The Poor Caitiff. Chapter One: On Belief
13 min read
13 min read
The ground of all goodness is steadfast faith or belief. This, through grace and mercy, is obtained from God. Faith was the principal ground that enabled the woman of Canaan to obtain health of soul and of the body of Christ, for her daughter, who was evilly treated of a devil, as the gospel witnesses. And the centurion was much praised of Christ for the steadfast belief that he had in the power of his Godhead. Faith is likened to the loadstar (north star), for it showeth the haven of grace to men rowing in the sea of this world. Faith is the eastern star that leads spiritual kings to worship Jesus Christ, through withstanding of sin, as the east star led three kings when Christ was born. Faith or belief is as a stone lying in the foundation of a strong building, that beareth up all the work. For as the building standeth stiffly that is well-grounded upon a stone, so each virtuous deed is strong when it is grounded upon the solidity of belief. For upon this stone, that is, solid faith, Christ said that he would build his church, that is, man’s soul. A man that hath lost his right eye is unable to defend himself in battle, for his shield hides his left eye, and so he has no sight to defend himself from his enemy; even so he that has lost the right eye of true faith, is unable to withstand or fight against his spiritual enemy, the devil. Saints, as St. Paul saith, through steadfastness and true faith, overcame kingdoms, Hebrews 11. They overcame the kingdom of their flesh through the holiness of soul and body; and the kingdom of the world by setting at nought riches; and the kingdom of the fiend through patience and meekness. The want of steadfast faith is the chief cause why men fall into deadly sin. For if a man truly believed that soon after he sinned, he should lose one of his limbs, he would through that belief keep himself, and flee from that sin. How much more if he believed that God would punish him in body and soul forevermore if he died in that sin? If man’s belief and trust were firmly set in God, all fear of man, fantasies, and fear of this world would grieve him but little, or not at all. Christ said to his disciples, that if their faith were as great as the seed of mustard, and they should say to this hill, Pass hence, it should pass; and nothing should be impossible to them. St. Jerome saith that faith is likened to the corn of seed. If the corn of seed be not broken, the virtue thereof is not known; but the more it is pounded, even the stronger it smelleth; even so a man who is firmly grounded in the faith, the more he is pounded by persecution, the greater and the more fervent is his belief Thus if man’s faith were as great as a mustard seed, he should remove from himself the hill of pride, and all other false deceits of the fiend.
This faith maketh our souls so able to receive heavenly gifts, that we may get whatever we desire of the faithful Lord. Oh, blessed is the soul that believeth right and liveth well, and in well living keepeth true faith. While Peter had true faith, he went upon the sea as upon dry land; but when the firmness of his faith failed, he began to sink, and therefore Christ reproved him as of little faith. Thus it fares with us, who are staggering and unsteadfast with the wind of each temptation or fear. Therefore, brethren, let us set all our belief and full trust on Him who is almighty, and not in any vain thing that may fail in any time. Trust we steadfastly that nothing may grieve us farther than He will suffer from it, and all the things which he sends come for the best. And let no wealth of this failing world, neither tribulation, draw our hearts from a firm belief in God. Let us not put our belief or trust in charms, or in dreams, or any other fantasies, but only in Almighty God. For it is full perilous, as holy doctors say, to scatter man’s belief about any such. And let each man and woman take heed to themselves, for a good living makes man to have firm belief and trust in God, and evil works draw him into despair, as John Chrysostom saith.
