Trialogus. Chapter 20. On the Begging Friars
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4 min read
I could wish that you would make some statement of your opinion concerning the begging of the friars; for many are of opinion that Christ so begged, and certain it is that on this assumption the friars found their system. This opinion has the more colour, from the fact that in the Psalms it is said that Iscariot persecuted a man who was poor and a beggar. And as the blessed Peter says, Acts 1., that this prophecy was spoken by David concerning Christ and Iscariot, it is no sufficient reply to say that Christ begged only in the person of his members, for certainly the psalm refers to the person of Christ, which Iscariot persecuted.
I have affirmed elsewhere in many ways, that the term mendicancy, like the term prayer, is to be understood in different senses. For there is one kind of mendicancy innuitive, another insinuative, and a third declamatory. One kind of begging comes of God alone, another of man; accordingly I have elsewhere defined begging, as the petition of a needy man for bodily alms, purely on the ground of compassion, for the relief of his need. In this sense Christ in his humanity begged of the Trinity, and consequently of himself, when saying the Lord’s prayer, which he had established; and as Augustine often asserts, every one in repeating that prayer must necessarily beg of the Lord. Now we may say that Christ begged in his humanity, but only innuitively, of his brethren, since he tells them, in fact, how for love of them he became so poor and needy, as saith the apostle in 2 Corinthians 8. Now such real begging, without insinuative petition, offered in words, is a faultless and most noble begging, for it became Christ thus to beg, for the interests of his church. But if the friars make a sophistical use of such begging, and beg stoutly from the people with clamour and annoyance, who can doubt that this begging is a diabolical and sophistical perversion of this act of Christ’s, so full of goodness, and so serviceable to his church? Beyond this the friars defend their falsehood, by adding, that it is not only proper, but absolutely meritorious thus to embrace a life of voluntary poverty. I have assailed this position by many arguments in the vulgar tongue. In the first place, from Matthew 5., that Christ, who came, “not to destroy the law and the prophets,” says in Deuteronomy 15., “There shall be no needy man nor beggar among you.” Why then should Christ violate this law by thus begging of his own people? In the same manner, Proverbs 30., Solomon saith, “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” Christ, therefore, was not compelled to do away with the virtue that is thus said to exist in a medium between the two, since the believers supplied him with all such necessaries.
Job saith, (c. 29.) “Oh that it were with me as in the months past, as in the days when God preserved me; when his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness; as I was in the days of my youth.” Here it is clear as noon-day that this pious man piously prayeth that he might possess the prosperity he had in times past, which, according to their doctrine, would be a blame-worthy petition. To the same effect speaks Paul, (Acts 20.) “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel: yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities”—whence it appears that bodily labour is indirectly enjoined, and mendicity forbidden. Also 2 Thessalonians 3., “For even when we were with you this we commanded you, that if any would not work neither should he eat; for we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busy bodies”—whence it is shown, as clearly as before, that the apostle forbids begging of this sort. Again, 1 Thessalonians 4., “But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you”—which likewise shows that the friars in begging violate the injunction of the apostle, and so of our Lord. Also Ephesians 4., “Let him that stole steal no more”—but we may see how directly this command is disobeyed by the friars, for oftentimes by their knavery, contrary to the will of our Lord, they delude men, and seize the property of others by the foulest means, and neglect to labour with their own hands. Yet the apostle (as appears from Acts xviii.) laboured as a tentmaker that the church might not be burdened. God enjoined corporeal labour on the first sinner, Genesis 4: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” Are we to regard the sect of the friars as more excellent than the first man, or as a better example than the apostle Paul? Likewise, 2 Corinthians 6., the apostle lays down the following injunction: “We beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” Do not the friars receive the grace of God in vain, who are endowed by God with bodily strength, and have the opportunity, and yet will not work—to the great burden of the church? Again, when Christ prohibits such public begging, inasmuch as he who so begs is burthensome to the community, a course of life which Christ through Paul repeatedly forbids, how can the new orders have the effrontery to proclaim such open mendicancy in the case of able-bodied men, and found a new form of devotion on-such an ordinance? Do not Francis, and other idiot trafficers, depart from the faith of the church, and from the Lord Jesus Christ? Furthermore, when paupers, the blind, the sick, and the infirm, ought, according to God’s commandment, to receive such alms, (Luke xiv.) the robust mendicant taking the relief away from them, wrongs this class of men; and what robbery can be more infamous? Such beggary is contrary to the law of nature: what blasphemous necessity, then, could impose it upon our Lord Jesus Christ, especially when it neither became him so to beg, nor have the Gospel commandments, wherein is involved all truth, expressed anything of the sort? How dare the friars, then, thus blaspheme the Lord Christ Jesus? For Christ and his disciples, in abstaining from such medicancy, obeyed the tenth commandment in the decalogue, the law of nature, and the bidding of the Old Testament.