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The Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus

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bachelors too be pleased to give him his grace. And the like in their
subtlety in judging; for who would think he were no Christian that should
say these two speeches "matula putes" and "matula putet," or "ollae
fervere" and "ollam fervere" were not both good Latin, unless their
wisdoms had taught us the contrary? who had delivered the church from
such mists of error, which yet no one ever met with, had they not come
out with some university seal for it? And are they not most happy while
they do these things?

Then for what concerns hell, how exactly they describe everything, as if
they had been conversant in that commonwealth most part of their time!
Again, how do they frame in their fancy new orbs, adding to those we have
already an eighth! a goodly one, no doubt, and spacious enough, lest
perhaps their happy souls might lack room to walk in, entertain their
friends, and now and then play at football. And with these and a thousand
the like fopperies their heads are so full stuffed and stretched that I
believe Jupiter's brain was not near so big when, being in labor with
Pallas, he was beholding to the midwifery of Vulcan's axe. And therefore
you must not wonder if in their public disputes they are so bound about
the head, lest otherwise perhaps their brains might leap out. Nay, I have
sometimes laughed myself to see them so tower in their own opinion when
they speak most barbarously; and when they humh and hawh so pitifully
that none but one of their own tribe can understand them, they call it
heights which the vulgar can't reach; for they say 'tis beneath the
dignity of divine mysteries to be cramped and tied up to the narrow rules
of grammarians: from whence we may conjecture the great prerogative of
divines, if they only have the privilege of speaking corruptly, in which
yet every cobbler thinks himself concerned for his share. Lastly, they
look upon themselves as somewhat more than men as often as they are
devoutly saluted by the name of "Our Masters," in which they fancy there
lies as much as in the Jews' "Jehovah;" and therefore they reckon it a
crime if "Magister Noster" be written other than in capital letters; and
if anyone should preposterously say "Noster Magister," he has at once
overturned the whole body of divinity.

And next these come those that commonly call themselves the religious and
monks, most false in both titles, when both a great part of them are
farthest from religion, and no men swarm thicker in all places than
themselves. Nor can I think of anything that could be more miserable did
not I support them so many several ways. For whereas all men detest them
to that height, that they take it for ill luck to meet one of them by
chance, yet such is their happiness that they flatter themselves. For
first, they reckon it one of the main points of piety if they are so
illiterate that they can't so much as read. And then when they run over
their offices, which they carry about them, rather by tale than
understanding, they believe the gods more than ordinarily pleased with
their braying. And some there are among them that put off their
trumperies at vast rates, yet rove up and down for the bread they eat;
nay, there is scarce an inn, wagon, or ship into which they intrude not,
to the no small damage of the commonwealth of beggars. And yet, like
pleasant fellows, with all this vileness, ignorance, rudeness, and
impudence, they represent to us, for so they call it, the lives of the
apostles. Yet what is more pleasant than that they do all things by rule
and, as it were, a kind of mathematics, the least swerving from which
were a crime beyond forgiveness--as how many knots their shoes must be
tied with, of what color everything is, what distinction of habits, of
what stuff made, how many straws broad their girdles and of what fashion,
how many bushels wide their cowl, how many fingers long their hair, and
how many hours sleep; which exact equality, how disproportionate it is,
among such variety of bodies and tempers, who is there that does not
perceive it? And yet by reason of these fooleries they not only set
slight by others, but each different order, men otherwise professing
apostolical charity, despise one another, and for the different wearing
of a habit, or that 'tis of darker color, they put all things in
combustion. And among these there are some so rigidly religious that
their upper garment is haircloth, their inner of the finest linen; and,
on the contrary, others wear linen without and hair next their skins.
Others, again, are as afraid to touch money as poison, and yet neither
forbear wine nor dallying with women. In a word, 'tis their only care
that none of them come near one another in their manner of living, nor
do they endeavor how they may be like Christ, but how they may differ
among themselves.

And another great happiness they conceive in their names, while they call
themselves Cordiliers, and among these too, some are Colletes, some
Minors, some Minims, some Crossed; and again, these are Benedictines,
those Bernardines; these Carmelites, those Augustines; these Williamites,
and those Jacobines; as if it were not worth the while to be called
Christians. And of these, a great part build so much on their ceremonies
and petty traditions of men that they think one heaven is too poor a
reward for so great merit, little dreaming that the time will come when
Christ, not regarding any of these trifles, will call them to account for
His precept of charity. One shall show you a large trough full of all
kinds of fish; another tumble you out so many bushels of prayers; another
reckon you so many myriads of fasts, and fetch them up again in one
dinner by eating till he cracks again; another produces more bundles of
ceremonies than seven of the stoutest ships would be able to carry;
another brags he has not touched a penny these three score years without
two pair of gloves at least upon his hands; another wears a cowl so lined
with grease that the poorest tarpaulin would not stoop to take it up;
another will tell you he has lived these fifty-five years like a sponge,
continually fastened to the same place; another is grown hoarse with his
daily chanting; another has contracted a lethargy by his solitary living;
and another the palsy in his tongue for want of speaking. But Christ,
interrupting them in their vanities, which otherwise were endless, will
ask them, "Whence this new kind of Jews? I acknowledge one commandment,
which is truly mine, of which alone I hear nothing. I promised, 'tis
true, my Father's heritage, and that without parables, not to cowls, odd
prayers, and fastings, but to the duties of faith and charity. Nor can I
acknowledge them that least acknowledge their faults. They that would
seem holier than myself, let them if they like possess to themselves
those three hundred sixty-five heavens of Basilides the heretic's
invention, or command them whose foolish traditions they have preferred
before my precepts to erect them a new one." When they shall hear these
things and see common ordinary persons preferred before them, with what
countenance, think you, will they behold one another? In the meantime
they are happy in their hopes, and for this also they are beholding
to me.

And yet these kind of people, though they are as it were of another
commonwealth, no man dares despise, especially those begging friars,
because they are privy to all men's secrets by means of confessions, as
they call them. Which yet were no less than treason to discover, unless,
being got drunk, they have a mind to be pleasant, and then all comes out,
that is to say by hints and conjectures but suppressing the names. But if
anyone should anger these wasps, they'll sufficiently revenge themselves
in their public sermons and so point out their enemy by circumlocutions
that there's no one but understands whom 'tis they mean, unless he
understand nothing at all; nor will they give over their barking till you
throw the dogs a bone. And now tell me, what juggler or mountebank you
had rather behold than hear them rhetorically play the fool in their
preachments, and yet most sweetly imitating what rhetoricians have
written touching the art of good speaking? Good God! what several
postures they have! How they shift their voice, sing out their words,
skip up and down, and are ever and anon making such new faces that they
confound all things with noise! And yet this knack of theirs is no less a
mystery that runs in succession from one brother to another; which though
it be not lawful for me to know, however I'll venture at it by
conjectures. And first they invoke whatever they have scraped from the
poets; and in the next place, if they are to discourse of charity, they
take their rise from the river Nilus; or to set out the mystery of the
cross, from bell and the dragon; or to dispute of fasting, from the
twelve signs of the zodiac; or, being to preach of faith, ground their
matter on the square of a circle.

