Lyk as the Bible makith mencioun,
The original ground of devout offryng,
Callyd of clerkys just decimacioun
(In pleyn Ynglissh, trewe and just tithyng),
Abel began, innocent of lyving,
Oonly to God for to do plesaunce;
Of frut, of beestys, reknyd every thyng,
Gaff God his part, tenthe of his substaunce.
Melchisedech, bisshop, preest and kyng,
To Abraham, a prynce of gret puissaunce,
For his victorye at his hoom comyng
(Whan Amelech was brouht unto uttraunce),
Offryd bred and wyn with devout obeisaunce.
Of alle oblaciouns figurys out to serche,
On bred and wyn by roial suffisaunce
The feith is groundid of al Hooly Cherche.
Of good greyn sowe growith up good wheete;
With gret labour plantyd is the vyne;
The tenthe part is to oure Lord mooste meete,
To whos preceptis hevenly and divyne
We muste our heedys meekly doun enclyne,
Paye our dymes by His comaundementis:
Moyses lawe and eek bi the doctryne –
Foure Evangelistis and too Testamentis.
Fro Melchisedech doun to Abraham —
To sette of tithes a fundacioun —
Th’encrees of frute and al that therof cam
They trewly made there oblacioun.
Whan Jacob sauh in his avisioun,
Tyme that he slepte upon the cold stoon,
Sauh on a laddere goon angelis up and doun,
To God above made his avowh anoon.
This was his vowh, with gret humylite
Lik his entent, in ful pleyn language:
“Lord, yif Thou list to conduite me,
Of Thy grace fortune my passage
To retourne hoom to myn herytage,
My fadris hous come therto bytymes,
Of good and tresoure with al the surplusage
I shal to Thee offren up the dymes.”
Among al frutys in especial
By a prerogatif excellent and notable,
In worthynesse verray imperial,
Of reverence condigne and honourable,
By antiquite in templys custumable,
In hooly writ remembryd ofte sithes,
Wyn, oyle and wheete, frutis moost acceptable
To God above were offryd up for tythes.
The Patriark of antiquyte,
Callyd Isaak, next by successioun
To Abraham, which with thes frutys thre
Gaff to Jacob his benediccioun.
The which thre in comparisoun
(Of the moralite whoso takith heed)
To preesthood first and kynges of renoun:
Gret mysteries in oyle, wyn, and breed.
Breed and wyn to bisshopis apparteene,
Oyle longith for to anoynte kynges,
Offryng is maad of frutys ripe and greene,
Of foul and beeste and of al othire thynges;
Breefly conclude: all folk in there livynges
That trewly tithe with glad herte and face,
Patriarkis, prophetis in ther writynges,
Shal evere encreese with fortune, hap, and grace.
And who fro God withhalte his dewte
Lat hym knowe for pleyn conclusyoun
Of warantise he shal nevire the,
Lakke grace and vertuous foysoun,
Of ther tresoure discrece in ech sesoun;
To hooly chirche that wil nat pay hys dyme,
Lat hym adverte and have inspeccioun
What there befyl in Awstynes tyme.
I meene Austyn that was fro Rome sent
By Seyn Gregory into this regioun,
Graciously arryved up in Kent,
Famous in vertu, of gret perfeccioun.
His liff was lyk his predicacioun:
As he tauht, sothely so he wrouhte.
By his moost hooly conversacioun,
Into this lond the feith of Crist he brouhte.
Thoruh al the parties and provynces of the lond
Of Cristis gospel he gan the seed to sowe,
Unkouth myracles wrouhte with hys hond;
Worshipped he was bothe of hih and lowe,
Withouten pompe grace hath his horn so blowe,
Thoruh his merites, that the hevenly soun.
He callid was, as it is wel knowe,
Cristes Apostil in Brutis Albioun.
He was Aurora whan Phebus sholde arise
With his briht beemys on that lond to shyne,
Callyd day sterre, moost glorious to devise.
Our feith was dirkid undir the Ecliptik lyne,
Oure mysbeleeve he did first enlumyne
Whan he outsprad the briht beemys cleere
Of Cristes lawe by his parfit doctryne,
Thoruh al this lond to make his liht appeere.
This was doon by grace or we were ware,
Of th’Oly Goost by the influence,
Whan foure steedys of Phebus goldene chare
List in this regioun holde residence.
Who droff the chare, to conclude in sentence,
By goostly favoure of the nyne speerys,
Til blissed Austyn by goostly elloquence
Was trewe Auriga of foure gospelleeris?
