The Poor Caitiff. Chapter Two: On The Ten Commandments
36 min read
36 min read
A Man asked Christ what he should do to have the life that shall last forever, and Christ said to him, If thou will enter into everlasting’ life, keep the commandments. By this answer of Christ, each man may understand that there is no other way to heaven, without keeping these commands, and therefore each man and woman who desires speedily to come to that life, which shall last forever, let him do his business with all strength of body and soul to keep these commandments, and despise all sophistries and arguments of false flatterers and heretics, who both in work and word despise these commandments, and with false feigned arguments reply against simple men, saying that it is not lawful to be busy about the keeping of them; yea, and saying that it is necessary sometimes to break them. But as Jannes and Jambres, the philosophers of Pharaoh, withstood Moses, through their witchcraft, when he was about to deliver God’s people out of the thraldom of Pharaoh, so these men, confused in understanding, withstand true teaching, through which God’s people should be delivered out of the thraldom of the devil. But all their sophistries shall not serve them at the last; if they be not found keeping;, and in full will keep, these commandments of God; for all other ceremonies, without keeping these commandments, are nothing worth, as St. Paul witnesses.
Almighty God wrote ten commands in two tables of stone, in token that the hearts of his people were full hard to love him, and gave them to Moses, his servant, to teach them to his people. And he promised that those who would be obedient and keep them, should have his blessing-, and prosperity, and wealth, and they that would not, should have his curse, and great sorrow, and mischief, as it is expressed in the fifth book of holy writ.
Three [four] commandments were written in the first table, and seven [six] in the other. The three [four] first teach how men should love God, and the other seven [six] teach what man should do to his fellow christian, and what he shall not do. And these commandments are so hard knitted together, that he who loves God fully, loves his fellow Christians, and whosoever loves not them, he loves not God. For whoso loves not his neighbour whom he may see with his eyes, how may he love God whom he sees not? as St. John saith.
The first command, God commands in these words; saying, ” I am thy Lord God, that led thee out of Egypt, out of the house of thraldom, and bondage. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make thee a graven image, neither any likeness which is in heaven above, and which is in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in waters under the earth. Thou shalt not pray to them, nor worship them in soul. I am thy Lord God, a strong jealous lover; visiting the wickedness of fathers on the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and doing mercy unto a thousand of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”
Our Lord God said all these words, and they are charged with more wisdom than we can tell. As for the first clause, we shall understand that almighty God chose the children of Israel, who came of Isaac, Abraham’s son, and of Jacob his son, before other nations, and said that they should be his people, and he would be their God. For to their forefather Abraham, and to his lineage, God promised to give the land of promise, by which is understood the land of bliss, that is, heaven.
And God suffered his people for their sins, to be in great thraldom in the land of Egypt under king Pharaoh, and they cried to God often, to bring them out of that mischief; and so he did at the last, for he had compassion upon them, and sent his servant Moses, and Aaron his brother, to Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he should deliver God’s people, and lie would not. But Moses, by the teaching of God, wrought such wonders before Pharaoh, that at last, by the might of God, he delivered God’s people. And Moses led them over the Red Sea, as a dry way, the water standing upright on either side of them, in the manner of two walls, and they went over dry. And soon after, Pharaoh, fervent in envy, gathered together his host, and pursued God’s people into the Red Sea. And when they were entered, he and all his host, by the same way that the people went, God made the water to pass forth in its usual course, and drenched Pharaoh and all his host; and God brought his people over, safe, into the desert. And for this wonderful work, and many more, they were commanded to worship him for their God, and no other.
And as God brought this people out of bodily thraldom, and the bondage of Pharaoh, so he brought us out of the spiritual thraldom, and bondage of the fiend. For before the time that Christ became man, all mankind were spiritually in Egypt, that is in the darkness of sin, and under the thraldom of Pharaoh, that is, under the power of the fiend. But Christ came down from heaven and became man, and did many wonders and marvels in the Egypt of this world, before Pharaoh, that is, the fiend, king of this Egypt. And through his bloody passionf delivered his people out of thraldom, and drenched the fiend with all his host. For Christ, through his painful passion, overcame the power of the fiend, and left him bound in hell for a thousand years after, as St, John saith in the book of Revelation. And thus God, through his great might and mercy, delivered his people out of Egypt of hell, and out of the thraldom of the fiend.
Though a man had no more causes than this, methinks it should singularly move him to set all his trust, his worship, and his love, on God, who is thus full of might and mercy. For there was no creature that could deliver man out of the thralldom of the fiend, but only He that had perfectly double nature in himself, and was both God and man, and would make himself as much after the will of God, as Adam by pride did against the will of God.
Furthermore, in this commandment God commands his people to have no strange gods. Here God commands that all men’s belief, trust, and love, be set only in God, and in no other thing against his will. And here he forbids all belief and trust in all manner of witchcraft, dreams, charms, and conjurations. For those that put their belief or trust in any such, withdraw some of their belief and trust from God, and so break his command, and make themselves false gods. And also men break this commandment in other manners; for look, whatever thou lovest most, and fastest goest about to get it, and art most loth to lose, thou showest by thy will and by your deeds, that this thing is thy god. Therefore each man look in his own conscience, upon what he most sets his liking and thought, and what he is most busy to please, and that thing he loves most, whatsoever it be; and what thing a man loves most, that thing he makes his god.