I have heard myself one, and he no small fool--I was mistaken, I would
have said scholar--that being in a famous assembly explaining the mystery
of the Trinity, that he might both let them see his learning was not
ordinary and withal satisfy some theological ears, he took a new way, to
wit from the letters, syllables, and the word itself; then from the
coherence of the nominative case and the verb, and the adjective and
substantive: and while most of the audience wondered, and some of them
muttered that of Horace, "What does all this trumpery drive at?" at last
he brought the matter to this head, that he would demonstrate that the
mystery of the Trinity was so clearly expressed in the very rudiments of
grammar that the best mathematician could not chalk it out more plainly.
And in this discourse did this most superlative theologian beat his
brains for eight whole months that at this hour he's as blind as a
beetle, to wit, all the sight of his eyes being run into the sharpness of
his wit. But for all that he thinks nothing of his blindness, rather
taking the same for too cheap a price of such a glory as he won thereby.

And besides him I met with another, some eighty years of age, and such a
divine that you'd have sworn Scotus himself was revived in him. He, being
upon the point of unfolding the mystery of the name Jesus, did with
wonderful subtlety demonstrate that there lay hidden in those letters
whatever could be said of him; for that it was only declined with three
cases, he said, it was a manifest token of the Divine Trinity; and then,
that the first ended in _S_, the second in _M_, the third in _U_, there
was in it an ineffable mystery, to wit, those three letters declaring to
us that he was the beginning, middle, and end (_summum, medium, et
ultimum_) of all. Nay, the mystery was yet more abstruse; for he so
mathematically split the word Jesus into two equal parts that he left the
middle letter by itself, and then told us that that letter in Hebrew was
_schin_ or _sin_, and that _sin_ in the Scotch tongue, as he remembered,
signified as much as sin; from whence he gathered that it was Jesus that
took away the sins of the world. At which new exposition the audience
were so wonderfully intent and struck with admiration, especially the
theologians, that there wanted little but that Niobe-like they had been
turned to stones; whereas the like had almost happened to me, as befell
the Priapus in Horace. And not without cause, for when were the Grecian
Demosthenes or Roman Cicero ever guilty of the like? They thought that
introduction faulty that was wide of the matter, as if it were not the
way of carters and swineherds that have no more wit than God sent them.
But these learned men think their preamble, for so they call it, then
chiefly rhetorical when it has least coherence with the rest of the
argument, that the admiring audience may in the meanwhile whisper to
themselves, "What will he be at now?" In the third place, they bring in
instead of narration some texts of Scripture, but handle them cursorily,
and as it were by the bye, when yet it is the only thing they should have
insisted on. And fourthly, as it were changing a part in the play, they
bolt out with some question in divinity, and many times relating neither
to earth nor heaven, and this they look upon as a piece of art. Here they
erect their theological crests and beat into the people's ears those
magnificent titles of illustrious doctors, subtle doctors, most subtle
doctors, seraphic doctors, cherubin doctors, holy doctors, unquestionable
doctors, and the like; and then throw abroad among the ignorant people
syllogisms, majors, minors, conclusions, corollaries, suppositions, and
those so weak and foolish that they are below pedantry. There remains yet
the fifth act in which one would think they should show their mastery.
And here they bring in some foolish insipid fable out of _Speculum
Historiale_ or _Gesta Romanorum_ and expound it allegorically,
tropologically, and anagogically. And after this manner do they and their
chimera, and such as Horace despaired of compassing when he wrote "Humano
capiti," etc.

But they have heard from somebody, I know not whom, that the beginning of
a speech should be sober and grave and least given to noise. And
therefore they begin theirs at that rate they can scarce hear themselves,
as if it were not matter whether anyone understood them. They have
learned somewhere that to move the affections a louder voice is
requisite. Whereupon they that otherwise would speak like a mouse in a
cheese start out of a sudden into a downright fury, even there too, where
there's the least need of it. A man would swear they were past the power
of hellebore, so little do they consider where 'tis they run out. Again,
because they have heard that as a speech comes up to something, a man
should press it more earnestly, they, however they begin, use a strange
contention of voice in every part, though the matter itself be never so
flat, and end in that manner as if they'd run themselves out of breath.
Lastly, they have learned that among rhetoricians there is some mention
of laughter, and therefore they study to prick in a jest here and there;
but, O Venus! so void of wit and so little to the purpose that it may be
truly called an ass's playing on the harp. And sometimes also they use
somewhat of a sting, but so nevertheless that they rather tickle than
wound; nor do they ever more truly flatter than when they would seem to
use the greatest freedom of speech. Lastly, such is their whole action
that a man would swear they had learned it from our common tumblers,
though yet they come short of them in every respect. However, they are
both so like that no man will dispute but that either these learned their
rhetoric from them, or they theirs from these. And yet they light on some
that, when they hear them, conceive they hear very Demosthenes and
Ciceroes: of which sort chiefly are our merchants and women, whose ears
only they endeavor to please, because as to the first, if they stroke
them handsomely, some part or other of their ill-gotten goods is wont to
fall to their share. And the women, though for many other things they
favor this order, this is not the least, that they commit to their
breasts whatever discontents they have against their husbands. And now, I
conceive me, you see how much this kind of people are beholding to me,
that with their petty ceremonies, ridiculous trifles, and noise exercise
a kind of tyranny among mankind, believing themselves very Pauls and

But I willingly give over these stage-players that are such ingrateful
dissemblers of the courtesies I have done them and such impudent
pretenders to religion which they haven't. And now I have a mind to give
some small touches of princes and courts, of whom I am had in reverence,
aboveboard and, as it becomes gentlemen, frankly. And truly, if they had
the least proportion of sound judgment, what life were more unpleasant
than theirs, or so much to be avoided? For whoever did but truly weigh
with himself how great a burden lies upon his shoulders that would truly
discharge the duty of a prince, he would not think it worth his while to
make his way to a crown by perjury and parricide. He would consider that
he that takes a scepter in his hand should manage the public, not his
private, interest; study nothing but the common good; and not in the
least go contrary to those laws whereof himself is both the author and
exactor: that he is to take an account of the good or evil administration
of all his magistrates and subordinate officers; that, though he is but
one, all men's eyes are upon him, and in his power it is, either like a
good planet to give life and safety to mankind by his harmless influence,
or like a fatal comet to send mischief and destruction; that the vices of
other men are not alike felt, nor so generally communicated; and that a
prince stands in that place that his least deviation from the rule of
honesty and honor reaches farther than himself and opens a gap to many
men's ruin. Besides, that the fortune of princes has many things
attending it that are but too apt to train them out of the way, as
pleasure, liberty, flattery, excess; for which cause he should the more
diligently endeavor and set a watch over himself, lest perhaps he be led
aside and fail in his duty. Lastly, to say nothing of treasons, ill will,
and such other mischiefs he's in jeopardy of, that that True King is over
his head, who in a short time will call him to account for every the
least trespass, and that so much the more severely by how much more
mighty was the empire committed to his charge. These and the like if a
prince should duly weigh, and weigh it he would if he were wise, he would
neither be able to sleep nor take any hearty repast.

