I see the pope his sacred trust betray,
For while the rich his grace can gain alway,
His favors from the poor are aye withholden.
He strives to gather wealth as best he may,
Forcing Christ's people blindly to obey,
So that he may repose in garmets golden.
The vilest traffickers in souls are all
His chapmen, and for gold a prebend's stall
He'll sell them, or an abbacy or miter.
And to us he sends clowns and tramps who crawl
Vending his pardon briefs from cot to hall--
Letters and pardons worthy of the writer,
Which leaves our pokes, if not our souls, the lighter.
No better is each honored cardinal.
From early morning's dawn to evening's fall,
Their time is passed in eagerly contriving
To drive some bargain foul with each and all.
So if you feel a want, or great or small,
Or if for some perferment you are striving,
The more you please to give the more 't will bring,
Be it a purple cap or bishop's ring.
And it need ne'er in any way alarm you
That you are ignorant of everything
To which a minister of Christ should cling,
You will have revenue enough to warm you--
And, bear in mind, the lesser gifts won't harm you.
Our bishops, too, are plunged in similar sin,
For pitilessly they flay the very skin
From all their priests who chance to have fat livings.
For gold their seal official you can win
To any writ, no matter what's therein.
Sure God alone can make them stop their theivings,
'T were hard, in full, their evil works to tell,
As when, for a few pence, they greedily sell
The tonsure to some montebank or jester,
Whereby the temporal courts are wronged as well,
For then these tonsured rogues they cannot quell,
Howe'er their scampish doings may us pester,
While round the church still growing evils fester.
Then as for all the priests and minor clerks,
There are, God knows, too many of htem whose works
And daily life belie their daily teaching.
Scarce better are they than so many Turks,
Though they, no doubt, may be well taught--it irks
Me not to own the fullness of their teaching--
For, learned or ignorant, they're ever bent
To make a traffic of each sacrament,
The mass's holy sacrifice included;
And when they shrive an honest penitent,
Who will not bribe, his penance they augment,
For honesty should never be obtruded--
But this, by sinners fair, is easily eluded.
'Tis true the monks and friars make ample show
Of rules austere which they all undergo,
But this the vainest is of all pretenses.
In sooth, they live full twice as well, we know,
As e'er they did at home, despite their vow,
And all their mock parade of abstinences.
No jollier life than theirs can be, indeed;
And specially the begging friars exceed,
Whose frock grants license as abroad they wander.
These motives 't is which to the Orders lead
So many worthless men, in sorest need
Of pelf, which on their vices they may squander,
And then, the frock protects them in their plunder.
from J. H. Robinson, Readings in European History (Boston: 1904), pp. 375-377
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© Paul Halsall, July 1998