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From No Uncertain Sound, Sermons that Shaped the Pulpit Tradition, Edited, with an Introduction, by Ray C. Petry, Professor of Church History, Duke University, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1948; pp. 205-213.

(c. 1220-72)


ROGER BACON, the exacting scholar, and Friar Salimbene of Parma, the colorful raconteur of Franciscan experiences and European foibles, agree that Brother Berthold could preach the Gospel down out of heaven and the people loose from their sins — if anyone could. Whether or not he was able to bring a plow-hand up short, thirty miles away, he brought searching of heart to thousands at a time. Evangelist, prophetic denunciant of both social and personal evils, and deeply affianced friend of the faithful, Berthold was not averse to pilloring feminine apparel or to scrutinizing worldly traffic in the light of spiritual ultimates. The passages here translated are strongly redolent of his vernacular power. Bert.Reg.Pf. I, 146, 285, 478; I, 408, 253, 397, II, 242. Translated excerpts are from G. G. Coulton. Life in the Middle Ages. by permission of The Macmillan Company, publishers. III, 57-62, 63-66 (Coult.Lif.).



(Note: Various “folk” are admonished.)

The first are ye that work in clothing, silks, or wool or fur, shoes or gloves or girdles. Men can in no wise dispense with you; men must needs have clothing, therefore should ye so serve them as to do your work truly; not to steal half the cloth, or to use other guile, mixing hair with your wool or stretching it out longer, whereby a man thinketh to have gotten good cloth, yet thou hast stretched it to be longer than it should be, and makest a good cloth into useless stuff. Nowadays no man can find a good hat for thy falsehood; the rain will pour down through the brim into his bosom. Even such deceit is there in shoes, in furs, in curriers’ work; one man sells an old skin for a new, and how manifold are your deceits no man knoweth so well as thou and thy master the devil. Why should I come here to teach thee frauds? Thou knowest enough thyself.

The second folk are all such as work with iron tools, goldsmiths, penny-smiths, and other smiths, and carpenter or blacksmiths, and all manner of men that smite, and stonemasons and turners, and all such as use handicrafts with iron. Such should all be true and trustworthy in their office, whether they work by day or the piece, as many carpenters and masons do. When they labour by the day, they should not stand all the more idle that they may multiply the days at their work. If thou labourest by the piece, then thou shouldest not hasten too soon therefrom, that thou mayest be rid of the work as quickly as possible, and that the house may fall down in a year or two; thou shouldest work at it truly, even as it were thine own. Thou smith, thou wilt shoe a steed with a shoe that is naught; and the beast will go perchance scarce a mile thereon when it is already broken, and the horse may go lame, or a man be taken prisoner or lose his life. Thou art a devil and an apostate; thou must go to the apostate angels. They fell not from one Order only, but from all ten Orders; and so fall many thousand from these nine Orders. The tenth is utterly fallen beyond recall; I bar no man from contrition and repentance, but, otherwise, such as beat out the long knives wherewith men slay their fellowmen, such may use deceit or not, may sell dear or cheap as they will, yet for their soul there is no help.

The third are such as are busied with trade; we cannot do without 207 them. They bring from one kingdom to another what is good cheap there, and whatsoever is good cheap beyond the sea they bring to this town, and whatsoever is good cheap here they carry over the sea. Thus some bring us from Hungary, others from France; some on ships, some on waggons; driving beasts or bearing packs. Howsoever that be, they all follow the same office. Thou, trader, shouldst trust God that He will find thee a livelihood with true winnings, for so much hath He promised thee with His divine mouth. Yet now thou swearest so loudly how good thy wares are, and what profit thou givest the buyer thereby; more than ten or thirty times takest thou the names of all the saints in vain — God and all His saints, for wares scarce worth five shillings! That which is worth five shillings thou sellest, maybe, sixpence higher than if thou hadst not been a blasphemer of our Lord, for thou swearest loud and boldly: “I have been already offered far more for these wares”: and that is a lie, and so often as thou swearest by God and His saints, so often hast thou broken one of the Ten Commandments; that is a great mortal sin, whereof thou committest perchance ten or more at one little bargain. Now see how many those sins become ere a year is past, and how many in ten years! And all those sins together thou couldst well have forborne, for many men are so prudent of evil that, the more thou swearest, the less they are willing to buy from thee; and thy worldly profit is small thereby, while all the time thou damnest away thine own salvation; for he goeth oftentimes away without buying, howsoever thou mayest have sworn to him. And if thou wilt buy anything from simple folk, thou turnest all thy mind to see how thou mayest get it from him without money, and weavest many lies before his face; and thou biddest thy partner go to the fair also, and goest then a while away and sayest to thy partner what thou wilt give the man for his wares, and biddest him come and offer less. Then the simple countryfellow is affrighted, and will gladly see thee come back; so thou gets it untruly from him, and swearest all the while: “Of a truth,” thou sayest, “by all the saints, no man will give thee so much for these as I!” yet another would have given more. If thou wouldst keep thyself free from mortal sin in trade, see that thou swear not. Thou shouldst say: “If thou wilt not buy it, perchance another will”: and should thus sell honestly without lie or deceit. Thus should a man keep himself in trade; for many thousand souls 208 are damned thereby, seeing that there is so much fraud and falsehood and blasphemy that no man can tell it. Yet yourselves know best what lies and frauds are busy in your trade!