But now by my courtesy they leave all this care to the gods and are only
taken up with themselves, not admitting anyone to their ear but such as
know how to speak pleasant things and not trouble them with business.
They believe they have discharged all the duty of a prince if they hunt
every day, keep a stable of fine horses, sell dignities and commanderies,
and invent new ways of draining the citizens' purses and bringing it into
their own exchequer; but under such dainty new-found names that though
the thing be most unjust in itself, it carries yet some face of equity;
adding to this some little sweet'nings that whatever happens, they may be
secure of the common people. And now suppose someone, such as they
sometimes are, a man ignorant of laws, little less than an enemy to the
public good, and minding nothing but his own, given up to pleasure, a
hater of learning, liberty, and justice, studying nothing less than the
public safety, but measuring everything by his own will and profit; and
then put on him a golden chain that declares the accord of all virtues
linked one to another; a crown set with diamonds, that should put him in
mind how he ought to excel all others in heroic virtues; besides a
scepter, the emblem of justice and an untainted heart; and lastly, a
purple robe, a badge of that charity he owes the commonwealth. All which
if a prince should compare them with his own life, he would, I believe,
be clearly ashamed of his bravery, and be afraid lest some or other
gibing expounder turn all this tragical furniture into a ridiculous

And as to the court lords, what should I mention them? than most of whom
though there be nothing more indebted, more servile, more witless, more
contemptible, yet they would seem as they were the most excellent of all
others. And yet in this only thing no men more modest, in that they are
contented to wear about them gold, jewels, purple, and those other marks
of virtue and wisdom; but for the study of the things themselves, they
remit it to others, thinking it happiness enough for them that they can
call the king master, have learned the cringe _a la mode_, know when and
where to use those titles of Your Grace, My Lord, Your Magnificence; in a
word that they are past all shame and can flatter pleasantly. For these
are the arts that speak a man truly noble and an exact courtier. But if
you look into their manner of life you'll find them mere sots, as
debauched as Penelope's wooers; you know the other part of the verse,
which the echo will better tell you than I can. They sleep till noon and
have their mercenary Levite come to their bedside, where he chops over
his matins before they are half up. Then to breakfast, which is scarce
done but dinner stays for them. From thence they go to dice, tables,
cards, or entertain themselves with jesters, fools, gambols, and horse
tricks. In the meantime they have one or two beverages, and then supper,
and after that a banquet, and 'twere well, by Jupiter, there were no more
than one. And in this manner do their hours, days, months, years, age
slide away without the least irksomeness. Nay, I have sometimes gone away
many inches fatter, to see them speak big words; while each of the ladies
believes herself so much nearer to the gods by how much the longer train
she trails after her; while one nobleman edges out another, that he may
get the nearer to Jupiter himself; and everyone of them pleases himself
the more by how much more massive is the chain he swags on his shoulders,
as if he meant to show his strength as well as his wealth.

Nor are princes by themselves in their manner of life, since popes,
cardinals, and bishops have so diligently followed their steps that
they've almost got the start of them. For if any of them would consider
what their Albe should put them in mind of, to wit a blameless life; what
is meant by their forked miters, whose each point is held in by the same
knot, we'll suppose it a perfect knowledge of the Old and New Testaments;
what those gloves on their hands, but a sincere administration of the
Sacraments, and free from all touch of worldly business; what their
crosier, but a careful looking after the flock committed to their charge;
what the cross born before them, but victory over all earthly affections
--these, I say, and many of the like kind should anyone truly consider,
would he not live a sad and troublesome life? Whereas now they do well
enough while they feed themselves only, and for the care of their flock
either put it over to Christ or lay it all on their suffragans, as they
call them, or some poor vicars. Nor do they so much as remember their
name, or what the word bishop signifies, to wit, labor, care, and
trouble. But in racking to gather money they truly act the part of
bishops, and herein acquit themselves to be no blind seers.

In like manner cardinals, if they thought themselves the successors of
the apostles, they would likewise imagine that the same things the other
did are required of them, and that they are not lords but dispensers of
spiritual things of which they must shortly give an exact account. But if
they also would a little philosophize on their habit and think with
themselves what's the meaning of their linen rochet, is it not a
remarkable and singular integrity of life? What that inner purple; is it
not an earnest and fervent love of God? Or what that outward, whose loose
plaits and long train fall round his Reverence's mule and are large
enough to cover a camel; is it not charity that spreads itself so wide to
the succor of all men? that is, to instruct, exhort, comfort, reprehend,
admonish, compose wars, resist wicked princes, and willingly expend not
only their wealth but their very lives for the flock of Christ: though
yet what need at all of wealth to them that supply the room of the poor
apostles? These things, I say, did they but duly consider, they would not
be so ambitious of that dignity; or, if they were, they would willingly
leave it and live a laborious, careful life, such as was that of the
ancient apostles.

And for popes, that supply the place of Christ, if they should endeavor
to imitate His life, to wit His poverty, labor, doctrine, cross, and
contempt of life, or should they consider what the name pope, that is
father, or holiness, imports, who would live more disconsolate than
themselves? or who would purchase that chair with all his substance? or
defend it, so purchased, with swords, poisons, and all force imaginable?
so great a profit would the access of wisdom deprive him of--wisdom did I
say? nay, the least corn of that salt which Christ speaks of: so much
wealth, so much honor, so much riches, so many victories, so many
offices, so many dispensations, so much tribute, so many pardons; such
horses, such mules, such guards, and so much pleasure would it lose them.
You see how much I have comprehended in a little: instead of which it
would bring in watchings, fastings, tears, prayers, sermons, good
endeavors, sighs, and a thousand the like troublesome exercises. Nor is
this least considerable: so many scribes, so many copying clerks, so many
notaries, so many advocates, so many promoters, so many secretaries, so
many muleteers, so many grooms, so many bankers: in short, that vast
multitude of men that overcharge the Roman See--I mistook, I meant honor
--might beg their bread.

A most inhuman and economical thing, and more to be execrated, that those
great princes of the Church and true lights of the world should be
reduced to a staff and a wallet. Whereas now, if there be anything that
requires their pains, they leave that to Peter and Paul that have leisure
enough; but if there be anything of honor or pleasure, they take that to
themselves. By which means it is, yet by my courtesy, that scarce any
kind of men live more voluptuously or with less trouble; as believing
that Christ will be well enough pleased if in their mystical and almost
mimical pontificality, ceremonies, titles of holiness and the like, and
blessing and cursing, they play the parts of bishops. To work miracles is
old and antiquated, and not in fashion now; to instruct the people,
troublesome; to interpret the Scripture, pedantic; to pray, a sign one
has little else to do; to shed tears, silly and womanish; to be poor,
base; to be vanquished, dishonorable and little becoming him that scarce
admits even kings to kiss his slipper; and lastly, to die, uncouth; and
to be stretched on a cross, infamous.

