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Thou That Sellest the Worde of God


1 For the title The Layman's Complaint, see the Introduction. This poem and Allas! What Schul We Freris Do (which follows it in the manuscript) are executed in the same scribal hand.

2 berfot. An issue of the usus pauper (the controversy about the right observance of poverty) was whether friars should wear shoes, as in PPC: "Fraunces bad his bretheren barfote to wenden. / Nou han thei bucled schon for blenynge of her heles, / And hosen in harde weder, yhamled by the ancle" (lines 298-300). The whole line "Be thou berfot, be thou schod" seems to echo the Invocation to Book 1 of Chaucer's House of Fame. Asking that his poem not be misinterpreted through malice, the narrator includes both mendicants and lay people: "dreme he barefot, dreme he shod" (line 98).

3 nomore. So MS and Utley; RHR and Person nevere.

4 In principio. John 1:1. The friars' pompous phrase, which they used as something like an incantation before entering homes, is turned against them. The lyric author warns mendicant simoniacs to stay away, according to the formula In principio erat Verbum. Chaucer says of Friar Huberd: "For thogh a wydwe hadde noght a sho, / So plesaunt was his 'In principio,' / Yet wolde he have a ferthyng, er he wente" (I.253-55). See also Jack Upland: "ye winnen more with In principio than Crist and Hise apostlis and alle the seintes of hevene" (lines 194-95). In the MS this phrase is written Inprincipio. "The words are consistently joined in the MS. Possibly the poet intended to convey that they were uttered as jargon" (Utley, p. 143).

5 all. So Utley, RHR; Person alle.

14-15 mennes howsis . . . berith wittnes. Paul writes to Timothy that in the last days many will profess godliness but will be dedicated to worldly things: "For of these sort are they who creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, who are led away with divers desires" (2 Tim. 3:6). Langland represents the friars through the figure of Sire Penetrans Domos (B passus 20); and Chaucer's Summoner portrays the friar of his tale as infiltrating hearth and home: "In every hous he gan to poure and prye" (III 1738).

14 persen. So Utley, RHR. Person presen (= error in transcription; rhymes with reuerson). "Utley sees in this line evidence of the poet's Lollard sympathies, for the Second Version of the Lollard Bible translates II Tim. 3:1-6 . . . 'Of these thei ben that persen housis"' (RHR).

16 mydday develis. Psalm 90:6: "[Thou shalt not be afraid] of the noonday devil." Utley comments: "One is reminded of the religious incubi of Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale III. 857-81. Professor La Piana has kindly called my attention to the liturgical 'a demonio meridiano libera nos Domine.' No doubt Chaucer and our poet refer to a current jest identifying the demon of the litany with the friars."

17 for money lowlé ye lowte. Antifraternal writers represent the friars as falsely humble and zealous in pursuit of money. Chaucer's Friar Huberd expects silver rather than weeping or prayers (I.231-32); and the friar of the Summoner's Tale is accompanied by a servant who carries "a sak" for the friar's winnings.

[The Layman's Complaint]

(St. John's College Cambridge MS 195 fol. 1v)

Thou that sellest the Worde of God,
Be thou berfot, be thou schod,
   Cum nomore here.
In principio erat Verbum                                   
Is the Worde of God, all and sum,
   That thou sellest, lewed frere.
Hit is cursed symonie
Ether to selle or to bye
   Ony gostly thinge.
Therfore, frere, go as thou come,
And hold the in thi hows at home
   Til we the almis brynge.
Goddis lawe ye reverson,
And mennes howsis ye persen,
   As Poul berith wittnes.
As mydday develis goynge abowte,
For money lowlé ye lowte
   Flaterynge boythe more and lesse.
(see note)
barefoot; shod; (see note)
Come; (see note)
In the beginning was the Word; (see note)
ignorant friar
Either; buy
Any spiritual
thee; thy house
bring thee alms
God's; reverse
penetrate; (see note)
bears witness
devils going; (see note)
you bow low; (see note)

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