Or Austyn cam we slombryd in dirknesse
Lyk ydolastres blyndid in oure siht;
Of Cristes feith was curteyned the cleernesse
Tyl sol justicie list shewe his beemys briht
Of his mercy to clarefye the liht,
Chace away oure cloudy ignoraunce,
The Lord of lordys of moost imperial myht,
Tavoyde away our frowarde mescreaunce.
First, fro the pope that callid was Gregory,
Awstyn was sent (who that list adverte –
Tyme and date be put in memory),
To Cristes feith whan he did us converte.
Our goostly woundys felte as tho gret smerte,
Deed was our soule, our boody eek despised,
Tyl Awstyn made us cast of cloth and sherte:
In coold watire by hym we were baptised.
Kyng Ethelbert regnyng that tyme in Kent,
Touchyng the date whan Awstyn cam first doun,
Noumbryd the tyme when that he was sent
By Pope Gregory into this regioun,
Yeer of our Lord by computacioun
Compleet five hundryd fourty and eek nyne,
As cronyclers make mencioun,
In ther bookys fully determyne.
Thus he began by grace of Goddis hond
(Wher God list werche may be noon obstacle),
By his laboure was cristened al this lond,
Feith of our Lord wex moor cleere than spectacle.
Whan th’Oly Goost made His habitacle
In tho personys that wern in woord and deede
By Awstyn tournyd, God wrouhte a gret myracle
To make hem stable in Articles of the Creede.
But to resorte ageyn to my mateere:
With th’Oly Goost Austyn sett afire
Gan preche and teche devoutly the maneere
Of Cristes lawe abrood in every shire,
Grace of our Lord did hym so inspire
To enlwmyne al this regioun.
Of aventure his herte gan desire
To entre a village that callid was Comptoun.
The parissh preest of the same place
Aforn provided, in ful humble wyse
Besouhte hym meekly that he wolde of grace
Here his compleynt as he shal devise.
In pleyn language told hym al the guyse:
Lord of that thorpe, requeryd ofte sithes
– He ay contrayre t’obeye to th’emprise
Of Hooly Chirche – list not paye his tithes.
“Entretid hym lik to his estat,
First secrely, next afforn the toun,
But al for nouht: I fond hym obstynat,
Moost indurat in his oppynyoun,
Toold hym the custom groundid on resoun –
He was bounde by lawe of oold writyng
To pay his dymes – and for rebellioun
I cursyd hym, cause of fals tithyng.
“This mateer hool ye must of riht redresse,
Requeryng you of your goodlyheede,
By youre discrecioun to do rihtwisnesse,
Peysen al the cas and prudently take heede
That Hooly Chirche have no wrong in deede;
Al thyng commytted and weyed in ballaunce,
Ye to be juge, and lyk as ye proceede
We shall obeye to youre ordynaunce.”
Hooly Awstyn, sad and wel avised,
Kneuh by signes this compleynt was no fable
And in maneere was of the caas agrised,
Fond that the lord was in that poynt coupable.
To reduce hym and mak hym moor tretable,
As the lawe ordeyned hath of riht,
Blissid Awstyn, in Cristes feith moost stable,
Took hym apart, seyde unto this knyht,
“How may this be that thou art froward
To Hooly Chirche to pay thy dewtee?
Lyk thy desert thou shalt have thy reward;
Thynk that thou art bounde of trouthe and equitee
To paye thy tithes; and lerne this of mee:
The tenthe part fro God yif thou withdrawe,
Thou muste incurre of necessite
To been accursyd by rigoure of the lawe.”
The knyht, astonyed somwhat of his cheere,
“Sire,” quod he, “I wol wel that ye knowe
My labour is ay from yeere to yeere,
By revolucioun, that the lond be sowe;
Afore this peple stondyng heere arowe,
By evidence to maken an open preef,
What maner boost that ony man list blowe,
I with the nynthe wil have the tenthe cheef.
“Sey what ye list, I wyl have no lasse.”
This was the answere pleynly of the knyht;
Hooly Austyn dispoosid hym to Masse,
Ful devoutly and in the peeplys siht,
Tornyd his face, comaundith anoon riht
Ech cursyd man that wer out of grace,
Tyme of his Masse that every maneere wiht
That stood accursyd, voyde shulde his place.
Present that tyme many creature,
Withoute abood or any long taryeng
Ther roos up oon out of his sepulture
Terrible of face, the peeple beholdyng,
A greet paas the chircheyeerd passyng,
The Seyntuarye bood ther a greet whyle,
Al the space the Masse was seyeng,
Feerfully afore the chirche style.
