Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Dependence upon Divine Mercy
By John Fisher (c. 14691535)
From Sermons on the Psalms
THAT man were put in great peril and jeopardy that should hang over a very deep pit holden up by a weak and slender cord or line, in whose bottom should be most woode1 and cruel beasts of every kind, abiding with great desire his falling down, for that intent when he shall fall down anon to devour him, which line or cord that he hangeth by should be holden up and stayed only by the hands of that man, to whom by his manifold ungentleness he hath ordered and made himself as a very enemy. Likewise, dear friends, consider in yourself. If now under me were such a very deep pit, wherein might be lions, tigers, and bears gaping with open mouth to destroy and devour me at my falling down, and that there be nothing whereby I might be holden up and succoured, but a broken bucket or pail which should hang by a small cord, stayed and holden up only by the hands of him to whom I have behaved myself as an enemy and adversary by great and grievous injuries and wrongs done unto him. Would ye not think me in perilous conditions? yes, without fail. Truly all we be in like manner. For under us is the horrible and fearful pit of hell, where the black devils in the likeness of ramping and cruel beasts doth abide desirously our falling down to them. The lion, the tiger, the bear, or any other wild beast never layeth so busily await for his prey, when he is hungry, as doth these great and horrible hell hounds, the devils, for us. Of whom may be heard the saying of Moses: Dentes bestiarum immittam in eos cum furore trahentium atque serpentum. I shall send down among them wild beasts to gnaw their flesh, with the woodness of cruel birds and serpents drawing and tearing their bones. There is none of us living but that is holden up from falling down to hell in as feeble and frail vessel, hanging by a weak line as may be. I beseech you what vessel may be more bruckle2 and frail than is our body that daily needeth reparation. And if thou refresh it not, anon it perisheth and cometh to nought. An house made of clay, if it be not oft renewed and repaired with putting to of new clay shall at the last fall down. And much more this house made of flesh, this house of our soul, this vessel wherein our soul is holden up and borne about, but if it be refreshed by oft feeding and putting to of meat and drink, within the space of three days it shall waste and slip away. We be daily taught by experience how feeble and frail mans body is. Also beholding daily the goodly and strong bodies of young people, how soon they die by a short sickness. And therefore Solomon, in the book called Ecclesiastes, compareth the body of man to a pot that is bruckle, saying, Memento creatoris tui in diebus juventutis tuæ, antequam conteratur hydria super fontem. Have mind on thy Creator and Maker in the time of thy young age, or ever the pot be broken upon the fountain, that is to say, thy body, and thou peradventure fall into the well, that is to say into the deepness of hell. This pot, mans body, hangeth by a very weak cord, which the said Solomon in the same place calleth a cord or line made of silver. Et antequam rumpatur funiculus argenteus. Take heed, he saith, or ever the silver cord be broken. Truly this silver cord whereby our soul hangeth and is holden up in this pot, in this frail vessel our body, is the life of man. For as a little cord or line is made or woven of a few threads, so is the life of man knit together by four humours, that as long as they be knit together in a right order so long is mans life whole and sound. This cord also hangeth by the hand and power of God. For as Job saith, Quoniam in illius manu est anima (id est vita) omnis viventis. In this hand and power is the life of every living creature. And we by our unkindness done against His goodness have so greatly provoked Him to wrath that it is marvel this line to be so long holden up by His power and majesty, and if it be broken, this pot our body is broken, and the soul slippeth down into the pit of hell, there to be torn and all to rent3 of those most cruel hell hounds. O good Lord how fearful condition stand we in if we remember these jeopardies and perils, and if we do not remember them we may say, O marvellous blindness, ye our madness, never enough to be wailed and cried out upon. Heaven is above us, wherein Almighty God is resident and abiding, which giveth Himself to us as our Father, if we obey and do according unto His holy commandments. The deepness of hell is under us, greatly to be abhorred, full of devils. Our sins and wickedness be afore us. Behind us be the times and spaces that were offered to do satisfaction and penance, which we have negligently lost. On our right hand be all the benefits of our most good and meek lord, Almighty God, given unto us. And on our left hand be innumerable misfortunes that might have happed if that Almighty God had not defended us by his goodness and meekness. Within us is the most stinking abomination of our sin, whereby the image of Almighty God in us is very foul deformed, and by that we be made unto Him very enemies. By all these things before rehearsed we have provoked the dreadful majesty of Him unto so great wrath that we must needs fear, lest that He let fall this line our life from His hands, and the pot our body be broken, and we then fall down into the deep dungeon of hell. Therefore what shall we wretched sinners do, of whom may help and succour be had and obtained for us? By what manner sacrifice may the wrath and ire of so great a majesty be pacified and made easy? Truly the best remedy is to be swift in doing penance for our sins. He only may help them to that be penitent. By that only sacrifice His ire is mitigate and suaged chiefly. Our most gracious Lord Almighty God is merciful to them that be penitent. Therefore let us now ask His mercy with the penitent prophet David. Let us call and cry before the throne of His grace, saying, Miserere mei Deus. God have mercy on me.