Rabelais’ monks

If Dante’s Comedy is a the medieval world in filigree, then Rabelais’ Gargantua & Pantagruel are the Renaissance in a ‘bookshell’. Satire, humour, wit and stellar classical erudition, it is also a work of biting social and religious criticism. There are passages where he is closer to Luther than he is to Erasmus, for instance, such as this one taken from Gargantua, chapter 38/40 (in Screech’s English translation):

“By my faith as a Christian,’ said Eudemon, ‘I am amazed when I reflect on the worthiness of this monk, for he cheers us all up. How is it, then, that men banish monks from all good gatherings, calling them chattering trouble-feasts, just as the bees banish the drones from about their hives? As Virgil said, “Ignavum fucos pecus a presipibus arcent”; “They drive the drones, a slothful herd, far from their dwellings.””

“To which Gargantua replied:

There is nothing more true than that frock and cowl attract people’s odium, insults and curses exactly as the wind called Caecias attracts the clouds. The decisive reason is that they eat the shit of the world (the sins, that is) and as chew-shits they are chucked back into their jakes (that is, their convents and monasteries) isolated from polite company as privies are in houses. But if you can grasp why a family’s pet monkey is always mocked and teased you will grasp why monks are rejected by everybody, both young and old. The monkey does not guard the house like a dog, does not draw the plough like the ox, does not give us milk and wool like the sheep, and bears no burden like the horse. All it does is to shit over everything and spoil it. That is why everyone jeers at it and cudgels it. So too a monk – I mean the lazy ones – never ploughs like the peasant, never guards the land like the soldier, never cures the sick like the physician, never expounds sound doctrine like the good evangelical preacher and tutor, never transports goods and commodities vital to the kingdom like the merchant. That is why everyone rails against monks and loathes them.’
‘True,’ said Grandgousier, ‘but they do pray God for us.’

‘Not a bit,’ said Gargantua. ‘The truth is that they disturb the whole neighbourhood by clanging their bells…’

‘True enough!’ said the Monk. ‘Well-rung Masses, mattins and vespers are already half-said!’

‘… They mumble through a great store of legends and psalms which they have never understood; they count quantities of beads interlarded with long Ave Marias, without thought or understanding. That I call mockery of God, not orisons. But God help ‘em if they pray for us and not for fear of losing their wheaten loaves and thick bread-and-dripping. All true Christians, of all estates, in all places, and at all times, pray to God, and “the Spirit prayeth and maketh intercession for them,” and God grants them his grace.”

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