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From The Canterbury Tales:
The Parson's Tale

Et sequitur secunda pars eiusdem

§ 16       The seconde partie of penitence is confessioun, that is signe of contricioun. Now shul ye understonde what is confessioun, and wheither it oghte nedes be doon or noon, whiche thynges been covenable to verray confessioun.
§ 17       First shaltow understonde that confessioun is verray shewynge of synnes to the preest. This is to seyn verray, for he moste confessen hym of alle the condiciouns that bilongen to his synne, as ferforth as he kan. Al moot be seyd, and no thyng excused ne hyd ne forwrapped, and noght avaunte thee of thy goode werkes. And forther over, it is necessarie to understonde whennes that synnes spryngen, and how they encreessen and whiche they been.
§ 18       Of the spryngynge of synnes seith Seint Paul in this wise: that "right as by a man synne entred first into this world, and thurgh that synne deeth, right so thilke deeth entred into alle men that synneden." And this man was Adam, by whom synne entred into this world, whan he brak the comaundementz of God. And therfore, he that first was so myghty that he sholde nat have dyed, bicam swich oon that he moste nedes dye, wheither he wolde or noon, and al his progenye in this world, that in thilke man synneden. Looke that in th' estaat of innocence, whan Adam and eve naked weren in paradys, and nothyng ne hadden shame of hir nakednesse, how that the serpent, that was moost wily of alle othere beestes that God hadde maked, seyde to the womman: "why comaunded God to yow ye sholde nat eten of every tree in paradys?" The womman answerde: "of the fruyt," quod she, "of the trees in paradys we feden us, but soothly, of the fruyt of the tree that is in the myddel of paradys, God forbad us for to ete, ne nat touchen it, lest per aventure we sholde dyen." The serpent seyde to the womman: nay, nay, ye shul nat dyen of deeth; for sothe, God woot that what day that ye eten therof, youre eyen shul opene, and ye shul been as goddes, knowynge good and harm." The womman thanne saugh that the tree was good to feedyng, and fair to the eyen, and delitable to the sighte. She took of the fruyt of the tree, and eet it, and yaf to hire housbonde, and he eet, and anoon the eyen of hem bothe openeden. And whan that they knewe that they were naked, they sowed of fige leves a maner of breches to hiden hire membres. There may ye seen that deedly synne hath, first, suggestion of the feend, as sheweth heere by the naddre; and afterward, the delit of the flessh, as sheweth heere by Eve; and after that, the consentynge of resoun, as sheweth heere by Adam. For trust wel, though so were that the feend tempted Eve, that is to seyn, the flessh, and the flessh hadde delit in the beautee of the fruyt defended, yet certes, til that resoun, that is to seyn, Adam, consented to the etynge of the fruyt, yet stood he in th' estaat of innocence. Of thilke Adam tooke we thilke wynne original; for of hym flesshly descended be we alle, and engendred of vile and corrupt mateere. and whan the soule is put in oure body, right anon is contract original synne; and that that was erst but oonly peyne of concupiscence, is afterward bothe peyne and synne. And therfore be we alle born sones of wratthe and of dampnacioun perdurable, if it nere baptesme that we receyven, which bynymeth us the culpe. But for sothe, the peyne dwelleth with us, as to temptacioun, which peyne highte concupiscence. And this concupiscence, whan it is wrongfully disposed or ordeyned in man, it maketh hym coveite, by coveitise of flessh, flesshly synne, by sighte of his eyen as to erthely thynges, and eek coveitise of hynesse by pride of herte.
