Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation - With Modifications To Obsolete Language By Monica Stevens
by Thomas More
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VINCENT: Some of my bolts, uncle, will I now take up myself, and readily put them under my belt again! For some of them, I see well, are not worth the aiming. And no great marvel that I shoot wide, while I somewhat mistake the mark.

ANTHONY: Those that make toward the mark and light far too short, when they are shot, shall I take up for you.

To prove that perpetual wealth should be no evil token, you say first that for princes and prelates, and every man for others, we pray all for perpetual prosperity, and that in the common prayers of the church, too.

Then say you secondly, that if prosperity were so perilous and tribulation so profitable, every man ought to pray God to send others sorrow.

Thirdly, you furnish your objections with examples of Solomon, Job, and Abraham.

And fourthly, in the end of all, you prove by experience of our own time daily before our face, that some wealthy folk are good and some needy ones very wicked. That last bolt, since I say the same myself, I think you will be content to take up, it lieth so far wide.

VINCENT: That will I, with a good will, uncle.

ANTHONY: Well, do so, then, cousin, and we shall aim for the rest.

First must you, cousin, be sure that you look well to the mark, and that you cannot do so unless you know what tribulation is. For since that is one of the things that we principally speak of, unless you consider well what it is, you may miss the mark again.

I suppose now that you will agree that tribulation is every such thing as troubleth and grieveth a man either in body or mind, and is as it were the prick of a thorn, a bramble, or a briar thrust into his flesh or into his mind. And surely, cousin, the prick that very sore pricketh the mind surpasseth in pain the grief that paineth the body, almost as far as doth a thorn sticking in the heart surpass and exceed in pain the thorn that is thrust in the heel.

Now cousin, if tribulation be this that I call it, then shall you soon consider this: There are more kinds of tribulation peradventure than you thought on before. And thereupon it followeth also, since every kind of tribulation is an interruption of wealth, that prosperity (which is but another name for wealth) may be discontinued by more ways than you would before have thought. Then say I thus unto you, cousin: Since tribulation is not only such pangs as pain the body, but every trouble also that grieveth the mind, many good men have many tribulations that every man marketh not, and consequently their wealth is interrupted when other men are not aware. For think you, cousin, that the temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh, soliciting the mind of a good man unto sin, are not a great inward trouble and grief to his heart? To such wretches as care not for their conscience, but like unreasonable beasts follow their foul affections, many of these temptations are no trouble at all, but matter of their bodily pleasure. But unto him, cousin, that standeth in dread of God, the tribulation of temptation is so painful that, to be rid of it or to be sure of the victory, he would gladly give more than half his substance, be it never so great. Now if he who careth not for God think that this trouble is but a trifle, and that with such tribulation prosperity is not interrupted, let him cast in his mind if he himself come upon a fervent longing for something which he cannot get (as a good man will not), as perchance his pleasure of some certain good woman who will not be caught. And then let him tell me whether the ruffle of his desire shall not so torment his mind that all the pleasures that he can take beside shall, for lack of that one, not please him a pin! And I dare be bold to warrant him that the pain in resisting, and the great fear of falling, that many a good man hath in his temptation, is an anguish and a grief every deal as great as this.

Now I say further, cousin, that if this be true, as indeed it is, that such trouble is tribulation, and thereby consequently an interruption of prosperous wealth, no man meaneth precisely to pray for another to keep him in continual prosperity without any manner of discontinuance or change in this world. For that prayer, without other condition added or implied, would be inordinate and very childish. For it would be to pray either that they should never have temptation, or else that if they had they might follow and fulfil their affection. Who would dare, good cousin, for shame or for sin, for himself or any other man, to make this kind of prayer?

Besides this, cousin, the church, you know, well adviseth every man to fast, to watch, and to pray, both for taming of his fleshly lusts and also to mourn and lament his sin before committed and to bewail his offence done against God, as they did at the city of Nineve, and as the prophet David did for his sin put affliction to his flesh. And when a man so doth, cousin, is this no tribulation to him because he doth it himself? For I know you would agree that it would be, if another man did it against his will. Then is tribulation, you know, tribulation still, though it be taken well in worth. Yea, and though it be taken with very right good will, yet is pain, you know, pain, and therefore so is it, though a man do it himself. Then, since the church adviseth every man to take tribulation for his sin, whatsoever words you find in any prayer, they never mean, do you be fast and sure, to pray God to keep every good man (nor every bad man neither) from every kind of tribulation.

Now he who is not in a certain kind of tribulation, as peradventure in sickness or in loss of goods, is not yet out of tribulation. For he may have his ease of body or mind disquieted (and thereby his wealth interrupted) with another kind of tribulation, as is either temptation to a good man, or voluntary affliction, either of body by penance or of mind by contrition and heaviness for his sin and offence against God. And thus I say that for precise perpetual wealth and prosperity in this world—that is to say, for the perpetual lack of all trouble and tribulation—no wise man prayeth either for himself or for any man else. And thus I answer your first objection.

Now before I meddle with your second, your third will I join to this. For upon this answer will the solution of your examples fittingly depend.

As for Solomon, he was, as you say, all his days a marvellous wealthy king, and much was he beloved with God, I know, in the beginning of his reign. But that the favour of God continued with him, as his prosperity did, that cannot I tell, and therefore will I not warrant it. But surely we see that his continual wealth made him fall into wanton folly, first in multiplying wives to a horrible number, contrary to the commandment of God, given in the law of Moses, and secondly in taking to wife among others some who were infidels, contrary to another commandment of God's written law. Also we see that finally, by means of his infidel wife, he fell into maintenance of idolatry himself. And of this we find no amendment or repentance, as we find of his father. And therefore, though he were buried where his father was, yet whether he went to the rest that his father did, through some secret sorrow for his sin at last—that is to say, by some kind of tribulation—I cannot tell, and am content therefore to trust well and pray God that he did so. But surely we are not so sure, and therefore the example of Solomon can very little serve you. For you might as well lay it for a proof that God favoureth idolatry as that he favoureth prosperity; for Solomon was, you know, in both.

As for Job, since our question hangeth upon prosperity that is perpetual, the wealth of Job, which was interrupted with so great adversity, can, as you yourself see, serve you for no example. And that God gave him here in this world all things double that he lost, little toucheth my matter, which denieth not prosperity to be God's gift, and given to some good men, too; namely, to such as have tribulation too.

But in Abraham, cousin, I suppose is all your chief hold, because you not only show riches and prosperity perpetual in him through the course of all his whole life in this world, but after his death also. Lazarus, that poor man, who lived in tribulation and died for pure hunger and thirst, had after his death his place of comfort and rest in Abraham's—that wealthy man's—bosom. But here must you consider that Abraham had not such continual prosperity but what it was discontinued with divers tribulations.

Was it nothing to him, think you, to leave his own country, and at God's sending to go into a strange land, which God promised him and his seed forever, but in all his life he gave him never a foot? Was it no trouble, that his cousin Loth and himself were fain to part company, because their servants could not agree together? Though he recovered Loth again from the three kings, was his capture no trouble to him, think you, in the meanwhile? Was the destruction of the five cities no heaviness to his heart? Any man would think so, who readeth in the story what labour he made to save them. His heart was, I daresay, in no little sorrow, when he was fain to let Abimelech the king have his wife. Though God provided to keep her undefiled and turned all to wealth, yet it was no little woe to him in the meantime. What continual grief was it to his heart, many a long day, that he had no child begotten of his own body? He that doubteth thereof shall find in Genesis Abraham's own moan made to God. No man doubteth but Ismael was great comfort unto him at his birth; and was it no grief, then, when he must cast out the mother and the child both? As for Isaac, who was the child of the promise, although God kept his life, that was unlooked for. Yet while the loving father bound him and went about to behead him and offer him up in sacrifice, who but himself can conceive what heaviness his heart had then? I should suppose (since you speak of Lazarus) that Lazarus' own death panged him not so sore. Then, as Lazarus' pain was patiently borne, so was Abraham's taken not only patiently but—which is a thing much more meritorious—of obedience willingly. And therefore, even if Abraham had not far excelled Lazarus in merit of reward (as he did indeed) for many other things besides, and especially for that he was a special patriarch of the faith, yet would he have far surpassed him even by the merit of that tribulation well taken here for God's sake too. And so serveth for your purpose no man less than Abraham!

