Enchiridion. Chapter 1. We Must Watch and Look About Us Evermore While We Be in This Life
13 min read
13 min read
A compendious treatise of the soldier of Christ, called Enchiridion, which Erasmus of Roterdame wrote unto a certain courtier, a friend of his.
Thou hast desired me with fervent study, singular beloved brother in Christ, that I should describe for thee compendiously, a certain craft of virtuous living, by whose help thou mightest attain a virtuous mind, according to a true christian man. For thou sayest that thou art and hast been a great while weary of the pastime of the court. And dost compass in thy mind by what means thou mightest escape Egypt with all her both vices and pleasures, and be prepared happily with the captain Moses unto the journey of virtue. The more I love thee, the gladder I am of this thine so holy purpose, which I trust (yea without our help) he that hath vouchsafed to stir it up in thee, shall make prosperous, and bring to good effect. Notwithstanding yet have I very gladly and willingly accomplished thy desire, partly because thou art so great a friend of mine, partly also because thou requirest so charitable things. Now enforce thyself, and do thine endeavour, that neither thou mayst seem to have desired my service and duty in vain, or else I to have satisfied my mind without any fruit. Yea let us both indifferently beseech the benign spirit of Jesu, that he both put wholesome things in my mind while I write and make the same to thee of strength and efficacy.
The first point is, we must needs have in mind continually, that the life of mortal men is nothing but a certain perpetual exercise of war: as Job witnesseth (Job 7), a warrior proved to the uttermost and never overcome. And that the most part of men be overmuch deceived, whose minds this world as a juggler holdeth occupied with delicious and flattering pleasures, which also as though they had conquered all their enemies, make holiday out of season, none otherwise verily than in a very assured peace.
It is a marvellous thing to behold how without care and circumspection we live, how idly we sleep, now upon the one side, and now upon the other, when without ceasing we are besieged with so great a number of armed vices, sought and hunted for with so great craft, invaded daily with so great lying await.
Behold over thy head wicked devils that never sleep, but keep watch for our destruction, armed against us with a thousand deceits, with a thousand crafts of noysances, which enforce from on high to wound our minds with weapons burning and dipped in deadly poison, than the which weapons neither Hercules nor Cephalus had ever a surer dart, except they be received on the sure and impenetrable shield of faith.
Then again, on the right hand and on the left hand, afore and behind, this world striveth against us, which after the saying of Saint John is set all on vice and mischief: and therefore to Christ both contrary and hated. Neither is it one manner of fight, for sometime with groans of adversity raging, as with open war he shaketh the walls of the soul. Sometime with great promises (but yet most vain) he provoketh to treason: and sometime by undermining he stealeth on us unaware to catch us among the idle and careless men. Last of all underneath, the slippery serpent, the first breaker of peace , father of unquietness, otherwhiles hid in the green grass, lurking in his caves, wrapped together in a hundred round coils ceaseth not to watch and lie in wait beneath in the heel of woman, whom he once poisoned.
By the woman is understood the carnal part of a man, otherwise called sensuality. This is our Eve by whom the most crafty serpent doth entice and draw our minds to mortal and deadly pleasures. And furthermore as though it were but a trifle that so great a company of enemies should assault us on every side, we bear about with us wheresoever we go in the very secret parts of the mind an enemy nearer than one of acquaintance, or one of household. And as nothing is more inward, so nothing is more perilous.
