And forasmuch as in sudden writing, one thing calleth another to remembrance, I will now add the sixth rule, which is in a manner of kindred to them that go before: a rule for all men as necessary unto health as it is of few regarded. That rule is thus, that the mind of him which enforceth and laboureth to Christward, vary as much as is possible both from the deeds and also opinions of the common lay people, and that the example of piety be not set of any other save of Christ only: for he is the only chief patron, the only and chief example or form of living, from whom whosoever wrieth one inch or nail breadth, goeth besides the right path and roameth out of the way. Wherefore Plato with gravity, verily as he doth many things in his books of the governance of a city or commonwealth, denieth any man to be able to defend virtue constantly which hath not instructed his mind with sure and undoubted opinions of filthiness and of honesty. But how much more perilous is it if false opinions of the things which pertain to health should sink into the deep bottom of the mind. For that consideration therefore he thinketh that this thing should be cared for and looked upon chiefly, that the governors themselves whom it behoveth to lack all manner of uncleanliness, grave in their own minds very good opinions of things to be ensued and eschewed, that is to say of good and evil, of vices and of virtues, and that they have them very assured, all doubt laid apart as certain laws very holy and goodly: for whatsoever thing cleaveth in the mind surely rooted with steadfast belief, that, every man declareth in his manners and conversation.
Therefore the chief care of christian men ought to be applied to this point, that their children straightway from the cradle, amongst the very flatterings of the nurses, whiles the father and mother kiss them, may receive and suck under the hands of them which are learned opinions and persuasions meet and worthy of Christ: because that nothing either sinketh deeper or cleaveth faster in the mind than that which (as Fabyus saith) in the young and tender years is poured in. Let be afar off from the ears of little bodies wanton songs of love, which christian men sing at home and wheresoever they ride or go, much more filthy than ever the common people of the heathen men would suffer to be had in use. Let them not hear their mother wail and wring her hands for a little loss of worldly goods, nor for the loss of her sister let them hear her cry out, alas that ever she was born, saying that she is but a wretch, a woman lost or cast away, left alone, desolate and destitute. Let them not hear their father rebuking and upbraiding him of cowardice which hath not recompensed injury or wrong with double: neither yet lauding them which have gathered together great abundance of worldly substance, by whatsoever manner it were. The disposition of man is frail and prone to vices, he catcheth mischievous example at once: none otherwise than tow catcheth fire if it be put to. How be it this selfsame thing is to be done in every age, that all the errors of the lay people might be plucked out again from the mind by the hard roots, and in their places might be planted wholesome opinions, and so might be roborate that with no violence they could be shaken or plucked asunder: which thing whosoever hath done shall easily and without business by his own accord follow virtue, and shall account them that do otherwise worthy to be lamented and pitied, and not to be counterfeited or followed. Unto this thing pertaineth that not indiscreet saying of Socrates (though it were rebuked of Aristotle), that virtue was nothing else but the knowledge of things to be ensued and followed, and of things to be eschewed or fled: not but that Socrates saw the difference between knowledge of honesty and the love of the same. But as Demosthenes answered, pronunciation to be the first, the second, and also the third point of eloquence, signifying that to be the chief part, in so much that he thought eloquence to rest altogether in that thing only: in likewise Socrates, disputing with Prothagoras, proveth by arguments, knowledge in all virtue to bear such room, that vices can no other whence proceed than of false opinions.
For certainly, brother, both he that loveth Christ, and he also that loveth voluptuousness, money, false honour, doth follow that thing which is to either of them sweet, good, and beautiful, but the one slideth through ignorance, instead of a sweet thing embracing a thing out of measure sour, fleeing as a sour thing that which is sweetest of all: also following that thing for good and for lucre which is naught else but damage and loss, and fearing that thing for loss, which is chief gains or advantage: and judging that thing to be fair which is foul, and weening or trowing that to be shameful which only is glorious and praiseful. In conclusion, if a man were surely and inwardly brought in belief, and if also it were digested in to the substance of his mind as meat in to the substance of the body, that only virtue were best, most sweet, most fair, most honest, most profitable. And on the other side filthiness only to be an evil thing, a painful torment or punishment, a foul thing, shameful, full of damage or loss: and did measure these things not by the opinion of the common people, but by the very nature of the things, it could not be (such persuasion or belief enduring) that he should stick fast and cleave long time in evil things. For now long ago the common people is found to be the most mischievous author or captain both of living and also of judgment: neither was the world ever in so good state and condition, but that the worst hath pleased the most part. Beware lest thou this wise think: no man is there that doth not this, mine elders before me have walked in these steps, of this opinion is such a man, so great a philosopher, so great a divine: this is the custom and manner of living of kings, this wise live great men, this do both bishops and popes, these verily are no common people. Let not these great names move thee one inch. I measure or judge not the common or rascal sort by the room, estate, or degree, but by the mind and stomach.
