Homily 1, First Sunday in Advent
HOMILY 1, FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT: FOOTNOTES1 Latin rubric (Mark 1:1–8): The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaias the prophet: Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare the way before thee. A voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. John was in the desert [baptizing, and preaching the baptism of penance, unto remission of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all they of Jerusalem, and were baptized by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying: There cometh after me one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I have baptized you with water; but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.]
2 They both say the same thing with many [different] letters
HOMILY 1, FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT: EXPLANATORY NOTESAbbreviations: CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; MED: Middle English Dictionary; NHC: Northern Homily Cycle; NIMEV: The New Index of Middle English Verse, ed. Boffey and Edwards; ON: Old Norse; Small: English Metrical Homiles, ed. Small; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences and Proverbial Phrases from English Writings Mainly Before 1500. For manuscript abbreviations (ED, A, D, G, L, V), see the Introduction.
The liturgical year begins with the four Sundays of the Advent season, which culminate in the Nativity. The celebration of Advent was instituted towards the end of the fifth century, and the Latin word adventus (“coming"), which gives its name to the season, was first understood as referring specifically to the birth of Christ but later taken in the wider sense of the coming of Christ in general. The texts for the First, Third, and Fourth Sundays appropriately center on the life and preaching of John the Baptist, who prophesied Jesus’ coming, and who also baptized him in the river Jordan. In the preceding Ratio, the poet has identified the season as one of joyful anticipation, as Christians prepare to welcome Jesus with “honor and mirth"; for the medieval church, however, the Advent season was also a time of fasting and repentance, hence the further appropriateness of John the Baptist as a preacher of repentance. Despite the ostensible cheer, all four of the Advent texts introduce a considerable element of darkness, especially that for the Second Sunday, which looks ahead to Judgment Day at the end of time. The First Sunday in Advent is that which is closest in date to the Feast of Saint Andrew (November 30).
NIMEV 2996, 4226. Manuscripts: ED: fols. 17r–18v; A: fols. 3r–7r; G: fols. 8r–11v; D: fols. 40r–42v; L: fols. 1v–3r.
1 Sayn Mark. The Gospel passage from Mark was not widely used for the First Sunday in Advent during this period. The missals for both Sarum and York, for instance, employ Matthew 21:1–9, which chronicles Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and later versions of NHC itself substitute the Matthew text for that of Mark. This lends support to the idea that NHC was originally composed by Augustinian canons who generally show more flexibility than other clergy in their choice of Gospel pericopes (see Heffernan, “Authorship," p. 304, and Spencer, English Preaching, p. 23).
14 Malachye. An allusion to Malachias 3:1: “Behold I send my angel, and he shall prepare the way before my face."
45–46 This es the strenthe of our Godspel, / That man with Englis tung mai telle. The poet regularly indicates the conclusion of the Gospel paraphrase with this formula or another very similar.
65 Cristes messagers. The importance and worthiness of the office of preacher is a frequent theme. Nonetheless, as will be seen, the poet also speaks often and colorfully of preachers who do not behave in a manner that is consonant with their office. See, for example, the sermons for Septuagesima and the Third Sunday in Lent (Homilies 14 and 20). The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 was responsible for placing a heightened emphasis on the duties of priests with regard to their parishioners, and the consequent necessity for priests to be sufficiently well educated to carry out these duties (Boyle, “Fourth Lateran," pp. 30–31).
79 lyhted doun. The poem appropriates a favorite pun often used by writers on the Annunciation, where the Holy Spirit “alighted" in Mary, thus making her luminous with his light, and at the same time making her light (less encumbered, less heavy of heart). Compare Chaucer’s wordplay where, in the Prologue to The Prioress’ Tale, we read of “the Goost that in th’alighte, / Of whos vertu, whan he thyn herte lighte" (CT VII[B2]470–71).
80 maiden. The two primary meanings of the term are surely in force here, as Mary is both a young woman and a virgin (MED).
81 And schop him bodi. A reference to the central Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, the belief that Jesus, who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, was born from the Virgin Mary, was both God and a human being.
84 al an. This phrase expresses the idea that Christ, in his holiness (sinlessness) remains all one with God, though separate in accordance with Trinitarian hypostatic theory (different but one in the same). Sin “is moder of divisioun," Gower writes (Confessio Amantis, Prol.1030; see also Prol.849–53 and 1009–10), a principle at work here by contrast as the fiend, who is separated from God, tries to trick Jesus the man into sin (division) and thereby hurl him into his prison (line 104).
92 Als fisce is tan wit bait and hoc. Proverbial. See Whiting F230, which lists, among others, occurrences in Aelfric, Cursor Mundi, and Lydgate. This was a very popular image in sermons. Though the idea can be traced back to Origen, it was given its most famous form by Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century, who described how “the Deity was hidden under the veil of our nature, that so, as with ravenous fish, the hook of the Deity might be gulped down along with the bait of flesh, and thus, life being introduced into the house of death, and light shining in darkness, that which is diametrically opposed to light and life might vanish" (Great Catechism 24, in Select Library, p. 494). John of Damascus (in De Fid. 3.27) uses the same simile in the eighth century, and Henry notes that the familiar image is portrayed “in Herrad of Landsburg’s drawing of Leviathan swallowing the hook of the Cross concealed by the bait of Christ’s body" (Henry, “‘Pater Noster,’" p. 111).
103 ithenlye. MED: from ON iðinn, “diligent." The only citations in MED come from NHC and Cursor Mundi. Small notes several Scottish dialect variants of this word: “ithand, ythen, eident," which further signal its Northern origin (p. 176).
