The work here called the Dyalogue du pere et du filz goes by several different names in medieval manuscripts. It is occasionally introduced as the Livre de l’amonestement dal pere a son fils (Paris BnF fr. 726) or the Question del fill au pere (Paris BnF fr. 1036). More often that not, however, it is referred to as either the Dyalogue du pere et du filz or the Dyalogue entre le pere et le filz. Paris Arsenal 2059 and Soissons BM 224 respectively give the Latin equivalents of these.
The author of the Dyalogue has left few clues as to his identity. The earliest redaction must have been put together by 1267, the date of the earliest surviving manuscript (Paris BnF fr. 25408). This volume was produced in England, but our author was almost certainly writing on the Continent: his fondness for exempla featuring the king of France may suggest he was working in lands that formed part of the royal domain. Wherever the Dyalogue was composed, however, by the end of the 13th century it had found its way to England and Italy as a stand-alone text, as well as being incorporated into the Bible en françois and the translation of the Elucidarium known as Lucidaire I.
A later redaction of the Dyalogue is found in the ‘Legiloque’ anthology of 19 pious works in French that was produced in the first half of the 14th century for Marie of Brittany, Countess of Saint-Pol. The questions and answers of the earlier redaction were substantially rearranged. The seven sacraments were used as a structuring device and, in the earlier copies, were the subject of a lavish illustrative programme. Several questions concerning Antichrist were also added.
One of the interlocutors of the Dyalogue may be a child, but we should not assume on this basis that this was a text intended for children. As the opening excursus on faith and baptism makes clear, it is not just children who are expected to pay close heed to this text, but adults responsible for their care, too. If the work was originally directed at lay households, its presence in monastic and clerical libraries suggests that it was not beneath the interest of other milieux.
Click on a section to see questions, and click on questions to see answers.
A. People used to be baptized as adults, but now they’re baptized as infants. Two things are required for salvation: 1) baptism, and 2) faith. Godparents guarantee that their godchildren will believe properly, though they fall short in this today. When children come of age, they need to have faith in their hearts and demonstrate that faith in word and deed. What do you think about the state of the world?
Q. How could an omniscient God fail to recognize people on Judgment Day?
A. You can’t understand Scripture without learning and studying. It uses figurative language. On Judgment Day, God will say to the damned that he doesn’t recognize them because he will treat them as if they were strangers and send them to hell.
Q. Why does a merciful God condemn those who sin out of ignorance?
M. There are three types of ignorant person: 1) the scornful who refuse to learn (damned); 2) the unfortunate who lack the opportunity to learn (damned); and 3) the insane, who pay penance for Adam’s sin (saved).
Q. Why are there so many trials and tribulations in life? Even nice things lead to suffering. Good people suffer when then wicked prosper. And we constantly fear there’s worse to come, in this world and the next.
A. I’m glad you’re aware of all this adversity. As a result of the Fall, we live in this world like prisoners, unable to understand suffering fully because our cell is so dark. Some people prosper to encourage them to serve God; others as a reward for the good they’ve done before they go to hell. People suffer for 5 reasons: 1) so that God may be glorified when he rescues them; 2) to test them; 3) as a deterrant; 4) as penance; 5) as a foretaste of hell-pains.
Q. It must have been the devil who created creepycrawlies.
A. This is an old wives’s tale. If you believe there’s more than one God, you’re worse than Jews or pagans. Animals were made for Adam, but some went bad after the Fall. Adam wasn’t obedient, so not all animals obey him.
Q. How can I avoid the fires of hell?
A. First, you need to understand the difference between thinking (cuidier), knowing (savoir) and believing (cresre). God rewards belief because it is a sign of obedience. The first thing to believe is that God is three persons in one.
Q. How can God be three Persons in one?
A. You can’t fully understand the Trinity; it’s a matter of faith. But it is (sort of) analogous to the sun, with its heat, light and substance (sustance). Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct, but consubstantial and equal.
