The Canterbury tales
Geoffrey Chaucer
F.N. Robinson

Part II

The seconde partie of penitence is confressioun,
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that is signe of contricioun./ Now shul
     317
Ye understonde what is confessioun, and
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Wheither it oghte nedes be doon or noon, and
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Whiche thynges been covenable to verray confessioun./
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First shaltow understonde that confessioun
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Is verray shewynge of synnes to the preest./
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This is to seyn verray, for he moste confessen
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Hym of alle the condiciouns that bilongen to his
     319
Synne, as ferforth as he kan./ Al moot be seyd,
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And no thyng excused ne hyd ne forwrapped,
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And noght avaunte thee of thy goode
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Werkes./ And forther over, it is necessarie
     321
to understonde whennes that synnes
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Spryngen, and how they encreessen and whiche
     321
They been./
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Of the spryngynge of synnes seith seint paul
     322
In this wise: that right as by a man synne entred
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first into this world, and thurgh that synne
     322
Deeth, right so thilke deeth entred into alle
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Men that synneden./ And this man was adam,
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By whom synne entred into this world, whan
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He brak the comaundementz of god./ And
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Therfore, he that first was so myghty that he
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Sholde nat have dyed, bicam swich oon that he
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Moste nedes dye, wheither he wolde or noon,
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And al his progenye in this world, that in thilke
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Man synneden./ Looke that in th' estaat of innocence,
     325
whan adam and eve naked weren
     325
In paradys, and nothyng ne hadden shame
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Of hir nakednesse,/ how that the serpent,
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That was moost wily of alle othere beestes
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That God hadde maked, seyde to the womman:
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Why comaunded God to yow ye sholde nat
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Eten of every tree in paradys?/ the womman Page  237
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Answerde: of the fruyt, quod she, of the trees
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In paradys we feden us, but soothly, of the
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Fruyt of the tree that is in the myddel of paradys,
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god forbad us for to ete, ne nat touchen
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It, lest per aventure we sholde dyen./ The
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Serpent seyde to the womman: nay, nay, ye
     328
Shul nat dyen of deeth; for sothe, God woot
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That what day that ye eten therof, youre eyen
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Shul opene, and ye shul been as goddes, knowynge
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good and harm./ The womman thanne
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Saugh that the tree was good to feedyng, and
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Fair to the eyen, and delitable to the sighte.
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She took of the fruyt of the tree, and eet it,
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And yaf to hire housbonde, and he eet, and
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Anoon the eyen of hem bothe openeden./ And
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Whan that they knewe that they were naked,
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They sowed of fige leves a maner of
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Breches to hiden hire membres./ There
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May ye seen that deedly synne hath, first,
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Suggestion of the feend, as sheweth heere by
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The naddre; and afterward, teh delit of the
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Flessh, as sheweth heere by eve; and after that,
     331
The consentynge of resoun, as sheweth heere
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By adam./ For trust wel, though so were that
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The feend tempted eve, that is to seyn, the
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Flessh, and the flessh hadde delit in the beautee
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Of the fruyt defended, yet certes, til that resoun,
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That is to seyn, adam, consented to the etynge
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Of the fruyt, yet stood he in th' estaat of innocence./
     332
of thilke adam tooke we thilke wynne
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Original; for of hym flesshly descended be we
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Alle, and engendred of vile and corrupt mateere./
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and whan the soule is put in oure body,
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Right anon is contract original synne; and that
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That was erst but oonly peyne of concupiscence,
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is afterward bothe peyne and synne./
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And therfore be we alle born sones of wratthe
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And of dampnacioun perdurable, if it nere baptesme
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that we receyven, which bynymeth us
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The culpe. But for sothe, the peyne dwelleth
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With us, as to temptacioun, which peyne
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Highte concupiscence./ And this concupiscence,
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whan it is wrongfully disposed
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Or ordeyned in man, it maketh hym coveite,
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By coveitise of flessh, flesshly synne, by sighte
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Of his eyen as to erthely thynges, and eek
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Coveitise of hynesse by pride of herte./
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Now, as for to speken of the firste coveitise,
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That is concupiscence, after the lawe of oure
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Membres, that weren lawefulliche ymaked and
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By rightful juggement of god;/ I seye, forasmuche
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as man is nat obeisaunt to god, that is
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His lord, therfore is the flessh to hym disobeisaunt
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thurgh concupiscence, whigh yet is
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Cleped norrissynge, of synne and occasioun
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Of synne./ Therfore, al the while that a
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Man hath in hym the peyne of concupiscence,
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it is impossible but he be tempted
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Somtime and moeved in his flessh to synne./
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And this thyng may nat faille as longe
     340
As he lyveth; it may wel wexe fieble and faille
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By vertu of baptesme, and by the grace of
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God thurgh penitence;/ but fully ne shal
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It nevere quenche, that he ne shal som
     341
Tyme be moeved in hymself, but if he were al
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Refreyded by siknesse, or by malefice of sorcerie,
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Or colde drynkes./ For lo, what seith seint
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Paul: the flessh coveiteth agayn the spirit, and
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The spirit agayn the flessh; they been so contrarie
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and so stryven that a man may nat alway
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doon as he wolde./ The same seint paul,