Thus each man wilfully using deadly sin, makes himself a false god, by turning away his love from God, to the lust of the sin that he useth. And thus when man or woman forsakes meekness, meekness that Jesus Christ commands, and gives himself to highness and pride, he makes the fiend his god; for he is king over all proud folk, as it is written in the book of Job. And so the envious man or woman have revenge and vengeance for their god. And the indolent man hath idleness, sloth, and sleep, for his god. The covetous man and woman make worldly goods their god; for covetousness is the root of all evils, and service to idols as to false gods, as St. Paul saith. Gluttonous and drunken folk make their belly their god, for the love and caie that they have for it, as St. Paul witnesses. And so lecherous folk make them a false god for the foul delight and lust that reigns in them. Thus every man and woman, using deadly sin, breaks this first commandment, worshipping false gods. Therefore saith the great clerk, Grosthead, that each man who does deadly sin, runs from, or forsakes the true God, and worshipped a false god — all such are false gods to rest upon, that cannot deliver themselves, nor their worshippers, from the vengeance of almighty God, at the dreadful doom, as God saith by his prophets.
Furthermore, in this commandment God forbidden to make any graven image or other similitude, with intent to trust on them, or to do worship to them. And this was utterly forbidden to the Jews to whom those commandments were given. First, for the inconsistency of their faith; for they were so false in their belief, that some of them worshipped things made of God for their gods. Some worshipped the sun, and the moon, and some other likenesses of creatures for their god. And so the worship that was only due to God, they gave to other creatures made by God, and to similarities and likenesses which they had made themselves, against God’s will, and therefore it was utterly forbidden to them to make any similitude or likeness, for the great idolatry which they did to them, as is found in many places in the old law.
All such similitudes or images should be as kalendars to ignorant folk; and as clerks say in their books what they should do, so ignorant folks, when they lack teaching, should learn by images whom they should worship and follow in living. Each man is forbidden to do God’s worship to images, but it is good to each man to learn by the sight of them to follow saints living.
[Wycliffe then proceeds to show how the sight of the sacrament hanging over the altar, and crucifixes or images, ought to induce men to lift up their souls to heaven, but “not believing or trusting that the image or likeness may bring any man out of spiritual or bodily mischief or give help or riches, or take away.” He proceeds thus] —
It is written in God’s law that they may neither yield to any man evil or good; neither give riches nor take away. And though any make a vow to them, and yield it not, they should not seek it. They should not deliver any man from death, nor restore a blind man to his sight, thus saith holy writ.
Moreover, God saith in this commandment that he is a jealous lover. For he wills that all man’s heart, strength, and understanding, be occupied in his law, that thou neither understand, nor will, nor think anything contrary to God, as St. Augustine saith. St, Gregory saith, that the proving of love is the giving of work. We love God truly if we keep his commandments, and refrain us from our lusts. He that wanders abroad by unlawful desires, loves not God, for he withstands his will. St. Augustine saith, “Love separates holy men from the world, and makes men of one will dwell together.” He that has not real love is evil, and no skill, nor belief, nor giving cattle to poor men, nor penance of body profits any thing to him that has not love. The tongue, soul, and life, are inquired of respecting the love of God. The tongue, that it speak not foul, idle, or wicked words, but such as are clean, chaste, and as God’s words. The soul, that it think no unclean, foul, or idle thoughts, but clean, chaste, and sweet heavenly thoughts. The life, that it work pleasingly to God’s worship. For the love of God, as St. Gregory saith, is never idle; if it be love it works great things pleasingly to God. Christ commands in the gospel, that each man love him with all his heart. This that Christ saith of all the heart, and of all the soul, admits not parting with other things. For how much a man’s heart is set on other things, so much it is departed from God.
God seeks the threefold love of man, of all his heart, soul, and strength, to withdraw man from the threefold lust of the world, that is, from the love of possessions and riches, from the love of highness and vain worship, and from fleshly lusts. For in these three was Christ tempted, and therefore to teach man to withstand these, he saith. Thou shalt love thy Lord God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength. By what God saith in this commandment, that he visited the wickedness of fathers on the children, and so forth, he showed both love and dread; but that man should be kindly led by love, he dwells more on love than dread. When he saith that he does vengeance, it is but to the third or fourth generation of them that hate him, but he does mercy unto a thousand kindreds of them that love him, and keep his commandments.
For by these two, that is, by love and dread, God chastises his children as by rod or staff. Therefore he saith by his prophet, If I be thy God, where is my love; and if I be thy Lord, where is my dread? For by love and dread each man should serve God. And therefore St. Augustine says, Holy dread of God brings men love. But understand not that God does vengeance, or punishes the child for the father or mother that hath sinned. For the child shall not bear the wickedness of the father, as God saith by his prophet. But understand that if the father be sinful and wicked, and if the child follows and uses the sinful living: of the father, then God will punish the child justly, for his own guilt; and this is what God saith in the text, that he will punish the children of them that hated him. God punishes not the children for the father’s and mother’s guilt, but for that the children were like them in manner, and in like sins hated God.
In the second commandment, God saith thus to each man, “Thou shalt not take the name of thy Lord God in vain; for God shall not have him without guilt that takes his name idly, or without a cause.”
In two manners man may take God’s name in vain; both in manner of living, and also in swearing. When man is baptized, and takes Christendom, then is the name of Christ put in his soul, who is both God and man, and name above all names; as St. Paul saith. Therefore he forsakes the devil and his works, that is, sin; and makes covenant to be Christ’s true servant and to keep his biddings. But when man breaks this covenant, and becomes the fiend’s servant, doing deadly sin, then he takes Christ’s name in vain while he serves the fiend, doing his works, as St. Peter saith. And therefore saith St. Augustine, Let no man deem himself to be a true christian man, unless he live according to the lore or teaching of Christ.