Q. There are two marvels here. 1) How can one of the Persons exist as soon as another? And 2) how can God not have human form when Isaiah saw him in the form of a man?
A. In response to 1), light has existed as long as the sun has, yet the former is born from the latter. In response to 2), God has never been seen directly in this world (even by Moses). When angels appear to people, they make bodies and clothes out of air.
Q. I agree.
A. You also need to believe that Christ was the Son of God, born to the Virgin, was crucified, descended to hell, was resurrected and ascended into heaven. As man is body and soul, so Christ was God, body and soul.
Q. I know faith is important, but could you give more of an explanation about the nature of Christ?
A. Would my thoughts be visible if I wrote them down?
Q. I would be able to see your thoughts if I read them.
A. If I erased what I’d written, would I have destroyed my thoughts?
Q. No, erasing what you’d written wouldn’t destroy your thoughts.
A. God became visible (like writing) in Christ, but that doesn’t mean he was any less in heaven than before. And when Christ’s humanity died, that doesn’t mean the deity died.
Q. Why were we redeemed by Christ rather than by anyone else?
A. Christ could reconcile God and man because he was both. God is merciful, but he’s also just, so penance had to be paid for Adam’s sin. The devil entered Judas and the Jews and Christ was (willingly) killed. Because the devil tried to lay hands on Christ, he lost his rights over man.
Q. Why won’t everyone be saved?
A. Christ only died for those who choose to spurn the devil and (freely) turn to God.
Q. Surely lots of people are forced to do good or evil by another.
A. It was man’s spirit, not his body, that was made in God’s image. We consent in our minds (corage) to do good or evil.
Q. Does it matter, then, if you are forced to commit a sin that you don’t agree with?
A. Yes, it does matter. If the king orders you to commit a sin, you shouldn’t consent even to save your life. Consenting is sinning. But a monk benefits from being commanded to do good by his abbot, because he always consents to some extent.
Q. Is it worth forcing people to do good?
A. You should, because it hinders the wicked and it’s always useful to get into good habits.
Q. How can those who aren’t in their right minds, such as children, the insane or drunkards, intend to do good or evil?
A. The insane and children don’t sin, but drunkards do (gluttony). Now back to our subject: after Christ’s Ascension, the Holy Spirit descended on Christ’s disciples.
Q. If God had already given his Law to Moses, why did he give another one? What was wrong with the first?
A. The Old Law was like a painter’s sketch. The Jews made sacrifices to God, prefiguring Christ’s sacrifice. Moses instructed his followers to circumcise their hearts and heads, but this means that we should curtail our desires and our pride.
Q. If the Old Law prefigured the New, was there any virtue in following it?
A. Yes, until the painting covered the sketch.
Q. What is the value of baptism?
A. Baptism is so powerful that it cleanses even the most heinous of sinners. Children are saved by the faith of their godparents.
Q. Are we absolved from sin through baptism or Christ’s Passion?
A. You are spiritually resurrected by being baptised. The baptism formula comes from God; it doesn’t matter if the priest is a mass murderer (it doesn’t even have to be a priest). But Confirmation must be performed by a bishop. You also need to believe that bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist, which you need to receive in order to be saved.
Q. How do you receive the Eucharist properly (dignement)?
A. You mustn’t receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin. If your lesser sins are to be forgiven, you must receive it with faith and humility.
Q. What should you do if you feel you are in a state of sin?
A. A sinner must repent (contrition), confess his or her sins to a priest, and complete the required penance (satisfaction). Next up, you must believe in universal resurrection and the Last Judgment. Too much knowledge is a health-hazard, so here’s a summary of the Creed. One thing I forgot: the Eucharist is like a broken mirror. A history of the Church.
Q. Why don’t miracles happen any more?
A. For 2 reasons: 1) we’re not worthy; and 2) miracles are for non-believers; not believers.
Q. Tell me about Antichrist!
A. We know that the world will only end when Antichrist arrives. But there are lots of other things we aren’t certain about. Enoch and Elijah will arrive before the coming of Antichrist.
