Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 December 2020
After the Redcross Knight has been rescued from Orgoglio by Prince Arthur and from Despeyre by the wise and watchful Una, he is brought by the latter to the House of Holinesse, “Where he is taught repentaunce, and The way to heauenly blesse.” There Mercy, “a matrone graue and hore,” leads him to one of the places of his purification, a “holy Hospitall” in which are employed seven bead-men who spend their days in doing godly works. The first of them, as eldest and best, has charge and government of all the house, giving entertainment and lodging to all who come and go. The second has for his office the giving of food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty. A third has in custody the common wardrobe, from which he dispenses “clothes meet to keepe keene could away,/ And naked nature seemely to aray.” A fourth is appointed for the relieving of prisoners and the redeeming of captives. A fifth cares for the sick and comforts those lying at the point of death. Still a sixth bead-man superintends the burial of the dead, lest the wondrous workmanship of God's own mould might be defouled.
1 Farie Queene, Book i, x.
2 i, x, 43.
3 Cited in The Works of Edmund Spenser, Johns Hopkins Press, i, 288.
4 Enarratio in Psalmum xcv, 15.
5 Dr. Victor Lyle Dowdell has very kindly called my attention to another listing by St. Augustine that does not include visiting the sick. Cf. De Moribus Ecclesiœ Catholicœ, Book i, Ch. 27, n. 53; Migne, P. L., xxxii, 1333.
6 Epit. Instil, div. c. 65, translation from Chastel, The Charity of the Primitive Churches (Philadelphia, 1857), p. 85.
7 Cf. also St. Chrysostom's informal listing, Horn. 66 in Matthew xx. 30.
8 The Charity of the Primitive Churches, translated by G. A. Matile (Philadelphia, 1857), p. 108, n.
9 Ibid., p. 112. For this and for the three preceding citations I am indebted to Chastel.
10 Catholic Encyclopedia, x, 199.
11 Ibid. The word traditional, sometimes questioned in this connection, is here, in fact, expressly applied.
12 Summa Theologica, Part ii (Second Part), Q xxxii “Of Almsdeeds.”
13 Ibid. Reply to Objection ii.
14 Proof of this pre-eminence is vouchsafed by the many citations of substantially the same listing in Middle English catechumenal works. Three of these, the so-called Constitution of Peckham, Thoresby's Lay-Folks' Catechism, and the Wycliffite adaptation of the latter form an extremely influential and closely connected group of such works containing, as they do, the best considered teaching of Canterbury in the thirteenth century, of York in the fourteenth century, and of the Wycliffite reformers at the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries. In fact there seems to have been during all this pre-Reformation period a marked uniformity in English catechumenal teaching on this point, a conclusion substantiated by numerous other works such as Myrc's Instructions for Parish Priests, Myrc's Festial, the Mirror of St. Edmund, and the Minor Poems of the Vernon MS. (E.E.T.S., Orig. Series, No. 98, pp. 34–35). In none of these listings is there any mention of the care of widows and orphans as a corporal work of mercy.
15 Sermons, i, 23–24, 37. Parker Society Publications.
16 Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, Parker Society, p. 155.
17 To V. Altenb., f. 208b. Cited in E.E.T.S., Orig. Series, No. 118, p. xxv.
18 J. H. Maude, “Catechisms,” Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, iii, 252d.
19 Decades of Henry Bullinger, Parker Society, p. 190 f.
20 The Elizabethan Parish in Its Ecclesiastical and Financial Aspects. Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Sciences, Series xxvi, Nos. 7–8, p. 45.—Italics mine.