Withoute meevyng, alway stille he stood;
The peeple, feerful in ther oppynyoun,
Almoost for dreed they gan to wexen wood.
Afftir Masse alle of assent cam doun,
To hooly Austyn made relacioun
Of al this caas riht as it was falle.
Gaff hem a spirit of consolacioun,
Ful sobirly spak unto them alle.
Sad and discreet in his advertence,
Sauh by there poort that they stood in dreede.
First of alle with ful devout reverence
Cros and hooly watir he made aforn proceede
(The crucifix ther baner was in deede),
Blissid Austyn the careyn gan compelle
“In Jesu name, that lyst for man to bleede,
What that thu art trewly for to telle.”
“Disobeisaunt my tithes for to paye,
Of yoore agoon I was lord of this toun,
My dewtees I did alwey delaye,
Stood accursyd for my rebellioun,
Made in my liff no restitucioun.
Geyn thy biddyng I myht no socoure have,
My cursyd careyn, ful of corrupcioun,
By Goddis angel was cast out of my grave.
“Thy precept was upon ech a side,
Beyng at Masse whil thou were in presence.
No stynkyng flessh myht in the poorche abyde,
I was take up, lad forth by violence.
On me was yove so dreedful a sentence
Of curs, allas! Which to my diffame
Now, as ye seen, for disobedience
Disclaundrid is perpetuelly my name.
“Tyme whan Britouns were lordis of this lond,
Hadde the lordship and domynacioun,
The same tyme, as ye shal undirstond,
Of this village in sothe I was patroun,
To Hooly Chirche hadde no devocioun,
Offte sithe steryd of my Curat
To paye my dymes, hadde indignacioun,
Was ay contrayre, froward, and obstinat.
“This hundryd yeer I have enduryd peyne,
And fifty ovir by computacioun;
Greet cause have I to moorne and to compleyne
In a dirk prisoun of desolacioun
Mong firy flawmys, voyd of remissioun.”
And whil that he this wooful tale toold,
Hooly Austyn with the peeple enviroun
Wepte of compassioun, as they to watire woold.
Austyn gan muse in his oppynyoun
To fynde a mene the sowle for to save.
Of this terrible doolful inspeccioun
The peeplis hertys gretly gan abave,
Whom to behoolde they cowde no coumfort have
Al the while the careyn was in there presence.
Austin axith yif he knew the grave
Of thilke preest that gaf un hym sentence
“So long aforn for thy fals tythyng,
As we have herd the mateer in substaunce.”
“Sothly,” quod he, “there shal be no taryeng,
But ye shal have a reconysaunce
So ye wil digge and doon youre observaunce
To delvyn up his boonys dul and rude —
Loo! heer he lith, cheef cause of my grevaunce,
So fel a curs he did on me conclude.”
Austyn fulfilled of grace and all vertu,
As ony pileer in our feith moost stable,
The deed preest in name of Crist Jhesu
He bad arise with woordys ful tretable,
Requeryd hym, by tokenys ful notable,
Yif he hadde, sith tyme that he was born,
Seyn that owgly careyn lamentable,
The deed boody that stood hem beforn.
“Sothly,” quod he, “and that me rewith soore,
That evir I knewh hym, for his frowardness.
I gaf hym counseil, daily moore and moore,
To paye his tithes, the pereil did expresse.
He took noon heed his surfetys to redresse.
I warnyd hym many divers tymes,
But al for nouht, I can weel bere witnesse,
Deyed accursyd, rebel to paye his dymes.”
Whan the preest hath toold every deel,
With evy cheer and voys most lamentable
Quod Seyn Austyn, “Brothire, thou knowest weel,
Thynk He that bouht us is evir merciable;
By whoos exaumple we must be tretable
As the Gospel pleynly doth recoorde,
And for thy part be nat thu vengable
So that with rigoure mercy may accoorde.
“Thynk how Jhesus bouht us with His blood,
Oonly of mercy suffryd Passioun,
For mannys sake was nayled on the Rood,
Rive to the herte for oure redempcioun.
Remembre how thu dist execucioun
Upon this penaunt ploungid in greet peyne.
Withdrawe thy sentence and do remissioun,
Fro Purgatorye his trowblys to restreyne.
“On hym thu leydist a ful dreedful bond,
To thee it longith the same bond to unbynde.