Q. Where will Enoch and Elijah come from?
A. I don’t know, but they won’t have died. They’ll preach before being killed by Antichrist. Antichrist will then reign for three and a half years, before God kills him. There’s doubt about the Fifteen Signs before Judgment Day, but here they are anyway. How to live well: start by considering whether you’ve sinned or not.
Q. Is it worth doing good if you’re in a state of mortal sin?
A. Yes, because you might be absolved more quickly, or suffer less in hell. If you’re not absolved, you won’t be able to escape hell, however much alms-giving you perform.
Q. How can some people suffer more than others in hell when they’re all in the same fire.
A. Hellfire burns more ardently when it finds fuel, just as the sun torments someone with a headache more.
Q. What is a mortal sin (pechié mortel)?
A. The difference between a venial and a mortal sin is dependent on intention, duration and the nature of the activity. You could kill a man with small stones or with a millstone, but it would still be murder. Murder, perjury, adultery, fornication and hatred are always mortal sins.
Q. If woman was made for man, why is fornication between a single man and a single woman considered a mortal sin?
A. God joined man and woman in marriage. So extra-marital sex is a mortal sin. Also, if you intend to sin and are only prevented from doing so by the magnitude of your sin, you’ve still sinned.
Q. Would a merciful God really send that many people to hell?
A. As well as loving God’s mercy, you need to fear his justice. God’s elect are not numerous. You need to confess your sins to a priest, saying who, where, when, how many, why, how long, and how. You should then perform penance and make sure you don’t fall back into sin.
Q. If recidivism is so bad, should you confess if you think you might sin again?
A. I ask you whether, if your house catches fire, you would put it out.
Q. I’d put out a fire before my whole house was alight.
A. Likewise, stamp out sin before it takes over. If someone sins against you, remember the devil has deceived them. Don’t hate or take revenge on a sinner (otherwise the devil wins). To be good: 1) think about whether an action’s good or evil; 2) check you’re doing good for God’s sake (unlike Judas).
Q. If Judas did what God wanted, what sin did he commit?
A. Judas acted out of cupidity and betrayal; Christ out of charity (charité) and love. To do good (list continued): 3) act wisely (unlike the Jews); 4) act in moderation; 5) have conviction. Charity and Holy Church (Christ’s body and its limbs). Sometimes corporal and spiritual amputation (i.e. excommunication) is needed to keep the body (and Church) healthy. Another way of ordering society: pope, those with responsibility, those without responsibility. Lay and ecclesiastical justice, and the importance of obedience.
Q. There are lots of people in authority who do the devil’s work. Does their authority really come from God?
A. Just as God sends storms as a punishment, he also sends wicked governors. Those in authority will be punished even more harshly for their sins.
Q. What should you do if somebody in authority orders you to do something contrary to God or reason?
A. You should obey God before any lay authority. Love priests; it’s not for you to judge how worthy they are. A good man should act justly, bring up his children properly in the eyes of God and society, treat his wife well, take care of his parents.
Q. Should you really abandon your mother and father when you marry?
A. If you can, you should look after your parents as well. You should also contribute to your town through your chosen career. Give everything you don’t need for a simple life to the poor. Don’t be proud.
A. I’d have taught you much more, but I don’t want to overload you. Wake me up if you have any more questions.
Hunt, Tony (2010). Ed. “Cher alme”: Texts of Anglo-Norman Piety, trans. Jane Bliss, with an introduction by Henrietta Leyser (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies)
Langlois, Charles Victor (1928). La Vie en France au moyen âge, t. 4: La vie spirituelle. Enseignements, méditations, et controverses (Paris: Hachette)
Lefèvre, Yves (1954). Ed. L’Elucidarium et les Lucidaires (Paris: Boccard)
Meyer, Paul (1899). ‘Trois nouveaux manuscrits des sermons de Maurice de Sully’, Romania 28, 245-68