§ 19       Now, as for to speken of the firste coveitise, that is concupiscence, after the lawe of oure membres, that weren lawefulliche ymaked and by rightful juggement of God; I seye, forasmuche as man is nat obeisaunt to God, that is his lord, therfore is the flessh to hym disobeisaunt thurgh concupiscence, whigh yet is cleped norrissynge, of synne and occasioun of synne. Therfore, al the while that a man hath in hym the peyne of concupiscence, it is impossible but he be tempted somtime and moeved in his flessh to synne. And this thyng may nat faille as longe as he lyveth; it may wel wexe fieble and faille by vertu of baptesme, and by the grace of God thurgh penitence; but fully ne shal it nevere quenche, that he ne shal som tyme be moeved in hymself, but if he were al refreyded by siknesse, or by malefice of sorcerie, or colde drynkes. For lo, what seith Seint Paul: "the flessh coveiteth agayn the spirit, and the spirit agayn the flessh; they been so contrarie and so stryven that a man may nat alway doon as he wolde." The same Seint Paul, after his grete penaunce in water and in lond, - in water by nyght and by day in greet peril and in greet peyne; in lond, in famyne and thurst, in coold and cloothelees, and ones stoned almoost to the deeth, - yet seyde he, "allas, I caytyf man! Who shal delivere me fro the prisoun of my caytyf body?" and Seint Jerome, whan he longe tyme hadde woned in desert, where as he hadde no compaignye but of wilde beestes, where as he ne hadde no mete but herbes, and water to his drynke, ne no bed but the naked erthe, for which his flessh was blak as an ethiopeen for heete, and ny destroyed for coold, yet seyde he that "the brennynge of lecherie boyled in al his body." Wherfore I woot wel sykerly that they been deceyved that seyn that they ne be nat empted in hir body. Witnesse on Seint Jame the apostel, that seith that "every wight is tempted in his owene concupiscence"; that is to seyn, that everich of us hath matere and occasioun to be tempted of the norissynge of synne that is in his body. And therfore seith Seint John the evaungelist: "if that we seyn that we be withoute synne, we deceyve us selve, and trouthe is nat in us."
§ 20       Now hal ye understonde in what manere that synne wexeth or encreesseth in man. The firste thyng is thilke norissynge of synne of which I spak biforn, thilke flesshly concupiscence. And after that comth the subjeccioun of the devel, this is to seyn, the develes bely, with which he bloweth in man the fir of flesshly concupiscence. And after that, a man bithynketh hym wheither he wol doon, or no, thilke thing to which he is tempted. And thanne, if that a man withstonde and weyve the firste entisynge of his flessh and of the feend, thanne is it no synne; And if it so be that he do nat so, thanne feeleth he anoon a flambe of delit. And thanne is it good to be war, and kepen hym wel, or elles he wol falle anon into consentynge of synne; and thanne wol he do it, if he may have tyme and place. And of this matere seith Moyses by the devel in this manere: the feend seith, "I wole chace and pursue the man by wikked suggestioun, and I wole hente hym by moevynge or stirynge of synne. And I wol departe my prise or my praye by deliberacioun, and my lust shal been acompliced in delit. I wol drawe my swerd in consentynge" - for certes, right as a swerd departeth a thyng in two peces, right so consentynge departeth God fro man - "and thanne wol I sleen hym with myn hand in dede of synne; thus seith the feend. For certes, thanne is a man al deed in soule. And thus is synne acompliced by temptacioun, by delit, and by consentynge; and thanne is the synne cleped actueel.
