The Souls in Purgatory Speak - The Bradley Martin Copy

More, Sir Thomas, Saint (1478-1535)

The Supplycacyon of soulys. Made by syr Thomas More knight councellour to our souerayn lorde the Kynge and chauncellour of hys Duchy of Lancaster. Agaynst the supplycacyon of beggars

London: printed by William Rastell, 1529


Folio: 27 x 19 cm. xliiii leaves. Collation: A-L4

FIRST EDITION. Gibson gives this edition precedence over the other 1529 edition, also printed by Rastell.

Bound in 19thc. quarter calf. A fine copy with some light dampstaining. H. Bradley Martin bookplate. This is the first book printed by More’s nephew William Rastell (1508–1565), the son of More’s sister Elizabeth (1482–1537) and the printer John Rastell (c. 1475-1537).

First edition of Thomas More's reply to Simon Fish's "Supplication for the Beggars." Fish represented the clergy as "thieves," responsible for the distress of the poor; he denies the existence of Purgatory and, appealing to Henry VIII in the voice of the English beggars, calls for the dissolution of the monasteries. More counters each of Fish's arguments, and using Fish's own literary device against him, has the very souls in Purgatory "supplicate" the living for the continuance of the prayers offered by the clergy for their release.

"To all good christen people. In moste pieteous wise continuallye calleth & cryeth vpon your deuoute charitie
& most tender pitie, for help, coumforte, & reliefe, your late acquaintance, kindred, spouses, companions, play felowes, & frendes, & now your humble & vnacquaynted ... supplyantes, pore priesoners of god, ye sely soules in purgatory."

– Thomas More, "Supplycacyon of soulys"

"Among the number of works which the Church judged to be heretical coming into Henry VIII's England from the Continent, there appeared in 1528 a book entitled 'A Supplycacion for the Beggars', written by Simon Fish. Fish had been a law student at Gray's Inn, where he had acted in an anti-Wolsey interlude and thereby had incurred the wrath of that prelate. Fish fled to the Netherlands, where he met Tyndale and his co-worker Roy, and from them he imbibed
the reformed theology. His 'Supplycacion', which was dedicated
to Henry VIII, was printed in Antwerp and from there smuggled into England. Fish himself, shortly after publication of his treatise, risked a visit to London for the purpose of aiding in the distribution of Tyndale's New Testament. He was apprehended and charged with heresy, but before he could be tried by an ecclesiastical court, he died of the plague in 1531. According to More, Fish returned to the Church before his death.

"Fish's work is ostensibly aimed at improving the lot of the English poor, especially that of the beggars. In order to enhance its effect, Fish puts his purported appeal on behalf of the beggars into the mouths of the beggars themselves, who address Henry VIII directly.

"Fish contends that while the clergy constitute but a small
part of England's population, they control one half of its wealth, and he charges that the monasteries, instead of caring for the destitute, increase the number of beggars in the land through excessive taxation. Fish's real aim in writing the 'Supplycacion' was to have the English clergy expropriated and their power reduced. Since much of that power derived from the wealth accumulated as a consequence of the doctrine of purgatory, in that people paid the clergy to pray for the souls of departed relatives and friends, Fish questions the existence of such a place.

"Fish also charges that the clergy are, and always have been, a subversive element within the realm. Just at the time when his friend and associate William Tyndale was formulating his own peculiar interpretations of secular and ecclesiastical history and was using them as a weapon against the Church, Fish was advancing charges of a long record of clerical subversion very similar to those made by his more famous contemporary. Like Tyndale, he regarded the past and present activities of the English clergy as one huge conspiracy.

"Fish sees the problems of his own time as a product both of past clerical conspiracies and of a continuing process of clerical treason paralyzing the realm. He points out to Henry that a people impoverished by the rapacity of the clergy will be unable to pay him taxes when he needs them for national defence, because all their money is in the hands of the clergy.

"To remedy England's economic and political ills, Fish makes two proposals. He urges that effective laws be passed to curb the clergy's power, but warns that this will be very difficult to do, since in the king's parliament the clergy are stronger than the king himself, and anyone who has in the past dared to criticize their actions has been declared a heretic. His other suggestion is that the idle monks be turned out of their monasteries and made to work.

More's "The Supplycacyon of soules"(1529)

"Fish's pamphlet, in spite of its many wild exaggerations, or rather, just because of them, posed an extremely dangerous threat to the clergy and to the Catholic faith, as More realized. He saw in it an insidious attempt to open up England to Lutheranism by means of appealing to the greed of Henry and his nobles for monastic property. Apparently because he thought such an appeal could be highly effective, More went to considerable pains to try to discredit Fish's proposals.

"In his new role as champion of the Church (More was officially commissioned to write against heresy in 1528 by Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of London), More answered Fish's work in the same year it reached England, 1529, by publishing The 'Supplycacyon of soules', the aim of which is to defend the position of the clergy and to uphold the doctrine of purgatory.