In another manner man takes God’s name in vain, as by swearing, or forswearing, and cares not how. For from a young child that scarcely can speak, to an old bearded man whom God hath almost deprived of speech, this command of God is broken. For many have brought themselves into such a perilous custom, that they can scarcely speak a word but they swear by God in vain, or by some of his creatures. St. Augustine saith, that to swear by God, or by any saint, is to call them to bear witness of what thou swears. Bethink thee well; if thou calledst a poor man to bear witness of every word thou speakest, in a little time he would have indignation, and say that thou didst scorn him — much more almighty God, who forbids such vain swearing and calling to bear witness. The cause should be both true and right needful, if men should call such a Lord as God is, to bear witness thereof, and therefore God forbids this vain swearing by his name, in this commandment, and in many other places in his law. And Christ forbids swearing by creatures, in the gospel of Matthew, where he commands to swear not, neither by heaven or by earth. In that he forbids to swear by heaven, he forbids to swear by the saints that are in heaven, and in that he forbids to swear by earth, he forbids to swear by any creature on earth. And herewith accords St. James, saying. Dear brethren, before all things swear ye not, neither by heaven, nor by earth, nor by any other oath, lest you fall under the doom of God. And St. John Chrysostom saith that it is idolatry, or worshipping of false gods, to swear by a creature. Yea, as he saith, This is sovereign blasphemy, since this swearing, as much as is in the swearer, makes the creature by which he sweareth, to be God; since it is reserved to God only, that men swear by him, with three conditions which God rehearses by Jeremiah the prophet; which are — he that shall swear be compelled by doom — that he verily know his cause be true — and also needful to help his fellow-christian in his right. Else should each man keep him from swearing. For if any of these three conditions fail, there is an offense.
And since Almighty God in his law saith, that he shall not be unpunished who takes God’s name thus in vain, what punishment suppose we shall they have, who not only take his name in vain, but also dismember him, and crucify him by swearing by his heart, and by his wounds, and other members? Such do more despite to Christ than the Jews did who nailed him to the cross, as St. Augustine and St. Gregory say. For this manner of swearing is called blasphemy, and one of the greatest despites that man may do to God — to swear by his limbs, and to upbraid him with his painful passion.
The fiend hath found three false excuses for swearing, and hath taught them his servants, to withstand and excuse their sin. Some say in scorn, as the fiend teaches them. Is it not good to have God often in mind? And some say, I may swear, for I swear truth. And some say, But if I swear not, no man will believe me. With these three false excuses men supposed to excuse themselves for such sinful vain swearing, but they accuse themselves before God, and make their sin more grievous. For as to the first, I pray thee, if thy servant did what thou hadst forbidden him, even the oftener he did it, the worse thou wouldst be pleased, and more yet if he scorned thee, and said he did so from love, to have thee in mind ! To the second false and feigned excuse may be answered thus; A man should not swear always when he saith truth, for each man ought to tell the truth when he speaks any thing. For God forbid any man to lie, and thus by his false excuse, man should swear at every word, if it were lawful to swear even when he saith truth. But this is openly false, as holy writ witnesses. It is written in the book of Ecclesiasticus, that a man who swears much shall be full filled with wickedness, and vengeance shall not depart from that house in which many oaths are used. And to those who say that no man will believe them unless they swear, this methinks is a foul excusation; since a false man may swear as much as a true man, and thus should men believe by oaths a false man as well as a true man. For commonly the more false a man is, the more oaths he will swear; and commonly he that will readiest swear, will gladly forswear and beguile. For he that dreads not to break God’s command, will not be afraid to be false. But Christ bids not belief to oaths that are sworn, but he fully teaches to believe the deeds. For if men knew that thou were true in thy words, and in thy deeds, they would ask no oath of thee, for it should not avail. But since thou art varying and untrustworthy in word and in deed, therefore men believe thee not, unless thou will swear.
Therefore if thou will be believed without swearing, be true of thy tongue, and discreet of thy words; and take heed to Christ’s word where he forbids thee to swear by heaven or by earth, or by thine own head, for thou mayest not make a hair thereof either white or black. But let thy words be yes, yes, no, no, without any oath, for what thou swears more than this it is of evil. For all manner of truth stands either yes or no; and the heart and mouth should accord in speech, and not say one thing and think another; therefore Christ doubles this yes, and this no, and thus they should be christian men’s word, without vain swearing, either by God or his creatures.
The third command of God is commanded by him thus, “Have mind that thou hallow the holy day; in six days thou shalt work thine own works; the seventh day is the rest of thy Lord God. That day thou shalt do no servile work, neither thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy servant, nor thy work-beast, nor the stranger that dwells in thine house. For in six days God made heaven and earth, sea, and all things that are within them, and rested the seventh day; and therefore he blessed that day, and made it holy.” Instead of the seventh day, which was hallowed in the Old Testament by God’s commandment, christian men, of their devotion, hallow the eighth day, that is, the Sunday, wherein Christ rose again from the dead. The Sunday, as ignorant people call it, in holy writ is called the Lord’s day. This was the first day of the world, wherein light was made. On this day, Christ rose again from death to life immortal. On this day, the Holy Ghost came down to the apostles, and gave to them understanding, wisdom, charity, and hardiness to preach God’s truth, and die therefore.
But since sin is the worst work of bondage, for it makes men bound to the fiend of hell — and he is the worst lord that any man may serve, for he rewards his servants with nothing but with pain — therefore men should busy themselves on the holy day to learn God’s law, which might teach them to flee sin, and to rest in their God; and they should flee fleshly lusts, taverns, and chafferings,t that hinder this end; and bewail their before-done sins, beseeching grace and might, to withstand others to come. This lesson God teaches in a book of his law. And therefore saith St. Augustine, If it need us christian men to have dehlight and mirth in holy days, let us delij^ht in God’s word, and seek our delights in declaring; God’s law. Let us not ordain precious feasts for the belly and the throat, but so hallow the holy days, that we follow them in living, of whom these feasts are. For a devout follower pleases God more than an idle praiser, or a praiser by mouth only. True praising of heart is following of work. For to worship with mouth, and not to follow in living, is nothing else but falsely to flatter. Truly to this end are holy days ordained, that by them the congregation of christian men be stirred to follow the saints of God.
