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I wol tell a litel tale in prose,
To knitte up all this feste, and make an ende:
put it ay
Of clerkes, for I am not textuel;
I take but the sentence, trusteth me wel.
Upon this word we han assented sone:
Our hoste had the wordes for us alle :
But hasteth you, the sonne wol adoun.
THE PERSONES TALE.
OUR Swete Lord God of heven, that no man wol perish, but wol that we comen all to the knowleching of him, and to the blisful lif that is pardurable, amonesteth us by the Prophet Jeremie, that sayth in this wise: Stondeth upon the wayes, and seeth and axeth of the olde pathes; that is to say, of olde sentences; which is the good way: and walketh in that way, and ye shul finde refreshing for your soules. Many ben the wayes spirituel that leden folk to our Lord Jesu Crist, and to the regne of glory of which wayes, ther is a ful noble way, and wel covenable, which may not faille to man ne to woman, that thurgh sinne hath misgon fro the right way of Jerusalem celestial; and this way is cleped penance; of which man shuld gladly herken and enqueren with all his herte, to wete, what is penance, and whennes it is cleped penance, and how many maneres ben of actions or werkings of penance, and how many spices ther ben of penance,
and which thinges apperteinen and behoven to penance, and which thinges distroublen penance.
Seint Ambrose sayth, That penance is the plaining of man for the gilt that he hath don, and no more to do any thing for which him ought to plaine. And som doctour sayth: Penance is the waymenting of man that sorweth for his sinne, and peineth himself, for he hath misdon. Penance, with certain circumstances, is veray repentance of man, that holdeth himself in sorwe and other peine for his giltes and for he shal be veray penitent, he shal first bewailen the sinnes that he hath don, and stedfastly purposen in his herte to have shrift of mouth, and to don satisfaction, and never to don thing, for which him ought more to bewayle or complaine, and to continue in good werkes: or elles his repentance may not availe. For as Seint Isidor sayth; he is a japer and a gabber, and not veray repentant, that eftsones doth thing, for which him oweth to repent. Weping, and not for to stint to do sinne, may not availe. But natheles, men shuld hope, that at every time that man falleth, be it never so oft, that he may arise thurgh penance, if he have grace: but certain, it is gret doute. For as saith Seint Gregorie; unnethes ariseth he out of sinne, that is charged with the charge of evil usage. And
therfore repentant folk, that stint for to sinne, and forlete sinne or that sinne forlete hem, holy chirche holdeth hem siker of hir salvation. And he that sinneth, and veraily repenteth him in his last day, holy chirche yet hopeth his salvation, by the grete mercy of our Lord Jesu Crist, for his repentance: but take ye the siker and certain way.
And now sith I have declared you, what thing is penance, now ye shul understond, that ther ben three actions of penance. The first is, that a man be baptised after that he hath sinned. Seint Augustine sayth; but he be penitent for his old sinful lif, he may not beginne the newe clene lif: for certes, if he be baptised without penitence of his old gilt, he receiveth the marke of baptisme, but not the grace, ne the remission of his sinnes, til he have veray repentance. Another defaute is, that men don dedly sinne after that they have received baptisme. The thridde defaute is, that men fall in venial sinnes after hir baptisme, fro day to day. Therof sayth Seint Augustine, that penance of good and humble folk is the penance of every day.
The spices of penance ben three. That on of hem is solempne, another is commune, and the thridde privee. Thilke penance, that is solempne, is in two maneres; as to put out of holy chirche
in lenton, for slaughter of children, and swiche maner thing. Another is whan a man hath sinned openly, of which sinne the fame is openly spoken in the contree and than holy chirche by jugement distreyneth him for to do open penance. Commun penance is, that preestes enjoinen men in certain cas: as for to go paraventure naked on pilgrimage, or bare foot. Privee penance is thilke, that men don all day for privee sinnes, of which we shrive us prively, and receive privee penance.
Now shalt thou understond what is behoveful and necessary to every parfit penance: and this stont on three thinges; contrition of herte, confession of mouth, and satisfaction. For which sayth Seint John Chrisostome: penance distreineth a man to accept benignely every peine, that him is enjoined, with contrition of herte, and shrift of mouth, with satisfaction, and werking of all maner humilitee. And this is fruitful penance ayenst tho three thinges, in which we wrathen our Lord Jesu Crist: this is to say, by delit in thinking, by rechelesnesse in speking, and by wicked sinful werking. And ayenst these wicked giltes is penance, that may be likened
unto a tree.
The rote of this tree is contrition, that hideth him in the herte of him that is veray repentant,