Riddle of the Three Questions

Archbishop Ullathorne in his Groundwork of the Christian Virtues treats us to a riddle with profound implications:

“There was a king both young and wise, the Solomon of his age, who took delight in putting questions that were shrewd and deeply imagined. But a certain knight of his court was quick and shrewd in answering them, so that the king was disconcerted at this rivalry of his shrewdness. So he pondered long and carefully in preparing three questions, the answers to which bore a profound signification; he then put them to the knight, and as the Sphinx propounded her riddles, so he required them to be answered in a given time, on pain of death.”

“The first question was this: What is that which least needs help, but which men help the most? The second was this: What appears to be of the least worth, although it is of the greatest worth? The third was this: What is that which costs the most, although it is worth the least, and goes ever to utter loss?”

“But the wit of the knight was of a worldly sort, and after many castings about he could not penetrate to the truth hidden in these questions. Fearing for his life, he wasted away in perplexity and grief. Then his daughter, a virgin of innocent heart, and with a mind that looked to God, observed how her father pined away, won his secret from him, and resolved to answer the king’s questions.” She was brought to the king, and “with eyes cast down and heart lifted up to God,” this is what she said:

“Your first question, O king, is this: What is that which least needs help, but which men help the most? What least needs help is the earth. And yet men help it all day, and every day, and at all seasons of the year. They dig and plough it, they sow and plant and enrich the earth; man and bird and beast come from the earth; tree and herb and grass and flowers spring out of its bosom; yet they all die. and return to enrich the earth already so rich. Justly, then, may it be said that the earth has the least need of help, although men help it the most.”

“The second question of your highness is this: What appears to be of the least worth, although it is of the greatest worth? I say it is humility. The which from pure love brought down the Eternal Son from the Most High and Holy Trinity unto Mary, chosen to receive Him for her humbleness. Whoever is truly humble wars with no one; he is peaceful in himself, and would have all to enjoy the same peace. Much more might I say of its great worth and little cost, but let this suffice.”

“The third question from the king’s lips is this: What is that which costs the most, although it is worth the least, and goes ever to utter loss? I tell you that it is pride. For pride could not live in heaven, but in its fall brought down Lucifer to hell. It cost heaven to Lucifer and paradise to Adam. Pride is the cause of all our woes. The whole world cannot stanch the wounds it inflicts, nor wipe out its reproach. Pride is the head of all offence and the root of all sin, wasting whatever it touches, and putting nothing in the place of what it destroys; pride is the sting of evil, and the malignant element in all its wickedness. Let it spring up where it will, it is the most costly and worthless of all things.”

“Then the king was glad, because he had heard the truth from innocent lips, and he laid aside his wrath.”

Quotations from Michael F. Glancey, Characteristics From the Writings of Archbishop Ullathorne (London: Burns & Oates, 1889).

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Bible, Catholic, Catholicism, Christianity, Faith, Inspiration, Prayer, Religion and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.