But as God hath prepared a crown for those who on his side give his adversary the fall, so he who will not wrestle shall have none. For, as St. Paul saith, "There shall no man have the crown but he who contendeth for it according to the law of the game." And then, as holy St. Bernard saith, how couldst thou fight or wrestle for it, if there were no challenger against thee who would provoke thee thereto? And therefore may it be a great comfort, as St. James saith, to every man who feeleth himself challenged and provoked by temptation. For thereby perceiveth he that it cometh to his course to wrestle, which shall be, unless he willingly play the coward or the fool, the matter of his eternal reward.
But now must this needs be to man an inestimable comfort in all temptation if his faith fail him not: that is, that he may be sure that God is always ready to give him strength against the devil's might and wisdom against the devil's snares.
For, as the prophet saith, "My strength and my praise is our Lord, he hath been my safeguard." And the scripture saith, "Ask wisdom of God and he shall give it thee," in order "that you may espy," as St. Paul saith, "and perceive all the crafts." A great comfort may this be in all kinds of temptation, that God hath so his hand upon him who is willing to stand and will trust in him and call upon him, that he hath made him sure by many faithful promises in holy scripture that either he shall not fall or, if he sometimes through faintness of faith stagger and hap to fall, yet if he call upon God betimes his fall shall be no sore bruising to him. But as the scripture saith, "The just man, though he fall, shall not be bruised, for our Lord holdeth under his hand."
The prophet expresseth a plain comfortable promise of God against all temptations where he saith, "Whoso dwelleth in the help of the highest God, he shall abide in the protection or defence of the God of heaven." Who dwelleth, now, good cousin, in the help of the high God? Surely, he who through a good faith abideth in the trust and confidence of God's help, and neither, for lack of that faith and trust in his help, falleth desperate of all help, nor departeth from the hope of his help to seek himself help (as I told you the other day) from the flesh, the world, or the devil.
Now he then who by fast faith and sure hope dwelleth in God's help, and hangeth always upon that hope, never falling from it, he shall, saith the prophet, ever dwell and abide in God's defence and protection. That is to say, while he faileth not to believe well and hope well, God will never fail in all temptation to defend him. For unto such a faithful well-hoping man the prophet in the same psalm saith further, "With his shoulders shall he shadow thee, and under his feathers shalt thou trust." Lo, here hath every faithful man a sure promise that in the fervent heat of temptation or tribulation—for, as I have said divers times before, each is in such wise incident to the other that the devil useth every tribulation for temptation to bring us to impatience, and thereby to murmur and grudge and blasphemy; and every kind of temptation, to a good man who fighteth against it and will not follow it, is a very painful tribulation. In the fervent heat, I say therefore, of every temptation, God giveth the faithful man who hopeth in him the shadow of his holy shoulders. His shoulders are broad and large enough to cool and refresh the man in that heat, and in every tribulation he putteth them for a defence between. And then what weapon of the devil may give us any deadly wound, while that impenetrable shield of the shoulder of God standeth always between?
Then goeth the verse further, and saith unto such a faithful man, "Thine hope shall be under his feathers." That is, for the good hope thou hast in his help, he will take thee so near him into his protection that, as the hen, to keep her young chickens from the kite, nestled them together under her wings, so from the devil's claws—the ravenous kite of this dark air—will the God of heaven gather the faithful trusting folk near unto his own sides, and set them in surety, very well and warm, under the covering of his heavenly wings. And of this defence and protection, our Saviour spoke himself unto the Jews, as mention is made in the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew, to whom he said in this wise: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killest the prophets and stonest unto death them that are sent to thee, how often would I have gathered thee together, as the hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not."
Here are, cousin Vincent, words of no little comfort unto every Christian man. For by them we may see with what tender affection God of his great goodness longeth to gather us under the protection of his wings, and how often like a loving hen he clucketh home unto him even those chickens of his that wilfully walk abroad into the kite's danger and will not come at his clucking, but ever, the more he clucketh for them, the farther they go from him. And therefore can we not doubt that, if we will follow him and with faithful hope come running to him, he shall in all matter of temptation take us near unto him and set us even under his wing. And then are we safe, if we will tarry there, for against our will no power can pull us thence, nor hurt our souls there. "Set me near unto thee," saith the prophet, "and fight against me whose hand that will." And to show the great safeguard and surety that we shall have while we sit under his heavenly feathers, the prophet saith yet a great deal further, "In velamento alarum tuarum exaltabo." That is, that we shall not only sit in safeguard when we sit by his sweet side under his holy wing, but we shall also under the covering of his heavenly wings with great exultation rejoice.
Now, in the two next verses following, the prophet briefly comprehendeth four kinds of temptations, and therein all the tribulation that we shall now speak of, and also some part of that which we have spoken of before. And therefore I shall peradventure (unless any further thing fall in our way) with treating of those two verses, finish and end all our matter.
The prophet saith in the ninetieth psalm, "Scuto circumdabit te veritas eius; non timebis a timore nocturno, a sagitta volante in die, a negotio perambulante in tenebris, ab incurso et demonio meridiano. The truth of God shall compass thee about with a shield, you shall not be afraid of the night's fear, nor of the arrow flying in the day, nor of business walking about in the darknesses, nor of the incursion or invasion of the devil in the midday."
First, cousin, in these words "the truth of God shall compass thee about with a shield," the prophet for the comfort of every good man in all temptation and in all tribulation, besides those other things that he said before—that the shoulders of God should shadow them and that also they should sit under his wing—here saith he further that the truth of God shall compass thee with a shield. That is, as God hath faithfully promised to protect and defend those that faithfully will dwell in the trust of his help, so will he truly perform it. And thou who art such a one, the truth of his promise will defend thee not with a little round buckler that scantly can cover the head, but with a long large shield that covereth all along the body. This shield is made (as holy St. Bernard saith) broad above with the Godhead and narrow beneath with the Manhood, so that it is our Saviour Christ himself. And yet is this shield not like other shields of the world, which are so made that while they defend one part the man may be wounded upon another. But this shield is such that, as the prophet saith, it shall round about enclose and compass thee, so that thine enemy shall hurt thy soul on no side. For "with a shield," saith he, "shall his truth environ and compass thee round about."
And then incontinently following, to the intent that we should see that it is not without necessity that the shield of God should compass us about upon every side, he showeth in what wise we are environed by the devil upon every side with snares and assaults, by four kinds of temptations and tribulations. Against all this compass of temptations and tribulations that round-compassing shield of God's truth shall so defend us and keep us safe that we shall need to dread none of them at all.
First, he saith, "thou shalt not be afraid of the fear of the night." By the night is there in scripture sometimes understood tribulation, as appeareth in the thirty-fourth chapter of Job: "God hath known the works of them, and therefore shall he bring night upon them," that is, tribulation for their wickedness. And well you know that the night is of its own nature discomfortable and full of fear. And therefore by the night's fear here I understand the tribulation by which the devil, through the sufference of God, either by himself or by others who are his instruments, tempteth good folk to impatience as he did Job. But he who, as the prophet saith, dwelleth and continueth faithfully in the hope of God's help, shall so be clipped in on every side with the shield of God that he shall have no need to be afraid of such tribulation as is here called the night's fear. And it may be also fittingly called the night's fear for two causes: One, because many times, unto him who suffereth, the cause of his tribulation is dark and unknown. And therein it varieth and differeth from that tribulation by which the devil tempteth a man with open fight and assault for a known good thing from which he would withdraw him, or for some known evil thing into which he would drive him by force of such persecution. Another cause for which it is called the night's fear may be because the night is so far out of courage, and naturally so casteth folk into fear, that their fancy doubleth their fear of everything of which they perceive any manner of dread, and maketh them often think that it were much worse than indeed it is.
The prophet saith in the psalter, "Thou hast, good Lord, set the darkness and made was the night, and in the night walk all the beasts of the woods, the whelps of the lions roaring and calling unto God for their meat." Now, though the lions' whelps walk about roaring in the night and seek for their prey, yet can they not get such meat as they would always, but must hold themselves content with such as God suffereth to fall in their way. And though they be not aware of it, yet of God they ask it and of him they have it. And this may be comfort to all good men in their night's fear, that though they fall in their dark tribulation into the claws of the devil or the teeth of those lions' whelps, yet all that they can do shall not pass beyond the body, which is but as the garment of the soul. For the soul itself, which is the substance of the man, is so surely fenced in round about with the shield of God, that as long as he will abide faithfully in the hope of God's help the lions' whelp shall not be able to hurt it. For the great Lion himself could never be suffered to go further in the tribulation of Job than God from time to time gave him leave.
