A BOOK CALLED IN LATIN
ENCHIRIDION MILITIS CHRISTIANI
AND IN ENGLISH
THE MANUAL OF THE CHRISTIAN KNIGHT
WITH MOST WHOLESOME PRECEPTS
BY THE FAMOUS CLERK ERASMUS OF ROTTERDAM
was written by Desiderius Erasmus in 1501 and was published in English in 1533 by William Tyndale.
THESE things afore written had been and that a great deal more than sufficient: *nevertheless that thou mayst be somewhat more sensibly known unto thyself, I will rehearse compendiously the division of a man, after the description of Origene, for he followeth Paul making three parts, the spirit, the soul and the flesh, which three parts Paul joined together, writing to the Thessalonieences. That your spirit (saith he) your soul and your body may be kept clean and uncorrupt, that ye be not blamed or accused at the coming of our Lord Jesu Christ. And Esaias (leaving out the lowest part) maketh mention of two, saying, My soul shall desire and long for thee in the night, yea, and in my spirit and my heart strings I will wake in the mornings for to please thee. Also Daniel saith, Let the spirits and souls of good men laud God. *Out of the which places of scripture Origene gathereth not against reason the three partitions of man, that is to wit, the body, otherwise called the flesh, the most vile part of us, wherein the malicious serpent through original trespass hath I written the law of sin, wherewithal we be provoked to filthiness. And also if we be overcome, we be coupled and made one with the devil. *Then the spirit wherein we represent the similitude of the nature of God, in which also our most blessed maker after the original pattern and example of his own mind hath graven the eternal law of honesty with his finger, that is, with his spirit the Holy Ghost. By this part we be knit to God, and made one with him. In the third place, and in the midst between these two he putteth the soul, which is partaker of the sensible wits and natural motions. *She is in a seditious and wrangling ‘commonwealth and must needs join herself to the one part or the other, she is troubled of both parts, she is at her liberty to whether part she will incline. If she forsake the flesh and convey herself to the parts of the spirit, she herself shall be spiritual also. But if she cast herself down to the appetites of the body she shall grow out of kind into the manner of the body. This is it that Paul meant writing to the Chorintes. Remember ye not that he that joineth himself to an harlot is made one body with her: but he that cleaveth to the Lord, is one spirit with him. He calleth the harlot the frail and weak part of the man. *This is that pleasant and flattering woman of whom thou readest in the second chapter of Proverbs on this wise. That thou mayst be delivered from a strange woman and from a woman of another country, which maketh her words sweet and pleasant, and forsaketh her husband to whom she was married in her youth, and hath forgot the promise she made to her Lord God: her house boweth down to death and her path is to hell. Whosoever goeth into hell, shall never return: nor shall attain the path of life. And in the vi. chapter. That thou mayst keep thee from an evil woman, and from the flattering tongue of a strange woman, let not thy heart melt on her beauty, be not thou deceived with her beckonings, for the price of an harlot is scarce worth a piece of bread: but the woman taketh away the precious soul of the man. Did he not when he made mention of the harlot, the heart and the soul express by name three parts of the man? Again, in the ix. chapter: A foolish woman ever babbling and full of words, swimming in pleasures, and hath no learning at all, sitteth in the doors of her house upon a stool in a high place of the city to call them that pass by the way and be going in their journey, Whosoever is a child, let him turn in to me: and she said unto a fool and an heartless person, Water that is stolen is pleasanter, and bread that is hid privily is sweeter. And he was not aware that there be giants, and their jests be in the bottom of hell. For whosoever shall be coupled to her, he shall descend into hell. And whosoever shall depart from her, shall be saved. I beseech thee with what colours could more workmanly have been painted and set out either the venomous enticements and wanton pleasures of the poisoned flesh, provoking and tempting the soul to filthiness of sin, or else the importunity of the same crying and striving against the spirit, or the wretched end that followeth when she doth overcome the spirit. To conclude therefore, the spirit maketh us gods, the flesh maketh us beasts: the soul maketh us men: the spirit maketh us religious, obedient to God, kind and merciful. The flesh maketh us despisers of God, disobedient to God, unkind and cruel. The soul maketh us indifferent, that is to say, neither good nor bad. The spirit desireth celestial things: the flesh desireth delicate and pleasant things: the soul desireth necessary things: the spirit carryeth us up to heaven: the flesh thrusteth us down to hell. To the soul nothing is imputed, that is to say, it doth neither good nor harm: whatsoever is carnal or springeth of the flesh that is filthy: whatsoever is spiritual proceeding of the spirit, that is pure, perfect and godly: whatsoever is