For Iames the gentele iugeth in his bokes
That fayth withouten feet is feblore than naught
And as ded as a dore-nayl but yf the dedes folowe:
Fides sine operibus mortua est.
Chastite withouten charite worth cheyned in hell;
Hit is as lewed as a laumpe that no liht is ynne. (I.181-185)
For gentle James judges in his book
That faith without works is a feeble thing,
Dead as a doornail unless deeds follow:
Faith without works is dead
Chastity less charity will be chained in hell;
It is as useless as a lamp that bears no light. (Trans. Pearsall)
William Langlang, Piers Plowman
As we draw closer to Lent, these words haunt me.
Two weeks ago I was on the bus, as is often, and most folks were quiet and enjoying the dark rainy ride home from a long day at work, save one woman on her phone. She had her newborn snuggled up to her in a Moby-wrap, and was talking to her partner(?) about their rent due and another issue involving a lawyer and more money going out of their pockets. It was likely uncomfortable to most because her business had instantly become their business. I imagine most people might have been upset as this one phone call was now their unsolicited phone call.
I knew I had a five-dollar bill in my billfold. It wasn’t a twenty or a fifty or even a ten. And it was more than just a crumpled single or a bit of change. It was enough to offer mercy, but hopefully not enough to make her feel uncomfortable to take it. “It’s not much,” I though over in my head, “but this may help you and your child more than I will help me.” The words were with me and well rehearsed. I even felt back in my wallet to make sure the bill was still there. It was, but as we drew nearer to the busstop, I grew tense. I worried that the gesture might embarrass her in front of so many people on the full bus. “I don’t want/need your charity,” I imagined her saying. She might even resent me and my offer, and give me a few words in reply for sticking my nose in her family’s financial business.
The bus stopped. The crowds and I exited as the mother and her son sat quietly to move on to the next terminal.
Langland’s words haunt me.
Langland is writing a poem about the world he sees around him, drenched in commerce and commodification. The Church, evinced its priests, monks, and friars are everywhere in his society, but so too vice; the virtues are latent.
The poem’s main protagonist, Will, is all too often concerned with how he might save his soul (I.80).
Me too, Good Will.