And I suppose that nothing pertaineth so much to the discipline of this war than that thou surely know, and presently have recorded and exercised in thy mind alway with what kind of armour or weapons thou oughtest to fight, and against what enemies thou must encounter and joust. Moreover that thy weapons be always ready at hand, lest thine so subtle an enemy should take thee sleeping and unarmed. In these worldly wars a man may be oftentimes at rest, as in the deep of the winter, or in time of truce: but we as long as we keep war in this body, may depart from our harness and weapons no season, no not as the saying is one finger breadth.
We must ever stand afore the tents and make watch, for our adversary is never idle: but when he is most calm and still, when he feigneth to flee or to make truce, even then most of all he imagineth guile: and thou hast never more heed to keep watch than when he maketh countenance or semblance of peace. Thou hast never less need to fear than when he assaulteth thee with open war. Therefore let thy first care be that thy mind be not unarmed. We arm our body, because we would have no need to fear the dagger or privy murderer of the thief. Shall we not arm our mind likewise, that he might be in safeguard? Our enemies be armed to destroy us, doth it grieve us to take our weapons of defence, that we perish not? They watch to kill, shall not we watch to be out of danger? But of the armour and weapons of a christian man we shall make special mention when we come to the places convenient.
In the mean season to speak briefly, whosoever will assail with battle the seven nations that be called Cananei, Cethei, Amorrei, Pherezei, Gergezei, Evei, and Jebuzei, that is to say, whosoever will take upon him to fight against the whole host of vices, of the which seven be counted as chief captains, must provide him of two special weapons.
Prayer and knowledge, otherwise called learning. Paul would we should be ever armed, which biddeth us pray continually without stop. Prayer pure and perfect lifteth up thine affection to heaven, a tower beyond thine enemies’ reach. Learning or knowledge fenceth or armeth the mind with wholesome precepts and honest opinions, and putteth thee ever in remembrance of virtue, so that neither can be lacking to the other. These twain cleaveth so together like friends, the one ever requiring the other’s help. The one maketh intercession and prayeth. The other sheweth what is to be desired and what thou oughtest to pray. To pray fervently, and (as James exhorteth us) without doubting or mistrusting, faith and hope bringeth to pass. To pray in the name of Jesu, which is nothing else but to desire things wholesome for thy soul’s health only, learning or doctrine teacheth thee.
Said not Christ to the sons of Zebedei, Ye know not what ye ask? But prayer verily is the more excellent, as she that cometh and talketh familiarly with Almighty God. Yet for all that is doctrine no less necessary. And I cannot tell whether that thou, fled from Egypt, mightest without great jeopardy commit thyself to so long a journey, so hard and full of difficulty, without the captains Aaron and Moses.
Aaron which was charged with things dedicate to the service of God’s temple, betokeneth prayer. By Moses is figured the knowledge of the law of God. And as knowledge of God ought not to be unprofitable, so prayer should not be faint, slack, without courage or quickness. Moses with the weapons of prayer fought against his enemies, but had his hands lifted up to Heaven, which when he let down, the Israelites had the worse. Thou, haply, when thou prayest, considerest only how much of thy psalms thou hast mumbled up, and thinkest much babbling to be the strength and virtue of prayer: which is chiefly the vice of them which (as infants) cleave to the literal sense, and are not yet grown up to the ripeness of the spirit. But hear what Christ teacheth us in Matthew, saying, When ye pray speak not much, as the ethnics and gentiles do, for they think their prayers to be accepted because of much babbling. Counterfeit them not therefore, for your Father knoweth whereof ye have need before ye desire it of Him. And Paul to the Corynthes despiseth ten thousand words babbled with mouth in comparison of five spoken in knowledge. Moses opened not his lips, and yet God said to him, Why criest thou so to me? It is not the noise of thy lips, but the fervent desire of thy mind, which (as it were a very shrill voice) beateth the ears of God. Let this, therefore, be a customable thing with thee that as soon as thine enemy ariseth against thee, and the vices which thou hast forsaken trouble thee, thou then without tarrying with sure confidence and trust lift up thy mind to heaven, from whence help shall come to thee, and thither also lift up thy hands. The surest thing of all is to be occupied in deeds of piety, that thy deeds may be referred and applied, not to worldly business but unto Christ. Yet lest thou shouldst despise the help of knowledge, consider one thing. Beforetime it was enough for the Israelytes to flee and escape from their enemies, but they were never so bold as to provoke the Amalachytes, and to try with them hand for hand before they were refreshed with manna from heaven and water running out of the hard rock. The noble warrior David refreshed and made strong with these cates, set nought by the whole host of his adversaries, saying, Oh good Lord thou hast set a table of meat before me to defend me against all men that trouble me. Believe me well, brother singularly beloved in my heart, there is none so great violence of thy foes, that is to say, none so great temptation which fervent study or meditation of holy scripture is not able to put aback, nor any so grievous adversity which it maketh not easy. And lest I should seem to be somewhat too bold an interpreter (though I could defend myself with great authority) what thing, I pray thee, could more properly have signified the knowledge of the secret law of God than did manna? For first in that it sprang not out of the earth, but rained down from heaven. By this property thou perceivest the difference between the doctrine of God and the doctrine of man. For all holy scripture came by divine