But now, good cousin, let us look a little longer here upon the rich Abraham and Lazarus the poor. And as we shall see Lazarus set in wealth somewhat under the rich Abraham, so shall we see another rich man lie full low beneath Lazarus, crying and calling out of his fiery couch that Lazarus might, with a drop of water falling from his finger's end, a little cool and refresh the tip of his burning tongue. Consider well now what Abraham answered to the rich wretch: "Son, remember that thou hast in thy life received wealth, and Lazarus likewise pain, but now receiveth he comfort, and thou sorrow, pain, and torment." Christ described his wealth and his prosperity: gay and soft apparel with royal delicate fare, continually day by day. "He did fare royally every day," saith our Saviour; his wealth was continual, lo, no time of tribulation between. And Abraham telleth him the same tale, that he had taken his wealth in this world, and Lazarus likewise his pain, and that they had now changed each to the clean contrary—poor Lazarus from tribulation into wealth, and the rich man from his continual prosperity into perpetual pain. Here was laid expressly to Lazarus no very great virtue by name, nor to this rich glutton no great heinous crime but the taking of his continual ease and pleasure, without any tribulation or grief, of which grew sloth and negligence to think upon the poor man's pain. For that ever he himself saw Lazarus and knew that he died for hunger at his door, that laid neither Christ nor Abraham to his charge. And therefore, cousin, this story of which, by occasion of Abraham and Lazarus, you put me in remembrance, well declareth what peril there is in continual worldly wealth; and contrariwise what comfort cometh of tribulation. And thus, as your other examples of Solomon and Job nothing for the matter further you, so your example of rich Abraham and poor Lazarus hath not a little hindered you.


VINCENT: Surely, uncle, you have shaken my examples sorely, and have in your aiming of your shot removed me these arrows, methinketh, further off from the mark than methought they stuck when I shot them! And I shall therefore now be content to take them up again.

But meseemeth surely that my second shot may stand. For of truth, if every kind of tribulation be so profitable that it be good to have it, as you say it is, then I cannot see why any man should either wish, or pray, or do any manner of thing to have any kind of tribulation withdrawn either from himself or from any friend of his.

ANTHONY: I think indeed tribulation so good and profitable that I might doubt, as you do, why a man might labour and pray to be delivered of it, were it not that God, who teacheth us the one, teacheth us also the other. For as he biddeth us take our pain patiently, and exhort our neighbours to do also the same, so biddeth he us also not forbear to do our best to remove the pain from us both. And then, since it is God who teacheth both, I shall not need to break my brain in devising wherefore he would bid us to do both, the one seeming opposed to the other.

If he send the scourge of scarcity and great famine, he will that we shall bear it patiently; but yet will he that we shall eat our meat when we can get it. If he send us the plague of pestilence, he will that we shall patiently take it; but yet will he that we let blood, and lay plasters to draw it and ripen it, and lance it, and get it away. Both these points teacheth God in scripture, in more than many places. Fasting is better than eating, and hath more thanks of God, and yet will God that we shall eat. Praying is better than drinking, and much more pleasing to God, and yet will God that we shall drink. Keeping vigil is much more acceptable to God than sleeping, and yet will God that we shall sleep. God hath given us our bodies here to keep, and will that we maintain them to do him service with, till he send for us hence.

Now we cannot tell surely how much tribulation may mar the body or peradventure hurt the soul also. Therefore the apostle, after he had commanded the Corinthians to deliver to the devil the abominable fornicator who forbore not the bed of his own father's wife, yet after he had been a while accursed and punished for his sin, the apostle commanded them charitably to receive him again and give him consolation, "that the greatness of his sorrow should not swallow him up." And therefore, when God sendeth the tempest, he will that the shipmen shall get them to their tackling and do the best they can for themselves, that the sea eat them not up. For help ourselves as well as we can, he can make his plague as sore and as long-lasting as he himself please.

And as he will that we do for ourselves, so will he that we do for our neigbour too. And he will that we shall in this world have pity on each other and not be sine affectione, for which the apostle rebuketh them that lack their tender affection here. So of charity we should be sorry too for the pain of those upon whom, for necessary cause, we ourselves be driven to put it. And whosoever saith that for pity of his neighbour's soul he will have no pity of his body, let him be sure that, as St. John saith, "He that loveth not his neighbour whom he seeth, loveth but little God, whom he seeth not," so he who hath no pity on the pain that he seeth his neighbour feel before him, pitieth little (whatsoever he say) the pain of his soul that he seeth not.

Yet God sendeth us also such tribulation sometimes because it is his pleasure to have us pray unto him for help. And therefore, the scripture telleth that, when St. Peter was in prison, the whole church without intermission prayed incessantly for him, and at their fervent prayer God by miracle delivered him. When the disciples in the tempest stood in fear of drowning, they prayed unto Christ and said, "Save us, Lord, we perish," and then at their prayer he shortly ceased the tempest. And now see we proved often that in sore weather or sickness by general processions God giveth gracious help. And many a man in his great pain and sickness, by calling upon God is marvellously made whole. This is the goodness of God who, because in wealth we remember him not, but forget to pray to him, sendeth us sorrow and sickness to force us to draw toward him, and compelleth us to call upon him and pray for release of our pain. When we learn thereby to know him and to pray to him, we take a good occasion to fall afterward into further grace.


VINCENT: Verily, good uncle, with this good answer I am well content.

ANTHONY: Yea, cousin, but many men are there with whom God is not content! For they abuse this great high goodness of his, whom neither fair treating nor hard handling can cause to remember their maker. But in wealth they are wanton and forget God and follow their pleasure, and when God with tribulation draweth them toward him, then wax they mad and draw back as much as ever they can, and run and seek help at any other hand rather than at his. Some for comfort seek to the flesh, some to the world, and some to the devil himself.

Consider some man who in worldly prosperity is very dull and hath stepped deep into many a sore sin; which sins, when he did them, he counted for part of his pleasure. God, willing of his goodness to call the man to grace, casteth a remorse into his mind, after his first sleep, and maketh him lie a little while and bethink him. Then beginneth he to remember his life, and from that he falleth to think upon his death, and how he must leave all his worldly wealth within a while behind here in this world, and walk hence alone, he knows not whither. Nor knows he how soon he shall take his journey thither, nor can he tell what company he shall meet there. And then beginneth he to think that it would be good to make sure and to be merry, so that he be wise therewith, lest there happen to be indeed such black bugbears as folk call devils, whose torments he was wont to take for poet's tales. Those thoughts, if they sink deep, are a sore tribulation. And surely, if he takes hold of the grace that God therein offereth him, his tribulation is wholesome. And it shall be full comforting to remember that God by this tribulation calleth him and biddeth him come home, out of the country of sin that he was bred and brought up so long in, and come into the land of behest that floweth milk and honey. And then if he follow this calling, as many a one full well doth, joyful shall his sorrow be. And glad shall he be to change his life, to leave his wanton pleasures and do penance for his sins, bestowing his time upon some better business.

But some men, now, when this calling of God causeth them to be sad, they are loth to leave their sinful lusts that hang in their hearts, especially if they have any kind of living such that they must needs leave it off or fall deeper into sin, or if they have done so many great wrongs that they have many amends to make if they follow God, which must diminish much their money. Then are these folk, alas, woefully bewrapped, for God pricketh them of his great goodness still. And the grief of this great pang pincheth them at the heart, and of wickedness they wry away. And from this tribulation they turn to their flesh for help, and labour to shake off this thought. And then they mend their pillow and lay their head softer and essay to sleep. And when that will not be, then they talk a while with those who lie by them. If that cannot be either, then they lie and long for day, and get them forth about their worldly wretchedness, the matter of their prosperity, and the selfsame sinful things with which they displease God most. And at length, when they have many times behaved in this manner, God utterly casteth them off. And then they set naught by either God or devil. "When the sinner cometh even into the depth, then he contemneth," and setteth naught by anything, saving worldly fear that may befall by chance, or that needs must, he knoweth well, befall once by death.

But alas, when death cometh, then cometh again his sorrow. Then will no soft bed serve, nor no company make him merry. Then must he leave his outward worship and comfort of his glory, and lie panting in his bed as it were on a pine bench. Then cometh his fear of his evil life and of his dreadful death. Then cometh his torment, his cumbered conscience and fear of his heavy judgment. Then the devil draweth him to despair with imagination of hell, and suffereth him not then to take it for a fable—and yet, if he do, then the wretch findeth it no fable. Ah, woe worth the time, that folk think not of this in time!

God sometimes sendeth a man great trouble in his mind, and great tribulation about his worldly goods, because he would of his goodness take his delight and confidence from them. And yet the man withdraweth no part of his foolish fancies, but falleth more fervently to them than before, and setteth his whole heart, like a fool, more upon them. And then he betaketh him all to the devices of his worldly counsellors, and without any counsel of God or any trust put in him, maketh many wise ways—or so he thinks, but all turn at length to folly, and one subtle drift driveth another to naught.

Some have I see even in their last sickness, set up in their deathbed, underpropped with pillows, take their playfellows to them and comfort themselves with cards. And this, they said, did ease them well, to put fancies out of their heads. And what fancies, think you? Such as I told you right now, of their own lewd life and peril of their soul, of heaven and of hell, that irked them to think of. And therefore they cast it out with cards, playing as long as ever they might, till the pure pangs of death pulled their heart from their play, and put them in such a case that they could not reckon their game. And then their gamesters left them and slyly slunk away, and it was not long ere they galped up the ghost. And what game they came then to, that God knoweth and not I. I pray God it were good, but I fear it very sore.

