For, uncle, if a great prince were taken prisoner upon the field, and in the hand of a Christian king, such as are accustomed, in such cases, for the consideration of their former estate and mutable chance of war, to show much humanity to them, and treat them in very favourable wise—for these infidel emperors handle oftentimes the princes that they take more villainously than they do the poorest men, as the great Tamberlane kept the great Turk, when he had taken him, to tread on his back always when he leapt on horseback. But, as I began to say, by the example of a prince taken prisoner, were the imprisonment never so favourable, yet it would be, to my mind, no little grief in itself for a man to be penned up, though not in a narrow chamber. But although his walk were right large and right fair gardens in it too, it could not but grieve his heart to be restrained by another man within certain limits and bounds, and lose the liberty to be where he please.
ANTHONY: This is, cousin, well considered of you. For in this you perceive well that imprisonment is, of itself and of its own very nature alone, nothing else but the retaining of a man's person within the circuit of a certain space, narrower or larger as shall be limited to him, restraining his liberty from going further into any other place.
VINCENT: Very well said, methinketh.
ANTHONY: Yet I forgot, cousin, to ask you one question.
VINCENT: What is that, uncle?
ANTHONY: This, lo: If there be two men kept in two several chambers of one great castle, of which two chambers the one is much larger than the other, are they prisoners both, or only the one who has the less room to walk in?
VINCENT: What question is it, uncle, but that they are both prisoners, as I said myself before, although the one lay fast locked in the stocks and the other had all the whole castle to walk in?
ANTHONY: Methinketh verily, cousin, that you say the truth. And then, if imprisonment be such a thing as you yourself here agree it is—that is, but a lack of liberty to go whither we please—now would I fain know of you what one man you know who is at this day out of prison?
VINCENT: What one man, uncle? Marry, I know almost none other! For surely I am acquainted with no prisoner, that I remember.
ANTHONY: Then I see well that you visit poor prisoners seldom.
VINCENT: No, by my troth, uncle, I cry God mercy. I send them sometimes mine alms, but by my troth I love not to come myself where I should see such misery.
ANTHONY: In good faith, Cousin Vincent (though I say it before you) you have many good qualities, but surely (though I say that before you, too) that is not one of them. If you would amend it, then should you have yet the more good qualities by one—and peradventure the more by three or four. For I assure you it is hard to tell how much good it doth to a man's soul, the personal visiting of poor prisoners.
But now, since you can name me none of them that are in prison, I pray you name me some one of all those whom you are, you say, better acquainted with—men, I mean, who are out of prison. For I know, methinketh, as few of them as you know of the others.
VINCENT: That would, uncle, be a strange case. For every man is out of prison who may go where he will, though he be the poorest beggar in the town. And, in good faith, uncle (because you reckon imprisonment so small a matter of itself) meseemeth the poor beggar who is at his liberty and may walk where he will is in better case than is a king kept in prison, who cannot go but where men give him leave.
ANTHONY: Well, cousin, whether every way-walking beggar be, by this reason, out of prison or no, we shall consider further when you will. But in the meanwhile I can by this reason see no prince who seemeth to be out of prison. For if the lack of liberty to go where a man will, be imprisonment, as you yourself say it is, then is the great Turk, by whom we fear to be put in prison, in prison already himself, for he may not go where he will. For if he could he would go into Portugal, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and England, and as far in the other direction too—both into Prester John's land and into the Grand Cham's too.
Now, the beggar that you speak of, if he be (as you say he is) by reason of his liberty to go where he will, in much better case than a king kept in prison, because he cannot go but where men give him leave; then is that beggar in better case, not only than a prince in prison but also than many a prince out of prison too. For I am sure there is many a beggar who may without hindrance walk further upon other men's ground than many a prince at his best liberty may walk upon his own. And as for walking out abroad upon other men's, that prince might be withstood and held fast, where that beggar, with his bag and staff, might be suffered to go forth and keep on his way.
But forasmuch, cousin, as neither the beggar nor the prince is at free liberty to walk where they will, but neither of them would be suffered to walk in some places without men withstanding them and saying them nay; therefore if imprisonment be, as you grant it is, a lack of liberty to go where we please, I cannot see but the beggar and the prince, whom you reckon both at liberty, are by your own reason restrained in prison both.
VINCENT: Yea, but uncle, both the one and the other have way enough to walk—the one in his own ground and the other in other men's, or in the common highway, where they may both walk till they be weary of walking ere any man say them nay.
ANTHONY: So may, cousin, that king who had, as you yourself put the case, all the whole castle to walk in. And yet you deny not that he is prisoner for all that—though not so straitly kept, yet as verily prisoner as he that lieth in the stocks.
VINCENT: But they may go at least to every place that they need, or that is commodious for them, and therefore they do not wish to go anywhere but where they may. And therefore they are at liberty to go where they will.
ANTHONY: I need not, cousin, to spend the time about impugning every part of this answer. Let pass by that, though a prisoner were brought with his keeper into every place where need required, yet since he might not when he wished go where he wished for his pleasure alone, he would be, as you know well, a prisoner still. And let pass over also that it would be needful for this beggar, and commodious for this king, to go into divers places where neither of them may come. And let pass also that neither of them is lightly so temperately determined by what they both fain would so do indeed, if this reason of yours put them out of prison and set them at liberty and made them free, as I will well grant it doth if they so do indeed—that is, if they have no will to go anywhere but where they may go indeed.
Then let us look on our other prisoners enclosed within a castle, and we shall find that the straitest kept of them both, if he get the wisdom and grace to quiet his mind and hold himself content with that place, and not long (as a woman with child longeth for her desires) to be gadding out anywhere else, is by the same reason of yours, while his will is not longing to be anywhere else, he is, I say, at his free liberty to be where he will. And so he is out of prison too.
And, on the other hand, if, though his will be not longing to be anywhere else, yet because if his will so were he should not be so suffered, he is therefore not at his free liberty but a prisoner still, since your free beggar that you speak of and the prince that you call out of prison too, though they be (which I daresay few be) by some special wisdom so temperately disposed that they will have not the will to be anywhere but where they see that they may be suffered to be, yet, since if they did have that will they could not then be where they would, they lack the effect of free liberty and are both twain in prison too.
VINCENT: Well, uncle, if every man universally is by this reason in prison already, after the proper nature of imprisonment, yet to be imprisoned in this special manner which alone is commonly called imprisonment is a thing of great horror and fear, both for the straitness of the keeping and for the hard handling that many men have therein. Of all the griefs that you speak of, we feel nothing at all. And therefore every man abhorreth the one, and would be loth to come into it. And no man abhorreth the other, for they feel no harm and find no fault therein.
Therefore, uncle, in good faith, though I cannot find fitting answers with which to avoid your arguments, yet (to be plain with you and tell you the very truth) my mind findeth not itself satisfied on this point. But ever methinketh that these things, with which you rather convince and conclude me than induce a credence and persuade me that every man is in prison already, are but sophistical fancies, and that except those that are commonly called prisoners, other men are not in any prison at all.
ANTHONY: Well fare thine heart, good Cousin Vincent! There was, in good faith, no word that you spoke since we first talked of these matters that I liked half so well as these that you speak now. For if you had assented in words and your mind departed unpersuaded, then, if the thing be true that I say, yet had you lost the fruit. And if it be peradventure false, and I myself deceived therein, then, since I should have supposed that you liked it too, you would have confirmed me in my folly. For, in good faith, cousin, such an old fool am I that this thing (in the persuading of which unto you I had thought I had quit me well, and yet which, when I have all done, appeareth to your mind but a trifle and sophistical fancy) I myself have so many years taken it for so very substantial truth that as yet my mind cannot give me to think it any other. But I would not play the part of that French priest who had so long used to say Dominus with the second syllable long that at least he thought it must needs be so, and was ashamed to say it short. So to the intent that you may the better perceive me and I may the better perceive myself, we shall here between us a little more consider the thing. So spit well on your hands boldly, and take good hold, and give it not over against your own mind, for then we would be never the nearer.
VINCENT: Nay, by my troth, uncle, that intend I not to do. Nor have I done it yet since we began. And that may you well perceive by some things which, without any great cause, save for the further satisfaction of my own mind, I repeated and debated again.
ANTHONY: That guise, cousin, you must hold on boldly still. For I purpose to give up my part in this matter, unless I make you yourself perceive both that every man universally is a very prisoner in very prison—plainly, without any sophistry at all—and also that there is no prince living upon earth who is not in a worse case prisoner by this general imprisonment that I speak of, than is many a simple ignorant wretch by that special imprisonment that you speak of. And beside this, that in this general imprisonment that I speak of, men are for the time that they are in it, so sore handled and so hardly and in such painful wise, that men's hearts have with reason great cause to abhor this hard handling that is in this imprisonment as sorely as they do the other that is in that.
VINCENT: By my troth, uncle, these things would I fain see well proved.
ANTHONY: Tell me, then, cousin, first by your troth: If a man were attainted of treason or felony; and if, after judgment had been given of his death and it were determined that he should die, the time of his execution were only delayed till the king's further pleasure should be known; if he were thereupon delivered to certain keepers and put up in a sure place out of which he could not escape—would this man be a prisoner, or not?
VINCENT: This man, quoth he? Yea, marry, that would he be in very deed, if ever man were!