This is the old and earthly Adam, which, by acquaintance and customary familiarity, is more near to us than a citizen, and is in all manner studies and pastimes to us more contrary than any mortal enemy, whom thou canst keep off with no bulwark, neither is it lawful to expel him out of thy pavilion. This fellow must be watched with an hundred eyes, lest peradventure he setteth open the castle or city of God for devils to enter in. Seeing therefore that we be vexed with so fearful and cruel war, and that we have to do or strive with so many enemies, which have conspired and sworn our death, which be so busy, so appointed, so false and expert: ought not we madmen on the other side to arm ourselves and take weapons in our hands to keep watch and have all things suspect? But we as though all things were at rest and peace, sleep so fast that we rowte again and give ourself to idleness, to pleasure, and as the common proverb is, give our minds to revelling and making good cheer, as though our life were a feasting or banqueting, such as the Greeks used, and not warfare. For in the stead of tents and pavilions we tumble and welter in our beds. And in the stead of sallettes and hard armour we be crowned with roses and fresh flowers, bathed in damask and rose waters, smoked in pomanders and with musk balls, changing points of war with riot and idleness. And in the stead of weapons belonging to the war, we handle and take unto us the unhardy harp, as this peace were not of all wars the most shameful. For whosoever is at one with vices, hath broken truce made between him and God in time of baptism. And thou, oh madman, criest peace, peace, when thou hast God thine enemy, which only is peace and the author of peace, and he himself with open mouth crieth the contrary by the mouth of his prophet, saying there is no peace to sinners or wicked persons which love not God. And there is none other condition of peace with him except that we (as long as we war in the fortress of this body) with deadly hate and with all our might hold fight against vices. For if we be at one with them, we shall have him twice our enemy, which only being our friend may make us blessed. And if he be our foe may destroy us, both because that we stand on their side which only can never agree with God, for how can light and darkness agree? and also that because we as men most unkind abide not by the promise that we made to him, but unjustly have broken the appointment made between him and us with protestation and holy ceremonies.
Oh thou christian man, rememberest thou not when thou wert professed and consecrate with the holy mysteries of the fountain of life, how thou boundest thyself to be a faithful soldier unto thy captain Christ, to whom thou owest thy life twice, both because he gave it thee, and also because he restored it again to thee, to whom thou owest more than thou art able to pay? Cometh it not to thy mind how when thou were bound with his sacraments as with holy gifts, thou were sworn with words for the nonce to take the part of so courteous an emperoure, and that thou didst curse and ban thine own head, desiring vengeance to fall upon thine own self, if thou didst not abide by thy promise?
For what intent was the sign of the cross printed in thy forehead, but that as long as thou livest thou shouldst fight under his standard? For what intent wert thou anointed with his holy oil, but that thou for ever shouldst wrestle and fight against vices? What shame and how great abomination is it accounted with all men if a man forsake his king or chief lord? Why settest thou so light, then, by thy captain Christ? Neither kept down with the fear of him, seeing he is God, nor refraining for love, seeing for thy sake he was made man, yea and seeing thou usurpest his name thou ought to remember what thou hast promised him. Why departest thou away from him like a false forsworn man, and goest unto thine enemy, from whence he once redeemed thee with the ransom of his precious blood? Why dost thou, so oft a renegate, war and fight under the standard of his adversary? With what face presumest thou to set up contrary banners against thy king which for thy sake bestowed his own life? Whosoever is not on his part, as he saith himself (Luke 11) standeth against him. And he that gathereth not with him scattereth abroad. Thou warrest not only with filthy title or quarrel, but also for a miserable reward. Wilt thou hear whosoever thou be that art servant or soldier to the world, what shall be thy meed? Paul the standard-bearer in the war of Christ, answereth thee.
The reward (saith he) of sin is death. And who would take upon him to fight in a just and an honest cause, if he were sure to die but bodily only, and thou fightest in a wrong and also a filthy quarrel to obtain for thy reward the death of thy soul. In these mad wars that man maketh against man, either through beastly fury or for miserable necessity: seest thou not if at any time the greatness of the prey promised or hoped for, or comfort of the captain, or the cruelness of the enemies, or shame of cowardice cast in their teeth, or in conclusion if desire of praise hath pricked and stirred up the soldiers’ minds: with what courage and with what lusty stomachs finish they whatsoever labour remaineth, how little they regard their lives, with how great fierceness run they upon their enemies, well is him that may go foremost. And, I beseech thee, how small is the reward which those wretched men go about to get with so great jeopardies and diligence? Verily but to have praise of a wretched man their captain, and that they might be praised with a rude and homely song, such as are used to be made in the time of war, to have haply their names written in a harper’s beadroll, to get a garland of grass or oaken leaves, or at the most to bring home a little more vantage or winning with them. We, on the other side clean contrary, be kindled neither with shame nor with hope of reward, and yet he beholdeth us while we fight that shall quit our pain if we win the field. But what reward setteth forth the chief ruler of our game for them that win the mastery? not mules as Achilles did in Homer, not tripods, that is to say meat boards with three feet, as Eneas did in Virgil: but such as the eye never saw, nor the ear never heard, neither could sink into the heart of man. And these rewards he giveth in the mean season to his (whiles they be yet fighting) as solaces and things to comfort them in their labours and travails. And what hereafter? Certes, blessed immortality. But in games of sport, as running, wrestling, leaping, in which the chiefest part of reward is praise, they which be overcome have likewise their rewards assigned unto them. But our matter is tried with great and doubtful peril, neither we fight for praise, but for life, and as reward of most value is proffered to him that quitteth himself most manfully, so pain most terrible is appointed for him that giveth back. Heaven is promised to him that fighteth lustily. And why is not the quick courage of a gentle stomach enflamed with the hope of so blessed a reward, namely what He promiseth, which as he cannot die, even so he cannot deceive?
