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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

I. “Piers the Plowman” and its Sequence

§ 6. Holy Church

Wondering who she is that utters such wisdom, the dreamer is informed that she is Holy Church. “Thou oughtest to know me; I received thee first and taught thee faith, and thou didst promise to love me loyally while thy life should endure.” He falls upon his knees, beseeching her favour and begging her to teach him so to believe on Christ as to do His will: “Teach me to no treasure, but tell me this, how I may save my soul!”

  • “When all treasure is tried,” she declares, “Truth is the best; it is as precious as God himself. Whoso is true of his tongue and of his deeds, and does ill to no man, is accounted to the Gospel and likened to our Lord. Truth is claimed by Christian and non-Christian; it should be kept by all. Kings and knights are bound by it, cherubim and seraphim and all the orders of angels were knighted by Christ and taught to know Truth. Lucifer and his fellows failed in obedience, and sinned by pride, and fell; but all who keep Truth may be sure that their souls shall go to heaven to be crowned by Truth; for, when all treasure is tried, Truth is the best.” “But what is it? By what quality or power of my nature does it begin, and where?” “Thou fool, it is a teaching of nature to love thy Lord dearer than thyself, and do no deadly sin though thou shouldst die. This is Truth, and none can teach thee better; it is the most precious thing demanded by our Lord. Love began by the Father and was perfected in the death of his Son. Be merciful as He was merciful, for, unless you live truly, and love and help the poor, you have no merit in Mass or in Hours. Faith without works is dead; chastity without charity is as foul as an unlighted lamp. Date et dabitur vobis, this is the lock of love that lets out my grace to comfort all sinful; it is the readiest way that leads to heaven.”
  • With this Holy Church declares that she can stay no longer, and passus I closes.

    But the dreamer kneels and beseeches her, crying:

  • “Mercy, my lady, for the love of her that bore the blissful Babe that redeemed us on the cross; teach me to know False!” “Look on thy left hand and see where he stands—both False and Favel (Duplicity) and all his whole house.” I looked on the left hand as the lady taught me; and I saw a woman wonderfully clothed, arrayed in furs the richest on earth, crowned with a crown no less costly than the king’s, all her five fingers loaded with the most precious stones that prince ever wore. “Who is this woman,” said I, “thus richly attired?” “That is the maiden Meed, who has often injured me. To-morrow will the marriage be made of her and False. Favel brought them together, Guile prepared her for it and Liar has directed the whole affair. I warn thee that thou mayst know them all, and keep thyself from them, if thou desirest to dwell with Truth in his bliss. I can stay no longer; I commit thee to our Lord.”
  • All the rich retinue that held with False was bidden to the bridal. Simony was sent for to seal the charters and feoff Meed with all the possessions of False and Favel. But there was no house that could hold the throng that came. In a moment, as if by some magical process, we see a pavilion pitched on a hill, with ten thousand tents set about it, for all men of all orders to witness the feoffment of Meed. Then Favel brought her forth, and Simony and Civil (Civil Law) stood forth and unfolded the charter, which was drawn up in due legal form and endowed the contracting parties with all the provinces of the seven deadly sins, “to have and to hold, and all their heirs after, with the appurtenance of Purgatory, even to the torment of Hell; yielding, for this thing, at the year’s end, their souls to Satan.” This was duly witnessed and delivered. But Theology objected to the wedding, because Meed was no bastard and should be wedded according to the choice of Truth.

  • The workman is worthy of his hire. False is no mate for her; she is of good birth and might kiss the king for cousin. Take her to London and see if the law will permit this wedding; and beware, for Truth is wise, and Conscience, who knows you all, is of his counsel.