"More's work is divided into two books: the first is taken
up with a confutation of Fish's statistics and a general defence of the English clergy; the second and longer book deals with
the question of purgatory, which was really one of Fish's
minor concerns. In a fashion reminiscent of Fisher's works
against Luther, More sets out to prove the existence of purgatory from reason, the Fathers, and Scripture but, unlike Fisher, takes into consideration his opponent's prejudice
 against the first two and concentrates on the last.

"Not only does More pattern the title of his book on that of
his adversary, but he also adopts Fish's technique of making
his appeal come from the mouths of those people most immediately concerned. As More sees it, a discontinuance of the
belief in purgatory would most affect those already there, who depend for deliverance upon the prayers of friends still
on earth. Whereas Fish's beggars appealed for relief from
their earthly misery, More dramatizes the reality of purgatory by reporting the pleas of the tormented souls who suffer there.

"He immediately establishes the souls as rivals to Fish's earthly beggars, by having the souls declare that no one 
on earth can possibly be in greater need than they are, nor anyone else so sick and impotent. He pictures 
the souls as very much grieved that anyone should doubt the existence of purgatory, which has been an article of belief for fifteen hundred years, or question the reality of the torments that they are even now suffering. At the beginning and end of the work, More records the complaints of the souls and their physical agony, in order to emphasize to his readers the actuality of this state intermediate between heaven and hell through which they too will one day have to pass.

"By the device of having the souls speak from purgatory itself, More is able to make his appeal for a belief in the existence of this place a very immediate and personal one. He has the souls wonder how anyone could be so hard-hearted as to let relatives burn in the fire before his eyes, and More makes them petition for the alms and prayers of friends: "For if your father, your mother, your child, your brother, your sister, your husband, your wife, or a very stranger too, laye in your syght some where in fyre, & that your meanes might help him: what hert were so hard, what stomacke were so
stony, that could sit in rest at supper, or slepe in rest a bedde and let a man lye and burne?" The souls regret that 
instead of sending their money to purgatory before them, 
they left so much of it behind on earth where it is not being
used on their behalf to buy priests' prayers for their release. More carries personification to such lengths that in one place he has the bodiless souls complain that they are so poor that they do not even have cloaks to put on their backs. At the end of the book, however, the souls explain that they were forced to speak in human terms to make them- selves understood; otherwise it would have been impossible for living men to perceive their pain.

"More evidently appreciated the value of his spiritual spokesmen, for through them he tries to convince his readers
-among whom, it should always be remembered, was Henry
-that far from being prejudiced against a speedy and effective solution to the problems of the poor, no one could be more interested than he himself and the clergy he is defending.
Indeed, for himself More could make that claim with some
truth, for he had discoursed on the subject in his Utopia, but in the 'Supplycacyon' his solutions are of a different order from
those offered in 1516. Now More has his souls declare that,
far from envying Fish's beggars as rivals for alms, they
pray that people will be generous in extending charity to their
earthly brethren, for these alms are begged in the name of
the Lord they all serve, and earthly devotion is a comfort to
the souls in purgatory (p. 292). Thus More tries to establish
his work as being not only impartial, but actually much more concerned about the plight of the beggars than is Fish himself.

"Another advantage More derives from his persona is that his spokesmen are not merely merciful and impartial but are also endowed with more than human knowledge. After all, Thomas More may err, but the souls already in purgatory are peculiarly well situated to know whether or not there is such a place. In fact, their knowledge extends much further. They can assure More's readers, for instance, on the basis of their superior information gathered from sources in heaven and hell, as well as from purgatory, that every anti-clerical allegation Fish makes is false.

"Finally, More uses his persona to ridicule both Fish's manner and matter. He has his souls recount how Fish's rhetorical cannonade of charges against the clergy thundered all the way to purgatory, where it made the inhabitants start up in terror at the fearful noise, but noise is all it turned out to be. And More unforgettably characterizes the quality of one of Fish's arguments when he has the tormented souls in purgatory declare that it "is so mery and so madde, that it were able to make one laugh that lieth in the fire . . ."

"More was not successful, and his fears that Fish's arguments would be persuasive proved to be well founded, for one year after his death, Henry VIII began the very expropriation of the monasteries that Fish had advocated.

"It is interesting to note that the evil conditions which Fish describes did not disappear; after the monks had been turned out of their monasteries, their lay successors continued exactly the same practices of which Fish had complained, so that in the years 1542 and 1546 there appeared two works just like Fish's 'Supplycacyon', with the only difference that this time the complaints of poverty, high rents, and lack of hospitals were made against the lords who had succeeded to the monastic lands, instead of against the monks who had previously owned them."("Thomas More's Controversy with Simon Fish"
, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 7, No. 1, The English Renaissance (Winter, 1967), pp. 15-28)

ESTC S123347; STC (2nd ed.), 18093; Gibson More 70