You are on page 1of 7

The Vices and the Virtue

Aelfric of Eynsham
Omnia nimia nocent et temperantia mater uirtutum dicitur. That is in English: All excessive things are
harmful and temperance is the mother of all virtues. Excess in eating and drinking makes a man
unhealthy and makes his soul hateful to God, as our Lord said in his gospel. Then, as against that,
intemperate fasting and too much abstinence in eating and in drinking make a person unhealthy and lead
him into great danger, as books tell us, with the result that some people have fasted in such a way that
they ill-treated themselves very severely and had no reward for their great effort but were the further from
Gods mercy. A man can easily discover how he may kill himself but we must know that no suicide, that
is self-slayer, will come into Gods kingdom.
1. Now there are eight capital sins which attack us fiercely. The first is called gula, which is greed
in English; it makes one eat and drink before the proper time or, on the other hand, to take too
much in food or in drink. It destroys both soul and body because it causes a person much illness
and leads him to death with excessive drinking; it also destroys the soul, because he will often sin
when he himself does not know how he is behaving, because of his diabolic drinking.

2. The second vice is adultery and intemperate lust. This is called fornication and it defiles a person
and makes prostitutes limbs out of Christs limbs and a dwelling of fiends out of Gods temple.


3. The third is auaritia, that is evil avarice, and it is the root of all evil. It causes robbery and unjust
judgements, theft and lies and perjury. It is like hell because they both have insatiable greed, so
that they will never be full.

4. The fourth vice is ira, which is anger in English; it causes a person not to have control over his
mind and results in manslaughters and many evils.


5. The fifth is tristitia, which is sadness of this world, when a person is all too sad on account of the
loss of his possessions, which he loved too much, and complains against God and adds to his sins.
There are two sadnesses: one is this evil one; the other one is salutary, in that one is sad on
account of ones sins.

6. The sixth vice is called accidia, which is indolence or sloth in English, when a person does not
desire to do any good in his life. And it will then be a great evil for him, that he cannot do any
good, and he will always be unprepared for any virtuous action.


7. The seventh vice is called iactantia, which is vainglory in the English language, when a person is
eager for praise and behaves with hypocrisy and, if he be willing to give something in alms, he
does it for vainglorious display. And then the good reputation will be his reward for the deed and
his punishment will await him in the next world.

8. The eighth vice is named superbia, which is called pride in English; it is the beginning and end
of every sin. It changed angels into horrible devils and will also make man, if he is too proud, into
the companion of the devil, who formerly fell because of it.
Now there are eight capital virtues, which can overcome the aforementioned devils through the help of
the Lord.
1. The first is temperantia, which is temperance in English, that a person be temperate and not
consume too much in food and drink, nor eat before the proper time. Beasts eat as soon as they
have it, but the rational person must keep to the proper time for meals and then observe his
established practice with reason. Then he will be able to overcome gluttony in this way.

2. The second virtue is castitas, which is chastity in English, that the lay person should keep
himself free from adultery in lawful marriage, with rationality, and the consecrated servant of
God should preserve his chastity. Then lust will likewise be overcome.


3. The third virtue is largitas, which is generosity in English, that one should spend wisely, not for
worldly ostentation, the things which God lent one to enjoy in this life. God does not wish that we
should be greedy misers or throw away our possessions for the sake of worldly ostentation, but
that we should give them charitably with discrimination, as it may please the Lord, and, if we
give alms, give them without ostentation. Then we destroy diabolical avarice in this way.

4. The fourth virtue is patientia, which is called patience, that a person should be patient and
forbearing for Gods sake and always let his understanding be more powerful than his anger,
because the Saviour spoke thus in his gospel: In patientia uestra possidebitis animas uestras. In
the English language that is: By your patience you shall possess your souls. The heavenly wisdom
said that anger has its dwelling in the bosom of the fool, when he is too hasty; but the allruling
judge will always judge with calmness and we must overcome anger with patience.


5. The fifth virtue is spiritalis laetitia, which is spiritual happiness, that one should rejoice in God
amidst the sadnesses of this cruel world, so that we be not despairing in misfortunes, nor on the
other hand that we not rejoice too much in good fortunes; and, if we lose these transitory worldly
possessions, then we must know that our dwelling is not here, but is in heaven, if we hope in God.
We must hasten there with spiritual happiness, away from this hardship; then this sadness will be
entirely overcome by our patience.