In three manners men break this commandment of God. First, we see that all things kindly, after travail seek rest. God in six days made heaven and earth, and all things within them, and rented on the seventh day. Apostles, and martyrs, and other saints, travailed on this world, withstanding sin, and suffered much for God’s love and his truth, and now they rest in heaven. But many men and women of this world, travail busily all the week, and yet they will not rest on the Sunday. If there be either fair, or market, or any other place where they may win any money, then they, and their servant, and their work-beast, shall busily labour therefore. And it seems that all such folk have lost their spiritual mind, and are like to none but them that are in hell; for they never rest, but evermore travail in pain, and shall do so, world without end, as the prophet saith. Would God that all such folk would have mind how a man was stoned to death by the commandment of God, because he gathered sticks on the holy day, as it is written in a book of God’s law, and did no greater trespass. For such folk gather many brands of covetousness, and other great sins, to burn their souls in pain, unless they amend before death.
In the second manner many men break this commandment, for many cease on the holy day from great bodily travails, but they occupy themselves in great spiritual sins; for such folk cleanse out the gnat, and swallow a camel, holding that there is more peril in a little bodily work, than in a great spiritual sin; although every other should be left on the holy day! Nevertheless, St. Augustine saith, that it is less trespass to go to the plough, to dig, or delve, and for women to spin on the holy day, than to lead dances and frequent taverns. For such folk in a manner hallow the work days, doing good and lawful work, and in the holy days spend their life in drunkenness and gluttony, lechery and pride, and such great deadly sins. In the work day they are busy to travail for livelihood for their body, but in the holy day they give their souls to the fiend, for lust and liking of divers sins. To such folk God speaks by his prophet, saying that he will throw in their faces the filth of their sins, which they do in the holy day. And in another place he saith, that he hates their solemnities, that is, for the sins that are done in them. And it is written in the book of mourning (Lamentations) that our enemies, that is fiends, have seen our occupations, and they have scorned our holy days.
In the third manner this command is broken by them that spend their time in idle and vain plays, and have great liking to behold and see vanities, and to hear and to tell idle tales, and to speak of filth and of sin, and to backbite their fellow christians when they sit together. And thereby they destroy the virtue and grace that should be in their souls, as St. Bernard saith. For as good speech and chaste words increase virtue and grace in the souls of speakers and hearers, so foul words of lechery and of other sins, defoul the souls, both of them that speak, and of them that hear, if they consent thereto, as St. Paul saith.
Therefore, whosoever will hallow his holy day to God’s worship, learn he another lesson, and understand how God commands in his commandment to have regard to the holy day. For man should on the holy day put out of his heart all worldly thoughts, and occupy his mind in heavenly desires, and think on the great goodness and mercy that God hath done for him, how He made him of nought, and like to himself in soul. What greater token of love might he show, than to make the servant like to the Lord? Also, have a mind that when thou were a child of wrath, and of hell, for the sin of Adam, Christ laid his life to pledge, to bring thee out of that prison; and he gave not as ransom for thee either gold or silver, or any other jewel, but his own precious blood that ran out of his heart. And this principally should move all christian men to have mind of God, and to worship him in thought, word, and deed.
Have mind also, how thou hast often, since thou were christened, broken his commands, and done many great sins, and yet of his own goodness he abide thee, without
taking vengeance, where he might justly, for one deadly sin, put thee in pain for ever, and do thee no wrong.
Also have mind how he of his goodness, governs thee in thy right senses, and keeps thee by night and by day, where he suffers others for their sin to fall into great mischief both of body and soul. And from all such mischiefs by his mercy he hath kept thee. Think also how unkind thou hast been against him, and all these great goodnesses which he hath willingly done to thee; and how thou, as an unkind wretch, against all these mercies, and many more, hast given him gall to drink, of bitter and foul sins; and often wittingly and wilfully hast broken his commandments, both in thought, word, and deed.
That thou shouldest have mind of all these goodnesses, and many more which he hath done to thee, and of the manifold trespasses which thou hast done against him — and since the having of such mind, demands to have rest of body and of soul, and such rest should be had on the holy day — therefore God commands each man to have mind to hallow his holy day. For each man’s mind or thought should be kept from vanities, and occupied thereabout, and therefore God called the holy day, the day of rest. For each man should be busy to purchase rest of soul and body, and to avoid all things for the time that hinder this. For resting on the Sunday betokens the resting in bliss after this life, and they will not keep rest of soul this day, and avoid sin, it is to be dreaded, that unless they amend, they will lose the rest of bliss to come.
In these three (four) first commands, each man is taught how he shall love God; and in the seven (six) ensuing, he is taught how he shall love his fellow christian, what he shall do to them, and what he shall leave.
The first command of these seven, God saith in this wise, “Worship thou thy father and thy mother; that thou mayest be of long life upon earth.” And both nature and reason will this. What man or woman shouldest thou worship, if thou shouldest not worship them that brought thee forth, and loved and helped thee, when thou mightest not, neither could help thyself And St. Augustine saith it is a brutish condition for a child to forget to worship and to love his father and his mother.