Some men are there also that do as did King Saul, and in their tribulation go seek unto the devil. This king had commanded all those to be destroyed who used the false abominable superstition of this ungracious witchcraft and necromancy. And yet fell he to such folly afterwards himself, that ere he went to battle he sought unto a witch and besought her to raise up a dead man to tell him how he should fare. Now God had showed him by Samuel before that he should come to naught, and he went about no amendment, but waxed worse and worse, so that God would not look to him. And when he sought by the prophet to have answer of God, there came no answer to him, which he thought strange. And because he was not heard by God at his pleasure, he made suit to the devil, desiring a woman by witchcraft to raise up the dead Samuel. But he had such success thereof as commonly they have who in their business meddle with such matters. For an evil answer had he, and an evil fortune thereafter—his army discomfited and himself slain. And as it is rehearsed in Paralipomenon, the tenth chapter of the first book, one cause of his fall was for lack of trust in God, for which he left off taking counsel of God and fell to seek counsel of the witch, against God's prohibition in the law and against his own good deed by which he punished and put out all witches so short a time before. Such fortune let them look for, who play the same part! I see many do so, who in a great loss send to seek a conjurer to get their belongings again. And marvellous things there they see, sometimes, but never great of their good. And many a silly fool is there who, when he lies sick, will meddle with no physic in no manner of wise, nor send his urine to no learned man, but will send his cap or his hose to a wisewoman, otherwise called a witch. Then sendeth she word back that she hath spied in his hose where, when he took no heed, he was taken with a spirit between two doors as he went in the twilight. But the spirit would not let him feel it for five days after, and it hath all the while festered in his body, and that is the grief that paineth him so sore. But let him go to no leechcraft nor any manner of physic—other than good meat and strong drink—for medicines would pickle him up. But he shall have five leaves of valerian that she enchanted with a charm and gathered with her left hand. Let him fasten those five leaves to his right thumb by a green thread—not bind it fast, but let it hang loose. He shall never need to change it, provided it fall not away, but let it hang till he be whole and he shall need it no more. In such wise witches, and in such mad medicines, have many fools a great deal more faith than in God.

And thus, cousin, as I tell you, all these folk who in their tribulation call not upon God, but seek for their ease and help elsewhere—to the flesh and the world, and to the flinging fiend—the tribulation that God's goodness sendeth them for good, they themselves by their folly turn into their harm. And those who, on the other hand, seek unto God therein, both comfort and profit they greatly take thereby.


VINCENT: I like well, good uncle, all your answers therein. But one doubt yet remaineth there in my mind, which ariseth upon this answer that you make. And when that doubt is solved, I will, mine own good uncle, encumber you no further for this time. For methinketh that I do you very much wrong to give you occasion to labour yourself so much in matter of some study, with long talking at once. I will therefore at this time move you but one thing, and seek some other time at your greater ease for the rest.

My doubt, good uncle, is this: I perceive well by your answers, gathered and considered together, that you will well agree that a man may both have worldly wealth and yet well go to God; and that, on the other hand, a man may be miserable and live in tribulation and yet go to the devil. And as a man may please God by patience in adversity, so may he please God by thanks given in prosperity. Now since you grant these things to be such that either of them both may be matter of virtue or else matter of sin, matter of damnation or matter of salvation, they seem neither good nor bad of their own nature, but things of themselves equal and indifferent, turning to good or to the contrary according as they be taken. And then if this be thus, I can perceive no cause why you should give the pre-eminence unto tribulation, or wherefore you should reckon more cause of comfort in it than in prosperity, but rather a great deal less—in a manner, by half.

For in prosperity a man is well at ease, and may also, by giving thanks to God, get good unto his soul; whereas in tribulation, though he may merit by patience (as the other, in abundance of worldly wealth, may merit by thanks), yet lacketh he much comfort that the wealthy man hath, in that he is sore grieved with heaviness and pain. Besides, a wealthy man, well at ease, may pray to God quietly and merrily with alacrity and great quietness of mind, whereas he who lieth groaning in his grief cannot endure to pray nor can he hardly think upon anything but his pain.

ANTHONY: To begin, cousin, where you leave off: The prayers of him that is in wealth and him that is in woe, if the men be both wicked, are both alike. For neither hath the one desire to pray, nor the other either. And as one is hindered with his pain, so is the other with his pleasure—saving that pain stirreth a man sometimes to call upon God in his grief, though he be right bad, whereas pleasure pulleth his mind another way, though he be good enough.

And this point I think there are few that can, if they say true, say that they find it otherwise. For in tribulation (which cometh, you know, in sundry kinds) any man that is not a dull beast or a desperate wretch calleth upon God, not hoverly but right heartily, and setteth his heart full whole upon his request, so sore he longeth for ease and help of his heaviness. But when we are wealthy and well at our ease, while our tongue pattereth upon our prayers apace—good God, how many mad ways our mind wandereth the while!

Yet I know well that in some tribulation there is such sore sickness or other grievous bodily pain that it would be hard for a man to say a longer prayer of matins. And yet some who lie dying say full devoutly the seven psalms and other prayers with the priest at their anointing. But those who for the grief of their pain cannot endure to do it, or who are more tender and lack that strong heart and stomach that some others have, God requireth no such long prayers of them. But the lifting up of their heart alone, without any words at all, is more acceptable to him from one in such a state, than long service so said as folk usually say it in health. The martyrs in their agony made no long prayers aloud, but one inch of such a prayer, so prayed in that pain, was worth a whole ell or more, even of their own prayers, prayed at some other time.

Great learned men say that Christ, albeit that he was true God, and as God was in eternal equal bliss with his Father, yet as man merited not only for us but for himself too. For proof of this they lay in these words the authority of St. Paul: "Christ hath humbled himself, and became obedient unto the death, and that unto the death of the cross; for which thing God hath also exalted him and given him a name which is above all names, that in the name of Jesus every knee be bowed, both of the celestial creatures and of the terrestrial and of the infernal too, and that every tongue shall confess that our lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God his Father." Now if it be so as these great learned men say, upon such authorities of holy scripture, that our Saviour merited as man, and as man deserved reward not for us only but for himself also; then were there in his deeds, it seemeth, sundry degrees and differences of deserving. His washing of the disciples' feet was not, then, of like merit as his passion, nor his sleep of like merit as his vigil and his prayer—no, nor his prayers peradventure all of like merit, either. But though there was not, nor could be, in his most blessed person any prayer but was excellent and incomparably surpassing the prayer of any mere creature, yet his own were not all alike, but one far above another. And then if it thus be, of all his holy prayers, the chief seemeth me those that he made in his great agony and pain of his bitter passion. The first was when he thrice fell prostrate in his agony, when the heaviness of his heart with fear of death at hand, so painful and so cruel as he well beheld it, made such a fervent commotion in his blessed body that the bloody sweat of his holy flesh dropped down on the ground. The others were the painful prayers that he made upon the cross, where, for all the torment that he hanged in—of beating, nailing, and stretching out all his limbs, with the wresting of his sinews and breaking of his tender veins, and the sharp crown of thorns so pricking him into the head that his blessed blood streamed down all his face—in all these hideous pains, in all their cruel despites, yet two very devout and fervent prayers he made. One was for the pardon of those who so dispiteously put him to his pain, and the other about his own deliverance, commending his own soul to his holy Father in heaven. These prayers of his, made in his most pain, among all that ever he made, reckon I for the chief. And these prayers of our Saviour at his bitter passion, and of his holy martyrs in the fervour of their torment, shall serve us to see that there is no prayer made at pleasure so strong and effectual as that made in tribulation.

Now come I to the reasoning you make, when you tell me that I grant you that both in wealth and in woe a man may be wicked and offend God, in the one by impatience and in the other by fleshly lust. And on the other hand, both in tribulation and prosperity too, a man may also do very well and deserve thanks of God by thanksgiving to God for his gift of riches, worship, and wealth, as well as for his gift of need and penury, imprisonment, sickness, and pain. And therefore you cannot see why I should give any pre-eminence in comfort unto tribulation, but you would rather allow prosperity for the thing more comforting. And that not a little, but in manner by double, since therein hath the soul comfort and the body too—the soul by thanksgiving unto God for his gifts, and the body by being well at ease—whereas the person pained in tribulation taketh no comfort but in his soul alone.

First, as for your double comfort, cousin, you may cut off the one! For a man in prosperity, though he be bound to thank God for his gifts, wherein he feeleth ease, and may be glad also that he giveth thanks to God; yet hath he little cause of comfort in that he taketh his ease here, unless you wish to call by the name of comfort the sensual feeling of bodily pleasure. I deny not that sometimes men so take it, when they say, "This good drink comforteth well mine heart." But comfort, cousin, is properly taken, by them that take it right, rather for the consolation of good hope that men take in their heart, of some good growing toward them, than for a present pleasure with which the body is delighted and tickled for a while.

