Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Wisdom of the High Middle Ages

I am presently reading through a collection of excerpts from primary sources relevant to the Reformation. The following quotes come from a variety of sources but all from the time period immediately prior to the Reformation.

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

I would far rather feel contrition than be able to define it.

If you avoid unnecessary talk and aimless visits, listening to news and gossip, you will find plenty of suitable time to spend in meditation on holy things.

A wise man once said "As often as I have been among men, I have returned home a lesser man.

No man can live in the public eye without risk to his soul, except he who would prefer to remain obscure. No man can safely speak except he who would gladly remain silent. No man can safely command except he who has learned to obey well.

But the security of the wicked springs from pride and presumption, and ends in self-deception. Never promise yourself security in this life, even though you seem to be a good monk or a devout hermit.

There is no real liberty and true joy, save in the fear of God with a quiet conscience.

Do not busy yourself with the affairs of others, nor concern yourself with the policies of your superiors. Watch yourself at all times, and correct yourself before you correct your friends. Do not be grieved if you do not enjoy popular favor; grieve rather that you do not live as well and carefully as befits a servant of God, and a devout religious person. It is often better and safer not to have many comforts in this life, especially those of the body. Yet, if we seldom or never feel God's comfort, the fault is our own; for we neither seek contrition of heart, nor entirely forego all vain and outward consolations.

If you had more concern for a holy death than a long life, you would certainly be zealous to live better.

Wherever you are and wherever you turn, you will not find happiness until you turn to God. Why are you so distressed when events do not turn out as you wish and hope? Is there anyone who enjoys everything as he wishes? Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else on earth. There is no one in the world without trouble or anxiety, be he king or pope. Whose, then, is the happiest lot? Surely, he who is able to suffer for love of God.

How great is the frailty of man, ever prone to evil! Today you confess your sins; tomorrow you again commit the very sins you have confessed! Now you resolve to guard against them, and within the hour you act as though you had never made any resolution! Remembering, then, our weakness and instability, it is proper to humble ourselves, and never to have a high opinion of ourselves. For we can easily lose by carelessness that which by God's grace and our own efforts we had hardly won.

What will become of us in the end if our zeal so quickly grows cold? Unhappy our fate, if we rest on our oars as though we had already reached a haven of peace and security, when in fact no sign of holiness is apparent in our lives.

Very soon the end of your life will be at hand: consider, therefore, the state of your soul. Today a man is here; tomorrow he is gone. And when he is out of sight, he is soon out of mind. Oh, how dull and hard is the heart of man, which thinks only of the present, and does not provide against the future! You should order your every deed and thought as though today were the day of your death. Had you a good conscience, death would hold no terrors for you; even so, it were better to avoid sin than to escape death. If you are not ready to die today, will tomorrow find you better prepared? Tomorrow is uncertain; and how can you be sure of tomorrow?

Of what use is a long life if we amend so little? Alas, a long life often adds to our sins rather than to our virtue!

Happy and wise is he who endeavors to be during his life as he wishes to be found at his death.

O wretched and foolish sinner, who trembles before the anger of man, how will you answer to God, who knows all your wickedness?

Heinrich Kraemer and Jacob Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum

There is no man in the world who studies so hard to please God as even an ordinary woman studies by her vanities to please men.

Jacobus Faber Stapulensis, Commentary on the Psalms

But even after a haphazard sampling of divine things [that is, things pertaining to Divinity studies] I saw so much light shine forth that, by comparison, the human disciplines seemed like darkness. They breathed a fragrance of such sweetness that nothing like it can be found on earth, nor could I believe that there is any other earthly paradise whose odor could lead souls toward immortality.

Gabriel Biel, The Circumcision of the Lord

On Christmas Day we, in our small way, gave thanks, expressing our love and praise for the redeemer who came into the prison of this world to lead the captives out of this prison. Today we magnify him with all our hearts because he put on our fetters and bonds and because he put his own innocent hands into our chains in order that we criminals might be set free.

Here Biel quotes Augustine:

The lamb takes away the sins both by forgiving what he has been done and by helping the sinner not to sin again.

Dietrich Kolde, Mirror for Christians

A prayer for supper:

O dear Lord, how many holy people there are who scarcely have bread to eat, and they thank you much more than I!

A prayer for bedtime:

O dear Lord, almighty God, I am a poor sinful person. I am guilty of not serving you fervently today; and of not saying my prayers with fervor; and of passing many hours, nearly all the time, idly; and of neglecting to do many good works.

Prayers for the deathbed:

O dear Lord, Jesus Christ, strengthen me in this holy faith. O dear Lord, even though I have sinned much and confessed badly and improved badly, I still do not want to despair of you, because you are so very compassionate; I have become so bitterly sour toward you and you have suffered so much for me. And you also said: Anyone who comes to your vineyard at the time of vespers should receive payment equal to those who worked the whole day. O dear Lord, I come to my conversion late. Have mercy on me. You can speak a word and forgive me all my sins.

O dear Lord Jesus Christ, you untied the bonds of all my sin with your holy suffering. Therefore, dear Lord, I want to offer you an offering of praise, namely my poor soul, which I offer into your hands. Now I will die patiently and willingly if that is your dearest will. O dear Lord Jesus Christ, I am very sorry from the bottom of my heart that I have angered you. O dear Lord God, I wish I were a thousand times more sorry. I wish I could cry tears of blood for my sins. Oh, dear Lord, accept my good intentions in place of works. O dear Lord, I give you my body and my soul. Do with me as your holy will dictates, and not as my earthly nature wills. The spirit is prepared but the flesh is weak: O dear Lord Jesus Christ, please do not reject me, a poor sinner.

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