After the ascension of Christ, the Holy Ghost taught his apostles all truth needful to the soul; and by his teaching they twelve settled together twelve articles, which all that will be saved must believe. (This was a Common Belief of the Period and even appeared in the Roman Catechism) The first article of belief St. Peter put into the creed, saying, believe in God, the Father almighty. Maker of heaven and earth. To believe to God, is one thing; to believe in God, is another. The first both evil men and good men have, but the second none but good men have. The fiends believe to God, that is, that he is true, and that his words are truth: and yet some men and women fail of this point! For if they truly believed that the words of God are true, which he speaketh in holy writ, against their sinful living, they would amend their defaults, either for dread or for love. To believe in God, as St. Augustine saith, is, in belief to cleave to God through love, and to seek busily to fulfil his will; for no man truly believeth in God, but he that loveth God, and by his good living believeth to have bliss of God, as a great doctor says. And no man sinneth against God but he fails in belief, which is the ground of all good works. As the same doctor saith. In that he is Father, he will mildly do mercy to men forsaking sin; and in that he is almighty, he is ready and of power to punish all those who will not leave their sins. We should believe that God the Father, being almighty, without beginning and ending, made heaven, earth, and all creatures, of nought, through his word. St. Andrew said, I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. This article pertains to the Godhead of the Son, the second person in the Holy Trinity. We should believe that Jesus Christ the Son, is equal with the Father, without beginning and ending, equal in might, and all one in might, equal in goodness, and all one in goodness; and that the Son doeth nothing without the Father; and these two persons are one almighty God, without beginning and ending. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and in like manner mighty with God the Father, is said plainly to be our Lord by double right; for he bought us with his precious blood, and because he shall be our Judge, and pronounce our sentence.
St. James, the son of Zebedee, said, I believe that he is conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin Mary. This is the first article belonging: to the manhood of Christ. We should believe that Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, took flesh and blood truly of the virgin by the Holy Ghost, and came into this world, very God and man together.
St. John the evangelist said, I believe that he suffered pain under Pontius Pilate, upon the cross died and was buried. Here we should believe that the same Jesus Christ, very God and man, in the same flesh that he took of the virgin Mary, endured hard pain and suffering, and even bodily death, by the doom of Pilate, judge of that province, without impairing of his Godhead. Christ bodily suffered hard pain, for we should have sufferance or patience in our adversities and tribulations. He suffered meekly and never trespassed, for we should suffer willingly, who have much trespassed, Christ was crucified, for we should chastise our flesh by penance, withstanding sins and unlawful lusts; Christ died on the cross bodily, that we should endure the cross of penance, withstanding sin to our lives’ end.
The cross of penance hath four parts. The first is sorrow for losing the love of God; the second is sorrow for losing the joy of heaven; the third is sorrow for deserving the pain of hell, and the fourth is sorrow for serving to the fiend and sin. Christ was buried; let this remind us that we hide our good deeds from the favour and estimation of the world, and remember that the earth is naturally the inheritor of our mortal flesh, that our thoughts may be closed from the lusts of this world, steadfastly having in mind the dreadful pains and death of Christ.
St. Thomas of India said, I believe that he went down to hell, and the third day he rose from death to life. Here we should believe that Christ’s body lay dead in the sepulchre, without the soul, till the third day; that he rose from death to life; but the Godhead departed not from the body, neither from the soul, and after that the soul was departed from the body, it went down to hell;t and delivered the holy souls that were there, through virtue of the Godhead. Christ went down into hell, giving us an example that we go thither by inward thought while we live; having mind upon the bitter pains which are there, that we come not thither after this life. Also he rose the third day, in body and soul together, very God and very man, everlasting. He would not rise before the third day, to show the time that he was verily dead in body. For if he had risen quickly, it had not been believed that he was verily dead. And as each word of true witnessing is confirmed by the mouth of two or three, so that Christ was verily dead in the body, may be known by his lying in the tomb till the third day. On the third day he rose from death, in token that the light of his death had destroyed our double death, both of Adam and of ourselves; and that we should rise from spiritual death by three manners of medicines; by contrition or sorrow of heart, by confession, and satisfaction.
St. James, the son of Alpheus, said, I believe that he ascended to heaven, and there sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father almighty. Here we should believe that Jesus Christ, very God and very man, everlasting, appeared to his disciples after his rising from the dead, teaching them of the kingdom of heaven, and eating with them to show that he was very man as before his death, ascending into heaven raised mankind above all orders of angels. He ascended to open the gate of heaven, he ascended to show the way to men, and to lead man with him, he ascended to pray the Father for mankind.
