomach with his five fingers of gluttony and with his five fingers of lechery he seizes a man by the balls. Then he makes ready to throw him into the furnace of hell, where the flames and worms will last forever, with weeping and wailing, terrible hunger, thirst and the stamping of devils on heads and arms, which will be incessant and will last for eternity.
As I have said, lechery comes in a number of different forms. In addition to adultery there is fornication between men and women who are not married; this is a deadly sin and against the natural order, for everything that is destructive of the natural order is naturally against it. Reason, also, should tell a man that it is a deadly sin, forasmuch as God has forbidden it. Saint Paul gave to those who commit this act the fate that is reserved for those who commit deadly sin. Another sinful act of lechery is to deflower a virgin. Whoever does this casts the girl from the highest degree of purity that is in this worldly life and denies her the fruit that the Bible calls ‘the hundred fruit’. I can put it no other way in English, but in Latin it is called Centesimus fructus. Certainly, the man who commits this causes great damage and villainy – more so than anyone can know; for just like the harm that cattle can do when a man breaks a hedge or a fence and allows them to stray onto fields, so the damage may be irreparable. Virginity can no more be restored than an arm which has been cut off can be joined again to the body and repaired. She may find mercy, I am sure, if she does penance, but she can never regain her virginity.
Although I have already spoken of adultery, I will give a further account of the perils that attach to this foul sin in order that the avoidance of it may be encouraged. Adultery in Latin is described as 'the approaching of another man’s bed', through which those who were formerly of one flesh abandon their bodies to another person. From this sin, as the wise man says, come many dreadful things. Foremost is the breaking of faith. Faith is the rock upon which Christianity stands. When faith is damaged, Christianity is damaged. This sin is therefore a theft, for it is theft if a man has something of his taken away against his will. Certainly, this is the foulest theft there can be, when a woman steals her body from her husband and gives it to her lover to abuse; and steals her soul from Christ and gives it to the devil. This is a worse theft than breaking into a church and stealing the chalice! These adulterers break into the temple of God, spiritually, and steal the vessel of grace, that is, the body and the soul, for which Christ will destroy them, as Saint Paul says.
Truly, this sin is what Joseph feared when Pharaoh's wife tried to seduce him; when he said: ‘My lady, I have been given control of everything that my lord owns; nothing he possesses is beyond my reach, except for one thing and that is you, my lady. How, then, could I commit this wickedness and sin so horribly against God and against my lord? God forbid!’
Alas, such faithfulness is seldom seen today!
The third evil committed by adulterers is that they break God’s commandment and defile the state of matrimony, which Christ ordained. Inasmuch as the sacrament of marriage is so noble and worthy, then breaking it is a correspondingly heinous crime. God made marriage in Paradise, when man was in a state of innocence, in order that mankind might multiply in His service. So breaking it is a grievous sin. From such sinfulness come illegitimate heirs who wrongfully inherit what is not theirs to inherit, so correspondingly, God will banish those engaging in such sinfulness from the kingdom of heaven, which is the heritage of good folk.
From the birth of illegitimate children also comes the danger that sister and brother might later unwittingly marry or lie in sin together; this is a particular danger for those rogues who haunt brothels full of these foolish women, which can be likened to a common latrine, where men go to shit. And what of pimps who live off the immoral earnings of women who sell themselves in prostitution, sometimes even their own wives and children? Certainly, these are cursed sins. Understand also that adultery is set appropriately between theft and manslaughter in the Ten Commandments, for it is the greatest theft there can be – the theft of body and soul – and is similar also to homicide, for it breaks apart and splits into two those who were made one flesh. By the Old Law adulterers would be killed. Nevertheless, by the law of Jesus Christ, which is one of pity, when Christ spoke to the woman who had been found guilty of adultery and should have been stoned to death, as the Jews had sentenced her, for that was their law, he said: ‘Go, and sin no more.’ But truly, the punishment for adultery is meted out in hell, unless it is ameliorated through penance.