inspiration and from God the author. In that it is small or little in quantity, is signified the humility, lowliness or homeliness of the style under rude words including great mystery. That it is white, by this property is signified the purity and cleanness of God’s law. For there is no doctrine of man which is not defiled with some black spot of error, only the doctrine of Christ everywhere bright, everywhere pure and clean. That it is somewhat hard and some deal rough and sharp, betokeneth secret mysteries hid in the literal sense. If thou handle the outer side and if I may so call it the cod, what is more hard or unsavoury? They tasted but the outer rind of manna which said to Christ, This is a hard saying, and who may abide the hearing thereof. But get out the spiritual sense, and nothing is more sweeter nor more full of pleasure and sweet juice. Moreover manna is in the Hebrew tongue as much to say as What is this? Which question agreeth well to holy scripture, which hath nothing in it idle or in vain, no not one tittle or prick, unworthy to be searched, unworthy to be pondered, unworthy of this saying, What is this? It is a common use unto the Holy Ghost to signify by water the knowledge of the law of God. Thou readest of the water of comfort by whose banks David rejoiceth to have been nourished up: thou readest of the waters which wisdom conveyeth into the tops of every way: thou readest of the mystical river into the which Ezechiel entered, and could not wade over: thou readest of the wells that Abraham digged, which when they were stopped of the Philistines Isaac repaired again. Thou readest of twelve fountains in which the Israelites after they had walked through forty mansions, and began then to be weary and faint, rested and refreshed themselves and made them strong to the long journey of desert. Thou also readest in the Gospel of the well whereupon Christ sat wearied in his journey.
Thou readest of the water of Siloe, whither he sendeth the blind to recover his sight. Thou readest of the water poured into the basin to wash the apostles’ feet. And because it needeth not to rehearse all places in this signification, often mention is made in scripture of wells, fountains and rivers, by which is signified nothing else but that we ought to enquire and search diligently for the mysteries hid in scripture. What signifieth water hid in the veins of the earth but mystery covered or hid in the literal sense? What meaneth the same conveyed abroad but mystery opened and expounded? Which being spread and dilated both wide and broad to the edifying of the hearers, what cause is there why it might not be called a river? Wherefore if thou dedicate thyself wholly to the study of scripture and exercise thy mind day and night in the law of God, no fear shall trouble thee, neither by day nor night: but thou shalt against all assaults of thine enemies be armed and exercised also. And I disallow it not utterly if a man for a season (to begin withal) do exercise and sport himself in works of poets and philosophers which were gentiles, as in his A B C or introductory to a more perfect thing, so that he taste of them measurably, and whiles youth shall give him leave, and even as though a man took them in his way, but not abide and tarry upon them still, and to wax old and die in them, as he were bound to the rocks of Sirenes, that is to put his whole delectation in them and never go farther. For holy Basilius to such pastime exhorteth young men, whom he himself had induced to the conversation of christian men. And our Augustyn calleth back again his friend Licentius to pass the time with the Muses, neither Jerom repenteth himself that he hath loved a woman taken prisoner in war. Cyprian is commended because he garnished the temple of God with the spoils of the Egyptians. But in no case would I that thou with the gentiles’ learning shouldest also suck the gentiles’ vices and conversation. For if thou do not, thou shalt find many things helping to honest living, neither is it to be refused whatsoever an author (yea though he be a gentile) teacheth well. For Moses verily though he were never so familiar with God, yet despised he not the counsels of his father-in-law Jetro. Those sciences fashion and quicken a child’s wit, and maketh him apt aforehand marvellously to the understanding of holy scripture. Whereunto suddenly and irreverently to presume with hands and feet unwashed, is in manner a certain kind of sacrilege. And Jerom checketh the shameless pertness of them which straightway from secular or worldly science dare take in hand to meddle or interpret holy scripture. But how much shamefuller do they which never tasted other science, and yet at the first dare do the same thing. But as the scripture is not much fruitful if thou stand and stick still in the letter: in like manner the poetry of Homer and Virgil shall not profit a little, if thou remember that it must be understood in the sense allegory, which thing no man will deny that hath assayed or tasted of the learning of old antiquities never so little, yea with the tip of his tongue, or uttermost part of his lips. As for the poets which write uncleanly, I would counsel thee not once to touch them, or at the least way not to look far in them: except thou can the better abhor vices when they be described to thee, and in comparisons of filthy things the more fervently love things honest. Of the philosophers my mind is that thou follow them that were of Plato’s sect, because both in very many sentences, and much more in their style and manner of speaking, they come very nigh to the figure and property of speech used of the prophets and in the Gospels. And to make an end shortly, it shall be profitable to taste of all manner of learning of the gentiles, if it so be done as I shewed before, both in years according and measurably, moreover with caution and judgment discreetly, furthermore with speed and after the manner of a man that intendeth but to pass over the country only and not to dwell or inhabit, in conclusion (which thing is chiefest of all) if everything be applied and referred to Christ. For so all shall be clean to them that be clean when on the other side to them that be unclean nothing is clean.