Now, though a man without patience can have no reward for his pain, yet when his pain is patiently taken for God's sake and his will conformed to God's pleasure therein, God rewardeth the sufferer in proportion to his pain. And this thing appeareth by many a place in scripture, some of which I have showed you and yet shall I show you more. But never found I any place in scripture that I remember in which, though a rich man thanked God for his gifts, our Lord promised him any reward in heaven for the very reason that he took his ease and his pleasures here. And therefore, since I speak only of such comfort as is true comfort indeed, by which a man hath hope of God's favour and remission of his sins, with diminishing of his pain in purgatory or else reward in heaven; and since such comfort cometh of tribulation well taken, but not of pleasure even though it be well taken; therefore of your comfort that you double by prosperity, you may, as I told you, very well cut away the half.

Now, why I give prerogative in comfort unto tribulation far above prosperity, though a man may do well in both, of this will I show you causes two or three. First, as I before have at length showed you out of all question, continual wealth interrupted with no tribulation is a very discomfortable token of everlasting damnation. Thereupon it followeth that tribulation is one cause of comfort unto a man's heart, in that it dischargeth him of the discomfort that he might of reason take of overlong-lasting wealth. Another is, that the scripture much commendeth tribulation as occasion of more profit than wealth and prosperity, not only to those who are therein but to those who resort unto them too. And therefore saith Ecclesiastes, "Better is it to go to the house of weeping and wailing for some man's death, than to the house of a feast; for in that house of heaviness is a man put in remembrance of the end of every man, and while he liveth he thinketh what shall come after." And after yet he further saith, "The heart of wise men is where heaviness is, and the heart of fools is where there is mirth and gladness." And verily, where you shall hear worldly mirth seem to be commended in scripture, it is either commonly spoken, as in the person of some worldly-disposed people, or else understood of spiritual rejoicing, or else meant of some small moderate refreshing of the mind against a heavy and discomfortable dullness.

Now, prosperity was promised to the children of Israel in the old law as a special gift of God, because of their imperfection at that time, to draw them to God with gay things and pleasant, as men, to make children learn, give them cake-bread and butter. For, as the scripture maketh mention, that people were much after the manner of children in lack of wit and in waywardness. And therefore was their master Moses called Pedagogus, that is, a teacher of children or (as they call such a one in the grammar schools) an "usher" or "master of the petits." For, as St. Paul saith, "the old law brought nothing unto perfection." And God also threateneth folk with tribulation in this world for sin, not because worldly tribulation is evil, but that we should well beware of the sickness of sin for fear of the thing to follow. For that thing, though it be indeed a very good wholesome thing if we take it well, is yet, because it is painful, the thing that we are loth to have. But this I say yet again and again, that the scripture undoubtedly so commandeth tribulation as far the better thing in this world toward the getting of the true good that God giveth in the world to come, that in comparison it utterly discommendeth this worldly wretched wealth and discomfortable comfort. For to what other thing tend the words of Ecclesiastes that I rehearsed to you now, that it is better to be in the house of heaviness than to be at a feast? Whereto tendeth this comparison of his, that the wise man's heart draweth thither where folk are in sadness, and the heart of a fool is where he may find mirth? Whereto tendeth this threat of the wise man, that he who delighteth in wealth shall fall into woe? "Laughter," saith he, "shall be mingled with sorrow, and the end of mirth is taken up with heaviness." And our Saviour saith himself, "Woe be to you that laugh, for you shall weep and wail." But he saith, on the other hand, "Blessed are they that weep and wail, for they shall be comforted." And he saith to his disciples, "The world shall rejoice and you shall be sorry, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy." And so it is now, as you well know, and the mirth of many who then were in joy is now turned all to sorrow. And thus you see plainly by scripture that, in matter of true comfort, tribulation is as far above prosperity as the day is about the night.

Another pre-eminence of tribulation over wealth, in occasion of merit and reward, shall well appear upon certain considerations well marked in them both. Tribulation meriteth in patience and in the obedient conforming of the man's will unto God, and in thanks given to God for his visitation. If you reckon me now, against these, many other good deeds that a wealthy man may do—as, by riches to give alms, or by authority to labour in doing many men justice—or if you find further any other such thing; first, I say that the patient person in tribulation hath, in all these virtues of a wealthy man, an occasion of merit which the wealthy man hath not. For it is easy for the person who is in tribulation to be well willing to do the selfsame thing if he could. And then shall his good will, where the power lacketh, go very near to the merit of the deed. But the wealthy man, now, is not in a like position with regard to the will of patience and conformity and thanks given to God for tribulation. For the wealthy man is not so ready to be content to be in tribulation, which is the occasion of the sufferer's deserving, as the troubled person is to be content to be in prosperity, to do the good deeds that the wealthy man doth. Besides this, all that the wealthy man doth, though he could not do them without those things that are counted for wealth and called by that name—as, not do great alms without great riches, nor do these many men right by his labour without great authority—yet may he do these things being not in wealth indeed. As where he taketh his wealth for no wealth and his riches for no riches, and in heart setteth by neither one, but secretly liveth in a contrite heart and a penitential life, as many times did the prophet David, being a great king, so that worldly wealth was no wealth to him. And therefore worldly wealth is not of necessity the cause of these good deeds, since he may do them (and he doth them best, indeed) to whom the thing that worldly folk call wealth is yet, for his godly-set mind, withdrawn from the delight thereof, no pleasure nor wealth at all.

Finally, whenever the wealthy man doth those good virtuous deeds, if we rightly consider the nature of them, we shall perceive that in the doing of them he doth ever, for the ratio and proportion of those deeds, diminish the matter of his worldly wealth. In giving great alms, he parteth with a certain amount of his worldly goods, which are in that amount the matter of his wealth. In labouring about the doing of many good deeds, his labour diminisheth his quiet and his rest, and to that extent it diminisheth his wealth, if pain and wealth be each contrary to the other, as I think you will agree that they are. Now, whosoever then will well consider the thing, he shall, I doubt not, perceive and see that in these good deeds that the wealthy man doth, though it be his wealth that maketh him able to do them, yet in so far as he doth them he departeth in that proportion from the nature of wealth toward the nature of some tribulation. And therefore even in those good deeds themselves that prosperity doth, the prerogative in goodness of tribulation above wealth doth appear.

Now if it happen that some man cannot perceive this point because the wealthy man, for all his alms, abideth rich still, and for all his good labour abideth still in his authority, let him consider that I speak only according to proportion. And because the proportion of all that he giveth of his goods is very little in respect of what he leaveth, therefore is the reason haply with some folk little perceived. But if it were so that he went on giving until he had given out all, and left himself nothing, then would even a blind man see it. For as he would be come from riches to poverty, so would he be willingly fallen from wealth into tribulation. And in respect of labour and rest, the same would be true. Whosoever can consider this, shall see that, in every good deed done by the wealthy man, the matter is proportionately the same.

Then, since we have somewhat weighed the virtues of prosperity, let us consider on the other hand the afore-named things that are the matter of merit and reward in tribulation—that is, patience, conformity, and thanksgiving. Patience the wealthy man hath not, in so far as he is wealthy. For if he be pinched in any point in which he taketh patience, to that extent he suffereth some tribulation. And so not by his prosperity but by his tribulation hath he that merit. It is the same if we would say that the wealthy man hath another virtue instead of patience—that is, the keeping of himself from pride and such other sins as wealth would bring him to. For the resisting of such motions is, as I before told you, without any doubt a diminishing of fleshly wealth, and is a very true kind (and one of the most profitable kinds) of tribulation. So all that good merit groweth to the wealthy man not by his wealth but by the diminishing of his wealth with wholesome tribulation.

The most colour of comparison is in the other two; that is, in the conformity of man's will unto God, and in thanks given unto God. For as the good man, in tribulation sent him by God, conformeth his will to God's will in that behalf, and giveth God thanks for it; so doth the wealthy man, in his wealth which God giveth him, conform his will to God in that point, since he is well content to take it as his gift, and giveth God also right hearty thanks for it. And thus, as I said, in these two things can you catch the most colour to compare the wealthy man's merit with the merit of tribulation.

But yet that they be not matches, you may soon see by this: For no one can conform his will unto God's in tribulation and give him thanks for it, but such a man as hath in that point a very specially good disposition. But he that is truly wicked, or hath in his heart but very little good, may well be content to take wealth at God's hand, and say, "Marry, I thank you, sir, for this with all my heart, and I will not fail to love you well—while you let me fare no worse!" Confitebitur tibi, cum benefeceris ei. Now, if the wealthy man be very good, yet, in conformity of his will and thanksgiving to God for his wealth, his virtue is not like to that of him who doth the same in tribulation. For, as the philosophers said very well of old, "virtue standeth in things of hardness and difficulty." And then, as I told you, it is much less hard and less difficult, by a great deal, to be content and conform our will to God's will and to give him thanks, too, for our ease than for our pain, for our wealth and for our woe. And therefore the conforming of our will to God's and the thanks that we give him for our tribulation are more worthy of thanks in return, and merit more reward in the very fast wealth and felicity of heaven, than our conformity and our thanksgiving for our worldly wealth here.

