Trialogus. Chapter 27. Of the Other Six Abuses of the Friars
5 min read
5 min read
Pray, brother Phronesis, inform me of the other six abuses of the friars, as you have promised, for I do not clearly see how they can avoid the guilt you impute to them, without returning to the free law of Jesus Christ, inasmuch as their rule and religion, as it appears to me, compel them to the commission of the evils you condemn.
I am pleased to see that you discern so clearly the root of the malice which is in these men. But if you will advance a little further, you will behold the chains of Satan, and see in what numbers they are linked together.
The first of these six abuses is the burdensomeness with which they oppress believers, contrary to the teaching of Christ and of his apostles. Certain it is, that many thousands of friars, scattered throughout one small province, are covertly more burdensome to that province, than would be a thousand freebooters, who should publicly plunder it. For let it be granted, that there are in England four thousand such friars, and that every one of them annually consumes in his own person a hundred solidi of the goods of the realm, and the same amount in buildings, repairs, and decorations for their cloisters, and it is evident that this sect expends sixty thousand marks of the goods of the realm every year! But what English lord could afford to spend so much as is spent by these friars, who creep into the houses or chambers of the rich, and feast on delicacies? They consume too much of the goods of the realm, who thus obtain their food by robbery; for since their  expenses do not fall upon themselves, it is plain that whatever temporal goods they have consumed in our realm belong to the realm. How, therefore, should the retainers of secular lords be other than so poor, and unable to pay them their dues so readily as before, while the friars receive so much from them every year?
In fact, the whole nation would have murmured loudly, if it had been taxed by the kingly power to such an amount, even for a large levy, or for the defence of the kingdom. And it appears wonderful to many, that so great a number of the disciples of Antichrist should thus cunningly subtract the goods of the realm, and obtain, with the consent of the people, a larger sum than the king could obtain in the same time for the defence of the kingdom. Let then the observant concerning the state of the people first consider how it is that the common people, who should give themselves to labour, are of a more feeble complexion, more infirm in health, and more short-lived than formerly. Heaven looks down more sadly on this condition of earthly things, disturbing the seasons, retarding and destroying in every direction the fruits of the earth. Beyond all this, those who serve demand a higher price, are more luxurious, and less trustworthy than they once were. Is not then this scourge, inflicted by God, a punishment sufficiently great for kingdoms, without the addition of a new infliction from the secret fraud of Antichrist? How then can it be said that they follow Christ and his apostles in life and doctrine, by sparing the church?
The second abuse of the friars is, that they shut themselves up, and despising, as we have shown above, the labour enjoined by Paul, live at ease. This appears to be the reason why there are so many more sterile tracts of country in England than in time past.
The third abuse of the friars is their preference of the frivolous inventions belonging to their order to the law and ordinance of Christ. This is a great crime, to the hurt of the church, since it is really no less than blasphemy, to make their own follies, which the devil hath invented, of more weight than the revealed will of Christ. For since the friars are limited in their powers of action and observation, as were also the apostles, it is plain, that in fulfilling in its purity the law and ordinance of Christ, they would be far better occupied than at present. This, therefore, is an inexcusable fault in them, that in letting go the evangelical ordinance they do blasphemously prefer the inventions which have proceeded from their own stupidity; as if they felt disgraced, and would blush to be found following Christ as their patron; and deserting the rule of Christ’s order, set up some liar or notorious delinquent in his room. But Christ saith, “He who shall be ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed before the angels of God.”
The fourth abuse consists in their abandoning the law of the Gospel, concerning brotherly reproof, and faithlessly favouring the devil and the world. For when Christ saith, “Whosoever loveth father, or mother, or brother, or sister, or even his own life, more than me, he is not worthy of me;” the friars nevertheless, on account of their love of themselves, of a corrupt order, or from a regard for individuals, dare not rebuke their brethren, however manifestly they may have sinned against the Gospel; nor do they, on finding a man obstinate in sin, forsake him as a publican, as Christ enjoins, Matt. xviii. Yet they set up a rule, expressly for themselves, that the Gospel commands them, when the interests of their diabolical society are concerned, to correct, or, in the language of the church, to chastise their brethren, often shutting them up, contrary to the law of Christ, in a foul dungeon, and even secretly killing them. Since it is the same thing to love a person, and to love the commandment or law approved by that person, it is plain that the friars, in setting up their beggarly and leprous custom before the law of the Lord, prefer loving these wretched patrons to the love of Christ; where then, I ask, is the rule of charity among the friars?
The fifth abuse is seen in their entire subversion of the order of charity, and in their desiring honours and worldly wealth, more than men themselves; striving after worldly distinctions by such means, and mingling with the world, contrary to the law of Christ: “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life.” 2 Timothy 2. For if they flatter men for the sake of honours and worldly gains; are sparing in the inculcation of catholic truth, not setting forth the verity of the Gospel, without deceit, and this both in prosperity and adversity; who can doubt that they are secretly and imperceptibly descending to the infernal lake, as the consequence of looking to exaltation in the world? For the Gospel teaches us not to covet such mastery and preeminence; and that a man should not entangle himself with the affairs of this life. But if the friars act in direct opposition to these commands, and suffer no worldly business to be transacted without their taking part in it, on some pretence or other, who can doubt that the devil works in them, and by their instrumentality involves the whole world in his evil deeds?
The sixth and the worst abuse of the friars consists in their pretended confessions, by means of which they affect, with numberless artifices of blasphemy, that they can purify those whom they confess, and make them clean from all pollution in the eyes of God, through this assumed power of Antichrist,—setting aside the commandments and satisfaction of our Lord. Thus, in their eagerness to participate in the gain of their master the devil, they drag but too many down to hell. For if the conversation of the just is seen to be in heaven, by the uprightness of their rule of life, the contrary shows, beyond a doubt, that the conversation of these friars is in hell—so that they may be said not so much to send men to hell, as to drag them thither. And what is worst of all, they seduce to their ruin in spiritual things those of the people who rashly put faith in them.