There are still more manifestations of this cursed sin of lechery, such as when one of the participants is a religious person, or if both of them are, or if one is in an order, a sub-deacon or deacon perhaps, or a priest or one of the Knights Hospitallers. The higher in the order he is, the greater is the sin. And the thing that greatly compounds this sinfulness is the breaking of their vow of chastity, which they made when they entered their order. The conferring of holy orders is the greatest treasure and it is God’s special sign and mark of chastity, to show that the recipients have been joined to chastity, which is the most precious life that there is. These people in holy orders have given themselves entirely to God and to His favoured retinue; so when they do a deadly sin, they are traitors to God. They derive their living from the people in return for their prayers for the people; but if they are traitors to God their prayers are of no avail to the people.
Priests are like angels as regards the dignity of their ministry; but truly, as Saint Paul says: ‘Satan disguises himself like an angel of light.’ Truly, the priest who knowingly commits a deadly sin may be likened to an angel of darkness disguised as an angel of light; he seems to be an angel of light, but he is really an angel of darkness. Such priests are the sons of Elijah, in the Book of Kings, who were the sons of Belial, that is, the devil. Belial means ‘without a judge’ and these people think in the same way, they think that they are free and have no judge to judge them, any more than does a bull has who has been given the freedom to take any cow he likes in a village. They are just the same with their women. And just as one free bull is enough for any village, so also is a wicked priest’s corruption enough to harm a parish, or an entire county. These priests, as the Bible says, are no longer able to perform the miracle of the Eucharist, they have lost contact with God. They did not think it was enough to be able to invoke God’s flesh and so they took other flesh instead, by force.
These rogues are not satisfied with the boiled beef and roast pork which people give them to eat in great abundance, but instead want the raw flesh of men’s wives and daughters. And the women who consent to this promiscuousness do a great wrong to Christ, to Holy Church and to all the saints, and to all souls, for they take away, from all these, a man who should have worshipped Christ and Holy Church and prayed for Christian souls. Therefore these priests and their lovers receive the curse of Christ’s court, until they come to repent.
Another kind of adultery takes place between a man and his wife, when they have no thought of producing a child but have sex together simply for pleasure, as Saint Jerome put it, and take a delight in coupling for its own sake. They think that there is nothing wrong with this because they are married, but the devil is able to gain great power through such people, as the angel Raphael said, for while they are having sex together these people put all thought of Jesus Christ out of their minds and give themselves entirely to filth.
A fourth kind of adultery is that which takes place between close relatives or family, or with those whom their fathers or other relatives have also had lecherous sex with. This sin makes these people behave like dogs, who take no notice of kinship; and kinship is of two kinds, either spiritual or worldly. Spiritual kinship is that between a godparent and a godchild; for just as a man who conceives a child is the child’s natural father, so a boy’s godfather is his spiritual father. Therefore a woman may no less sinfully have sex with someone who has the same godfather as she, as with one of her natural brothers.
A fifth manifestation of this abominable sin, which one is barely able to speak or write about, is nonetheless openly alluded to in Holy Writ. This debauchery is performed by men and women in various ways and the Bible is able to speak of this horrible sin since it cannot be sullied by it any more than can the sun be damaged by shining over a cesspit.
Another sin should be classed with lechery and it is one which manifests itself when a person is asleep. This sinful dreaming often comes to young ladies or to those who are sick; it is called pollution and has four causes. Sometimes it is due to the bodily humours being out of balance, sometimes to illness or weakness, sometimes because of overeating or drinking too much and sometimes from disgraceful and sinful thoughts that were going on in a man’s mind before he went to sleep. Men must safeguard themselves from such things, or they sin grievously.
Remedy for Lechery
77. The remedy against lechery is chastity and self-control, which restrains all these inordinate stirrings and inclinations of the flesh. The man who most controls the wicked heat of this filthy sin will receive the greatest merit. This can be achieved in two ways: through chastity in marriage and through chastity in widowhood.