Three manner of fathers we should worship. The first is the Father who creates from nothing; the second is him that is our father by nature; the third is the father by age, and especially by virtues. The principal father that we should worship is Almighty God, who made us, body and soul, and nourishes the body with food that comes from the earth, and comforts every good soul with heavenly desire. This Father defends every soul that is true to him, from the power of the fiend, who would overset it, and grants it through his grace, to be an heir in heaven. And this may no father do, but only God almighty; for he is Father of all, most rightful and mighty, whom no man may withstand. And therefore, we should worship him over all other, for he is our Father, our Lord, our God, and he shall be our Judge at the last day, and for the endless reward that he keeps for us if we keep his commands. For whoso loves his father or mother, or any other creature more than Him, he is not worthy to have him, as he saith himself And St. Augustine saith, that as there may be no moment or time, in which man uses not God’s goodness and his mercy, so ought there to be no moment or time, in which man hath him not in mind, for to worship him.
The second father that we should worship, is he that is our father by nature. To him we should be subject, and meek, and serviceable, as Christ teaches by his own doing. For he was subject and serviceable to his mother and to Joseph. And since he is and was very God, and would be subject and serviceable to an earthly creature, how shall we mortal wretches escape from the wrath of him, if we be rebellious, out of reason, against our father and mother? And therefore, let each child worship and reverence his father and his mother, and help them in their need, both bodily and spiritually. Give them of thy goods freely if they have need, and thou have more than they. And travail for them with the strength of thy body, and counsel and comfort them after thy ability, and reverence them with the words of thy mouth; for he that missays his father or his mother shall die an evil death, as God’s law saith. And if thou art wiser than they, counsel, and teach them in all meek manner, how they should live justly, to please God almighty; and help them out of old customs of sin and unreasonable manners. For he that is negligent in this, does great wrong to his father and mother, if he may, by any easy means, amend such defaults.
And look that no child consent to sin for any fleshly worship of father or mother; for bowing to sin is not obedience, but the greatest rebellion that man can do against God, or any christian man. For man should not consent to sin to win all the world. Christ asketh, what it profits a man to win the world and suffer loss to his own soul?
The third fathers we should worship are men of age, and especially of virtue. For many old men and women there are who are full of vices, and so they are but children in understanding, although they are of great bodily age. Therefore worship thou in all such that which God made, which is body and soul, but beware that thou consent not to sin; for it is a foul abuse, as St. Augustine saith, for a man or woman of great age to be without good living.
In the fifth command, God forbids all wrongful manslaying, both of body and soul. For this is one of the sins that ever cr)’ for vengeance before Almighty God. And therefore God said to Cain, Lo the voice of thy brother’s blood cries unto me from the earth. This sin of manslaughter is so grievous in God’s sight, that he commanded in the old testament, before Christ’s coming, that if any man, by lying in wait, or any treachery, killed a man, and afterwards fled to God’s altar for succour, yet should he be taken away from thence, and be slain for that deed. And therefore St. John saith. He that slays shall be slain. For the same measure that thou measurest to another shall be measured to thee, as Christ saith himself, and therefore he commanded Peter to put up his sword in the time of his suffering. But open trespassers that will not be amended in other manner, must by just doom be slain, by them that bear the sword of temporal punishment, without trespassing against this command of God, as St. Paul saith. Therefore let each man beware of malicious bodily manslaying, that no man by deed, nor by will, nor by procuring others, for hate or for dread, assent to this sin. For God will take great vengeance on him, who for his own malicious will slays any man, or procures thereto against God’s law, unless he amend him before he dies.
Of spiritual manslaying there are many manners. The first is manslaying of heart. For each man that hates his fellow christian in his heart is a manslayer, as St. John saith. The second is, when man wilfully assenting to wicked thoughts of his heart, turns from goodness. The third manner is, by unlawful lusts and desires engendered in the heart, which will slay him that is slow to put them away. As it is written, Desires slay the slothful.
Also there is a spiritual manslaughter by mouth; and that is in three manners. The first is in lying, for the mouth that lies slays the soul. The second is of backbiting, for that is the tongue of the adder, which stings in stillness, as is written in a book of God’s law. The backbiter slays first himself through his own wickedness, and the malice of his heart; and also him that hears and consents to his false telling, and after, peradventure, makes it worse. Also he slays him whom he backbiteth, as much as he is able, for he makes him lose his good praise and fame. And also when this comes to his ear who is spoken of, then he is out of charity, and thus the backbiter slays three at once. The third manner of manslaughter by mouth, is false flattering, or praising in sin and wickedness, or for a man to show glossing words to another whom he hates in his heart. Those that flatter men in sin by any false colouring, hide other men’s spiritual death in their own error, not telling them their perils, nor reproving their defaults, either for dread or for covetousness. Thus some preachers are guilty of manslaughter. Other glosers and flatterers, who bear honey in their mouths by smooth words, and gall of death in their hearts by secret hate, are figured in holy writ by Joab, who met with Amasias, and spake fair with him, as though he would have kissed him, and under colour thereof killed him.
Also a man is said to slay himself spiritually, when he knowingly and willfully doth deadly sin; for then he makes God depart from him, who is the life of the soul, as
St. Augustine saith. And therefore Christ saith that the devil hath been a manslayer from the beginning. For first he slew himself with sin, and all the angels that consented to him. Also he slew Adam and Eve through his false enticing and so he doth those whom he may overcome with deadly sin. Therefore it is written, Flee thou sin, as thou wouldest flee from the biting; of an adder; for it is as bitter as the teeth of a lion, slaying the souls of men.
Also there is manslaughter in other manner, in which man is said to slay his fellow christian; as he or she that hath the goods of the world, and sees a man or woman in great default or mischief, and will not help them. I speak not of pardoners, nor of bold beggars, but of them that are poor, feeble, crooked, blind, and lame, or in some other mischief, by the sufferance of God; and others who have pain and default, who are ashamed to ask, and would rather suffer much mischief than beg. Of whom it is said in holy writ, Thou hast seen a man dying for hunger;t if thou hast not fed him thou hast slain him.