Whosoever in the famous cave of Plato bound with the bonds of their own affections wonder at the vain images and shadows of things instead of very true things, they be the common people. Should he not do preposterously or out of order if a man would go about to try not the stone by the ruler or square, but the ruler by the stone? And were it not much more unreasonable if a man would go about to bow and turn, not the manners of men to Christ, but Christ to the living of men? Think it not therefore well or aright because that great men or because that the most men do it, but this wise only shall it be well and right whatsoever is done, if it agree to the rule of Christ: yea and therefore ought a thing to be suspected because it pleaseth the most part. It is a small flock and ever shall be, to whom is pleasant the simplicity or plainness, the poverty, the verity of Christ. It is a small flock verily but a blessed, as unto whom doubtless is due only the kingdom of heaven. Strait is the way of virtue and of very few trodden on, but none other leadeth to life. To conclude, whether doth a wise builder fetch his example of the most common and used or of the best work? Painters set afore them none but the best tables or patrons of imagery. Our example is Christ, in whom only be all rules of blessed living, him may we counterfeit without exception. But in good and virtuous men it shall be meet that thou call to example everything, so far forth as it shall agree with the first example of Christ.
As touching the common sort of christian men think thus, that they were never more corrupt, no not amongst the gentiles, as appertaining to the opinions of their manners. Moreover as touching their faith what opinions they have advise them. This surely is doubtless and to be abidden by, faith without manners worthy of faith prevaileth nothing, insomuch also that it groweth to a heap of damnation. Search the histories of antiquity, to them compare the manners that be now-a-days.
When was virtue and true honesty more despised? When was so had in price riches gotten not regarded whence? In what world at any time was truer that saying of Horacius: verily that lady money giveth a wife with dowry, credence, friendship, nobleness, noble kin and also beauty. And again this saying of the same Horace, nobleness and virtue, except a man have good withal, is viler than a rush or a straw. Who readeth not in good earnest that biting mock of the same poet: Oh citizens, citizens, first seek money, after seek virtue. When was riot or excess more immoderate than now? When was adultery and all other kinds of unchaste living either more appert in the sight of every man, or more unpunished, or else less had in shame, rebuke or abomination? While princes favour their own vices, in other men suffering them unpunished, and every man accounteth that most comely and beautiful to be done whatsoever is used and taken up among courtiers. To whom seemeth not poverty extreme evil, and uttermost shame and rebuke?