And it shall be no rebuke to thee, if after the example of Salomon thou nourish up at home in thy house sixty queens, eighty sovereign ladies and damsels innumerable of secular wisdom: so that the wisdom of God be above all other, thy best beloved, thy dove, thy sweetheart, which only seemeth beautiful. And an Israelyte loveth a stranger and a barbarous damsel, overcome with her beauty: but first he shaveth off her hair and pareth her nails, and maketh her of an alien an Israelyte. And the prophet Ozee married an harlot, and of her had children not for himself, but for the Lord of Sabaoth and the holy fornication of the prophet augmented the household of God. The Hebrews after they had forsaken Egypt lived with light and pure white bread for a season, but it was not sufficient to so great a journey. Therefore that bread loathed at once, thou must make as good speed as can be unto manna of celestial wisdom the which shall nourish thee abundantly and strengthen thee until thou obtain thy purpose, and win by victory the reward that never shall cease: but thou must ever remember in the mean season that holy scripture may not be touched but with clean and washen hands, that is to understand, but with high pureness of mind, lest that which of itself is a preservative or treacle, by thine own fault turn to thee into poison, and lest manna to thee begin to putrify, except that thou convey or send it into the inward parts of thy mind and affection, and lest haply it should fortune to thee as it did to Oza, which feared not to set his profane and unclean hands to the ark of God inclining on the one side and with sudden death was punished for his lewd service. The first point is that thou have good opinion of the holy scriptures, and that thou esteem them of no less value and dignity than they are worthy to be esteemed, and that they came out of the secret closet of the mind of God. Thou shalt perceive that thou art inspired of God moved inwardly, rapt and in an unspeakable manner altered and changed to another manner, figure or shape, if thou shalt come religiously, if with reverence and meekly thou shalt see the pleasures, delicacies, or dainties of the blessed spouse. Thou shalt see the precious jewels of rich Salomon, thou shalt see the secret treasure of eternal wisdom: but beware that thou break not malapertly into the secret closet, the door is low, beware lest thou strike the door with thy head, and be fain to leap back again. Think on this wise, nothing that thou seest with thine eyes, nothing that thou handlest with thy fingers to be indeed the same thing which it appeareth, so surely as these things be true in holy scripture: for that if heaven and earth should perish, yet of the words of God not one jot or tittle shall perish, but all shall be fulfilled. Though men lie, though men err, yet the verity of God neither deceiveth nor is deceived.
Of the interpreters of scripture, choose them above all other that go farthest from the letter, which chiefly next after Paul be Origene, Ambrose, Jerom and Augustyne. For I see the divines of later time stick very much in the letter, and with good will give more study to subtle and deceitful arguments, than to search out the mysteries, as though Paul had not said truly our law to be spiritual. I have heard some men myself which stood so greatly in their own conceit with the fantastical traditions, imaginations and inventions of man, that they despised the interpretation of old doctors that were nigh to Christ and his apostles both in time and living also, and account them as dreams, yea and Master Dunce gave them such confidence that notwithstanding they never once read the holy scripture, yet thought they themselves to be perfect divines, which persons though they speak things never so crafty and subtle, yet whether they speak things worthy of the Holy Ghost and the meek spirit of Christ or not, let other men judge. But if thou haddest liefer to be somewhat lusty and quick of spirit, than to be armed to contention, that is to say to brawling or scolding: if thou seek rather to have thy soul made fat, than thy wit to be vainly delighted: study and read over chiefly the old doctors and expositors, whose godliness and holy life is more proved and known, whose religion to God is more to be pondered and looked upon, whose learning is more plenteous and sage also, whose style is neither bare nor rude and interpretation more agreeable to the holy mysteries. And I say not this because I despise these new divines, but because I set more by things more profitable and more apt for the purpose.
