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Preaching to Laymen in their Own Language – Johannes Geiler von Keysersberg, Sermon on the Ants (March 20, 1508)
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Now I come to a second point. Observe, whether, as I have said, a true construction has been undertaken by our assemblies and councils of the past, especially the Council of Constance and the following one at Basel.* And take the Three Orders as your guide. Starting with the "clergy," by which we understand the secular priests, you will find that from top to bottom all estates are rotten. If you take the shovel—this means the spiritual estate, namely, bishop, pope, cardinal, provost, dean—and when you observe it, you find that it is full of arrogance and pride.** No one can render us enough honor; no one can satisfy us; we pile up our benefices, one upon the other; we quarrel over offices, climbing ever higher from one office to another. What should I say about lewdness? Whoever is not soiled by vice and filth, he should be the shovel.

Or, take another order, the regular clergy, and you see how splintered the whole of Christendom is. They are all great rascals, as bad as in the secular and spiritual estates, and they are in the forefront of all self-indulgence. Whatever the world is doing, the monk wants to be next in line, just as the little story tells. Once upon a time, a monk came to a cardinal at Rome. The cardinal, wishing to drive him away, said, “whatever the world is doing, the monk wants to be next in line.” The monk said "No, Reverend Father. No! No!" The cardinal replied, “Why not?” He said that he didn't want to be next in line but always first in line. The cardinal laughed. The regulars are those who imitate the twelve Apostles, to whom the Lord spoke, "You are the salt of the earth." The monks should salt other people's food with sound doctrine and good examples. But they are truly salt in another sense, for they are arrogant (sucibi), greedy (avari), and pleasure-loving (luxuriosi).*** The first three letters [of these words] spell "sal", and that's what they are, so salted with these three things—pride, greed, lewdness—that they are beyond help.

At the Council of Basel, they deliberated for six years over a single issue: how can a general reformation of Christendom be effected? And they didn't finish, though much good was accomplished, for the terrible war and bloodletting against the Hussites was ended.**** But from the discussions came nothing, though they met for six full years. At the Council of Constance, too, there were deliberations on a general reform of Christendom, and how it could be promoted, but though they were not so miserably bad tempered and divided [as the Council of Basel], the right way could not be found. Otherwise, much good was done, especially eliminating the plurality of popes.***** There had been two popes—and at times three—one at Rome and one at Avignon. When a pope died at Rome, they made another; when one died at Avignon, they also made another. This lasted more than forty years until it was abolished at Constance.

The temporal estate is also rotten. There is a saying, "Princes' blood makes poor sausage," meaning they do not speak together. For when blood is put into the casing and doesn't stay together, the sausage is never any good. The princes are against one another, they fight and quarrel.

How can they be reformed?



* Two general councils of the church were held in these south German cities between 1414 and 1438 – trans.
** The passage is a bit obscure, but the "shovel" (connected to the metaphor of the ants' construction) is the instrument for removing the dirt of vice. This is clear several lines down, where the "shovel' is to be a virtuous priest, if one can be found – trans.
*** Sal = Lat.: salt. This play on the Latin suggests that at least a bit of knowledge of Latin was fairly common among the burghers to whom Geiler preached – trans.
**** On January 15, 1437, the Council of Basel ratified the Basel Compacts, which ended the state of war that had existed since 1420 – trans.
***** A reference to the Great Western Schism of 1378-1417, which the Council of Constance ended with the election of Pope Martin V on November 11, 1417 – trans.

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