Piers Plowman: An Argument Between Mercy and Truth on Holy Saturday

30 03 2013

Hearing strange noises and bright lights flashing from Hell, two Sisters (Mercy and Truth) have an argument on Holy Saturday questioning what the event might mean.  The argument is eventually resolved by a third sister (Peace), who announces with great joy that because of the victory of Jesus on the cross, Hell has been ruined.  Through Jesus’ victory on the cross, no sinner need fear Hell who puts his trust in Christ.  

The below is taken from Piers Plowman (Passus 18).  Piers Plowman is a theological allegory written by William Langland in the 14th century.  The sisters represent the seven virtues and the below deals with the catholic doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell.  Do be sure to read to the end for a real treat.

There was great noise and great darkness as the day went on.

And a strange light and a gleam lay before hell.


“I really have wondered at this strange event,” said Truth.

“And I’m wondering what it means.”


“Don’t wonder any longer,” said Mercy.  “It beckons glad tidings.

A maid named Mary, a mother unlike any other,

conceived through a Word from God and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

She became great with child; and without sin

brought him into the world.  That tale is true as God is my witness.

“Since this babe was born thirty winters past, he died and fooled death today, around noon.

And that is the cause of this bright light,

which means that man shall from his darkness be drawn.

This light and this gleam will blind Lucifer.

The Patriarchs and the Prophets have preached of this event often

– That man shall man save through a maiden’s help.

And what was ruined through one tree, another tree shall win back.

And as death is brought down, the pain of death is relieved.”


“What you’re saying,” said Truth, “Is nothing but hot air!

For Adam and Even and Abraham with other

Patriarchs and prophets who lie in pain,

Never believe that yonder light will lift them up

Or have them out of hell – hold your tongue, Mercy!

What you’re saying is just trifle; I, Truth, know the truth,

That a thing that’s once in hell never comes out.

Job the perfect patriarch discredits you sayings:

Because there is no redemption in hell.


Then Mercy most mildly mouthed these words:

“From experience,” she said, “I hope they’ll be saved;

For venom undoes venom, from which I fetch proof

That Adam and Eve shall have remedy.

Of all devouring venoms the vilest is the scorpion’s;

No medicins may amend the place where it stings

Until it’s dead and applied thereto, and then it destroys

The first poisoning through its own virtue.

And so this death shall undo, I’ll bet my life,

All that Death and the Devil first did to Eve.

And just as the deceiver through deceit deceived men first,

So shall grace, which began all, make a good end

And deceive the deceiver, and that’s a good deception:

It takes a trick to undo a trick


“Now let’s just hold it,” said Truth; “it seems to me I see

Out of the nip of the north, not ver far from here,

Righteousness come running.  Let’s take it easy,

For she knows more than we – she was before we both were.”


“That’s true,” said Mercy,”and I see her to the south

Where Peace, clothed in patience, comes ready to play;

Love has desired her long – I believe none other

But Love has sent her some letter about what this light means

That hovers over hell thus; she’ll tell us.”


When Peace, clothed in patience, approached them both,

Righteousness reverenced Peace in her rich clothing

And prayed Peace tell her to what place she was going

And whom she meant to gladden in her happy garments.

“My wish is to go,” said Peace, “and welcome them all

Who for many a day I could not see for murkiness of sin,

Adam and Eve and many others in hell.

Moses and many more will sing merrily

And I’ll dance to their tune – do the same, sister!



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