ANTHONY: But now what if, for the time that were between his attainder and his execution, he were so favourably handled that he were suffered to do what he would, as he did while he was free—to have the use of his lands and his goods, and his wife and his children to have license to be with him, and his friends leave at liberty to resort unto him, and his servants not forbidden to abide about him. And add yet thereunto that the place were a great castle royal with parks and other pleasures in it, a very great circuit about. Yes, and add yet, if you like, that he were suffered to go and ride also, both when he wished and whither he wished; only this one point always provided and foreseen, that he should ever be surely seen to, and safely kept from escaping. So though he had never so much of his own will in the meanwhile (in all matters save escaping), yet he should well know that escape he could not, and that when he were called for, to execution and to death he should go.
Now, Cousin Vincent, what would you call this man? A prisoner, because he is kept for execution? Or no prisoner, because he is in the meanwhile so favourably handled and suffered to do all that he would, save escape? And I bid you not here be hasty in your answer, but advise it well that you grant no such thing in haste as you would afterward at leisure mislike, and think yourself deceived.
VINCENT: Nay, by my troth, uncle, this thing needeth no study at all, to my mind. But, for all this favour showed him and all this liberty lent him, yet being condemned to death, and being kept for it, and kept with sure watch laid upon him that he cannot escape, he is all that while a very plain prisoner still.
ANTHONY: In good faith, cousin, methinketh you say very true. But then one thing must I yet desire you, cousin, to tell me a little further. If there were another laid in prison for a brawl, and through the jailors' displeasure were bolted and fettered and laid in a low dungeon in the stocks, where he might lie peradventure for a while and abide in the meantime some pain but no danger of death at all, but that out again he should come well enough—which of these two prisoners would stand in the worse case? He that hath all this favour, or he that is thus hardly handled?
VINCENT: By our Lady, uncle, I believe that most men, if they should needs choose, had liefer be such prisoners in every point as he who so sorely lieth in the stocks, than in every point such as he who walketh at such liberty about the park.
ANTHONY: Consider, then, cousin, whether this thing seem any sophistry to you that I shall show you now. For it shall be such as seemeth in good faith substantially true to me. And if it so happen that you think otherwise, I will be very glad to perceive which of us both is beguiled.
For it seemeth to me, cousin, first, that every man coming into this world here upon earth as he is created by God, so cometh he hither by the providence of God. Is this any sophistry first, or not?
VINCENT: Nay, verily, this is very substantial truth.
ANTHONY: Now take I this, also, for very truth in my mind: that there cometh no man nor woman hither into the earth but what, ere ever they come alive into the world out of the mother's womb, God condemneth them unto death by his own sentence and judgment, for the original sin that they bring with them, contracted in the corrupted stock of our forefather Adam. Is this, think you, cousin, verily thus or not?
VINCENT: This is, uncle, very true indeed.
ANTHONY: Then seemeth this true further unto me: that God hath put every man here upon the earth under so sure and so safe keeping that of all the whole people living in this wide world, there is neither man, woman, nor child—would they never so far wander about and seek it—who can possibly find any way by which they can escape from death. Is this, cousin, a fond imagined fancy, or is it very truth indeed?
VINCENT: Nay, this is no imagination, uncle, but a thing so clearly proved true that no man is so mad as to deny it.
ANTHONY: Then need I say no more, cousin. For then is all the matter plain and open evident truth, which I said I took for truth. And it is yet a little more now than I told you before, when you took my proof yet but for a sophistical fancy, and said that, for all my reasoning that every man is a prisoner, yet you thought that, except those whom the common people call prisoners, there is else no man a very prisoner indeed. And now you grant yourself again for very substantial truth, that every man, though he be the greatest king upon earth, is set here by the ordinance of God in a place, be it never so large, yet a place, I say (and you say the same) out of which no man can escape. And you grant that every man is there put under sure and safe keeping to be readily set forth when God calleth for him, and that then he shall surely die. And is not then, cousin, by your own granting before, every man a very prisoner, when he is put in a place to be kept to be brought forth when he would not, and himself knows not whither?
VINCENT: Yes, in good faith, uncle, I cannot but well perceive this to be so.
ANTHONY: This would be true, you know, even though a man were but taken by the arm and in a fair manner led out of this world unto his judgment. But now, we well know that there is no king so great but what, all the while he walketh here, walk he never so loose, ride he with never so strong an army for his defence, yet he himself is very sure—though he seek in the meantime some other pastime to put it out of his mind—yet is he very sure, I say, that escape he cannot. And very well he knoweth that he hath already sentence given upon him to die, and that verily die he shall. And though he hope for long respite of his execution, yet can he not tell how soon it will be. And therefore, unless he be a fool, he can never be without fear that, either on the morrow or on the selfsame day, the grisly cruel hangman Death, who from his first coming in hath ever hoved aloof and looked toward him, and ever lain in wait for him, shall amid all his royalty and all his main strength neither kneel before him nor make him any reverence, nor with any good manner desire him to come forth. But he shall rigorously and fiercely grip him by the very breast, and make all his bones rattle, and so by long and divers sore torments strike him stark dead in his prison. And then shall he cause his body to be cast into the ground in a foul pit in some corner of the same, there to rot and be eaten by the wretched worms of the earth, sending yet his soul out further into a more fearful judgment. Of that judgment at his temporal death his success is uncertain and therefore, though by God's grace not out of good hope, for all that in the meanwhile in very sore dread and fear and peradventure in peril inevitable of eternal fire, too.
Methinketh therefore, cousin, that, as I told you, this keeping of every man in this wretched world for execution of death is a very plain imprisonment indeed. And it is, as I say, such that the greatest king is in this prison in much worse case, for all his wealth, than is many a man who, in the other imprisonment, is sore and hardly handled. For while some of those lie not there attainted nor condemned to death, the greatest man of this world and the most wealthy in this universal prison is laid in to be kept undoubtedly for death.
VINCENT: But yet, uncle, in that case is the other prisoner too, for he is as sure that he shall die, perdy.
ANTHONY: This is very true, cousin, indeed, and well objected too. But then you must consider that he is not in danger of death by reason of the prison into which he is put peradventure but for a little brawl, but his danger of death is by the other imprisonment, by which he is prisoner in the great prison of this whole earth, in which prison all the princes of the world be prisoners as well as he.
If a man condemned to death were put up in a large prison, and while his execution were respited he were, for fighting with his fellows, put up in a strait place, part of that prison, then would he be in danger of death in that strait prison, but not by the being in that, for there is he but for the brawl. But his deadly imprisonment was the other—the larger, I say, into which he was put for death. So the prisoner that you speak of is, beside the narrow prison, a prisoner of the broad world, and all the princes of the world are prisoners there with him. And by that imprisonment both they and he are in like danger of death, not by that strait imprisonment that is commonly called imprisonment, but by that imprisonment which, because of the large walk, men call liberty—and which you therefore thought but a sophistical fancy to prove it a prison at all!
But now may you, methinketh, very plainly perceive that this whole earth is not only for all the whole of mankind a very plain prison indeed, but also that all men without exception (even those that are most at their liberty in it, and reckon themselves great lords and possessors of very great pieces of it, and thereby wax with wantonness so forgetful of their state that they think they stand in great wealth) do stand for all that indeed, by reason of their imprisonment in this large prison of the whole earth, in the selfsame condition that the others do stand who, in the narrow prisons which alone are called prisons, and which alone are reputed prisons in the opinion of the common people, stand in the most fearful and in the most odious case—that is, condemned already to death.
And now, cousin, if this thing that I tell you seem but a sophistical fancy of your mind, I would be glad to know what moveth you so to think. For, in good faith, as I have told you twice, I am no wiser but what I verily think that it is very plain truth indeed.
VINCENT: In good faith, uncle, thus far I not only cannot make resistance against it with any reason, but also I see very clearly proved that it cannot be otherwise. For every man must be in this world a very prisoner, since we are all put here into a sure hold to be kept till we be put unto execution, as folk all already condemned to death.
But yet, uncle, the strait-keeping, collaring, bolting, and stocking, with lying on straw or on the cold ground (which manner of hard handling is used in these special imprisonments that alone are commonly called by that name) must needs make that imprisonment much more odious and dreadful than the general imprisonment with which we are every man universally imprisoned at large, walking where we will round about the wide world. For in this broad prison, outside of those narrow prisons, there is no such hard handling used with the prisoners.
ANTHONY: I said, I think, cousin, that I purposed to prove to you further that in this general prison—the large prison, I mean, of this whole world—folk are, for the time that they are in it, as sore handled and as hardly, and wrenched and wrung and broken in such painful wise, that our hearts (save that we consider it not) have with reason good and great cause to grudge against the hard handling that there is in this prison—and, as far as pertaineth only to the respect of pain, as much horror to conceive against it—as against the other that there is in that one.
VINCENT: Indeed, uncle, it is true that you said you would prove this.
ANTHONY: Nay, so much said I not, cousin! But I said that I would if I could, and if I could not, then would I therein give over my part. But I trust, cousin, that I shall not need to do that—the thing seemeth to me so plain.
For, cousin, not only the prince and king but also the chief jailor over this whole broad prison the world (though he have both angels and devils who are jailors under him) is, I take it, God. And that I suppose you will grant me, too.
VINCENT: That will I not deny, uncle.