6. The sixth virtue is instantia boni operis, which is perseverance in good work. If we are constant
in our good works, then we can overcome sloth in this way, because it will be a long-lasting
disgrace if our life here is useless.


7. The seventh virtue is true love for God, that through good deeds we seek to have Gods love, not
vainglory, which is repugnant to him. But let us give alms as he taught us, for the love of God,
not for the sake of our own reputations, so that God may be praised by our good deeds, and
vainglory may always be worthless in our eyes.

8. The eighth virtue is true humility, both towards God and towards men, with purity of mind;
because he who is wise will never become proud. Even if a person may wish it, of what can he be
proud? He cannot be proud of his rank, because many are more distinguished; he cannot be proud
of his possessions, because he does not know the day on which he will die; nor can he be proud of
anything, if he is wise.
Now you have heard how the holy virtues overcome the vices that the devil sows among us; and, if we are
not willing to overcome them, they will cause us to sink into hell. Through Gods help we can defeat the
diabolic vices by combat, if we fight boldly, and can in the end have eternal honour for ourselves for ever
with God himself, if we toil now here.
Now there are twelve abusiua, that is, twelve abuses, which we will say to you in Latin and afterwards in
English.
There are twelve abuses in this world which will harm all people, if they are allowed to rule, and they put
an end to righteousness and corrupt the faith and bring mankind, if they are allowed, to hell. That is: if the
wise man is without good works; and if the old man is without religion; and the young man without
obedience; and the rich man without almsgiving; a woman without modesty; and a lord without power;
and if the Christian is contentious; and if the poor man is proud; if the king is unjust; and the bishop
negligent; the people without discipline; or a people without law.
1. Now if the wise man, who ought to give other people a good example, is without good works,
how is his teaching not immediately worthless to lay people, if he himself is not willing to do as
he teaches them to do? The teaching will not be beneficial to the unlearned, if the teacher
overturns his preaching by his actions. Moreover, if the teacher errs, who will be his teacher
afterwards? If the eye goes blind, the hand will not see.

2. The old man who is without religion is like the tree which bears leaves and blossoms and does
not bear any fruit and is worthless to its lord. What is ever so foolish as that the old man should
not wish to turn his spirit to God with a good intention, when his limbs show him that he will not
be alive for long? It can be a matter of uncertainty for young people whether they may live but
the old man can know that death is certain for him. The old man must guard against evil thoughts,
because the heart does not grow old or the tongue either, but these two parts often harm the old.
Let the old man know therefore what may be appropriate for his old age and let him abandon
those things which harm his soul.


3. The third abuse in this world is that the young man be without obedience. He who in youth is
unwilling to obey his elders will be unworthy in his old age of being served by other people. Our
Saviour in his youth was obedient to his parents and he obeyed his heavenly father until death.
Just as worthy behaviour and mature sobriety befit the old, so it is fitting for the young man that
he have obedience and submissiveness. Gods law commands also that one should always honour
ones father and mother with great submissiveness and, if one should curse them, he will be
worthy of death.

4. The fourth abuse is that the rich man should be without almsgiving and should hide his money
and should diligently keep it for himself as a torment in hell. Accursed is the miser who is lost by
reason of his prosperity and perishes for all eternity because of these transitory things and blessed
are the merciful always, because they shall find mercy in return. He who distributes alms for love
of his Lord hides his treasure in the kingdom of heaven, where no thief can steal his treasures, but
they will be kept a hundredfold for him there. One can give alms in many ways: in food and drink
and in clothing also; and in hospitality, in that one takes in strangers; and if one visits a sick
person; or comforts a sorrowful one; or guides a blind person; or carries an infirm person; or
heals a sick person, if one is skilled in healing; or if one gives advice to someone who is in need
of advice; or if one pardons someone who offended one; or if one releases a captive from
captivity; or if one conveys a dead person to burial. All this is almsgiving, and also that the one
whose duty is to discipline should flog the foolish man for the sake of discipline, because he
practises mercy if he corrects the man. Do not let lying in your treasury that which could be of
use to the needy as sustenance, because you alone will not enjoy your riches, though you may
hold them wrongly. You gather more and more and men die of hunger and your riches rot in front
of your eyes. Do as the Lord said: Give alms and all things will be clean for you. He said this in
his gospel.