Also, if any man by fraud, or by sleight, or by any other false tricks, as by weight or measure; or by deceit in chaffer, or by withholding of labourer’s hire, gets other men’s goods to make himself rich, he is said to be a manslayer. Therefore, let all those beware that take any thing by wrong, or by false pretence, supposing to be free because they give to another under the colour of alms, but it is none. For all alms must be given of true gotten goods, and to those that Christ limiteth.f
Of such folk as by rapine and deceit slay their fellow christians, taking from them their livelihood, and so their life, God speaks by his prophets, saying, Your hands are fouled with blood, your fingers are full of wickedness. And he that wields by violence, by thefl, or by fraud, or deceit, that whereby poor men ought to be sustained, hath hands defiled with blood of poor, and he that eats and drinks of such possessions, and clothes himself, and builds houses, and walls of such possessions, eats and drinks the blood of poor men, is clothed in the blood of poor men, and lays the foundation of his buildings in the blood of poor men. Let such men hear the word of God, Whosoever sheds man’s blood, his blood shall be shed.
Also there is a manslaying by giving evil example. Also there is manslaughter of negligence or carelessness, of which God speaks by his prophet, to each curate or priest. If thou speakest not to the people, that a wicked man keep him from his evil way, he shall die in his wickedness, I shall seek his blood at thy hand.
The sixth command of God forbids all manners of lechery, both bodily and spiritual. For of all sins this is the foulest For why? Other sins defile only the soul, but this defiles both body and soul, as St. Paul saith. And among; all other sins, this most pleases the fiend. In other sins, commonly he gets only one at once, but in this at the least he gets two. For the sin of lechery God hath taken great vengeance, as is shown in holy writ. See the history of Dinah, and of the daughters of Moab.
To this deed the devil tempts in five manners, as St. Gregory saith. The first by foolish looking after by dishonest words, and after that by foul touching, and in foul kissing, and so comes to the deed. Thus craflily the devil brings from one to another. Therefore Job saith, I have made a covenant with mine eyes that I shall not think upon a maid. And women that array themselves nicely, to be seen of fools, sin grievously, for by their nice array and countenance they cause the loss of many souls. It is a foul abuse to see a woman without chastity of soul. Two manners belong to the keeping of chastity — that the outward array not to show, but to conceal and hide, and that the desire of the heart be set to God and heavenly things, destroying foul thoughts of the heart and idle words and vain.
It behoves to flee occasion thereof, as company and place, and delicate and lustful meats and drinks, that excite thereto. And therefore saith a great clerk, that in this sin a man must especially be God’s coward, and flee from occasion that moves to this sin, and trust not to strength, understanding, or wisdom. For what man was stronger than Samson? Who was more able than David? Who was wiser than Solomon? And yet those three were burned with the fire of lechery. Therefore let him that will be God’s clean child, as God’s coward, flee all occasions and companies that move him to this sin.
The second medicine that helps against this sin, is to keep the body from lustful meats and drinks. The third is, to keep out of idleness, and to busy thy mind in clean thoughts, and thy body in clean occupations. For such lusts come not unless thoughts go before.
Spiritual lechery, is when a man’s soul turns to the fiend by lust of deadly sin. For Christ and man’s soul are wedded together through true belief, love, charity, and the keeping of his commands, and leaving of sin, as God saith by his prophet. But when a man, by his own devices, turns to deadly sin, and leaves the love of Christ, he sins in spiritual lechery with the fiend.
The seventh command, God saith in these words, “Thou shalt not do theft” Theft, as a learned man saith, is a taking away of goods without the leave and will of him that owns them. In this command, God forbids all manner of wrong taking and withholding of any man’s goods — all privy stealing, robbing, and beguiling — all sleights and deceits in buying and selling. Therefore let each man beware, that he do no theft, lets God do vengeance on him, as he did on Achan. And if he have any thing of other men wrongfully, by theft; subtlety, or deceit, let him restore and make restitution or satisfaction therefore, by all his power, else the sin is not forgiven, as St. Augustine saith.
Since theft is taking of other men’s goods against the will of them that own them, it seems hereby that all wrong getting of goods, by usury, by rapine, by false weights and measures, and secret guile, is thefl done by covetousness to have other men’s goods against God’s will, and them that own them. Therefore, saith St, Paul, to make us beware, whoever desires thus to be rich, fall into temptation and a snare of the devil, and into many grievous and unprofitable desires, which drown men in death and damnation. For covetousness is the root of all evils. And in another place he saith, Let no man beguile his brother in chaffering by any deceit, for God takes vengeance upon them that do so. Therefore, those that are great of power in this world, let them not rob nor beguile those that are smaller, neither by rapine, nor by extortion, nor by false claims; but let them be satisfied with the wages that are limited to them for their livelihood. For John the Baptist commanded the soldiers, as the gospel witnesses.
Therefore, let not him that is a merchant, or a victualler, deceive his fellow christian, as St. Paul exhorts, neither with meat, nor measure, nor any other deceit, to make himself rich by goods gotten by rapine. For God punishes all that do such things. And Christ saith. The same measure that ye mete to others shall be meted to you again. Therefore, let each man beware that he defraud not any man for his own covetousness, and be no swearer or liar, in selling or buying. For it is written by the Holy Ghost’s teaching, that whoso gathers treasures with a lying tongue, he is vain and evil. And against him that swears and forswears himself in buying and selling, or in any other manner, Zechariah. the prophet of God, speaks thus: He saith that he saw a book flying in the air, which was twenty cubits long and ten in breadth. And the angel said to him, It is the curse of God, that goes to thieves’ houses, and to all men’s houses that forswear themselves by the name of God. And God speaks by his prophet, against those who with evil gotten goods, buy lands and rents, and make great buildings, bitterly cursing them for their falseness. Wo be to you, saith he, who bind house to house, and ii eld to field, and say right is wrong and wrong is right — and so say all men who by any falseness gather goods together. Therefore, saith God by another prophet. Wo be to them that multiply things that are not their own.