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After his grete penaunce in water and in lond,
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-- in water by nyght and by day in greet peril
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And in greet peyne; in lond, in famyne and
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Thurst, in coold and cloothelees, and ones stoned
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Almoost to the deeth,/-- yet seyde he, allas,
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I caytyf man! who sahl delivere me fro the
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Prisoun of my caytyf body?/ and seint jerome,
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whan he longe tyme hadde woned in
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Desert, where as he hadde no compaignye but
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Of wilde beestes, where as he ne hadde no mete
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But herbes, and water to his drynke, ne no bed
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But the naked erthe, for which his flessh was
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Blak as an ethiopeen for heete, and ny destroyed
     345
for coold,/ yet seyde he that the
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Brennynge of lecherie boyled in al his
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Body./ Wherfore I woot wel sykerly that they
     347
Been deceyved that seyn that they ne be nat
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Empted in hir body./ Witnesse on seint jame
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The apostel, that seith that every wight is
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Tempted in his owene concupiscence; that is
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To seyn, that everich of us hath matere and
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Occasioun to be tempted of the norissynge of
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Synne that is in his body./ And therfore seith
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Seint john the evaungelist: if that we seyn
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That we be withoute synne, we deceyve us
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Selve, and trouthe is nat in us./
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Now hal ye understonde in what manere
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That synne wexeth or encreesseth in man. The
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Firste thyng is thilke norissynge of synne of
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Which I spak biforn, thilke flesshly concupiscence./
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and after that comth the
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Subjeccioun of the devel, this is to seyn,
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The develes bely, with which he bloweth in man
     351
The fir of flesshly concupiscence./ And after
     352
That, a man bithynketh hym wheither he wol
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Doon, or no, thilke thing to which he is
     352
Tempted./ And thanne, if that a man withstonde Page  238
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and weyve the firste entisynge of his
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Flessh and of the feend, thanne is it no synne;
     353
And if it so be that he do nat so, thanne feeleth
     353
he anoon a flambe of delit./ And thanne
     354
Is it good to be war, and kepen hym wel, or
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Elles he wol falle anon into consentynge of
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Synne; and thanne wol he do it, if he may have
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Tyme and place./ And of this matere seith
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Moyses by the devel in this manere: the
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Feend seith, -- I wole chace and pursue the man
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By wikked suggestioun, and I wole hente hym
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By moevynge or stirynge of synne. And I wol
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Departe my prise or my praye by deliberacioun,
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And my lust shal been acompliced in delit.
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I wol drawe my swerd in consentynge -- /
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For certes, right as a swerd departeth a
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Thyng in two peces, right so consentynge departeth
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god fro man -- and thanne wol I
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Sleen hym with myn hand in dede of synne;
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Thus seith the feend./ For certes, thanne is
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A man al deed in soule. And thus is synne
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Acompliced by temptacioun, by delit, and by
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Consentynge; and thanne is the synne cleped
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Actueel./
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For sothe, synne is in two maneres; outher
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It is venial, or deedly synne. Soothly, whan
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Man loveth any creature moore than jhesu
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Crist oure creatour, thanne is it deedly synne.
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And venial synne is it, if man love jhesu crist
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Lasse than hym oghte./ For sothe, the dede
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Of this venial synne is ful perilous; for it
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Amenuseth the love that men sholde han to
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God moore and moore./ And therfore, it a
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Man charge hymself with manye swiche venial
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Synnes, certes, but if so be that he somtyme
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Descharge hym of hem by shrifte, they mowe
     360
Ful lightly amenuse in hym al the love that
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He hath to jhesu crist;/ and in this wise
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Skippeth venial into deedly synne. For
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Certes, the moore that a man chargeth his
     361
Soule with venial synnes, the moore is he enclyned
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to fallen into deedly synne./ And therfore
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lat us nat be necligent to deschargen us
     362
Of venial synnes. For the proverbe seith that
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Manye smale maken a greet./ And herkne
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This ensample. A greet wawe of the see comth
     363
Som tyme with so greet a violence that it
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Drencheth the ship. And the same harm doon
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Som tyme the smale dropes of water, that entren
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thurgh a litel crevace into the thurrok,
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And in the botme of the ship, if men be so
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Necligent that they ne descharge hem nat by
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Tyme./ And therfore, although ther be a difference
     364
bitwixe thise two causes of drenchynge,
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Algates the ship is dreynt./ Right so fareth it
     365
Somtyme of deedly synne, and of anoyouse
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Veniale synnes, whan they multiplie in a man
     365
So greetly that the love of thilke worldly
     365
Thynges that he loveth, thurgh whiche he synneth
     365
venyally, is as greet in his herte as
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The love of god, or moore./ And therfore,
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the love of every thyng that is nat
     366
Biset in god, ne doon principally for goddes
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Sake, although that a man love it lasse than
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God, yet is it venial synne;/ and deedly synne
     367
Whan the love of any thyng weyeth in the
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Herte of man as muchel as the love of god, or
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Moore./ Deedly synne, as seith seint augustyn,
     368
is whan a man turneth his herte fro
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God, which that is verray sovereyn bountee,
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That may nat chaunge, and yeveth his herte
     368
To thyng that may chaunge and flitte./ And
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Certes, that is every thyng save God of hevene.