ANTHONY: If a man, cousin, be committed unto prison for no cause but to be kept, though there be never so great a charge against him, yet his keeper, if he be good and honest, is neither so cruel as to pain the man out of malice, nor so covetous as to put him to pain to make him seek his friends and pay for a pennyworth of ease. If the place be such that he is sure to keep him safe otherwise, or if he can get surety for the recompense of more harm than he seeth he should have if he escaped, he will never handle him in any such hard fashion as we most abhor imprisonment for. But marry, if the place be such that the keeper cannot otherwise be sure, then is he compelled to keep him to that extent the straiter. And also if the prisoner be unruly and fall to fighting with his fellows or do some other manner of ill turns, then useth the keeper to punish him in some such fashions as you yourself have spoken of.
Now, cousin, God—the chief jailor, as I say, of this broad prison the world—is neither cruel nor covetous. And this prison is also so sure and so subtly built that, albeit that it lieth open on every side without any wall in the world, yet, wander we never so far about in it, we shall never find the way to get out. So God neither needeth to collar us nor to stock us for any fear of our escaping away. And therefore, unless he see some other cause than only our keeping for death, he letteth us in the meanwhile, for as long as he pleases to respite us, walk about in the prison and do there what we will, using ourselves in such wise as he hath, by reason and revelation, from time to time told us his pleasure.
And hence it cometh, lo, that by reason of this favour for a time we wax, as I said, so wanton, that we forget where we are. And we think that we are lords at large, whereas we are indeed, if we would consider, even poor wretches in prison. For, of very truth, our very prison this earth is. And yet we apportion us out divers parts of it diversely to ourselves, part by covenants that we make among ourselves, and part by fraud and violence too. And we change its name from the odious name of prison, and call it our own land and our livelihood. Upon our prison we build; our prison we garnish with gold and make it glorious. In this prison they buy and sell; in this prison they brawl and chide. In this they run together and fight; in this they dice; in this they play at cards. In this they pipe and revel; in this they sing and dance. And in this prison many a man who is reputed right honest forbeareth not, for his pleasure in the dark, privily to play the knave.
And thus, while God our king and our chief jailor too, suffereth us and letteth us alone, we think ourselves at liberty. And we abhor the state of those whom we call prisoners, taking ourselves for no prisoners at all. In this false persuasion of wealth and forgetfulness of our own wretched state, which is but a wandering about for a while in this prison of this world, till we be brought unto the execution of death, we forget in our folly both ourselves and our jail, and our under-jailors the angels and devils both, and our chief jailor God too—God, who forgetteth not us, but seeth us all the while well enough. And being sore discontent to see so ill rule kept in the jail, he sendeth the hangman Death to put some to execution here and there, sometimes by the thousands at once. And he handleth many of the rest, whose execution he forbeareth yet unto a farther time, even as hardly and punisheth them as sorely, in this common prison of the world, as there are any handled in those special prisons which, for the hard handling used in them, you say your heart hath in such horror and so sore abhorreth.
VINCENT: The rest will I not gainsay, for methinketh I see it so indeed. But that God, our chief jailor in this world, useth any such prisonly fashion of punishment, that point must I needs deny. For I see him neither lay any man in the stocks, nor strike fetters on his legs, nor so much as shut him up in a chamber, neither.
ANTHONY: Is he no minstrel, cousin, who playeth not on a harp? Maketh no man melody but he who playeth on a lute? He may be a minstrel and make melody, you know, with some other instrument—a strange-fashioned one, peradventure, that never was seen before.
God, our chief jailor, as he himself is invisible, so useth he in his punishments invisible instruments. And therefore are they not of like fashion as those the other jailors use, but yet of like effect, and as painful in feeling as those. For he layeth one of his prisoners with a hot fever as ill at ease in a warm bed as the other jailor layeth his on the cold ground. He wringeth them by the brows with a migraine; he collareth them by the neck with a quinsy; he bolteth them by the arms with a palsy, so that they cannot lift their hands to their head; he manacleth their hands with the gout in their fingers; he wringeth them by the legs with the cramp in their shins; he bindeth them to the bed with the crick in the back; and he layeth one there at full length, as unable to rise as though he lay fast by the feet in the stocks.
A prisoner of another jail may sing and dance in his two fetters, and fear not his feet for stumbling at a stone, while God's prisoner, who hath his one foot fettered with the gout, lieth groaning on a couch, and quaketh and crieth out if he fear that there would fall on his foot no more than a cushion.
And therefore, cousin, as I said, if we consider it well, we shall find this general prison of this whole earth a place in which the prisoners are as sore handled as they are in the other. And even in the other some make as merry too as there do some in this one, who are very merry at large out of that. And surely as we think ourselves out of prison now, so if there were some folk born and brought up in a prison, who never came on the wall or looked out at the door or heard of another world outside, but saw some, for ill turns done among themselves, locked up in a straiter room; and if they heard them alone called prisoners who were so served and themselves ever called free folk at large; the like opinion would they have there of themselves then as we have here of ourselves now. And when we take ourselves for other than prisoners now, verily are we now as deceived as those prisoners would be then.
VINCENT: I cannot, uncle, in good faith deny that you have performed all that you promised. But yet, since, for all this, there appeareth no more but that as they are prisoners so are we too, and that as some of them are sore handled so are some of us too; we know well, for all this, that when we come to those prisons we shall not fail to be in a straiter prison than we are now, and to have a door shut upon us where we have none shut upon us now. This shall we be sure of at least if there come no worse—and then there may come worse, you know well, since it cometh there so commonly. And therefore is it yet little marvel that men's hearts grudge much against it.
ANTHONY: Surely, cousin, in this you say very well. Howbeit, your words would have touched me somewhat the nearer if I had said that imprisonment were no displeasure at all. But the thing that I say, cousin, for our comfort in the matter, is that our fancy frameth us a false opinion by which we deceive ourselves and take it for sorer than it is. And that we do because we take ourselves for more free before than we were, and imprisonment for a stranger thing to us than it is indeed. And thus far, as I say, I have proved truth in very deed.
But now the incommodities that you repeat again—those, I say, that are proper to the imprisonment of its own nature; that is, to have less room to walk and to have the door shut upon us—these are, methinketh, so very slender and slight that in so great a cause as to suffer for God's sake we might be sore ashamed so much as once to think upon them.
Many a good man there is, you know, who, without any force at all, or any necessity wherefor he should do so, suffereth these two things willingly of his own choice, with much other hardness more. Holy monks, I mean, of the Charterhouse order, such as never pass their cells save only to the church, which is set fast by their cells, and thence to their cells again. And St. Brigit's order, and St. Clare's much alike, and in a manner all enclosed religious houses. And yet anchorites and anchoresses most especially, all whose whole room is less than a good large chamber. And yet are they there as well content many long years together as are other men—and better, too—who walk about the world. And therefore you may see that the lothness of less room and the door shut upon us, since so many folk are so well content with them and will for God's love choose to live so, is but a horror enhanced of our own fancy.
And indeed I knew a woman once who came into a prison, to visit of her charity a poor prisoner there. She found him in a chamber that was fair enough, to say the truth—at least, it was strong enough! But with mats of straw the prisoner had made it so warm, both under foot and round about the walls, that in these things, for the keeping of his health, she was on his behalf very glad and very well comforted. But among many other displeasures that for his sake she was sorry for, one she lamented much in her mind. And that was that he should have the chamber door made fast upon him by night, by the jailor who was to shut him in. "For, by my troth," quoth she, "if the door should be shut upon me, I think it would stop up my breath!" At that word of hers the prisoner laughed in his mind—but he dared not laugh aloud or say anything to her, for indeed he stood somewhat in awe of her, and he had his food there in great part of her charity for alms. But he could not but laugh inwardly, for he knew well enough that she used to shut her own chamber door full surely on the inside every night, both door and windows too, and used not to open them all the long night. And what difference, then, as to the stopping of the breath, whether they were shut up within or without?
And so surely, cousin, these two things that you speak of are neither one of so great weight that in Christ's cause they ought to move a Christian man. And one of the twain is so very childish a fancy, that in a matter almost of three chips (unless it were a chance of fire) it should never move any man.
As for those other accidents of hard handling, I am not so mad as to say that they are no grief, but I say that our fear may imagine them much greater grief than they are. And I say that such as they be, many a man endureth them—yea, and many a woman too—who afterward fareth full well.
And then would I know what determination we take—whether for our Saviour's sake to suffer some pain in our bodies, since he suffered in his blessed body so great pain for us, or else to give him warning and be at a point utterly to forsake him rather than to suffer any pain at all? He who cometh in his mind unto this latter point—from which kind of unkindness God keep every man!—he needeth no comfort, for he will flee the need. And counsel, I fear, availeth him little, if grace be so far gone from him. But, on the other hand, if, rather than to forsake our Saviour, we determine ourselves to suffer any pain at all, I cannot then see that the fear of hard handling should anything stick with us and make us to shrink so that we would rather forsake his faith than suffer for his sake so much as imprisonment. For the handling is neither such in prison but what many men, and many women too, live with it many years and sustain it, and afterward yet fare full well. And yet it may well fortune that, beside the bare imprisonment, there shall happen to us no hard handling at all. Or else it may happen to us for only a short while—and yet, beside all this, peradventure not at all. And which of all these ways shall be taken with us, lieth all in his will for whom we are content to take it, and who for that intent of ours favoureth us and will suffer no man to put more pain to us than he well knoweth we shall be able to bear. For he himself will give us the strength for it, as you have heard his promise already by the mouth of St. Paul: "God is faithful, who suffereth you not to be tempted above what you may bear, but giveth also with the temptation a way out."