In time past against keepers of queans, filthy nigards, glorious or gorgeous persons, lovers and regarders of money, were cast in the teeth with rebukeful and slanderous scoffings and jestings, yea with authority. And also in comedies, tragedies, and other common plays of the gentiles a great clapping of hands and a shout was made for joy of the lay people, when vices were craftily and properly rebuked and checked: at the which same vices now-a-days being evil praised there is made a shout and clapping of hands for joy even of the nobles and estates of christian men. The Athenes in their common house appointed for disguisings and interludes could not forbear nor suffer a jester in playing a certain tragedy of Euripides, to sing the words of a certain covetous man which preferred money only before all other commodities and pleasure of man’s life: and they would plainly have clapped out of the play, yea and violently cast out of the house the player with all the fable, except the poet by and by arising up had desired them to tarry a little and behold to what point that so great a wonderer at money should come. How many examples be there in the histories of gentiles, of them which of the commonwealth well governed and ministered brought nothing in to their poor household but an honest opinion or reputation: which set more by fidelity than money, by chastity than by life, whom neither prosperity could make proud, wild and wanton, neither adversity could overcome and make heavy hearted, which regarded honest jeopardies and dangers before voluptuousness and pleasures, which contented only with the conscience of pure life, desired neither honours, neither riches, nor any other commodities of fortune. And to overhyp and make no rehearsal of the holiness of Phocion, of poverty of Fabricius more excellent than riches, of the strong and courageous mind of Camyllus, of the strait and indifferent justice of Brutus, of the chastity of Pithagoras, of the temperance of Socrates, of the sound and constant virtue of Cato: and a thousand most goodly beams of all sorts of virtues which are read everywhere in the histories of the Lacedemones, of the Perces, of the Athenes, and of the Romanes, to our great shame verily. Holy Aurelius Augustyne, as he of himself witnesseth in the commentaries of his own confessions, long time before he put Christ on him despised money, counted honours for naught, was not moved with glory, praise, or fame, and to voluptuousness kept the bridle so strait that he then a young man was content with one little wench, to whom he kept also promise and faith of marriage. Such examples among courtiers, among men of the church: I will also say amongst religious persons, shall not a man lightly find; or else if any such shall be, by and by he shall be pointed, wondered, or mocked at as it were an ass among apes: he shall be called with one voice of all men a doting fool, a gross head, an hypocrite in nothing expert, melancholy mad, and shall not be judged to be a man. So we christian men honour the doctrine of Christ: so counterfeit we it that every where now-a-days nothing is accounted more foolish, more vile, more to be ashamed of, than to be a christian man indeed, with all the mind and heart: as though that either Christ in vain had been conversant in earth, or that christendom were some other thing now than in time past, or as it indifferently pertained not to all men. I will therefore that thou from these men vary with all thy mind, and esteem the value of everything by the communion or fellowship of Christ only.
Who thinketh it not everywhere to be an excellent thing, and to be numbered among the chief of all good things, if a man descend of a worshipful stock and of honourable ancestors, which thing they call nobleness? Let it not move thee one whit when thou hearest the wise men of this world, men of sadness endued with great authority, so earnestly disputing of the degrees of their genealogies or lineage, having their forehead and upper brows drawn together with very great gravity, as it were a matter of marvellous difficulty, yea and with great enforcement bringing forth plain trifles. Nor let it move thee when thou seest other so high minded for the noble acts of their grandfathers or great grandfathers, that think other in comparison of themselves scarce to be men: but thou laughing at the error of these men after the manner of Democrytus shalt count (as true it is indeed) that the only and most perfect nobleness is to be regenerate in Christ, and to be grafted and planted in the body of him, to be one body and one spirit with God. Let other men be kings’ sons: to thee let it be greatest honour that can be, that thou art called, and art so indeed, the son of God.
Let them stand in their own conceits, because they are daily conversant in great princes’ courts: choose thou rather to be with David, vile abject in the house of God. Take heed what manner fellows Christ chooseth, feeble persons, fools, vile as touching this world. In Adam we are all born of low degree. In Christ we are all one thing, neither high nor low of degree one more than another. Very nobleness is to despise this vain nobleness: very nobleness is to be servant to Christ. Think them to be thine ancestors whose virtues thou both lovest and counterfeitest. Also hark what the true esteemer of nobleness said in the gospel against the Jews which boasted themselves to be of the generation of Abraham: a man verily not excellent only, not rich only, not the conqueror of kings only, but also for his divine virtues lauded of God himself. Who would not think this to be a noble thing and worthy whereof a man might rejoice? Hark yet what they heard: ye are (said Christ) of your father the devil, and the deeds of your father ye do.
And hear also Paul, how he esteemeth gentle blood, according to his master’s rule: Not all they (saith he) which be of circumcision of Israel be Israelites, neither all they that be of the seed of Abraham be the sons of Abraham. It is a low degree and shameful to serve filthiness, and to have no kindred with Christ which acknowledgeth kindred with no man but with such as fulfilleth the will of his Father in heaven. He is with much shame a bastard which hath the devil to his father, and verily whosoever doth the deeds of the devil hath the devil to his father, except Christ lied: but the truth cannot lie. The highest degree that can be is to be the son and heir of God, the brother and co-heir with Christ: what their badges and cognisances mean let them take heed.
