Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Charity, the Want of It
By Robert Burton (15771640)
A FAITHFUL friend is better than gold, a medicine of misery, an only possession; yet this love of friends, nuptial, heroical, profitable, pleasant, honest, all three loves put together, are little worth, if they proceed not from a true Christian illuminated soul, if it be not done in ordine ad Deum, for Gods sake. Though I had the gift of prophecy, spake with tongues of men and angels, though I feed the poor with all my goods, give my body to be burned, and have not this love, it profiteth me nothing (1 Cor. xiii. 1, 3); tis splendidum peccatum, without charity. This is an all-apprehending love, a deifying love, a refined, pure, divine love, the quintessence of all love, the true philosophers stone: non potest enim (as Austin infers) veraciter amicus esse hominis, nisi fuerit ipsius primitus veritatis: he is no true friend that loves not Gods truth. And therefore this is true love indeed, the cause of all good to mortal men, that reconciles all creatures, and glues them together in perpetual amity, and firm league, and can no more abide bitterness, hate, malice, than fair and foul weather, light and darkness, sterility and plenty, may be together. As the sun in the firmament (I say), so is love in the world; and for this cause tis love without an addition, love [Greek],1 love of God, and love of men. The love of God begets the love of man; and by this love of our neighbour, the love of God is nourished and increased. By this happy union of love, all well governed families and cities are combined, the heavens annexed, and divine souls complicated, the world itself composed, and all that is in it conjoined in God, and reduced to one. This love causeth true and absolute virtues, the life, spirit, and root of every virtuous action; it finisheth prosperity, easeth adversity, corrects all natural incumbrances, inconveniences, sustained by faith and hope, which, with this our love, make an indissoluble twist, a Gordian knot, an æquilateral triangle; and yet the greatest of them is love (1 Cor. xiii. 13) which inflames our souls with a divine heat, and being so inflamed, purgeth, and, so purged, elevates to God, makes an atonement, and reconciles us unto him. That other love infects the soul of man; this cleanseth: that depresses; this erears: that causeth cares and troubles; this quietness of mind; this informs, that deforms our life: that leads to repentance, this to heaven. For, if once we be truly linkt and touched with this charity, we shall love God above all, our neighbour as ourself, as we are enjoined (Mark xii. 31; Matt. xix. 19), perform those duties and exercises, even all the operations of a good Christian.
This love suffereth long; it is bountiful, envieth not, boasteth not itself; is not puffed up: it deceiveth not; it seeketh not his own things, is not provoked to anger; it thinketh not evil; it rejoiceth not in iniquity, but in truth. It suffereth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things (1 Cor. xiii. 47); it covereth all trespasses (Prov. x. 12), a multitude of sins (1 Peter iv. 8), as our Saviour told the woman in the Gospel, that washed His feet, many sins were forgiven her, for she loved much (Luke vii. 47): it will defend the fatherless and the widow (Isa. i. 17), will seek no revenge, or be mindful of wrong (Levit. xix. 18), will bring home his brothers ox if he go astray, as it is commanded (Deut. xxii. 1), will resist evil, give to him that asketh, and not turn from him that borroweth, bless them that curse him, love his enemies (Matt. v.), bear his brothers burthen (Gal. vi. 2). He that so loves, will be hospitable, and distribute to the necessities of the saints: he will, if it be possible, have peace with all men, feed his enemy if he be hungry; if he be athirst, give him drink; he will perform those seven works of mercy; he will make himself equal to them of the lower sort, rejoice with them that rejoice, weep with them that weep (Rom. xii. 15): he will speak truth to his neighbour, be courteous and tender hearted, forgiving others for Christs sake, as God forgave him (Eph. iv. 32); he will be like minded (Phil. ii. 2), of one judgment; be humble, meek, long suffering (Colos. iii. 12), forbear, forget, and forgive (13, 22): and what he doth shall be heartily done to God, and not to men: be pitiful and courteous (1 Peter iii. 8, 11), seek peace and follow it. He will love his brother, not in word and tongue, but in deed and truth (1 John iii. 18); and he that loves God, Christ will love him that is begotten of him (1 John v. 1, etc.) Thus should we willingly do, if we had a true touch of this charity, of this divine love, if we would perform this which we are enjoined, forget and forgive, and compose ourselves to those Christian laws of love.
O felix hominum genus,
Si vestros animos Amor,
Quo clum regitur, regat!
Angelical souls, how blessed, how happy should we be, so loving, how might we triumph over the devil, and have another heaven upon earth!
But this we cannot do; and, which is the cause of all our woes, miseries, discontent, melancholy, want of this charity. We do invicem angariare,2 contemn, insult, vex, torture, molest, and hold one anothers noses to the grindstone hard, provoke, rail, scoff, calumniate, challenge, hate, abuse (hard-hearted, implacable, malicious, peevish, inexorable as we are), to satisfy our lust or private spleen, for toys, trifles, and impertinent occasions, spend our selves, goods, friends, fortunes, to be revenged on our adversary, to ruin him and his. Tis all our study, practice, and business, how to plot mischief, mine, countermine, defend and offend, ward ourselves, injure others, hurt all; as if we were born to do mischief, and that with such eagerness and bitterness, with such rancour, malice, rage, and fury, we prosecute our intended designs, that neither affinity or consanguinity, love or fear of God or men, can contain us: no satisfaction, no composition, will be accepted, no offices will serve, no submission; though he shall, upon his knees, as Sarpedon did to Glaucus in Homer, acknowledging his error, yield himself with tears in his eyes, beg his pardon, we will not relent, forgive, or forget, till we have confounded him and his, made dice of his bones, as they say, see him rot in prison, banish his friends followers, et omne invisum genus, rooted him out, and all his posterity. Monsters of men as we are, dogs, wolves, tigers, fiends, incarnate devils, we do not only contend, oppress, and tyrannise ourselves, but, as so many firebrands, we set on, and animate others: our whole life is a perpetual combat, a conflict, a set battle, a snarling fit: Eris Dea3 is settled in our tents: Omnia de lite,4 opposing wit to wit, wealth to wealth, strength to strength, fortunes to fortunes, friends to friends, as at a sea fight, we turn our broadsides, or two millstones with continual attrition, we fire ourselves, or break anothers backs, and both are ruined and consumed in the end. Miserable wretches! to fat and enrich ourselves, we care not how we get it: Quocunque modo rem:5 how many thousands we undo, whom we oppress, by whose ruin and downfall we arise, whom we injure, fatherless children, widows, common societies, to satisfy our own private lust. Though we have myriads, abundance of wealth and treasure (pitiless, merciless, remorseless, and uncharitable in the highest degree) and our poor brother in need, sickness, in great extremity, and now ready to be starved for want of food, we had rather, as the fox told the ape, his tail should sweep the ground still, than cover his buttocks: rather spend it idly, consume it with dogs, hawks, hounds, unnecessary buildings, in riotous apparel, ingurgitate, or let it be lost, than he should have part of it; rather take from him that little which he hath, than relieve him.
Note 2. invicem angariare = demand the utmost of one another. Angariare is properly to exact the full service of a villein; hence to be grasping. The Vulgate uses the word in St. Matthew, v. 41, where our version has compel. [back]