And this thing saw the devil, when he said to our Lord of Job that it was no marvel if Job had a reverent fear unto God—God had done so much for him, and kept him in prosperity. But the devil knew well that it was a hard thing for Job to be so loving, and so to give thanks to God, in tribulation and adversity. And therefore was he glad to get leave of God to put him in tribulation, and trusted thereby to cause him to murmur and grudge against God with impatience. But the devil had there a fall in his own turn, for the patience of Job in the short time of his adversity got him much more favour and thanks of God, and more is he renowned and commended in scripture for that, than for all the goodness of his long prosperous life. Our Saviour saith himself, also, that if we say well by them or yield them thanks who do us good, we do no great thing, and therefore can we with reason look for no great thanks in return.

And thus have I showed you, lo, no little pre-eminence that tribulation hath in merit, and therefore no little pre-eminence of comfort in hope of heavenly reward, above the virtues (the merit and cause of good hope and comfort) that come of wealth and prosperity.


And therefore, good cousin, to finish our talking for this time, lest I should be too long a hindrance to your other business:

If we lay first, for a sure ground, a very fast faith, whereby we believe to be true all that the scripture saith (understood truly, as the old holy doctors declare it and as the spirit of God instructeth his Catholic church), then shall we consider tribulation as a gracious gift of God, a gift that he specially gave his special friends; a thing that in scripture is highly commended and praised; a thing of which the contrary, long continued, is perilous; a thing which, if God send it not, men have need to put upon themselves and seek by penance; a thing that helpeth to purge our past sins; a thing that preserveth us from sins that otherwise would come; a thing that causeth us to set less by the world; a thing that much diminisheth our pains in purgatory; a thing that much increaseth our final reward in heaven; the thing with which all his apostles followed him thither; the thing to which our Saviour exhorteth all men; the thing without which he saith we be not his disciples; the thing without which no man can get to heaven.

Whosoever thinketh on these things, and remembereth them well, shall in his tribulation neither murmur nor grudge. But first shall he by patience take his pain in worth, and then shall he grow in goodness and think himself well worthy of tribulation. And then shall he consider that God sendeth it for his welfare, and thereby shall be moved to give God thanks for it. Therewith shall his grace increase, and God shall give him such comfort by considering that God is in his trouble evermore near to him—for "God is near," saith the prophet, "to them that have their heart in trouble"—that his joy thereof shall diminish much of his pain. And he shall not seek for vain comfort elsewhere, but shall specially trust in God and seek help of him, submitting his own will wholly to God's pleasure. And he shall pray to God in his heart, and pray his friends pray for him, and especially the priests, as St. James biddeth. And he shall begin first with confession and make him clean to God and ready to depart, and be glad to go to God, putting purgatory to his pleasure. If we thus do, this dare I boldly say, we shall never live here the less by half an hour, but we shall with this comfort find our hearts lightened, and thereby the grief of our tribulation lessened, and the more likelihood to recover and to live the longer.

Now if God will that we shall go hence, then doth he much more for us. For he who taketh this way cannot go but well. For of him who is loth to leave this wretched world, mine heart is much in fear lest he did not well. Hard it is for him to be welcome who cometh against his will, who saith unto God when he cometh to fetch him, "Welcome, my Maker—spite of my teeth!" But he that so loveth him that he longeth to go to him, my heart cannot give me but he shall be welcome, albeit that he come ere he be well purged. For "Charity covereth a multitude of sins," and "He that trusteth in God cannot be confounded." And Christ saith, "He that cometh to me, I will not cast him out." And therefore let us never make our reckoning of long life. Let us keep it while we can, because God hath so commanded, but if God give the occasion that with his good will we may go, let us be glad of it and long to go to him. And then shall hope of heaven comfort our heaviness, and out of our transitory tribulation shall we go to everlasting glory—to which, good cousin, I pray God bring us both!

VINCENT: Mine own good uncle, I pray God reward you, and at this time I will no longer trouble you. I fear I have this day done you much tribulation with my importunate objections, of very little substance. And you have even showed me an example of patience, in bearing my folly so long. And yet I shall be so bold as to seek some time to talk further of the rest of this most profitable matter of tribulation, which you said you reserved to treat of last of all.

ANTHONY: Let that be surely very shortly, cousin, while this is fresh in mind.

VINCENT: I trust, good uncle, so to put this in remembrance that it shall never be forgotten with me. Our Lord send you such comfort as he knoweth to be best!

ANTHONY: This is well said, good cousin, and I pray the same for you and for all our other friends who have need of comfort—for whom, I think, more than for yourself, you needed some counsel.

VINCENT: I shall, with this good counsel that I have heard from you, do them some comfort, I trust in God—to whose keeping I commit you!

ANTHONY: And I you, also. Farewell, mine own good cousin.



VINCENT: It is no little comfort to me, good uncle, that as I came in here I heard from your folk that since my last being here you have had meetly good rest (God be thanked), and your stomach somewhat more come to you. For verily, albeit I had heard before that, in respect of the great pain that for a month's space had held you, you were, a little before my last coming to you, somewhat eased and relieved—for otherwise would I not for any good cause have put you to the pain of talking so much as you then did—yet after my departing from you, remembering how long we tarried together, and that we were all that while talking, and that all the labour was yours, in talking so long together without interpausing between (and that of matter studious and displeasant, all of disease and sickness and other pain and tribulation), I was in good faith very sorry and not a little wroth with myself for mine own oversight, that I had so little considered your pain. And very feared I was, till I heard otherwise, lest you should have waxed weaker and more sick thereafter. But now I thank our Lord, who hath sent the contrary. For a little casting back, in this great age of yours, would be no little danger and peril.

ANTHONY: Nay, nay, good cousin—to talk much, unless some other pain hinder me, is to me little grief. A foolish old man is often as full of words as a woman. It is, you know, as some poets paint us, all the joy of an old fool's life to sit well and warm with a cup and a roasted crabapple, and drivel and drink and talk!

But in earnest, cousin, our talking was to me great comfort, and nothing displeasing at all. For though we commoned of sorrow and heaviness, yet the thing we chiefly thought upon was not the tribulation itself but the comfort that may grow thereon. And therefore am I now very glad that you are come to finish up the rest.

VINCENT: Of truth, my good uncle, it was comforting to me, and hath been since to some other of your friends, to whom, as my poor wit and remembrance would serve me, I did report and rehearse (and not needlessly) your most comforting counsel. And now come I for the rest, and am very joyful that I find you so well refreshed and so ready thereto. But this one thing, good uncle, I beseech you heartily. If I, for delight to hear you speak in the matter, forget myself and you both, and put you to too much pain, remember your own ease. And when you wish to leave off, command me to go my way and seek some other time.

ANTHONY: Forsooth, cousin, if a man were very weak, many words spoken (as you said right now) without interpausing, would peradventure at length somewhat weary him. And therefore wished I the last time, after you were gone (when I felt myself, to say the truth, even a little weary), that I had not so told you a long tale alone, but that we had more often interchanged words, and parted the talking between us, with more often interparling upon your part, in such manner as learned men use between the persons whom they devise, disputing in their feigned dialogues. But yet in that point I soon excused you and laid the lack where I found it, and that was even upon mine own neck.

For I remembered that between you and me it fared as it did once between a nun and her brother. Very virtuous was this lady, and of a very virtuous place and enclosed religion. And therein had she been long, in all which time she had never seen her brother, who was likewise very virtuous too, and had been far off at a university, and had there taken the degree of Doctor of Divinity. When he was come home, he went to see his sister, as one who highly rejoiced in her virtue. So came she to the grate that they call, I believe, the locutory, and after their holy watchword spoken on both sides, after the manner used in that place, each took the other by the tip of the finger, for no hand could be shaken through the grate. And forthwith my lady began to give her brother a sermon of the wretchedness of this world, and frailty of the flesh, and the subtle sleights of the wicked fiend, and gave him surely good counsel (saving somewhat too long) how he should be well wary in his living and master well his body for the saving of his soul. And yet, ere her own tale came to an end, she began to find a little fault with him and said, "In good faith, brother, I do somewhat marvel that you, who have been at learning so long and are a doctor and so learned in the law of God, do not now at our meeting (since we meet so seldom) to me who am your sister and a simple unlearned soul, give of your charity some fruitful exhortation. For I doubt not but you can say some good thing yourself." "By my troth, good sister," quoth her brother, "I cannot, for you! For your tongue hath never ceased, but said enough for us both."

And so, cousin, I remember that when I was once fallen in, I left you little space to say aught between. But now will I therefore take another way with you, for of our talking I shall drive you to the one half.

