Trialogus. Chapter 22. On the Letters of the Fraternities
4 min read
4 min read
You have argued with sufficient shrewdness in regard to this second blasphemy of the friars. But touch, I pray you, a little on a third—that relating to their letters of fraternity, for by that means the church is too commonly deceived.
I am willing to say of them in Latin what I have formerly expressed in English, but I am apprehensive that Pseudis will charge me with losing my labour in so doing, both because I often repeat the same doctrine, and also, since the malevolence of the friars increases, I am imprudent enough to speak of their last doings as worse than the former. Nevertheless, this is not the end, God willing, at which I aim. I suppose, on the contrary, that some friars, whom God shall see fit to teach, will be converted, and devoutly embrace the religion of Christ in its primitive purity; and abandoning their perfidy, shall seek or obtain freedom from Antichrist, and return of their own accord to the primeval religion of our Lord. And then, like Paul, they will build up the church.
But in proceeding to deal with these false letters of the friars, it is important to know something of their history; and this being understood, their simoniacal heresy will be immediately manifest, for they do not issue such rules except with the expectation of realising gain, and of giving strength to their unlawful confederacy. How then, I ask, can they be other in character than simoniacal heretics? In confirmation of this showing, when help is denied them as regards temporal things, or the defence of them, straightway they murmur. Beyond doubt, there is implied in this practice a fraudulent buying and selling; and it is equally certain that God must hate this hypocritical traffic.
The friars must also beware not to give occasion to the faithful to discover their fallacies, or to introduce unauthorised novelties, since they ought to know that Christ meant his church should be free from such things; and inasmuch as the friars do not thus act, they fraudulently diminish the liberty of the church of Christ. On many grounds it appears that the friars have fallen into a radical heresy, for they pretend expressly in these letters, that the individuals to whom they grant them, shall be made partakers of merits from themselves after death. But where can you find a more presumptuous blasphemy? For neither they themselves, nor the men with whom they carry on this traffic, can know, whether they may not be condemned in hell. How blind is their folly, then, in making assertions on a subject of which they know so little! But they have, it seems, such an innate tendency to falsehood, that they hesitate not to assert, contrary to eternal judgment, that they can do the things they cannot do.
Again, no man should be, by withdrawing his help, the means of another man’s damnation. But as the friars give us to understand in this matter, it is in their power to save both themselves and others from condemnation; so that supposing any man to be lost, they are to be blamed for withholding their assistance. For if they promise to another that after death he shall be a partaker of their merits, then they manifestly imply next, both that the man himself will after death be worthy of such participation, and that they themselves at present merit future happiness; because, if each party should be a foredoomed member of Satan, then such a granting must be beyond the power of these friars.
Moreover, the friars, by following the manner of the hypocrites, flatly condemn themselves herein; for according to the evangelical doctrine in Matthew 6., such alms should be given secretly, so that their right hand should not know what the left hand doth. But the friars, by the letters which they so assiduously display to the people, give plain indication that they say unto my people that they themselves are holy and grave men in the church, and, what is more than the sounding of a trumpet before them, they send forth letters to confirm the impression of their sanctity, which men are to preserve constantly in their chests.
Inasmuch, also, as it is among the provisions of all law, that no man should deceive his neighbour in any worldly matter, much more should he not so do in respect to spiritual things, concerning a man’s everlasting heritage. Since, therefore, those who trade in temporal goods require some security for their merchandise, much more is this requisite in so precious a commerce as that relating to the salvation of souls. But since the friars have no certainty in regard to themselves, of the blessings hoped for, they have spread on all sides childish fraud. Are we to believe that God will turn from his own course of justice, because such maniac concessions have been made by friars? I have heard indeed some madmen rave about temporal good, and secular dominion, but never did I hear any so horribly blaspheme as these men, in thus presuming themselves to be as God. Doctors have demonstrated, from the faith of Scripture, that no one can properly grant anything to another, except as God shall first have granted it: and it would follow therefore that whatever the friars grant men, God hath first granted; but since grants from God depend not on friars, nor on their seals and parchment, it appears a more than devilish presumption to affect to grant a share in the merits of men who themselves are hypocrites.
Many simple people, however, confide as much in these frivolous letters as in an article of faith like that of the communion of saints, or salvation by Jesus Christ. How then can such a heresy fail to place an occasion of falling in the way of the believer? Will a man shrink from acts of licentiousness and fraud, if he believes that soon after, by the aid of a little money bestowed on friars, an entire absolution from the crime he has committed may be obtained? Accordingly, this heresy is supposed to be the cause why the faith of the laity is found to be so wavering.