And also the Spirit of God hath a certain tongue or speech appropriate to himself, he hath his figures similitudes, parables, comparisons, proverbs and riddles which thou must observe and mark diligently, if thou wouldest understand them. The wisdom of God stuttereth and lispeth as it were a diligent mother fashioneth her words according to our infancy and feebleness. She giveth milk to them that be infants in Christ, weak meat to feeble stomachs. Thou therefore make speed thou were a man, make haste to perfect and strong meat, and prepare a man’s stomach. She stoopeth down and boweth herself to thy humility and lowness. Arise then upon the other side and ascend to her height and excellency. It is like a monster and unnatural to be ever a child. He is too heartless that never ceaseth to be feeble and weak. The recording of one verse shall be more savoury in thy mouth, and shall nourish thee better if thou break the cod and taste of the sweetness which is within, than if thou shouldest sing the whole psalter, understood only after the literal sense, whereof verily I give admonition a great deal the rather, because I know by experience that this error hath not infected the lay people only, but also the minds of them which profess and shew outward in their habit and name or title, perfect religion, insomuch that they think the very service of God to be put chiefly in this one thing, if they shall say over every day as much as they can of the psalms scarce understood, yea, in the literal sense.
Neither I think any other thing to be the cause why we see the charitable living of our monks and cloisterers to fail everywhere, to be so cold, so slacked, so faint and so to vanish away, but that they continue all their life and wax old in the letter and never enforce to come to the spiritual knowledge of scripture, neither hear they Christ crying in the Gospel, the flesh, that is to say, the letter, or that ye see outward profiteth not at all. It is the Spirit within that quickeneth or giveth life.
They hear not Paul affirming with his master, that the letter killeth, and it is the spirit giveth life. And again we know (saith he) that the law is spiritual, and not carnal. Spiritual things must be compared with spiritual things.
In time past the Father of all spiritual gifts would be honoured in the mountain, but now he will be honoured in the spirit. Howbeit I despise not the feebleness of them, which for lack of knowledge and understanding doth that they only be able to do, pronouncing the mystical psalms with pure faith without dissimulation or hypocrisy, but rather as in charms and enchantments of magic certain words not understood, no not of them which pronounce them, yet be believed to be of virtue and strength. Even so the words of God, though they be not perfectly understood, nevertheless we must trust that they be profitable to them that either say them or hear them with perfect faith, with pure affection and mind, and that the angels which are present and doth understand be provoked to help them. And Paul despiseth not them which say psalms with their mouth which speaketh with tongues that thing they understand not: but he exhorteth them to leave their infancy, and to follow more perfect gifts, unto which if a man cannot attain, not through the default of a corrupt mind, but for lack of capacity, let him not bark against them which enforce better things. And after the precept of Paul let not him which eateth despise him which eateth not, neither he that eateth not judge him that eateth. Nevertheless I will not have thee which art endowed with so happy a wit to be slow and to tarry long in the barren letter, but to make speed unto more secret mysteries, and to help the continual endeavour and enforcement of thine industry and will with often prayers until he open to thee the book clasped with seven clasps, which hath the key of David, the which also shutteth and no man openeth the privities of the Father, which never man knew but his Son, and he to whom his Son hath vouchsafed to disclose them. But whither goeth our style aside? Mine intent was to describe the form of living not of learning: but I turned out of the way thus far while I laboured to shew thee a meet shop from whence thou oughtest to fetch thy new armour and weapons belonging to the new war. Therefore to come to our purpose again, if thou shalt pick and choose out of the books of the gentiles of every thing the best: and also if thou by the example of the bee, flying round about by the gardens of old authors shalt suck out only the wholesome and sweet juice (the poison refused and left behind) thy mind shall be better apparelled a great deal, and armed unto the common life or conversation, in which we live one with another in honest manner. For the philosophers and learned men of the gentiles in their war use certain weapons and armour not to be despised. Nevertheless whatsoever thing of honesty or truth thou findest anywhere, think that to be Christ’s. But that divine armour and (to speak as the poets do) that harness of Vulcanus’ making, which with no weapons can be pierced, is fetched only out of the armoury of holy scripture, where our noble captain David laid up all his ordinance of war for his soldiers with which they should fight afar and at hand against the uncircumcised Philistines.