All things be done in the sight of God which all things beholdeth. We have all the company of Heaven beholders of our conflict. And how are we not moved, at the least way, even for very shame? He shall praise our virtue and diligence, of whom to be lauded is very felicity. Why seek we not this praise, yea, with the loss of our lives? It is a cowardly mind that will be quickened with no manner of reward. The veriest heartless coward in the world for fear of perils ofttime taketh courage to him. And in worldly battles though thine adversary be never so cruel, yet rageth he but on thy goods and body only. What more than that could cruel Achilles do to Hector? But here the immortal part of thee is assaulted and thy carcass is not drawn about the sepulchre as Hector’s, but thy body and soul is cast down into hell: there the greatest calamity or hurt is, that a sword shall separate the soul from the body: here is taken from thy soul the life, which is God himself. It is natural for the body to die, which if no man kill, yet must it needs die. But thy soul to die, is extreme misery. With how great cawtell avoid we the wounds of the body, with how great diligence cure we them, and set we so little of the wounds of the soul. Our hearts ariseth and grudgeth at the remembrance of death of the body as a terrible or outrageous thing, because it is seen with bodily eyes. The soul to die, because no man seeth and few believeth, therefore very few fear it. And is this death more cruel yet than the other? Even as much as the soul doth pass the body, and God excelleth the soul. Wilt thou that I show thee certain conjectures, examples or tokens whereby thou mayest perceive the sickness and death of the soul?
Thy stomach digesteth ill, it keepeth no meat, thou perceivest by and by thy body to be out of temper. And bread is not so natural meat to the body as the word of God is meat for thy soul. If that seem bitter, if thy mind rise against it, why doubtest thou yet but that the mouth of the soul is out of taste, and infected with some disease? If thy memory the stomach of the soul, keep not the learning of God, if by continual meditation thou digestest not, if when it is digested, thou sendest it not to all parts by operation, thou hast an evident token that thy soul is acrased. When thy knees for weakness bow under thee, and it be much work to draw thy limbs after thee, thou perceivest plainly thy body to be evil at ease. And dost thou not perceive the sickness of thy soul, when he grudgeth and is weak and faint to all deeds of piety, when he hath no strength to suffer patiently the least rebuke in the world, and is troubled and angry with the loss of a half-penny? after that the sight is departed from the eyes, and the ears cease to hear, after that all the body hath lost his feeling: no man doubteth then but the soul is departed. When the eyes of the heart be waxen dim, insomuch that thou canst not see the most clearest light, which is virtue or truth: when thou hearest not with thy inward ears the voice of God: when thou lackest all thy inward feeling and perceiving of the knowledge of God, thinkest thou that thy soul is alive? Thou seest thy brother ungoodly entreated, thy mind is nothing moved, so thy matter be in good case. Why feeleth thy soul nothing here? Certainly because he is dead. Why dead? Because her life is away, that is God. For, verily, where God is, there is charity, love and compassion of thy neighbours, for God is that charity. For if thou were a quick member, how could any part of thy body ache, thou not sorrowing, no not once feeling or perceiving it? Take a more evident token.
