Cordiale — Heartsease
You will smile as you run your eye over this – if only because your heart is almost certainly not that of a Carthusian and certainly it is not medieval. The opening topic, Death, is of course as much a fact of life today as ever it was, but the Cordiale’s rhetorical colouring (its style and manner and method) its certainties about what follows Death and the Authorities on which it bases that certainty, carry little weight in our age. On the other hand, the Cordiale’s purpose does remain unexceptionable – i.e. to persuade its reader(s) to live a good life by avoiding sin – and there can surely be no harm in that ?
|As its name implies, the Cordiale is a ‘book for the heart’, so it may be understood as Heartsease – it both seizes and eases the heart.|
"Remember your Last Things and you will never sin", says Solomon.
Augustine says: "The vanity of sin is far more to be avoided than any torment of Hell."
Know then, dear Reader, that there are Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Hell and Eternal Glory.
And what is more dreadful than Death? What is more to be feared than the Final Judgment? What is more unbearable than the torment of Hell? And what is more wonderful than the Glory of Heaven? [130v:] Therefore the contemplation of these Four Things is the greatest wisdom. And wherever a man may be, he should carry them with him, and thus for all eternity he will never sin.
THE FIRST OF THESE LAST THINGS is ‘temporal’ or ‘bodily’ death – "and recollection of it draws a man from sin and makes him humble", as Saint Augustine says.
Saint Bernard says likewise: "O wretched man! Why do you not prepare yourself at all times for death? Imagine that you are already dead, since you well know that you must die in the end. Acknowledge the fact that the eyes in your head will implode, the veins in your body burst, and your heart will split open in great pain!" – For that reason: Is there any man who is not afraid and who will not humble himself, since he knows for certain that he must return again to dust ?
UBI SUNT? – Tell me, you proud man: where is Alexander that most mighty man? Where is Sampson the strongest ever? Where is Croesus the most wealthy? Where is Galienus the greatest doctor? Where is Solomon the most wise? Where is Aristotle the most learned? – None of these remains alive.
And you, too, are now strong and healthy, but tomorrow you will be sick and weak or indeed buried in the earth. For all happiness [131v:] of men is indeed brought to a close and terminated by death. – So, whether you preach the Faith of Abraham, the Generosity of Joseph, the Love of Moses, the Strength of Sampson, the Mercifulness of David and the Marvellous Miracles of Elijah the Prophet – even so, your conclusion will always be the same: "That man now lies dead."
And what is more: Tell me, dear Reader, where are the Lovers of this World – those who were with us but a short while ago? Nothing remains of them now but ashes and worms. Observe what they are now, and what they once were: Once, they were men like yourself ! They ate and drank as you did, consuming their days in love of luxury, and they descended to Hell in a flash. What use, then, to them were vain honour, brief joys, the world’s power, the lusts of the flesh, false wealth, a great household and its evil desires? – For all of these things have deserted them and are never found again.
From all of this observe and note: Nothing remains secure in this life, and everything under the sun is filled with vanity. Therefore, o Man, what are you looking for that is useful or valuable in this world? – The world’s fruits are but a trap, and their end death. Would to God that you might recognise this and give heed to your [132v:] Last Things, and might do good deeds and the fruit of penance! – "For the axe is now laid at the roots of the tree."
We should do good works now while we yet have time, so that we do not later speak in remorse with Jeremiah: "The summer is past; the harvest is done, and still we are not saved !"
And the reverend Father Efraim says: "Dearest friend ! I beg you with all diligence: be alert in this brief time, at this eleventh hour! – See how the evening draws in! And the awarder of Eternal Glory will come to render unto each man according to his works."
We should consider our Last Things by reason of the brevity of the time we have. For Job says: "Take heed: these few years have passed, and I shall walk down the path along which I shall never return." And again: "My days race past more swiftly than any athlete. They are gone like a ship with a cargo of apples." [133v:] And again he says: "Lord, remember me, for my days are but a breath of wind !"
Thus our life is no more than an excursion or passage towards death. It
can well be likened to the hand of a clock which proceeds inexorably from
one hour to the next, continuing until it reaches the pre-determined moment.
At that instant it falls and strikes the bells, making them ring out.
– Our life is indeed no different, setting out and continuing up
to that hidden moment which is the end of our life, pre-determined by
God the Father and which no man can avoid.
Solomon says: "Man does not know his ending but, just as fishes [134v:] are caught with hooks, even so mankind is caught by the evil hour."
nothing is more certain in life than death,
For that reason take note and recognise this uncertainty! And do not be slothful in good works but keep watch with diligence, and do not delay – for fear that you may be excluded with the foolish virgins.
Remember, therefore, dear Reader:
Death and Judgment, Heaven and Hell
THE SECOND LAST THING whose contemplation draws mankind away from sin is the Final Judgment.
