Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Comparison between the Life of Hunters and that of Christians
By John Fisher (c. 14691535)
From The Ways to Perfect Religion. Written while prisoner in the Tower
SISTER Elizabeth, gladly I would write unto you some thing that might be to the health of your soul and furtherance of it in holy religion. But well I know that without some fervour in the love of Christ, religion cannot be to you savoury, nor any work of goodness can be delectable, but every virtuous deed shall seem laborious and painful. For love maketh every work appear easy and pleasant, though it be right displeasant of itself. And contrariwise right easy labour appeareth grievous and painful, when the soul of the person that doeth the deed, hath no desire nor love in doing of it. This thing may well appear by the life of hunters, the which out of doubt is more laborious and painful than is the life of religious persons, and yet nothing sustaineth them in their labour and pains, but the earnest love and hearty desire to find their game. Regard no less my writing, good sister, though to my purpose I use the example of hunters, for all true Christian souls be called hunters, and their office and duty is to seek and hunt for to find Christ Jesu. And therefore scripture in many places exhorteth us to seek after Him, and assureth that He will be found of them that diligently seek after Him. Invenietur ab his qui quærunt eum. That is to say, He will be found of them that seek Him, well happy are all those that can find Him, or can have any scent of Him in this life here. For that scent (as Saint Paul saith) is the scent of the very life. And the devout souls, where they feel this scent, they run after him a pace. Curremus in odorem unguentorum tuorum. That is to say, we shall run after the scent of Thy sweet ointments. Seeing then all devout souls may be called hunters, I will further prosecute the comparison made before between the life of the hunters and the life of the religious persons after this manner.
What life is more painful and laborious of itself than is the life of hunters which, most early in the morning, break their sleep and rise when others do take their rest and ease, and in his labour he may use no plain highways and the soft grass, but he must tread upon the fallows, run over the hedges, and creep through the thick bushes, and cry all the long day upon his dogs, and so continue without meat or drink until the very night drive him home; these labours be unto him pleasant and joyous, for the desire and love that he hath to see the poor hare chased with dogs. Verily, verily, if he were compelled to take upon him such labours, and not for this cause, he would soon be weary of them, thinking them full tedious unto him; neither would he rise out of his bed so soon, nor fast so long, nor endure these other labours unless he had a very love therein. For the earnest desire of his mind is so fixed upon his game, that all these pains be thought to him but very pleasures. And therefore I may well say that love is the principal thing that maketh any work easy, though the work be right painful of itself, and that without love no labour can be comfortable to the doer. The love of his game delighteth him so much that he careth for no worldly honour, but is content with full simple and homely array. Also the goods of the world he seeketh not for, nor studieth how to attain them. For the love and desire of his game so greatly occupieth his mind and heart. The pleasures also of his flesh he forgetteth by weariness and wasting of his body in earnest labour. All his mind, all his soul, is busied to know where the poor hare may be found. Of that is his thought, and of that is his communication, and all his delight is to hear and speak of that matter, every other matter but this, is tedious for him to give ear unto; in all other things he is dull and unlusty, in this only quick and stirring. For this also to be done, there is no office so humble, nor so vile, that he refuseth not to serve his own dogs himself, to bathe their feet, and to anoint them where they be sore, yea and to cleanse their kennel where they shall lie and rest them. Surely if religious persons had so earnest a mind and desire to the service of Christ, as have these hunters to see a course at a hare, their life should be unto them a very joy and pleasure. For what other be the pains of religion but these that I have spoken of. That is to say, much fasting, crying, and coming to the choir, forsaking of worldly honours, worldly riches, and fleshly pleasures, and communication of the world, humble service, and obedience to his sovereign, and charitable dealing to his sister, which pains, in every point, the hunter taketh and sustaineth more largely for the love that he hath to his game, than do many religious persons for the love of Christ. For albeit, the religious person riseth at midnight which is painful to her in very deed, yet she went before that to her bed at a convenient hour, and also cometh after to her bed again. But the hunter riseth early, and so continueth forth all the long day, no more returning to his bed until the very night, and yet peradventure he was late up the night before, and full often up all the long nights.