The badges of Christ be common to all men, and the most honourable, which be the cross, the crown of thorn, the nails, the spear, the signs or tokens which Paul rejoiceth to bear in his body. Of nobleness therefore thou seest how much otherwise I would have thee to judge and think than the lay people imagine. Who calleth not him blessed, rich, and happy among the common people which hath heaped together at home a great deal of gold?
But judge thou him to be blessed enough, yea that he only is blessed which possesseth Christ, very felicity, and of all things the best. Judge him happy which hath bought the noble and precious margaryte of pure mind with the loss either of all his goods or his body also, which hath found the treasure of wisdom preciouser than all riches, which to be made rich hath bought of Christ, that is most rich, gold purified and proved with fire. What things then be these which the common people wondereth at, as gold, precious stones, livelihood? In a wrong name they be riches, in the true name they be very thorns, which choke the seed of the word of God, according to the parable of the Gospel. They be packs or fardels with which whosoever be laden neither can follow poor Christ by strait way, neither enter by the low door into the kingdom of heaven. Think not thyself better by one hair if thou shouldest pass in riches either Mydas or Cresus, but think thyself more bound, more tangled, more laden. He hath abundantly enough that can utterly despise such things. He is provided for sufficiently to whom Christ promised nothing should be lacking. He shall not be an hungered to whose mouth manna of the word of God seemeth pleasant. He shall not be naked which hath put Christ upon him. Think this only to be a loss, as oft as any thing of godliness is minished, and anything of vices is increased. Think it a great lucre or advantage when thy mind through increase of virtue is waxed better. Think thou lackest nothing as long as thou possessest him in whom is all things. But what is this which wretches call pleasure? Surely it is nothing less than that it is called. What is it then? Pure madness it is, and plainly (as Greeks be wont to say) the laughter of Ayax, sweet poison, pleasant mischief.
True and only pleasure is the inward joy of a pure conscience. The most noble and daintiest dish that can be is the study of holy scripture. The most delectable songs be the psalms indited of the Holy Ghost. The most pleasant fellowship is the communion of all saints. The highest dainties of all is the fruition and enjoying of the very truth. Purge now thy eyes, purge thy ears, purge thy mouth, and Christ shall begin to wax sweet and pleasant to thee which tasted once sourly: yea, if Milesii Sibarite, if all incontinent rioters and epicureans, shortly if the university of imaginers and devisers of pleasures should heap together all their flattering subtleties and dainty dishes, in comparison of him only they shall seem to provoke ye to spue. That is not by and by sweet which is savoury, but that which is savoury to a whole man: if water have the taste of wine to him which burneth in a hot fever, no man will call that a pleasure but a disease.
Thou art deceived if thou believe not that the very tears be much more pleasant to devout and holy men than be to wicked men laughings, mockings, jestings or scoffings: if thou also believe not fasting to be sweeter to the one than to the other plovers, quails, pheasants, partridges, pike, trout, porpoise, or the fresh sturgeon. And the moderate boards of the one appointed with herbs and fruits to be much more delicate than the costly and disdainful feasts of the other. Finally the true pleasure is, for the love of Christ not to be once moved with false apparent pleasures. Behold now how much the world abuseth the names of love and hate. When a foolish young man is clear out of his wit and mad for a wench’s sake, that the common people calleth love, and yet is there no verier hate in the world. True love even with his own loss desireth to see unto another man’s profit. Whereunto looketh he save unto his own pleasure, therefore he loveth not her but himself: yet loveth he not himself verily, for no man can love another except he love himself first, yea and except he love himself aright. No man can hate any man at all except he first hate himself. Nevertheless sometime to love well is to hate well, and to hate well is to love well. Whosoever therefore for his little pleasure (as he supposeth it) layeth await and goeth about to beguile a maiden with flattering and gifts, with fair promises to pluck from her the best thing she hath, that is to wit her perfectness, her chastity, her simplicity, her innocency, her good mind, and her good name, whether seemeth this man to hate or to love? Certainly there is no hate more cruel than is this hate, when the foolish father and mother favour the vices of their children: the common saying is, how tenderly love they their children.
