Born in London, the son of a prominent judge, Thomas More was educated at Oxford and Lincoln’s Inn, where he studied law. His humanist philosophy was influenced by his wide reading from scripture, the Church Fathers, classical literature, and the new learning of the Renaissance, as well as by his friendship with the noted philosopher and scholar Desiderius Erasmus. More spent some years in personal debate as he considered taking the priesthood at a Carthusian monastery; by the time of his election to parliament in 1504 and his first marriage in 1505, he had decided to live as a lay Christian. After some experience with trade negotiations, he was elected an undersheriff in 1510, a position that brought him recognition for his oratorical skills, as well as his impartiality and fairness in public affairs. In 1513, he began work on his historical narrative, The History of Richard III, to which William Shakespeare [q.v] is indebted, in Latin and English, and he wrote a series of Latin poems celebrating Henry VIII’’s accession to the throne.
More’s best known work is Utopia (1516), which attacks unjust economic and social conditions in Europe and depicts an ideal communal state founded upon principles of reason. The book was an immediate success; its intelligent, ironic commentary on a variety of controversial issues established More’s reputation as a leading humanist. More’s later writings include numerous religious essays defending the Roman Catholic Church against the writings of Martin Luther and other Protestant reformers and heretics.
More’s success in public and foreign negotiations led to his appointment in the royal service. In 1518, he joined the king’s council; he was knighted in 1521; and a series of honors and responsibilities led to his appointment as Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523. In 1529, More was named to the position of Lord Chancellor, the realm’s highest office, succeeding Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. He resigned in 1532, in part because of ill health, but also because he saw that Henry VIII must break with Rome if he were to divorce Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. He refused to take the Oath of Supremacy, which would impugn the pope’s spiritual authority and grant the king authority over the English church, and was charged with high treason. He was beheaded on July 6, 1535; his head was displayed on the London Bridge. He was canonized in 1935.
In the selection from Utopia, More outlines the place of suicide in a rational, non-Christian society; it might be described as “encouraged suicide” for the hopelessly ill—but only after full medical care has been provided. Suicide in hopeless or terminal illness is never to be forced; suicide without official approval is rejected.
In A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation (1557), written while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1534–35, More uses the form of a lengthy dialogue between an older uncle, Anthony, and his nephew Vincent to distinguish between two types of suicide, one the result of pusillanimity or cowardice, and the other the result of boldness and pride. The latter case leads to a discussion of how to distinguish the devil’s illusions from true spiritual revelations. In this discussion, More is confronting Augustine’s justification of certain Biblical suicides, such as Samson, as a response to God’s direct command; here, More raises the question of how someone who feels that he is being directed to kill himself can know whether he is being tempted by the devil or commanded by God. He is particularly concerned with the ways in which the devil exploits personality traits, determined by bodily “humors,” to instill suicidal obsessions, casting erosive self-torment into the mind of the melancholic, or self-destructive fury into the choleric temperament. The central section of the Dialogue is organized to respond to the fears itemized in Psalm 91:5, “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday,” though there is no evidence that More himself was suicidal or was tempted to suicide, even while in the Tower of London awaiting execution. To be sure, he had deliberately chosen a course of action—refusal to sign the oath that Henry VIII demanded—almost certain to lead to his death. But as Frank Manley points out, More may have been uncertain of whether his choice could be evidence of spiritual pride—the same sort of temptation by the devil that, More believed, led so many others to suicide. More’s advice for dissuading a potential suicide from the act, in which he recommends both a “physician for the body” and a “physician for the soul,” shows a conception of suicide as partly due to psychophysiological causes.
Thomas More, Utopia, Book II. tr. Ralph Robinson, in Three Early Modern Utopias, ed. Susan Bruce. Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 89-90; Thomas More, Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation With Modifications to Obsolete Language, from chapters XV, XVI, ed. Monica Stevens, IndyPublish.com, 2005, available online from Project Gutenberg text # 17075. Quotations in introduction from A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, ed. Frank Manley, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977, p. xxxii.