You must understand that marriage is the lawful union of a man and a woman, which is received through the sacrament of marriage which lasts for the rest of their lives. This, as the Bible says, is a very powerful sacrament. God made it in Paradise, as I have already said, and arranged for himself to be born in marriage, to Joseph and his wife Mary. He attended a wedding in order to bless a marriage, on which occasion he turned water into wine. This was the first miracle that Jesus performed in front of his disciples. A faithful adherence to the rules of marriage prevents fornication and replenishes Holy Church with suitable priests and clerics. This is the reason for marriage and it turns deadly sin into only a venial sin between those who are married. It makes the hearts of those who are married as one, as well as their bodies. This is true marriage, which was established by God before sin began, when natural law was followed properly in Paradise and where it was ordained that one man should have only one woman, and one woman only one man. This is for many reasons.
78. The first of these reasons is that marriage is formed between Christ and Holy Church. The second is that a man is in charge of a woman and should be the head that does the thinking for her – at least, this is what is decreed. If a woman had more than one man, then she would have more than one head to do the thinking for her and that is a horrible thing to contemplate, for she couldn’t please all of them at once. There would never be peace or rest amongst her husbands, they would all be at loggerheads and furthermore, no man could be sure of his own child, or who should be his heir, and the woman would be loved the less if she was joined to more than one man.
79. I shall speak now about how a man should conduct himself with his wife, and this involves two things, sufferance and reverence, as Christ showed us when he first made woman. He didn’t make her from Adam’s head, so that she could not claim equal lordship with him. Wherever a woman has authority, she creates too much confusion; no examples of this are needed as everyday experience ought to suffice. By the same token, God did not make Eve from Adam’s foot, because then she would have been held in too low an esteem and she is not able to suffer such things patiently, so God made her from one of Adam’s ribs, to be his companion.
A man should conduct himself with fidelity, honesty and love towards his wife. Saint Paul said: ‘A man should love his wife as Christ loves Holy Church, which he loved so much that He died for it.’ A man should be prepared to do this for his wife, if this is necessary.
80. Saint Peter tells us how a woman should be subject to her husband. First, in obedience. A woman who is a wife, as long as she remains a wife, has no authority to swear or to bear witness except with the express agreement of her husband, who is her lord – at least, this is how it should be. She should serve her husband honestly and not spend too much money on fine clothes. I firmly accept that they should do all they can to please their husbands, but not through over-extravagance when it comes to clothing. Saint Jerome has said that wives dressed in silk and expensive purple fabrics cannot clothe themselves in Jesus Christ. Saint Gregory says that the only reason a person seeks fine clothes is through vanity, the more to be honoured and applauded by the people. It is a great folly for a woman to be clothed in fine garments but to be foul inside.
A woman should be discrete with her glances, discrete in the way that she holds herself and in the way that she laughs, and in all her words and deeds. Above all, she should love her husband with all her heart and be true to him with her body. So, of course, should a husband be to his wife. Since all of a wife’s body belongs to her husband, then her heart should as well, or else this is a reason for theirs not to be a perfect marriage.
Men should understand that there are three legitimate reasons for a man and his wife to have sex together. First and foremost it is to produce children who can carry on the service due to God. This is the whole point of marriage. Another if for each of them to yield the debt that they owe with their body, for neither of them has complete power over their own body. The third reason is to prevent having sex outside of marriage. Anything more than this is certainly a deadly sin. But the first is obviously meritorious, and the second also, for as Saint Peter says, the woman who pays her debt to her husband, against her wishes and her desires, may claim the merit due to chastity. The third cause is a venial sin; and truly, there can scarcely be anything in this unsavoury business that is not a venial sin, since it involves such pleasure and such filth. The other reason should be understood to be if they have sex together only for the sake of amorous love, they care not how often nor how passionately and for none of the reasons mentioned previously but only to bring fulfilment to their burning delight. Truly, this is a deadly sin; yet sadly, some people will try to do more than just satisfy their sexual appetites.
81. The second form of chastity is that practiced by wholesome widows, who reject the embraces of men, desiring instead the embrace of Jesus Christ. These are those women who have been married and have lost their husbands, or women who have engaged in lechery and done penance for it. Certainly, if a woman could keep herself chaste with the agreement of her husband, so that there was never any further occasion for his guilt, then it would be greatly to her merit. These women who practise chastity must be clean in heart as well as in body and in thought, moderate in regards to their clothing and appearance and economical as regards eating and drinking, speaking and going about the world. They are the vessel, or the box, of the blessed Magdalene, which fills a church with a pleasant smell.
