Item 29, The Short Charter of Christ

Item 29, THE SHORT CHARTER OF CHRIST: EXPLANATORY NOTES

Title Testamentum domini. Rate has written this title in a slightly larger version of his regular script. Fictional wills, like fictional charters, were a common medieval form, and there is an exegetical tradition of interpreting Christ’s last instructions to the apostles and his words from the cross as his “Last Will and Testament.” For the literary tradition, see Perrow, “Last Will and Testament.” More commonly scribes call this text a charter (carta), such as the “Carta humane redempcionis” (“Charter of the Redemption of Humanity”) or the “Magna Carta de libertatibus mundi” (“Great Charter of the World’s Freedoms”). The title used by modern scholars and used here is preferred, because it distinguishes the text from other, related charter lyrics (see introduction).

1 Wyteh wele all that ben here. This phrase imitates one of the customary openings of legal charters, “Sciant presentes et futuri.” The Latin is often added in the margin or as a subheading in other copies of this text. The verb “Wyteh” is in the imperative form.

5 wondys fyve. The five wounds of Christ (only occasionally counted as seven, as in item 38, The Wounds and the Sins) are those in each hand and foot and the spear wound in the side. Devotion to the wounds was popular in the fifteenth century; see the introduction to The Wounds and the Sins.

7 I have gyven and made a grante. The doubled verb imitates the Latin legal formula of many charters, “Dedi et concessi,” and like the other formulas, the Latin is written in the margins or as a subheading in some of the other copies of this text.

14 And love thi neyghbour. Lines 12–14 paraphrase Mark 12:30–31, the two com­mandments of the New Law.

16 cheffe lord of the fe. Here “fee” is not money but a fief, an inheritable tenure of land or office held by permission of a lord. In English law, to hold land “in chief” was to hold it directly from the crown rather than from an intermediary.

21 Wytnes. Lines 21–26 refer to the omens of Luke 23:44, often interpreted (and expanded, as here) as nature’s “witness” to the Crucifixion.

30 therto I hynge. All other surviving texts include four further lines, adding an additional “seal” and dating the charter, as in British Library MS Harley 237:
And fore more sekirnes
The wonde in my side the seil it is.
This was gifyn at Calvarye,
Dayt the first day of the gret mercy.
   greater security


Dated
In all likelihood, Rate has omitted these last lines in order to draw attention to the “seal” he has drawn (see introduction). Woolf sees in these lines an allusion to Psalm 21:15, “My heart is become like wax” (English Religious Lyric, p. 214). There is no explicit or colophon. The last line is followed by a drawing of a quar­tered shield with five suns, with the central sun inscribed in a heart (see introduction).

Item 29, THE SHORT CHARTER OF CHRIST: TEXTUAL NOTES

6 lyve. MS: lye.

22 sone that withdrew. MS: sone withdrew.

26 men that rosse. MS: men rosse.

 
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Item 29, The Short Charter of Christ

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Testamentum domini
Wyteh wele all that ben here,
And after schall be leve and dere,
That I, Jhesus of Nazareth,
For lufe of man have soferd deth
Upon a crosse with wondys fyve
Whyle I was man of lyve.
I have gyven and made a grante
To all that askys repentante:
Hevenes blysse withouten endyng,
Als long as I ame ther kyng.
Kepe I no more for all my peynes smerte
Bot trew lufe of manys herte,
And that thow be in charyté
And love thi neyghbour as I do thee.
Thys is the rente thow schall gyff me
As to the cheffe lord of the fe.
If any man can sey now
That I ne have dyghed for manys prow,
Rather than man schuld be forlorne,
Yite wold I efte be all to-torne.
Wytnes the dey that turnyd to nyght
And the sone that withdrew hys lyght.
Wytnes the erth that than dyde quake
And the stones that all to-brake.
Wytnes the vayle that than dyd ryve,
And dede men that rosse fro deth to lyve.
Wytnes my moder and Seynt John
And other that ther were, many one.
In wytnes of that yche thynge,
Myn awne sele therto I hynge.
The Lord’s Will; (see note)
Know well; (see note)
be cherished and loved


wounds
(t-note)
(see note)
ask penitently


I require no more


(see note)

fief; (see note)

man’s benefit
lost
again; torn apart
(see note)
its light; (t-note)

broke apart
            veil [of the temple]; tear
(t-note)

many people
that same deed
seal; hang; (see note)

Go To Item 30, The Lament of Mary, introduction
Go To Item 30, The Lament of Mary, text