The Reign of Christ. Book Two. Chapter Forty Nine: The Restoration of Various Crafts and Honest Pursuits of Profit
8 min read
8 min read
In his singular kindness the Lord has given to this realm a very abundant supply of excellent wool. How many the crafts and how various the fine techniques of wool-making are is demonstrated by the techniques which have been imported into this realm from Spain, France, Belgium, and even from the Turks. All these techniques can be used by the English, and thus those very great amounts which are now expended in exporting wool and importing wool products and in the manufacture of these products can be gained for this realm. For it is certain that the English have enough ability and more so that they can learn any skills they put their minds to.
In the same way, the wicked and perniciously widespread profiteering of idle and noxious merchants may be diminished for the state. Here too, therefore, an effort will have to be made to develop all possible wool-making techniques in this realm, through hiring technicians from wherever this is permitted and entrusting to them the adolescents and young men who are found to be gifted by the Lord for these skills. Nor should it be doubted that since the Lord has given the English such an abundance of wool-making material, he also demands of them singular diligence that they themselves should prepare this material for human use, and not hasten to send it all away to be worked by others. For even if the English manufacture their wool to the utmost of their ability and need, there will still be an abundant surplus for exportation to other peoples.
Now, it is apparent that this island has been adorned by the Lord with such good soil and climate that it should be able to produce far richer farm products than it now does, if the fields would be cultivated with a right diligence and if all land were cultivated which used to be and should be cultivated on its own merits and for the good of the commonwealth, at the expense (at least partial if not entire) of the profit in wool. Insofar as this profit provides only harmful pomp and luxury, it should be turned over to the purpose of giving sustenance to human beings who are the sons of God. They say that this trade in wool has now so increased that in most places one man uses as much land for the pasture of his sheep as was used a short time ago to support the life of more than a thousand men. But what person not completely destitute of the mind of Christ can fail to acknowledge that Christian princes must make it a major project that there should be as good men as possible everywhere who live for the glory of God; therefore, such princes must in every way be on guard lest a few evil and harmful men, such as they all are who try to advance their own interests more than those of the commonwealth, excited by the infinite stimulus of greed, should displace men from the lands, and rob the state of its greatest riches and ornaments, namely, good citizens, and deprive the Church and heaven of worshipers praising God. The saying of Prov. 14:28 must be pondered: It is to the greater glory of the king if his people increase and multiply; it is a measure of diminishing majesty if his people diminish and decrease in number.
And so also this part must be included in a law which would suppress godless idleness in order that an industrious concern for agriculture and all farm work may be aroused.
For this it will be necessary: first, to designate for the pasture of sheep that portion of land which the Lord himself seems in his generosity especially to have provided for this work and which ancestral followers of God adapted to this use; secondly, that lands fit for planting should be rented for cultivation at a fair price. For this price really began to increase enormouly after the lands of the monks had come into the power of those men whose insatiable avarice for everything necessary for the sustaining of present life increases daily; lastly, that some men singularly endowed with a knowledge of agriculture and with zeal and industry, discovered by scouting wherever they are distributed through rural areas, should attack the laziness and correct the inertia of other farmers. In this way, many prudent men in many places have within a few years marvelously restored among their tenants an agriculture that had become almost extinct and they put an end to the extreme helplessness and need into which the neglect of farming had driven them.
In this way an interest will be aroused also for gardening so that not only the pleasures of the eyes and nostrils will be served, as is now the case, but also many salutary forms of nourishment supplied, as well as ready remedies for various diseases.
To these things must be added spinning so as to dispel the idleness which plagues the female sex not less than the male, as the outcry of so much wickedness indicates; this artful labor is now almost as much despised as its luxury is abused. Certainly, English soil rightly prepared therefor will not refuse to bear flax, nor are English women wanting in the ability to prepare it for various uses of their own and those of their husbands if they will only apply their own industry to this purpose.
And so when this agricultural skill and diligence have been restored, not only the pernicious idleness of soul and body in either sex will be exchanged for employment and workmanship, and citizens made ready for the commonwealth with bodies strengthened and hearts aroused and instructed toward every virtue (which are clearly very great advantages for the state), but the annual crop will always be more easily produced and there will be a greater supply of livestock from grazing.
To these labors, which are no less pleasant to those who rightly regard God and nature than they are useful in many varied ways to the workers themselves and to the commonwealth, the Lord adds this blessing: as work and labor wonderfully harden and strengthen their bodies for military service, their spirits are also singularly uplifted and endowed with strength and courage, so that in time of war they show themselves as fully as strong and ready defenders of their country as they are diligent and energetic farmers in time of peace.