The third kind of chastity is virginity, and it is fitting that a virgin should be holy in her heart as well as clean in her body; then she is a bride of Christ and has the life of an angel. She is equal in praise to the holy martyrs and holds within herself that which tongue may not tell nor heart think. A virgin bore Our Lord Jesus Christ and he was a virgin himself.
82. Another remedy against lechery is to avoid those things which serve to encourage it or give occasion to it, such as eating, drinking and being too comfortable. When the pot is boiling strongly, the best remedy is to withdraw the fire. Sleeping for a long time in a silent room is another enticement as well.
83. Yet another remedy is to avoid the company of anyone who might ignite this temptation. Even if the deed itself is withstood, the temptation is still there. Certainly a white wall, although it won’t burn down if a candle is set too near to it, will still turn black with the soot. Often I have seen that no man trusts in his own perfection unless he believes that he is stronger than Samson, holier than David and wiser than Solomon.
Mouth's Confession (continued)
84. Now that I have explained to you, as well as I am able to, the Seven Deadly Sins, some of their branches and offshoots and the remedies for them all, truly, I would go on to tell you about the Ten Commandments if I could. But so high a doctrine I shall have to leave to doctors of theology. But nonetheless, I hope to God that they have been touched upon in this treatise, every one of them.
85. Now, forasmuch as the second part of penitence consists of the mouth’s confession, as I have said, Saint Augustine has said that sin is every word and action and indeed everything that men desire which is against the law of Jesus Christ, in heart, mouth, in action and by the five senses, which are sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. It is good to understand that these five senses aggravate every sin. And regarding lechery, you must consider also, in confession, whether you are male or female, young or old, noble or low-born, free or servant, healthy or sick, married or single, in religious orders or not, wise or foolish, cleric or layman, and consider also if she bears any kinship to you, whether natural or spiritual, or not, if any of your family have sinned with her, or not, and many other things.
86. Another circumstance is this: whether it is fornication, if neither party is married, or adultery, or if it is incest, or not, or if the girl is a virgin, or not, whether these acts have involved contraception or abortion, or not, whether they are horrible great sins that have been committed or small ones, and how long it has been going on for. The third circumstance is the place where this has been happening, whether in another man’s house or your own, in a field or a church, or a churchyard or some other holy place. Because if a church has been involved, which is consecrated, and a man or woman has had an orgasm or sinfully or by wicked temptation ejaculated within it, the church cannot be used until it is re-consecrated by a bishop. A priest who does such a villainy shall be barred from performing Mass for the rest of his life, and if he contravenes this injunction, he is committing a deadly sin every time he sings it.
The fourth circumstance which must be admitted to during confession is whether mediators or messengers have been used to entice people and egg them on into sin; for many folk are so desperate for company they will go to the devil of hell for it. These people who act as mediators or go-betweens are partners in the sin and will share in the damnation of the sinner.
The fifth circumstance to be confessed to is to reveal how many times this sin has occurred, how many times has a man thought about it and how many times has he done it? The person who falls into sin frequently, despises the mercy of God and so increases his sin and treats Christ as a stranger and grows ever less able to guard himself from sin, is quicker to do it and more likely to avoid confessing to it afterwards, that it, to the priest who is his confessor. These people, when they fall into their old ways yet again, either abandon their confessors entirely or go to many different, new confessors as well as the old and so try to divide their confessions between many. But such attempts at watering-down their sins earn no mercy from God.
The sixth circumstance to be ascertained is: why has a man sinned? What has been the temptation, and has it been entirely the fault of the sinner or have other people been involved? Has he used force against the woman or has she been a consenting partner – and if she has been forced then she must say so, or declare that she has not – or was it a business transaction, was money involved, was she the instigator, or not, and similar things to this.
The seventh circumstance to be ascertained is the manner in which the sin has been committed, and how she has acted or behaved during this sinful act. The man shall declare this plainly as well, whether he has sinned with a common prostitute, or not, or committed his sin during holy times, or not, at a time of fasting, or not, or before his confession but subsequent to his last confession, thereby contravening the penance given to him on that occasion. Also he should reveal with whose help and advice he has acted, was witchcraft or deception involved – everything must be revealed.