St. Philip said, I believe that he is to come, to doom the quick and dead. Here we should believe that the same Jesus Christ, very God and very man, shall come to the judgment in the same manner, and with the same wounds that he suffered and bare with him to heaven, and shall doom all mankind, both good and evil, according to their deeds.
That shall be a dreadful doom, and a fearful doomsman. For Christ, who shall be Judge there, is now meek as a lamb, and ready to bow to mercy; but there he will be stern as a lion to all that are damnable, and doom according to righteousness. Before the stern Doomsman, beholding all saints, angels, and fiends, as John Chrysostom saith, all men and women shall yield reckoning of all their living on earth; of all the deeds that they have done; for what intent and to whose worship they wrought them; and not only of great trespasses, but also of those that seem but small. For of each idle word man shall account there, as Christ saith himself For as Isidore saith, ” Each word that edifies not the hearer turns into peril to the speaker.” That is an idle word, as Jerome saith, which profits not the speaker, neither the hearer. And since reckoning shall beholden of such, much more and without comparison, harder reckoning shall be of sinful speech, as of backbiting, slandering, scorning, false accusing, lying, swearing, cursing, and licentious speech. Also, man shall yield reckoning of all the thoughts of his heart that inclined to any sin, as God saith by his prophet. And not only we shall account for deeds done, which we should not have done, but also of deeds left undone, that we should have done. As those that have not done works of mercy to poor needy folk, nor given to them, nor lent to them, nor helped them in their suffering, as Christ shall rehearse at the doom, as he himself saith.
Also of all the time that man hath in earth, he shall yield reckoning, how he has spent it, as it is written in the book of mourning. And therefore saith Bernard, “All the time given to man, God shall seek how he hath spent it.” And of misspending time, Anselm speaks, saying to man,” O thou unprofitable and dry tree, worthy everlasting fire, what shalt thou answer in that day when all the time given to thee shall be asked how thou hast spent it ?” Also man shall account there of all his worldly goods, how he has gotten them, kept, spent, and lent them. As Christ meaneth by the spiritual understanding of the ten pieces of money and the five talents. Also of all powers of body, as strength, comeliness, swiftness, skill of body — in whose service these have been spent.
Also each man shall yield reckoning of the keeping of his own soul. For if a king had a daughter like to himself, to whom he thought to give great dignity and worship, and took her to any of his realm to keep; the more negligent that man were about her keeping, the stricter reckoning the king would ask of him for her. What then shall the King of heaven do to him to whom he hath committed a daughter most like to himself, that is to say, man’s soul the much loved daughter of this King, and ordained to great honour in the bliss of heaven, if this man keep her recklessly? Therefore God commandeth in the book of his law, that each man carefully keep his own soul. The father and mother also shall account for their children whom they chastise not; as is expressed in holy writ, how Eli was punished for his sons, because he chastised them not, as he should have done. Also the prelate or the curate shall account for his subjects, how he taught them by living and by word; as God saith by his prophet, a great dread shall be at his doom.
Of the multitude of accusers, man’s own conscience, which is defiled with sin and not amended, shall accuse him, not privily but openly. Also a man’s own sins, which he would not leave, shall accuse him. As a stolen thing tied to a thief’s neck, accuses him, so shall sins not amended in this life accuse sinful wretches. Also holy writ shall accuse them that knew it, and heard it, and lived not thereafter. Such shall bear with them the sentence of condemnation, as Uriah bare with him the sentence of his own death. And in example hereof Christ said, that Moses’ law shall accuse the Jews. Also God’s creatures which a man has used out of measure and in sin, shall accuse him there, and be as ready to take vengeance upon him as they were before to serve him. The fiends also shall be ready there, accusing sinful men and women, for they, as traitors, enticed to the sin, and when the sin is done they will accuse man thereof And therefore in the book of Revelation the fiend is called accuser of Christian men. And as Augustine saith, then shall the adversary say, ” Thou righteous Judge, doom these to be mine for sin which they have wrought, who would not be thine by grace. Thine they were by nature, for thou madest them of nought, but mine they are now, through sin and wretchedness, which they have wrought. Thine they were, for by thy passion thou hast bought them; mine they are now, for they did the sin that I put into their thoughts. To thee they were disobedient, to me they were obedient, and to my enticing. Of thee they took the garment of holiness, of me have they taken this coat of sin and filth. Thy garment they have lost, and with mine they have come hither. Righteous Judge, doom these to be mine, and to be damned with me.” Alas! Where shall that wretch abide who is so hard beset?