Theirs are only those weapons and sweet blessings which Paul mentions,
and of these truly they are bountiful enough: as interdictions, hangings,
heavy burdens, reproofs, anathemas, executions in effigy, and that
terrible thunderbolt of excommunication, with the very sight of which
they sink men's souls beneath the bottom of hell: which yet these most
holy fathers in Christ and His vicars hurl with more fierceness against
none than against such as, by the instigation of the devil, attempt to
lessen or rob them of Peter's patrimony. When, though those words in the
Gospel, "We have left all, and followed Thee," were his, yet they call
his patrimony lands, cities, tribute, imposts, riches; for which, being
enflamed with the love of Christ, they contend with fire and sword, and
not without loss of much Christian blood, and believe they have then most
apostolically defended the Church, the spouse of Christ, when the enemy,
as they call them, are valiantly routed. As if the Church had any
deadlier enemies than wicked prelates, who not only suffer Christ to run
out of request for want of preaching him, but hinder his spreading by
their multitudes of laws merely contrived for their own profit, corrupt
him by their forced expositions, and murder him by the evil example of
their pestilent life.

Nay, further, whereas the Church of Christ was founded in blood,
confirmed by blood, and augmented by blood, now, as if Christ, who after
his wonted manner defends his people, were lost, they govern all by the
sword. And whereas war is so savage a thing that it rather befits beasts
than men, so outrageous that the very poets feigned it came from the
Furies, so pestilent that it corrupts all men's manners, so unjust that
it is best executed by the worst of men, so wicked that it has no
agreement with Christ; and yet, omitting all the other, they make this
their only business. Here you'll see decrepit old fellows acting the
parts of young men, neither troubled at their costs, nor wearied with
their labors, nor discouraged at anything, so they may have the liberty
of turning laws, religion, peace, and all things else quite topsy-turvy.
Nor are they destitute of their learned flatterers that call that
palpable madness zeal, piety, and valor, having found out a new way by
which a man may kill his brother without the least breach of that charity
which, by the command of Christ, one Christian owes another. And here, in
troth, I'm a little at a stand whether the ecclesiastical German electors
gave them this example, or rather took it from them; who, laying aside
their habit, benedictions, and all the like ceremonies, so act the part
of commanders that they think it a mean thing, and least beseeming a
bishop, to show the least courage to Godward unless it be in a battle.

And as to the common herd of priests, they account it a crime to
degenerate from the sanctity of their prelates. Heidah! How soldier-like
they bustle about the _jus divinum_ of titles, and how quick-sighted they
are to pick the least thing out of the writings of the ancients wherewith
they may fright the common people and convince them, if possible, that
more than a tenth is due! Yet in the meantime it least comes in their
heads how many things are everywhere extant concerning that duty which
they owe the people. Nor does their shorn crown in the least admonish
them that a priest should be free from all worldly desires and think of
nothing but heavenly things. Whereas on the contrary, these jolly fellows
say they have sufficiently discharged their offices if they but anyhow
mumble over a few odd prayers, which, so help me, Hercules! I wonder if
any god either hear or understand, since they do neither themselves,
especially when they thunder them out in that manner they are wont. But
this they have in common with those of the heathens, that they are
vigilant enough to the harvest of their profit, nor is there any of them
that is not better read in those laws than the Scripture. Whereas if
there be anything burdensome, they prudently lay that on other men's
shoulders and shift it from one to the other, as men toss a ball from
hand to hand, following herein the example of lay princes who commit the
government of their kingdoms to their grand ministers, and they again to
others, and leave all study of piety to the common people. In like manner
the common people put it over to those they call ecclesiastics, as if
themselves were no part of the Church, or that their vow in baptism had
lost its obligation. Again, the priests that call themselves secular, as
if they were initiated to the world, not to Christ, lay the burden on the
regulars; the regulars on the monks; the monks that have more liberty on
those that have less; and all of them on the mendicants; the mendicants
on the Carthusians, among whom, if anywhere, this piety lies buried, but
yet so close that scarce anyone can perceive it. In like manner the
popes, the most diligent of all others in gathering in the harvest of
money, refer all their apostolical work to the bishops, the bishops to
the parsons, the parsons to the vicars, the vicars to their brother
mendicants, and they again throw back the care of the flock on those that
take the wool.

But it is not my business to sift too narrowly the lives of prelates and
priests for fear I seem to have intended rather a satire than an oration,
and be thought to tax good princes while I praise the bad. And therefore,
what I slightly taught before has been to no other end but that it might
appear that there's no man can live pleasantly unless he be initiated to
my rites and have me propitious to him. For how can it be otherwise when
Fortune, the great directress of all human affairs, and myself are so all
one that she was always an enemy to those wise men, and on the contrary
so favorable to fools and careless fellows that all things hit luckily
to them?

You have heard of that Timotheus, the most fortunate general of the
Athenians, of whom came that proverb, "His net caught fish, though he
were asleep;" and that "The owl flies;" whereas these others hit
properly, wise men "born in the fourth month;" and again, "He rides
Sejanus's his horse;" and "gold of Toulouse," signifying thereby the
extremity of ill fortune. But I forbear the further threading of
proverbs, lest I seem to have pilfered my friend Erasmus' adages. Fortune
loves those that have least wit and most confidence and such as like that
saying of Caesar, "The die is thrown." But wisdom makes men bashful,
which is the reason that those wise men have so little to do, unless it
be with poverty, hunger, and chimney corners; that they live such
neglected, unknown, and hated lives: whereas fools abound in money, have
the chief commands in the commonwealth, and in a word, flourish every
way. For if it be happiness to please princes and to be conversant among
those golden and diamond gods, what is more unprofitable than wisdom, or
what is it these kind of men have, may more justly be censured? If wealth
is to be got, how little good at it is that merchant like to do, if
following the precepts of wisdom, he should boggle at perjury; or being
taken in a lie, blush; or in the least regard the sad scruples of those
wise men touching rapine and usury. Again, if a man sue for honors or
church preferments, an ass or wild ox shall sooner get them than a wise
man. If a man's in love with a young wench, none of the least humors in
this comedy, they are wholly addicted to fools and are afraid of a wise
man and fly him as they would a scorpion. Lastly, whoever intend to live
merry and frolic, shut their doors against wise men and admit anything
sooner. In brief, go whither you will, among prelates, princes, judges,
magistrates, friends, enemies, from highest to lowest, and you'll find
all things done by money; which, as a wise man condemns it, so it takes a
special care not to come near him. What shall I say? There is no measure
or end of my praises, and yet 'tis fit my oration have an end. And
therefore I'll even break off; and yet, before I do it, 'twill not be
amiss if I briefly show you that there has not been wanting even great
authors that have made me famous, both by their writings and actions,
lest perhaps otherwise I may seem to have foolishly pleased myself only,
or that the lawyers charge me that I have proved nothing. After their
example, therefore, will I allege my proofs, that is to say, nothing to
the point.

