Trialogus. Chapter 14. On the Avarice of the Clergy
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5 min read
Though you have often taught after this manner, at the peril of your life, yet it is evident that both reason, and the grounds on which the saints have been canonised, contradict your doctrine. For who can entertain any doubt, but that the law of Christ not only permits, but requires that the man who is especially his servant, should be duly ministered unto in things temporal? For God, who is not wanting to his servants in greater things, as in the blessings of grace and of nature, does not withhold from them wealth, or the goods of fortune in any form. In like manner, though your argument would deny the prelate the right, by reason of his clergy, to require these things, and declares that he should be content with little temporal possession, yet you dare not assert that it is unlawful for temporal lords to make such offerings to their clergy, under the title of alms, since you would, by so doing, put an end to temporal alms of every kind. On this ground the clergy may possess these temporal things, and yet live sparingly as did the apostle. Such, we believe, was the case with Sylvester, and many others whom the church has canonised. For since, then, temporal things are from God, and, by consequence, eminently good, what harm can there be in our possessing the things themselves, along with the higher blessings before mentioned, since the gifts of nature and grace may derive much good, incidentally, from the gifts of fortune?
In my view, it is plain, from the Scriptures before alleged, which we believe the mouth of the Lord hath spoken, that our clergy, especially under the law of grace, are bound to live in the manner which I have set forth. And since this is an injunction, laid on us by the God-man, Christ, it is clear that he who manifestly despiseth it cannot love Christ, and, therefore, must fall under the sentence of a most fearful excommunication; for the apostle saith, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha.” And this excommunication, inflicted by the Holy Spirit, does not admit of being evaded by the precautions of men, but is sure to be inflicted where guilt is incurred, and is a matter greatly more to be feared, than any damnation or condemnation for heresy, which Cæsarean prelates are wont to send forth. And since to love Christ, and to keep his commandments, are the same thing, it is plain that those prelates especially, who are so disobedient to the law of the Lord, incur a more heavy anathema.
In reply to your first objection, I admit that I have often hazarded my life, and my worldly prosperity, by the promulgation of this doctrine; but since Christ and his apostles did so, and we believe that they are now glorified in heaven for so doing, what believer should hesitate to promulgate and defend the words of Christ; especially when he himself saith, “Whoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed before the angels of God?”
With regard to the canonisation of Sylvester, Gregory, and others, who received the church endowment, I must say, without any wish to scandalise those saints, that I do not make it a matter of faith to believe, that by God’s grace, they passed through life unstained in any way by the pollution of things temporal. But who would be so senseless as to disregard the admonitions and counsel of Christ hereupon, because one transgressor was saved by the grace of God? For if one offender has been rescued from so dangerous a precipice, by some cause to us unknown, who, on that account, would be so audacious as to expose himself to a greater danger? For numbers of prelates now grasp these temporalities in a way far more illegal and infamous than their predecessors above named. And therefore I grant you, that both reason and the law of God require, that one who is a chief servant of God, should be duly ministered unto in things temporal; but both reason, and the real good of God’s servant, require that he be not too much laden with these temporalities, since they serve their possessor only in so far as they facilitate his duty towards God.
It is plain that the man imbibing the spirit of the Gospel pleases Christ the more, other things being equal, the greater the poverty in which he fulfils his office. Just as it is of no use for travellers to carry their ship after they have crossed the sea in it, so it doth not advantage us to carry temporal things in our hearts, more than is requisite for our voyage. During our infancy and decrepitude, we must perform our journey on board-ship; while in middle age, to signify that we should aspire after things celestial, we must travel by dry land. In the early part of our voyage we are sustained by our parents, and in the last by the goods we have accumulated, or by the charity of our brethren; but in middle age we should live by our own efforts, or on those temporal things which we have virtuously made our own. And this mode of life we regard as an approach to the state of innocence, to which the apostles conformed themselves. Thus some understand the words of Christ, “And ye shall carry nothing on your journey, neither scrip,” &c.; for apostolic men should not be delayed by anything temporal that may impede their affections or their efforts in the discharge of duty.
But the scanty and moderate nature of their possession is indicated by the staff carried in the hand. As one overburdened with a multiplicity of clothing is thereby oftentimes rendered unfit for travel, so the man who is burdened with things temporal, is often made less capable of serving the church. In this sense Christ said, “Neither have two coats,” and this law of Christ is founded on the law of nature, with which no man can dispense. As to your second objection, your assumption is plainly false, since lords temporal ought so to moderate the alms they bestow, that the ordinance of Christ shall in no respect be destroyed; for they would then not be alms, but a traitorous and accursed presumption. For Christ, in Luke 14., shows us how we should bestow temporal relief on the poor, who are blind, halt, and infirm, and how, accordingly, to compel sturdy mendicants to labour.
In the rule of Christ, poverty must be understood in the following threefold manner, because Christ teaches us not to bestow alms on the rich in the world, though they be blind, halt, or infirm, but he teaches us to bestow alms on these three classes of the poor. But how doth the perpetual and universal endowment of the church agree with this rule of Christ? This doctrine, therefore, implies and teaches how such alms may be given with profit and foresight, and how a wrong done to these three classes of the needy should be amended.
As to your third objection, it has often been said that man holdeth things temporal under a twofold title, namely, that of original justice, and that of mundane justice. Now under the title of original justice, Christ possessed all the goods in the universe; as Augustine often declares—under that title, or the title of grace, all things belong to the just. But civil possession differs widely from such title. Accordingly, Christ and his apostles, despising civil dominion, were content with possession according to that title; and hence it is the rule of Christ, that none of his disciples presume to contend for his temporal goods, as appears, Matthew 6., “If any man take thy coat,” &c. But the laws of the state, and the custom of secular rulers, are far removed from this. And this is the reason why these mundane laws, and the eager execution thereof, have been so wrongfully introduced, even among the clergy. The conclusion you draw must be admitted, but the mode of possession should be distinguished; for possession in a civil sense, since it necessitates a carefulness about temporal things, and the observance of human laws, ought to be strictly forbidden to the clergy. With regard to Sylvester and others, it appears to me probable, that in accepting such endowment they sinned grievously. We may entertain the supposition, however, that they afterwards repented of this to some purpose. So I grant you, then, that the clergy may possess temporal things, but after that title and mode of possession which God instituted, and not after that covetous fashion which the institution of Cain hath invented.