Kings should teach their people to shun sin

March 25, 2013

Stained-glass window showing King Saint Louis at the bedside of a leper at the Church of Saint-Jacques, Compiègne, Oise, Picardie, France.

He [St. Louis the King] called me [John of Joinville, Seneschal of Champagne] once to him and said: “Because of the subtle mind that is in you I dare not speak to you of the things relating to God; so I have summoned these two monks that are here, as I want to ask you a question.” Now the question was this: “Seneschal,” said he, “what manner of thing is God?” And I said: “Sire, it is so good a thing that there cannot be better.” “Of a truth,” said he, “you have answered well; for the answer that you have given is written in this book that I hold in my hand.”

Jean de Joinville

“Now I ask you,” said he, “which you would the better like, either to be a leper, or to have committed a mortal sin?” And I, who never lied to him, made answer that I would rather have committed thirty mortal sins than be a leper. And when the monks had departed, he called me to him alone, and made me sit at his feet, and said, “How came you to say that to me yesterday?” And I told him that I said it again. And he answered, “You spoke hastily and as a fool. For you should know that there is no leprosy so hideous as the being in mortal sin, inasmuch as the soul that is in mortal sin is like unto the Devil; wherefore no leprosy can be so hideous. And sooth it is that, when a man dies, he is healed of the leprosy of the body; but when a man who has committed a mortal sin dies, he cannot know of a certainty that he has, during his lifetime, repented in such sort that God has forgiven him; wherefore he must stand in great fear lest that leprosy of sin should last as long as God is in paradise. So I pray you,” said he, “as strongly as I can, for the love of God, and for the love of me, so to set your heart that you prefer any evil that can happen to the body, whether it be leprosy, or any other sickness, rather than that mortal sin should enter your soul.”


He asked me if I washed the feet of the poor on Holy Thursday. “Sire,” said I, “it would make me sick! The feet of these villains will I not wash.” “In truth,” said he, “that was ill said; for you should never disdain what God did for our teaching. So I pray you, for the love of God first, and then for the love of me, that you accustom yourself to wash the feet of the poor.”

Geoffroy de Villehardouin and Jean de Joinville, Memoirs of the Crusades, trans. Sir Frank Marzials (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., n.d.), 140-41.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 267



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