The Married Priest
_Of a village clerk who being at Rome and believing that his wife was
dead became a priest, and was appointed cure of his own town, and when
he returned, the first person he met was his wife._
In the year '50 (*) just passed, the clerk of a village in the diocese
of Noyon, that he might gain the pardons, which as every one knows were
then given at Rome (**), set o
t in company with many respectable people
of Noyon, Compeigne, and the neighbouring places.
(**) Special indulgences were granted that year on account
of the Jubilee
But, before leaving, he carefully saw to his private affairs, arranged
for the support of his wife and family, and entrusted the office of
sacristan, which he held, to a young and worthy clerk to hold until his
In a fairly brief space of time, he and his companions arrived at Rome,
and performed their devotions and their pilgrimage as well as they knew
how. But you must know that our clerk met, by chance, at Rome, one of
his old school-fellows, who was in the service of a great Cardinal, and
occupied a high position, and who was very glad to meet his old friend,
and asked him how he was. And the other told him everything--first of
all that he was, alas! married, how many children he had, and how that
he was a parish clerk.
"Ah!" said his friend, "by my oath! I am much grieved that you are
"Why?" asked the other.
"I will tell you," said he; "such and such a Cardinal has charged me to
find him a secretary, a native of our province. This would have suited
you, and you would have been largely remunerated, were it not that your
marriage will cause you to return home, and, I fear, lose many benefits
that you cannot now get."
"By my oath!" said the clerk, "my marriage is no great consequence,
for--to tell you the truth--the pardon was but an excuse for getting out
of the country, and was not the principal object of my journey; for
I had determined to enjoy myself for two or three years in travelling
about, and if, during that time, God should take my wife, I should only
be too happy. So I beg and pray of you to think of me and to speak well
for me to this Cardinal, that I may serve him; and, by my oath, I
will so bear myself that you shall have no fault to find with me; and,
moreover, you will do me the greatest service that ever one friend did
"Since that is your wish," said his friend, "I will oblige you at once,
and will lodge you too if you wish."
"Thank you, friend," said the other.
To cut matters short, our clerk lodged with the Cardinal, and wrote and
told his wife of his new position, and that he did not intend to return
home as soon as he had intended when he left. She consoled herself, and
wrote back that she would do the best she could.
Our worthy clerk conducted himself so well in the service of the
Cardinal, and gained such esteem, that his master had no small regret
that his secretary was incapable of holding a living, for which he was
exceedingly well fitted.
Whilst our clerk was thus in favour, the cure of his village died, and
thus left the living vacant during one of the Pope's months. (*)
The Sacristan who held the place of his friend who had gone to Rome,
determined that he would hurry to Rome as quickly as he could, and do
all in his power to get the living for himself. He lost no time, and in
a few days, after much trouble and fatigue, found himself at Rome, and
rested not till he had discovered his friend--the clerk who served the
After mutual salutations, the clerk asked after his wife, and the other,
expecting to give him much pleasure and further his own interests in
the request he was about to make, replied that she was dead--in which
he lied, for I know that at this present moment (**) she can still worry
(*) During eight months of the year, the Pope had the right
of bestowing all livings which became vacant.
(**) That is when the story was written.
"Do you say that my wife is dead?" cried the clerk. "May God pardon her
all her sins."
"Yes, truly," replied the other; "the plague carried her off last year,
along with many others."
He told this lie, which cost him dear, because he knew that the clerk
had only left home on account of his wife, who was of a quarrelsome
disposition, and he thought the most pleasant news he could bring was
to announce her death, and truly so it would have been, but the news was
"And what brings you to this country?" asked the clerk after many and
"I will tell you, my friend and companion. The cure of our town is dead;
so I came to you to ask if by any means I could obtain the benefice. I
would beg of you to help me in this matter. I know that it is in your
power to procure me the living, with the help of monseigneur, your
The clerk, thinking that his wife was dead, and the cure of his native
town vacant, thought to himself that he would snap up this living, and
others too if he could get them. But, all the same, he said nothing to
his friend, except that it would not be his fault if the other were not
cure of their town,--for which he was much thanked.
It happened quite otherwise, for, on the morrow, our Holy Father, at the
request of the Cardinal, the master of our clerk, gave the latter the
Thereupon this clerk, when he heard the news, came to his companion, and
said to him,
"Ah, friend, by my oath, your hopes are dissipated, at which I am much
"How so?" asked the other.
"The cure of our town is given," he said, "but I know not to whom.
Monseigneur, my master, tried to help you, but it was not in his power
to accomplish it."
At which the other was vexed, after he had come so far and expended so
much. So he sorrowfully took leave of his friend, and returned to his
own country, without boasting about the lie he had told.
But let us return to our clerk, who was as merry as a grig at the news
of the death of his wife, and to whom the benefice of his native town
had been given, at the request of his master, by the Holy Father, as
a reward for his services. And let us record how he became a priest at
Rome, and chanted his first holy Mass, and took leave of his master for
a time, in order to return and take possession of his living.
When he entered the town, by ill luck the first person that he chanced
to meet was his wife, at which he was much astonished I can assure you,
and still more vexed.
"What is the meaning of this, my dear?" he asked. "They told me you were
"Nothing of the kind," she said. "You say so, I suppose, because you
wish it, as you have well proved, for you have left me for five years,
with a number of young children to take care of."
"My dear," he said, "I am very glad to see you in good health, and I
praise God for it with all my heart. Cursed be he who brought me false
"Amen!" she replied.
"But I must tell you, my dear, that I cannot stay now; I am obliged to
go in haste to the Bishop of Noyon, on a matter which concerns him; but
I will return to you as quickly as I can."
He left his wife, and took his way to Noyon; but God knows that all
along the road he thought of his strange position.
"Alas!" he said, "I am undone and dishonoured. A priest! a clerk! and
married! I suppose I am the first miserable wretch to whom that ever
He went to the Bishop of Noyon, who was much surprised at hearing his
case, and did not know what to advise him, so sent him back to Rome.
When he arrived there, he related his adventure at length to his master,
who was bitterly annoyed, and on the morrow repeated it to our Holy
Father, in the presence of the Sacred College and all the Cardinals.
So it was ordered that he should remain priest, and married, and cure
also; and that he should live with his wife as a married man, honourably
and without reproach, and that his children should be legitimate and not
bastards, although their father was a priest. Moreover, that if it was
found he lived apart from his wife, he should lose the living.
Thus, as you have heard, was this gallant punished for believing the
false news of his friend, and was obliged to go and live in his own
parish, and, which was worse, with his wife, with whose company he would
have gladly dispensed if the Church had not ordered it otherwise.