VINCENT: Now, forsooth, uncle, this was a merry tale! But now, if you make me talk the one half, then shall you be contented far otherwise than was of late a kinswoman of your own—but which one I will not tell you; guess her if you can! Her husband had much pleasure in the manner and behaviour of another honest man, and kept him therefore much company, so that he was at his mealtime the more often away from home. So happed it one time that his wife and he together dined or supped with that neighbour of theirs, and then she made a merry quarrel with him for making her husband so good cheer outside that she could not keep him at home. "Forsooth, mistress," quoth he (for he was a dry merry man), "in my company no thing keepeth him but one. Serve him with the same, and he will never be away from you." "What gay thing may that be?" quoth our cousin then. "Forsooth, mistress," quoth he, "your husband loveth well to talk, and when he sitteth with me, I let him have all the words." "All the words?" quoth she, "marry, than am I content! He shall have all the words with good will, as he hath ever had. But I speak them all myself, and give them all to him, and for aught I care for them, so shall he have them all. But otherwise to say that he shall have them all, you shall keep him still rather than he get the half!"

ANTHONY: Forsooth, cousin, I can soon guess which of our kin she was. I wish we had none, for all her merry words, who would let their husbands talk less!

VINCENT: Forsooth, she is not so merry but what she is equally good. But where you find fault, uncle, that I speak not enough: I was in good faith ashamed that I spoke so much and moved you such questions as (I found upon your answer) might better have been spared, they were of so little worth. But now, since I see you be so well content that I shall not forbear boldly to show my folly, I will be no more so shamefast but will ask you what I like.


And first, good uncle, ere we proceed further, I will be bold to move you one thing more of that which we talked of when I was here before. For when I revolved in my mind again the things that were concluded here by you, methought you would in no wise wish that in any tribulation men should seek for comfort in either worldly things or fleshly. And this opinion of yours, uncle, seemeth somewhat hard, for a merry tale with a friend refresheth a man much, and without any harm delighteth his mind and amendeth his courage and his stomach, so that it seemeth but well done to take such recreation. And Solomon saith, I believe, that men should in heaviness give the sorry man wine, to make him forget his sorrow. And St. Thomas saith that proper pleasant talking, which is called eutrapelia, is a good virtue, serving to refresh the mind and make it quick and eager to labour and study again, whereas continual fatigue would make it dull and deadly.

ANTHONY: Cousin, I forgot not that point, but I longed not much to touch it. For neither might I well utterly forbear it, where it might befall that it should not hurt; and on the other hand, if it should so befall, methought that it should little need to give any man counsel to it—folk are prone enough to such fancies of their own mind! You may see this by ourselves who, coming now together to talk of as earnest sad matter as men can devise, were fallen yet even at the first into wanton idle tales. And of truth, cousin, as you know very well, I myself am by nature even half a gigglot and more. I wish I could as easily mend my fault as I well know it, but scant can I refrain it, as old a fool as I am. Howbeit, I will not be so partial to my fault as to praise it.

But since you ask my mind in the matter, as to whether men in tribulation may not lawfully seek recreation and comfort themselves with some honest mirth (first agreed that our chief comfort must be in God and that with him we must begin and with him continue and with him end also), that a man should take now and then some honest worldly mirth, I dare not be so sore as utterly to forbid it. For good men and well learned have in some cases allowed it, especially for the diversity of divers men's minds. Otherwise, if we were also such as would God we were (and such as natural wisdom would that we should be, and is not clean excusable that we be not indeed), I would then put no doubt but that unto any man the most comforting talking that could be would be to hear of heaven. Whereas now, God help us, our wretchedness is such that in talking a while of it, men wax almost weary. And, as though to hear of heaven were a heavy burden, they must refresh themselves afterward with a foolish tale. Our affection toward heavenly joys waxeth wonderfully cold. If dread of hell were as far gone, very few would fear God, but that yet sticketh a little in our stomachs. Mark me, cousin, at the sermon, and commonly toward the end, somewhat the preacher speaketh of hell and heaven. Now, while he preacheth of the pains of hell, still they stay and give him the hearing. But as soon as he cometh to the joys of heaven, they are busking them backward and flockmeal fall away.

It is in the soul somewhat as it is in the body: There are some who are come, either by nature or by evil custom, to that point where a worse thing sometimes more steadeth them than a better. Some men, if they be sick, can away with no wholesome meat, nor no medicine can go down with them, unless it be tempered for their fancy with something that maketh the meat or the medicine less wholesome than it should be. And yet, while it will be no better, we must let them have it so.

Cassian (that very virtuous man) rehearseth in a certain conference of his that a certain holy father, in making of a sermon, spoke of heaven and heavenly things so celestially that much of his audience, with the sweet sound of it, began to forget all the world and fall asleep. When the father beheld this, he dissembled their sleeping and suddenly said to them, "I shall tell you a merry tale." At that word they lifted up their heads and hearkened unto that, and afterward (their sleep being therewith broken) heard him tell on of heaven again. In what wise that good father rebuked then their untoward minds—so dull to the thing that all our life we labour for, and so quick and eager toward other trifles—I neither bear in mind nor shall here need to rehearse. But thus much of that matter sufficeth for our purpose, that whereas you demand of me whether in tribulation men may not sometimes refresh themselves with worldly mirth and recreation, I can only say that he who cannot long endure to hold up his head and hear talking of heaven unless he be now and then between refreshed (as though heaven were heaviness!) with a merry foolish tale, there is none other remedy but you must let him have it. Better would I wish it, but I cannot help it.

Howbeit, by mine advice, let us at least make those kinds of recreation as short and as seldom as we can. Let them serve us but for sauce, and make themselves not our meat. And let us pray unto God—and all our good friends for us—that we may feel such a savour in the delight of heaven that in respect of the talking of its joys, all worldly recreation may be but a grief to think on. And be sure, cousin, that if we might once purchase the grace to come to that point, we never found of worldly recreation so much comfort in a year as we should find in the bethinking us of heaven for less than half an hour.

VINCENT: In faith, uncle, I can well agree to this, and I pray God bring us once to take such a savour in it. And surely, as you began the other day, by faith must we come to it, and to faith by prayer.

But now, I pray you, good uncle, vouchsafe to proceed in our principal matter.


ANTHONY: Cousin, I have bethought me somewhat upon this matter since we were last together. And I find it a thing that, if we should go some way to work, would require many more days to treat of than we should haply find for it in so few as I myself believe that I have yet to live. For every time is not alike with me. Among them, there are many painful, in which I look every day to depart; my mending days come very seldom and are very shortly done.

For surely, cousin, I cannot liken my life more fitly now than to the snuff of a candle that burneth within the candlestick's nose. For the snuff sometimes burneth down so low that whosoever looketh on it would think it were quite out, and yet suddenly lifteth up a flame half an inch above the nose and giveth a pretty short light again, and thus playeth divers times till at last, ere it be looked for, out it goeth altogether. So have I, cousin, divers such days together as every day of them I look even to die, and yet have I then after that some such few days again as you yourself see me now to have, in which a man would think that I might yet well continue. But I know my lingering not likely to last long, but out will go my snuff suddenly some day within a while. And therefore will I, with God's help, seem I never so well amended, nevertheless reckon every day for my last. For though, to the repressing of the bold courage of blind youth, there is a very true proverb that "as soon cometh a young sheep's skin to the market as an old," yet this difference there is at least between them: that as the young man may hap sometimes to die soon, so the old man can never live long.

And therefore, cousin, in our matter here, leaving out many things that I would otherwise treat of, I shall for this time speak but of very few. Howbeit, if God hereafter send me more such days, then will we, when you wish, further talk of more.


All manner of tribulation, cousin, that any man can have, as far as for this time cometh to my mind, falleth under some one at least of these three kinds: Either it is such as he himself willingly taketh; or, secondly, such as he willingly suffereth; or, finally, such as he cannot put from him.

This third kind I purpose not to speak of now much more, for there shall suffice, for the time, those things that we treated between us the other day. What kind of tribulation this is, I am sure you yourself perceive. For sickness, imprisonment, loss of goods, loss of friends, or such bodily harm as a man hath already caught and can in no wise avoid—these things and such like are the third kind of tribulation that I speak of, which a man neither willingly taketh in the beginning, nor can (though he would) afterward put away.

Now think I that, just as no comfort can serve to the man who lacketh wit and faith, whatsoever counsel be given, so to those who have both I have, as for this kind, said in manner enough already. And considering that suffer it he must, since he can by no manner of means put it from him, the very necessity is half counsel enough to take it in good worth and bear it patiently, and rather of his patience to take both ease and thanks than by fretting and fuming to increase his present pain, and afterward by murmur and grudge to fall in further danger of displeasing God with his froward behaviour.

And yet, albeit that I think that what has been said sufficeth, yet here and there I shall in the second kind show some such comfort as shall well serve unto this last kind too.


The first kind also will I shortly pass over, too. For the tribulation that a man willingly taketh himself, which no man putteth upon him against his own will, is, you know as well as I (for it was somewhat touched the last day), such affliction of the flesh or expense of his goods as a man taketh himself or willingly bestoweth in punishment of his own sin and for devotion to God.