But now, if we have not lost our faith already before we come to forsake it for fear, we know very well by our faith that, by the forsaking of our faith, we fall into that state to be cast into the prison of hell. And that can we not tell how soon; but, as it may be that God will suffer us to live a while here upon earth, so may it be that he will throw us into that dungeon beneath before the time that the Turk shall once ask us the question. And therefore, if we fear imprisonment so sore, we are much more than mad if we fear not most the imprisonment that is far more sore. For out of that prison shall no man ever get, and in this other shall no man abide but a while.
In prison was Joseph while his brethren were at large; and yet afterward were his brethren fain to seek upon him for bread. In prison was Daniel, and the wild lions about him; and yet even there God kept him harmless and brought him safe out again. If we think that he will not do the like for us, let us not doubt that he will do for us either the like or better, for better may he do for us if he suffer us there to die. St. John the Baptist was, you know, in prison, while Herod and Herodias sat full merry at the feast, and the daughter of Herodias delighted them with her dancing, till with her dancing she danced off St. John's head. And now sitteth he with great feast in heaven at God's board, while Herod and Herodias full heavily sit in hell burning both twain, and to make them sport withal the devil with the damsel dance in the fire before them.
Finally, cousin, to finish this piece, our Saviour was himself taken prisoner for our sake. And prisoner was he carried, and prisoner was he kept, and prisoner was he brought forth before Annas, and prisoner from Annas carried unto Caiphas. Then prisoner was he carried from Caiphas unto Pilate, and prisoner was he sent from Pilate to King Herod, and prisoner from Herod unto Pilate again. And so was he kept as prisoner to the end of his passion. The time of his imprisonment, I grant you, was not long. But as for hard handling, which our hearts most abhor, he had as much in that short while as many men among them all in a much longer time. And surely, then, if we consider of what estate he was and also that he was prisoner in that wise for our sake, we shall, I think, unless we be worse than wretched beasts, never so shamefully play the ungrateful coward as sinfully to forsake him for fear of imprisonment.
Nor shall we be so foolish either as, by forsaking him, to give him the occasion to forsake us in turn. For so should we, with the avoiding of an easier prison, fall into a worse. And instead of the prison that cannot keep us long, we should fall into that prison out of which we can never come, though the short imprisonment should have won us everlasting liberty.
VINCENT: Forsooth, uncle, if we feared not further, beside imprisonment, the terrible dart of shameful and painful death, I would verily trust that, as for imprisonment, remembering these things which I have here heard from you (our Lord reward you for them!) rather than that I should forsake the faith of our Saviour, I would with help of grace never shrink at it.
But now are we come, uncle, with much work at last unto the last and uttermost point of the dread that maketh this incursion of this midday devil—this open invasion of the Turk and his persecution against the faith—seem so terrible unto men's minds. Although the respect of God vanquish all the rest of the trouble that we have hitherto perused (as loss of goods, lands, and liberty), yet, when we remember the terror of shameful and painful death, that point suddenly putteth us in oblivion of all that should be our comfort. And we feel (all men, I fear me, for the most part) the fervour of our faith wax so cold and our hearts so faint that we find ourselves at the point of falling even for fear.
ANTHONY: I deny not, cousin, that indeed in this point is the sore pinch. And yet you see, for all this, that even this point too taketh increase or diminishment of dread according to the difference of the affections that are beforehand fixed and rooted in the mind—so much so, that you may see a man set so much by his worldly substance that he feareth less the loss of his life than the loss of lands. Yea, you may see a man abide deadly torment, such as some other man had rather die than endure, rather than to bring out the money that he hath hid. And I doubt not but that you have heard by right authentic stories of many men who (some for one cause, some for another) have not hesitated willingly to suffer death, divers in divers kinds, and some both with despiteful rebuke and painful torment too. And therefore, as I say, we may see that the affection of the mind toward the increase or decrease of dread maketh much of the matter.
Now the affections of men's minds are imprinted by divers means. One way is by means of the bodily senses, moved by such things, pleasant or unpleasant, as are outwardly offered unto them through sensible worldly things. And this manner of receiving the impression of affections is common unto men and beasts. Another manner of receiving affections is by means of reason, which both ordinately tempereth those affections that the five bodily senses imprint, and also disposeth a man many times to some spiritual virtues very contrary to those affections that are fleshly and sensual. And those reasonable dispositions are spiritual affections, and proper to the nature of man, and above the nature of beasts. Now, as our ghostly enemy the devil enforceth himself to make us lean to the sensual affections and beastly, so doth almighty God of his goodness by his Holy Spirit inspire us good motions, with the aid and help of his grace, toward the other spiritual affections. And by sundry means he instructeth our reason to lean to them, and not only to receive them as engendered and planted in our soul, but also in such wise to water them with the wise advertisement of godly counsel and continual prayer, that they may become habitually radicated and surely take deep root therein. And according as the one kind of affection or the other beareth the strength in our heart, so are we stronger or feebler against the terror of death in this cause.
And therefore, cousin, will we essay to consider what things there are for which we have cause in reason to master the fearful affection and sensual. And though we cannot clean avoid it and put it away, yet will we essay in such wise to bridle it at least that it run not out so far like a headstrong horse that, in spite of our teeth, it carry us out unto the devil.
Let us therefore now consider and well weigh this thing that we dread so sore—that is, shameful and painful death.
And first I perceive well by these two things that you join unto "death"—that is, "shameful" and "painful"—that you would esteem death so much the less if it should come along without either shame or pain.
VINCENT: Without doubt, uncle, a great deal the less. But yet, though it should come without them both, by itself, I know well many a man would be for all that very loth to die.
ANTHONY: That I believe well, cousin, and the more pity it is. For that affection happeth in very few without the cause being either lack of faith, lack of hope, or finally lack of wit.
Those who believe not the life to come after this, and think themselves here in wealth, are loth to leave this life, for then they think they lose all. And thence come the manifold foolish unfaithful words which are so rife in our many mouths: "This world we know, and the other we know not." And some say in sport (and think in earnest), "The devil is not so black as he is painted," and "Let him be as black as he will, he is no blacker than a crow!" with many such other foolish fancies of the same sort.
There are some who believe well enough but who, through lewdness of living, fall out of good hope of salvation. And then I very little marvel that they are loth to die. Howbeit, some who purpose to mend and would fain have some time left them longer to bestow somewhat better, may peradventure be loth to die also forthwith. And albeit that a very good will gladly to die and to be with God would be, to my mind, so thankful that it would be well able to purchase as full remission both of sin and pain as peradventure he would be like to purchase, if he lived, in many years' penance, yet will I not say but what such a kind of lothness to die may be approvable before God.
There are some also who are loth to die, who are yet very glad to die and long for to be dead.
VINCENT: That would be, uncle, a very strange case!
ANTHONY: The case, I fear me, cousin, falleth not very often. But yet sometimes it doth, as where there is any man of that good mind that St. Paul was. For the longing that he had to be with God, he would fain have been dead, but for the profit of other folk he was content to live here in pain, and defer and forbear for the while his inestimable bliss in heaven: "Desiderium habens dissolvi et esse cum Christo, multo magis melius, permanere autem in carne, necessarium propter vos."
But of all these kinds of folk, cousin, who are loth to die (except for the first kind only, who lack faith), there is I suppose none who would hesitate, for the bare respect of death alone, unless the fear of shame or sharp pain joined unto death should be the hindrance, to depart hence with good will in this case of the faith. For he would well know by his faith that his death, taken for the faith, should cleanse him clean of all his sins and send him straight to heaven. And some of these (namely the last kind) are such that shame and pain both joined unto death would be unlikely to make them loathe death or fear death so sore but what they would suffer death in this case with good will, since they know well that the refusing of the faith, for any cause in this world (seemed the cause never so good), should yet sever them from God, with whom, save for other folk's profit, they so fain would be. And charity it cannot be, for the profit of the whole world, deadly to displease him who made it.
Some are these, I say also, who are loth to die for lack of wit. Albeit that they believe in the world that is to come and hope also to come thither, yet they love so much the wealth of this world and such things as delight them therein, that they would fain keep them as long as ever they can, even with tooth and nail. And when they can be suffered in no wise to keep it longer, but death taketh them from it, then, if it can be no better, they will agree to be, as soon as they be hence, hauled up into heaven and be with God forthwith! These folk as as very idiot fools as he who had kept from his childhood a bag full of cherry stones, and cast such a fancy to it that he would not go from it for a bigger bag filled with gold.
These folk fare, cousin, as AEsop telleth in a fable that the snail did. For when Jupiter (whom the poets feign for the great god) invited all the poor worms of the earth unto a great solemn feast that it pleased him upon a time—I have forgotten upon what occasion—to prepare for them, the snail kept her at home and would not come. And when Jupiter asked her afterward wherefore she came not to his feast, where he said she would have been welcome and have fared well, and would have seen a goodly palace and been delighted with many goodly pleasures, she answered him that she loved no place so well as her own house. With this answer Jupiter waxed so angry that he said, since she loved her house so well, she should never after go from home, but should always afterward bear her house upon her back wheresoever she went. And so hath she ever done since, as they say. And at least I know well she doth so now and hath done so as long as I can remember.
VINCENT: Forsooth, uncle, I should think the tale were not all feigned, for I think verily that so much of your tale is true!