And therefore the deep darkness of the midnight maketh men who stand out of faith and out of good hope in God to be in far the greater fear in their tribulation, for lack of the light of faith, by which they might perceive that the uttermost of their peril is a far less thing than they take it for. But we are so wont to set so much by our body, which we see and feel, and in the feeding and fostering of which we set out delight and our wealth; and so little (alas) and so seldom we think upon our soul, because we cannot see that but by spiritual understanding, and most especially by the eye of our faith (in the meditation of which we bestow, God knows, little time), that the loss of our body we take for a sorer thing and for a great deal greater tribulation than we do the loss of our soul. Our Saviour biddeth us not fear those lions' whelps that can but kill our bodies and when that is done have no further thing in their power with which they can do us harm, but he biddeth us stand in dread of him who when he hath slain the body is able then beside to cast the soul into everlasting fire. Yet are we so blind in the dark night of tribulation, for lack of full and fast belief of God's word, that, whereas in the day of prosperity we very little fear God for our soul, our night's fear of adversity maketh us very sore to fear the lion and his whelps for dread of loss of our bodies. And whereas St. Paul in sundry places telleth us that our body is but the garment of the soul, yet the faintness of our faith in the scripture of God maketh us, with the night's fear of tribulation, not only to dread the loss of our body more than that of our soul—that is, of the clothing more than of the substance that is clothed therewith—but also of the very outward goods that serve for the clothing of the body. And much more foolish are we in that dark night's fear than would be a man who would forget the saving of his body for fear of losing his old rain-beaten cloak, that is but the covering of his gown or his coat. Now, consider further yet, that the prophet in the afore-remembered verses saith that in the night there walk not only the lions' whelps but also "all the beasts of the wood." Now, you know that if a man walk through the wood in the night, many things can make him afraid of which in the day he would not be afraid a whit. For in the night every bush, to him that waxeth once afraid, seemeth a thief.
I remember that when I was a young man, I was once in the war with the king then my master (God absolve his soul) and we were camped within the Turk's ground many a mile beyond Belgrade—would God it were ours now as it was then! But so happed it that in our camp about midnight there suddenly rose a rumour and a cry that the Turk's whole army was secretly stealing upon us. Therewith our whole host was warned to arm them in haste and set themselves in array to fight. And then were runners of ours, who had brought those sudden tidings, examined more leisurely by the council, as to what surety or what likelihood they had perceived. And one of them said that by the glimmering of the moon he had espied and perceived and seen them himself, coming on softly and soberly in a long range, all in good order, not one farther forth than the other in the forefront, but as even as a third, and in breadth farther than he could see the length. His fellows, being examined, said that he had somewhat pricked forth before them, and came back so fast to tell it to them that they thought it rather time to make haste and giving warning to the camp than to go nearer unto them. For they were not so far off but what they had yet themselves somewhat an imperfect sight of them, too. Thus stood we on watch all the rest of the night, evermore hearkening when we should hear them come, but "Hush, stand still! Methink I hear a trampling," so that at last many of us thought we heard them ourselves too. But when the day was sprung, and we saw no one, out was our runner sent again, and some of our captains with him, to show whereabout was the place in which he had perceived them. And when they came thither, they found that the great fearful army of the Turks, so soberly coming on, turned (God be thanked) into a fair long hedge standing even stone-still.
And thus fareth it in the night's fear of tribulation, in which the devil, to bear down and overwhelm with dread the faithful hope that we should have in God, casteth in our imagination much more fear than cause. For since there walk in that night not only the lion's whelps but all the beasts of the wood beside, the beast that we hear roar in the dark night of tribulation, and fear for a lion, we sometimes find well afterward in the way that it was no lion at all, but a silly rude roaring ass. And sometimes the thing that on the sea seemeth a rock is indeed nothing else but a mist. Howbeit, as the prophet saith, he that faithfully dwelleth in the hope of God's help, the shield of his truth shall so fence him round about that, be it an ass or a colt or a lion's whelp, or a rock of stone or a mist, the night's fear thereof shall be nothing to dread.
Therefore find I that in the night's fear one great part is the fault of pusillanimity; that is, of faint and feeble stomach, by which a man for faint heart is afraid where he needeth not. By reason of this, he flieth oftentime for fear of something of which, if he fled not, he should take no harm. And a man doth sometimes by his fleeing make an enemy bold on him, who would, if he fled not but dared abide, give over and fly from him.
This fault of pusillanimity maketh a man in his tribulation first, for feeble heart, impatient. And afterward oftentimes it driveth him by impatience into a contrary affection, making him frowardly stubborn and angry against God, and thereby to fall into blasphemy, as do the damned souls in hell. This fault of pusillanimity and timorous mind hindereth a man also many times from doing many good things which, if he took a good stomach to him in the trust of God's help, he would be well able to do. But the devil casteth him in a cowardice and maketh him take it for humility to think himself unfit and unable to do them. And therefore he leaveth undone the good thing of which God offereth him occasion and to which he had made him fit.
But such folk have need to lift up their hearts and call upon God, and by the counsel of other good spiritual folk to cast away the cowardice of their own conceiving which the night's fear by the devil hath framed in their fancy. And they have need to look in the gospel upon him who laid up his talent and left it unoccupied and therefore utterly lost it, with a great reproach of his pusillanimity, but which he had thought to have excused himself, in that he was afraid to put it forth into use and occupy it.
And all this fear cometh by the devil's drift, wherein he taketh occasion of the faintness of our good and sure trust in God. And therefore let us faithfully dwell in the good hope of his help, and then shall the shield of his truth so compass us about that of this night's fear we shall have no fear at all.
This pusillanimity bringeth forth, by the night's fear, a very timorous daughter, a silly wretched girl and ever whining, who is called Scrupulosity, or a scrupulous conscience.
This girl is a good enough maidservant in a house, never idle but ever occupied and busy. But albeit she hath a very gentle mistress who loveth her well and is well content with what she doth—or, if all be not well (as all cannot always be well), is content to pardon her as she doth others of her fellows, and letteth her know that she will do so—yet can this peevish girl never cease whining and puling for fear lest her mistress be always angry with her and she shall severely be chidden. Would her mistress, think you, be likely to be content with this condition? Nay, surely not.
I knew such a one myself, whose mistress was a very wise woman and (a thing which is in women very rare) very mild also and meek, and liked very well such service as she did her in the house. But she so much misliked this continual discomfortable fashion of hers that she would sometimes say, "Eh, what aileth this girl? The elvish urchin thinketh I were a devil, I do believe. Surely if she did me ten times better service than she doth, yet with this fantastical fear of hers I would be loth to have her in mine house."
Thus fareth, lo, the scrupulous person, who frameth himself many times double the fear that he hath cause, and many times a great fear where there is no cause at all. And of that which is indeed no sin, he maketh a venial one. And that which is venial, he imagineth to be deadly—and yet, for all that, he falleth into them, since they are of their nature such as no man long liveth without. And then he feareth that he is never fully confessed nor fully contrite, and then that his sins be never fully forgiven him. And then he confesseth and confesseth again, and cumbereth himself and his confessor both. And then every prayer that he saith, though he say it as well as the frail infirmity of the man will suffer, yet he is not satisfied unless he say it again, and yet after that again. And when he hath said the same thing thrice, as little is he satisfied with the last time as the first. And then is his heart evermore in heaviness, unquiet, and fear, full of doubt and dullness, without comfort or spiritual consolation.
With this night's fear the devil sore troubleth the mind of many a right good man, and that doth he to bring him to some great evil. For he will, if he can, drive him so much to the fearful minding of God's rigorous justice, that he will keep him from the comfortable remembrance of God's great mighty mercy, and so make him do all his good works wearily and without consolation or quickness.
Moreover, he maketh him take for a sin something that is not one, and for a deadly sin one that is but venial, to the intent that when he shall fall into them he shall, by reason of his scruple, sin where otherwise he would not, or sin mortally (because his conscience, in doing the deed, so told him) where otherwise indeed he would have offended only venially.
Yes, and further, the devil longeth to make all his good works and spiritual exercises so painful and so tedious to him, that, with some other subtle suggestion or false wily doctrine of a false spiritual liberty, he should be easily conveyed from that evil fault into one much worse, for the false ease and pleasure that he should suddenly find therein. And then should he have his conscience as wide and large afterward as ever it was narrow and straight before. For better is yet, of truth, a conscience a little too narrow than a little too large.
My mother had, when I was a little boy, a good old woman who took care of her children. They called her Mother Maud—I daresay you have heard of her?
VINCENT: Yea, yea, very much.
ANTHONY: She was wont, when she sat by the fire with us, to tell us who were children many childish tales. But as Pliny saith that there is no book lightly so bad but that a man may pick some good thing out of it, so think I that there is almost no tale so foolish but that yet in one matter or another, it may hap to serve to some purpose.
For I remember me that among others of her foolish tales, she told us once that the ass and the wolf came upon a time to confession to the fox. The poor ass came to shrift in Shrovetide, a day or two before Ash Wednesday. But the wolf would not come to confession till he saw first Palm Sunday past, and then he put it off yet further until Good Friday.