Of Sick Persons
The sick (as I said) they see to with great affection, and let nothing at all pass concerning either physic or good diet, whereby they may be restored again to their health. Such as be sick of incurable diseases they comfort with sitting by them, with talking with them, and, to be short, with all manner of helps that may be. But if the disease be not only incurable, but also full of continual pain and anguish, then the priests and the magistrates exhort the man (seeing he is not able to do any duty of life, and by overliving his own death is noisome and irksome to other and grievous to himself), that he will determine with himself no longer to cherish that pestilent and painful disease. And, seeing his life is to him but a torment, that he will not be unwilling to die, but rather take a good hope to him, and either dispatch himself out of that painful life, as out of a prison or a rack of torment, or else suffer himself willingly to be rid out of it by other. And in so doing they tell him he shall do wisely, seeing by his death he shall lose no commodity, but end his pain. And because in that act he shall follow the counsel of the priests, that is to say, of the interpreters of God’s will and pleasure, they show him that he shall do like a godly and a virtuous man. They that be thus persuaded finish their lives willingly, either with hunger, or else die in their sleep without any feeling of death. But they cause none such to die against his will, nor they use no less diligence and attendance about him, believing this to be an honourable death. Else he that killeth himself before that the priests and the council have allowed the cause of his death, him as unworthy either to be buried or with fire to be consumed, they cast unburied into some stinking marsh.
from A DIALOGUE OF COMFORT AGAINST TRIBULATION
VINCENT: Verily, good uncle, you have in my mind well declared these kinds of the night’s fear.
ANTHONY: Surely, cousin, but yet are there many more than I can either remember or find. Howbeit, one yet cometh now to my mind, of which I thought not before, and which is yet in mine opinion. That is, cousin, where the devil tempteth a man to kill and destroy himself.
VINCENT: Undoubtedly this kind of tribulation is marvellous and strange. And the temptation is of such a sort that some men have the opinion that those who once fall into that fantasy can never fully cast it off.
ANTHONY: Yes, yes, cousin, many a hundred, and else God forbid. But the thing that maketh men so to say is that, of those who finally do destroy themselves, there is much speech and much wondering, as it is well worthy. But many a good man and woman hath sometime–yea, for some years, once after another–continually been tempted to do it, and yet hath, by grace and good counsel, well and virtuously withstood that temptation, and been in conclusion clearly delivered of it. And their tribulation is not known abroad and therefore not talked of. But surely, cousin, a horrible sore trouble it is to any man or woman whom the devil tempteth with that temptation. Many have I heard of, and with some have I talked myself, who have been sore cumbered with it, and I have marked not a little the manner of them.
VINCENT: I pray you, good uncle, show me somewhat of such things as you perceive therein. For first, whereas you call the kind of temptation the daughter of pusillanimity and thereby so near of kin to the night’s fear, me thinketh on the other hand that it is rather a thing that cometh of a great courage and boldness. For they dare with their own hands to put themselves to death, from which we see almost every man shrink and flee, and many of them we know by good proof and plain experience for men of great heart and excellent bold courage.
ANTHONY: I said, Cousin Vincent, that of pusillanimity cometh this temptation, and very truth it is that indeed so it doth. But yet I meant not that only of faint heart and fear it cometh and growth always. For the devil tempteth sundry folk by sundry ways. But I spoke of no other kind of that temptation save only that one which is the daughter that the devil begetteth upon pusillanimity, because those other kinds of temptation fall not under the nature of tribulation and fear, and therefore fall they far out of our matter here. They are such temptations as need only counsel, and not comfort or consolation, because the persons tempted with them are not troubled in their mind with that kind of temptation. but are very well content both in the tempting and in the following.
For some have there been, cousin, such that they have been tempted to do it by means of a foolish pride, and some by means of anger, without any fear at all–and very glad to go thereto, I deny not. But if you think that none fall into it by fear, but that they have all a mighty strong stomach, that shall you well see to be the contrary. And that peradventure in those of whom you would think the stomach more strong and their heart and courage most bold.
VINCENT: Yet is it marvel to me, uncle, that it should be as you say it is–that this temptation is unto them that do it for pride or anger no tribulation, or that they should not need, in so great distress and peril, both of body and soul to be lost, no manner of good ghostly comfort.
