Rorate Caeli

More: The Divine Law of Penance

[1] Erat autem species gloriæ Domini, quasi ignis ardens super verticem montis, in conspectu filorum Israël. Ingressusque Moyses medium nebulæ, ascendit in montem: et fuit ibi quadraginta diebus, et quadraginta noctibus. (From the Lesson for Ember Wednesday in Lent, Exodus xxiv, 17-18: "And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like a burning fire upon the top of the mount, in the eyes of the children of Israel. And Moses, entering into the midst of the cloud, went up into the mountain : and he was there forty days and forty nights.")

[2] Venit Elias in Bersabee Iuda, et dimisit ibi puerum suum ... Qui cum surrexisset, comedit, et bibit, et ambulavit in fortitudine cibi illius quadraginta diebus et quadraginta noctibus, usque ad montem Dei Horeb. (From the Lesson for Ember Wednesday in Lent, III Kings xix, 3, 8: "Elias came to Bersabee of Juda, and left his servant there. ... And he arose, and ate, and drank, and walked in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights, unto the mount of God, Horeb.")

[3] Viri Ninivitæ surgent in iudicio cum generatione ista, et condemnabunt eam: quia pœnitentiam egerunt in prædicatione Ionæ. Et ecce plus quam Ionas hic. (From the Gospel for Ember Wednesday in Lent, Matthew xii, 41: "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; because they did penance at the preaching of Jonas. And behold a greater than Jonas here.")

VINCENT: ...When I was in Saxony these matters [of bodily penance] were but in a mammering. Luther was not then wedded yet, nor religious men out of their habits, but those that would be of the sect were suffered freely to preach what they would unto the people. And forsooth I heard a religious man there myself -- one that had been reputed and taken for very good, and who, as far as the folk perceived, was of his own living somewhat austere and sharp. But his preaching was wonderful! Methinketh I hear him yet, his voice so loud and shrill, his learning less than mean. But whereas his matter was much part against fasting and all affliction for any penance, which he called men's inventions, he ever cried out upon them to keep well the laws of Christ, let go their childish penance, and purpose then to mend and seek nothing to salvation but the death of Christ. "For he is our justice, and he is our Saviour and our whole satisfaction for all our deadly sins. He did full penance for us all upon his painful cross, he washed us there all clean with the water of his sweet side, and brought us out of the devil's danger with his dear precious blood. Leave therefore, leave, I beseech you, these inventions of men, your foolish Lenten fasts and your childish penance! ... . Leave your own fasting, therefore, and lean to Christ alone, good Christian people, for Christ's dear bitter passion!" Now, so loud and shrill he cried "Christ" in their ears, and so thick he came forth with Christ's bitter passion, and that so bitterly spoken with the sweat dropping down his cheeks, that I marvelled not that I saw the poor women weep. For he made my own hair stand up upon my head.

ANTHONY: Cousin, God amend that man, whatsoever he be, and God keep all good folk from such manner of preachers! One such preacher much more abuseth the name of Christ and of his bitter passion than do five hundred gamblers who in their idle business swear and foreswear themselves by his holy bitter passion at dice.

They carry the minds of the people from perceiving their craft by the continual naming of the name of Christ, and crying his passion so shrill into their ears that they forget that the Church hath ever taught them that all our penance without Christ's passion would not be worth a pea. And they make the people think that we wish to be saved by our own deeds, without Christ's death; whereas we confess that his passion alone meriteth incomparably more for us than all our own deeds do, but that it is his pleasure that we shall also take pain ourselves with him. And therefore he biddeth all who will be his disciples to take their crosses on their backs as he did, and with their crosses follow him.

And where they say that fasting serveth but for temperance to tame the flesh and keep it from wantonness, I would in good faith have thought that Moses had not been so wild that for the taming of his flesh he should have need to fast whole forty days together. No, not Elias either. Nor yet our Saviour himself, who began the Lenten forty-days fast -- and the apostles followed, and all Christendom hath kept it -- that these folk call now so foolish.

King Achab was not disposed to be wanton in his flesh, when he fasted and went clothed in sackcloth and all besprent with ashes. No more was the king in Nineveh and all the city, but they wailed and did painful penance for their sin to procure God to pity them and withdraw his indignation. Anna, who in her widowhood abode so many years with fasting and praying in the temple till the birth of Christ, was not, I suppose, in her old age so sore disposed to the wantonness of the flesh that she fasted for all that. Nor St. Paul, who fasted so much, fasted not all for that, neither.

The scripture is full of places that prove fasting to be not the invention of man but the institution of God, and to have many more profits than one. And that the fasting of one man may do good unto another, our Saviour showeth himself where he saith that some kind of devils cannot be cast out of one man by another "without prayer and fasting." And therefore I marvel that they take this way against fasting and other bodily penance.

And yet much more I marvel that they mislike the sorrow and heaviness and displeasure of mind that a man should take in thinking of his sin. The prophet saith, "Tear your hearts and not your clothes." And the prophet David saith, "A contrite heart and humbled"--that is to say, a heart broken, torn, and laid low under foot with tribulation of heaviness for his sins -- "shalt thou not, good Lord, despise." He saith also of his own contrition, "I have laboured in my wailing; I shall every night wash my bed with my tears, my couch will I water."

... The scripture is full of those places, by which it plainly appeareth that God looketh of duty, not only that we should amend and be better in the time to come, but also that we should be sorry and weep and bewail our sins committed before. And all the old holy doctors be full and whole of that opinion, that men must have for their sins contrition and sorrow in heart.

Saint Thomas More
A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation (1534)