And first, every man allows this proverb, "That where a man wants matter,
he may best frame some." And to this purpose is that verse which we teach
children, "'Tis the greatest wisdom to know when and where to counterfeit
the fool." And now judge yourselves what an excellent thing this folly
is, whose very counterfeit and semblance only has got such praise from
the learned. But more candidly does that fat plump "Epicurean bacon-hog,"
Horace, for so he calls himself, bid us "mingle our purposes with folly;"
and whereas he adds the word _bravem_, short, perhaps to help out the
verse, he might as well have let it alone; and again, "'Tis a pleasant
thing to play the fool in the right season;" and in another place, he had
rather "be accounted a dotterel and sot than to be wise and made mouths
at." And Telemachus in Homer, whom the poet praises so much, is now and
then called _nepios_, fool: and by the same name, as if there were some
good fortune in it, are the tragedians wont to call boys and striplings.
And what does that sacred book of Iliads contain but a kind of
counter-scuffle between foolish kings and foolish people? Besides, how
absolute is that praise that Cicero gives of it! "All things are full of
fools." For who does not know that every good, the more diffusive it is,
by so much the better it is?

But perhaps their authority may be of small credit among Christians.
We'll therefore, if you please, support our praises with some testimonies
of Holy Writ also, in the first place, nevertheless, having forespoke our
theologians that they'll give us leave to do it without offense. And in
the next, forasmuch as we attempt a matter of some difficulty and it may
be perhaps a little too saucy to call back again the Muses from Helicon
to so great a journey, especially in a matter they are wholly strangers
to, it will be more suitable, perhaps, while I play the divine and make
my way through such prickly quiddities, that I entreat the soul of
Scotus, a thing more bristly than either porcupine or hedgehog, to leave
his scorebone awhile and come into my breast, and then let him go whither
he pleases, or to the dogs, I could wish also that I might change my
countenance, or that I had on the square cap and the cassock, for fear
some or other should impeach me of theft as if I had privily rifled our
masters' desks in that I have got so much divinity. But it ought not to
seem so strange if after so long and intimate an acquaintance and
converse with them I have picked up somewhat; when as that fig-tree-god
Priapus hearing his owner read certain Greek words took so much notice of
them that he got them by heart, and that cock in Lucian by having lived
long among men became at last a master of their language.

But to the point under a fortunate direction. Ecclesiastes says in his
first chapter, "The number of fools is infinite;" and when he calls it
infinite, does he not seem to comprehend all men, unless it be some few
whom yet 'tis a question whether any man ever saw? But more ingeniously
does Jeremiah in his tenth chapter confess it, saying, "Every man is made
a fool through his own wisdom;" attributing wisdom to God alone and
leaving folly to all men else, and again, "Let not man glory in his
wisdom." And why, good Jeremiah, would you not have a man glory in his
wisdom? Because, he'll say, he has none at all. But to return to
Ecclesiastes, who, when he cries out, "Vanity of vanities, all is
vanity!" what other thoughts had he, do you believe, than that, as I said
before, the life of man is nothing else but an interlude of folly? In
which he has added one voice more to that justly received praise of
Cicero's which I quoted before, viz., "All things are full of fools."
Again, that wise preacher that said, "A fool changes as the moon, but a
wise man is permanent as the sun," what else did he hint at in it but
that all mankind are fools and the name of wise only proper to God? For
by the moon interpreters understand human nature, and by the sun, God,
the only fountain of light; with which agrees that which Christ himself
in the Gospel denies, that anyone is to be called good but one, and that
is God. And then if he is a fool that is not wise, and every good man
according to the Stoics is a wise man, it is no wonder if all mankind be
concluded under folly. Again Solomon, Chapter 15, "Foolishness," says he,
"is joy to the fool," thereby plainly confessing that without folly there
is no pleasure in life. To which is pertinent that other, "He that
increases knowledge, increases grief; and in much understanding there is
much indignation." And does he not plainly confess as much, Chapter 7,
"The heart of the wise is where sadness is, but the heart of fools
follows mirth"? by which you see, he thought it not enough to have
learned wisdom without he had added the knowledge of me also. And if you
will not believe me, take his own words, Chapter 1, "I gave my heart to
know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly." Where, by the way, 'tis
worth your remark that he intended me somewhat extraordinary that he
named me last. A preacher wrote it, and this you know is the order among
churchmen, that he that is first in dignity comes last in place, as
mindful, no doubt, whatever they do in other things, herein at least to
observe the evangelical precept.

Besides, that folly is more excellent than wisdom the son of Sirach,
whoever he was, clearly witnesses, Chapter 44, whose words, so help me,
Hercules! I shall not once utter before you meet my induction with a
suitable answer, according to the manner of those in Plato that dispute
with Socrates. What things are more proper to be laid up with care, such
as are rare and precious, or such as are common and of no account? Why do
you give me no answer? Well, though you should dissemble, the Greek
proverb will answer for you, "Foul water is thrown out of doors;" which,
if any man shall be so ungracious as to condemn, let him know 'tis
Aristotle's, the god of our masters. Is there any of you so very a fool
as to leave jewels and gold in the street? In truth, I think not; in the
most secret part of your house; nor is that enough; if there be any
drawer in your iron chests more private than other, there you lay them;
but dirt you throw out of doors. And therefore, if you so carefully lay
up such things as you value and throw away what's vile and of no worth,
is it not plain that wisdom, which he forbids a man to hide, is of less
account than folly, which he commands him to cover? Take his own words,
"Better is the man that hideth his folly than he that hideth his wisdom."
Or what is that, when he attributes an upright mind without craft or
malice to a fool, when a wise man the while thinks no man like himself?
For so I understand that in his tenth chapter, "A fool walking by the
way, being a fool himself, supposes all men to be fools like him." And is
it not a sign of great integrity to esteem every man as good as himself,
and when there is no one that leans not too much to other way, to be so
frank yet as to divide his praises with another? Nor was this great king
ashamed of the name when he says of himself that he is more foolish than
any man. Nor did Paul, that great doctor of the Gentiles, writing to the
Corinthians, unwillingly acknowledge it; "I speak," says he, "like a
fool. I am more." As if it could be any dishonor to excel in folly.

But here I meet with a great noise of some that endeavor to peck out the
crows' eyes; that is, to blind the doctors of our times and smoke out
their eyes with new annotations; among whom my friend Erasmus, whom for
honor's sake I often mention, deserves if not the first place yet
certainly the second. O most foolish instance, they cry, and well
becoming Folly herself! The apostle's meaning was wide enough from what
you dream; for he spoke it not in this sense, that he would have them
believe him a greater fool than the rest, but when he had said, "They are
ministers of Christ, the same am I," and by way of boasting herein had
equaled himself with to others, he added this by way of correction or
checking himself, "I am more," as meaning that he was not only equal to
the rest of the apostles in the work of the Gospel, but somewhat
superior. And therefore, while he would have this received as a truth,
lest nevertheless it might not relish their ears as being spoken with too
much arrogance, he foreshortened his argument with the vizard of folly,
"I speak like a fool," because he knew it was the prerogative of fools to
speak what they like, and that too without offense. Whatever he thought
when he wrote this, I leave it to them to discuss; for my own part, I
follow those fat, fleshy, and vulgarly approved doctors, with whom, by
Jupiter! a great part of the learned had rather err than follow them that
understand the tongues, though they are never so much in the right. Not
any of them make greater account of those smatterers at Greek than if
they were daws. Especially when a no small professor, whose name I
wittingly conceal lest those choughs should chatter at me that Greek
proverb I have so often mentioned, "an ass at a harp," discoursing
magisterially and theologically on this text, "I speak as a fool, I am
more," drew a new thesis; and, which without the height of logic he could
never have done, made this new subdivision--for I'll give you his own
words, not only in form but matter also--"I speak like a fool," that is,
if you look upon me as a fool for comparing myself with those false
apostles, I shall seem yet a greater fool by esteeming myself before
them; though the same person a little after, as forgetting himself, runs
off to another matter.