ANTHONY: AEsop meant by that feigned fable to touch the folly of such folk as so set their fancy upon some small simple pleasure that they cannot find it in their heart to forbear it, either for the pleasure of a better man or for the gaining of a better thing. For by this foolish froward fashion they sometimes fall in great disgrace and take by it no little harm.
And surely such Christian folk as, by their foolish affection, which they have set like the snail upon their own house here on earth, cannot, for the lothness of leaving that house, find it in their hearts to go with good will to the great feast that God prepareth in heaven and of his goodness so graciously calleth them to—they are, I fear me, unless they mend that mind in time, like to be served as the snail was, and yet much worse too. For they are like to have their house here, the earth, bound fast on their backs for ever, and not to walk with it where they will, as the snail creepeth about with hers, but to lie fast bound in the midst of it with the foul fire of hell about them. For into this folly they bring themselves by their own fault, as the drunken man bringeth himself into drunkenness, whereby the evil that he doth in his drunkenness is not forgiven him for his folly, but to his pain is imputed to his fault.
VINCENT: Surely, uncle, this seemeth not unlikely, and by their fault they fall in such folly indeed. And yet, if this be folly indeed, then are some folk fools who think themselves right wise.
ANTHONY: Who think themselves wise? Marry, I never saw a fool yet who thought himself other than wise! For as it is one spark of soberness left in a drunken head when he perceiveth himself to be drunk and getteth himself fair to bed, so if a fool perceive himself a fool that point is no folly but a little spark of wit.
But now, cousin, as for these kind of fools, who are loth to die for the love that they bear to their worldly fancies which they would, by their death, leave behind them and forsake: Those who would for that cause rather forsake the faith than die, would rather forsake it than lose their worldly goods, though there were no peril of death offered them at all. And then, as touching those who are of that mind, we have, you know, said as much as you yourself thought sufficient this afternoon here before.
VINCENT: Verily, uncle, that is very true. And now have you rehearsed, as far as I can remember, all the other kinds of them that would be loth to die for any other respect than the grievous qualities of shame and pain joined unto death. And of all these kinds, except the kind of infidelity—when no comfort can help, but only counsel to the attaining of faith, for faith must be presupposed to the receiving of comfort and had ready before, as you showed in the beginning of our communication the first day that we talked of the matter. But else, I say, except that one kind, there is none of the rest of those that were before untouched who would be likely to forsake their faith in this persecution for the fear and dread of death, save for those grievous qualities—pain, I mean, and shame—that they see well would come with it.
And therefore, uncle, I pray you, give us some comfort against those twain. For in good faith, if death should come without them, in such a case at this is, in which by the losing of this life we should find a far better, mine own reason giveth me that, save for the other griefs going before the change, no man who hath wit would anything stick at all.
ANTHONY: Yes, peradventure suddenly they would, before they gather their wits unto them and well weigh the matter. But, cousin, those who will consider the matter well, reason, grounded upon the foundation of faith, shall show they very great substantial causes for which the dread of those grievous qualities that they see shall come with death—shame, I mean, and pain also—shall not so sore abash them as sinfully to drive them to that point. And for the proof thereof, let us first begin at the consideration of the shame.
How can any faithful wise man dread death so sore, for any respect of shame, when his reason and his faith together can shortly make him perceive that there is no true shame in it at all? For how can that death be shameful that is glorious? Or how can it be anything but glorious to die for the faith of Christ, if we die both for the faith and in the faith, joined with hope and charity? For the scripture plainly saith, "Precious in the sight of God is the death of his saints." Now if the death of his saints be glorious in the sight of God, it can never be shameful in very deed, however shameful it seem here in the sight of men. For here we may see and be sure that not only at the death of St. Stephen, to whom it pleased him to show himself with the heaven open over his head, but at the death also of every may who so dieth for the faith, God with his heavenly company beholdeth his whole passion and verily looketh on.
Now if it were so, cousin, that you should be brought through the broad high-street of a great long city; and if, all along the way that you were going, there were on one side of the way a rabble of ragged beggars and madmen, who would despise and dispraise you with all the shameful names that they could call you and all the villainous words that they could say to you; and if there were then, all along the other side of the same street where you should come by, a goodly company standing in a fair range, a row of wise and worshipful folk, lauding and commending you, more than fifteen times as many as that rabble of ragged beggars and railing madmen—would you willingly turn back, thinking that you went unto your shame, for the shameful jesting and railing of those mad foolish wretches? Or would you hold on your way with a good cheer and a glad heart, thinking yourself much honoured by the laud and approbation of that other honourable company?
VINCENT: Nay, by my troth, uncle, there is no doubt but that I would much regard the commendation of those commendable folk, and regard not a rush the railing of all those ribalds.
ANTHONY: Then, cousin, no man who hath faith can account himself shamed here, by any manner of death that he suffereth for the faith of Christ. For however vile and shameful it seem in the sight here of a few worldly wretches, it is lauded and approved for very precious and honourable in the sight of God and all the glorious company of heaven, who as perfectly stand and behold it as those foolish people do. And they are in number more than a hundred to one; and of that hundred, every one a hundred times more to be regarded and esteemed than a hundred such whole rabbles of the other.
And now, if a man would be so mad as to be ashamed, for fear of the rebuke that he should have of such rebukeful beasts, to confess the faith of Christ, then, with fleeing from a shadow of shame, he would fall into a true shame—and a deadly painful shame indeed! For then hath our Saviour made a sure promise that he will show himself ashamed of that man before the Father of heaven and all his holy angels, saying in the ninth chapter of Luke, "He who is ashamed of me and my words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed when he shall come in the majesty of himself and of his Father and of his holy angels." And what manner of shameful shame shall that be, then? If a man's cheeks glow sometimes for shame in this world, they will fall on fire for shame when Christ shall show himself ashamed of them there!
The blessed apostles reckoned it for great glory to suffer for Christ's faith the thing that we worldly wretched fools think to be villainy and shame. For they, when they were scourged, with despite and shame, and thereupon commanded to speak no more of the name of Christ, "went their way from the council joyful and glad that God had vouchsafed to do them the worship to suffer shameful despite for the name of Jesus." And so proud were they of the shame and villainous pain put unto them, that for all the forbidding of that great council assembled, they ceased not every day to preach out the name of Jesus still—not only in the temple, out of which they were set and whipped for the same before, but also, to double it with, they went preaching the name about from house to house, too.
Since we regard so greatly the estimation of worldly folk, I wish that we would, among the many wicked things that they do, regard also some such as are good. For it is a manner among them, in many places, that some by handicraft, some by merchandise, some by other kinds of living, arise and come forward in the world. And commonly folk are in their youth set forth to suitable masters, under whom they are brought up and grow. But now, whensoever they find a servant such that he disdaineth to do such things as his master did while he was himself a servant, that servant every man accounteth for a proud unthrift, never like to come to good proof. Let us, lo, mark and consider this, and weigh it well withal: Our master Christ (who is not only the master, but the maker too, of all this whole world) was not so proud as to disdain for our sakes the most villainous and most shameful death, after the worldly count, that then was used in the world. And he endured the most despiteful mocking therewith, joined to the most grievous pain, as crowning him with sharp thorn, so that the blood ran down about his face. Then they gave him a reed in his hand for a sceptre, and kneeled down to him and saluted him like a king in scorn, and beat then the reed upon the sharp thorns about his holy head. Now our Saviour saith that the disciple or servant is not above his master. And therefore, since our master endured so many kinds of painful shame, very proud beasts may we well think ourselves if we disdain to do as our master did. And whereas he through shame ascended into glory, we would be so mad that we would rather fall into everlasting shame, both before heaven and hell, than for fear of a short worldly shame to follow him to everlasting glory.
VINCENT: In good faith, uncle, as for the shame, you shall need to take no more pains. For I suppose surely that any man who hath reason in his head shall hold himself satisfied with this.
But, of truth, uncle, all the pinch is in the pain. For as for shame, I perceive well now that a man may with wisdom so master it that it shall nothing move him at all—so much so that it is become a common proverb in almost every country that "shame is as it is taken." But, by God, uncle, all the wisdom in this world can never so master pain but that pain will be painful, in spite of all the wit in this world!
ANTHONY: Truth it is, cousin, that no man can, with all the reason he hath, in such wise change the nature of pain that in the having of pain he feel it not. For unless it be felt, perdy, it is no pain. And that is the natural cause, cousin, for which a man may have his leg stricken off at the knee and it grieve him not—if his head be off but half an hour before!
But reason may make a reasonable man not to shrink from it and refuse it to his more hurt and harm. Though he would not be so foolish as to fall into it without cause, yet upon good causes—either of gaining some kind of great profit or avoiding some kind of great loss, or eschewing thereby the suffering of far greater pain—he would be content and glad to sustain it for his far greater advantage and commodity.
And this doth reason alone in many cases, where it hath much less help to take hold of than it hath in this matter of faith. For you know well that to take a sour and bitter potion is great grief and displeasure, and to be lanced and have the flesh cut is no little pain. Now, when such things are to be ministered either to a child or to some childish man, they will by their own wills let their sickness and their sore grow, unto their more grief, till it become incurable, rather than abide the pain of the curing in time. And that for faint heart, joined with lack of discretion. But a man who hath more wisdom, though without cause he would no more abide the pain willingly than would the other, yet, since reason showeth him what good he shall have by the suffering, and what harm by refusing it, this maketh him well content and glad also to take it.
