The allegory of harvest continues, naming all the resources  needed to grow and gather in the crops. 

"When this deed was done Grace devised further
A cart called Christendom to carry Piers' sheaves.
He gave horses for his cart, Contrition and Confession.
He made Priesthood hayward, and himself went walking
Through the wide world with Piers to tell Truth."

There are times when different translations supplement one another. here, it is not immediately clear who is staying and who is going away. The latest translation gives;

"..................................................................   he set off himself
To plow truth with Piers in the wider world,
And to lay down belief and Holy Church law."

The subject in that quote (he) is Grace, so it looks as both Grace and Piers are now off into the wider world and that Cionscience has been left in charge Pride now plans an attack. His agents are;

"Presumption, his chief lieutenant, and his spy, Kill-Love,
Otherwise called Back-biter. This pair approached
Conscience and the Christian community and delivered
them a message: the seeds that Piers had planted, the
Cardinal Virtues, had no hope of surviving!"

 In a verse translation;

'Piers's barn shall be broken and all who be in Unity
Shall come out. Conscience and his coupled horses
Confession and Contrition, and his cart, Believing,
Shall be curiously coloured and covered by sophistry
So that Conscience himself cannot know by Contrition
Or Confession who is Christian or who heathen'".

Here, in c. 1360, is the 21st Century technique of making the truth unknowable by the concept of 'spinning'. From this point on, the story is all about the survival, though in an imperfect state of the Christian church.

Conscience responds to the threat by saying everybody must collect inside Unity (the church) and there behave in a truly Christian way, repenting of their sins, reforming, and making restitution. His strictness is too much for some, including an outspoken brewer. He won't change, he says, while he can sell safely;

"The dregs and the draft and draw at one spigot
Thick ale and thin ale, for that is my notion.
No holy haloes! Hold your tongue, Conscience."

Conscience sticks to his guns, saying that nobody who does not live according to the law of Justice (one of the Cardinal Virtues expounded by Piers) can be saved. This is too much for somebody else.

"'Then many a man is lost' cried an unlearned vicar.
'I am curator of Holy Church  but I encounter none
In all this country who carol-sing the cardinal virtues.'"

This vicar has got confused (perhaps this is why he is described as unlearned) and takes the word Cardinal to refer to the real papal cardinals who exploit the church for their own ends. He fulminates against them for twenty lines or so and then praises Piers Plowman whose work contrasts with theirs so strongly.

The brewer and the unlearned vicar reveal the problems that always arise when rigid moral laws conflict with self-interest. A substantial number will take no notice, or re-define the law to suit themselves. The unlearned vicar puts it like this;

"The commune of common people, accounts but little
The counsel of Conscience or of the Cardinal Virtues
Unless their sight shows them something profitable.
They give not a copper for guile and lying,
For the Spirit of Prudence is guile among the people,
And all the fair virtues become vices in their practice."

So Prudence in reality means looking after yourself. This personal revision of principles is also endorsed by a landowner and a king. Conscience has no convincing counter-argument and the dream comes to an end with another abrupt departure.

"The vicar said farewell, for he had far to go homeward;
And with that I awoke and wrote my vision."

To move on, click on PRIORITIES.  To get back to the beginning click on HOME.



                       A CART CALLED CHRISTENDOM

                           KILL-LOVE AND BACK-BITER


                           THE UNLEARNED VICAR

                         PRINCIPLES OUTWEIGHED