And recollection of it draws men away not just from great sins and transgressions but also from small sins. For, as we read in the Lives of the Fathers, one of them once observed a young man laughing excessively and dissolutely. Whereupon he said to him: "We must give an account of our lives before heaven and earth – and you are laughing!" as if to say: ‘If you knew how very strict an account will be required of us at the Day of Judgment in respect of all our sins, both small and great, [135v:] then you would certainly not laugh, but would weep and suffer pain!’
1: And that Judgment is indeed to be feared because of the SIGNS.
As David says: "Lord, I have trembled before your judgment." – Indeed, Lord ! On that day the people will tremble and be miserable in the face of your Signs. And rightly so, for there will be many dreadful signs.
For as Luke writes in the 21st chapter:
O wretched man! – Remember the terrifying return of the heavenly Judge of mankind. For fires will be lit from his countenance, and he will be surrounded by great desolation. Fire will proceed before him and will consume all his enemies on every side.
[136v:] What man is there now so foolish that does not fear this Judge and His return? – When all a man’s sins will come forward before his eyes, and every lustful deed he has committed will be revived with trembling before his memory.
2: And again the Judgment is to be feared because of the ACCUSATIONS.
First of all a man will be accused and punished by his own conscience, not secretly but in all openness before all people.
The second thing to accuse a man are the evil spirits. ‘For the demon will say:
just Judge! – sentence him to be mine on account of his guilt, for
he disdained you and your Grace. By nature he is yours, but by his poverty
he is mine. Through your Holy Passion he is yours, but by following my
advice and guidance he has become mine. He has been disobedient to you,
but to me he has been obedient and tame. He has abandoned your garments
and come here clothed in mine. Therefore, O most just Judge, sentence
him to be mine and to be condemned with me!"
The third thing which will berate the sinner are the good angels and spirits.
are the creatures – and if you enquire: which ones?
– then I reply: "all of them!"
are all those whom you have despised.
which will accuse a man are his sins.
which will accuse the sinner are the wounds of Jesus Christ
– indeed, Jesus Christ Himself.
For God will then lament over the sinner, saying with the Prophet Hosea: "I shall make clear his wickedness [138v:] in the eyes of his lovers, and no man shall be able to redeem him from my hand."
3: The judgment will also be dreadful in respect of the ACCOUNT which must be given of THE SMALLEST SINS.
all, in respect to the soul. ‘For the loss of one
soul is greater than the loss of a thousand bodies.’
You dearest Reader! – Do not place the less valuable above that which is more valuable! Do not honour your body whilst neglecting your soul !
[139v:] The second thing for which we must render account to Christ is our body – as if of a castle which has been entrusted to us by God. For Saint Bernard says: "The man who defends his body is defending his castle well."
Of this castle a reckoning shall be required as to whether or not the enemies of the Lord – that is to say Lust and the Devil – have dwelt therein and the Lord Christ expelled from it.
thing for which a reckoning must be given is one’s neighbour:
the father for his child, the abbot for his brothers, etc.
Fourthly you must give a reckoning of all your sins – since Anastasius says that, at the second coming of Christ, all people must arise in their bodies and give an account of all their deeds. ‘For the Lord will bring everything that a man does before judgment.’
Fifthly, a man must make a reckoning not only of the sins which he has committed but also of [140v:] the good deeds which he has neglected to do, and also of the time which he consumed profitlessly.
As is written in the Gospel of St Matthew in the 22nd chapter: "Depart from me you cursed into the eternal fire. For I was hungry and you did not feed me", etc.
Thus, dear Reader, you know not when the Lord will come, early or late, day or night. – Keep watch for when the Lord comes, so that he does not find you sleeping in sinfulness!
Since, now, you must give a reckoning to God for these things – and they are so many, alas! – be wakeful always, and prepare yourself with diligence, and cleanse your conscience from the bottom upwards! – in preparation for when the Lord will come, so that you may answer Him in a seemly manner and may graciously find in His eyes mercy and remission of your sins.
For Solomon says: "Search yourself before the judgment so that you may find grace and mercy before the face of God."
4: The last respect in which the Judgment is to be feared is the anticipation of sentence which will be spoken then most painfully by the Just Judge.
that judgment's uncertainty. For a man does not know if he is worthy of
love or hatred, of God’s favour or disfavour.
– From which, protect us, Jesus Christ, Son of Mary! AMEN.
THE THIRD LAST THING which shall indeed draw a man entirely away from sin is the Glory of Heaven.
Augustine says of it: "It is a joy which shall not be given unto the wicked but unto those that praise You, for You are yourself their joy." – For the wicked may not possess the Kingdom of God – indeed, they will be expelled from it in shame!
no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor any man’s heart perceived the
things which God has prepared for those who love him’ (as Saint
Paul says) what, then, can I say of them?