The fourth are such as sell meat and drink, which no man can disregard. Wherefore it is all the more needful that thou shouldst be true and honest therein; of other deceit dealeth only with earthly goods, but this deceit with a man’s body, which many would not give for all the goods in the world. If thou offerest measly or rotten flesh that thou hast kept so long until it be corrupt, then art thou guilty perchance of one man’s life, perchance often. Or if thou offerest flesh that was unwholesome before the slaughter, or unripe of age, which thou knowest well and yet givest it for sale, so that folk eat it into their clean souls which are so dear a treasure to Almighty God, then dost thou corrupt the noble treasure which God hath buried in every man; thou art guilty of the blood of these folk. The same I say to him who selleth fish. Thou keepest thy fish captive in water until Friday come, then they are corrupt, and a man eateth his death by them, or some great sickness. So are certain innkeepers and cooks in the town, who keep their sodden flesh too long, whereof a guest eateth and falleth sick thereafter for his life long. So also do certain others betray folk with corrupt wine or mouldy beer, or unsodden mead, or give false measure, or mix water with the wine. Certain others, again, bake rotten corn to bread; whereby a man may lightly eat his own death: and they salt their bread, which is most unwholesome. We read not that salt is so unwholesome and harmful in any other food as in bread: and, the better it is salted, the nearer to great sickness or death.

The fifth folk are such as till the earth for wine or corn. Such should live truly towards their lords and towards their fellows, and among each other; not plough one over the other’s landmark, nor trespass nor reap beyond the mark, nor feed their cattle to another’s harm, nor work any other deceit, one on the other, nor betray their fellows to the lord. Fie, traitor! untrue man! Where sittest thou before mine eyes, thou Chusi, thou Achithophel? And thou shouldst be true to thy lord; yet thou dost thy service so sparingly and so slothfully and with such constraint! and, when he chideth thee, then dost thou leave him and flee to some other master. Sometimes the lords also are guilty here. Ye lords, ye deal sometimes so ill with your poor folk, and can never tax them too high; ye would fain ever tax 209 them higher and higher. It is far better for you that ye should take small taxes every year, and take these all the more straitly. Ye cannot till the land yourselves, therefore should ye so deal with your folk that they gladly serve you; and it is their duty to serve you truly and live truly one with the other and sell truly among themselves. — Thou boor, thou bringest to the town a load of wood that is all full of crooked billets beneath; so sellest thou air for wood! and the hay thou layest so cunningly on the waggon that no man can profit thereby; thou art a right false deceiver. Moreover, thou layest find corn at the top of the sack, and the evil corn beneath, and all thy work is spoiled with deceit and hate and envy.

The sixth folk are all that deal with medicine, and these must take great heed against untruth, for in that office standeth no less at stake than body and soul. He who is no good master of that art, let him in no wise undertake it, or folks’ blood will be on his head, the blood of all men to whom he giveth his medicines at a venture. Yet such as are not learned and understand nothing — nay not even to deal with a wound — such men presume to possess and exercise the inward art, and must needs give drinks to folk. Take heed, thou doctor, and keep thyself from this as thou lovest the kingdom of heaven. For thou hast not the right knowledge that a man should have; thou wert as easily hit upon the wrong as upon the right, for even learned masters have enough to do here. — “O, Brother Berthold, four times already have I had all success!” Lo! that was but a blow at a venture. Therefore if thou wilt not let this matter go and study further in the inward art, then the rulers of this world should forbid it thee on pain of curse and banishment. We have murderers enough without thee, to slay honest folk. Deal with thy wounds for the present, and practise the rest until thou be past master. Whether they be children or old folk, thou hast much need of good art before thou canst well cut them for the stone. . . . 