But I pray thee how cruelly hate they their children which (while they follow their own affections) regard not at all the wealth of their children. What other wisheth to us our most hateful enemy the devil, than that we here sinning unpunished should fall into eternal punishment? They call him an easy master and a merciful prince, which at certain grievous offences either wink or favour them, that the more unpunished men sin, the more boldly and at large they might sin. But what other thing threateneth God by his prophet to them whom he judgeth unworthy of his mercy? I will not (saith he) visit their daughters when they commit fornication, nor their daughters-in-law when they commit adultery. Unto David what promised he? I will (saith he) with a rod look upon their iniquities, and with whips their sins, but I will not take my mercy from them. Thou seest how all things are renewed in Christ, and how the names of things are changed. Whosoever love himself otherwise than well, hateth himself deadly. Whosoever be evil merciful toward himself is a tyrant most cruel. To care well is not to regard. To hurt well is to do good. To destroy well is to save. Thou shalt care well for thyself if thou shalt despise the desires of the flesh, if in good manner thou shalt rage against vices, thou shalt do to the man a good turn. If thou shalt kill the sinner thou shalt save the man. If thou shalt destroy that man hath made, thou shalt restore that God hath made. Come off now and let us go further: What thinketh the error of the people, power, wickedness, manhood, and cowardness to be? Call they not him mighty which can lightly hurt whom him list? Though it be a very odious power to be able to hurt, for in that are they resembled to noisome worms and scorpions, and to the devil himself, that is to wit in doing harm.
Only God is mighty indeed, which neither can hurt if he would, neither yet would if he could, for his nature is to do good. But this mighty fellow, how doth he I beseech thee hurt a man? He shall take away thy money? He shall beat thy body? He shall rob thee of thy life? If he do it to him that feareth God well, he hath done a good deed instead of an evil: but and if he have done it to an evil man, the one hath ministered an occasion verily, but the other hath hurt himself: for no man is hurt but of himself. No man goeth about to hurt another except the same man hath much more grievously hurt himself aforehand. Thou enforcest to hurt me in my money or goods. Now hast thou through the loss of charity hurt thyself most grievously. Thou canst not fasten a wound in me, but if thou have received a wound much more grievous. Thou canst not take from me the life of my body, unless thou have slain thine own soul before. But Paul, which to do wrong was a man very weak and feeble, to suffer wrong most valiant and strong, rejoiceth that he could do all thing in Christ. They call him everywhere manly and bold which being fierce and of impotent mind, for the least displeasure that can be rageth, seetheth, or boileth in wrath, and acquitteth a shrewd word with a shrewd word, a check with a check, one evil turn with another. On the other side whosoever when he hath received wrong maketh nothing ado, but dissimuleth as no such thing were done, him they call a coward, a bastard, heartless, meet for nothing: yea but what is more contrary to the greatness of the mind than with a little word to be put aside from the quiet and constancy of the spirit, and to be so unable to set at naught another man’s foolishness, that thou shouldest think thyself to be no man except thou shouldest overcome one shrewd turn with another. But how much more manful is it with an excellent and large mind to be able to despise all manner injuries, and moreover for an evil deed to recompense a good? I would not call him a bold man which durst jeopard on his enemy, which scale castle or town walls, which (his life not regarded) putteth himself in all manner jeopardies, a thing common almost to all warriors, but whosoever could overcome his own mind, whosoever could will them good which doth him harm, pray for them which curse him. To this man is due the proper name of a bold and strong man and of excellent mind.
