From the beginning of the play—when Everyman learns that the time of his death has come—Everyman is deeply concerned with the subject of salvation. Although Everyman initially searches for salvation in the form of someone to accompany him on his pilgrimage (to death), he eventually begins to question how he can save his soul from damnation. The answer, he finds, is through the Catholic Church and Good Deeds—the only friend that agrees to accompany him on his journey to the afterlife. The main moral message of Everyman is not simply that the path to salvation is through the doing of good deeds, but that humanity does not have the power to save itself. Rather, much like Everyman, humanity finds salvation through the grace of God. In fact, this is one of the central tenets of Christianity: that man cannot save himself—he needs a savior. Therefore, the importance of the humility Everyman demonstrates in relying on Good Deeds to save him from damnation can be taken as one of the play’s main moral messages. It is not simply the doing of good deeds which saves Everyman, but his willingness to acknowledge his need for help and his own inadequacy in saving himself.
Everyman’s salvation by the self-sacrificing character of Good Deeds parallels mankind’s salvation by the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the Christian Gospel. Like Jesus, Good Deeds is the epitome of selflessness who—unlike Fellowship, Kindred, and Goods—is willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of Everyman’s salvation. Importantly, Good Deeds does not save Everyman because he is deserving of salvation. Rather, his selfishness and sinfulness make him markedly undeserving—and Good Deeds reminds readers of this when she complains that if Everyman had “cheered” her, rather than pursuing his own selfish desires, she wouldn’t be too weak to help him in his pilgrimage. Good Deeds only regains strength when Everyman repents for his sins and punishes himself through self-flagellation, suggesting once again that Everyman’s humility—and his ability to acknowledge his sinful nature and accept help from others—are the keys to his salvation.
Notably, Everyman does not perform good deeds in the general sense that readers might think of today. Although he does donate half his wealth to charity after the character Good Deeds has been healed, what actually revitalizes Good Deeds is the series of Catholic sacraments that Everyman participates in. When Good Deeds is too weak to help Everyman, her sister Knowledge guides Everyman on his spiritual journey to purification. Along the way, Everyman participates in specifically Catholic sacraments and practices such as penance, confession, self-flagellation, extreme unction, and last rites. Knowledge is therefore not the personification of knowledge in general but rather of the knowledge of the holy sacraments and rituals of the Catholic Church. In this way, the play suggests that salvation is attained not just through humility and doing good deeds, but through the Catholic Church and its sacraments. Indeed, Five-Wits even claims that priests are more powerful than angels, and that because priests are crucial to the seven sacraments, “[they] beareth the keys and thereof hath the cure / For man’s redemption.” Therefore, underlying the explicit moral of this play—that only good deeds and reliance on God can save mankind at his reckoning—is a subtler and decidedly less universal message: that humanity must rely on the Catholic Church for salvation or face eternal damnation.
Salvation, Humility, and the Catholic Church ThemeTracker
Salvation, Humility, and the Catholic Church Quotes in Everyman
Now in good faith, I will not that way.
But and thou wilt murder, or any man kill,
In that I will help thee with a good will!
Whether ye have loved me or no,
By Saint John, I will not with thee go.
Yea, sir, I may thank you of all;
If ye had perfectly cheered me,
Your book of account now full ready had be.
Look, the books of your works and deeds eke;
Oh, see how they lie under the feet,
To your soul’s heaviness.
I come with Knowledge for my redemption,
Repent with hearty and full contrition;
For I am commanded a pilgrimage to take,
And great accounts before God to take,
Now, I pray you, Shift, mother of salvation,
Help my good deeds for my piteous exclamation.
In the name of the Holy Trinity,
My body sore punished shall be:
Take this body for the sin of the flesh;
Also thou delightest to go gay and fresh,
And in the way of damnation thou did me bring;
Therefore suffer now strokes and punishing.
Now of penance I will wade the water clear,
To save me from purgatory, that sharp fire.
God will you to salvation bring,
For priesthood exceedeth all other thing;
To us Holy Scripture they do teach,
And converteth man from sin heaven to reach;
God hath to them more power given,
Than to any angel that is in heaven
But when Jesus hanged on the cross with great smart
There he gave, out of his blessed heart,
The same sacrament in great torment:
He sold them not to us, that Lord Omnipotent.
Therefore Saint Peter the apostle doth say
That Jesu’s curse hath all they
Which God their Savior do buy or sell,
Or they for any money do take or tell.
Everyman: Take example, all ye that this do hear or see,
How they that I loved best do forsake me,
Except my Good-Deeds that bideth truly.
Good-Deeds: All earthly things is but vanity:
Beauty, Strength, and Discretion, do man forsake,
Foolish friends and kinsmen, that fair spake,
All fleeth save Good-Deeds, and that am I.