The fox asked the ass, before he began "Benedicite," wherefore he came to confession so soon, before Lent began. The poor beast answered him that it was for fear of deadly sin, if he should lose his part of any of those prayers that the priests in the cleansing days pray for them who are then confessed already. Then in his shrift he had a marvellous grudge in his inward conscience, that he had one day given his master a cause of anger in that, with his rude roaring before his master arose, he had wakened him out of his sleep and bereaved him of his rest. The fox, for that fault, like a good discreet confessor, charged him to do so no more, but to lie still and sleep like a good son himself until his master were up and ready to go to work, and so should he be sure that he should wake him no more.
To tell you all the poor ass's confession, it would be a long work. For everything that he did was deadly sin with him, the poor soul was so scrupulous. But his wise wily confessor accounted them for trifles (as they were) and swore afterward to the badger that he was so weary to sit so long and hear him that, saving for the sake of manners, he had rather have sat all that time at breakfast with a good fat goose. But when it came to the giving of the penance, the fox found that the most weighty sin in all his shrift was gluttony. And therefore he discreetly gave him in penance that he should never for greediness of his food do any other beast any harm or hindrance. And then he should eat his food and worry no more.
Now, as good Mother Maud told us, when the wolf came to Father Reynard (that was, she said, the fox's name) to confession upon Good Friday, his confessor shook his great pair of beads at him, almost as big as bowling balls, and asked him wherefore he came so late. "Forsooth, Father Reynard," quoth he, "I must needs tell you the truth—I come, you know, for that. I dared not come sooner for fear lest you would, for my gluttony, have given me in penance to fast some part of this Lent." "Nay, nay," quoth Father Fox, "I am not so unreasonable, for I fast none of it myself. For I may say to thee, son, between us twain here in confession, it is no commandment of God, this fasting, but an invention of man. The priests make folk fast, and then put them to trouble about the moonshine in the water, and do but make folk fools. But they shall make me no such fool, I warrant thee, son, for I ate flesh all this Lent, myself. Howbeit indeed, because I will not be occasion of slander, I ate it secretly in my chamber, out of sight of all such foolish brethren as for their weak scrupulous conscience would wax offended by it. And so would I counsel you to do." "Forsooth, Father Fox," quoth the wolf, "and so, thank God, I do, as near as I can. For when I go to my meal, I take no other company with me but such sure brethren as are of mine own nature, whose consciences are not weak, I warrant you, but their stomachs are as strong as mine." "Well, then, no matter," quoth Father Fox. But when he heard afterward, by his confession, that he was so great a ravener that he devoured and spent sometimes so much victuals at a meal that the price of them would well keep some poor man with his wife and children almost all the week, then he prudently reproved that point in him, and preached him a sermon of his own temperance. For he never used, he said, to pass the value of sixpence at a meal—no, nor even that much, "For when I bring home a goose," quoth he, "it is not out of the poulterer's shop, where folk find them with their feathers ready plucked and see which is the fattest, and yet for sixpence buy and choose the best; but out of the housewife's house, at first hand, which can supply them somewhat cheaper, you know, than the poulterer can. Nor yet can I be suffered to see them plucked, and stand and choose them by day, but am fain by night to take one at adventure. And when I come home, I am fain to do the labour to pluck it myself too. Yet, for all this, though it be but lean and, I know, not well worth a groat, it serveth me sometimes both for dinner and for supper too. As for the fact that you live of ravine, I can find no fault in that. You have used it so long that I think you can do no otherwise, and therefore it would be folly to forbid it to you—and, to say the truth, against good conscience too. For live you must, I know, and other craft know you none, and therefore, as reason is, must you live by that. But yet, you know, too much is too much, and measure is a merry mean, which I perceive by your shrift you have never used to keep. And therefore surely this shall be your penance, that you shall all this year never pass the price of sixpence at a meal, as near as your conscience can guess the price."
Their shrift have I told you, as Mother Maud told it to us. But now serveth for our matter the conscience of them both in the true performing of their penance. The poor ass after his shrift, when he waxed an-hungered, saw a sow lie with her pigs, well lapped in new straw. And he drew near and thought to have eaten of the straw, but anon his scrupulous conscience began therein to grudge him. For since his penance was that, for greediness of his good, he should do nobody else any harm, he thought he might not eat one straw there lest, for lack of that straw, some of those pigs might hap to die for cold. So he held still his hunger until someone brought him food. But when he was about to fall to it, then fell he yet into a far further scruple. For then it came in his mind that he should yet break his penance if he should eat any of that either, since he was commanded by his ghostly father that he should not, for his own food, hinder any other beast. For he thought that if he ate not that food, some other beast might hap to have it. And so should he, by the eating of it, peradventure hinder another. And thus stayed he still fasting till, when he told the cause, his ghostly father came and informed him better, and then he cast off that scruple and fell mannerly to his meal, and was a right honest ass many a fair day after.
The wolf now, coming from shrift clean absolved from his sins, went about to do as a certain shrewish wife once told her husband that she would do, when she came from shrift. "Be merry, man," quoth she now, "for this day, I thank God, I was well shriven. And I purpose now therefore to leave off all mine old shrewishness and begin even afresh!"
VINCENT: Ah, well, uncle, can you report her so? That word I heard her speak, but she said it in sport to make her goodman laugh.
ANTHONY: Indeed, it seemed she spoke it half in sport. For in that she said she would cast away all her old shrewishness, therein I daresay she sported. But in that she said she would begin it all afresh, her husband found that in good earnest!
VINCENT: Well, I shall tell her what you say, I warrant you.
ANTHONY: Then will you make me make my word good!
But whatsoever she did, at least so fared now this wolf, who had cast out in confession all his old ravine. For then hunger pricked him forward so that, as the shrewish wife said, he should begin all afresh. But yet the prick of conscience withdrew him and held him back, because he would not, for breaking of his penance, take any prey for his mealtide that should pass the price of sixpence.
It happed him then, as he walked prowling for his gear about, that he came where a man had, a few days before, cast off two old lean and lame horses, so sick that no flesh was there left upon them. And the one, when the wolf came by, could scant stand on his legs, and the other was already dead and his skin ripped off and carried away. And as he looked upon them suddenly, he was first about to feed upon them and whet his teeth upon their bones. But as he looked aside, he spied a fair cow in an enclosure, walking with her young calf by her side. And as soon as he saw them, his conscience began to grudge him against both those two horses. And then he sighed and said to himself, "Alas, wicked wretch that I am, I had almost broken my penance ere I was aware! For yonder dead horse, because I never sad a dead horse sold in the market, even if I should die for it, I cannot guess, to save my sinful soul, what price I should set on him. But in my conscience I set him far above sixpence, and therefore I dare not meddle with him. Now, then, yonder live horse is in all likelihood worth a great deal of money. For horses are dear in this country—especially such soft amblers, for I see by his pace he trotteth not, nor can scant shift a foot. And therefore I may not meddle with him, for he very far passeth my sixpence. But cows this country hath enough, while money have they very little. And therefore, considering the plenty of the cows and the scarcity of the money, yonder foolish cow seemeth unto me, in my conscience, worth not past a groat, if she be worth so much. Now then, her calf is not so much as she, by half. And therefore, since the cow is in my conscience worth but fourpence, my conscience cannot serve me, for sin of my soul, to appraise her calf above twopence. And so pass they not sixpence between them both. And therefore may I well eat them twain at this one meal and break not my penance at all." And so thereupon he did, without any scruple of conscience.
If such beasts could speak now, as Mother Maud said they could then, some of them would, I daresay, tell a tale almost as wise as this! Save for the diminishing of old Mother Maud's tale, a shorter sermon would have served. But yet, as childish as the parable is, in this it serveth for our purpose: that the night's fear of a somewhat scrupulous conscience, though it be painful and troublous to him who hath it, as this poor ass had here, is yet less harm than a conscience that is over-large. And less harm is it than a conscience such as a man pleases to frame himself for his own fancy—now drawing it narrow, now stretching it in breadth, after the manner of a leather thong—to serve on every side for his own commodity, as did here the wily wolf.
But such folk are out of tribulation, and comfort need they none, and therefore are they out of our matter. But he who is in the night's fear of his own scrupulous conscience, let him well beware, as I said, that the devil draw him not, for weariness of the one, into the other, and while he would fly from Scilla draw him into Charibdis. He must do as doth a ship coming into a haven in the mouth of which lie secret rocks under the water on both sides. If by mishap he be entered in among them that are on the one side, and cannot tell how to get out, he must get a substantial clever pilot who can so conduct him from the rocks on that side that yet he bring him not into those that are on the other side, but can guide him in the mid way. Let them, I say therefore, who are in the troublous fear of heir own scrupulous conscience, submit the rule of their conscience to the counsel of some other good man, who after the variety and the nature of the scruples may temper his advice.
Yea, although a man be very well learned himself, yet if he be in this state let him learn the custom used among physicians. For if one of them be never so learned, yet in his own disease and sickness he never useth to trust all to himself, but sendeth for such of his fellows as he knoweth to be able, and putteth himself in their hands. This he doth for many considerations, and one of the causes is fear. For upon some tokens in his own sickness he may conceive a great deal more fear than needeth, and then it would be good for his health if for the time he knew no such thing at all.
