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LIFE OF ARNOLD OF SCHOONHOVEN
Concerning Arnold of “Schoonhoven” (that is, “Bellae Curiae"), a devout Clerk
IN the days when the Church at Deventer flourished through the presence there of that Reverend Father Florentius, and many scholars came to that city from divers regions desiring to be taught, there came also from the country of Holland a youth whose natural disposition was good, and in whom was no worldly malice. His name was Arnold, and he was the son of one Wyrone, a faithful man and an honourable citizen of Schoonhoven. While Arnold was still in his parent’s house, and attended the School with the boys that were his comrades, he followed not the ways of those that sported in the streets, but it was his custom to enter the Church in the morning and there to offer his prayers and vows to God before the several Altars, giving up his heart betimes in the day to the Lord Who made him. The first beginnings of a boyhood so devout contained the promise of that fuller grace which he should earn when he came to man’s estate; for God shielded him that he continued untouched by the contagion of the flesh. As I have said, he came to Deventer, where at that time Master John Boheme was in authority, and he presented himself before the face of Florentius, hoping to obtain a lodging in one of the Houses of the Devout Clerks. At that time 257there was no small number of these Clerks living in the several Houses under the rule and discipline of that most devout Father, and following the holy commandments of their Lord, His counsels and precepts, and also at set times toiling at the work of copying books for the Schools.
(2) So Florentius, perceiving that Arnold was earnestly disposed to the service of God and wholly turned away from the world, gave him leave to abide in his own ancient House wherein dwelt divers Clerks, about twenty in all, living at the common charge, having a common table and expenditure, and serving God with great devotion. Amongst their number were three lay Brothers, of whom one was the Procurator, who bought all things necessary for the Community, the second was over the kitchen, and the third mended the clothes. In after days some of the Brethren from this House passed into the order of Canons Regular; others attained the Priestly rank, and by reason of the good examples which they had seen and learned at Deventer, bore fruit in other places.
(3) At this same time, by the aid and counsel of Florentius, I also took up my abode in this house, and continued in the Community for about a year, having Arnold as my companion, for we were content to share one little cell and bed. Here indeed I learned to write, to read the Holy Scripture and books on moral subjects, and to hear devout discourses; but it was chiefly through the sweet conversation of the Brethren that I was inspired yet more strongly to despise the world; and by the pious admonitions of Arnold I was holpen and instructed every day. All that I was then able to earn by writing I gave for the expenses 258of the Community, and what I lacked, the generous piety of my beloved Father Florentius defrayed for me, for he succoured me in every way like a father.
(4) Thus I noted in Arnold many signs of devotion, for he was altogether exemplary and devout both in the House and the School, not hurtful or harsh to any, but acceptable and kindly unto all. Every morning at the fourth hour when the Bell gave warning, he awoke instantly and arose with alacrity, and then, before the bed on bended knees, he said a short prayer, fervently pouring forth the first fruits of his mouth to the Lord. After dressing himself quickly, he went in due time to the Oratory to recite the morning Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the Holy Cross, and he did not keep the others waiting but was instant to arrive before them all.
When it was time to go to Mass he hastened to be amongst the first in Church and humbly bowed the knee before the Altars, hearing the Office of the Mass with the reverence of a suppliant, and ceasing not from prayer and holy meditation until the solemn rites were finished in due order. He loved to choose a private place far from the crowd so that he might not be hindered in his prayers, and the more private his place the more fervent were his supplications. He avoided to be seen of men lest in any way he might become conspicuous by his devotion, and likewise he took care that his voice might not be heard abroad, for his desire was to open his heart in private prayer to God only; but yet his burning light could not always be thus hidden nor hindered from shining abroad though he were fain to hide it.259
(5) Thus it sometimes happened that though he wist not of it, I stood by and noted secretly what he did, and was set on fire by his fervour in prayer, for I desired that I too might sometimes feel a devotion like to that which he seemed to feel every day. Nor was it wonderful that one who kept careful ward over his heart and lips wherever he went, should be devout in prayer, for the sound of joy was heard from his mouth by reason of the most sweet savour of his devotion, as if he were partaking of delectable food, according to that saying of the Psalmist: “The high praises of God shall be in their lips.” As he sat with the boys in School he noted not their childish clamour, but as the Master delivered his lecture he wrote the same on paper and afterward read it over to himself or with a comrade, thereby avoiding vain talk; for he did not betake himself to worldly employments, but when the lectures were done he read awhile in the Holy Page, and often prayed silently or sighed inwardly; for in his studies he sought God above all else. When he found aught that was especially noteworthy, he of his charity showed it to the comrade who was with him or gave him the passage to read, and thus by the Sacred word and by his holy discourse he turned many away from scurrilous talk and laughter. On Feast Days when many persons came to the town, he brought not a few to the House of Florentius to hear his discourse, not regarding their age or condition, but rejoicing over them and hoping for the conversion of some; and through the inspiration of God he was not disappointed of his desire, for he saw the fruit of his labours in the amending of the lives of these worldlings, both young and old. 260His discourse and exhortation dealt not with lofty matters nor with things foreign to the purpose in hand, but with true conversion to God and the amendment of life in the world; and the holy simplicity of his devout words was more profitable than the subtility of a Latin discourse.