ANTHONY: Let us therefore, cousin, consider an example or two, for thereby shall we better perceive it. There was here in Buda in King Ladilaus’ days, a good poor honest man’s wife. This woman was so fiendish that the devil, perceiving her nature, put her in the mind that she should anger her husband so sore that she might give him occasion to kill her, and then should he be hanged because of her.
VINCENT: This was a strange temptation indeed! What the devil should she be the better then?
ANTHONY: Nothing, but that it eased her shrewish stomach beforehand, to think that her husband should be hanged afterward. And peradventure, if you look about the world and consider it well, you shall find more such stomachs than a few. Have you never heard a furious body plainly say that, to see such-and-such man have a mischief, he would with good will be content to lie as long in hell as God liveth in heaven?
VINCENT: Forsooth, and some such have I heard.
ANTHONY: This mind of his was not much less mad than hers, but rather perhaps the more mad of the twain. For the woman peradventure did not cast so far peril therein. But to tell you now to what good pass her charitable purpose came:
As her husband (the man was a carpenter) stood hewing with his chip axe upon a piece of timber, she began after her old guise to revile him so that he waxed wroth at last, and bade her get herself in or he would lay the helm of his axe about her back. And he said also that it would be little sin even with that axe head to chop off the unhappy head of hers that carried such an ungracious tongue in it. At that word the devil took his time and whetted her tongue against her teeth. And when it was well sharpened she swore to him in very fierce anger, “By the mass, whoreson husband, I wish thou wouldst! Here lieth my head, lo,” and with that down she laid her head upon the same timber log. “If thou smite it not off, I beshrew thine whoreson’s heart!” With that, likewise as the devil stood at her elbow, so stood (as I heard say) his good angel at his, and gave him ghostly courage and bade him be bold and do it. And so the good man up with his chip axe and at a chop he chopped off her head indeed.
There were other folk standing by, who had a good sport to hear her chide, but little they looked for this chance, till it was done ere they could stop it. They said they heard her tongue babble in her head, and call, “Whoreson, whoreson!” twice after the head was off the body. At least, thus they all reported afterward unto the king, except only one, and that was a woman, and she said that she heard it not.
VINCENT: Forsooth, this was a wonderful work! What became, uncle, of the man?
ANTHONY: The king gave him his pardon.
VINCENT: Verily, he might in conscience do no less.
ANTHONY: But lest you might reject…these examples, thinking they were but feigned tales, I shall put you in remembrance of one which I reckon you yourself have read in the Conferences of Cassian. And if you have not, there you may soon find it. For I myself have half forgotten the thing, it is so long since I read it.
But thus much I remember: He telleth there of one who was many days a very special holy man in his living, and, among the other virtuous monks and anchorites that lived there in the wilderness, was marvellously much esteemed. Yet some were not all out of fear lest his revelations (of which he told many himself) would prove illusions of the devil. And so it proved afterwards indeed, for the man was by the devil’s subtle suggestions brought into such a high spiritual pride that in conclusion the devil brought him to that horrible point that he made him go kill himself.
And, as far as my mind giveth me now, without new sight of the book, he brought him to it by this persuasion: He made him believe that it was God’s will that he should do so, and that thereby he should go straight to heaven. And if it were by that persuasion, with which he took very great comfort in his own mind himself, then was it, as I said, out of our case, and he needed not comfort but counsel against giving credence to the devil’s persuasion. But marry, if he made him first perceive how he had been deluded and then tempted him to his own death by shame and despair, then it was within our matter. For then was his temptation fallen down from pride to pusillanimity, and was waxed that kind of the night’s fear that I spoke of. And in such fear a good part of the counsel to be given him should have need to stand in good comforting, for then was he brought into right sore tribulation.
But, as I was about to tell you, strength of heart and courage are there none in that deed, not only because true strength (as it hath the name of virtue in a reasonable creature) can never be without prudence, but also because, as I said, even in them that seem men of most courage, it shall well appear to them that well weigh the matter that the mind whereby they be led to destroy themselves groweth of pusillanimity and very foolish fear.