Almighty God send in his Grace that these nine Orders be kept safe, for the tenth Order is utterly fallen from us and become apostate. These are buffoons, fiddlers, and timbrel players, and all such folk, whatsoever their name be, that sell their honour for money. Such should have made up the tenth Order; but now they are apostate from us through their falsehood. For such a man speaketh to another the best words that he can before his face, and when his back is 210 turned he speaketh of him all evil that he can or may; and blameth full many a man who is upright before God and the world, and praiseth another who liveth to God’s harm and the world’s. For such men have turned their whole lives only to sins and shame. They blush not for any sin or shame; yea, thou buffoon, whatsoever the devil is ashamed to speak, that speakest thou; and all that the devil may pour into thee thou lettest fall from thy mouth. Alas, that ever Holy Baptism came upon thee, since thou hast denied thy Baptism and thy Christendom! And all that men give to thee they give sinfully, and must answer for it to God at the Last Day. If there be such here, forth with him!

So are some men deceivers and liars like the craftsmen. The shoemaker saith: “See, these are two most excellent soles”; and he hath burned them before the fire, and lieth and cheateth thee of thy money. And the baker floods his dough with yeast, so that thou, who dreamest to have bought bead, thou hast bought mere air for bread. And the huxter pours beer sometimes, or water, into his oil; and the butcher will sell calves’ flesh at times, saying: “It is three weeks old”: and it is scarce a week old . . . Ye fishers, ye must catch fish with manifold devices; and these fish betoken the poor folk; for the fish is a very poor and naked beast; it is ever cold, and liveth ever in the water, and is naked and cold and bare of all graces. So are also the poor folk; they, too, are helpless. Wherefore the devils have set the bait for them that is called untruth, because they are poor and helpless; with no bait could the devil have taken so many of them as with this. Because the fishes are poor and naked, therefore they devour one another in the water; so do also poor folk; because they are helpless, therefore have they divers wiles and invent many deceits. When such a man would sell anything, he doth it untruly, lying and deceiving and stealing. But the poor naked folk that are called menservants and maidservants and that serve your needs, such will steal your salt and your bacon, your meal and your corn. Thou servant, thou stealest eggs and cheese, thou stealest bread; if thou canst not steal a whole loaf thou stealest the fragments and the half loaves and the half joints of flesh! And those too are false to whom thou bringest thy thefts, for if they took it not thou wouldst have left it alone. Thus many a man betrayeth another for his life or his possessions; but none are so false as the countryfolk among each other, who are so 211 untrue that for envy and hatred they can scarce look upon one another. One will drive another’s cattle to his harm and damage, and another will buy his fellow-peasant out of his farm, all from untruth.



I am come here to speak of these words, how you should beware of these snares of the devil, for the holy saint saw so many thereof that he said: “Alas, Lord! is there any who may avoid all these snares?” He saw well that the whole of the world was full of the devil’s snares. They go by night to towns and villages in great companies and multitudes and lay their snares and gins of many kinds; for the devils have nought else to do than daily to set more and more of such snares. — “But, Brother Berthold, thou sayest much to us of these devils and of their manifold guiles, and we never see a single devil with our eyes, nor hear we any, nor grasp, nor fell them.” — Lo, now! that is even the worst harm that they do thee; for, didst thou see but once a single devil as he is, then wouldst thou surely never commit one sin again; that itself is one of their snares the worst of all that they have, that they deal so stealthily with us. Now see how dead a silence they keep, albeit there are many thousand of them here in this place! Ye devils, ye hear me well enough preaching here, yet ye would not take all the wealth that is under heaven (I except a man’s soul) that only one of you should let himself once be seen; for then all your cunning and your snares would avail you no more. Now see, ye young folk, what a deadly snare that is, that no man may ever see a devil! Behold now what silence they keep, though so many are here with us; for if ye saw them but once ye would never sin more, since they are so foul of form that, if we could but see one single devil as he is, all mankind would die of fear. As little as a man may endure the sight of Almighty God with his fleshly eyes for excess of joy, so little may one ever see the devil for fear. And if it were so that a man might see the devil with his bodily eyes and not die of horror, and if the devil were to come out at this moment from that 212 forest yonder, and this town here before us were a burning fiery furnace heated through and through, there would yet be the greatest throng of men pressing into that fiery furnace that ever there was in the world, or ever will be! . . . 