I knew once in this town one of the most learned men in that profession and the most expert, and the most famous too, and him who did the greatest cures upon other men. And yet when he was himself once very sore sick, I heard his fellows who then took care of him—every one of whom would, in his own disease, have used his help before that of any other man—wish that yet, while his own sickness was so sore, he had known no physic at all. He took so great heed unto every suspicious token, and feared so far the worst, that his fear did him sometimes much more harm than the sickness gave him cause.
And therefore, as I say, whosoever hath such a trouble of his scrupulous conscience, let him for a while forbear the judgment of himself, and follow the counsel of some other man whom he knoweth for well learned and virtuous. And especially in the place of confession, for these is God specially present with his grace assisting the sacrament. And let him not doubt to quiet his mind and follow what he is there bidden, and think for a while less of the fear of God's justice, and be more merry in remembrance of his mercy, and persevere in prayer for grace, and abide and dwell faithfully in the sure hope of his help. And then shall he find, without any doubt, that the shield of God's truth shall, as the prophet saith, so compass him about, that he shall not dread this night's fear of scrupulosity, but shall have afterward his conscience established in good quiet and rest.
VINCENT: Verily, good uncle, you have in my mind well declared these kinds of the night's fear.
ANTHONY: Surely, cousin, but yet are there many more than I can either remember or find. Howbeit, one yet cometh now to my mind, of which I thought not before, and which is yet in mine opinion. That is, cousin, where the devil tempteth a man to kill and destroy himself.
VINCENT: Undoubtedly this kind of tribulation is marvellous and strange. And the temptation is of such a sort that some men have the opinion that those who once fall into that fantasy can never fully cast it off.
ANTHONY: Yes, yes, cousin, many a hundred, and else God forbid. But the thing that maketh men so to say is that, of those who finally do destroy themselves, there is much speech and much wondering, as it is well worthy. But many a good man and woman hath sometime—yea, for some years, once after another—continually been tempted to do it, and yet hath, by grace and good counsel, well and virtuously withstood that temptation, and been in conclusion clearly delivered of it. And their tribulation is not known abroad and therefore not talked of.
But surely, cousin, a horrible sore trouble it is to any man or woman whom the devil tempteth with that temptation. Many have I heard of, and with some have I talked myself, who have been sore cumbered with it, and I have marked not a little the manner of them.
VINCENT: I pray you, good uncle, show me somewhat of such things as you perceive therein. For first, whereas you call the kind of temptation the daughter of pusillanimity and thereby so near of kin to the night's fear, methinketh on the other hand that it is rather a thing that cometh of a great courage and boldness. For they dare with their own hands to put themselves to death, from which we see almost every man shrink and flee, and many of them we know by good proof and plain experience for men of great heart and excellent bold courage.
ANTHONY: I said, Cousin Vincent, that of pusillanimity cometh this temptation, and very truth it is that indeed so it doth. But yet I meant not that only of faint heart and fear it cometh and growth always. For the devil tempteth sundry folk by sundry ways.
But I spoke of no other kind of that temptation save only that one which is the daughter that the devil begetteth upon pusillanimity, because those other kinds of temptation fall not under the nature of tribulation and fear, and therefore fall they far out of our matter here. They are such temptations as need only counsel, and not comfort or consolation, because the persons tempted with them are not troubled in their mind with that kind of temptation. but are very well content both in the tempting and in the following. For some have there been, cousin, such that they have been tempted to do it by means of a foolish pride, and some by means of anger, without any fear at all—and very glad to go thereto, I deny not. But if you think that none fall into it by fear, but that they have all a mighty strong stomach, that shall you well see to be the contrary. And that peradventure in those of whom you would think the stomach more strong and their heart and courage most bold.
VINCENT: Yet is it marvel to me, uncle, that it should be as you say it is—that this temptation is unto them that do it for pride or anger no tribulation, or that they should not need, in so great a distress and peril, both of body and soul to be lost, no manner of good ghostly comfort.
ANTHONY: Let us therefore, cousin, consider an example or two, for thereby shall we better perceive it.
There was here in Buda in King Ladilaus' days, a good poor honest man's wife. This woman was so fiendish that the devil, perceiving her nature, put her in the mind that she should anger her husband so sore that she might give him occasion to kill her, and then should he be hanged because of her.
VINCENT: This was a strange temptation indeed! What the devil should she be the better then?
ANTHONY: Nothing, but that it eased her shrewish stomach beforehand, to think that her husband should be hanged afterward. And peradventure, if you look about the world and consider it well, you shall find more such stomachs than a few. Have you never heard a furious body plainly say that, to see such-and-such man have a mischief, he would with good will be content to lie as long in hell as God liveth in heaven?
VINCENT: Forsooth, and some such have I heard.
ANTHONY: This mind of his was not much less mad than hers, but rather perhaps the more mad of the twain. For the woman peradventure did not cast so far peril therein.
But to tell you now to what good pass her charitable purpose came: As her husband (the man was a carpenter) stood hewing with his chip axe upon a piece of timber, she began after her old guise to revile him so that he waxed wroth at last, and bade her get herself in or he would lay the helm of his axe about her back. And he said also that it would be little sin even with that axe head to chop off the unhappy head of hers that carried such an ungracious tongue in it. At that word the devil took his time and whetted her tongue against her teeth. And when it was well sharpened she swore to him in very fierce anger, "By the mass, whoreson husband, I wish thou wouldst! Here lieth my head, lo," and with that down she laid her head upon the same timber log. "If thou smite it not off, I beshrew thine whoreson's heart!" With that, likewise as the devil stood at her elbow, so stood (as I heard say) his good angel at his, and gave him ghostly courage and bade him be bold and do it. And so the good man up with his chip axe and at a chop he chopped off her head indeed.
There were other folk standing by, who had a good sport to hear her chide, but little they looked for this chance, till it was done ere they could stop it. They said they heard her tongue babble in her head, and call, "Whoreson, whoreson!" twice after the head was off the body. At least, thus they all reported afterward unto the king, except only one, and that was a woman, and she said that she heard it not.
VINCENT: Forsooth, this was a wonderful work! What became, uncle, of the man?
ANTHONY: The king gave him his pardon.
VINCENT: Verily, he might in conscience do no less.
ANTHONY: But then was there almost made a statute that in such a case there should never after be granted a pardon, but (if the truth were able to be proved) no husband should need any pardon, but should have leave by the law to follow the example of that carpenter, and do the same.
VINCENT: How happed it, uncle, that that good law was left unmade?
ANTHONY: How happed it? As it happeth, cousin, that many more be left unmade as well as that one, and almost as good as it too, both here and in other countries—and sometimes some that are worse be made in their stead. But they say that the hindrance of that law was the queen's grace, God forgive her soul! It was the greatest thing, I daresay, that she had to answer for, good lady, when she died. For surely, save for that one thing, she was a full blessed woman.
But letting now that law pass, this temptation in procuring her own death was unto this carpenter's wife no tribulation at all, as far as men could ever perceive. For she liked well to think upon it, and she even longed for it. And therefore if she had before told you or me her intent, and that she would so fain bring it so to pass, we could have had no occasion to comfort her, as one that were in tribulation. But marry, counsel her we might, as I told you before, to refrain and amend that malicious devilish intent.
VINCENT: Verily, that is truth. But such as are well willing to do any purpose that is so shameful, they will never tell their intent to nobody, for very shame.
ANTHONY: Some will not, indeed. And yet are there some again who, be their intent never so shameful, find some yet whom their heart serveth them to make of their counsel therein.
Some of my folk here can tell you that no longer ago than even yesterday, someone who came out of Vienna told us, among other talking, that a rich widow (but I forgot to ask him where it happened), having all her life a high proud mind and a malicious one—as those two virtues are wont always to keep company together—was at dispute with another neighbour of hers in the town. And on a time she made of her counsel a poor neighbour of hers, whom she thought she might induce, for money, to follow her intent. With him she secretly spoke, and offered him ten ducats for his labour, to do so much for her as in a morning early to come to her house and with an axe unknown privily strike off her head. And when he had done so, he was to convey the bloody axe into the house of him with whom she was at dispute, in such manner as it might be thought that he had murdered her for malice. And then she thought she should be taken for a martyr. And yet had she farther devised that another sum of money should afterward be sent to Rome, and there should be measures made to the Pope that she might in all haste be canonized!
This poor man promised, but intended not to perform it. Howbeit, when he deferred it, she provided the axe herself. And he appointed with her the morning when he should come and do it, and thereupon into her house he came. But then set he such other folk as he wished should know of her mad fancy, in such place appointed as they might well hear her and him talk together. And after he had talked with her so much as he thought was enough, he made her lie down, and took up the axe in his own hand. And with the other hand he felt the edge, and found a fault that it was not sharp, and that therefore he would in no wise do it, till he had ground it sharp. He could not otherwise, he said, for pity, it would put her to so much pain. And so, full sore against her will, for that time she kept her head still. But because she would no more suffer any more to deceive her and put her off with delays, ere it was very long thereafter, she hung herself with her own hands.
