[Of the jay] Rabanus says of the jay: ‘The jay gets is name from its talkativeness, garrulitas; not, as some would have it, because jays fly in flocks, gregatim; clearly, they are named for the cry they give. It is a most talkative species of bird and makes an irritating noise, and can signify either the empty prattle of philosophers or the harmful wordiness of heretics.’ More can be said of the nature of the jay. For jays signify both gossips and gluttons. For those who devote themselves to gluttony take pleasure, after eating, in repeating gossip and in lending an ear to slander. The jay lives in the woods and flies chattering from one tree to another, as a talkative man ceaselessly tells others about his neighbours, even the shameful things he knows about them. When the jay sees someone pass, it chatters, and if it finds anyone hiding from the world, it does the same, just as a talkative man slanders not only worldly men but also those hidden whom a religious house conceals.
A jay, captured and finally secured, is shut away on its own to learn to speak words clearly. Likewise, when a man of this world comes to conversion, he learns to speak the words of religion as the bird speaks the words of men; so that he who used to speak in a confused fashion, may thereafter grow accustomed to speak articulately. Sometimes it happens that a jay, held in confinement, escapes; then the bird, which was formerly talkative, makes even more noise after its escape. In the same way, a talkative man who takes up the religious life abandons with difficulty his power of speech; but should he quit his order and go back out into the world, he turns the good that comes of a religious life into something bad, by uttering slander, as if he were a jay chattering. Let the nature of this bird, therefore, serve as a warning to those who wish to be received into a religious community.
Let the discerning teacher, therefore, when he has to receive a candidate into his community, at least examine him before he takes up communal residence. I have learned from a man both discerning and devout that there are certain kinds of men who cannot easily be maintained in a religious order. If you want to know who they are, to avoid them, they are painters, doctors, entertainers and certain others who are in the habit of wandering to different parts. Men of this sort find it hard to lead stable lives. The art of the painter is highly agreeable. For when he has decorated a church, a chapter-house, a refectory or some domestic buildings of a convent, he goes on to another religious house, to paint that, if after being asked, he has been given leave to do so. He decorates a wall with the acts of Christ – but if only he would keep them in mind! He would deck them in colour, by his example and his conduct!
The art of medicine needs many things and is scarcely without the things it needs. Those who practise it need aromatic plants and drugs in quantity. When someone living in the neighbourhood of a church is suffering from an illness, the physician is asked to attend the sick man. If, however, the abbot will not allow him to go, he incurs the wrath of the patient and the doctor. The physician sometimes sees things which it is ordained that he should not see. He touches things which the religious are not allowed to touch. He speaks of uncertain things, drawing on his experience, but because experience is deceptive, he is as a result often mistaken.
But it is of no advantage to this religious man to speak nothing but the truth. He promises that his church will benefit if he goes to the sick man, but he says nothing of the temptation to sin and the harm to his soul. You know, perhaps, of the monk and physician, called Justus – if only he had acted justly! – who hid three gold pieces in a remedy. Perhaps you know, too, what the blessed Gregory says of him. Although Gregory cared for Justus in his sickness, he did not, however, forbear to punish him. He forbade his brothers to speak to Justus before his death and after it, ordered him to be buried in a cess-pit. Moreover, after his death, Justus was absolved with the words: ‘Thy money perish with thee’ (see Acts, 8:20). Entertainers also, fickle of mind before conversion, when they come to conversion more often resort to fickleness and with fickleness leave the order. As for those who are used to wandering off to different places, if they feel oppressed by the irksome routine of the cloister, they quit it more quickly, because they have experienced the variety of life in other lands.