Take for example Cato of Utica, who in Africa killed himself after the great victory that Julius Caesar had. St. Austine [Augustine] well declareth in his work De civitate Dei [The City of God] that there was no strength nor magnanimity in his destruction of himself, but plain pusillanimity and impotency of stomach. For he was forced to do it because his heart was too feeble to bear the beholding of another man’s glory or the suffering of other worldly calamities that he feared should fall on himself. So that, as St. Austine well proveth, that horrible deed is no act of strength, but an act of a mind either drawn from the consideration of itself with some fiendish fancy, in which the man hath need to be called home with good counsel; or else oppressed by faint heart and fear, in which a good part of the counsel must stand in lifting up his courage with good consolation and comfort.
And therefore if we found any such religious person as was that father whom Cassian writeth of, who were of such austerity and apparent ghostly living as he was, and reputed by those who well knew him for a man of singular virtue; and if it were perceived that he had many strange visions appearing unto him; and if after that it should now be perceived that the man went about secretly to destroy himself–whosoever should hap to come to the knowledge of it and intended to do his best to hinder it, he must first find the means to search and find out the manner and countenance of the man. He must see whether he be lightsome, glad, and joyful or dumpish, heavy, and sad, and whether he go about it as one that were full of the glad hope of heaven, or as one who had his breast stuffed full of tediousness and weariness of the world. If he were found to be of the first fashion, it would be a token that the devil had, by his fantastical apparitions, puffed him up in such a childish pride that he hath finally persuaded him, by some illusion showed him for the proof, that God’s pleasure is that he shall for his sake with his own hands kill himself. …
ANTHONY: Occasion, I say, you shall not lack to enquire by what sure and undeceivable tokens a man may discern the true revelations from the false illusions. A man shall find many such tokens both here and there in divers other authors and all together in divers goodly treatises of that good godly doctor, Master John Gerson, entitled _De probatione spirituum._ As, whether the party be natural in manner or seem anything fantastical. Or, whether the party be poor-spirited or proud. The pride will somewhat appear by his delight in his own praise; or if, of wiliness, or of another pride for to be praised of humility, he refused to hear of that, yet any little fault found in himself, or diffidence declared and mistrust of his own revelations and doubtful tokens told, wherefore he himself should fear lest they be the devil’s illusion–such things, as Master Gerson saith, will make him spit out somewhat of his spirit, if the devil lie in his breast. Or if the devil be yet so subtle that he keep himself close in his warm den and blow out never a hot word, yet it is to be considered what end his revelations tend to–whether to any spiritual profit to himself or other folk, or only to vain marvels and wonders. Also, whether they withdraw him from such other good virtuous business as, by the common rule of Christendom or any of the rules of his profession, he was wont to use or bound to be occupied in. Or whether he fall into any singularity of opinions against the scripture of God, or against the common faith of Christ’s Catholic Church.…
But now for our purpose: If, among any of the marks by which the true revelations may be known from false illusions, that man himself bring forth, for one mark, the doing or teaching of anything against the scripture of God or the common faith of the church, you may enter into the special matter, in which he can never well flee from you. Or else may you yet, if you wish, feign that your secret friend, for whose sake you come to him for counsel, is brought to that mind by a certain apparition showed unto him, as he himself saith, by an angel–as you fear, by the devil. And that he cannot as yet be otherwise persuaded by you but that the pleasure of God is that he shall go kill himself. And that he believeth if he do so he shall then be thereby so specially participant of Christ’s passion that he shall forthwith be carried up with angels into heaven. And that he is so joyful for this that he firmly purposeth upon it, no less glad to do it than another man would be glad to avoid it. And therefore may you desire his good counsel to instruct you with some substantial good advice, with which you may turn him from this error, that he be not, under hope of God’s true revelation, destroyed in body and soul by the devil’s false illusion.