VINCENT: Forsooth, here was a tragical story, whereof I never heard the like.
ANTHONY: Forsooth, the party who told it to me swore that he knew it for a truth. And he is, I promise you, such as I reckon for right honest and of substantial truth.
Now, here she forbore not, as shameful an intent as she had, to make someone of her counsel—and yet, I remember, another too, whom she trusted with the money that should procure her canonization. And here I believe that her temptation came not of fear but of high malice and pride. And then was she so glad in that pleasant device that, as I told you, she took it for no tribulation. And therefore comforting of her could have no place. But if men should give her anything toward her help, it must have been, as I told you, good counsel.
And therefore, as I said, this kind of temptation to a man's own destruction, which requireth counsel, and is outside tribulation, was outside of our matter, which is to treat of comfort in tribulation.
But lest you might reject both these examples, thinking they were but feigned tales, I shall put you in remembrance of one which I reckon you yourself have read in the Conferences of Cassian. And if you have not, there you may soon find it. For I myself have half forgotten the thing, it is so long since I read it.
But thus much I remember: He telleth there of one who was many days a very special holy man in his living, and, among the other virtuous monks and anchorites that lived there in the wilderness, was marvellously much esteemed. Yet some were not all out of fear lest his revelations (of which he told many himself) would prove illusions of the devil. And so it proved afterwards indeed, for the man was by the devil's subtle suggestions brought into such a high spiritual pride that in conclusion the devil brought him to that horrible point that he made him go kill himself.
And, as far as my mind giveth me now, without new sight of the book, he brought him to it by this persuasion: He made him believe that it was God's will that he should do so, and that thereby he should go straight to heaven. And if it were by that persuasion, with which he took very great comfort in his own mind himself, then was it, as I said, out of our case, and he needed not comfort but counsel against giving credence to the devil's persuasion. But marry, if he made him first perceive how he had been deluded and then tempted him to his own death by shame and despair, then it was within our matter. For then was his temptation fallen down from pride to pusillanimity, and was waxed that kind of the night's fear that I spoke of. And in such fear a good part of the counsel to be given him should have need to stand in good comforting, for then was he brought into right sore tribulation.
But, as I was about to tell you, strength of heart and courage are there none in that deed, not only because true strength (as it hath the name of virtue in a reasonable creature) can never be without prudence, but also because, as I said, even in them that seem men of most courage, it shall well appear to them that well weigh the matter that the mind whereby they be led to destroy themselves groweth of pusillanimity and very foolish fear.
Take for example Cato of Utica, who in Africa killed himself after the great victory that Julius Caesar had. St. Austine well declareth in his work De civitate Dei that there was no strength nor magnanimity in his destruction of himself, but plain pusillanimity and impotency of stomach. For he was forced to do it because his heart was too feeble to bear the beholding of another man's glory or the suffering of other worldly calamities that he feared should fall on himself. So that, as St. Austine well proveth, that horrible deed is no act of strength, but an act of a mind either drawn from the consideration of itself with some fiendish fancy, in which the man hath need to be called home with good counsel; or else oppressed by faint heart and fear, in which a good part of the counsel must stand in lifting up his courage with good consolation and comfort.
And therefore if we found any such religious person as was that father whom Cassian writeth of, who were of such austerity and apparent ghostly living as he was, and reputed by those who well knew him for a man of singular virtue; and if it were perceived that he had many strange visions appearing unto him; and if after that it should now be perceived that the man went about secretly to destroy himself—whosoever should hap to come to the knowledge of it and intended to do his best to hinder it, he must first find the means to search and find out the manner and countenance of the man. He must see whether he be lightsome, glad, and joyful or dumpish, heavy, and sad, and whether he go about it as one that were full of the glad hope of heaven, or as one who had his breast stuffed full of tediousness and weariness of the world. If he were found to be of the first fashion, it would be a token that the devil had, by his fantastical apparitions, puffed him up in such a childish pride that he hath finally persuaded him, by some illusion showed him for the proof, that God's pleasure is that he shall for his sake with his own hands kill himself.
VINCENT: Now, if a man so found it, uncle, what counsel should he give him then?
ANTHONY: That would be somewhat out of our purpose, cousin, since (as I told you before) the man would not be in sorrow and tribulation, of which our matter speaketh, but in a perilous merry mortal temptation. So that if we should, beside our matter that we have in hand, enter into that too, we might make a longer work between both than we could well finish this day. Howbeit, to be short, it is soon seen that in such a case the sum and effect of the counsel must (in a manner) rest in giving him warning of the devil's sleights. And that must be done under such a sweet pleasant manner that the man should not abhor to hear it. For while it could not lightly be otherwise that the man were rocked and sung asleep by the devil's craft, and his mind occupied as it were in a delectable dream, he should never have good audience of him who would rudely and boisterously shog him and wake him, and so shake him out of it. Therefore must you fair and easily touch him, and with some pleasant speech awake him, so that he wax not wayward, as children do who are waked ere they wish to rise.
But when a man hath first begun with his praise (for if he be proud you shall much better please him with a commendation than with a dirge) then, after favour won therewith, a man may little by little insinuate the doubt of such revelations—not at first as though it were for any doubt of his, but of some other man's, that men in some other places talk of. And peradventure it shall not miscontent him to say that great perils may fall therein, in another man's case than his own, and he shall begin to preach upon it. Or, if you were a man that had not so very great scrupulous conscience of a harmless lie devised to do good with (the kind which St. Austine, though he take it always for sin, yet he taketh but for venial; and St. Jerome, as by divers places in his books appeareth, taketh not fully for that much), then may you feign some secret friend of yours to be in such a state. And you may say that you yourself somewhat fear his peril, and have made of charity this voyage for his sake, to ask this good father's counsel.
And in the communication, upon these words of St. John, "Give not credence to every spirit, but prove the spirits whether they be of God," and these words of St. Paul, "The angel of Satan transfigureth himself into the angel of light," you shall take occasion (the better if they hap to come in on his side), but yet not lack occasion neither if those texts, for lack of his offer, come in upon your own—occasion, I say, you shall not lack to enquire by what sure and undeceivable tokens a man may discern the true revelations from the false illusions. A man shall find many such tokens both here and there in divers other authors and all together in divers goodly treatises of that good godly doctor, Master John Gerson, entitled De probatione spirituum. As, whether the party be natural in manner or seem anything fantastical. Or, whether the party be poor-spirited or proud. The pride will somewhat appear by his delight in his own praise; or if, of wiliness, or of another pride for to be praised of humility, he refused to hear of that, yet any little fault found in himself, or diffidence declared and mistrust of his own revelations and doubtful tokens told, wherefore he himself should fear lest they be the devil's illusion—such things, as Master Gerson saith, will make him spit out somewhat of his spirit, if the devil lie in his breast. Or if the devil be yet so subtle that he keep himself close in his warm den and blow out never a hot word, yet it is to be considered what end his revelations tend to—whether to any spiritual profit to himself or other folk, or only to vain marvels and wonders. Also, whether they withdraw him from such other good virtuous business as, by the common rule of Christendom or any of the rules of his profession, he was wont to use or bound to be occupied in. Or whether he fall into any singularity of opinions against the scripture of God, or against the common faith of Christ's Catholic Church. Many other tokens are spoken of in the work of Master Gerson, by which to consider whether the person, neither having revelations of God nor illusions from the devil, do feign his revelations himself, either for winning of money or worldly favour, and delude the people withal.
But now for our purpose: If, among any of the marks by which the true revelations may be known from false illusions, that man himself bring forth, for one mark, the doing or teaching of anything against the scripture of God or the common faith of the church, you may enter into the special matter, in which he can never well flee from you. Or else may you yet, if you wish, feign that your secret friend, for whose sake you come to him for counsel, is brought to that mind by a certain apparition showed unto him, as he himself saith, by an angel—as you fear, by the devil. And that he cannot as yet be otherwise persuaded by you but that the pleasure of God is that he shall go kill himself. And that he believeth if he do so he shall then be thereby so specially participant of Christ's passion that he shall forthwith be carried up with angels into heaven. And that he is so joyful for this that he firmly purposeth upon it, no less glad to do it than another man would be glad to avoid it. And therefore may you desire his good counsel to instruct you with some substantial good advice, with which you may turn him from this error, that he be not, under hope of God's true revelation, destroyed in body and soul by the devil's false illusion.
If he will in this thing study and labour to instruct you, the things that he himself shall find, of his own invention, though they be less effectual, shall peradventure more work with him toward his own amendment (since he shall, of likelihood, better like them) than shall things double so substantial that were told him by another man. If he be loth to think upon that side, and therefore shrink from the matter, then is there no other way but to venture to fall into the matter after the plain fashion, and tell what you hear, and give him counsel and exhortation to the contrary. Unless you wish to say that thus and thus hath the matter been reasoned already between your friend and you. And therein may you rehearse such things as should prove that the vision which moveth him is no true revelation, but a very false illusion.