And let him that is a labourer, or a craftsman, do his craft or his labour truly, without sleight or other deceit, as St. Paul exhorts by the teaching of God. And let no man, with wrong, withhold the workman’s hire. For that is one of the four sins that ever cry vengeance before God, as St. James saith. Also, in this command, God forbids the cursed sin of usury, in which men sin after divers manners.
In the eighth command, God forbids every man and every woman to bear false witness against their fellow christian. For through false witness many a right heir loses his heritage, and many a guiltless man is put to death. Thus Christ who was most innocent, and never did sin, was condemned to death by means of two false witnesses. Therefore, let each man and woman beware of their words, that they bear no witness by word or by swearing, for any thing, unless they know verily that it is right and true. And understand what peril he hath who knowingly bears false witness, and forswears himself on the holy book.
Also, in this command, God forbids all leasings. For each leasing is a false witness against Christ, who is very truth, as he saith himself Therefore Christ called the devil a liar, and the father of lies. For he found the first leasing, and made it himself, when he said to Eve in Paradise, that she should not die, though she ate of the fruit of the tree God had forbidden upon pain of death, but that Adam and she should be as gods, knowing good and evil. But this was a leasing, and that Adam and Eve knew soon after eating the fruit. And therefore the devil is said to be the father of all false witness bearers and liars, and they are said to be his children, by following in manners and in their living. Therefore Christ said to the Jews, that they were of their father the devil, for they wrought his desires. Therefore, let each man beware, for it is written. The lips that lie are abominable to the Lord.
Therefore let each man beware that neither for dread, for hate, nor for gift, he uses leasing; neither bear false witness against his fellow christian. For Judas sold truth, when he sold Christ for money. And they who for gift or reward, bear false witness and deny truth, do the same sin spiritually that Judas did bodily. For while they for coveting anything, deny truth, they sell Christ that is truth, therefore let each man keep himself from leasing, and all those by his might that he hath power over. For a great doctor saith, that though a man might by a private leasing save all this world, which else should perish, yet should he not lie to save it.
Leasing stands not only in false words, but also in feigned works, and in manner of living. And therefore let each man and woman who is called a christian, look that their living in accord with the lore and teaching of Christ. And let him that is called a priest of Christ, know and teach by living and word, the law of his Lord; lest he be of those that St. Paul speaks of, who acknowledged by mouth and by word that they know God, but in their works and living they deny knowing him. Of which manner of folk, St. John speaks, saying. He that saith he knows God, and keeps not his commands, he is a liar, and there is no truth in him. And in another place he saith, He that saith that he loves God, and hates his brother, is a liar. Of such manner of liars, St. Ambrose speaks, saying, Brethren, Hee ye leasing, for all that love leasings are sons of the devil. Not only in false words, but in feigned works, is leasing, for it is leasing for a man to call himself a christian, and not to do the works of Christ. It is leasing for any man to acknowledge himself bishop, priest, or clerk, and to work things contrary to those orders. Therefore let each man, in his degree, be busy to seek the truth of Christ’s teaching, to live thereafter, and so to flee sin.
The ninth command is this, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house,” and in another place God saith, “Thou shalt not desire thy neighbour’s field.” Here God forbids all wrongful desire and coveting of other men’s goods, both house and land, gold and silver, clothes, corn, and all other things that cannot move themselves from one place to another. And as in the seventh command God forbids the deed of wrongfully taking any man’s goods, so in this command he forbids all manner of wrongful desire, or coveting in heart to any man’s goods. This command touches the ground of all evil — having such manner of goods. For no man wrongfully hath any such goods unless the ground of his having be false coveting in heart. And therefore, as a weed is well cleansed out of land when the root is drawn away, so these four commands are well kept when false coveting of the heart is fully quenched.
Of the great harm that comes of false coveting in man’s heart, a great clerk speaks, saying, Oh how many men has covetousness deceived and destroyed! As Balaam, Achan, Gehazi, Judas, Ananias and Sapphira, and others. Holy writ also speaks of the mischief that comes of false covetousness, and wrong desire of man’s heart, by the example of Ahab who coveted the vineyard of Naboth, and Jezebel the queen, upon whom sentence was fulfilled as God had said. And therefore let each man and woman beware, that false desire or covetousness to have any man’s goods with wrong, or against his will, reign not in their hearts; lest worse befall them than befell king Ahab and Jezebel his queen.
In the tenth commandment, God saith in this manner; “Thou shalt not desire the wife of thy neighbour; nor his servant, nor his maid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is his.” In this command, God forbids the will and consent of each unreasonable desiring, and wrong coveting of all things that are alive, and may move themselves from one place to another. Thus God forbids the sins of man’s will in all things, for oftimes it befalls, that sin is more grounded in evil will than in deed. And as God in the sixth command forbids the sin of lechery, so he forbids in this command, the will and consent of the heart. For as the deed is deadly sin, so is the full consent and the desire of the heart deadly sin, as Christ saith himself
Therefore, let each man and woman bethink busily what thought enters into their heart, and if any thought is about to draw the reason of their soul to consent to any sin, let him not muse on that thought, but without delay sternly put it away, moving his heart to think upon the bitter pains that Christ suffered, and upon the endless joys of heaven, which be loses if he consent to that sin; and upon the bitter and endless pains of hell that he shall have at his end, if he dies in that desire or sin which this wicked thought will bring him to, if it abide in the heart until the reason of the soul consent.