Let us also discuss another thing, what the world calleth praise, rebuke, and shame. Thou art praised, for what cause and of whom? If for filthy things and of filthy persons, this verily is a false praise and a true rebuke. Thou art dispraised, thou art mocked or laughed at, for what cause and of whom? For godliness and innocency, and that of evil men: this is not a rebuke, no, there is no truer praise. Be it that all the world reprove, refuse, and disallow it, yet can it not be but glorious and of great praise that Christ approveth. And though whatsoever is in the world agree, consent, and allow, crying with a shout that is a noble deed, yet can it not be but shameful that displeaseth God. They call wisdom everywhere, to get good stoutly, when it is gotten to maintain it lustily, and to provide long before for the time to come: for so we hear them say everywhere and in good earnest of them which in short time get substance somewhat abundantly, he is a thrifty man, ware and wise, circumspect and provident. Thus saith the world which is both a liar himself and also his father. But what saith verity: Fool, saith he, I will set again this night thy soul from thee. He had filled his barns with corn, he had stuffed his store-houses with provision of all victuals, and had laid up at home abundantly of money enough: he thought nothing was to be done more. Thus had he done, not because he intended as a needy keeper to sit abroad on his riches heaped together, as the poets feign the dragon to have kept the golden fleece (which thing men do almost everywhere), but he intended to have spent joyously, and yet doth the gospel call this man a fool. For what is more foolish, what is more gross imagination or more fondness than to gape at the shadows, and lose the very things, a thing which we be wont to laugh at in the famous dog of Ysope: and in the manners of christian men is it not more to be laughed at, or rather to be wept at? He may be counted a rude and unexpert merchant that knew not this saying of Terence: To refuse money at a season is sometime a great advantage, or whosoever would receive a little advantage in hand when he knew great loss should follow. How much more foolishness and unadvisedness is it to make provision with so great care for this present life which is but a shadow, every hour ready to fail: namely when God (if we believe the gospel) will minister all thing necessary for this life, if we have confidence in him, and for the life to come to make no provision at all, which we must lead alway full of misery and wretchedness, if provision be not made now aforehand with great diligence. Hear another error: they call him peerless, politic and in all things expert, which hearkening for all manner tidings knoweth what is done throughout all the world, what is the chance of merchandise, what the king of England intendeth, what new thing is done at Rome, what is chanced in France, how the Danes and the Sytes live, what matters great princes have in council: to make an end shortly, whoever can babble with all kinds of men of all manner business, him they say to be wise. But what can be farther from the thought of a wise man, or near to the nature of a fool, than to search for those things which be done afar off and pertain to thee nothing at all, and not so much as once verily to think on those things which are done in thine own breast and pertain to thee only.
Thou tellest me of the trouble and business of England, tell me rather what trouble maketh in thy breast, wrath, envy, bodily lust, ambition, how nigh these be brought into subjection, what hope is of victory, how much of this host is put to flight, how reason is decked or appointed. In these things if thou shalt be watching and have a quick ear and also an eye, if thou shalt smell, if thou shalt be circumspect, I will call thee politic and peerless: and that thing which the world is wont to cast against us, I will hurl again at him: he is not wise at all, which is not wise for his own profit. After this manner if thou shalt examine all the cares of mortal men, their joys, hopes, fears, studies, their minds or judgments, thou shalt find all thing full of error while they call good evil, and evil good, while they make sweet sour and sour sweet, make light darkness and darkness light. And this sort of men is the most part by a great deal. Notwithstanding thou must even at once both defy them and set no store of them, lest thou shouldest be minded to be like them: and also pity them so that thou wouldest fain have them like unto thee. And to use the words of Saint Augustyn: then is it meet both to weep for them which are worthy to be laughed at, and to laugh at them which are worthy to be wept for. Be not in evil things conformable to this world but be reformed in the new wit, that thou mayst approve not those things which men wonder at, but what is the will of God, which is good, well pleasing and perfect. Thou art very nigh jeopardy and no doubt fallest suddenly from the true way if thou shalt begin to look about thee what the most part of men do, and to hearken what they think or imagine: but suffer thou, which art the child of life and of light also, that dead men bury their dead bodies: and let the blind captains of blind men go away together into the ditch: see thou once move not the eyes of thy heart any whither from the first patron and chief example of Christ.
Thou shalt not go out of the way, if thou follow the guiding of verity. Thou shalt not stumble in darkness, if thou walk after light, the light shining before thee: if thou shalt separate coloured good things, from good things indeed: and evil things indeed from apparent evil things: thou shalt abhor and not counterfeit the blindness of the common people, raging and chafing themselves after the manner of the ebbing and flowing of the sea at the most vain illusions and worldly things, with certain caresses of affections of wrath, envy, love, hate, hope, fear, joy, sorrow, raging more unquietly than any Euripus. The Bragmanyes, Cynikes, Stoikes be wont to defend their principles stiffly with tooth and nail: and even the whole world repugning, all men crying and darkening against them, yet hold they stiffly that thing whereunto they once have given sure credence. Be thou bold likewise to fasten surely in thy mind the decrees of thy sect. Be bold without mistrust, and with all that thou canst, make to follow the mind of thine author, departing from all contrary opinions and sects.