Now then, if reason alone be sufficient to move a man to take pain for the gaining of worldly rest or pleasure and for the avoiding of another pain (though the pain he take be peradventure more, yet to be endured but for a short season), why should not reason, grounded upon the sure foundation of faith, and helped toward also with the aid of God's grace—as it ever is, undoubtedly, when folk for a good mind in God's name come together, our Saviour saying himself, "Where there are two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I also even in the very midst of them." Why should not then reason, I say, thus furthered with faith and grace, be much more able first to engender in us such an affection, and afterward, by long and deep meditation thereof, so to continue that affection that it shall turn into a habitual purpose, fast-rooted and deep, of patiently suffering the painful death of this body here in earth for the gaining of everlasting wealthy life in heaven and avoiding of everlasting painful death in hell?
VINCENT: By my troth, uncle, I can find no words that should have any reason with them—faith being always presupposed, as you protested in the beginning, for a ground—words, I say, I can find none with which I might reasonably counter-plead this that you have said here already.
But yet I remember the fable that AEsop telleth of a great old hart that had fled from a little bitch, which had made pursuit after him and chased him so long that she had lost him, and (he hoped) more than half given him over. Having then some time to talk, and meeting with another of his fellows, he fell into deliberation with him as to what it were best for him to do—whether to run on still and fly farther from her, or to turn again and fight with her. The other hart advised him to fly no farther, lest the bitch might happen to find him again when he would be out of breath by the labour of farther fleeing, and thereby all out of strength too, and so would he be killed lying where he could not stir himself. Whereas, if he would turn and fight, he would be in no peril at all. "For the man with whom she hunteth," he said, "is more than a mile behind her. And she is but a little body, scant half so much as thou, and thy horns can thrust her through before she can touch thy flesh, by more than ten times her tooth-length." "By my troth," quoth the other hart, "I like your counsel well, and methinketh that the thing is even soothly as you say. But I fear me that when I hear once that cursed bitch bark, I shall fall to my feet and forget all together. But yet, if you will go back with me, then methinketh we shall be strong enough against that one bitch between us both." The other hart agreed, and they both appointed them thereon. But even as they were about to busk them forward to it, the bitch had found the scent again, and on she came yalping toward the place. And as soon as the harts heard her, off they went both twain apace!
And in good faith, uncle, even so I fear it would fare by myself and many others too. Though we think it reason, what you say, and in our minds agree that we should do as you say—yea, and peradventure think also that we would indeed do as you say—yet as soon as we should once hear those hell-hounds the Turks come yalping and howling upon us, our hearts should soon fall as clean from us as those other harts fled from the hounds.
ANTHONY: Cousin, in those days that AEsop speaketh of, though those harts and other brute beasts had (if he say sooth) the power to speak and talk, and in their talking power to talk reason too, yet they never had given them the power to follow reason and rule themselves thereby. And in good faith, cousin, as for such things as pertain to the conducting of reasonable men to salvation, I think that without the help of grace men's reasoning shall do little more. But then are we sure, as I said before, that if we desire grace, God is at such reasoning always present and very ready to give it. And unless men will afterward willingly cast it away, he is ever ready still to keep it and glad from time to time to increase it. And therefore our Lord biddeth us, by the mouth of the prophet, that we should not be like such brutish and unreasonable beasts as were those harts, and as are horses and mules: "Be not you like a horse and a mule, that hath no understanding." And therefore, cousin, let us never dread but what, if we will apply our minds to the gathering of comfort and courage against our persecutions, and hear reason and let it sink into our heart and cast it not out again (nor vomit it up, nor even there choke it up and stifle it with pampering in and stuffing up our stomachs with a surfeit of worldly vanities), God shall so well work with it that we shall feel strength therein. And so we shall not in such wise have all such shameful cowardous hearts as to forsake our Saviour and thereby lose our own salvation and run into eternal fire for fear of death joined therein—though bitter and sharp, yet short for all that, and (in a manner) a momentary pain.
VINCENT: Every man, uncle, naturally grudgeth at pain, and is very loth to come to it.
ANTHONY: That is very true, and no one biddeth any man to go run into it, unless he be taken and cannot flee. Then, we say that reason plainly telleth us that we should rather suffer and endure the less and the shorter pain here, than in hell the sorer and so far the longer too.
VINCENT: I heard of late, uncle, where such a reason was made as you make me now, which reason seemed undoubted and inevitable to me. Yet heard I lately, as I say, a man answer it thus: He said that if a man in this persecution should stand still in the confession of his faith and thereby fall into painful tormentry, he might peradventure happen, for the sharpness and bitterness of the pain, to forsake our Saviour even in the midst of it, and die there with his sin, and so be damned forever. Whereas, by the forsaking of the faith in the beginning, and for the time—and yet only in word, keeping it still nevertheless in his heart—a man might save himself from that painful death and afterward ask mercy and have it, and live long and do many good deeds, and be saved as St. Peter was.
ANTHONY: That man's reason, cousin, is like a three-footed stool—so tottering on every side that whosoever sits on it may soon take a foul fall. For these are the three feet of this tottering stool: fantastical fear, false faith, and false flattering hope.
First, it is a fantastical fear that the man conceiveth, that it should be perilous to stand in the confession of the faith at the beginning, lest he might afterward, through the bitterness of the pain, fall to the forsaking and so die there in the pain, out of hand, and thereby be utterly damned. As though, if a man were overcome by pain and so forsook his faith, God could not or would not as well give him grace to repent again, and thereupon give him forgiveness, as he would give it to him who forsook his faith in the beginning and set so little by God that he would rather forsake him than suffer for his sake any manner of pain at all! As though the more pain that a man taketh for God's sake, the worse would God be to him! If this reason were not unreasonable, then should our Saviour not have said, as he did, "Fear not them that may kill the body, and after that have nothing that they can do further." For he should, by this reason, have said, "Dread and fear them that may slay the body, for they may, by the torment of painful death (unless thou forsake me betimes in the beginning and so save thy life, and get of me thy pardon and forgiveness afterward) make thee peradventure forsake me too late, and so be damned forever."
The second foot of this tottering stool is a false faith. For it is but a feigned faith for a man to say to God secretly that he believeth him, trusteth him, and loveth him, and then openly, where he should to God's honour tell the same tale and thereby prove that he doth so, there to God's dishonour flatter God's enemies as much as in him is, and do them pleasure and worship, with the forsaking of God's faith before the world. And such a one either is faithless in his heart too, or else knoweth well that he doth God this despite even before his own face. For unless he lack faith, he cannot but know that our Lord is everywhere present, and that, while he so shamefully forsaketh him, he full angrily looketh on.
The third foot of this tottering stool is false flattering hope. For since the thing that he doth, when he forsaketh his faith for fear, is forbidden by the mouth of God upon the pain of eternal death, though the goodness of God forgiveth many folk for the fault, yet to be bolder in offending for the hope of forgiving is a very false pestilent hope, with which a man flattereth himself toward his own destruction.
He who, in a sudden turn for fear or other affection, unadvisedly falleth, and after, in labouring to rise again, comforteth himself with hope of God's gracious forgiveness, walketh in the ready way toward his salvation. But he who with the hope of God's mercy to follow, doth encourage himself to sin, and thereby offendeth God first—I have no power to keep the hand of God from giving out his pardon where he will (nor would I if I could, but rather help to pray for it), but yet I very sorely fear that such a man may miss the grace to ask it in such effectual wise as to have it granted. Nor can I now instantly remember any example or promise expressed in holy scripture that the offender in such a case shall have the grace offered afterward, in such wise to seek for pardon that God, by his other promises of remission promised to penitents, would be bound himself to grant it. But this kind of presumption, under pretext of hope, seemeth rather to draw near on the one side (as despair doth, on the other) toward the abominable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. And against that sin, concerning either the impossibility or at least the great difficulty of forgiveness, our Saviour himself hath spoken in the twelfth chapter of St. Matthew and in the third chapter of St. Mark, where he saith that blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall never be forgiven, neither in this world nor in the world to come.
And where the man that you speak of took in his reason an example of St. Peter, who forsook our Saviour and got forgiveness afterward, let him consider again on the other hand that he forsook him not upon the boldness of such a sinful trust, but was overcome and vanquished by a sudden fear. And yet, by that forsaking, St. Peter won but little, for he did but delay his trouble for a little while, as you know well. For beside that, he repented forthwith very sorely that he had so done, and wept for it forthwith full bitterly. He came forth at the Whitsuntide ensuing, and confessed his Master again, and soon after that, he was imprisoned for it. And not ceasing so, he was thereupon sore scourged for the confession of his faith, and yet after that imprisoned again afresh. And, being from thence delivered, he stinted not to preach on still until, after manifold labours, travails, and troubles, he was in Rome crucified and with cruel torment slain.
And in like wise I think I might (in a manner) well warrant that no man who denieth our Saviour once and afterward attaineth remission shall escape through that denial one penny the cheaper, but that he shall, ere he come to heaven, full surely pay for it.
VINCENT: He shall peradventure, uncle, afterward work it out in the fruitful works of penance, prayer, and almsdeed, done in true faith and due charity, and in such wise attain forgiveness well enough.
ANTHONY: All his forgiveness goeth, cousin, as you see well, but by "perhaps." But as it may be "perhaps yea," so may it be "perhaps nay," and where is he then? And yet, you know, he shall never, by any manner of hap, hap finally to escape from death, for fear of which he forsook his faith.