Now, in this tribulation needeth he no man to comfort him. For no man troubleth him but himself, who feeleth how far forth he may conveniently bear, and of reason and good discretion shall not pass that—and if any doubt arise therein, it is counsel that he needeth and not comfort. And so the courage that kindleth his heart and enflameth it for God's sake and his soul's health shall, by the same grace that put it in his mind, give him such comfort and joy therein that the pleasure of his soul shall surpass the pain of his body.

Yea, and while he hath in heart also some great heaviness for his sin, yet when he considereth the joy that shall come of it, his soul shall not fail to feel then that strange state which my body felt once in a great fever.

VINCENT: What strange state was that, uncle?

ANTHONY: Forsooth, cousin, even in this same bed, it is now more than fifteen years ago, I lay in a tertian fever. And I had passed, I believe, three or four fits, when afterward there fell on me one fit out of course, so strange and so marvellous that I would in good faith have thought it impossible. For I suddenly felt myself verily both hot and cold throughout all my body; not in one part the one and in another part the other—for it would have been, you know, no very strange thing to feel the head hot while the hands were cold—but the selfsame parts, I say, so God save my soul, I sensibly felt (and right painfully, too) all in one instant both hot and cold at once.

VINCENT: By my faith, uncle, this was a wonderful thing, and such as I never heard happen to any other man in my days. And few men are there out of whose mouths I could have believed it.

ANTHONY: Courtesy, cousin, peradventure hindereth you from saying that you believe it not yet of my mouth, neither! And surely, for fear of that, you should not have heard it of me neither, had there not another thing happed me soon thereafter.

VINCENT: I pray you, what was that, good uncle?

ANTHONY: Forsooth, cousin, this: I asked a physician or twain, who then considered how this should be possible, and they both twain told me that it could not be so, but that I was fallen into some slumber and dreamed that I felt it so.

VINCENT: This hap, hold I, little caused you to tell that tale more boldly!

ANTHONY: No, cousin, that is true, lo. But then happed there another: A young girl here in this town, whom a kinsman of hers had begun to teach physic, told me that there was such a kind of fever indeed.

VINCENT: By our Lady, uncle, save for the credence of you, the tale would I not yet tell again upon that hap of the maid! For though I know her now for such that I durst well believe her, it might hap her very well at that time to lie, because she would that you should take her for learned.

ANTHONY: Yea, but then happed there yet another hap thereon, cousin, that a work of Galen, "De differentiis febrium," is ready to be sold in the booksellers' shops, in which work she showed me then the chapter where Galen saith the same.

VINCENT: Marry, uncle, as you say, that hap happed well. And that maid had, as hap was, in that one point more learning than had both your physicians besides—and hath, I believe, at this day in many points more.

ANTHONY: In faith, so believe I too. She is very wise and well learned, and very virtuous too.

But see now what age is: lo, I have been so long in my tale that I have almost forgotten for what purpose I told it. Oh, now I remember me: As I say, just as I myself felt my body then both hot and cold at once, so he who is contrite and heavy for his sin shall have cause to be both glad and sad, and shall indeed be both twain at once. And he shall do as I remember holy St. Jerome biddeth—"Both be thou sorry," saith he, "and be thou also of thy sorrow joyful."

And thus, as I began to say, to him that is in this tribulation—that is, in fruitful heaviness and penance for his sin—shall we need to give none other comfort than only to remember and consider well the goodness of God's excellent mercy, that infinitely surpasseth the malice of all men's sins. By that mercy he is ready to receive every man, and did spread his arms abroad upon the cross, lovingly to embrace all those who will come. And by that mercy he even there accepted the thief at his last end, who turned not to God till he might steal no longer, and yet maketh more feast in heaven for one who turneth from sin than for ninety-nine good men who sinned not at all.

And therefore of that first kind of tribulation will I make no longer tale.


VINCENT: Forsooth, uncle, this is very great comfort unto that kind of tribulation. And so great, also, that it may make many a man bold to abide in his sin even unto his end, trusting to be then saved as that thief was.

ANTHONY: Very sooth you say, cousin, that some wretches are there who so abuse the great goodness of God that the better he is the worse in return are they. But, cousin, though there be more joy made of his turning who from the point of perdition cometh to salvation, for pity that God had and all his saints of the peril of perishing that the man stood in, yet is he not set in like state in heaven as he should have been if he had lived better before. Unless it so befall that he live so well afterward and do so much good that he outrun, in the shorter time, those good folk that yet did so much in much longer. This is proved in the blessed apostle St. Paul, who of a persecutor became an apostle, and last of all came in unto that office, and yet in the labour of sowing the seed of Christ's faith outran all the rest so far that he forbore not to say of himself, "I have laboured more than all the rest have."

But yet, my cousin, though I doubt not that God be so merciful unto those who, at any time of their life, turn and ask his mercy and trust in it, though it be at the last end of a man's life; and that he hireth him as well for heaven who cometh to work in his vineyard toward night at such time as workmen leave work, and goeth home, being then willing to work if time should serve, as he hireth him who cometh in the morning; yet may no man upon the trust of this parable be bold all his life to lie still in sin. For let him remember that no man goeth into God's vineyard but he who is called thither. Now he who, in hope to be called toward the night, will sleep out the morning and drink out the day, is full likely to pass at night unspoken to. And then shall he with ill rest go supperless to bed!

They tell of one who was wont always to say that all the while he lived he would do what he pleased, for three words when he died should make all safe enough. But then it so happed that long ere he was old his horse once stumbled upon a broken bridge. And as he laboured to recover him, when he saw that it would not be, but that down into the flood headlong he must go, in sudden dismay he cried out in the falling, "Have all to the devil!" And there was he drowned with his three words ere he died, whereon his hope hung all his wretched life.

And therefore let no man sin in hope of grace, for grace cometh but at God's will, and that state of mind may be the hindrance that grace of fruitful repenting shall never after be offered him, but that he shall either graceless go linger on careless, or with a care that is fruitless shall fall into despair.


VINCENT: Forsooth, uncle, in this point methinketh you say very well. But then are there some again who say on the other hand that we shall need no heaviness for our sins at all, but need only change our intent and purpose to do better, and for all that is passed take no thought at all. And as for fasting and other affliction of the body, they say we should not do it save only to tame the flesh when we feel it wax wanton and begin to rebel. For fasting, they say, serveth to keep the body in temperance, but to fast for penance or to do any other good work, almsdeed or other, toward satisfaction for our own sins—this thing they call plain injury to the passion of Christ, by which alone our sins are forgiven freely without any recompense of our own. And they say that those who would do penance for their own sins look to be their own Christs, and pay their own ransoms, and save their souls themselves. And with these reasons in Saxony many cast fasting off, and all other bodily affliction, save only where need requireth to bring the body to temperance. For no other good, they say, can it do to ourselves, and then to our neighbour can it do none at all. And therefore they condemn it for superstitious folly. Now, heaviness of heart and weeping for our sins, this they reckon shame almost, and womanish childishness—howbeit, God be thanked, their women wax there now so mannish that they are not so childish, nor so poor of spirit, but what they can sin on as men do and be neither afraid nor ashamed nor weep for their sins at all.

And surely, mine uncle, I have marvelled the less ever since I heard the manner of their preachers there. For, as you remember, when I was in Saxony these matters were (in a manner) but in a mammering. Luther was not then wedded yet, nor religious men out of their habits, but those that would be of the sect were suffered freely to preach what they would unto the people. And forsooth I heard a religious man there myself—one that had been reputed and taken for very good, and who, as far as the folk perceived, was of his own living somewhat austere and sharp. But his preaching was wonderful! Methinketh I hear him yet, his voice so loud and shrill, his learning less than mean. But whereas his matter was much part against fasting and all affliction for any penance, which he called men's inventions, he ever cried out upon them to keep well the laws of Christ, let go their childish penance, and purpose then to mend and seek nothing to salvation but the death of Christ. "For he is our justice, and he is our Saviour and our whole satisfaction for all our deadly sins. He did full penance for us all upon his painful cross, he washed us there all clean with the water of his sweet side, and brought us out of the devil's danger with his dear precious blood. Leave therefore, leave, I beseech you, these inventions of men, your foolish Lenten fasts and your childish penance! Diminish never Christ's thanks nor look to save yourselves! It is Christ's death, I tell you, that must save us all—Christ's death, I tell you yet again, and not our own deeds. Leave your own fasting, therefore, and lean to Christ alone, good Christian people, for Christ's dear bitter passion!" Now, so loud and shrill he cried "Christ" in their ears, and so thick he came forth with Christ's bitter passion, and that so bitterly spoken with the sweat dropping down his cheeks, that I marvelled not that I saw the poor women weep. For he made my own hair stand up upon my head.

And with such preaching were the people so taken in that some fell to break their fast on the fasting days, not of frailty or of malice first, but almost of devotion, lest they should take from Christ the thanks of his bitter passion. But when they were awhile nursled in that point first, they could afterward abide and endure many things more, for which, if he had begun with them, they would have pulled him down.