VINCENT: Verily, uncle, I well allow that a man should, in this thing as well as in every other in which he longeth to do another man good, seek such a pleasant way that the party should be likely to like his communication, or at least to take it well in worth. And he should not enter in unto it in such a way that he whom he would help should abhor him and be loth to hear him, and therefore take no profit by him.
But now, uncle, if it come, by the one way or the other, to the point where he will or shall hear me; what be the effectual means with which I should by my counsel convert him?
ANTHONY: All those by which you may make him perceive that he is deceived, and that his visions are no godly revelations but very devilish illusion. And those reasons must you gather of the man, of the matter, and of the law of God, or of some one of these.
Of the man may you gather them, if you can peradventure show him that in such-and-such a point he is waxed worse since such revelations have haunted him than he was before—as, in those who are deluded, whosoever be well acquainted with them shall well mark and perceive. For they wax more proud, more wayward, more envious, suspicious, misjudging and depraving other men, with the delight of their own praise, and such other spiritual vices of the soul.
Of the matter may you gather, if it has happened that his revelations before have proved false, or if they be strange things rather than profitable ones. For that is a good mark between God's miracles and the devil's wonders. For Christ and his saints have their miracles always tending to fruit and profit. The devil and his witches and necromancers, all their wonderful works tend to no fruitful end, but to a fruitless ostentation and show, as it were a juggler who would for a show before the people play feats of skill at a feast.
Of the law of God you must draw your reasons in showing by the scripture that the thing which he thinketh God biddeth by his angel, God hath by his own mouth forbidden. And that is, you know well, in the case that we speak of, so easy to find that I need not to rehearse it to you. For among the Ten Commandments there is plainly forbidden the unlawful killing of any man, and therefore of himself, as (St. Austine saith) all the church teacheth, unless he himself be no man.
VINCENT: This is very true, good uncle, nor will I dispute upon any glossing of that prohibition. But since we find not the contrary but that God may dispense with that commandment himself, and both license and command also, if he himself wish, any man to go kill either another man or himself, this man who is now by such a marvellous vision induced to believe that God so biddeth him, and therefore thinketh himself in that case discharged of that prohibition and charged with the contrary commandment—with what reason can we make him perceive that his vision is but an illusion and not a true revelation?
ANTHONY: Nay, Cousin Vincent, you shall in this case not need to ask those reasons of me. But taking the scripture of God for a ground for this matter, you know very well yourself that you shall go somewhat a shorter way to work if you ask this question of him: Since God hath forbidden once the thing himself, though he may dispense with it if he will, yet since the devil may feign himself God and with a marvellous vision delude one, and make as though God did it; and since the devil is also more likely to speak against God's commandment than God against his own; you shall have good cause, I say, to demand of the man himself whereby he knoweth that his vision is God's true revelation and not the devil's false delusion.
VINCENT: Indeed, uncle, I think that would be a hard question to him. Can a man, uncle, have in such a thing even a very sure knowledge of his own mind?
ANTHONY: Yea, cousin, God may cast into the mind of a man, I suppose, such an inward light of understanding that he cannot fail but be sure thereof. And yet he who is deluded by the devil may think himself as sure and yet be deceived indeed. And such a difference is there in a manner between them, as between the sight of a thing while we are awake and look thereon, and the sight with which we see a thing in our sleep while we dream thereof.
VINCENT: This is a pretty similitude, uncle, in this thing! And then is it easy for the monk that we speak of to declare that he knoweth his vision for a true revelation and not a false delusion, if there be so great a difference between them.
ANTHONY: Not so easy yet, cousin, as you think it would be. For how can you prove to me that you are awake?
VINCENT: Marry, lo, do I not now wag my hand, shake my head, and stamp with my foot here on the floor?
ANTHONY: Have you never dreamed ere this that you have done the same?
VINCENT: Yes, that have I, and more too than that. For I have ere this in my sleep dreamed that I doubted whether I were asleep or awake, and have in good faith thought that I did thereupon even the same things that I do now indeed, and thereby determined that I was not asleep. And yet have I dreamed in good faith further, that I have been afterward at dinner and there, making merry with good company, have told the same dream at the table and laughed well at it, to think that while I was asleep I had by such means of moving the parts of my body and considering thereof, so verily thought myself awake!
ANTHONY: And will you not now soon, think you, when you wake and rise, laugh as well at yourself when you see that you lie now in your warm bed asleep again, and dream all this time, while you believe so verily that you are awake and talking of these matters with me?
VINCENT: God's Lord, uncle, you go now merrily to work with me indeed, when you look and speak so seriously and would make me think I were asleep!
ANTHONY: It may be that you are, for anything that you can say or do whereby you can, with any reason that you make, drive me to confess that you yourself be sure of the contrary. For you cannot do or say anything now whereby you are sure to be awake but what you have ere this, or hereafter may, think yourself as surely to do the selfsame thing indeed while you be all the while asleep and do nothing but lie dreaming.
VINCENT: Well, well, uncle, though I have ere this thought myself awake while I was indeed asleep, yet for all this I know well enough that I am awake now. And so do you too, though I cannot find the words by which I may with reason force you to confess it, without your always driving me off by the example of my dream.
ANTHONY: Meseemeth, cousin, this is very true. And likewise meseemeth the manner and difference between some kind of true revelations and some kind of false illusions is like that which standeth between the things that are done awake and the things that in our dreams seem to be done when we are sleeping. That is, he who hath that kind of revelation from God is as sure of the truth as we are of our own deeds while we are awake. And he who is deluded by the devil is in such wise deceived as they are by their dream, and worse, too. And yet he reckoneth himself for the time as sure as the other, saving that one believeth falsely, the other truly knoweth. But I say not, cousin, that this kind of sure knowledge cometh in every kind of revelation. For there are many kinds, of which it would be too long to talk now. But I say that God doth certainly send some such to a man in some thing, or may.
VINCENT: Yet then this religious man of whom we speak, when I show him the scripture against his revelation and therefore call it an illusion, may bid me with reason go mind my own affairs. For he knoweth well and surely himself that his revelation is very good and true and not any false illusion, since for all the general commandment of God in the scripture, God may dispense where he will and when he will, and may command him to do the contrary. For he commanded Abraham to kill his own son, and Sampson had, by inspiration of God, commandment to kill himself by pulling down the house upon his own head at the feast of the Philistines.
Now, if I would then do as you bade me right now, tell him that such apparitions may be illusions, and since God's word is in the scripture against him plain for the prohibition, he must perceive the truth of his revelation whereby I may know it is not a false illusion; then shall he in turn bid me tell him whereby I can prove myself to be awake and talk with him and not be asleep and dream so, since in my dream I may as surely think so as I know that I do so. And thus shall he drive me to the same bay to which I would bring him.
ANTHONY: This is well said, cousin, but yet could he not escape you so. For the dispensation of God's common precept, which dispensation he must say that he hath by his private revelation, is a thing of such sort as showeth itself naught and false. For it never hath any example like, since the world began until now, that ever man hath read or heard of, among faithful people commended.
First, as for Abraham, concerning the death of his son: God intended it not, but only tempted the towardness of the father's obedience. As for Sampson, all men make not the matter very sure whether he be saved or not, but yet therein some matter and cause appeareth. For the Philistines being enemies of God and using Sampson for their mocking-stock in scorn of God, it is well likely that God gave him the mind to bestow his own life upon the revenging of the displeasure that those blasphemous Philistines did unto God. And that appeareth clear enough by this: that though his strength failed him when he lacked his hair, yet had he not, it seemeth, that strength evermore at hand while he had his hair, but only at such times as it pleased God to give it to him. This thing appeareth by these words, that the scripture in some place of that matter saith, "The power or might of God rushed into Sampson." And so therefore, since this thing that he did in the pulling down of the house was done by the special gift of strength then at that point given him by God, it well declareth that the strength of God, and with it the spirit of God, entered into him for it.
St. Austine also rehearseth that certain holy virtuous virgins, in time of persecution, being pursued by God's enemies the infidels to be deflowered by force, ran into a water and drowned themselves rather than be bereaved of their virginity. And, albeit that he thinketh it is not lawful for any other maid to follow their example, but that she should suffer another to do her any manner of violence by force and commit sin of his own upon her against her will, rather than willingly and thereby sinfully herself to become a homicide of herself; yet he thinketh that in them it happened by the special instinct of the spirit of God, who, for causes seen to himself, would rather that they should avoid it with their own temporal death than abide the defiling and violation of their chastity.
But now this good man neither hath any of God's enemies to be revenged on by his own death, nor any woman who violently pursues him to bereave him by force of his virginity! And we never find that God proved any man's obedient mind by the commandment of his own slaughter of himself. Therefore is both his case plainly against God's open precept, and the dispensation strange and without example, no cause appearing nor well imaginable. Unless he would think that God could neither any longer live without him, nor could take him to him in such wise as he doth other men, but must command him to come by a forbidden way, by which, without other cause, we never heard that ever he bade any man else before.
