It was written in Middle English for the spiritual instruction of three young women, sisters, well-born but with restricted educational opportunities compared to men, and it was composed in a region which valued English literary culture. We know this as the language does not show late West Saxon features or verb endings of more northerly dialects. It cannot come from the Eastern Midlands because of the distinctive way it spells OE y and eo. The author was possibly a Dominican friar the order was founded in and reached this area around considering the practices put forward in the document, although E. Dobson speculated that the author might have been Brian of Lingen, based on an anagram, who is thought to have been an Augustinian canon of Wigmore Abbey, who might have been the brother of the original three readers.
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Est rectum grammaticum, rectum geometricum, rectum theologicum; sunt differencie totidem regularum. We are to treat of the theological law, the rules of which are two: one relates to the right conduct of the heart; the other, to the regulation of the outward life. And you, my dear sisters, have oftentimes importuned me for a rule. It teaches how men should, in all respects, bear themselves outwardly; how they should eat and drink, dress, take rest, sleep, and walk. And this is bodily exercise, which, according to the Apostle, profits little, and is, as it were, a rule of the science of mechanics, which is a branch of geometry; and this rule is only to serve the other.
The other is as a lady; this is as her handmaid; for, whatever men do of the other outwardly, is only to direct the heart within. Vor sum is strong, sum is unstrong, mei ful wel beo cwite paie god mid lesse. You should by all means, with all your might and all your strength, keep well the inward rule, and for its sake the outward.
The inward rule is always alike. The outward is various, because every one ought so to observe the outward rule as that the body may therewith best serve the inward. Now then, is it so that all anchoresses may well observe one rule? This the lady rule effects, which governs and corrects and smoothes the heart and the conscience of sin, for nothing maketh it rugged but sin only. To correct it and smooth it is the good office and the excellent effect of all religion and of every religious order.
Wherefore, it ever is and shall be the same, without mixture and without change; and all men ought ever invariably to observe it. It ordains fasting, watching, enduring cold, wearing haircloth, and such other hardships as the flesh of many can bear and many cannot.
For some are strong, some are weak, and may very well be excused, and please God with less; some are learned, and some are not, and must work the more, and say their prayers at the stated hours in a different manner; some are old and ill favoured, of whom there is less fear; some are young and lively, and have need to be more on their guard. Every anchoress must, therefore, observe the outward rule according to the advice of her confessor, and do obediently whatever he enjoins and commands her, who knows her state and her strength.
He may modify the outward rule, as prudence may direct, and as he sees that the inward may thus be best kept. Sigge so monie, o hwuche wise se heo euer wule. If, however, she does not vow it, she may, nevertheless, do it, and leave it off when she will, as of meat and drink, abstaining from flesh or fish, and all other such things relating to dress, and rest, and hours, and prayers.
Let her say as many, and in such a way, as she pleases. These and such other things are all in our free choice, to do or to let alone whenever we choose, unless they are vowed. Therefore, my dear sisters, that which I shall write to you in the first, and especially in the last part of your book, concerning your service, you should not vow it, but keep it in your heart, and perform it as though you had vowed it. James describe religion and order.
The latter part of his saying relates to anchorites: for there are two parts of this description, which relates to two kinds of religious men; to each of them his own part applies, as you may hear. There are in the world good religious men, especially some prelates and faithful preachers, to whom belongs the former part of that which St.
James said; who are, as he said, those who go to assist widows and orphans. The soul is a widow who has lost her husband, that is, Jesus Christ, by any grievous sin. He is likewise an orphan who, through his sin, has lost the Father of Heaven.
To go and visit such, and to comfort and assist them with food of sacred instruction, this, saith St. James, is true religion. The latter part of his saying relates to anchorites, to your religious order, as I said before, who keep yourselves pure and unspotted from the world, more than any other religious persons.
James describes religion and order; neither white nor black does he speak of in his order, as many do, who strain at the gnat and swallow the fly, that is, exert much strength where little is required.
Paul, the first anchorite, Antony and Arsenius,Macarius and the rest , were not they religious persons and of St. And St. Sara , Sincletica , and many other such men and women with their coarse mattresses and their hard hair-cloths, were not they of a good order?
In this manner answer you any one who asks you concerning your order, and, whether white or black, say that you are both through the grace of God, and of the order of St. Let them look well that they do not lie. Thus it is in a convent; but, wherever a woman lives, or a man lives by himself alone, be he hermit or anchorite, of outward things whereof scandal comes not, it is not necessary to take so much care.
Mark this, understand it, do good, and deem thyself ever weak, and with fear and love walk with God thy Lord. Wherever these things are, there is true religion, and there is right order; and to do all the other things and leave this undone is mere trickery and deceit.