§ 21       For sothe, synne is in two maneres; outher it is venial, or deedly synne. Soothly, whan man loveth any creature moore than Jhesu Crist oure creatour, thanne is it deedly synne. And venial synne is it, if man love Jhesu Crist lasse than hym oghte. For sothe, the dede of this venial synne is ful perilous; for it amenuseth the love that men sholde han to God moore and moore. And therfore, it a man charge hymself with manye swiche venial synnes, certes, but if so be that he somtyme descharge hym of hem by shrifte, they mowe ful lightly amenuse in hym al the love that he hath to Jhesu Crist; and in this wise skippeth venial into deedly synne. For certes, the moore that a man chargeth his soule with venial synnes, the moore is he enclyned to fallen into deedly synne. And therfore lat us nat be necligent to deschargen us of venial synnes. For the proverbe seith that "manye smale maken a greet." And herkne this ensample. A greet wawe of the see comth som tyme with so greet a violence that it drencheth the ship. And the same harm doon som tyme the smale dropes of water, that entren thurgh a litel crevace into the thurrok, and in the botme of the ship, if men be so necligent that they ne descharge hem nat by tyme. And therfore, although ther be a difference bitwixe thise two causes of drenchynge, algates the ship is dreynt. Right so fareth it somtyme of deedly synne, and of anoyouse veniale synnes, whan they multiplie in a man so greetly that the love of thilke worldly thynges that he loveth, thurgh whiche he synneth venyally, is as greet in his herte as the love of god, or moore. And therfore, the love of every thyng that is nat biset in God, ne doon principally for Goddes sake, although that a man love it lasse than God, yet is it venial synne; and deedly synne whan the love of any thyng weyeth in the herte of man as muchel as the love of God, or moore. "Deedly synne," as seith Seint Augustyn, "is whan a man turneth his herte fro God, which that is verray sovereyn bountee, that may nat chaunge, and yeveth his herte to thyng that may chaunge and flitte." And certes, that is every thyng save God of hevene. For sooth is that if a man yeve his love, the which that he oweth al to God with al his herte, unto a creature, certes, as muche of his love as he yeveth to thilke creature, so muche he bireveth fro God; and therfore dooth he synne. For he that is dettour to God ne yeldeth nat to God al his dette, that is to seyn, al the love of his herte.
§ 22       Now sith man understondeth generally which is venial synne, thanne is it covenable to tellen specially of synnes whiche that many a man peraventure ne demeth hem nat synnes, and ne shryveth him nat of the same thynges, and yet natheless they been synnes; soothly, as thise clerkes writen, this is to seyn, that at every tyme that a man eteth or drynketh moore than suffiseth to the sustenaunce of his body, in certein he dooth synne. And eek whan he speketh moore than it nedeth, it is synne. Eke whan he herkneth nat benignely the compleint of the povre; eke whan he is in heele of body, and wol nat faste whan other folk faste, withouten cause resonable; eke whan he slepeth moore than nedeth, or whan he comth by thilke enchesoun to late to chirche, or to othere werkes of charite; eke whan he useth his wyf, withouten sovereyn desir of engendrure to the honour of God, or for the entente to yelde to his wyf the dette of his body; eke whan he wol nat visite the sike and the prisoner, if he may; eke if he love wyf or child, or oother worldly thyng, moore than resoun requireth; eke if he flatere or blandise moore than hym oghte for any necessitee; eke if he amenuse or withdrawe the almesse of the povre; eke if he apparailleth his mete moore deliciously than nede is, or ete it to hastily by likerousnesse; eke if he tale vanytees at chirche or at Goddes service, or that he be a talker of ydel wordes of folye or of vileynye, for he shal yelden acountes of it at the day of doom; eke whan he biheteth or assureth to do thynges that he may nat parfourne; eke whan that he by lightnesse or folie mysseyeth or scorneth his neighebor; eke whan he hath any wikked suspecioun of thyng ther he ne woot of it no soothfastnesse: thise thynges, and no withoute nombre, been synnes, as seith Seint Augustyn.
§ 23       Now shal men understonde that, al be it so that noon erthely man may eschue alle venial synnes, yet may be refreyne hym by the brennynge love that he hath to oure lord Jhesu Christ, and by preyeres and confessioun and othere goode werkes, so that it shal but litel greve. For, as seith Seint Augustyn, "if a man love God in swich manere that al that evere he dooth is in the love of god, and for the love of God, verraily, for he brenneth in the love of God, looke, how muche that a drope of water that falleth in a fourneys ful of fyr anoyeth or greveth, so muche anoyeth a venial synne unto a man that is parfit in the love of Jhesu Crist." Men may also refreyne venial synne by receyvynge worthily of the precious body of Jhesu Crist; by receyvynge eek of hooly water; by almesdede; by general confessioun of Confiteor at masse and at complyn; and by blessynge of bisshopes and of preestes, and by oothere goode werkes.


Explicit secunda pars Penitentie




Next:
The Parson's Tale (§§ 24-29)