The Bishops Sleep Like Pigs Sprawling in The Mire – by Saint Thomas More

See now, when Christ comes back to His apostles for the third time, there they are, buried in sleep, though he commanded them to bear up with Him and to stay awake and pray because of the impending danger; but Judas the traitor at the same time was so wide awake and intent on betraying the Lord that the very idea of sleep never entered his mind.

Does not this contrast between the traitor and the apostles present to us a clear and sharp mirror image (as it were) a sad and terrible view of what has happened through the ages from those times even to our own?

Why do not bishops contemplate in this scene their own somnolence? Since they have succeeded in the place of the apostles, would that they would reproduce their virtues just as eagerly as they embrace their authority (folio 65) and as faithfully as they display their sloth and sleepiness!

For very many are sleepy and apathetic in sowing virtues among the people and maintaining the truth, while the enemies of Christ in order to sow vices and uproot the faith (that is, insofar as they can, to seize Christ and cruelly crucify Him once again) are wide awake – so much wiser (as Christ says) are the sons of darkness in their generation than the sons of light.

But although this comparison of the sleeping apostles applies very well to those bishops who sleep while virtue and the faith are placed in jeopardy, still it does not apply to all such prelates at all points. For some of them – alas, far more than I could wish – do not drift into sleep through sadness and grief as they apostles did.

(folio 65v) Rather they are numbed and buried in destructive desires; that is, drunk with the new wine of the devil, the flesh, and the world, they sleep like pigs sprawling in the mire.

Certainly the apostles’ feeling of sadness because of the danger to their master was praiseworthy, but for them to be so overcome by sadness as to yield completely to sleep, that was certainly wrong. Even to grieve because the world is perishing or to weep because of the crimes of others bespeaks a reverent outlook, as was felt by the writer who said ”I sat by myself and groaned” and also by the one who said “I was sick at heart because of sinners abandoning your law”.

Sadness of this sort I would place in the category of which he says (word missing). But I would place it there only if the feeling, however good, is checked by the rule and guidance of reason. For if this is not the case, if sorrow so grips the mind that its strength is sapped and reason gives up (folio 66) the reins, if a bishop is so overcome by heavy-hearted sleep that he neglects to do what the duty of his office requires for the salvation of his flock – like a cowardly ship’s captain who is so disheartened by the furious din of a storm that he deserts the helm, hides away cowering in some cranny, and abandons the ship to the waves – if a bishop does this, I would certainly not hesitate to juxtapose and compare his sadness with the sadness that leads, as (word missing) says, to hell; indeed, I would consider it far worse, since such sadness in religious matters seems to spring from a mind which despairs of God’s help.

The next category, but a far worse one, ( folio 66v) consists of those who are not depressed by sadness at the danger of others but rather by a fear of injury to themselves, a fear which is so much the worse as its cause is the more contemptible, that is, when it is not a question of life or death but of money.

And yet Christ commands us to contemn the loss of the body itself for His sake. “Do not be afraid,” he says, “of those who destroy the body and after that can do nothing further. But I will show you the one you should fear, the one to fear: fear him who, when he has destroyed the body, has the power to send the soul also to hell.

Valencia Manuscript folios 64v-66v De Tristitia Christi
The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More, Vol 14, pp.259-67.