If he will in this thing study and labour to instruct you, the things that he himself shall find, of his own invention, though they be less effectual, shall peradventure more work with him toward his own amendment (since he shall, of likelihood, better like them) than shall things double so substantial that were told him by another man. If he be loth to think upon that side, and therefore shrink from the matter, then is there no other way but to venture to fall into the matter after the plain fashion, and tell what you hear, and give him counsel and exhortation to the contrary. Unless you wish to say that thus and thus hath the matter been reasoned already between your friend and you. And therein may you rehearse such things as should prove that the vision which moveth him is no true revelation, but a very false illusion.…
ANTHONY: Nay, Cousin Vincent, you shall in this case not need to ask those reasons of me. But taking the scripture of God for a ground for this matter, you know very well yourself that you shall go somewhat a shorter way to work if you ask this question of him: Since God hath forbidden once the thing himself, though he may dispense with it if he will, yet since the devil may feign himself God and with a marvellous vision delude one, and make as though God did it; and since the devil is also more likely to speak against God’s commandment than God against his own; you shall have good cause, I say, to demand of the man himself whereby he knoweth that his vision is God’s true revelation and not the devil’s false delusion….
VINCENT: Yet then this religious man of whom we speak, when I show him the scripture against his revelation and therefore call it an illusion, may bid me with reason go mind my own affairs. For he knoweth well and surely himself that his revelation is very good and true and not any false illusion, since for all the general commandment of God in the scripture, God may dispense where he will and when he will, and may command him to do the contrary. For he commanded Abraham to kill his own son, and Sampson had, by inspiration of God, commandment to kill himself by pulling down the house upon his own head at the feast of the Philistines.
Now, if I would then do as you bade me right now, tell him that such apparitions may be illusions, and since God’s word is in the scripture against him plain for the prohibition, he must perceive the truth of his revelation whereby I may know it is not a false illusion; then shall he in turn bid me tell him whereby I can prove myself to be awake and talk with him and not be asleep and dream so, since in my dream I may as surely think so as I know that I do so. And thus shall he drive me to the same bay to which I would bring him.
ANTHONY: This is well said, cousin, but yet could he not escape you so. For the dispensation of God’s common precept, which dispensation he must say that he hath by his private revelation, is a thing of such sort as showeth itself naught and false. For it never hath any example like, since the world began until now, that ever man hath read or heard of, among faithful people commended.
First, as for Abraham, concerning the death of his son: God intended it not, but only tempted the towardness of the father’s obedience. As for Sampson, all men make not the matter very sure whether he be saved or not, but yet therein some matter and cause appeareth. For the Philistines being enemies of God and using Sampson for their mocking-stock in scorn of God, it is well likely that God gave him the mind to bestow his own life upon the revenging of the displeasure that those blasphemous Philistines did unto God. And that appeareth clear enough by this: that though his strength failed him when he lacked his hair, yet had he not, it seemeth, that strength evermore at hand while he had his hair, but only at such times as it pleased God to give it to him. This thing appeareth by these words, that the scripture in some place of that matter saith, “The power or might of God rushed into Sampson.” And so therefore, since this thing that he did in the pulling down of the house was done by the special gift of strength then at that point given him by God, it well declareth that the strength of God, and with it the spirit of God, entered into him for it.
St. Austine also rehearseth that certain holy virtuous virgins, in time of persecution, being pursued by God’s enemies the infidels to be deflowered by force, ran into a water and drowned themselves rather than be bereaved of their virginity. And, albeit that he thinketh it is not lawful for any other maid to follow their example, but that she should suffer another to do her any manner of violence by force and commit sin of his own upon her against her will, rather than willingly and thereby sinfully herself to become a homicide of herself; yet he thinketh that in them it happened by the special instinct of the spirit of God, who, for causes seen to himself, would rather that they should avoid it with their own temporal death than abide the defiling and violation of their chastity.
But now this good man neither hath any of God’s enemies to be revenged on by his own death, nor any woman who violently pursues him to bereave him by force of his virginity! And we never find that God proved any man’s obedient mind by the commandment of his own slaughter of himself. Therefore is both his case plainly against God’s open precept, and the dispensation strange and without example, no cause appearing nor well imaginable. Unless he would think that God could neither any longer live without him, nor could take him to him in such wise as he doth other men, but must command him to come by a forbidden way, by which, without other cause, we never heard that ever he bade any man else before.
