John Gower on the Estates

from Vox Clamantis, (c.1386)

Monks (from Book 4)

 

There are certainly monks whom ownership of property has made a claim on, men whom no religious order can hold in check through moral precepts. For some men of property seek the leisure of an order so that they cannot suffer any hardships. They avoid being hungry, and slake their thirst with wine. They get rid of all cold with their warm furred cloaks. Faintness of the belly does not come upon them in the hours of night, and their raucous voice does not sing the heights of heaven in chorus with a drinking cup. A man of this kind will devour no less than several courses at table, and empties a good many beakers in his drinking. Then he believes he has grown sick and demands to be made well again; and in such fashion does he devote himself to his sports. Indeed, it is only with difficulty that this man of professed vows is to be worn out from drinking; thus, master monk is willing to appear before God while in his cups. And while you are bringing him wine, he allures women to himself; wanton monasteries now furnish these two things together.

* * *

Men's thinking frequently turns toward new fashions, and the altered rule for monks will be witness for me on this point. The original rule for monks has now become curtailed, for re has been subtracted from regula so that only gula is left.

* * *

The sea is the proper habitat of a live fish, and the monastery is the right home for a monk. Just as the sea will not keep dead fish, so the monastery casts out evildoing monks. A fish ought not to be out of the water, nor ought a monk to be away from his cloisters, unless you return to them, O monk in holy orders. If there were a fish that forsook the waters of the sea to seek its food on land, it would be highly inappropriate to give it the name of fish; I should rather give it the name of monster.

* * *

The rule of St. Bernard or St. Maure is of no use to our modern fellow monks; on the contrary, it displeases them. A greedy fellow sets himself against St. Bernard and St. Maure, as does another, proud and envious; they now refuse to carry out the precept of their order. Thus Malediction has driven Benedict out of the monasteries.

* * *

Shun a woman's conversation, O holy man; beware lest you entrust yourself to a passion raging beyond control. For the mind which is allured and bound over by a woman's love can never reach the pinnacle of virtue. Of what use is their prattling to you? If you come in as a monk, you will go away a foul adulterer. Unless you turn aside from the venomous serpent, you will be poisoned by her when you least expect. Every woman enkindles a flame of passion; if one touches her, he is burned instantly. If you ponder the books of the ancients and the writings of the Church Fathers, you may grieve that even holy men have met with ruin in this way

 

from the Mirour de L'Omme (c.1376-8)

 

Friars

 

Looking now farther to the estate of the mendicant friars, I am telling not what I personally know but what people are saying. This order more than all the rest, is going from bad to worse. And yet they say that in their opinion they are, in their living, the real disciples of God the Son. But I have found out this much about the order: that friars seek after the world and are very attentive to it. But in one thing the friars indeed behave just as the disciples used to: there was not one indigent disciple; on the contrary, while having nothing, they had everything. The friars apply themselves to this example and multiply their wealth but in quite a different way. For the disciples shared what they had with the poor, but the friars keep it for themselves.

* * *

They preach poverty to us, but they always have their hand stretched out to receive riches. They have hidden Covetousness within them, whereby the order is perverted to entrap and deceive. They like very much to have their comforts, but under no conditions do they seek work. Rather they go idly around, like vagrants. Nowhere do they do their duty. So it is my opinion, to tell the truth, that they seek reward without deserving it.

* * *

Friars go in pairs, and they stay together without separating. They go about the countryside, and both of them bend their efforts to multiplying their worldly goods. They lie in order to blandish and to flatter and to encourage sins. One is called Friar Hypocrisy, who is to confess my lady; and the other is called Friar Flattery, and he is to absolve her.

Hypocrisy comes to her bed and is chosen as confessor because he seems to be kindly. And when the lady has told everything, Flattery blandishes her, and says nothing of transgressions (for that is not his business). He does not seek to get anyone's contrition but gives absolution for profit without mposing any penance; and thus he earns the endowment of his food and clothing. The friar who goes after his lucre tells the lady that a woman's youth excuses much of the frailty of her intent. Thus he often induces her to sin more rather than to give up sinning, since he is willing to give her such easy absolution. If a person would like to cease sinning, then the friar knows and feels that the services of his order would no longer be necessary to us; therefore, he puts sin on sale. Hypocrisy wants to get the confessions of both lord and lady; but Flattery (by command of the order) will give them absolution, for he has the dispensation in accordance with the compensation that comes from the purse of rich people, so that he can give remission without pain and without punishment, in order to earn more of their money.

* * *

Oh, how the friar conducts himself when he comes to a poor house! Oh, how he knows how to give a sermon! Even if the lady has little or nothing, nevertheless he does not abstain from crying out, imploring, and entreating. He takes a halfpenny if she does not have penny or even a single egg for supper. He has to get something. God said: "Woe unto the vagabond who thus comes visiting the house of a poor woman!"

* * *

Against the curates of Holy Church, the friar claims confession and burial of rich people as his right. But this undertaking is not done in charity, for he cares not for the poor, living or dead, and he never takes over any care from which no gain comes. This is evident because none of the friars will baptize us under any condition. Thus we see open Covetousness under tarnished Simplicity.

* * *

Lawyers

 

There is another set of people of whom one can hear quiet murmuring. Throughout the country everyone is complaining about them. They are the people called men of law, but the name they bear is an empty one, for law includes justice but none of them pay any attention to that; they have, rather, the pretense without any good faith. I bear witness to these people that right gets but little if wrong pays generously.

* * *

When the poor people come to the lawyer to get what is theirs by law and ask him to plead their case, he remembers nothing about charity; for of the rights of the poor (who give nothing) he will not hear, no matter how loud they clamor; but the wrongs of the rich (who speak softly) he draws quickly to himself, he listens, and takes sides with them

        * *

         

Merchants and Tradespeople

 

Everyone nowadays talks a great deal about one merchant, called Fraud, full of guile. From the Orient to the end of the Occident there is no city or town where Fraud does not amass his wealth. Fraud buys and sells in Bordeaux, Seville, and Paris. Fraud has his ships, his family relations; in noble fortune Fraud has ten times more than other people. In Florence and in Venice Fraud has his fortress and his license, and at Bruges and Ghent likewise. Under his care also is placed the noble city on the Thames, which Brutus founded; but Fraud is bringing it to ruin; he is clipping away the possessions of his neighbors, for he cares not in what guise (whether behind or before) he seeks his own lucre, disdaining the profit of the community.

When he deals wholesale, Fraud may handle large transactions, but he has small honesty in weights; for he sells goods by a shorter weight than he used for buying. So he retains as profit the excess weight obtained by deceit, and his customer suffers the short-weight. But what is more important, Fraud has concentrated his love on the cross of sterling; consequently he always seeks the best bargain. Fraud with his fraudulence often practices deceit in different ways in the mercer's trade, for he has plenty of cunning, jokes, and tricks to make vain people foolish, so that he can get their money. And he talks so well and politely and entertains them well with his mouth; but in his thought he seeks his lucre subtly under the shadow of courtesy.

* * *

Fraud is also a rich apothecary in our city. He very often degrades his conscience, for he has cunningly arranged his scales with two sets of weights, with which he cleverly commits fraud when he starts his transaction. There is no spice nor seed from which he does not pile up his illegal profit. * * * Fraud the apothecary deceives people in his shop more than I can explain; but when he conspires with the physician as his companion, he deceives people a hundred times more. The physician writes out the prescription, and the apothecary compounds it. But he sells for a florin that which is not worth a button. Thus the apothecary whispers his guile into our physician's hood.