All of these things, great and small, should burden the conscience of a man, and the priest who is your judge will be better able to consider what might be a suitable penance for you if he is made aware of all of these circumstances and is certain of your contrition. For be in no doubt, after a man has besmirched his baptism by committing sin, if he wishes to go to heaven then there is no other way than through contrition, confession and penance; through contrition and confession, if there is a priest to confess to, and by penance, if a man has enough life left to perform it.
87. A man should reflect upon and consider that if he is to make a true and profitable confession, there are four conditions that must be satisfied. Firstly, it must be in genuine sorrow and bitterness of heart; as King Hezekiah said to God: ‘I shall remember it for the rest of my life, with a bitter heart.’ This bitterness can be tested in five ways: firstly, if the person is shamefaced, making no attempt to cover anything up or to hide the fact that he has wronged his God and dirtied his soul. Saint Augustine said of this: ‘If a man’s heart beats quickly through shame at his sin,’ and if he shows genuine distress, then he is worthy of the mercy of God. Such was the confession of the innkeeper, who could not raise his eyes to the sky because he had offended the God of Heaven; for which contrition he received God’s mercy. Saint Augustine said that such shame makes forgiveness and remission much easier.
Another sign of genuine bitterness of heart is humility during confession. Saint Peter said: ‘Make yourself humble beneath the might of God.’ The hand of God is powerful during confession, for with it he forgives you your sins, for He alone has this power. Humility should be in your heart and also in your outward appearance; for just as a man has humility to God in his heart, so he should show humility to the priest who sits in God’s place. Christ is the sovereign and the priest is his intermediary, he is the mediator between Christ and the sinner and the sinner is the very lowest in this order, so in no way should the sinner sit as high as his confessor but he should kneel before him or at his feet, unless he is unable to do this through infirmity. The sinner should not think of who is sitting above him, but in whose place this priest is sitting.
Look at it this way: if a man has committed a crime against his lord and comes to ask his lord for mercy and to try to mend the damage that has been done, if he walks calmly across the hall floor and sits down beside his lord, it would be seen as a great outrage and a sign that the man is not worthy, nor ready yet, for mercy.
A third indication of genuine bitterness of heart is the presence of tears; and if a man cannot weep with his eyes, then he should weep with his heart. Such was the confession of Saint Peter, for after he had denied Jesus Christ, he went out and wept bitterly.
The fourth sign is if a man has no hesitation in confessing. The confession of Mary Magdalene was like this, when, despite all the people at the feast, she did not hesitate to go over to Jesus Christ and confess to Him her sins.
The fifth sign is when a man or a woman willingly and obediently accepts the penance that the priest gives to them for their sins. Certainly, Jesus Christ obediently gave His life for mankind’s sins.
88. The second condition of true confession, following bitterness of heart, is that it should be speedily done; for certainly, if a man has a severe wound, the longer he leaves it untreated before finding a physician, the more it will fester or go gangrenous and hasten him to his death; and if he does at last find a physician, it will take longer to heal as a result of this delay. It is exactly the same with a sin that has been kept hidden for too long and has not been confessed to. Certainly, a man should hurry to confess his sins for many reasons: one is the fear of death, which can come suddenly and unexpectedly, for there is no knowing when nor where it will happen. Another reason is because one sin can lead to another and the longer a man delays his confession, the further he strays from Christ. If he waits until his deathbed, he is very likely not to be able to confess at all or only to remember some of his sins, or none at all even if he is suffering pain or fever. And because he has not listened to Jesus Christ during his life, when he cries out to Christ on his deathbed Jesus will scarcely hear him.
You must understand that confession has four necessary attributes: your confession must be premeditated and not done on the spur of the moment, for wicked haste is to no avail. A man must be capable of confessing his sins, naming pride or envy or any of the other kinds, describing his sins and the circumstances surrounding them and he must have comprehended in his mind the number and the greatness of his sins, and how long he has lain in sin, and must be capable, also, of showing contrition and regret and that he is determined to do his utmost, with the grace of God, never to do these things again and to watch over himself to see that he avoids those occasions that have led him into sin in the past.