With this harness was clothed neither Achilles, of whom Homer writeth, neither Eneas, of whom Virgil speaketh, though they be so feigned. Of which the one with ire, the other with love was overcome shamefully. And it is not spoken without reason that those weapons be not forged in the workhouse of man, but in the workhouse or forge that is common to Vulcan and Pallas, otherwise called Mynerva.
For poets the feigners of gods maketh Vulcan lord of fire, and Mynerva lady of wit, faculties, sciences and crafts, which thing I judge to be done in very deed (as thou mayest easily perceive) when the fire of love of God hath armed thy wit, endued with honest faculties so strongly, that if all the world should fall on thy head yet should not the stroke put thee to fear. But first thou must cast away the harness of proud Saul, which rather loadeth a man than be anything necessary or profitable, and cumbered David ready to fight with Golyas and holpe him not at all. Moreover from the bank of the brook of holy scripture thou must gather five stones, which peradventure be the five words of Paul, which he speaketh in knowledge. Then take a sling in thy right hand; with these weapons is overthrown our only enemy, the father of pride, Sathan, whom at the last with what weapons did our head Christ Jesu overcome?
Did not he smite the forehead of our adversary as it had been with stones fetched out of the brook when he answered him in time of temptation with words of scripture. Wilt thou hear the instruments or artillery of christian men’s war? And the zeal of him (saith scripture) shall take harness and shall harness his creature to avenge his enemies, he will put on justice for his breastplate, and take for his helmet sure and true judgment. He will take a shield of equity impenetrable or that cannot be pierced, yea, and he will sharpen or fashion cruel wrath into a spear. Thou readest also in Isai he is armed with justice, as with an habergeon and a salet of health upon his head, he is clothed with the vestures of vengeance and covered as it were with a cloak of zeal. Now if thou list to go to the storehouse of Paul, that valiant captain, certainly thou shalt also find there the armour of war, not carnal things, but valiant in God to destroy fortresses and counsels, and every high thing that exalteth himself against the doctrine of God. Thou shalt find there the armour of God, by the which thou mayest resist in a woeful day. Thou shalt find the harness of justice on the right hand, and on the left thou shalt find the defence of thy sides’ verity, and the habergeon of justice the buckler of faith, wherewith thou mayest quench all the hot and fiery weapons of thy cruel adversary. Thou shalt find also the helmet of health and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, with the which all if a man shall be diligently covered and fenced, he may boldly without fear bring forth the bold saying of Paul. Who shall separate us from the love of God? shall tribulation? shall straitness or difficulty? shall hunger? shall nakedness? shall peril? shall persecution? shall a sword? Behold how mighty enemies and how much feared of all men he setteth at nought. But hear also a certain greater thing, for it followeth. But in all things we have overcome by his help which loved us. And I am assured (saith he) that neither death, nor life, nor angels, neither principalities, neither virtues, neither present things, neither things to come, neither strength, neither height, neither lowness, nor none other creature shall or may separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesu. Oh happy trust and confidence which the weapons or armour of light giveth to Paul, that is by interpretation a little man, which calleth himself the refuse or outcast of the world! Of such armour therefore abundantly shall holy scripture minister to thee, if thou wilt occupy thy time in it with all thy might: so that thou shalt not need our counsel or admonitions. Nevertheless seeing it is thy mind, lest I should seem not to have obeyed thy request, I have forged for thee this little treatise called Enchiridion, that is to say, a certain little dagger, whom never lay out of thy hand, no not when thou art at meat or in thy chamber. Insomuch that if at any time thou shalt be compelled to make a pilgrimage in these worldly occupations, and shalt be too cumbered to bear about with thee the whole and complete armour and harness of holy scripture, yet commit not that the subtle lier in wait at any season should come upon thee and find thee utterly unarmed, but at the least let it not grieve thee to have with thee this little hanger, which shall not be heavy to bear, nor unprofitable for thy defence, for it is very little, yet if thou use it wisely, and couple with it the buckler of faith, thou shalt be able to withstand the fierce and raging assault of thine enemy: so that thou shalt have no deadly wound. But now it is time that I begin to give thee a certain rule of the use of these weapons which if thou shalt put in execution or practice, I trust it will come to pass that our captain Jesus Christ shall translate thee a conqueror out of this little castle or garrison into his great city Jerusalem with triumph, where is no rage at all of any battle, but eternal quietness, perfect peace, assured tranquillity: whereas in the mean season all hope and confidence of safeguard is put in armour and weapon.