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CHAPTER XI

Of his austerity in food and clothing

(1)

I WILL describe in a few words the manner of his private life, for he laid down for himself a rule, and has described in his writings many exercises of devotion.

He was very temperate in the matter of food, 26and it was his custom to be satisfied almost always with but one meal in the day. He so regulated his need of sleep, that he thought that seven hours of rest were enough. He would not eat, save in his own house, by whomsoever he might be invited, for he avoided intercourse with worldly men and also those lengthy banquets in which rich men indulge themselves to the loss of the poor. So strictly did he abide by his rule, that none dared to invite him or to trouble him with importunities: and this rule being well known was so pleasing to the good as to take away any handle of malicious accusation from the wicked.

Nevertheless he invited to his frugal table certain poor servants of God, and sometimes one or two of the honourable burghers, so as to instruct them in a better life: and these he regaled rather with the sweets of heavenly discourse than with carefully prepared courses of meats, for such he by no means provided. But whether he were alone, or were entertaining a guest, the reading of some holy book preceded the meal, and edifying discourse flowed from his honeyed tongue; but on other matters he strictly held his peace.

(2) Laughter and jesting were far removed from his mouth, and still farther the blemishes of slanderous talk and worldly gossip which pertained not to the matter in hand. His conversation was seasoned with salt, and thoughts of devotion to God, and the health of the soul gave to his food a savour beyond that of any pleasant meat. He ever remembered as he sat at meat the heavenly table in the kingdom of God, and the sweet fellowship of the Saints which should follow our long exile in this present world. Thus he sent away his guests joyful in the Lord, and having their hearts 27pricked. He had a refectory of modest size, in which a few guests could sit with him, where near at hand and over against the table there stood a case filled with most excellent books to serve as it were for a wine-cellar, so that if the fare for the body were not pleasing, he might from this abundant supply put before his friends a draught of wine for the soul. He often ate food that was unseasoned or burned, and that not with impatience, but with giving of thanks, and as discharging the debt and paying the penalty for his former sumptuous living.

(3) He used to prepare his food with his own hands, though he had no skill in cookery, and he refused to accept the services of the sisters who dwelt apart in a neighbouring building: if anything needed to be bought in the market, these looked to it for him; but he allowed no one of them to enter into his dwelling, but was content with the ministration of a single clerk. Both within his house and abroad he arranged everything with a view to honesty and good report, and lest aught that might cause suspicion should be observed, he would not speak to any one of the nuns, save behind a closed and curtained window. Things that were given him, or brought for his use, were pushed in by means of a wheeled vehicle—wherefore one of his pupils, seeing him so closely guarded, inquired privately of him concerning the matter, and said:

“Why, good master, dost thou so carefully veil thy window?” and Gerard answered, “If I could, I would protect mine ears also that I might not hear the voices of women, for indeed excess of caution can do us no hurt; every cause of stumbling and danger to the weak cometh by lack of 28guard over the bodily sense, and from too much freedom of intercourse. He, therefore, that would preserve his integrity, let him keep his eyes and his ears in subjection, for only upon urgent necessity should one be so indiscreet as to speak with a woman.”

(4) He observed with the greatest strictness the fasts of Holy Church. On Fridays he abstained altogether from foods made with milk, and often on that day used salt as a condiment instead of oil. He seldom washed his plate, but wiped it with bread, or left it for a dog or for mice to lick, and he did not despise mouldy bread. On the fifth day of the week by reason of the coming Friday he washed all his vessels in water, to remove from them every trace of fat by way of penance. Therefore he was pleasing in the sight of God, by being content with the simple and bare necessaries of life, by cutting off what is superfluous and not requiring luxuries. Towards himself he was austere and churlish, towards others kindly and pitiful.

(5) His garb was gray in colour and made in humble fashion, being neither soft nor gay, nor arranged in elaborate folds, and he seldom had new garments, for when his clothes were worn by age he had them patched and mended, nor was he ashamed, although a man of good birth, to be seen amongst his friends and fellow- citizens in vile raiment. He wore a tattered cloak mended with many patches, like to those worn by the poor and by beggars: a garment like to be despised by the rich, but a pattern to the devout, and worthy to be held in pious memory by them that come after. None of his raiment indeed was of great price, yet his merit in wearing the same was by 29no means small. All his adorning was the inner adorning of the heart, wherefore he looked not to the aspect of his outer man: and now he rejoiced to be clad in garments which once he would have thought scarce worth a glance. Oh! noble man, who wast not clad in soft raiment, but like John wast girt with a rough shirt of hair, and, like Christ, robed in the cloak of holy poverty.

(6) He was asked once by a familiar friend why he wore so old and patched a garment, which any labouring man might blush to wear, and he replied in his own gracious and pleasant manner: “In this I look to mine own convenience; the patches are there to prevent me from suffering cold, and that the wind may not blow through the rents, as it would if they were not closed up.” The brother hearing this was greatly edified, perceiving that Gerard sought not to please the world, but rather God only. He was also asked about his cloak and doublet, how old they were, to which he replied: “This thicker garment which I wear outside, is more than nine years old, but this thinner one, which I wear beneath it, I have had for two years only.” “And how long,” said his questioner, “hast thou worn thy doublet?” To which Gerard replied, “One of them is twelve years old, the other only three.” Thus he could say with holy David in his faithful prayers to God, “See my abjection and my labour, and forgive me all my sins.”

(7) The humble Master following after poverty, remembered what manner of man he had been while in the world when he had loved luxury; wherefore it behoved him in justice to make amends for his former courses by the opposite manner of living; of old he used to go forth clad in fair attire and 30with a silvern girdle: and while among the canons, he had worn a sumptuous surplice and a fair almuce: likewise he had indulged his body with delicate food and with costly wines; but afterward being changed into another man, he did not suffer his former indulgences to go unpunished. He prostrated himself beneath the feet not only of his elders and men in high esteem, but also beneath those of the youngest lay folk, sometimes eating in their presence upon the bare earth, for he said, “I am not worthy to sit at meat with you, for I am a sinner beyond all men and have offended God.” He who had been wont to anoint his head, and delicately to tire his hair, would afterward in his own despite wear an old moth-eaten biretta which was pierced with near to an hundred holes. Thus he did great violence upon himself, subdued the flesh, despised the world and bruised the head of the old Serpent, not permitting his passions to rule over him. He ever walked upon the path of humility under the leadership of Christ, and conformed his life by rule to the pattern of the Saints of old.

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