Also, you must confess your sins to a single man and not parcel them out, that is, tell some of them to one confessor and others to another, out of shame or fear, for this is to strangle your soul. Truly, Jesus Christ is entirely good, there is no imperfection in Him, so he will either forgive you your sins in their entirety, or not at all. I’m not saying that if you are assigned to a confessor to receive penance for a certain sin then you are bound to reveal to him all your other sins, which you have confessed already to your curate, unless you desire to do so out of humility. This is not parcelling sins around. Neither am I saying that if you have licence to confess to a discrete and honest priest, where this is to your liking and acceptable to your curate, then you may if you wish tell him everything that you have to confess. But let no blot be concealed, let no sin be untold, as far as your memory serves you. And when you go once more to your curate, tell him everything sinful that you have done since your last confession to him. There is nothing wrong in this.
89. Also, true confession requires certain conditions. First, that you are confessing through your own free will and are not under any compulsion to do so, that you have not been shamed into going to confession by others or are doing it because you are ill, or for some other spurious reason; for it is necessary that a person who sins through his own free will should confess through his own free will also, and no one can confess to his sins but he himself. He should not conceal or deny any of his sins, nor get angry with the priest if he admonishes him for his sins. The second condition is that your confession should be lawful, that is to say, that both you and the priest who hears your confession should be true Christians, and that you are not, through a lack of faith, denied the mercy of Jesus Christ, like Cain or Judas. A man shall accuse himself of sinfulness during his confession and no one else, and blame himself and reproach himself and no one else. But if someone else has been an accessory to the sin to which he is confessing, or enticed him into it, or if the status of this other person is such that it aggravates the sin, or if he may not properly confess this sin unless he gives away the identity of this other person, then he may tell. But his intention must not be to slander this person but only to confess to his own sins.
90. You shall be careful, also, to tell no lies in your confession; perhaps wishing, through humility, to lay claim to sins which you have never committed. Saint Augustine says: ‘If, through humility, you lie about yourself, if you were not in a sinful state before, you will be afterwards, because of these lies.’ You must also confess to your sins through your own mouth, unless you are rendered dumb, and not in writing; for you, who have committed the sin, must bear the shame for it. Also, you shall not dress your confession up in fine and concealing language, for then you beguile yourself and not the priest. You must tell it plainly, be it never so foul nor so horrible.
You shall confess to a priest who is discrete and can advise you properly, and you should not confess to anything out of vainglory or through hypocrisy, or for any other cause, but only through fear of Jesus Christ and the well-being of your soul. You will not run suddenly to a priest and quickly confess to him your sins as though you were telling him a joke or a funny story, but do so seriously and with appropriate devotion. And generally, confess often. If you are always stumbling, you can be constantly getting back onto your feet again through confession.
If you confess more than once to a sin which you have already received penance for, the greater is the merit. As Saint Augustine said, you will more quickly receive the grace of God and be released from sinfulness and suffering. Certainly, one should take holy communion at least once a year, for once every year all things are renewed.
Satisfaction, or Penance
91. Now that I have explained true confession, which is the second part of penitence, I must tell you that the third part of penitence is satisfaction, or penance, and this consists generally of the giving of alms or the suffering of pain. There are three kinds of alms: one is the heart’s contrition, when a man offers himself to God; another is to have pity for the lack or the needs of one’s neighbours and the third is in the giving of good advice, spiritual or worldly, where there is need for it; but principally it is in the giving away of food. Remember that a man has a general need for these following things: for food, for clothing, a place to shelter, for good advice, to visits when he is in prison, or when ill, and to the dignified burial of his body when he is dead. And if you cannot visit in person the man who is in need, send other people with your communications and your gifts. These are the deeds of alms or works of charity expected from those who have wealth or wisdom. You will hear all about these works of yours on the Day of Judgement.