But why do I thus staggeringly defend myself with one single instance? As
if it were not the common privilege of divines to stretch heaven, that is
Holy Writ, like a cheverel; and when there are many things in St. Paul
that thwart themselves, which yet in their proper place do well enough if
there be any credit to be given to St. Jerome that was master of five
tongues. Such was that of his at Athens when having casually espied the
inscription of that altar, he wrested it into an argument to prove the
Christian faith, and leaving out all the other words because they made
against him, took notice only of the two last, viz., "To the unknown
God;" and those too not without some alteration, for the whole
inscription was thus: "To the Gods of Asia, Europe, and Africa; To the
unknown and strange Gods." And according to his example do the sons of
the prophets, who, forcing out here and there four or five expressions
and if need be corrupting the sense, wrest it to their own purpose;
though what goes before and follows after make nothing to the matter in
hand, nay, be quite against it. Which yet they do with so happy an
impudence that oftentimes the civilians envy them that faculty.

For what is it in a manner they may not hope for success in, when this
great doctor (I had almost bolted out his name, but that I once again
stand in fear of the Greek proverb) has made a construction on an
expression of Luke, so agreeable to the mind of Christ as are fire and
water to one another. For when the last point of danger was at hand, at
which time retainers and dependents are wont in a more special manner to
attend their protectors, to examine what strength they have, and prepare
for the encounter, Christ, intending to take out of his disciples' minds
all trust and confidence in such like defense, demands of them whether
they wanted anything when he sent them forth so unprovided for a journey
that they had neither shoes to defend their feet from the injuries of
stones and briars nor the provision of a scrip to preserve them from
hunger. And when they had denied that they wanted anything, he adds, "But
now, he that hath a bag, let him take it, and likewise a scrip; and he
that hath none, let him sell his coat and buy a sword." And now when the
sum of all that Christ taught pressed only meekness, suffering, and
contempt of life, who does not clearly perceive what he means in this
place? to wit, that he might the more disarm his ministers, that
neglecting not only shoes and scrip but throwing away their very coat,
they might, being in a manner naked, the more readily and with less
hindrance take in hand the work of the Gospel, and provide themselves of
nothing but a sword, not such as thieves and murderers go up and down
with, but the sword of the spirit that pierces the most inward parts, and
so cuts off as it were at one blow all earthly affections, that they mind
nothing but their duty to God. But see, I pray, whither this famous
theologian wrests it. By the sword he interprets defense against
persecution, and by the bag sufficient provision to carry it on. As if
Christ having altered his mind, in that he sent out his disciples not so
royally attended as he should have done, repented himself of his former
instructions: or as forgetting that he had said, "Blessed are ye when ye
are evil spoken of, despised, and persecuted, etc.," and forbade them to
resist evil; for that the meek in spirit, not the proud, are blessed: or,
lest remembering, I say, that he had compared them to sparrows and
lilies, thereby minding them what small care they should take for the
things of this life, was so far now from having them go forth without a
sword that he commanded them to get one, though with the sale of their
coat, and had rather they should go naked than want a brawling-iron by
their sides. And to this, as under the word "sword" he conceives to be
comprehended whatever appertains to the repelling of injuries, so under
that of "scrip" he takes in whatever is necessary to the support of life.
And so does this deep interpreter of the divine meaning bring forth the
apostles to preach the doctrine of a crucified Christ, but furnished at
all points with lances, slings, quarterstaffs, and bombards; lading them
also with bag and baggage, lest perhaps it might not be lawful for them
to leave their inn unless they were empty and fasting. Nor does he take
the least notice of this, that he so willed the sword to be bought,
reprehends it a little after and commands it to be sheathed; and that it
was never heard that the apostles ever used or swords or bucklers against
the Gentiles, though 'tis likely they had done it, if Christ had ever
intended, as this doctor interprets.

There is another, too, whose name out of respect I pass by, a man of no
small repute, who from those tents which Habakkuk mentions, "The tents of
the land of Midian shall tremble," drew this exposition, that it was
prophesied of the skin of Saint Bartholomew who was flayed alive. And
why, forsooth, but because those tents were covered with skins? I was
lately myself at a theological dispute, for I am often there, where when
one was demanding what authority there was in Holy Writ that commands
heretics to be convinced by fire rather than reclaimed by argument; a
crabbed old fellow, and one whose supercilious gravity spoke him at least
a doctor, answered in a great fume that Saint Paul had decreed it, who
said, "Reject him that is a heretic, after once or twice admonition." And
when he had sundry times, one after another, thundered out the same
thing, and most men wondered what ailed the man, at last he explained it
thus, making two words of one. "A heretic must be put to death." Some
laughed, and yet there wanted not others to whom this exposition seemed
plainly theological; which, when some, though those very few, opposed,
they cut off the dispute, as we say, with a hatchet, and the credit of so
uncontrollable an author. "Pray conceive me," said he, "it is written,
'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' But every heretic bewitches the
people; therefore, etc." And now, as many as were present admired the
man's wit, and consequently submitted to his decision of the question.
Nor came it into any of their heads that that law concerned only
fortunetellers, enchanters, and magicians, whom the Hebrews call in their
tongue "Mecaschephim," witches or sorcerers: for otherwise, perhaps,
by the same reason it might as well have extended to fornication
and drunkenness.

But I foolishly run on in these matters, though yet there are so many of
them that neither Chrysippus' nor Didymus' volumes are large enough to
contain them. I would only desire you to consider this, that if so great
doctors may be allowed this liberty, you may the more reasonably pardon
even me also, a raw, effeminate divine, if I quote not everything so
exactly as I should. And so at last I return to Paul. "Ye willingly,"
says he, "suffer my foolishness," and again, "Take me as a fool," and
further, "I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly," and
in another place, "We are fools for Christ's sake." You have heard from
how great an author how great praises of folly; and to what other end,
but that without doubt he looked upon it as that one thing both necessary
and profitable. "If anyone among ye," says he, "seem to be wise, let him
be a fool that he may be wise." And in Luke, Jesus called those two
disciples with whom he joined himself upon the way, "fools." Nor can I
give you any reason why it should seem so strange when Saint Paul imputes
a kind of folly even to God himself. "The foolishness of God," says he,
"is wiser than men." Though yet I must confess that origin upon the place
denies that this foolishness may be resembled to the uncertain judgment
of men; of which kind is, that "the preaching of the cross is to them
that perish foolishness."