Now, you think that, if you should after this bid him tell you by what way he knoweth that his intent riseth upon a true revelation and not upon a false illusion, he in turn would bid you tell him by what means you know that you are talking with him well awake and not dreaming it asleep. You may answer him that for men thus to talk together as you do and to prove and perceive that they do so, by the moving of themselves, with putting the question unto themselves for their pleasure, and marking and considering it, is in waking a daily common thing that every man doth or can do when he will, and when they do it, they do it but for pleasure. But in sleep it happeneth very seldom that men dream that they do so, and in the dream they never put the question except for doubt. And you may tell him that, since this revelation is such also as happeneth so seldom and oftener happeneth that men dream of such than have such indeed, therefore it is more reasonable that he show you how he knoweth, in such a rare thing and a thing more like a dream, that he himself is not asleep, than that you, in such a common thing among folk that are awake and so seldom happening in a dream, should need to show him whereby you know that you be not asleep.
Besides this, he to whom you should show it seeth himself and perceiveth the thing that he would bid you prove. But the thing that he would make you believe–the truth of his revelation which you bid him prove–you see not that he knoweth it well himself. And therefore, ere you believe it against the scripture, it would be well consonant unto reason that he should show you how he knoweth it for a true waking revelation and not a false dreaming delusion.
VINCENT: Then shall he peradventure answer me that whether I believe him or not maketh to him no matter; the thing toucheth himself and not me, and he himself is in himself as sure that it is a true revelation as that he can tell that he dreameth not but talketh with me awake.
ANTHONY: Without doubt, cousin, if he abide at that point and can by no reason be brought to do so much as doubt, nor can by no means be shogged out of his dead sleep, but will needs take his dream for a very truth, and–as some men rise by night and walk about their chamber in their sleep–will so rise and hang himself; I can then see no other way but either bind him fast in his bed, or else essay whether that might hap to help him with which, the common tale goeth, a carver’s wife helped her husband in such a frantic fancy. When, upon a Good Friday, he would needs have killed himself for Christ as Christ did for him, she said to him that it would then be fitting for him to die even after the same fashion. And that might not be by his own hands, but by the hand of another; for Christ, perdy, killed not himself. And because her husband would take no counsel (for that would he not, in no wise), she offered him that for God’s sake she would secretly crucify him herself upon a great cross that he had made to nail a new-carved crucifix upon. And he was very glad thereof. Yet then she bethought her that Christ was bound to a pillar and beaten first, and afterward crowned with thorns. Thereupon, when she had by his own assent bound him fast to a post, she left not off beating, with holy exhortation to suffer, so much and so long that ere ever she left work and unbound him (praying nevertheless, that she might put on his head, and drive well down, a crown of thorns that she had wrought for him and brought him), he said he thought this was enough for that year. He would pray God to forbear him of the rest till Good Friday came again! But when it came again the next years, then was his desire past; he longed to follow Christ no further.
VINCENT: Indeed, uncle, if this help him not, then will nothing help him, I suppose….
VINCENT: I think, uncle, that folk fall into this ungracious mind, through the devil’s temptation, by many more means than one.
ANTHONY: That is, cousin, very true. For the devil taketh his occasions as he seeth them fall convenient for him. Some he stirreth to it for weariness of themselves after some great loss, some for fear of horrible bodily harm, and some (as I said) for fear of worldly shame.
One I knew myself who had been long reputed for a right honest man, who was fallen into such a fancy that he was well near worn away with it. But what he was tempted to do, that would he tell no man. But he told me that he was sore cumbered and that it always ran in his mind that folk’s fancies were fallen from him, and that they esteemed not his wit as they were wont to do, but ever his mind gave him that the people began to take him for a fool. And folk of truth did not so at all, but reputed him both for wise and honest.
Two others I knew who were marvellous afraid that they would kill themselves, and could tell me no cause wherefore they so feared it except that their own mind so gave them. Neither had they any loss nor no such thing toward them, nor none occasion of any worldly shame (the one was in body very well liking and lusty), but wondrous weary were they both twain of that mind. And always they thought that they would not do it for anything, and nevertheless they feared they would. And wherefore they so feared neither of them both could tell. And the one, lest he should do it, desired his friends to bind him.
VINCENT: This is, uncle, a marvellous strange manner.
ANTHONY: Forsooth, cousin, I suppose many of them are in this case.