(6) When he seemed to be sufficiently advanced in learning he occupied himself wholly with spiritual studies, deserting those of the Schools; he forgat his parents, his home, and his country for the sake of Life Eternal, and submitted himself most readily to the yoke of obedience and to the discipline of the Clerks, as was the laudable custom first instituted by our Father Florentius in that ancient House. He toiled not greatly to attain much learning, but rather to preserve a good conscience and purity of heart, for he knew that the pure in heart are blessed and most pleasing to God. He began to be instant and earnest in his prayers to be allowed to abide all the days of his life in the House of Florentius, for there was no other state of life in the whole world that he would choose save that in which he could pass his days with the Brothers who were so devout and worthy to be accepted of God, beneath a strict rule and in obedience to the most reverend Father of the House. At this time those disciples and most devout pupils of our beloved Father Florentius, whose lives I have written above, were still in the flesh, namely, Lubert, Henry, Gerard, Amilius, James and John Ketel, and there were with them some others who had been amongst the first members of that Community. These were fervent in the love of Christ, and let their light shine as an ensample to their neighbours, and the beloved Brother Arnold desired to be knit 261to them in humble fellowship and sincerity of life, for he knew that his should be a happy fortune if he should be thought worthy to spend the whole space of his mortal life with these Florentian Brothers that lived the life of Chastity on earth. But though he was importunate in his prayers Florentius delayed to grant his petition so that he might have a better probation, and he spake to him in this wise: “Learn to write well and then there may be hope for thee.”
(7) Hearing this he expended all diligence in learning the art of writing, and often went to some skilful writer, asking to be more fully instructed by him; and he said to me: “Would that I could write well that I might the sooner dwell with our Father Florentius! I believe that through God’s grace I should have a good will to overcome my passions if only I knew how to write,” When I heard this I marvelled at his righteousness and fervour, in that he endeavoured with all his might to do what Florentius had bidden him, and I transposed his saying and thought in my heart: “I should have a good will to learn writing if only I could amend my life.”
But Arnold had a special grace from God which instructed him in every good work so that no matter of obedience seemed hard to him, and this grace he strove to nurture with holy exercises and to preserve with anxious prayer lest it might be imputed to him that he had received God’s grace in vain. Therefore, before he read or began to write, he said a short prayer making his work an offering to God, and at the end thereof he did the same, returning thanks to Him. When he went forth from the House or returned to his 262cell, he bowed the knee before the Image of Christ, and so with prayer and obeisance he went about his business.
(8) Every hour when the Bell rang he said an Ave Maria or some similar invocation, and while he was still attending School, if he saw the door of the Church open before or after school-time, he gladly entered and remained there so long as time allowed, or at least made a reverence toward the Church. The pious customs that were enjoined by his Elders he carefully observed and did not knowingly omit even the least of them. He accepted the admonitions given him with gratitude, be the matter never so slight, and earnestly strove to amend. He received every word spoken by the Superior or his vicar as humbly as if he had heard the same from the mouth of God, or of some Saint, but he ventured not to discriminate or judge by interpreting the order otherwise than as it was given. For these things’ sake he had great peace of heart and was dear alike to God and man, being willing and ready to do all that was commanded him as one that rejoiceth ever in the Lord.
(9) Before the Festivals of Christ and the Saints he was instant and zealous to prepare himself for the Holy Communion, and he used to say: “A great Feast is at hand, therefore let us prepare ourselves devoutly to receive the Lord”; or, again: “To-day is the Feast of such a Saint, let us earnestly implore his suffrages.”
(10) When a certain youth was speaking with Florentius of the vice of vainglory and asking for a remedy therefor, Arnold, who was passing by, came upon them, and Florentius seeing him said to the youth: “What sayest thou of that Brother 263yonder? Is he also vainglorious?” To which the youth answered: “I trow not”; and Florentius said: “I wit well that it is as thou sayest.”