VINCENT: No, but he may die his natural death, and escape that violent death. And then he saveth himself from much pain and so winneth much ease. For a violent death is ever painful.
ANTHONY: Peradventure he shall not avoid a violent death thereby, for God is without doubt displeased, and can bring him shortly to as violent a death by some other way.
Howbeit, I see well that you reckon that whosoever dieth a natural death, dieth like a wanton even at his ease. You make me remember a man who was once in a light galley with us on the sea. While the sea was sore wrought and the waves rose very high, he lay tossed hither and thither, for he had never been to sea before. The poor soul groaned sore and for pain thought he would very fain be dead, and ever he wished, "Would God I were on land, that I might die in rest!" The waves so troubled him there, with tossing him up and down, to and fro, that he thought that trouble prevented him from dying, because the waves would not let him rest! But if he might get once to land, he thought he should then die there even at his ease.
VINCENT: Nay, uncle, this is no doubt, but that death is to every man painful. But yet is not the natural death so painful as the violent.
ANTHONY: By my troth, cousin, methinketh that the death which men commonly call "natural" is a violent death to every may whom it fetcheth hence by force against his will. And that is every man who, when he dieth, is loth to die and fain would yet live longer if he could.
Howbeit, cousin, fain would I know who hath told you how small is the pain in the natural death! As far as I can perceive, those folk that commonly depart of their natural death have ever one disease and sickness or another. And if the pain of the whole week or twain in which they lie pining in their bed, were gathered together in so short a time as a man hath his pain who dieth a violent death, it would, I daresay, make double the pain that is his. So he who dieth naturally often suffereth more pain rather than less, though he suffer it in a longer time. And then would many a man be more loth to suffer so long, lingering in pain, than with a sharper pang to be sooner rid. And yet lieth many a man more days than one, in well-near as great pain continually, as is the pain that with the violent death riddeth the man in less than half an hour—unless you think that, whereas the pain is great to have a knife cut the flesh on the outside from the skin inward, the pain would be much less if the knife might begin on the inside and cut from the midst outward! Some we hear, on their deathbed, complain that they think they feel sharp knives cut in two their heartstrings. Some cry out and think they feel, within the brainpan, their head pricked even full of pins. And those who lie in a pleurisy think that, every time they cough, they feel a sharp sword snap them to the heart.
Howbeit, what need we to make any such comparison between the natural death and the violent, for the matter that we are in hand with here? Without doubt, he who forsaketh the faith of Christ for fear of the violent death, putteth himself in peril to find his natural death a thousand times more painful. For his natural death hath his everlasting pain so instantly knit to it, that there is not one moment of time between, but the end of the one is the beginning of the other, which never after shall have an end.
And therefore was it not without great cause that Christ gave us so good warning before, when he said, as St. Luke in the twenty-second chapter rehearseth, "I say to you that are my friends, be not afraid of them that kill the body, and when that is done are able to do no more. But I shall show you whom you should fear. Fear him who, when he hath killed, hath in his power further to cast him whom he killeth into everlasting fire. So I say to you, be afraid of him." God meaneth not here that we should not dread at all any man who can but kill the body, but he meaneth that we should not in such wise dread any such man that we should, for dread of them, displease him who can everlastingly kill both body and soul with a death ever-dying and that shall yet never die. And therefore he addeth and repeateth in the end again, the fear that we should have of him, and saith, "So I say to you, fear him."
O good God, cousin, if a man would well weigh those words and let them sink down deep into his heart as they should do, and often bethink himself on them, it would (I doubt not) be able enough to make us set at naught all the great Turk's threats, and esteem him not a straw. But we should be well content to endure all the pain that all the world could put upon us, for so short a while as all they were able to make us dwell in it, rather than, by shrinking from those pains (though never so sharp, yet but short), to cast ourselves into the pain of hell—a hundred thousand times more intolerable, and of which there shall never come an end. A woeful death is that death, in which folk shall evermore be dying and never can once be dead! For the scripture saith, "They shall call and cry for death, and death shall fly from them."
O, good Lord, if one of them were not put in choice of both, he would rather suffer the whole year together the most terrible death that all the Turks in Turkey could devise, than to endure for the space of half an hour the death that they lie in now. Into what wretched folly fall, then, those faithless or feeble-faithed folk, who, to avoid the pain that is so far the less and so short, fall instead into pain a thousand thousand times more horrible, and terrible torment of which they are sure they shall never have an end!
This matter, cousin, lacketh, I believe, only full faith or sufficient minding. For I think, on my faith, that if we have the grace verily to believe it and often to think well on it, the fear of all the Turk's persecution—with all this midday devil were able to do in the forcing of us to forsake our faith—should never be able to turn us.
VINCENT: By my troth, uncle, I think it is as you say. For surely, if we would often think on these pains of hell—as we are very loth to do, and purposely seek us childish pastimes to put such heavy things out of our thought—this one point alone would be able enough, I think, to make many a martyr.
ANTHONY: Forsooth, cousin, if we were such as we should be, I would scant, for very shame, speak of the pains of hell in exhortation to the keeping of Christ's faith. I would rather put us in mind of the joys of heaven, the pleasure of which we should be more glad to get than we should be to flee and escape all the pains of hell.
But surely God is marvellous merciful to us in the thing in which he may seem most rigorous. And that is (which many men would little think) in that he provided hell. For I suppose very surely, cousin, that many a man—and woman, too—of whom some now sit, and more shall hereafter sit, full gloriously crowned in heaven, had they not first been afraid of hell, would never have set foot toward heaven.
But yet undoubtedly, if we could conceive in our hearts the marvellous joys of heaven as well as we conceive the fearful pains of hell—howbeit, we can conceive neither one sufficiently. But if we could in our imagination approach as much toward the perceiving of the one as we may toward the consideration of the other, we would not fail to be far more moved and stirred to suffering for Christ's sake in this world, for the winning of those heavenly joys than for the eschewing of all those infernal pains. But forasmuch as the fleshly pleasures are far less pleasant than the fleshly pains are painful, therefore we fleshly folk, who are so drowned in these fleshly pleasures and in the desire of them that we have almost no manner of savour or taste for any pleasure that is spiritual, we have no cause to marvel that our fleshly affections are more abated and refrained by the dread and terror of hell than spiritual affections are imprinted in us and pricked forward with the desire and joyful hope of heaven.
Howbeit, if we would set somewhat less by the filthy voluptuous appetites of the flesh, and would, by withdrawing from them, with help of prayer through the grace of God, draw nearer to the secret inward pleasure of the spirit, we should, by the little sipping that our hearts should have here now, and that instantaneous taste of it, have an estimation of the incomparable and uncogitable joy that we shall have (if we will) in heaven, by the very full draught thereof. For thereof it is written, "I shall be satiate" or satisfied, or fulfilled, "when thy glory, good Lord, shall appear," that is, with the fruition of the sight of God's glorious majesty face to face. And the desire, expectation, and heavenly hope thereof, shall more encourage us and make us strong to suffer and sustain for the love of God and salvation of our soul, than ever we could be made to suffer worldly pain here by the terrible dread of all the horrible pains that damned wretches have in hell.
Therefore in the meantime, for lack of such experimental taste as God giveth here sometimes to some of his special servants, to the intent that we may draw toward the spiritual exercise too—for which spiritual exercise God with that gift, as with an earnest-penny of their whole reward afterward in heaven, comforteth them here in earth—let us labour by prayer to conceive in our hearts such a fervent longing for them that we may, for attaining to them, utterly set at naught all fleshly delight, all worldly pleasures, all earthly losses, all bodily torment and pain. And let us do this, not so much with looking to have described what manner of joys they shall be, as with hearing what our Lord telleth us in holy scripture how marvellous great they shall be. Howbeit, some things are there in scripture expressed of the manner of the pleasures and joys that we shall have in heaven, as, "Righteous men shall shine as the sun and shall run about like sparkles of fire among reeds."
Now, tell some carnal-minded man of this manner of pleasure, and he shall take little pleasure in it, and say he careth not to have his flesh shine, he, nor like a spark of fire to skip about in the sky. Tell him that his body shall be impassible and never feel harm, and he will think then that he shall never be ahungered or athirst, and shall thereby forbear all his pleasure of eating and drinking, and that he shall never wish for sleep, and shall thereby lose the pleasure that he was wont to take in lying slug-abed. Tell him that men and women shall there live together as angels without any manner of mind or motion unto the carnal act of generation, and he will think that he shall thereby not use there his old filthy voluptuous fashion. He will say then that he is better at ease already, and would not give this world for that. For, as St. Paul saith, "A carnal man feeleth not the things that be of the spirit of God, for it is foolishness to him."
But the time shall come when these foul filthy pleasures shall be so taken from him that it shall abhor his heart once to think on them. Every man hath a certain shadow of this experience in the fervent grief of a sore painful sickness, when his stomach can scant abide to look upon any meat, and as for the acts of the other foul filthy lust, he is ready to vomit if he hap to think thereon. When a man shall after this life feel in his heart that horrible abomination, of which sickness hath here a shadow, at the remembrance of these voluptuous pleasures, for which he would here be loth to change with the joys of heaven: when he shall, I say, after this life, have his fleshly pleasures in abomination, and shall have there a glimmering (though far from a perfect sight) of those heavenly joys which here he set so little by—O, good God, how fain will he then be, with how good will and how gladly would he then give this whole world, if it were his, to have the feeling of some little part of those joys!