The devil, as I said before, seeketh his occasions. For as St. Peter saith, “Your adversary the devil as a roaring lion goeth about seeking whom he may devour.” He marketh well, therefore, the state and condition that every man standeth in, not only concerning these outward things (lands, possessions, goods, authority, fame, favour, or hatred of the world), but also men’s complexions within them–health or sickness, good humours or bad, by which they be light-hearted or lumpish, strong-hearted or faint and feeble of spirit, bold and hardy or timorous and fearful of courage. And according as these things minister him matter of temptation, so useth he himself in the manner of his temptation.
Now likewise as in such folk as are full of young warm lusty blood and other humours exciting the flesh to filthy voluptuous living, the devil useth to make those things his instruments in tempting them and provoking them to it; and as, where he findeth some folk full of hot blood and choler, he maketh those humours his instruments to set their hearts on fire in wrath and fierce furious anger; so where he findeth some folk who, through some dull melancholy humours, are naturally disposed to fear, he casteth sometimes such a fearful imagination into their mind that without help of God they can never cast it out of their heart.
Some, at the sudden falling of some horrible thought into their mind, have not only had a great abomination at it (which abomination they well and virtuously had), but the devil, using their melancholy humour and thereby their natural inclination to fear for his instruments, hath caused them to conceive therewith such a deep dread besides that they think themselves with that abominable thought to be fallen into such an outrageous sin that they are ready to fall into despair of grace, believing that God hath given them over for ever. Whereas that thought, were it never so horrible and never so abominable, is yet unto those who never like it, but ever still abhor it and strive still against it, matter of conflict and merit and not any sin at all.
Some have, with holding a knife in their hand, suddenly thought upon the killing of themselves, and forthwith, in devising what a horrible thing it would be if they should mishap to do so, have fallen into a fear that they would do so indeed. And they have, with long and often thinking thereon, imprinted that fear so sore in their imagination, that some of them have not afterwards cast it off without great difficulty. And some could never in their life be rid of it, but have afterward in conclusion miserably done it indeed. But like as, where the devil useth the blood of a man’s own body toward his purpose in provoking him to lechery, the man must and doth with grace and wisdom resist it; so must the man do whose melancholy humours and devil abuseth, toward the casting of such a desperate dread into his heart.
VINCENT: I pray you, uncle, what advice would be to be given him in such a case?
ANTHONY: Surely, methinketh his help standeth in two things: counsel and prayer.
First, as concerning counsel: Like as it may be that he hath two things that hold him in his temptation; that is, some evil humours of his own body, and the cursed devil that abuseth them to his pernicious purpose, so must he needs against them twain the counsel of two manner of folk; that is, physicians for the body and physicians for the soul. The bodily physician shall consider what abundance of these evil humours the man hath, that the devil maketh his instruments, in moving the man toward that fearful affection. And he shall proceed by fitting diet and suitable medicines to resist them, as well as by purgations to disburden the body of them.
Let no man think it strange that I would advise a man to take counsel for the body, in such spiritual suffering. For since the body and the soul are so knit and joined together that they both make between them one person, the distemperance of either one engendereth sometimes the distemperance of both twain. And therefore I would advise every man in every sickness of the body to be shriven and to seek of a good spiritual physician the sure health of his soul. For this shall not only serve against peril that may peradventure grow further by that sickness than in the beginning men think were likely, but the comfort of it (and God’s favour increasing with it) shall also do the body good. For this cause the blessed apostle St. James exhorteth men in their bodily sickness to call in the priests, and saith that it shall do them good both in body and soul. So likewise would I sometimes advise some men, in some sickness of the soul, besides their spiritual leech, to take also some counsel of the physician for the body….
The manner of the fight against temptation must stand in three things: that is, in resisting, and in contemning, and in the invocation of help.
Resist must a man for his own part with reason, considering what a folly it would be to fall where he need not, since he is not driven to it in avoiding of any other pain or in hope of winning any manner of pleasure, but contrariwise he would by that fall lose everlasting bliss and fall into everlasting pain. And if it were in avoiding of other great pain, yet could he avoid none so great thereby as the one he should thereby fall into.