But why am I so careful to no purpose that I thus run on to prove my
matter by so many testimonies? when in those mystical Psalms Christ
speaking to the Father says openly, "Thou knowest my foolishness." Nor is
it without ground that fools are so acceptable to God. The reason perhaps
may be this, that as princes carry a suspicious eye upon those that are
over-wise, and consequently hate them--as Caesar did Brutus and Cassius,
when he feared not in the least drunken Antony; so Nero, Seneca; and
Dionysius, Plato--and on the contrary are delighted in those blunter and
unlabored wits, in like manner Christ ever abhors and condemns those wise
men and such as put confidence in their own wisdom. And this Paul makes
clearly out when he said, "God hath chosen the foolish things of this
world," as well knowing it had been impossible to have reformed it by
wisdom. Which also he sufficiently declares himself, crying out by the
mouth of his prophet, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and cast
away the understanding of the prudent."

And again, when Christ gives Him thanks that He had concealed the mystery
of salvation from the wise, but revealed it to babes and sucklings, that
is to say, fools. For the Greek word for babes is fools, which he opposes
to the word wise men. To this appertains that throughout the Gospel you
find him ever accusing the Scribes and Pharisees and doctors of the law,
but diligently defending the ignorant multitude (for what other is that
"Woe to ye Scribes and Pharisees" than woe to you, you wise men?), but
seems chiefly delighted in little children, women, and fishers. Besides,
among brute beasts he is best pleased with those that have least in them
of the foxes' subtlety. And therefore he chose rather to ride upon an ass
when, if he had pleased, he might have bestrode the lion without danger.
And the Holy Ghost came down in the shape of a dove, not of an eagle or
kite. Add to this that in Scripture there is frequent mention of harts,
hinds, and lambs; and such as are destined to eternal life are called
sheep, than which creature there is not anything more foolish, if we may
believe that proverb of Aristotle "sheepish manners," which he tells us
is taken from the foolishness of that creature and is used to be applied
to dull-headed people and lack-wits. And yet Christ professes to be the
shepherd of this flock and is himself delighted with the name of a lamb;
according to Saint John, "Behold the Lamb of God!" Of which also there is
much mention in the Revelation. And what does all this drive at, but that
all mankind are fools--nay, even the very best?

And Christ himself, that he might the better relieve this folly, being
the wisdom of the Father, yet in some manner became a fool when taking
upon him the nature of man, he was found in shape as a man; as in like
manner he was made sin that he might heal sinners. Nor did he work this
cure any other way than by the foolishness of the cross and a company of
fat apostles, not much better, to whom also he carefully recommended
folly but gave them a caution against wisdom and drew them together by
the example of little children, lilies, mustard-seed, and sparrows,
things senseless and inconsiderable, living only by the dictates of
nature and without either craft or care. Besides, when he forbade them to
be troubled about what they should say before governors and straightly
charged them not to inquire after times and seasons, to wit, that they
might not trust to their own wisdom but wholly depend on him. And to the
same purpose is it that that great Architect of the World, God, gave man
an injunction against his eating of the Tree of Knowledge, as if
knowledge were the bane of happiness; according to which also, St. Paul
disallows it as puffing up and destructive; whence also St. Bernard seems
in my opinion to follow when he interprets that mountain whereon Lucifer
had fixed his habitation to be the mountain of knowledge.

Nor perhaps ought I to omit this other argument, that Folly is so
gracious above that her errors are only pardoned, those of wise men
never. Whence it is that they that ask forgiveness, though they offend
never so wittingly, cloak it yet with the excuse of folly. So Aaron, in
Numbers, if I mistake not the book, when he sues unto Moses concerning
his sister's leprosy, "I beseech thee, my Lord, not to lay this sin upon
us, which we have foolishly committed." So Saul makes his excuse of
David, "For behold," says he, "I did it foolishly." And again, David
himself thus sweetens God, "And therefore I beseech thee, O Lord, to take
away the trespass of thy servant, for I have done foolishly," as if he
knew there was no pardon to be obtained unless he had colored his offense
with folly and ignorance. And stronger is that of Christ upon the cross
when he prayed for his enemies, "Father, forgive them," nor does he cover
their crime with any other excuse than that of unwittingness--because,
says he, "they know not what they do." In like manner Paul, writing to
Timothy, "But therefore I obtained mercy, for that I did it ignorantly
through unbelief." And what is the meaning of "I did it ignorantly" but
that I did it out of folly, not malice? And what of "Therefore I received
mercy" but that I had not obtained it had I not been made more allowable
through the covert of folly? For us also makes that mystical Psalmist,
though I remembered it not in its right place, "Remember not the sins of
my youth nor my ignorances." You see what two things he pretends, to wit,
youth, whose companion I ever am, and ignorances, and that in the plural
number, a number of multitude, whereby we are to understand that there
was no small company of them.

But not to run too far in that which is infinite. To speak briefly, all
Christian religion seems to have a kind of alliance with folly and in no
respect to have any accord with wisdom. Of which if you expect proofs,
consider first that boys, old men, women, and fools are more delighted
with religious and sacred things than others, and to that purpose are
ever next the altars; and this they do by mere impulse of nature. And in
the next place, you see that those first founders of it were plain,
simple persons and most bitter enemies of learning. Lastly there are no
sort of fools seem more out of the way than are these whom the zeal of
Christian religion has once swallowed up; so that they waste their
estates, neglect injuries, suffer themselves to be cheated, put no
difference between friends and enemies, abhor pleasure, are crammed with
poverty, watchings, tears, labors, reproaches, loathe life, and wish
death above all things; in short, they seem senseless to common
understanding, as if their minds lived elsewhere and not in their own
bodies; which, what else is it than to be mad? For which reason you must
not think it so strange if the apostles seemed to be drunk with new wine,
and if Paul appeared to Festus to be mad.

But now, having once gotten on the lion's skin, go to, and I'll show you
that this happiness of Christians, which they pursue with so much toil,
is nothing else but a kind of madness and folly; far be it that my words
should give any offense, rather consider my matter. And first, the
Christians and Platonists do as good as agree in this, that the soul is
plunged and fettered in the prison of the body, by the grossness of which
it is so tied up and hindered that it cannot take a view of or enjoy
things as they truly are; and for that cause their master defines
philosophy to be a contemplation of death, because it takes off the mind
from visible and corporeal objects, than which death does no more. And
therefore, as long as the soul uses the organs of the body in that right
manner it ought, so long it is said to be in good state and condition;
but when, having broken its fetters, it endeavors to get loose and
assays, as it were, a flight out of that prison that holds it in, they
call it madness; and if this happen through any distemper or
indisposition of the organs, then, by the common consent of every man,
'tis downright madness. And yet we see such kind of men foretell things
to come, understand tongues and letters they never learned before, and
seem, as it were, big with a kind of divinity. Nor is it to be doubted
but that it proceeds from hence, that the mind, being somewhat at liberty
from the infection of the body, begins to put forth itself in its native
vigor. And I conceive 'tis from the same cause that the like often
happens to sick men a little before their death, that they discourse in
strain above mortality as if they were inspired. Again, if this happens
upon the score of religion, though perhaps it may not be the same kind of
madness, yet 'tis so near it that a great many men would judge it no
better, especially when a few inconsiderable people shall differ from the
rest of the world in the whole course of their life. And therefore it
fares with them as, according to the fiction of Plato, happens to those
that being cooped up in a cave stand gaping with admiration at the
shadows of things; and that fugitive who, having broke from them and
returning to them again, told them he had seen things truly as they were,
and that they were the most mistaken in believing there was nothing but
pitiful shadows. For as this wise man pitied and bewailed their palpable
madness that were possessed with so gross an error, so they in return
laughed at him as a doting fool and cast him out of their company. In
like manner the common sort of men chiefly admire those things that are
most corporeal and almost believe there is nothing beyond them. Whereas
on the contrary, these devout persons, by how much the nearer anything
concerns the body, by so much more they neglect it and are wholly hurried
away with the contemplation of things invisible. For the one give the
first place to riches, the next to their corporeal pleasures, leaving the
last place to their soul, which yet most of them do scarce believe,
because they can't see it with their eyes. On the contrary, the others
first rely wholly on God, the most unchangeable of all things; and next
him, yet on this that comes nearest him, they bestow the second on their
soul; and lastly, for their body, they neglect that care and condemn and
fly money as superfluity that may be well spared; or if they are forced
to meddle with any of these things, they do it carelessly and much
against their wills, having as if they had it not, and possessing as if
they possessed it not.