And also let each woman beware, that neither by countenance, nor by array of body, nor of head, she stir any to covet her to sin. Not crooking her hair, neither laying it upon high, nor the head arrayed about with gold and precious stones, not seeking curious clothing, nor of nice shape, showing herself to be seemly to fools. For all such array of women, St. Peter and St. Paul, by the Holy Ghost’s teaching, openly forbid. But let them be in clothing of shamefacedness and soberness; being subject to their husbands, after the rule of reason, as St. Peter and St. Paul teach; that they v/ho believe not God’s word be won to health, beholding in awe the holy and chaste conversation of women. Thus in old time good women and holy, believing in God, adorned themselves, as St, Peter saith.
These are the ten commands of God, after which it behoves all men and women to rule their life, if they would be saved, and therefore Christ saith to each man, if he will enter into life that shall last forever, keep these commands. These commands men should teach their children and their households. And therefore God commands to h;s people, that each man tell his sons how God led his people out of Egypt, And it shall be as a token in thy hand, saith God, and as a thing to be minded, before thine eye, and let the law of the Lord be ever in thy mouth, Exodus 8.
And in another place, (Deuteronomy 6) God saith, These words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart, and thou shall tell them to thy sons, and thou shalt think on them, sitting’ in thine house, and going in the way, and sleeping and rising. And thou shalt bind them as a sign in thine hand, and they shall be betwixt thine eyes, and thou shalt write them on the lintels and door-posts of thy house. That is, thou shalt rule all thy thoughts, words, and deeds, secret and open, within thy house and without, by the commandments of God. Keep thyself and thy soul carefully; nor forget thou the words which thine eyes have seen, and let them not fall from thine heart, in all the days of thy life. Thou shalt teach them to thy sons and to those that are near to thee. And St. Augustine saith to all christian men. Govern ye your houses, govern ye your sons, govern ye your household attendants. As it pertains to us to speak to you in the church, so it pertains to you to do in your houses; that ye yield good reason to God, of them that are subject to you. St. Paul saith, He that hath not care of his own, and most of his own household, has denied the faith, and is worse than a heathen man. Therefore let each man first learn and do in deed himself, and after that excite and move others to keep these commandments.
[Wickliff then exhorts men, not ” to be negligent to learn, for dread of the sentence that God saith in his law.” He quotes at length Deuteronomy xxviii., and adds,] That all men and women may have grace truly to keep the commands of God, and therethrough flee these curses, and have these blessings; and ever to be above in virtue, and never under in sin, and after that, to reign above in everlasting bliss, grant, Jesus Christ, that bought man with his heart’s blood, merciful God. Amen.
All these ten commands of God are contained in two words of love — that is, To love God above all things, and thy fellow christian as thyself. For he that loves God above all things, will worship no God but one, and he will hallow his holy day, for every day he will live holily, and out of great sin. For certain, every day that a man lives in deadly sin, is the devil’s work day, for the day man does the devil’s works, he serves the devil and not God, though he sings, preach, or read holy words. And he will not take God’s name in vain; for he who loves God above all things, will do nothing that God forbids him. And he who loves his fellow christian as himself, keeps the other commands; for he reverences his elders and all his fellow christians. And he will not slay his fellow christians in any manner, nor commit lechery, and he will not be a thief to rob his fellow christian, by any deceit or taking of his goods against his will. And he that loves his fellow christian as himself, will not bear any false witness, and he will not covet his neighbour’s house, nor land, nor wife, nor servant, nor any other goods that he owns. Thus the ten commands of God are kept in these two words of love. Therefore saith St. Paul, Whoso loveth, fulfilled all the law. Whoso loves God over all things, is ever dreading to offend him in thought, word, or deed. And to love thy fellow christian, is neither to covet, nor to suffer, nor counsel or procure, nor to consent to any thing to be done to him, other than thou shouldest desire were done to thee, if thou were in his state. And therefore saith Christ himself, confirming this sentence. All things that ye desire men should do to you, do ye the same to them.
[Wycliffe enforces these considerations at considerable length by quotations from scripture and the fathers. He proceeds,]
Whoso loves God over all other things, and his neighbour as himself, will not be proud. For pride is either an unskilful highness, through which a man is disobedient to God and his commands, or it is an unreasonable highness, through which a man exalts himself above his fellow-christians, and despises them. Also, he that hath this love leaves covetousness. For he that loves God above all other things, and his fellow christian as he should, will desire nothing that is against the will of God, or harming to his fellow christian.
And he that hath this love will not live in sloth, for he will endeavour with all his might to serve his God in keeping his commands. And after the grace that he hath received of God, he will forsake his own ease, and put himself to travail and pain for the welfare of his brother. And he that hath this love will have no deadly wrath to any man, nor desire vengeance on him, though he have trespassed greatly against him. And he that hath this love, hath no envy to his fellow christian. For neither will he be glad of their harm, nor sorry for their welfare. And he that hath this love, will not for his filthy lust bring his sister into sorrow. And he that hath this love, will not take his meat or his drink but in measure, as he needs. For whoso does otherwise, does gluttony, and takes his meat and his drink against the ordinances of God. And whoso hath this love, does the works of mercy to his brother.
[Wycliffe enlarges upon love to our neighbours, recapitulating much that he had previously stated, and concludes:]
Thus in these ten commands of God, contained in two words love, all good is fulfilled, and all evil eschewed. And that we may live and end in this love, and so come to everlasting bliss, grant us, Jesus Christ, that lives and reign, without end, merciful God. Amen. Amen.