And so the commonwealth will obtain in this one operation the means of feeding itself, and, when necessary, of defending itself, nor will there be need of external or domestic military service, which, lost in luxury and idleness, is as harmful in peace as it is useless in war. Clearly the Roman republic was never defended more honorably or more successfully than when generals and dictators were summoned from the plow and, in the conscription for military service, the country people were preferred to the city people.
When farming has been restored in this manner, in the raising of cattle as well as in the cultivation of fields and gardens, there will also be a great increase in leather from which one can make various useful as well as fine finished goods as other nations show to whom such a great quantity of leather is exported from this realm. And so if these skills of making various leather goods are made appealing to this people, so that the leather work is done here rather than that the leather is exported to other nations, a great many advantages would accrue to the realm. But all such things and their concomitant utility can be had in no other way than through a holy and honest occupation of the mind and exercise of the body in reputable and useful work.
Experts in these matters furthermore affirm that very many places on this island are not lacking in various kinds of metals, in the mining and preparation of which for human use a great multitude of men could be honestly and usefully employed! And this offers the occasion also for the establishment of penalties for crimes for which the death penalty is normally not inflicted; such punishments would be far more effective (than those which are now in force) for correcting those who have fallen and for deterring the rest from crimes, and they would, moreover, produce some work product for the commonwealth. In this way, the ancient Romans and other nations used to condemn such dangerous people either to the mining of metals or to quarries and other harder and more sordid tasks, which were nevertheless useful to human life and very often necessary. How much better is this method of punishing criminals than the one which now prevails, when men are long detained in the idleness of chains and prisons and for the most part rendered useless for the future by the length of time they spend in prisons or in chains or in harmful exile among foreign peoples.
Then also a great amount of cloth becomes worn out in this realm from which an enormous supply of rags could be collected to make paper, rags which now are exported to foreign lands and reimported as paper that is expensive and not of a very good quality. If, therefore, mills and factories for making paper were built, as could be cheaply done, also this skill, the uses of which are so widely extended, would be encouraged in this realm and many men would benefit from this work, by providing both them and their families with an honest living and the commonwealth with a fruitful industry.
So, then, if from childhood every individual citizen were assigned to the pursuit of some special skill, either in philosophy or in manual industry, and if those not really suited for government service or that of religion, or for letters and philosophy, or for governing or defending the state, were shunted aside to manual or base labor, that fertile root of all vices, godless idleness, cut off at the source, would easily be driven out from all the common people and an immense advantage to the commonwealth would be gained with a most desirable establishment of morals and conformity to every virtue.
This would be the case especially if the nobility were a shining example to the common people, as it should be. For this is the purpose for which the nobles have received from the Lord such wealth and dignified name and rank that, as they excel the rest of the people in these matters, and much more in wisdom and broad knowledge of philosophy and also in every form of virtue, they might seek to the utmost of their ability the interests and advantage of the whole commonwealth and its individual citizens, in times of peace as well as in times of war.
Everyone knows that the chief responsibilities of the nobility are the following: in peace, to assist Your Majesty energetically in the just and generous governance of God’s people entrusted to him; in war, to be brave and advantageous defenders. If those who belong to this class wish to prepare themselves for these duties, they will obviously have to be quite busy and overcome their laziness. While they are preparing their strength and faculties for both kinds of responsibility, those necessary for peace and war, they must acquire the following for the salutary governance of the people of God: a precise wisdom and a comprehensive knowledge of government; familiarity with laws; justice and sanctity, which are closely connected with the trustworthiness and authority that rulers always need; for necessary and successful defense: military knowledge, a brave contempt of dangers, an enormous love of virtue and country and of all mankind, and finally, an uncommon strength and agility of body.
But if anyone of this class of men happens to be, as is often the case, prevented by physical or mental handicaps, or both, from performing a service to the state by advising, judging, ruling, or fighting, he should consecrate himself to farming, gardening, and cattle-raising. For most of the nobles have lands and cattle, and the practice of these skills is very fitting for nobles, unless it was unworthy work for very noble and outstanding men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job, David, and almost innumerable other patriarchs highly praised in Holy Scriptures. In the same class was that great king of the Persians, Cyrus the Younger, whom Xenophon so greatly praises for his interest in and love for agriculture.16 And among the Romans there were: M. Curius, who triumphed over the Samnites, the Sabines, and Pyrrhus; L. Quintius Cincinnatus, who was summoned from the plow to the dictatorship, and this was a most happy augur for Roman affairs; M. Valerius Corvinus, who extended a life of farming to his hundredth year; Cato the Censor, and very many others.
If, then, the order of nobles should turn to such industry (and there is nothing more fitting for them and more useful for the maintenance and growth of the nobility), it will be easy to cut off every occasion for that godless idleness which is made possible by the profit-seeking of noxious hucksters and retailers.