92. Such alms shall be given from your own property, quickly and as discretely as possible; but if it can’t be done discretely, you should not draw back in any way but go ahead and do it even if men will see you doing it; but it must be done not for the applause of men but for the smile of Jesus Christ. Saint Matthew said: ‘A city built on a mountain cannot be hidden, and it is pointless lighting a lantern and then putting a bucket over it; rather it should be set on a high stand so that it can illuminate the house. In the same way, your light should serve to illuminate the way for other men, so that they may see your good works, emulate them and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
93. Now, as regards bodily pain, it is given through prayers, through vigils and fasting and in instruction through prayer. You must understand that by prayers is meant the expression of a genuine contrition that seeks reconciliation with God and expresses this desire through the use of words, to remove temptation and to receive spiritual and lasting care, and sometimes worldly benefits; and that of all these prayers, the one called the Lord’s Prayer is a plea in which Jesus Christ has included many things. Certainly, there are three things about this prayer which make it more worthy than any others: Jesus Christ gave it to us; it is short and therefore easier to learn and to commit to memory and more readily called to mind and more likely to be often said, for a man has no excuse but to learn it and will not grow weary saying it; and it contains all other good prayers within itself. The careful exposition of this holy prayer, which is so excellent and worthy, I recommend to all these doctors of theology, although there is one further thing I would like to say, which is: when you ask God to 'forgive you your trespasses as you forgive those who have trespassed against you,' make sure that forgiveness and charity is, indeed, in your heart. This holy prayer ameliorates venial sin as well, therefore it is particularly appropriate to penitence.
94. This prayer must be said properly and in perfect faith; men should pray to God methodically and discretely and devoutly, and a man should always place the will of God before his own desires. It should be said with humility and genuine honesty, not ostentatiously nor to the annoyance of any man of woman. And it must also be followed up by works of charity.
This prayer is beneficial to all the soul's vices, for as Saint Jerome said: ‘Through fasting are the vices of the flesh saved and through prayer, the vices of the soul.’
95. Bodily pain can also be required through waking vigils and lack of sleep. Jesus said: ‘Awake, and pray that you don’t allow yourself to succumb to wicked temptation.’
You should understand that fasting has three aspects: the refusal of food and drink, the refusal of jollity or light-hearted entertainment and the refusal of any deadly sin; that is to say, a man should keep himself from committing deadly sin with all his power and strength.
96. You should understand also that God himself ordained fasting and that its four requirements should be understood: generosity to poor folk; spiritual gladness of heart; not being angry or annoyed that you are fasting; and also that reasonable hours should be kept for eating, that is to say, a man should not eat between meals nor sit too long at his table.
97. Understand also that bodily pain includes the efforts and tribulations of learning, from teachers or from books, or by example. Also, the wearing of uncomfortable hair shirts or garments made of harsh cloth, or coats made of linked chains over naked flesh, for Christ’s sake, and other such penances. But be careful that such physical penance doesn’t make your heart bitter or resentful or make you in any way angry with yourself; it is better to cast away a hair shirt than to cast away Christ’s love. Saint Paul said: ‘Clothe yourself like those whom God has chosen, in a gentle heart full of pity, in patience, sufferance and graciousness – clothing like this,’ which Jesus Christ takes more pleasure in seeing than hair shirts or chain mail.
98. Then there are the disciplines of slapping your chest, being beaten with sticks, kneeling for a long time and other such punishments; or suffering patiently the wrongs that have been done to you, illnesses which you suffer from or the loss of worldly possessions, or a wife or child, or a friend.
99. Be aware, also, of those things which can disturb penance. These are of four principal kinds: fear, shame, optimism, and despair. Firstly fear, which makes a man believe that he can endure no penance; the remedy for this is to understand that a penance is short in duration and very light when compared with the pains of hell, which are so cruel and so prolonged that they last forever.
100. Regarding shame, and in particular those hypocrites who think that they are so perfect that they have no need to go to confession – against this shame it should be remembered that if a man felt no shame when doing sinful things he should not now feel ashamed when he does good things; that is, through confession and penance. A man should also realise that God perceives all of his thoughts and all of his actions and nothing can be hidden from Him. Men should also remember the shame that is to come on the Day of Judgement to those who have not been penitent and received penance in this present life, for all the creatures on Earth and in hell will then see clearly everything they have been hiding.