He must also consider that a great part of this temptation is in effect but the fear of his own fancy, the dread that he hath lest he shall once be driven to it. For he may be sure that (unless he himself will, of his own folly) all the devils in hell can never drive him to it, but his own foolish imagination may. For it fareth in his temptation like a man going over a high bridge who waxeth so afraid, through his own fancy, that he falleth down indeed, when he would otherwise be able enough to pass over without any danger. For a man upon such a bridge, if folk call upon him, “You fall, you fall!” may fall with the fancy that he taketh thereof; although, if folk looked merrily upon him and said, “There is no danger therein,” he would pass over the bridge well enough–and he would not hesitate to run upon it, if it were but a foot from the ground. So, in this temptation, the devil findeth the man of his own foolish fancy afraid and then crieth in the ear of his heart, “Thou fallest, thou fallest!” and maketh the foolish man afraid that he should, at every foot, fall indeed. And the devil so wearieth him with that continual fear, if he give the ear of his heart to him, that at last he withdraweth his mind from due remembrance of God, and then driveth him to that deadly mischief indeed. Therefore, like as, against the vice of the flesh, the victory standeth not all in the fight, but sometimes also in the flight (saving that it is indeed a part of a wise warrior’s fight to flee from his enemies’ traps), so must a man in this temptation too, not only resist it always with reasoning against it, but sometimes set it clear at right naught and cast it off when it cometh and not once regard it so much as to vouchsafe to think thereon.
Some folk have been clearly rid of such pestilent fancies with very full contempt of them, making a cross upon their hearts and bidding the devil avaunt. And sometimes they laugh him to scorn too, and then turn their mind unto some other matter. And when the devil hath seen that they have set so little by him, after certain essays, made in such times as he thought most fitting, he hath given that temptation quite over. And this he doth not only because the proud spirit cannot endure to be mocked, but also lest, with much tempting the man to the sin to which he could not in conclusion bring him, he should much increase his merit.
The final fight is by invocation of help unto God, both praying for himself and desiring others also to pray for him–both poor folk for his alms and other good folk of their charity, especially good priests in that holy sacred service of the Mass. And not only them but also his own good angel and other holy saints such as his devotion specially doth stand unto. Or, if he be learned, let him use then the litany, with the holy suffrages that follow, which is a prayer in the church of marvellous old antiquity. For it was not made first, as some believe, by that holy man St. Gregory (which opinion arose from the fact that, in the time of a great pestilence in Rome, he caused the whole city to go in solemn procession with it), but it was in use in the church many years before St. Gregory’s days, as well appeareth by the books of other holy doctors and saints, who were dead hundreds of years before St. Gregory was born.
And holy St. Bernard giveth counsel that every man should make suit unto angels and saints to pray for him to God in the things that he would have furthered by his holy hand. If any man will stick at that, and say it needs not, because God can hear us himself; and will also say that it is perilous to do so because (they say) we are not so counseled by scripture, I will not dispute the matter here. He who will not do it, I hinder him not to leave it undone. But yet for mine own part, I will as well trust to the counsel of St. Bernard, and reckon him for as good and as well learned in scripture, as any man whom I hear say the contrary. And better dare I jeopard my soul with the soul of St. Bernard than with that of him who findeth that fault in his doctrine.
Unto God himself every good man counseleth to have recourse above all. And, in this temptation, to have special remembrance of Christ’s passion, and pray him for the honour of his death, the ground of man’s salvation, to keep this person thus tempted from that damnable death…
And I doubt not, by God’s grace, but that he who in such a temptation will use good counsel and prayer and keep himself in good virtuous business and good virtuous company and abide in the faithful hope of God’s help, he shall have the truth of God (as the prophet saith in the verse afore rehearsed) so compass him about with a shield that he shall not need to dread this night’s fear of this wicked temptation.
And thus will I finish this piece of the night’s fear. And glad am I that we are past it, and come once unto the day, to those other words of the prophet, “A sagitta volante in die.” For methinketh I have made it a long night!
VINCENT: Forsooth, uncle, so have you, but we have not slept in it, but been very well occupied. But now I fear that unless you make here a pause till you have dined, you shall keep yourself from your dinner over-long…