The second snare which the devils set so perilously for us Christian folk, they have set specially for women. Women are as well created for the Kingdom of Heaven as men, and they need it also as much as men, and many more of them would come into the Kingdom of Heaven but for this one snare. Fie! ye wicked devils! How many thousand poor women’s souls would now be in heaven but for the single snare which ye have laid so cunningly for them! Ye women, ye have bowels of compassion, and ye go to church more readily than men, and ye pray more readily than men, and come to hear preaching and to earn indulgences more readily than men; and many of you would be saved but for his one snare, which is called vain glory and empty honour. In order that ye may compass men’s praise ye spend all your labour on your garments — on your veils and your kirtles. Many of you pay as much to the sempstress as the cost of the cloth itself; it must have shields on the shoulders, it must be flounced and tucked all round the hem; it is not enough for you to show your pride in your very buttonholes, but you must also send your feet to hell by special torments, ye trot this way and that way with your fine stitchings; and so many ye make, and with so much pains, that no man may rehearse it all. At the least excuse ye weary yourselves with your garments; all that wherewith ye busy yourselves is nought but vanity. Ye busy yourselves with your veils, ye twitch them hither, ye twitch them thither; ye gild them here and there with gold thread, and spend thereon all your time and trouble. Ye will spend a good six months’ work on a single veil, which is sinful great travail, — and all that men may praise thy dress: “Ah, God! How fair! Was ever so fair a garment?” Yea, our Lady was far fairer than thou, yet was she exceeding humble of heart; and St. Margaret, and many other saints. — “How, Brother Berthold! we do it only for the goodman’s sake, that he may gaze the less on other women.” No, believe me, if thy goodman be a good man indeed he would far rather see thy chaste conversation than thine outward adorning, so that the folk point their fingers at thee and gape: “See, who is she?” or “Whose wife is she?” Or if he be a lewd fellow, then all thy crimple-crispings 213 and christy-crostics and thy gold thread are of no avail; and they help thee only to hell for ever and ever, unless thou come to contrition and true penitence. Every woman’s excuse is: “I do it not for vain glory’s sake; I do it only for my goodman!” But many husbands are heartily sorry for your dressing; and then more especially when ye leave them no rest. Now ye will have this, now ye will have that; and when thou shouldest be busy in the house with something needful for the goodman, or for thyself, or thy children, or thy guests, then art thou busy instead with thy hair or thy wimple! thou art careful whether thy sleeves sit well, or thy veil, or thy headdress, wherewith thy whole time is filled — the days and the weeks and the whole year long. Now see, ye women, to how little purpose ye lose the Kingdom of Heaven! Believe me, whatsoever thou doest with thy dress, yet in all the world it is nought but a little dust and a bit of cloth. With all the crimple-crispings here and the christy-crostics there, and the gold thread here and there, yet again I say, It is nought but a bit of cloth after all! Only the Jewesses and the parsons’ lemans and the lost women who walk outside the town walls — only such should wear these yellow carves, that they may be known from the rest. Ye men might put an end to this and fight against it doughtily, first with good words, and if they are still obdurate, then ye should step valiantly in. — “Ah, Brother Berthold, yet that is a perilous enemy whom the goodman must always keep in his house! I have oftentimes besought my wife kindly and commanded her straitly, yet would she never forbear. Now therefore, were I to pull one veil from her, I fear lest she should do me all the greater harm behind my back, and go buy another twice as dear.” — Lo, now thou shouldst take heart of grace. Thou art a man after all, and bearest a sword, yet thou art easily conquered with a distaff. Take courage, and pluck up heart and tear it from her head, even though four or ten hairs should come away with it, and cast it into the fire! Do thus not thrice or four times only; and presently she will forbear. It is fitting that the man should be the woman’s lord and master.


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