ANTHONY: Cousin, God amend that man, whatsoever he be, and God keep all good folk from such manner of preachers! One such preacher much more abuseth the name of Christ and of his bitter passion than do five hundred gamblers who in their idle business swear and foreswear themselves by his holy bitter passion at dice. They carry the minds of the people from perceiving their craft by the continual naming of the name of Christ, and crying his passion so shrill into their ears that they forget that the Church hath ever taught them that all our penance without Christ's passion would not be worth a pea. And they make the people think that we wish to be saved by our own deeds, without Christ's death; whereas we confess that his passion alone meriteth incomparably more for us than all our own deeds do, but that it is his pleasure that we shall also take pain ourselves with him. And therefore he biddeth all who will be his disciples to take their crosses on their backs as he did, and with their crosses follow him.

And where they say that fasting serveth but for temperance to tame the flesh and keep it from wantonness, I would in good faith have thought that Moses had not been so wild that for the taming of his flesh he should have need to fast whole forty days together. No, not Hely neither. Nor yet our Saviour himself, who began the Lenten forty-days fast—and the apostles followed, and all Christendom hath kept it—that these folk call now so foolish. King Achab was not disposed to be wanton in his flesh, when he fasted and went clothed in sackcloth and all besprent with ashes. No more was the king in Nineveh and all the city, but they wailed and did painful penance for their sin to procure God to pity them and withdraw his indignation. Anna, who in her widowhood abode so many years with fasting and praying in the temple till the birth of Christ, was not, I suppose, in her old age so sore disposed to the wantonness of the flesh that she fasted for all that. Nor St. Paul, who fasted so much, fasted not all for that, neither. The scripture is full of places that prove fasting to be not the invention of man but the institution of God, and to have many more profits than one. And that the fasting of one man may do good unto another, our Saviour showeth himself where he saith that some kind of devils cannot be cast out of one man by another "without prayer and fasting." And therefore I marvel that they take this way against fasting and other bodily penance.

And yet much more I marvel that they mislike the sorrow and heaviness and displeasure of mind that a man should take in thinking of his sin. The prophet saith, "Tear your hearts and not your clothes." And the prophet David saith, "A contrite heart and an humbled"—that is to say, a heart broken, torn, and laid low under foot with tribulation of heaviness for his sins—"shalt thou not, good Lord, despise." He saith also of his own contrition, "I have laboured in my wailing; I shall every night wash my bed with my tears, my couch will I water."

But why should I need in this matter to lay forth one place or twain? The scripture is full of those places, by which it plainly appeareth that God looketh of duty, not only that we should amend and be better in the time to come, but also that we should be sorry and weep and bewail our sins committed before. And all the old holy doctors be full and whole of that opinion, that men must have for their sins contrition and sorrow in heart.


VINCENT: Forsooth, uncle, this thing yet seemeth to me a somewhat sore sentence, not because I think otherwise but that there is good cause and great wherefore a man should so sorrow, but because of truth sometimes a man cannot be sorry and heavy for his sin that he hath done, though he never so fain would. But though he can be content for God's sake to forbear it thenceforth, yet not only can he not weep for every sin that is past, but some were haply so wanton that when he happeth to remember them he can scantly forbear to laugh.

Now, if contrition and sorrow of heart be so requisite of necessity to remission, many a man should stand, it seemeth, in a very perilous state.

ANTHONY: Many so should indeed, cousin, and indeed many do so. And the old saints write very sore on this point. Howbeit, "the mercy of God is above all his works," and he standeth bound to no common rule. "And he knoweth the frailty of this earthen vessel that is of his own making, and is merciful and hath pity and compassion upon our feeble infirmities," and shall not exact of us above the thing that we can do.

And yet, cousin, he who findeth himself in that state, let him give God thanks that he is no worse, in that he is minded to do well hereafter. But in that he cannot be sorry for his sin passed, let him be sorry at least that he is no better. And as St. Jerome biddeth him who sorroweth in his heart for sin to be glad and rejoice in his sorrow, so would I counsel him who cannot be sad for his sin to be sorry at least that he cannot be sorry!

Besides this, though I would in no wise that any man should despair, yet would I counsel such a man while that affection lasteth not to be bold of courage, but to live in double fear: First, because it is a token either of faint faith or of a dull diligence. For surely if we believe in God, and therewith deeply consider his high majesty, with the peril of our sin and the great goodness of God also, then either dread should make us tremble and break our stony heart, or love should for sorrow relent it into tears. Besides this, because, since so little misliking of our old sin is an affection not very pure and clean, and since no unclean thing shall enter into heaven, I can scantly believe but it shall be cleansed and purified before we come there. And therefore would I further give one in that state the counsel which Master Gerson giveth every man: that since the body and the soul together make the whole man, the less affliction he feeleth in his soul, the more pain in recompense let him put upon his body, and purge the spirit by the affliction of the flesh. And he who so doth, I dare lay my life, shall have his hard heart afterward relent into tears, and his soul in a wholesome heaviness and heavenly gladness too—especially if he join therewith faithful prayer, which must be joined with every good thing.

But, cousin, as I told you the other day, in these matters with these new men I will not dispute, but surely for mine own part I cannot well hold with them. For as far as mine own poor wit can perceive, the holy scripture of God is very plain against them, and the whole corps of Christendom in every Christan region. And the very places in which they dwell themselves have ever unto their own days clearly believed against them and all the old holy doctors have evermore taught against them, and all the old holy interpreters have construed against them. And therefore if these men have now perceived so late that the scripture hath been misunderstood all this while, and that of all those old holy doctors no man could understand it, then am I too old at this age to begin to study it now! And I dare not in no wise trust these men's learning, cousin, since I cannot see nor perceive any cause wherefore I should think that these men might not now in the understanding of scripture as well be deceived themselves as they would have us believe all those others have been, all this while before.

Howbeit, cousin, if it so be that their way be not wrong, but that they have found out so easy a way to heaven as to take no thought, but make merry, nor take no penance at all, but sit them down and drink well for our Saviour's sake—set cockahoop and fill all the cups at once, and then let Christ's passion pay for all the scot—I am not he who will envy their good hap. But surely, counsel dare I give no man to adventure that way with them. But those who fear lest that way be not sure, and take upon themselves willingly tribulation of penance—what comfort they do take, and well may take therein, that have I somewhat told you already. And since these other folk sit so merry with such tribulation, we need talk to them, you know, of no such manner of comfort.

And therefore of this kind of tribulation will I make an end.


VINCENT: Verily, good uncle, so may you well do, for you have brought it unto a very good pass.

And now, I pray you, come to the other kind, of which you purposed always to treat last.

ANTHONY: That shall I, cousin, very gladly do. The other kind is the one which I rehearsed second, and (sorting out the other two) have kept for the last. This second kind of tribulation is, you know, of those who willingly suffer tribulation, though of their own choice they took it not at first.

This kind, cousin, we shall divide into twain; the first we might call temptation, the second persecution. But here must you consider that I mean not every kind of persecution, but only that kind which, though the sufferer would be loth to fall in, yet will he rather abide it and suffer than, by flying from it, fall into the displeasure of God or leave God's pleasure unprocured. Howbeit, if we well consider these two things, temptation and persecution, we may find that either of them is incident into the other. For both by temptation the devil persecuteth us, and by persecution the devil also tempteth us. And as persecution is tribulation to every man, so is temptation tribulation to a good man. Now, though the devil, our spiritual enemy, fight against man in both, yet this difference hath the common temptation from the persecution: Temptation is, as it were, the fiend's snare, and persecution his plain open fight. And therefore will I now call all this kind of tribulation here by the name of temptation, and that shall I divide into two parts. The first shall I call the devil's snares, the other his open fight.


To speak of every kind of temptation particularly, by itself, would be, you know, in a manner an infinite thing. For under that, as I told you, fall persecutions and all. And the devil hath a thousand subtle ways of his snares, and of his open fight as many sundry poisoned darts. He tempteth us by the world, he tempteth us by our own flesh; he tempteth us by pleasure, he tempteth us by pain; he tempteth us by our foes, he tempteth us by our own friends—and, under colour of kindred, he maketh many times our nearest friends our most foes. For, as our Saviour said, "Inimici hominis domestici eius."

But in all manner of so diverse temptations, one marvellous comfort is that, the more we be tempted, the gladder have we cause to be. For, as St. James saith, "Esteem and take it, my brethren, for a thing of all joy when you fall into diverse and sundry manner of temptations." And no marvel, for there is in this world set up (as it were) a game of wrestling, in which the people of God come in on the one side, and on the other side come mighty strong wrestlers and wily—that is, the devils, the cursed proud damned spirits. For it is not our flesh alone that we must wrestle with, but with the devil too. "Our wrestling is not here," saith St. Paul, "against flesh and blood, but against the princes and potentates of these dark regions, against the spiritual wicked ghosts of the air."

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