101. Now to speak of the unfounded optimism of those who are negligent and slow to come to confession, this optimism is of two sorts. The one is, that a man expects to live for a long time and to gather a great deal of wealth during this period, and then he will at last confess to his sins on his deathbed; for, as it seems to him, there is time enough to repent. Then there is over-confidence in Christ’s mercy.
Against the first misconception, it should be acknowledged that there can be no certainty in the length of a man’s life, and all wealth can be acquired and lost through the fickleness of chance; it may pass us by like shadows on a wall. And regarding the other misconception, Saint Gregory said that it is a measure of the mercy and justice of God that pain will never leave those who can never refrain from sin but ever knowingly continue in sin, and for this perpetual desire to sin they shall receive perpetual torment.
102. Despair is of two sorts: firstly, a doubting of the mercy of God and secondly, a doubting of themselves and of their own ability to be sufficiently good for long enough to deserve salvation. The first comes when a man believes that he has sinned so grievously and for so long that he cannot be saved. The remedy for this belief is to understand that the power of the crucifixion to release and to unbind is greater than the power of any sin to tie up. The remedy against the other is to understand that, as often as a man falls, he can rise up again through penitence. Regardless of how long he has lain in sin, the mercy of Christ is always ready to receive him and he should understand that the weakness of the devil makes him unable to achieve anything unless men allow him to, and that a man can call upon and receive the strength of God, of Holy Church and the protection of angels, whenever he wishes.
103. Now men should understand that the reward of penance is this: as Jesus said, it is the everlasting bliss of heaven, where joy exists without woe or grievance, where all the torments and anxieties of this present life have passed away and there is no longer any danger from damnation and the pain of hell, where the blissful throng rejoices forever, each delighting in another’s joy; where the body of man, once so foul and corrupt, is now clearer than the sun and where a once sick, feeble, frail and mortal body is now immortal and so strong and healthy that nothing can harm it; where there is neither hunger, thirst nor cold and every soul is refreshed by the vision of the perfect knowledge of God. This heavenly kingdom's bliss can be purchased through poverty and the forsaking of worldly pleasure, its glory by lowliness, its abundance of joy by hunger and thirst, its ease by hard work and its everlasting life by death and the mortification of sin.
Here the maker of this book takes his leave
104. Now I ask everybody who has listened to this little treatise, if there is anything in it that they like then they should thank Our Lord Jesus Christ for it, from whom comes all wit and all goodness. And if there is anything in it that displeases them, then I ask that they put it down to the deficiency of my intelligence and not to any lack of desire – I would have put things better if I had had the skill. Our book says: ‘All that is written is written for our understanding,’ and that has been my intent. Therefore I ask humbly for God’s mercy that you pray for me, so that Christ may have mercy upon me and forgive me those things of which I am guilty, and namely, for my writings and translations of worldly vanities, which I revoke and retract, such as the book of Troilus and Cressida, the House of Fame, the book of the nineteen Ladies, the Book of the Duchess, the Parliament of Fowls on Saint Valentine’s Day, the Canterbury Tales – those that stray into sin – the Book of the Lion, and many others if I could remember them, and many a song and many a lecherous lay; may Christ in his great mercy forgive me these sins.
But of my translation of Ancius Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy and other books of the legends of saints, homilies, moralities and devotions, I thank Our Lord Jesus Christ and his blissful mother, and all the saints of heaven, imploring them that from henceforth, until my life’s end, they may send me the grace to lament my heinous crimes and to direct my studies to the salvation of my soul; and to grant me the grace to achieve true penitence, confession and satisfaction through penance in this present life, through the benign grace of he who is High King and priest over all priests, who bought us with his precious blood, so that I may be one of those on the Day of Judgement that might be saved.
Here is ended the book of the Tales of Canterbury, compiled by Geoffrey Chaucer, on whose soul may Jesus Christ have mercy. Amen.
Translation and retelling of Chaucer's Parson's Tale copyright © Richard Scott-Robinson, 2011