Note this: the Joys of Heaven are praised in respect to three things. First, in regard to the great superfluity of beauty. Second, in regard to the abundant provision [142v:] of all good things. Thirdly, on account of that very great joy which lasts into eternity.
Of the first, David says: "Lord, I have loved the beauty of Your house!" And in regard to this house, or city, St John says in the Apocalypse: "This house requires neither sun nor moon to shine in it, for the brightness of God lights it, and its lantern is the Lamb of God. And the people walk in its light."
O how very worthy is that Kingdom! O Lord of Virtue, how truly lovely are Your tabernacles! What great beauty and light ! What truly wonderful brightness! What beauty beyond compare is in that heavenly fatherland !
ITEM: In respect to the second, Augustine says:
Saint Bernard also says:
[143v:] For this is the country where those good people who enter it ‘will not hunger nor thirst. They will neither be overcome by heat nor by cold, for the Lamb of God which sits upon the throne in its midst will rule over them and lead them to the spring of living water’, for ‘they shall feast on the abundance of Your house, and You will give them drink from Your river of delights.’
In regard to the third, that most great joy which endures without end – the joy of eternal life cannot be expressed by any tongue, nor can any mind comprehend how very great is the joy of the holy angels in that city. And that city is the Holy City of Jerusalem of Our Lord.
And of this
kingdom Augustine says:
Note this: there will be such love and unity there that no man shall hate his neighbour. And indeed, the souls of the twelve apostles, of all martyrs, confessors and virgins shall be as one with your own soul, and thus, their joy shall be your joy.
For Gregorius says: ‘such power of love is assembled there that, whatever good a man lacks in himself, he rejoices to receive it from his neighbour.’
For indeed he shall then be filled with joy inwardly and outwardly, below him and above him – indeed, on every side of him. Inwardly he will rejoice in the purity of conscience; outwardly from the beauty of the body; below him from the clarity and renewal of heaven and of the other creatures; above him from the countenance of God the Lord; and upon every side by the angels and by the sumptuous, joyous company of all the saints. Of a truth:
Saint Bernard says: ‘There will be such joyousness and sweetness in the kingdom of heaven, [145v:] that a man would need to remain there for but one hour, and he would end up despising utterly all the days and hours of this life spent in whatever lustfulness.’
What am I
to say of the Heavenly Jerusalem? – through its streets shall be
sung with unceasing joy "Hallelujah!"
Where, now, is the man who shall partake of such glory that endures without end? In truth, this glory shall be given unto all his saints, for all the saints and the just shall rejoice in their own private rooms; and those who have followed the footsteps of Christ here on this earth shall reign with him eternally in heaven, crowned with glory and worthiness.
O my dear Reader! – how truly inexpressibly would you rejoice if you were to be led to these joys in eternal glory. For then you would speak in joy with the prophet Isaiah: "I, rejoicing, shall rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall sing out to my God, for he has clothed me in the robes of blessedness" [146v:] and his blood has embellished my cheeks.
And whoever comes to this knowledge – that person will see God face to face and will recognise Him indeed as He is according to His divine essence. That, then, alone will be the joy above all joys, for it is the source and origin of all joys and graciousness.
THE FOURTH LAST THING for mankind, whose recollection is the most effective of all – drawing men from sin – is Hell and the pains of Hell.
Be in no doubt: Hell is a fiery place. But the pain of that fire cannot be described by any person, nor can any tongue express it. For those who are in it scream with the words of the Prophet David: "You have put me into the lowest dungeon into the darkness, and into the shadow of death", and "my spirit grows faint within me; and my heart within me is dismayed."
ITEM: It is to be noted that there are two particular pains [147v:] in Hell, that is: intolerable frost and never-ending heat of the fire.
O how great will be the pains of the damned who remain without remission eternally in wretchedness, knowing neither peace nor rest ! – "Alas for me!" cry the wretched creatures, "for the Lord has added wretchedness unto pains and I find no rest." –
For incomparable pain is there, inextinguishable fire, worms which cannot be killed; intolerable stenches, darkness which can be touched, whipping by tormentors, the dreadful appearance of wicked demons, the shame of sin, and despair of ever receiving any assistance or any good thing.
For hell is a deathly hole, black with pain and poverty.
The damned have tears in their eyes, grinding of teeth, stench in their nostrils, lamentations in their voices, terror in their ears, chains on their hands and feet, and the heat of fire in all their limbs.
Take heed how completely the sinner’s soul which finishes in Hell is filled with pain!
will the damned speak: "The pains of death have encompassed me"
(– not temporal death, but death everlasting –) "and
the evils of Hell have discovered me."