5. The fifth abuse is that a woman be immodest. Immodesty is a disgrace in the eyes of the world
and the immodest woman is worthless in her lifetime and then after her lifetime she will have no
reward from God. Wisdom is fitting for men and modesty for women, because modesty protects
them against vices. Where there is modesty, there is purity also; and the modest woman rejects
avarice with abhorrence and does not stir up strife, but calms anger and scorns lust and tempers
greed. She guards herself against drunkenness and does not love idle talk. Truly modesty has
power over all abuses and preserves good habits, which please God and men.


6. The sixth abuse is that he who is appointed as lord cannot, because of lack of mental resolution,
correct his men but his firmness of mind is so weak that he does not dare to instil fear into those
subject to him nor is he willing to direct them to any wisdom. Some lords draw near to God by
means of their lordship, like the venerable Moses who spoke to the Almighty, and some in their
power anger the Almighty, as did Saul who scorned the Lords command. The lord must be
gentle to the good and terrifying to the foolish, so that he may put an end to their folly, and he
must be true to his word and know what he says. He must be loved for his gentleness and the
foolish must fear him always, otherwise his rule will be neither secure nor long-lasting. He must
be so disposed that one may speak with him and whatever he may punish, let him punish for the
sake of justice, not because of his own anger but for fear of God. It is written in books that he
who consents to evil is just as guilty as he who does it, if he can remedy it and does not busy
himself about the remedy. He must join himself to God by adhering to good behaviour because he
cannot have any power to do what is right without the help of God, as God himself said. The lord
must take care that he have Gods help and he must not despair in any way about Gods help. If
God is his helper, his power will not be despised, because there is no power except from God,
who raises up from dung whatever man he wishes, even if he were a beggar, and makes him a
ruler. He casts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the humble, so that all the earth
may be subject to God and be in need of his glory.

7. The seventh abuse is that the Christian man be contentious. A Christian is called after Christs
name, that is, the Christian man who is baptised in Christ. Then if he is contentious, he is not
truly a Christian. No man is rightly a Christian except he who emulates Christ. Christ himself was
not accustomed to be quarrelsome, as his father said about him: Behold here is my child who is
very dear to me and truly I will place my spirit upon him. He will not dispute in a quarrelsome
way nor stir up contention nor will any person hear his voice on the streets. He said also in his
gospel that they are the children of God who are peaceful and do not stir up contention. Just as the
peaceful are truly the children of God, so the contentious are truly the children of the devil. We
all call to God and say: Pater noster, you, our father, who art in heaven; but we cannot have the
heavenly homeland unless we be free from all contention.


8. The eighth abuse is that the poor man be proud. Many a person does not have possessions, and
nevertheless has pride, and he is poor in the eyes of the world and accursed in the eyes of God
when he raises up his spirit with pride against God and does not wish to preserve humility in his
poverty. Christ said in his gospel concerning the poor in spirit: Beati pauperes spiritu, quoniam
ipsorum est regnum caelorum. Blessed are the poor who are poor in spirit, because the joy of the
kingdom of heaven will be given to them. They who are humble for the love of God are the poor
in spirit, because humility of spirit can obtain the kingdom of God more quickly than the poverty
that comes from loss. Indeed the rich who live justly can be counted among Gods poor, if they
have humility and desist from excess, as King David said about himself: Ego uero egenus et
pauper sum; Deus adiuua me. I am needy and a pauper; help me, God. The proud poor man,
because of his spirits arrogance, is rightly considered as a rich man in books, and the humble rich
man, although he may have possessions, can be Gods pauper, if he pleases God.