Now, you think that, if you should after this bid him tell you by what way he knoweth that his intent riseth upon a true revelation and not upon a false illusion, he in turn would bid you tell him by what means you know that you are talking with him well awake and not dreaming it asleep. You may answer him that for men thus to talk together as you do and to prove and perceive that they do so, by the moving of themselves, with putting the question unto themselves for their pleasure, and marking and considering it, is in waking a daily common thing that every man doth or can do when he will, and when they do it, they do it but for pleasure. But in sleep it happeneth very seldom that men dream that they do so, and in the dream they never put the question except for doubt. And you may tell him that, since this revelation is such also as happeneth so seldom and oftener happeneth that men dream of such than have such indeed, therefore it is more reasonable that he show you how he knoweth, in such a rare thing and a thing more like a dream, that he himself is not asleep, than that you, in such a common thing among folk that are awake and so seldom happening in a dream, should need to show him whereby you know that you be not asleep.
Besides this, he to whom you should show it seeth himself and perceiveth the thing that he would bid you prove. But the thing that he would make you believe—the truth of his revelation which you bid him prove—you see not that he knoweth it well himself. And therefore, ere you believe it against the scripture, it would be well consonant unto reason that he should show you how he knoweth it for a true waking revelation and not a false dreaming delusion.
VINCENT: Then shall he peradventure answer me that whether I believe him or not maketh to him no matter; the thing toucheth himself and not me, and he himself is in himself as sure that it is a true revelation as that he can tell that he dreameth not but talketh with me awake.
ANTHONY: Without doubt, cousin, if he abide at that point and can by no reason be brought to do so much as doubt, nor can by no means be shogged out of his dead sleep, but will needs take his dream for a very truth, and—as some men rise by night and walk about their chamber in their sleep—will so rise and hang himself; I can then see no other way but either bind him fast in his bed, or else essay whether that might hap to help him with which, the common tale goeth, a carver's wife helped her husband in such a frantic fancy. When, upon a Good Friday, he would needs have killed himself for Christ as Christ did for him, she said to him that it would then be fitting for him to die even after the same fashion. And that might not be by his own hands, but by the hand of another; for Christ, perdy, killed not himself. And because her husband would take no counsel (for that would he not, in no wise), she offered him that for God's sake she would secretly crucify him herself upon a great cross that he had made to nail a new-carved crucifix upon. And he was very glad thereof. Yet then she bethought her that Christ was bound to a pillar and beaten first, and afterward crowned with thorns. Thereupon, when she had by his own assent bound him fast to a post, she left not off beating, with holy exhortation to suffer, so much and so long that ere ever she left work and unbound him (praying nevertheless, that she might put on his head, and drive well down, a crown of thorns that she had wrought for him and brought him), he said he thought this was enough for that year. He would pray God to forbear him of the rest till Good Friday came again! But when it came again the next years, then was his desire past; he longed to follow Christ no further.
VINCENT: Indeed, uncle, if this help him not, then will nothing help him, I suppose.
ANTHONY: And yet, cousin, the devil may peradventure make him, toward such a purpose, first gladly suffer other pain; yea, and diminish his feeling in it, too, that he may thereby the less fear his death. And yet are peradventure sometimes such things and many more to be essayed. For as the devil may hap to make him suffer, so may he hap to miss, namely if his friends fall to prayer for him against his temptation. For that can he himself never do, while he taketh it for none.
But, for conclusion: If the man be surely proved so inflexibly set upon the purpose to destroy himself, as being commanded by God to do so, that no good counsel that men can give him nor any other thing that men may do to him can refrain him, but that he would surely shortly kill himself; then except only good prayer made by his friends for him, I can find no further shift but either to have him ever in sight or to bind him fast in his bed.
And so must he needs of reason be content to be ordered. For though he himself may take his fancy for a true revelation, yet since he cannot make us perceive it for such, likewise as he thinketh himself by his secret commandment bound to follow it, so must he needs agree that, since it is against the plain open prohibition of God, we are bound by the plain open precept to keep him from it.
VINCENT: In this point, uncle, I can go no further. But now, if he were, on the other hand, perceived to intend his destruction and go about it with heaviness of heart and thought and dullness—what way would there be to be used to him then?
ANTHONY: Then would his temptation, as I told you before, be properly pertaining to our matter, for then would he be in a sore tribulation and a very perilous. For then would it be a token that the devil had either, by bringing him into some great sin, brought him into despair, or peradventure, by his revelations being found false and reproved or by some secret sin of his being deprehended and divulged, had cast him both into despair of heaven through fear and into a weariness of this life for shame. For then he seeth his estimation lost among other folk of whose praise he was wont to be proud.
And therefore, cousin, in such a case as this, the man is to be fairly handled and sweetly, and with tender loving words to be put in good courage, and comforted in all that men goodly can. Here must they put him in mind that, if he despair not, but pull up his courage and trust in God's great mercy, he shall have in conclusion great cause to be glad of this fall. For before he stood in greater peril than he was aware of, while he took himself for better than he was. And God, for favour that he beareth him, hath suffered him to fall deep into the devil's danger, to make him thereby know what he was while he took himself for so sure. And therefore, as he suffered him then to fall for a remedy against over-bold pride, so will God now—if the man meek himself, not with fruitless despair but with fruitful penance—so set him up again upon his feet and so strengthen him with his grace, that for this one fall that the devil hath given him he shall give the devil a hundred.
And here must he be put in remembrance of Mary Magdalene, of the prophet David, and especially of St. Peter, whose high bold courage took a foul fall. And yet because he despaired not of God's mercy, but wept and called upon it, how highly God took him into his favour again is well testified in his holy scripture and well known through Christendom.
And now shall it be charitably done if some good virtuous folk, such as he himself somewhat esteemeth and hath afore longed to stand in estimation with, do resort sometimes to him, not only to give him counsel but also to ask advice and counsel of him in some cases of their own conscience. For so may they let him perceive that they esteem him now no less, but rather more than they did before, since they think him now by this fall better expert of the devil's craft and so not only better instructed himself but also better able to give good advice and counsel to others. This thing will, to my mind, well amend and lift up his courage from the peril of that desperate shame.
VINCENT: Methinketh, uncle, that this would be a perilous thing. For it may peradventure make him set the less by his fall, and thereby it may cast him into his first pride or into his other sin again, the falling in to which drove him into this despair.
ANTHONY: I do not mean, cousin, that every fool should at adventure fall in hand with him, for so might it happen to do harm indeed.
But, cousin, if a learned physician have a man in hand, he can well discern when and how long some certain medicine is necessary which, if administered at another time or at that time over-long continued, might put the patient in peril. If he have his patient in an ague, for the cure of which he needeth his medicines in their working cold, yet he may hap, ere that fever be full cured, to fall into some other disease such that, unless it were helped with hot medicine, would be likely to kill the body before the fever could be cured. The physician then would for the while have his most care to the cure of that thing in which would be the most present peril. And when that were once out of jeopardy, he would do then the more exact diligence afterward about the further cure of the fever.
And likewise, if a ship be in peril to fall into Scilla, the fear of falling into Charibdis on the other side shall never hinder any wise master thereof from drawing himself from Scilla toward Charibdis first, in all that ever he can. But when he hath himself once so far away from Scilla that he seeth himself safe out of that danger, then will he begin to take good heed to keep himself well from the other.
And likewise, while this man is falling down to despair and to the final destruction of himself, a good wise spiritual leech will first look unto that, and by good comfort lift up his courage. And when he seeth that peril well past, he will care for the cure of his other faults afterward. Howbeit, even in the giving of his comfort, he may find ways enough in such wise to temper his words that the men may take occasion of good courage and yet far from occasion of new relapse into his former sin. For the great part of his counsel shall be to encourage him to amendment, and that is, perdy, far from falling into sin again.
VINCENT: I think, uncle, that folk fall into this ungracious mind, through the devil's temptation, by many more means than one.
ANTHONY: That is, cousin, very true. For the devil taketh his occasions as he seeth them fall convenient for him. Some he stirreth to it for weariness of themselves after some great loss, some for fear of horrible bodily harm, and some (as I said) for fear of worldly shame.
One I knew myself who had been long reputed for a right honest man, who was fallen into such a fancy that he was well near worn away with it. But what he was tempted to do, that would he tell no man. But he told me that he was sore cumbered and that it always ran in his mind that folk's fancies were fallen from him, and that they esteemed not his wit as they were wont to do, but ever his mind gave him that the people began to take him for a fool. And folk of truth did not so at all, but reputed him both for wise and honest.
Two others I knew who were marvellous afraid that they would kill themselves, and could tell me no cause wherefore they so feared it except that their own mind so gave them. Neither had they any loss nor no such thing toward them, nor none occasion of any worldly shame (the one was in body very well liking and lusty), but wondrous weary were they both twain of that mind. And always they thought that they would not do it for anything, and nevertheless they feared they would. And wherefore they so feared neither of them both could tell. And the one, lest he should do it, desired his friends to bind him.