natural and proceedeth of the soul, is a medium and indifferent thing, neither good nor bad. Wilt thou more plainly have the diversity of these three parts shewed unto thee as it were with a man’s finger? Certainly I will essay. *Thou doest reverence to thy father and mother: thou lovest thy brother, thy children and thy friend: it is not of so great virtue to do these things, as it is abominable not to do them. For why shouldest thou not being a christian man do that thing which the gentiles by the teaching of nature do, yea which brute beasts do? That thing that is natural shall not be imputed unto merit. But thou art come in to such a strait case that either the reverence toward thy father must be despised, the inward love towards thy children must be subdued, the benevolence to thy friend set at nought, or God must be offended. What wilt thou now do? The soul standeth in the midst between two ways: the flesh crieth upon her on the one side, the spirit on the other side. The spirit saith, God is above thy father: thou art bound to thy father but for thy body only. To God thou art bound for all thing that thou hast. The flesh putteth thee in remembrance, saying: Except thou obey thy father, he will disinherit thee, thou shalt be called of every man an unkind and unnatural child, look to thy profit, have respect to thy good name and fame. God either doth not see, or else dissimuleth and wittingly looketh beside it, or at the least, will be soon pacified again. *Now thy soul doubteth, now she wavereth hither and thither, to whether of either part she turn herself. That same shall she be, that that thing is she went unto. If she obey the harlot, that is to say the flesh (the spirit despised) she shall be one body with the flesh. But if she lift up herself and ascend to the spirit (the flesh set at nought) she shall be transposed and changed to the nature of the spirit. After this manner accustom to examine thyself prudently. The error of those men is exceeding great which oftentimes weeneth that thing to be perfect virtue and goodness which is but of nature and no virtue at all. *Certain affections somewhat honest in appearance, and as they were disguised with visors of virtue, deceiveth negligent persons. The judge is hasty and cruel against the felon, or him that hath trespassed the law, he seemeth to himself constant and of gravity uncorrupt and a man of good conscience, wilt thou have this man discussed? If he favour his own mind too much and follow a certain natural rigorousness without any grief of mind, perad venture with some pleasure or delectation: yet not leaning from the office and duty of a judge, let him not forthwith stand too much in his own conceit: it is an indifferent thing that he doth. But if he abuse the law for private hate or lucre, now it is carnal that he doth, and he committeth murder. But and if he feel great sorrow in his mind because he is compelled to destroy and kill him, whom he had liefer amended and saved: also if he enjoin punishment according to the trespass with such a mind, with such sorrow of heart, as the father commandeth his singularly beloved son to be cut, lanced or seared: of this manner shall it be spiritual that he doth. *The most part of men through proneness of nature and some special property, either rejoice in, or abhor certain things. Some there be whom bodily lust tickleth not at all: let not them by and by ascribe that unto virtue which is an indifferent thing, for not to lack bodily lust, but to overcome bodily lust is the office of virtue. *Another man hath a pleasure to fast, a pleasure to be at mass, a pleasure to be much at church and to say a great deal of psalmody: examine after this rule that thing which he doeth: if he regard the common fame or advantage, it smelleth of the flesh and not of the spirit: if he do follow but his own inclination (for he doth that which pleaseth his own mind) then he hath not whereof he so ought greatly to rejoice, *but rather whereof he ought to fear. Behold a jeopardous thing unto thyself. Thou prayest, and judgest him that prayeth not. Thou fasteth, and condemneth him that fasteth not. Whosoever doeth not that thou doest, thou thinkest thyself better than he: beware lest thy fast pertain to thy flesh. Thy brother hath need of thy help, thou in the mean space mumblest in thy prayers unto God, and wilt not be known of thy brother’s necessity. God shall abhor these prayers: for how shall God hear thee while thou prayest, when thou which art a man canst not find in thy heart to hear another man. Perceive also another thing. Thou lovest thy wife for this cause only, that she is thy wife. Thou doest no great thing, for this thing is common as well to infidels as to thee: or else thou lovest her for none other thing but because she is to thee pleasant and delectable. Thy love now draweth to thee fleshward. *But thou lovest her for this thing chiefly, because thou hast perceived in her the image of Christ, which is godly reverence, modesty, soberness, chastity: and now lovest not her in her self but in Christ: yea rather Christ in her. After this manner lovest spiritually. Notwithstanding we shall say more of these things in their places.
Erasmus, D. (1905). Enchiridion Militis Christiani (pp. 104–111). London: Methuen & Co.