‘The night’ he calls death, in the which our members are bound, and wits put by, and we may not now work any healthful thing, but shall receive joy or tormentry according to our works.
Richard Rolle: Hermit of Hampole (c. 1300-1349), The Mending of Life
Though ‘night’ is a common way of calling death, it is hardly to be conceived a night apart from its alternation with the day. In such alternation, the night is not ours, but pertains to an external order. Its personal meaning is diminished by the day opened to be dwelled by all things and people.
They dwell it not as unmoved items in a larger place, but by using the movement of the day that has just went out from the night. Because of the same alternation, every day springs from the night, not just follows it.
Since the day is populated by a moving multitude of items, our works loose themselves among them till to the point that they are not recognized as ours. Those they not cease to be our own works, the day introduced the confusion proper to any moving multitude. There is not just a link between one’s work and other’s works. They are all together. Thus, the individuality is claimed, not simply confirmed.
From this reason, the claim of individuality slips away in excessive forms of expression. There are cast out not only other’s works, but also one’s own works. Thus, we have the tendency of separating thought from feelings, thought from words, and so on, even if they usually are found in an indistinct unity.
From this point of view, night as a simile of death reveals the most important unity constituted by a person: that between his moving members and thoughts or ‘wits’.
Night or death shows them as together in a now strictly personal possession. Since they are unmoved, they cannot be anymore confused and claimed apart in order to support an individual position.
Moreover, night as death discovers that both of them were together in the day time, too, when they could initiate works.
The belief in an eternal life of ‘joy’ or ‘tormentry’ is supposed to help us to adequate our works to divine laws. Beside such belief, there remains the possibility of expressing our individuality through works, and not anymore by a spoken claim.
And any personal work uses members and wits indistinctly.