Pray inform me, brother, concerning the various kinds of ministers in the church, for you consume our time needlessly in deriding the doctrine of extreme unction.
Derision, I am satisfied, is a lawful weapon, and may be laudably employed on occasion, for Christ, Elias, and the apostles, have all availed themselves of it. And why should we not bring it into use against heretics? Nevertheless, as the excellence of ridicule lies in the moderate use of it, and is of rare and difficult attainment, I will abstain from it, and speak of the kinds of ministers in the church. Now Christ was the highest minister in the church, since, according to the apostle, he was the minister of the circumcision, and, in my opinion, no one of the ministers of our mother is worthy of praise, except as in his conversation he is a follower of Christ. Hence I think it a matter of great difficulty to establish, on sufficient authority, the institution of our new orders.
There are three kinds of ministers acknowledged in the church, each kind including many subordinate gradations. Of these the first and lowest are simple labourers. The second and intermediate class is composed of potentates, the defenders of the ordinances of Christ in the church; but the last and highest are the priests of Christ, who rightly preach his Gospel. This portion should be as the soul unto the body of our mother the church. Among these, however, there is most deception, for Antichrist hath, in the guise of clergy, twelve agents, who machinate against Christ’s church, commonly called popes, cardinals, patriarchs, archpræsuls, bishops, archdeacons, officials, deacons, monks, canons, false brethren lately introduced, and questors. Now all these twelve, especially the Cæsarean prelates and the friars, thus unwarrantably admitted, are plainly the disciples of Antichrist, because they do away with the liberty of Christ, burden holy church, and hinder the Gospel from having free course as of old.
As the last and greatest danger among those enumerated by Paul, is that incurred from false brethren, something should be said concerning these; and as they falsely assert that they were introduced before the incarnation of our Lord, we must see in what way they should be generally defined. The Bishop of Lincoln, in one of his sermons, saith of the private orders of monks in general, but of the friar in particular, that he is a dead body come out of the tomb, wrapped in funeral weeds, and set in motion among men by the fiend. A dead body, he continues, because, vigorous as his bodily life may be, yet his soul is dead—a death far more truly such than the death of our earthly man, as 1 Timothy 5., “But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.” He is a putrid and stinking corpse, because the natural life of the body should be derived from the spiritual life of the soul, by God’s law; secondly, he cometh out of the grave, because, as he saith, his four walls shut him in, as one dead to the world, and shut up and buried therein. But inasmuch as the shutting up of the soul is far more excellent than the bodily shutting up of the man, let us mark the four cardinal virtues—justice, fortitude, prudence, and temperance—and mark, also, how the friars tear away, almost asunder, these four walls, and so break out from the confinement of the soul, and treacherously pollute believers in the church. Christ and his apostles, accordingly, denounced them as hypocrites; and hence, to deceive the church, they dress themselves in funeral vestments, which the religion of Christ requires not.
Some wear russet above, as a sign of their labours, and a white garment under, to signify the purity of their mind. Others wear over all, black funeral vestments, as a sign, they say, of their continual sorrow and pain on account of sin, and wear white clothes underneath, as the former. A third class are clad in white, both without and within, wearing russet to denote the labour they undergo for the church. The fourth order dress like the second, in black and white, but in the fashion of their dress, and their form of burial, they differ from the two following, as do the first. The deformity of their appearance, they say, shows the utility of their body, and the girdle they so tie round them in a knot, that they endure a constant and distressing bodily penance. But we see not the reality of what is thus signified, since they are no prophets, but hypocrites who seduce the people, and give their attention more to the shutting up of the body than of the soul. They pretend, that by thus shutting up the body, they have presented to their view heaven and things heavenly. The plants that grow in the cloister signify the vigour of those virtues wherein they surpass all, and the tree in the midst of it denotes a ladder along which they mount by the steps of virtue to things heavenly. But was there ever a more hypocritical lie? For they eat of the forbidden fruit in the midst of their paradise, and make drunken to the uttermost all men who follow after them. As to the Bishop of Lincoln’s fourth particular, that every such corpse hath been set in motion among men by the devil, the believer cannot doubt that men of this sort, who break out from the cloister of the soul, are set in motion by fiends, since the fiends, who most love hypocrisy, and such deceiving of the human race, run of course to the support of such heretical fallacies; for the sin of hypocrisy, as it is most contrary to the first principles of truth, and most seduces the people, is carefully promoted by the fiend. Thus this description of the fourfold member, set forth by that holy bishop, is made good, and the blessed Hildegard makes the same statement more expressly in her prophecy before these friars were introduced.