There are also in each several things several degrees wherein they
disagree among themselves. And first as to the senses, though all of them
have more or less affinity with the body, yet of these some are more
gross and blockish, as tasting, hearing, seeing, smelling, touching; some
more removed from the body, as memory, intellect, and the will. And
therefore to which of these the mind applies itself, in that lies its
force. But holy men, because the whole bent of their minds is taken up
with those things that are most repugnant to these grosser senses, they
seem brutish and stupid in the common use of them. Whereas on the
contrary, the ordinary sort of people are best at these, and can do least
at the other; from whence it is, as we have heard, that some of these
holy men have by mistake drunk oil for wine. Again, in the affections of
the mind, some have a greater commerce with the body than others, as
lust, desire of meat and sleep, anger, pride, envy; with which holy men
are at irreconcilable enmity, and contrary, the common people think
there's no living without them. And lastly there are certain middle kind
of affections, and as it were natural to every man, as the love of one's
country, children, parents, friends, and to which the common people
attribute no small matter; whereas the other strive to pluck them out of
their mind: unless insomuch as they arrive to that highest part of the
soul, that they love their parents not as parents--for what did they get
but the body? though yet we owe it to God, not them--but as good men or
women and in whom shines the image of that highest wisdom which alone
they call the chiefest good, and out of which, they say, there is nothing
to be beloved or desired.

And by the same rule do they measure all things else, so that they make
less account of whatever is visible, unless it be altogether
contemptible, than of those things which they cannot see. But they say
that in Sacraments and other religious duties there is both body and
spirit. As in fasting they count it not enough for a man to abstain from
eating, which the common people take for an absolute fast, unless there
be also a lessening of his depraved affections: as that he be less angry,
less proud, than he was wont, that the spirit, being less clogged with
its bodily weight, may be the more intent upon heavenly things. In like
manner, in the Eucharist, though, say they, it is not to be esteemed the
less that 'tis administered with ceremonies, yet of itself 'tis of little
effect, if not hurtful, unless that which is spiritual be added to it, to
wit, that which is represented under those visible signs. Now the death
of Christ is represented by it, which all men, vanquishing, abolishing,
and, as it were, burying their carnal affections, ought to express in
their lives and conversations that they may grow up to a newness of life
and be one with him and the same one among another. This a holy man does,
and in this is his only meditation. Whereas on the contrary, the common
people think there's no more in that sacrifice than to be present at the
altar and crowd next it, to have a noise of words and look upon the
ceremonies. Nor in this alone, which we only proposed by way of example,
but in all his life, and without hypocrisy, does a holy man fly those
things that have any alliance with the body and is wholly ravished with
things eternal, invisible, and spiritual. For which cause there's so
great contrarity of opinion between them, and that too in everything,
that each party thinks the other out of their wits; though that
character, in my judgment, better agrees with those holy men than the
common people: which yet will be more clear if, as I promised, I briefly
show you that that great reward they so much fancy is nothing else but a
kind of madness.

And therefore suppose that Plato dreamed of somewhat like it when he
called the madness of lovers the most happy condition of all others. For
he that's violently in love lives not in his own body but in the thing he
loves; and by how much the farther he runs from himself into another, by
so much the greater is his pleasure. And then, when the mind strives to
rove from its body and does not rightly use its own organs, without doubt
you may say 'tis downright madness and not be mistaken, or otherwise
what's the meaning of those common sayings, "He does not dwell at home,"
"Come to yourself," "He's his own man again"? Besides, the more perfect
and true his love is, the more pleasant is his madness. And therefore,
what is that life hereafter, after which these holy minds so pantingly
breathe, like to be? To wit, the spirit shall swallow up the body, as
conqueror and more durable; and this it shall do with the greater ease
because heretofore, in its lifetime, it had cleansed and thinned it into
such another nothing as itself. And then the spirit again shall be
wonderfully swallowed up by the highest mind, as being more powerful than
infinite parts; so that the whole man is to be out of himself nor to be
otherwise happy in any respect, but that being stripped of himself, he
shall participate of somewhat ineffable from that chiefest good that
draws all things into itself. And this happiness though 'tis only then
perfected when souls being joined to their former bodies shall be made
immortal, yet forasmuch as the life of holy men is nothing but a
continued meditation and, as it were, shadow of that life, it so happens
that at length they have some taste or relish of it; which, though it be
but as the smallest drop in comparison of that fountain of eternal
happiness, yet it far surpasses all worldly delight, though all the
pleasures of all mankind were all joined together. So much better are
things spiritual than things corporeal, and things invisible than things
visible; which doubtless is that which the prophet promises: "The eye
hath not seen, nor the ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of
man to consider what God has provided for them that love Him." And this
is that Mary's better part which is not taken away by change of life,
but perfected.

And therefore they that are sensible of it, and few there are to whom
this happens, suffer a kind of somewhat little differing from madness;
for they utter many things that do not hang together, and that too not
after the manner of men but make a kind of sound which they neither heed
themselves, nor is it understood by others, and change the whole figure
of their countenance, one while jocund, another while dejected, now
weeping, then laughing, and again sighing. And when they come to
themselves, tell you they know not where they have been, whether in the
body or out of the body, or sleeping; nor do they remember what they have
heard, seen, spoken, or done, and only know this, as it were in a mist or
dream, that they were the most happy while they were so out of their
wits. And therefore they are sorry they are come to themselves again and
desire nothing more than this kind of madness, to be perpetually mad. And
this is a small taste of that future happiness.

But I forget myself and run beyond my bounds. Though yet, if I shall seem
to have spoken anything more boldly or impertinently than I ought, be
pleased to consider that not only Folly but a woman said it; remembering
in the meantime that Greek proverb, "Sometimes a fool may speak a word in
season," unless perhaps you expect an epilogue, but give me leave to tell
you you are mistaken if you think I remember anything of what I have
said, having foolishly bolted out such a hodgepodge of words. 'Tis an old
proverb, "I hate one that remembers what's done over the cup." This is a
new one of my own making: I hate a man that remembers what he hears.
Wherefore farewell, clap your hands, live and drink lustily, my most
excellent disciples of Folly.

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