9. The ninth abuse is that the king be unjust. The king is chosen for what his name reveals to him.
We call the king rex, that is interpreted ruler, because he must rule his people with wisdom and
put an end to injustice and promote the faith. Therefore it is a wretched thing if he is unjust,
because he will not correct anyone, if he is unjust himself. The kings justice exalts his throne and
his truth strengthens his rule of the people. This is a kings justice that he should oppress neither
the poor man nor the wealthy one with his power but judge each one justly. He must be a
defender of widows and stepchildren and put an end to theft and punish adultery and entirely
drive out the impious from his country, suppress witchcraft and not heed auguries. Wise men
must advise him and he must not be prone to anger. He must always protect Gods churches and
feed the poor and fight resolutely against an attacking army and guard his country. He must
appoint honest men as his reeves and live his life justly for the sake of God and be resolute in
times of difficulty and humble in times of peace and he must not permit his offspring to be
impious. He must pray at set times and not partake of food before mealtimes, because it is written
that woe to the people whose king is a child and whose chief officers eat in the early morning
impiously. If the king is willing to keep the aforementioned commands with care then his
kingdom will be prosperous in his lifetime and after his lifetime he may go to the eternal
[kingdom] because of his piety. If he neglects these decrees and teachings then his country will
very often be afflicted both by attack and by hunger, by pestilence and bad weather and wild
animals. Let the king know also how it is said in books that, if he does not uphold justice, just as
he is elevated on the throne above other people, so afterwards he will be humiliated in the lowest
punishments beneath those unjust people whom he had ill-advisedly governed.

10. The tenth abuse is that the bishop be negligent. Episcopus is the Greek name, which is speculator
in Latin and watchman in English, because he is appointed in order that he should watch over the
lay people with his care, as God himself said to the prophet Ezekiel: Speculatorem dedi te domui
Israhel. Truly I have appointed you a watchman for my people, the house of Israel, so that you
may hear my words and from my mouth make my speech known to them. If you are not willing
to tell the wicked man his wickedness, then the wicked man will die in his wickedness and I will
require his blood from you in anger. But if you warn the wicked man and if he be unwilling to
turn from his sins because of you, he will die in his unrighteousness and your soul will be saved.
If the bishop is negligent, when he is Gods messenger and appointed as a teacher for the lay
people, then many souls will be lost and he himself along with them, because of his negligence.
But the people will be blessed by means of a wise bishop who will tell them Gods teaching and
will protect them under God, as a good shepherd, so that they may be saved and he may have the
reward.

11. The eleventh abuse is that a people be without discipline. Many are the follies where there is no
discipline and where the foolish man is secure and where error reigns; it is evil for any wise man
to live there. The psalmist spoke concerning this, calling out these words: Adprehendite
disciplinam ne quando irascatur Dominus et pereatis de uia iusta. That is: Receive discipline,
lest God become angry with you and you be lost away from the just way. Also Paul the apostle
said in his epistle: Persevere in discipline but truly you will be like bastards if you live without
discipline. Again the prophet Isaiah said concerning the same thing: Quiescite agere peruerse,
discite bene facere. Cease from perverse deeds and learn to do good. David said also: Declina a
malo et fac bonum. Turn away from evil and do good. If you be innocent, protect yourself against
evil and, if you were guilty, turn away from evil, lest in the end you perish without discipline.


12. The twelfth abuse is that the people be without law. We may not now, after the coming of the
Saviour, observe Mosess law in the old manner, but we must fulfil, as much as we can, the
commands of the Saviour and they are the law for us, because we will be without him if we do
not keep his commands. There are many ways, as wisdom says, which seem right to people, but
nevertheless they lead those who foolishly follow them to death in the end. He who abandons
Gods law, which is our way, must travel aimlessly among many errors. Christ himself is the way,
as he said about himself: Ego sum uia et ueritas et uita. I myself am the way and the truth and the
life. No person can come to my heavenly father except through me. But we will be brought to
heaven through Christ if we faithfully observe worship of him. Those who live without Gods law
and Gods decrees will always remain without God. The Lord himself promised this to those who
keep his commands: Ecce ego uobiscum sum omnibus diebus usque ad consummationem seculi.
Truly I myself will be with you all the days until the end of this world. May the Saviour guide us
always in accordance to his will so that our souls may go back to him after our life to the eternal
life, so that he who sent them to our bodies may receive our souls. To him be glory and honour
always. Amen.