For Gregory says: "Then the souls of the wretched will have added unto them in fearful measure pain with terror, flames with darkness, death without death, end without end, lack without lack. For death lives unendingly, the end restarts endlessly, and lack never dies away."
Exemplum: For if it were possible to create a great stone from the sand on the sea-shore, as large as the whole earth, mounting up from the earth unto the heavens; and if after one thousand thousand years only one little grain of sand were to be removed from that self-same stone; and if after another one thousand thousand years only one more grain were to fall from it – and so it were to continue until the complete stone were destroyed: I ask you this question: Those wretched souls of the damned, once that aforementioned stone [149v:] were completely consumed, would they be redeemed from the pains of Hell? I reply now and say: "No!" For Eternity will then scarcely have begun. ‘For between perishable and imperishable things there can be no comparison.’
The Wise Man says: "For the wicked dead man there is no hope at all."
My dear Reader! Do you understand the sense and meaning of this stone? Tell me: what are your feelings and conclusions about it, what is your decision? – In truth, I believe reason can see it in no other view than "that is exactly how things are".
Therefore I cannot sufficiently marvel – indeed, I tremble in my whole spirit with overflowing fear. For indeed, fear and trembling have come over me and darkness has covered me! Where is the man who will not tremble and be afraid? Who will not be completely downcast with terror when he reckons in his heart the truth of this stone? – It is impossible that he would not choose to preserve himself from sin!
ITEM: The pains of Hell also draw a man from the lusts of this world.
Exemplum: Just as, when a wet nurse wishes to wean a child from the breast, she places a grain of mustard on the tit, so that, when the child tastes it, immediately it withdraws its tongue [150v:] – so you, too, must do likewise! Add to the bitterness of pain the lusts of this world, and contemplate them then! – and without a doubt you will be weaned from them.
For a Master named Prosper says: "In this time (or world) the temporal lusts are indeed sweet and tribulation is indeed bitter. But where is the man who will not gladly drink the draught of bitterness if he fears the pains of Hell? Or who would not gladly disdain the sweetness of this world if he would truly attain everlasting life?"
As it is, however, the sinner must for ever endure eternal pain, or the pain of Purgatory, or he must, in this time, through remorse and penance, do satisfaction unto God.
Who would not prefer to suffer now here rather than there in Hell? (— apart, that is, from the man of irrational and unjust mind).
For Isidore says: "Observe within your spirit all pains and sufferings! – All the sharpness and grief of this temporal and perishable life are to be reckoned as nothing compared to the pains of hell."
And Saint Bernard says: "You fear to fast and keep vigil and work with your hands. But those things are all as nothing for the man who contemplates the eternal flames. Contemplation of darkness does not render solitude, or the desert, repugnant to a man. If you often reflect upon Judgment in regard to idle, useless words, then you will not resent silence. The grinding of teeth will render your bed and pallet truly sweet."
Thus you have well listened to, and heard from what has been related above, how very varied and intolerable are the pains of Hell, and how useful it is to reflect upon them. For that reason we should gladly do good deeds, ‘and sow in tears what you shall reap in joy’, so that in the end you may enter into the choirs of angels and avoid all wicked works, in order that we may not be spoken to by God: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire" etc. —
The oldest surviving copy of the Cordiale (Latin) is in a Dutch parchment manuscript dating from the last quarter of the 14th century: Rijksbibliothek Utrecht MS 331.
The English text on this website is a translation/adaptation of a shortened South German version (mid-15th century, Bayersiche Staatsbibliothek cgm 4594, fol. 129v-152r – hence the folio references within the translation), which is itself the translation of a set of extracts from the very much longer Latin Cordiale. An edition of this south German version is available in The Cordiale-Auszug. A study of Gerard van Vliederhoven’s Cordiale de IV novissimis with particular reference to the High German versions, by Richard F.M. Byrn (University of Leeds PhD thesis, 1976).
There is no modern edition of the Latin text.
The 15th century English translation: The Cordyal, by Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, has been re-published in a modern edition by Jan A. Mulders (Nijmegen, 1962).
A modern edition of a 15th century translation into Low German has been provided by Marieluise Dusch: De veer Utersten. Das Cordiale de quattuor novissimis von Gerard von Vliederhoven in mittelniederdeutscher Überlieferung (Köln u. Graz, 1975).
An account of the Cordiale is given by both Mulders and Dusch in their respective editions, and also in R.F.M. Byrn, ‘Late Medieval Eschatology: Gerard van Vliederhoven’s Cordiale de IV novissimis’, in Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, Literary and Historical Section, vol.XVII, Part II, 1979, pp.55-65.
For a recent study of Polish texts on the 'Four Last Things' in their European context, see Jacek Kowzan, Quattuor Hominum novissima (Wydawnictwo Akademii Podlaskiej, Siedlce, 2003).