All that a good recluse does or thinks, according to the external rule, is altogether for this end; it is only as an instrument to promote this true religion; it is only a slave to help the lady to rule the heart. The first part treats entirely of your religious service. The next is, how you ought, through your five senses, to keep your heart, wherein is order, religion, and the life of the soul. In this part there are five chapters or sections concerning the five senses, which guard the heart as watchmen when they are faithful, and which speak concerning each sense separately in order.
The third part is of a certain kind of bird, to which David, in the Psalter, compares himself, as if he were an anchorite, and how the nature of those birds resembles that of anchorites. The fourth part is of fleshly, and also of spiritual temptations, and of comfort against them, and of their remedies.
The fifth part is of confession. The sixth part is of penitence. The seventh part is of a pure heart, why men ought and should love Jesus Christ, and what deprives us of his love, and hinders us from loving him. The eighth part is entirely of the external rule; first, of meat and drink and of other things relating thereto; thereafter, of the things that you may receive, and what things you may keep and possess; then of your clothes and of such things as relate thereto; next of your tonsure, and of your works, and of your blood-letting; lastly, the rule concerning your maids, and how you ought kindly to instruct them.
PART I. Thou who didst condescend to be born of a virgin, have mercy on us! Have these words much in use, and in your mouth as often as you may, sitting and standing. Hail, thou price of our redemption! Hail, thou who art our support during our pilgrimage! Hail, O reward of our expectation! May our glory be in thee, Through endless ages. Abide with us, O Lord. Remove the dark night. Wash off all our guilt. Grant us godly medicine. Glory be to thee, O Lord, Who wert born of a virgin.
We adore thy cross, O Lord. We commemorate thy glorious passion. Pity us, O thou who didst suffer for us. Hail, O holy Cross, worthy tree, whose precious wood bore the treasure of the world! Hail, O Cross, who in the body of Christ wast dedicated, and with his limbs adorned, as with pearls.
O Cross, wood triumphant over the world. True safety, hail! Among woods none such, for leaf, flower, bud. O Christian medicine, heal, heal the sound and the sick. If you cannot always keep to the right time, say the Nocturns by night in the winter; in the summer, at daybreak.
This winter shall begin at Holy Rood-day in autumn, and continue on thereafter. Prime shall be said in the winter early; in summer before daybreak; Pretiosa thereafter. If you have need from any emergency to speak, you may say Pretiosa before, and immediately after the nocturnal service if necessary. Nones always after meat; but when you sleep, say Nones after [sleep] during summer; but when you fast in winter, before meat; and in summer when you fast, the Sunday, after [meat]; for you eat twice.
If you do thus every evening, Sunday night alone excepted, you do so much the better. Christ have mercy upon us. Lord have mercy upon us. Let us pray. O God, whose property is always to have mercy and to spare, receive our prayer for forgiveness, and let Thy compassion and pity absolve us who are bound with the chain of our sins, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
O God, make haste to help me. In this manner you may say, if you will, your Pater nosters. Give me grace, Almighty God; inspire into me, you three persons, these same three things: power to serve thee, wisdom to please thee, love and will to do it; power that I may do, wisdom that I may know what to do, love that I may be constrained to do all that is most approved by thee; as thou art full of every good thing, as there is no good wanting where these three are, power, wisdom, and love united together, that thou grant me them, O holy Trinity, in the worship of thee.
I Believe. Sweet Jesus, for my sins suspended on the cross; for the sake of the same five wounds by which thou didst thereon bleed, heal my soul, defiled with blood, of all the wounds wherewith it is wounded through my five senses, in the remembrance of them; so may it be, dear Lord. O Lord, graciously hear the prayers of thy church. From the gates of Hell, O Lord, deliver their souls.
Pater noster. Be thou our joy, who art about to be our reward. May our glory be in thee, for ever and ever. Remove our darkness. Wash from us all our guilt. Grant a holy remedy. Glory be to thee, O Lord. But, is there any place in me into which my God may come who made heaven and earth?
Is it so, O Lord my God? Is there in me any thing which may contain thee?
Þe Ancrene Riwle
A medieval code of rules for the life of anchoresses or recluses. The Ancrene Riwle , or Ancrene Wisse , was written specifically for three sisters not nuns who had retired to a life of prayer and penance. Seven copies of the text are extant in English. Two French versions, several Latin versions, and some adaptations of material taken from the Rule show the popularity of this much-read classic of Middle English prose. The Early English Text Society is well on its way toward offering reliable texts of all manuscripts of the Rule, along with critical apparatus.
Jump to navigation. See the Select Bibliography for full reference. I have used translations of the Middle English text in the Introduction to facilitate ease of reading. The translations here do not correspond word for word with the glosses at the foot of the text. Those glosses are designed to clarify the literal statement in the Middle English text and, if quoted without the original vocabulary, syntax, or immediate reference, are too clumsy for the context here. Clay gives the translation of an early sixteenth-century enclosure ceremony in Appendix A of her book The Hermits and Anchorites of England. Warren extrapolates this data from a variety of documents, though wills with their frequent bequests to local anchorites are often the richest sources.