So when the fulfilment of his desire had been delayed for about a year, and having been proved sufficiently, he had still continued constant, longing with all his heart to be allowed to join the Brotherhood, Florentius yielded to his petition and accepted him, giving him a place amid the Brethren; this was a thing most joyful to him, and he returned hearty thanks to God therefor. Then as though he were converted anew and called to a more perfect state, he strove so zealously after an earnest and humble conversation, as to become to all a pattern of virtue and utter subjection; he let slip no whit of that primitive devotion and those good customs which were handed down to him by the former Brethren of the House; he apprehended the discipline with all his heart, exercising himself in virtue and daily renewing himself therein according to the saying of the Apostle: “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” He shook off all sluggishness from him, being ever ready to watch and pray, diligent in his writing and in admonishing the negligent piously and with charity, being led thereto by godly zeal.
(11) There seemed to dwell in him no will other than that of his Superior whose deeds and words he magnified, and embraced humbly, as if they proceeded from heaven, and thus he continued like an innocent child in obedience and subjection, not in his youth only but unto his life’s end. He shewed his lowliness and modesty in his outward apparel as well as in his speech and conduct, and if he perceived that anyone 264went beyond the established usage or fell short thereof, he always strove to persuade him to choose the better part.
For himself he chose the lowest place unfeignedly and of set purpose, and just as the bearing of humiliation is a burden to some, so his burden was the finding of humiliations to inflict upon himself.
Amid the Brothers he was cheerful but not frivolous, nor was he given to much talking but put a guard over his mouth and uttered only words tending to edification, for he was more ready to hear than to teach.
In his labour he was faithful and earnest, and was grieved if he could not always rise up in the night and help the Brothers in their brewing. Before the hour for writing he would prepare his pens so that he might be the less hindered from his work and the more promote the common good.
(12) He strove so to order his doings that the Brethren might not be burdened by him, but that he might rather bring in something to their profit; and therefore in his anxiety to avoid so far as possible consuming the fruit of their labours he gladly performed his share of the common labour, and also tasks beyond these. Moreover he rejoiced that if aught was lacking in the gains that he earned by writing this was supplied by his father after the flesh who used to send year by year a certain sum of money to the Brethren. After the death of his parents he would have given gladly all the inheritance which fell to him for the use of the Community, but in this purpose he was hindered by death, which was beforehand with him. For when he was purposed to go to 265Holland to settle the affairs of his inheritance, he came to Zutphen, to the Brethren who were then sojourning there, and after a few days he fell sick just after the Feast of St. Philip and St. James, wherefore his journey to his native land was deferred lest haply his end might come when he was far from the fellowship of the Brethren.
(13) Though he felt that his weakness was growing more and more upon him yet he lay not long upon his bed, for upon the Day of St. Wyrone the Bishop—which was the last save one of his life—he himself made his own bed, and on the following day, that is on the Feast of St. Gengulphus the Martyr, about the hour of Vespers, having settled his affairs, he received the Communion of the Holy Body of Christ and the Unction. But late in the evening, feeling himself very weak, he desired that the Brethren should come together to him, and to them he devoutly commended himself, begging them to pray faithfully for him and to report his death to a certain devout Virgin at Schiedam, named. Lydewy, who had promised to pray for him, for he had once visited her in Holland, and many wondrous things are told of her by reason of her long suffering patience.
Having made these requests he lay until the tenth hour when the day was closing, continuing sound in mind, and he showed no sadness when he came to the last hour but said he was ready. Then, his Brethren being present and praying round him, he rendered up his soul without much pain, as it would seem. He had lived amongst the Devout Brothers from his youth up, in a good conscience, being a true worshipper of God 266and a devout lover of Christ, and had persevered for thirty-one years in the Community in the humble condition of a Clerk.
This sweet and amiable brother died in the year of the Lord 1430, on the ninth day of May, in the City of Zutphen in Gelders, and was buried in the Cemetery of the Blessed Virgin Mary toward the South side of the Church.
(14) Hearing the lives of these men I am constrained to despise mine own, for thereby I see how far I am from the true virtue.
But yet I hope that it is profitable to me to have learned this from thy narration, for I purpose from my heart to amend myself.
The Elder Brother
For this purpose I have told these things to thee, though briefly, that thou mayest make it thy study to give thyself to fervency of spirit, nor ever aspire to any dignity or honourable office, but mayest rather labour to be altogether in subjection and to root out thy vices.
So shalt thou be able the more fully to please God Who doth ever grant a special grace of devotion to the humble, and after the toil of this present life glory for ever and ever to them that have fought a good fight.
CHISWICK PRESS: CHARLES WHITTINGHAM AND CO.
TOOKS COURT, CHANCERY LANE, LONDON.
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