Thou hast deceived thy friend, thou hast committed adultery, thy soul hath caught a deadly wound, and yet it grieveth thee not, insomuch as thou joyest as it were of great winning, and boastest thyself of that thou shamefully hast committed. Believe surely that thy soul lieth dead. Thy body is not alive if it feel not the pricking of a pin. And is thy soul alive which lacketh the feeling of so great a wound? Thou hearest some man use lewd and presumptuous communication, words of backbiting, unchaste and filthy, raging furiously against his neighbour: think not the soul of that man to be alive. There lieth a rotten carcase in the sepulchre of that stomach from whence such stench ariseth and infecteth every man that cometh nigh. Christ called the Pharisees painted sepulchres. Why so? Because they bear dead souls about with them. And king David the prophet saith, their throat is a sepulchre wide open, they spake deceitfully with their tongues.
The bodies of holy people be the temples of the Holy Ghost. And lewd men’s bodies be the sepulchre of dead corpses, that the interpretations of the grammarians to them might well be applied, Soma quasi Sima. It is called a body because it is the burial, that is to say, the grave of the soul. The breast is the sepulchre, the mouth and the throat is the gaping of the sepulchre, and the body destitute of the soul is not so dead as is the soul when she is forsaken of Almighty God, neither any corpse stinketh in the nose of man so sore as the stench of a soul buried four days offendeth the nose of God and all saints. Therefore conclude, whensoever dead words proceed out of thy heart, it must needs be that a dead corpse lieth buried within. For when (according to the Gospel) the mouth speaketh of the abundance of the heart, no doubt he would speak the lively words of God, if there were life present, that is to wit, God. In another place of the Gospel the disciples say to Christ, Master, whither shall we go, thou hast the words of life? Why so, I pray thee, the words of life? Certainly for because they sprung out of the soul from whom the Godhead, which restored us again to life immortal, never departed not yet one moment. The physician easeth the body sometimes when thou art diseased. Good and holy men sometimes have called the body dead to life again. But a dead soul nothing but God only of his free and singular power restoreth to life again, yea, and he restoreth her not again if she being dead have once forsaken the body. Moreover of the bodily death is the feeling little or none at all. But of the soul, is the feeling eternal. And though also the soul in that case be more than dead, yet as touching the feeling of eternal death, she is ever immortal. Therefore seeing we must needs fight with so strange and marvellous jeopardy, what dulness, what negligence, what foolishness is that of our mind, whom fear of so great mischief sharpeneth not.
And again on the contrary part there is no cause wherefore either the greatness of peril, or else the multitude, the violence, the subtlety of thine adversaries should abate the courage of thy mind. It cometh to thy mind how grievous an adversary thou hast. Remember also on the other side how present how ready at hand thou hast help and succour. Against thee be innumerable, yea but he that taketh thy part, himself alone is more of power than all they. If God be on our side, what matter is it who be against us? If he stay thee, who shall cast thee down? But thou must be inflamed in all thy heart and brain in fervent desire of victory.
Let it come to thy remembrance that thou strivest not, nor hast not to do with a fresh soldier and a new adversary, but with him that was many years ago discomforted, overthrown, spoiled and led captive in triumph of us, but then in Christ our head, by whose might no doubt he shall be subdued again in us also. Take heed therefore that thou be a member of the body and thou shalt be able to do all things in the power of the head.
In thyself thou art very weak, in him thou art valiant, and nothing is there that thou art not able to do. Wherefore the end of our war is not doubtful, because the victory dependeth not of fortune, but is put wholly in the hands of God, and by him in our hands. No man is here that hath not overcome, but he that would not. The benignity of our protector never failed man. If thou take heed to answer and to do thy part again, thou art sure of the victory, for he shall fight for thee, and his liberality shall be imputed to thee for merit. Thou must thank him altogether for the victory, which first of all himself alone being immaculate, pure and clean from sin, oppressed the tyranny of sin. But this victory shall not come without thine own diligence also, for he that said, Have confidence, I have overcome the world, would have thee to be of a good comfort, but not careless and negligent. On this manner in conclusion is his strength, and by him we shall overcome. Profiting by his example, we shall fight as he fought, wherefore thou must so keep a mean course, as it were between Scylla and Charibdis, that neither trusting too much and bearing thee overbold upon the grace of God thou be careless and reckless, neither yet so mistrusting in thyself, feared with the difficulties of the war, do cast from thee courage, boldness, or confidence of mind together with harness and weapons also.