And therefore let us all who cannot now conceive such delight in the consideration of them as we should, have often in our eyes by reading, often in our ears by hearing, often in our mouths by rehearsing, often in our hearts by meditation and thinking, those joyful words of the holy scripture by which we learn how wonderful huge and great are those spiritual heavenly joys. Our carnal hearts have so feeble and so faint a feeling of them, and our dull worldly wits are so little able to conceive so much as a shadow of the right imagination! A shadow, I say, for, as for the thing as it is, not only can no fleshly carnal fancy conceive that, but beside that no spiritual person peradventure neither, so long as he is still living here in this world. For since the very essential substance of all the celestial joy standeth in the blessed beholding of the glorious Godhead face to face, no man may presume or look to attain it in this life. For God hath said so himself: "There shall no man here living behold me." And therefore we may well know not only that we are, for the state of this life, kept from the fruition of the bliss of heaven, but also I think that the very best man living here upon earth—the best man, I mean, who is no more than man—cannot attain the right imagination of it; but those who are very virtuous are yet (in a manner) as far from it as a man born blind is from the right imagination of colours.
The words that St. Paul rehearseth of the prophet Isaiah, prophesying of Christ's incarnation, may properly be verified of the joys of heaven: "Oculus non vidit, nec auris audivit, nec in cor hominis adscendit, quae preparavit Deus diligentibus se." For surely, for this state of this world, the joys of heaven are by man's mouth unspeakable, to man's ears not audible, to men's hearts uncogitable, so far excel they all that ever men have heard of, all that ever men can speak of, and all that men can by natural possibility think on.
And yet, whereas such be the joys of heaven that are prepared for every saved soul, our Lord saith yet, by the mouth of St. John, that he will give his holy martyrs who suffer for his sake many a special kind of joy. For he saith, "To him that overcometh, I shall give him to eat of the tree of life. And I shall confess his name before my Father and before his angels." And also he saith, "Fear none of those things that thou shalt suffer . . . , but be faithful unto the death, and I shall give thee the crown of life. He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." And he saith also, "To him that overcometh will I give manna secret and hid. And I will give him a white suffrage, and in his suffrage a new name written, which no man knoweth but he that receiveth it." They used of old in Greece, where St. John did write, to elect and choose men unto honourable offices, and every man's assent was called his "suffrage," which in some places was by voices and in some places by hands. And one kind of those suffrages was by certain things that in Latin are called calculi because, in some places, they used round stones for them. Now our Lord saith that unto him who overcometh he will give a white suffrage, for those that were white signified approving, as the black signified reproving. And in those suffrages did they use to write the name of him to whom they gave their vote. Now our Lord saith that to him who overcometh he will in the suffrage give him a new name, which no man knoweth but him who receiveth it. He saith also, "He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out thereof, and I shall write upon him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which descendeth from heaven from my God, and I shall write on him also my new name." If we wished to enlarge upon this, and were able to declare these special gifts, with yet others that are specified in the second and third chapters of the Apocalypse, then would it appear how far those heavenly joys shall surmount above all the comfort that ever came in the mind of any man living here upon earth.
The blessed apostle St. Paul, who suffered so many perils and so many passions, saith of himself that he hath been "in many labours, in prisons oftener than others, in stripes above measure, at point of death often times; of the Jews had I five times forty stripes save one, thrice have I been beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice have I been in shipwreck, a day and a night was I in the depth of the sea; in my journeys oft have I been in peril of floods, in peril of thieves, in peril by the Jews, in perils by the pagans, in perils in the city, in perils in the desert, in perils in the sea, perils by false brethren, in labour and misery, in many nights' watch, in hunger and thirst, in many fastings, in cold and nakedness; beside those things that are outward, my daily instant labour, I mean my care and solicitude about all the churches," and yet saith he more of his tribulations, which for the length I let pass. This blessed apostle, I say, for all these tribulations that he himself suffered in the continuance of so many years, calleth all the tribulations of this world but light and as short as a moment, in respect of the weighty glory that it winneth us after this world: "This same short and momentary tribulation of ours that is in this present time, worketh within us the weight of glory above measure on high, we beholding not these things that we see, but those things that we see not. For those things that we see are but temporal things, but those things that are not seen are eternal."
Now to this great glory no man can come headless. Our head is Christ, and therefore to him must we be joined, and as members of his must we follow him, if we wish to come thither. He is our guide to guide us thither, and he is entered in before us. And he therefore who will enter in after, "the same way that Christ walked, the same way must he walk." And what was the way by which he walked into heaven? He himself showed what way it was that his Father had provided for him, when he said to the two disciples going toward the village of Emaus, "Knew you not that Christ must suffer passion, and by that way enter into his kingdom?" Who can for very shame desire to enter into the kingdom of Christ with ease, when he himself entered not into his own without pain?
Surely, cousin, as I said before, in bearing the loss of worldly goods, in suffering captivity, thraldom, and imprisonment, and in the glad sustaining of worldly shame, if we would in all those points deeply ponder the example of our Saviour himself, it would be sufficient of itself alone to encourage every true Christian man and woman to refuse none of all those calamities for his sake.
So say I now for painful death also: If we could and would with due compassion conceive in our minds a right imagination and remembrance of Christ's bitter painful passion—of the many sore bloody strokes that the cruel tormentors gave him with rods and whips upon every part of his holy tender body; of the scornful crown of sharp thorns beaten down upon his holy head, so strait and so deep that on every part his blessed blood issued out and streamed down; of his lovely limbs drawn and stretched out upon the cross, to the intolerable pain of his sore-beaten veins and sinews, feeling anew, with the cruel stretching and straining, pain far surpassing any cramp in every part of his blessed body at once; of the great long nails then cruelly driven with the hammer through his holy hands and feet; of his body, in this horrible pain, lifted up and let hang, with all its weight bearing down upon the painful wounded places so grievously pierced with nails; and in such torment, without pity, but not without many despites, suffered to be pined and pained the space of more than three long hours, till he himself willingly gave up unto his Father his holy soul; after which yet, to show the mightiness of their malice, after his holy soul departed, they pierced his holy heart with a sharp spear, at which issued out the holy blood and water, whence his holy sacraments have inestimable secret strength—if we could, I say, remember these things, in such a way as would God that we would, I verily suppose that the consideration of his incomparable kindness could not fail so to inflame our key-cold hearts, and set them on fire with his love, that we should find ourselves not only content but also glad and desirous to suffer death for his sake who so marvellously lovingly forbore not to sustain so far passing painful death for ours.
Would God that we would here—to the shame of our cold affection toward God, in return for such fervent love and inestimable kindness of God toward us—would God we would, I say, but consider what hot affection many of these fleshly lovers have borne and daily bear to those upon whom they dote. How many of them have not stinted to jeopard their lives, and how many have willingly lost their lives indeed, without any great kindness showed them before—and afterward, you know, they could nothing win! But it contented and satisfied their minds that by their death their lover should clearly see how faithfully they loved. The delight thereof, imprinted in their fancy, not only assuaged their pain but also, they thought, outweighed it all. Of these affections, with the wonderful dolorous effects following upon them, not only old written stories, but beside that experience, I think, in every country, Christian and heathen both, giveth us proof enough. And is it not then a wonderful shame for us, for the dread of temporal death, to forsake our Saviour who willingly suffered so painful death rather than forsake us? Considering that, beside that, he shall for our suffering so highly reward us with everlasting wealth. Oh, if he who is content to die for his love, of whom he looketh afterward for no reward, and yet by his death goeth from her, might by his death be sure to come to her and ever after in delight and pleasure to dwell with her—such a love would not stint here to die for her twice! And what cold lovers are we then unto God, if, rather than die for him once, we will refuse him and forsake him forever—him who both died for us before, and hath also provided that, if we die here for him, we shall in heaven everlastingly both live and also reign with him! For as St. Paul saith, "If we suffer with him, we shall reign with him."
How many Romans, how many noble hearts of other sundry countries, have willingly given their own lives and suffered great deadly pains and very painful deaths for their countries, to win by their death only the reward of worldly renown and fame! And should we, then, shrink to suffer as much for eternal honour in heaven and everlasting glory? The devil hath also some heretics so obstinate that they wittingly endure painful death for vain glory. And is it not then more than shame that Christ shall see his Catholics forsake his faith rather than suffer the same for heaven and true glory?
Would God, as I many times have said, that the remembrance of Christ's kindness in suffering his passion for us, the consideration of hell that we shall fall in by forsaking him, and the joyful meditation of eternal life in heaven that we shall win with this short temporal death patiently taken for him, had so deep a place in our breast as reason would that they should—and as, if we would strive toward it and labour for it and pray for it, I verily think they would. For then should they so take up our mind and ravish it all another way, that, as a man hurt in a fray feeleth not sometimes his wound nor yet is aware of it, until his mind fall more thereon (so much so that sometimes another man telleth him that he hath lost a hand before he perceive it himself), so the mind ravished in the thinking deeply of those other things—Christ's death, hell, and heaven—would be likely to diminish and put away four parts of the feeling of our painful death—either of the death or the pain. For of this am I very sure: If we had the fifteenth part of the love for Christ that he both had and hath for us, all the pain of this Turk's persecution could not keep us from him, but there would be at this day as many martyrs here in Hungary as there have been before in other countries of old.