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For sooth is that if a man yeve his love, the
     369
Which that he oweth al to God with al his
     369
Herte, unto a creature, certes, as muche of his
     369
Love as he yeveth to thilke creature, so muche
     369
He bireveth fro god;/ and therfore dooth he
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Synne. For he that is dettour to God ne yeldeth
     370
nat to God al his dette, that is to seyn,
     370
Al the love of his herte./
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Now sith man understondeth generally
     371
Which is venial synne, thanne is it covenable
     371
To tellen specially of synnes whiche that many
     371
A man peraventure ne demeth hem nat synnes,
     371
And ne shryveth him nat of the same thynges,
     371
And yet natheless they been synnes;/ soothly, as
     372
Thise clerkes writen, this is to seyn, that at every
     372
Tyme that a man eteth or drynketh moore than
     372
Suffiseth to the sustenaunce of his body, in certein
     372
he dooth synne./ And eek whan he speketh
     373
moore than it nedeth, it is synne. Eke
     373
Whan he herkneth nat benignely the compleint
     373
Of the povre;/ eke whan he is in heele of body,
     374
And wol nat faste whan other folk faste, withouten
     374
cause resonable; eke whan he slepeth
     374
Moore than nedeth, or whan he comth by thilke
     374
Enchesoun to late to chirche, or to othere werkes
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Of charite;/ eke whan he useth his wyf, withouten
     375
sovereyn desir of engendrure to the honour
     375
of god, or for the entente to yelde to
     375
His wyf the dette of his body;/ eke whan
     376
He wol nat visite the sike and the prisoner,
     376
If he may; eke if he love wyf or child, or oother
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Worldly thyng, moore than resoun requireth;
     376
Eke if he flatere or blandise moore than hym
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Oghte for any necessitee;/ eke if he amenuse
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Or withdrawe the almesse of the povre; eke if Page  239
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He apparailleth his mete moore deliciously than
     377
Nede is, or ete it to hastily by likerousnesse;/
     378
Eke if he tale vanytees at chirche or at goddes
     378
Service, or that he be a talker of ydel wordes of
     378
Folye or of vileynye, for he shal yelden acountes
     378
Of it at the day of doom;/ eke whan he biheteth
     379
or assureth to do thynges that he may nat
     379
Perfourne; eke whan that he by lightnesse or
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Folie mysseyeth or scorneth his neighebor;/
     380
Eke whan he hath any wikked suspecioun
     380
Of thyng ther he ne woot of it no soothfastnesse:/
     380
thise thynges, and no withoute
     381
nombre, been synnes, as seith seint
     381
Augustyn./
     382
Now shal men understonde that, al be it so
     382
That noon erthely man may eschue alle venial
     382
Synnes, yet may be refreyne hym by the brennynge
     382
love that he hath to oure lord jhesu
     382
Christ, and by preyeres and confessioun and
     382
Othere goode werkes, so that it shal but litel
     382
Greve./ For, as seith seint augustyn, if a man
     383
Love God in swich manere that al that evere he
     383
Dooth is in the love of god, and for the love of
     383
God, verraily, for he brenneth in the love of
     383
God,/ looke, how muche that a drope of water
     384
that falleth in a fourneys ful of fyr anoyeth
     384
Or greveth, so muche anoyeth a venial synne
     384
Unto a man that is perfit in the love of jhesu
     384
Crist./ Men may also refreyne venial synne
     385
By receyvynge worthily of the precious
     385
Body of jhesu crist;/ by receyvynge eek
     386
Of booly water; by almesdede; by general
     386
Confessioun of confiteor at masse and at complyn;
     386
and by blessynge of bisshopes and of
     386
Preestes, and by oothere goode werkes./
     387