Trialogus. Chapter 23. How the Friars Falsely Sell Their Prayers and Merits
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4 min read
Since the subtle evasions of the friars are so many, I pray you strike at their root, that this evil may be altogether rooted out from the church; because I see clearly that the mendicants affect to dispense more of merit from their communion than they have power to bestow, or than they really possess.
I am pleased to find that you have formed such conceptions in regard to the errors of the false brethren; and you will see yet more to this effect in their crafty excuses and fraudulent replies. For they say, in the first place, though falsely, that it is true they cannot grant any one of these things to any one, unless it be supposed that he shall make himself worthy of it in the eyes of God: and, accordingly, they grant such things subject to the good pleasure of God. But let these heretics blush, and know that they cannot grant to any one that he should be as God, and that God should cease to be in order that the creature may come into the place of God. What can be more foolish?
In the second place, they say that the men to whom they make such grants are in many respects meritorious, because of the assistance they render to the friars. But, on the contrary, it appears to me probable that the men thus described are in many respects worthy of punishment more than of reward. In the first place, because they have become unstable in the faith, casting off the catholic belief for the sake of the frivolous falsehoods of these friars. Secondly, because men thus blind nourish friars, the disciples of Antichrist, and reject the poor, the blind, the halt, and the sick, to whom they ought, by the law of the Gospel, to be bountiful. And thirdly, because the hypocritical fraud of the friars destroys alike the one and the other; and accordingly, since the supposition should be on the side of the more certain and better part, we ought to suppose that the faith, religion, and ancient usage inculcated by Christ, is far preferable to the usage or religion of late brought in by the friars. Thus should we arrive at the supposition, that had all the friars been destroyed, or consigned to perdition, it would have been better for the church than it is now; and had no such letters ever been dispensed, and had men depended simply on the graciousness of Christ, it would have been better than at present. Accordingly, these absurdities which the friars chatter forth return on their own head.
Thirdly, the friars argue falsely, that as it is lawful for temporal lords to make free grants of the possessions which they hold, so it is allowable for them, possessing, as they do, a dominion quite as absolute over the stock of their merits, to make free grants from that source to whomsoever they will, and so to render such persons participant of their merits. This absurd analogy appears to have led Simonists to a trafficing with those possessions of the church which pass under the name of ecclesiastical benefices, but which are in fact malefices. But there is no just similarity between the two cases, so as to afford a plea to the friars in thus dispensing their merits, since merit of no kind may be possessed except by the special grace of God. In the case of a just man, accordingly, it is ridiculous to be told that the friars can communicate the nature of those works which they call merits; since, in truth, prayers, fastings, preachings, and the six works which friars commonly set forth in their letters, are not within their power, so that they can observe them, and communicate them to others as they please. And the merit remaining after these works, in the formal acceptation of the term merit, has no existence, except in the man to whom the works themselves properly belong. And so every man has his own merit or demerit.
If, therefore, it is not lawful for a man to commute any temporal possession without leave obtained from his chief lord, much more is it not lawful for friars to communicate their merits without special licence from the Lord of lords. But certain it is that God never grants licence of this nature unless there be worthiness in the person claiming such merit, in which view those who heap temporalities on the friars commonly make themselves unworthy, inasmuch as they often nourish and protect the enemies of Christ. If, therefore, God alone can impart virtues, so as not to abuse them by communicating them on wrong principles, God will distribute the principle of merit only according to what the person meriting shall have deserved from his own life. It is, therefore, a manifest blasphemy to presume, that any power which is not Divine can distribute merits according to pleasure.
But, in the fourth place, the friars argue from an analogy, as before, that the saints in heaven bestow on those who had formerly rendered them service in this life, good measures, pressed down, shaken together and running over, Luke 6.; and that, therefore, it should be lawful to friars to give to their benefactors in an inferior degree. But the saints bestow such good objectively, not subjectively or efficiently, like God, who, as it were, enters into the saints; and that is good measure, because it is a supernatural good.
In the fifth place, the friars argue by analogy, as before, and say that the popes distribute the merits of the saints in heaven, as appears in the matter of indulgences: and since the friars are the equals of the pope in respect to priesthood, it follows that they may distribute their own merits at their pleasure. But mark here, in the first place, how the friars accuse the popes; secondly, how they usurp equality with them; and thirdly, how they contend for superiority over them; for the popes do not grant such indulgences, except on the express condition that the men to whom they grant them have, in truth, confessed, and are contrite. But the friars make no mention of penitence as a condition. Yet we know that God cannot remove the guilt of the sinner unless he be truly contrite. What sect, then, is this, which raises itself so greatly above God, and above every vicar of God?