VINCENT: This is, uncle, a marvellous strange manner.
ANTHONY: Forsooth, cousin, I suppose many of them are in this case.
The devil, as I said before, seeketh his occasions. For as St. Peter saith, "Your adversary the devil as a roaring lion goeth about seeking whom he may devour." He marketh well, therefore, the state and condition that every man standeth in, not only concerning these outward things (lands, possessions, goods, authority, fame, favour, or hatred of the world), but also men's complexions within them—health or sickness, good humours or bad, by which they be light-hearted or lumpish, strong-hearted or faint and feeble of spirit, bold and hardy or timorous and fearful of courage. And according as these things minister him matter of temptation, so useth he himself in the manner of his temptation.
Now likewise as in such folk as are full of young warm lusty blood and other humours exciting the flesh to filthy voluptuous living, the devil useth to make those things his instruments in tempting them and provoking them to it; and as, where he findeth some folk full of hot blood and choler, he maketh those humours his instruments to set their hearts on fire in wrath and fierce furious anger; so where he findeth some folk who, through some dull melancholy humours, are naturally disposed to fear, he casteth sometimes such a fearful imagination into their mind that without help of God they can never cast it out of their heart.
Some, at the sudden falling of some horrible thought into their mind, have not only had a great abomination at it (which abomination they well and virtuously had), but the devil, using their melancholy humour and thereby their natural inclination to fear for his instruments, hath caused them to conceive therewith such a deep dread besides that they think themselves with that abominable thought to be fallen into such an outrageous sin that they are ready to fall into despair of grace, believing that God hath given them over for ever. Whereas that thought, were it never so horrible and never so abominable, is yet unto those who never like it, but ever still abhor it and strive still against it, matter of conflict and merit and not any sin at all.
Some have, with holding a knife in their hand, suddenly thought upon the killing of themselves, and forthwith, in devising what a horrible thing it would be if they should mishap to do so, have fallen into a fear that they would do so indeed. And they have, with long and often thinking thereon, imprinted that fear so sore in their imagination, that some of them have not afterwards cast it off without great difficulty. And some could never in their life be rid of it, but have afterward in conclusion miserably done it indeed. But like as, where the devil useth the blood of a man's own body toward his purpose in provoking him to lechery, the man must and doth with grace and wisdom resist it; so must the man do whose melancholy humours and devil abuseth, toward the casting of such a desperate dread into his heart.
VINCENT: I pray you, uncle, what advice would be to be given him in such a case?
ANTHONY: Surely, methinketh his help standeth in two things: counsel and prayer.
First, as concerning counsel: Like as it may be that he hath two things that hold him in his temptation; that is, some evil humours of his own body, and the cursed devil that abuseth them to his pernicious purpose, so must he needs against them twain the counsel of two manner of folk; that is, physicians for the body and physicians for the soul. The bodily physician shall consider what abundance of these evil humours the man hath, that the devil maketh his instruments, in moving the man toward that fearful affection. And he shall proceed by fitting diet and suitable medicines to resist them, as well as by purgations to disburden the body of them.
Let no man think it strange that I would advise a man to take counsel for the body, in such spiritual suffering. For since the body and the soul are so knit and joined together that they both make between them one person, the distemperance of either one engendereth sometimes the distemperance of both twain. And therefore I would advise every man in every sickness of the body to be shriven and to seek of a good spiritual physician the sure health of his soul. For this shall not only serve against peril that may peradventure grow further by that sickness than in the beginning men think were likely, but the comfort of it (and God's favour increasing with it) shall also do the body good. For this cause the blessed apostle St. James exhorteth men in their bodily sickness to call in the priests, and saith that it shall do them good both in body and soul. So likewise would I sometimes advise some men, in some sickness of the soul, besides their spiritual leech, to take also some counsel of the physician for the body. Some who are wretchedly disposed, and yet long to be more vicious than they are, go to physicians and apothecaries and enquire what things may serve them to make them more lusty to their foul fleshly delight. And would it then be any folly, on the other hand, if he who feeleth himself against his will much moved unto such uncleanness, should enquire of the physician what things, without diminishing his health, would be suitable for the diminishing of such foul fleshly motion?
Of spiritual counsel, the first is to be shriven, that the devil have not the more power upon him by reason of his other sins.
VINCENT: I have heard some say, uncle, that when such folk have been at shrift, their temptation hath been the more hot upon them than it was before.
ANTHONY: That think I very well, but that is a special token that shrift is wholesome for them, since the devil is most wroth with it. You find, in some places in the gospel, that the devil did most trouble the person whom he possessed when he saw that Christ would cast him out. Otherwise, we must let the devil do what he will, if we fear his anger, for with every good deed will he wax angry.
Then is it in his shrift to be told him that he not only feareth more than he needeth, but also feareth where he needeth not. And besides that, he is sorry for a thing for which, unless he will willingly turn his good into his harm, he hath more cause to be glad.
First, if he have cause to fear, yet feareth he more than he needeth. For there is no devil so diligent to destroy him as God is to preserve him; nor no devil so near him to do him harm as God is to do him good. Nor are all the devils in hell so strong to invade and assault him as God is to defend him if he distrust him not but faithfully put his trust in him.
He feareth also where he needeth not. For he dreadeth that he were out of God's favour, because such horrible thoughts fall into his mind, but he must understand that while they fall into his mind against his will they are not imputed unto him.
He is, finally, sad of that of which he may be glad. For since he taketh such thoughts displeasantly, and striveth and fighteth against them, he hath thereby a good token that he is in God's favour, and that God assisteth him and helpeth him. And he may make himself sure that so will God never cease to do, unless he himself fail and fall from him first. And beside that, this conflict that he hath against the temptation shall, if he will not fall where he need not, be an occasion of his merit and of a right great reward in heaven. And the pain that he taketh therein shall for so much, as Master Gerson well showeth, stand him in stead of his purgatory.
The manner of the fight against temptation must stand in three things: that is, in resisting, and in contemning, and in the invocation of help.
Resist must a man for his own part with reason, considering what a folly it would be to fall where he need not, since he is not driven to it in avoiding of any other pain or in hope of winning any manner of pleasure, but contrariwise he would by that fall lose everlasting bliss and fall into everlasting pain. And if it were in avoiding of other great pain, yet could he avoid none so great thereby as the one he should thereby fall into.
He must also consider that a great part of this temptation is in effect but the fear of his own fancy, the dread that he hath lest he shall once be driven to it. For he may be sure that (unless he himself will, of his own folly) all the devils in hell can never drive him to it, but his own foolish imagination may. For it fareth in his temptation like a man going over a high bridge who waxeth so afraid, through his own fancy, that he falleth down indeed, when he would otherwise be able enough to pass over without any danger. For a man upon such a bridge, if folk call upon him, "You fall, you fall!" may fall with the fancy that he taketh thereof; although, if folk looked merrily upon him and said, "There is no danger therein," he would pass over the bridge well enough—and he would not hesitate to run upon it, if it were but a foot from the ground. So, in this temptation, the devil findeth the man of his own foolish fancy afraid and then crieth in the ear of his heart, "Thou fallest, thou fallest!" and maketh the foolish man afraid that he should, at every foot, fall indeed. And the devil so wearieth him with that continual fear, if he give the ear of his heart to him, that at last he withdraweth his mind from due remembrance of God, and then driveth him to that deadly mischief indeed. Therefore, like as, against the vice of the flesh, the victory standeth not all in the fight, but sometimes also in the flight (saving that it is indeed a part of a wise warrior's fight to flee from his enemies' traps), so must a man in this temptation too, not only resist it always with reasoning against it, but sometimes set it clear at right naught and cast it off when it cometh and not once regard it so much as to vouchsafe to think thereon.
Some folk have been clearly rid of such pestilent fancies with very full contempt of them, making a cross upon their hearts and bidding the devil avaunt. And sometimes they laugh him to scorn too, and then turn their mind unto some other matter. And when the devil hath seen that they have set so little by him, after certain essays, made in such times as he thought most fitting, he hath given that temptation quite over. And this he doth not only because the proud spirit cannot endure to be mocked, but also lest, with much tempting the man to the sin to which he could not in conclusion bring him, he should much increase his merit.
The final fight is by invocation of help unto God, both praying for himself and desiring others also to pray for him—both poor folk for his alms and other good folk of their charity, especially good priests in that holy sacred service of the Mass. And not only them but also his own good angel and other holy saints such as his devotion specially doth stand unto. Or, if he be learned, let him use then the litany, with the holy suffrages that follow, which is a prayer in the church of marvellous old antiquity. For it was not made first, as some believe, by that holy man St. Gregory (which opinion arose from the fact that, in the time of a great pestilence in Rome, he caused the whole city to go in solemn procession with it), but it was in use in the church many years before St. Gregory's days, as well appeareth by the books of other holy doctors and saints, who were dead hundreds of years before St. Gregory was born.