Also the benefits which men have received of God, who did not worship him with due service for them, shall accuse them, and be alleged against them. And it is shown in holy writ where the angel came to the place of weeping, (by which place is understood the doom, for there shall be weeping and wailing, as John saith in the book of Revelation.) And there he rehearsed the benefits which God hath done to the people, and reproved the people, for they had not them in mind, and worshipped him not for them. And the torment which Christ suffered in time of his passion, both wounds, cross, nails, and spear, shall accuse sinful men, as Bernard saith.
Therefore all Christian people have steadfast minds upon this sentence, and flee the unlawful lusts of your flesh, and covetings, and deceits of this deceivable world; and believe ye and have ye steadfastly in mind, that Christ shall appear in the judgment, stern as a lion to wicked men’s sight, and doom both quick and dead. Of the great dread of that day, God speaks by the prophet Joel. The day of the Lord will be a great day of deliverance, a day of wrath, and of vengeance, of misery, of bitterness; the day of complaining and of accusing, the day of dread and of trembling, the day of crying and of sorrow, the day of darkness and of mourning, the day of calamity and of bitterness; a dreadful day of parting from God forever, as Anselm rehearses.
St. Bartholomew said, I believe in the Holy Ghost. Here we should believe that the Holy Ghost, the third person in the Holy Trinity, is very God, without beginning and ending, and equal in wisdom, might, and goodness, with the Father and the Son, and that these three persons of the Holy Trinity are one almighty God; and each one mighty, and all one might; and endless good, and all one goodness; and endless truth, and endless wisdom, and endless love, and endless righteous, and endless merciful; all are one truth, one wisdom, one beauty, one love, one righteousness, and one mercy.
St. Matthew said, I believe in the holy church, and the communion of saints. We should believe in the communion of saints, that is, that each of the three parts of holy church takes part of the other’s goodness, and helps the other. The part that is in heaven helps the other two parts, praying for them, as Bernard saith; and the other two parts are said to help them that are in heaven, when their bliss and joy is increased by the fellowship of the others. For the more there are, the more is their bliss, and thus each of these three parties communes with the other.
St. Simon said, I believe the forgiveness of sins. Here we should believe that they who amend their life, doing true penance, with leaving off sin and keeping God’s commandments, and ending in love, shall have forgiveness of all their sins. And Christ, through his passion and death, got for us of his Father forgiveness of our sins.
St. Jude said, I believe the rising of the body. Here we should believe that all mankind shall rise at the day of doom, from death to life, in body and soul together, each in his own kind, and in his own body, incorruptible and immortal. And though the body were burned with fire, and the powder thereof thrown into the four seas that go about the world, yet the soul and it shall come together again, and rise from death to life, at the dreadful doom, and from that day forward never after depart. And they that have evil lived, and ended in deadly sin, shall go in body and soul to pain forevermore, and they that have lived well and kept the commands of God, and fulfilled the deeds of mercy after their power, and ended in charity to God and man, shall go, body and soul together, to bliss forevermore.
Of which bliss and life St. Matthias spake in the last article, where he saith. And I believe in everlasting life. In that everlasting life of joy and bliss, good men and women that ended well, shall dwell in body and soul, world without end.
That He may grant us life who bought us with his lifeblood.