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CHAPTER XIII

Of his great love of reading the Holy Scriptures

(1)

THIS reverend doctor was possessed by a great love of reading the Holy Scriptures, and by an untiring zeal in collecting the books of learned men rather than treasures of money, whereof he bears witness in a letter, saying: “I am ever covetous, yea, more than covetous, of books, and if I lack them I am useless”; for although he was more learned than many doctors, he did not desire honour on that account, but he was the comforter of them that sorrowed, and ever the faithful helper of all who wished to serve God. He was instant in searching again and again the passages that he had read, and to dark sayings he gave yet more careful study so as to become continually better and more apt to take hold upon holy things. He was not ashamed to learn from younger men, nor to ask them questions, for he knew that which is written: “The declaration of Thy words giveth light, and giveth understanding to little ones”; wherefore he showed himself right easy of access 35and kindly to such men, and indeed chose rather to seek counsel from another, than to work out by himself many interpretations; for he said: “If a boy can teach me a fuller knowledge of the will of God, how much more gladly would I listen to him, rather than strive after some new doctrine by myself and without counsel from any man.”

(2) He was therefore earnest in reading the Scriptures, but was not careful to possess books beautifully adorned; the Breviary from which he read his “Hours” was of no great value since he avoided using anything that was outwardly splendid or that savoured not of simplicity: so when he saw one who had a book sumptuously ornamented, and noted how carefully the owner looked to it and turned the leaves, he said to him: “I had rather that a book were my servant, than be servant to a book; books should serve the interests of their reader’s mind, not the nice taste of him who doth look at them”; for this reason the devout master gave more attention to the matter of a book than to the outward beauty of an embellished copy; so, too, the Blessed Jerome preferred to have a well corrected text, though the form of the book might be of small value, rather than a beautifully ornamented but incorrect copy. Yet it is a decent custom and to be commended as tending to the honour of God, and to the adornment of His Church which flourisheth over all the world, that the books of Holy Scripture, and those that are used in Divine Service should be somewhat sumptuously written, and be preserved from all taint of dust and defilement. So may they minister to many that are faithful in the peace of the Catholic Faith both of this and coming generations; and may stir the dull of heart to read 36more earnestly; and the books shall abide long with us because they are known to have been bought at a great price, and to have been written with great labour.

(3) He was not only assiduous in reading the sacred books, but also wrote carefully, and published at the earnest desire of others, certain short works based upon the genuine sayings of the Saints for the use of them who sought his guidance, that he might teach those whom he could not reach in person and instruct by word of mouth. Amongst other works he wrote several notable letters, a collection of which is preserved and read for a worthy memorial of him. He had knowledge of all the liberal arts conjoined to a close acquaintance with Holy Scripture; a natural genius which was very keen and adorned by the light of the grace of God: a skilful tongue, fluent eloquence in exhortation, and a tenacious memory; so that there was scarcely known his equal in so many branches of knowledge or one so earnest and devout in holy conversation. Yet illustrious as he was for his special knowledge in matters of learning both human and divine, he was none the less humble and submissive in rendering honour to his superiors and to rulers of the Church. He was well disposed to study the simple and devout words of others: in speech he was circumspect; in writing, ready; in self-examination, scrupulous; in business committed to him, prompt and faithful. Lest he should forget what he ought to do or say when occasion came, he used to write at once upon the blank leaves or margins of his books and pamphlets clear notes upon the business in hand. Thus he kept carefully in readiness full records of all that he said for the overthrowing 37of the envious who were ever laying snares for him in many ways; and this he did that he might have at hand matter wherewith to answer the snarls of his detractors, should any necessity arise.

(4) A certain prelate of the Church, an enemy to Gerard, disputed with him, and argued against some of his writings as if the master were less wise than he: for he himself did not perceive by what a plague of jealousy he was troubled. Then the man of God, knowing his own innocence, brought forward a great number of his letters, asserting that those things which were objected against him were not written by him, nor did they agree with what he had written. “Consider, Sirs,” said he, “what sort of letters ye have received or sent: lo! here is the full number and collection of letters which I have written with mine own hand—as these speak, so speak I—these I maintain and for these I answer”; and by the ready production of these letters the mouth of him that spoke evil of Gerard was stopped; and the famous master by his assertion of the Truth, was promoted to even greater honour in the minds of many who stood by. For the truth shall always prevail, though it is often spoken against by the ignorant.

(5) It is said that Gerard had been skilled in astrology and necromancy, and before his conversion had been in the habit of displaying some few of the tricks of the art of magic: but I have learned from two of his pupils that more than these cannot be charged to him, for when one of these pupils asked him the truth of the matter, he said: “I did indeed learn the theory of that art, and I read and possessed books upon it, but I had no dealings with the follies of magical practice.” 38Moreover a faithful pupil of Gerard, who was also a devout priest, added for my further information on this questionable matter the following explanation. “There are,” he said, “two kinds of necromancy, of which one is called ‘natural.’ This kind is a most recondite study, and its difference from the second kind (which is called ‘diabolic’ and is forbidden by law), is perceived by but few persons. Gerard was learned in the natural kind, but I believe that he had not studied the other, nor had made any compact with the Devil.” But in what way soever his connection with this science came about, and whether he had dealings or commerce therewith in jest or in earnest, he washed away and purged any foolishness or defilement that might have clung to him therefrom, by bringing forth fruits meet for repentance when he was wholly turned to God. In witness of this when smitten with sickness he renounced all unlawful arts in the presence of a priest, and gave the books that dealt of such vanities to be burned in the fire,

(6) Let us recognize in all these things the immeasureable depth of the Fatherly love of God; and see how the Almighty doth suffer some men to be ensnared by the more grievous sins and by wrongful habits, but at length of His secret purposes, making manifest a yet greater compassion for them, doth restore to life those that were lost, and raiseth the fallen to repentance. He doth grant them not only pardon for past sins, but also a store of higher grace when they are wholly turned to Him, and are striving to be profitable servants. He knoweth how to convert the provocations devised by the Devil for the confusion and ruin of man, into means of earning a crown of greater 39glory. If there is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repenteth, how great a joy must there have been over Gerard, who not only repented of his own sins, but also by his example and precept turned so many other sinners to repentance, and laboured to draw a great company of faithful people to the Kingdom of Heaven.

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