Tak this flagelle devoutly in thy hond,
On Cristes Passion in this mateere have mynde;
Many exaumple to purpoos thu mayst fynde
Of trespasours relesyd of there peyne,
Of Petir, Poule, and Sein Thomas of Ynde,
Of Egipsiacha, and Mary Mawdeleyne,
“Take to mercy for there greet repentaunce,
There was noon othir mediacioun.
Thu must of riht yeve hym his penaunce
With this flagelle of equite and resoun,
Sette on this careyn a castigacioun
As he requerith kneelyng afor thy face;
Best restoratif next Cristes Passioun
Is thyn assoylyng for his gret trespace.”
Al this was doon by the comaundement
Of Seyn Austyn, the careyn ther knelyng;
Lord of that village was also there present,
Al the peeple moost pitously sobbyng,
From there eyen the teerys distyllyng.
The last preest, reised from his grave,
The tothir corps with bittir fel scorgyng
Assoyled him his soule for to save.
Oo ded man assoiled hath anothire
(An unkouth caas merveilous texpresse),
Oon knelith doun, requerith of the tothire
Pleyn remissioun of oold cursidnesse;
Bete with a scorge, took it with meeknesse,
Hopyng that Jhesus shuld his soule save.
Seyn Austyn bad him in hast he shuld hym dresse,
Thankyng our Lord, ageyn unto his grave.
Circumstauncis in ordre to accounte,
Of this miracle peised every thyng,
Mercy of our Lord doth everythyng surmounte.
To save and dampne He is Lord and Kyng,
Hevene and helle obeye to His biddyng,
By many exaumple expert in this mateere.
Trajan the Emperour for his just deemyng
Isavid was by meene and the prayeere
Of Seyn Gregory, Pope of Rome toun:
Cause in his doomys he did so gret riht,
Rigour was medlyd with remyssioun.
For He that is of moost imperial myht
List advertise in His celestial siht,
Tween rihte and favour, rigoure and pite,
By doom and sentence of every maneere wiht,
Mercy of virtues hath the sovereynte.
Unto the preest aforn that I you toold
Seyn Austyn made a straunge questioun,
To cheese of tweyne, whedir that he woold:
To goon with hym thoruh this regioun,
The feith of Crist by predicacioun,
For his part groundid on scripture,
To doon his deveere of hool affeccioun;
Or to resoorte ageyn to his sepulture.
“Fadir,” quod he, “with supportacioun
Of your benygne fadirly pite,
I you requeere to graunte me pardoun,
Unto my grave I may restooryd be;
This world is ful of mutabilite,
Full of trouble, chaung, and varyaunce,
And for this tyme, I pray you, suffrith me
T’abyde in reste from worldly perturbaunce.
“I rest in pees and take of nothyng keep,
Rejoisshe in quiete and contemplacioun,
Voyd of al trouble. Celestial is my sleep
And, by the meene of Cristes Passioun,
Feith, hoope, and charite, with hool affeccioun,
Been pilwes foure to reste upon by grace
Day of the general resurreccioun,
Whan Gabriel callith t’appeere aforn his face.”
“O brothire myn, this choys is for thy beste!
Contemplatiff, fulfilled of al pleasaunce,
I pray to God sende thee good reste,
Of goostly gladnesse sovereyn suffisaunce.
Pray for us and have in remembraunce
Al Hooly Chirche in quiete to be crownyd,
That Crist Jhesus dispoose so the ballaunce
That Petris ship be with no tempest drownyd.
“I meene as thus: that noon heresye
Ryse in thes dayes, nor noon that was beforn,
Nor no darnel growe nor multeplye,
Nor no fals cokkyl be medlyd with good corn.
Cheese we the roosys, cast away the thorn.
Crist boute us alle with His precious bloode:
To that He bouht us lat no thyng be lorn,
For our redempcioun He starf upon the Rood.”
The knyht, present lord of the same toun,
Thes miracles whan he did se,
Austyn axith of hym this questioun,
“Wilt thu,” quod he, “paye thy dewte?”
He grauntith his axing and fyl doun on his kne,
Moost repentaunt forsook al the world as blyve,
With devout herte and al humylite
Folwith Seyn Austyn duryng al his live.
Go litil tretys, void of presumpcioun!
Prese nat to ferre, nor be nat to bold;
This laboure stant undir correccioun,
Of this miracle remembryd manyfold,
In many shire and many cite toold.
To you echon to whom I it directe,
Bycause I am of wittis dul and old,
Doth your deveere this processe to corecte.