122 He herid hel. The Harrowing of Hell was the medieval English term for Christ’s descent into hell following his death, understood as the moment when he triumphed over Satan and led forth a victorious procession of those who had lived justly but had died before they could be redeemed by Christ. This popular belief, to which the mystery plays often devoted an entire episode, was developed in post-biblical times from images scattered throughout the New Testament (see, for example, Matthew 12:40 and 27:52–53).
128 ro. Small notes the derivation of ro from ON ró, “peace" (p. 176).
159 Werldes welthe. Although most of the NHC exempla have been taken from collections like the Vitae Patrum, this is one of several whose source is actually biblical:
And one of the Pharisees desired him to eat with him. And he went into the house of the Pharisee, and sat down to meat. And behold a woman that was in the city, a sinner, when she knew that he sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment; And standing behind at his feet, she began to wash his feet, with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. And the Pharisee, who had invited him, seeing it, spoke within himself, saying: This man, if he were a prophet, would know surely who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner. And Jesus, answering, said to him: Simon, I have somewhat to say to thee. But he said: Master, say it. A certain creditor had two debtors, the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And whereas they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which therefore of the two loveth him most? Simon answering, said; I suppose that he to whom he forgave most. And he said to him: Thou hast judged rightly. And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon: Dost thou see this woman: I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she with tears hath washd my feet, and with her hairs hath wiped them. Thou gavest me no kiss; but she, since she came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but she with ointment hath anointed my feet. Wherefor I say to thee: Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less. And he said to her: Thy sins are forgiven thee. (Luke 7:36–48, with synoptic parallels at Mark 14:3–9 and Matthew 26:6–13)Luke’s account does not name the penitential sinner as Mary Magdalene, but Gregory the Great preached a homily in 591 fusing together three Marys taken from different elements of scriptural tradition as found in the Gospels: Mary Magdalene (the woman healed of demonic possession by Christ who became his disciple and bore witness to his resurrection), Mary of Bethany (the sister of Martha and Lazarus), and the unnamed sinner who anointed Christ’s feet at the house of Simon the Pharisee. The composite figure thus created became one of the most popular saints of the later Middle Ages: Bede’s Martyrology (c. 720) provides the first evidence for the cult of Mary Magdalene in the West, and by the eleventh century the signs of devotion to her were everywhere (see Jansen, Making of the Magdalen, p. 35). Mary Magdalene was especially significant as a figure for repentance, as seen, for example, in the illustration of her found in the Biblia Pauperum (Henry, “‘Pater Noster,’" pp. 101–11).
189 Simonde was mesel. Luke does not say that Simon was a leper, but he is so identified in Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14:3.
205 blotned. Small notes: “From blote, to dry, hence the well known word ‘bloater,’ a herring dried in smoke" (p. 176).
207–10 The idea that Mary’s ointment is the same as that which she used in her earlier sinful life is (to the best of my knowledge) original to NHC. The ointment has an extended legendary history after the anointing of Christ: King Bademagu offers to heal Lancelot’s wounds by applying the ointment of the Three Marys in Chrétien de Troyes’ Knight of the Cart (p. 211). The ointment also makes an appearance in Le Mort Ayneri de Narbonne, a chanson de geste that is part of the William of Orange Cycle.
275–80 blast of bem . . . he sal thaim flem. The extended rhyme over these six lines on the eschaton helps to hold the apocalyptic imagery apart from the text, emphasizing the innate power of the last things. These images, of course, have their scriptural basis in Apocalypse, particularly 20:11–15.
281–84 Here the poet alludes to his next homily, on the signs that will precede Judgment Day as foretold by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. See Second Sunday in Advent for this text.
HOMILY 1, FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT: TEXTUAL NOTES1 Sayn. MS: ayn. Space for capital letter left blank.
11 thee. So A. MS omits.
41 in water. MS: in written at end of line, with a caret before water to indicate point of insertion.
51 falles to a mihty king. MS: falles mihty to king, with a caret before and after mihty to indicate repositioning of to. MS also omits a, which I have supplied from A.
57 witnes. So A, G. MS: wittes.
73 us. So A. MS omits.
76 Cristes tocuminges thre. Small has added poyntis to this line, enclosed in square brackets, following tocuminge, but without indicating the source of this emendation in his notes. He has in fact taken it from G, the source of most of his emendations, but I see no reason to follow him here as ED makes sense without the emendation and is close to the reading in A: Of iesu cristis comynges thre. The idea of Christ’s three appearances was an expansion of the original idea of Christ’s “advent" or birth, to include the idea of a triple coming: the birth of Christ, the Second Coming (Last Judgment), and the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, i.e., the kingdom “within" (New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, p. 55).
106 other. So A. MS: oþe.
112 fisc. MS: fisic.
128 al. MS: fra canceled following.
133 Nou. MS: ou. Space for capital letter left blank.
142 siker. So A. MS: sike.
147 beginne. So A. MS: biginnig.
159 Werldes. MS: erldes. Space for capital letter left blank.
MS: Notanda relatio is written in red letters at the edge of the left margin. There is also a cross just to the left of the space left for the capital letter W (not written), which is the scribe’s customary method for noting the beginning of the exemplum.
166 hir. MS: hio.
173 nane. So A. MS: man.
180 That burd. So A. MS: þar brd.
200 grete. So A. MS: grete (?). Small transcribes this word as grede, and this is a possible reading. However, I think it more likely that the t of grete has been carelessly written, with a more curved ascender than in the case of the other three rhyming words. A d seems unlikely, given both the meaning of grede (“to yell" or “cry out") and the fact that lines 199, 201, and 202 all end in -ete.
211 This. MS: his. Space for capital letter left blank.
216 this. MS: his.
220 thoght. So A. MS omits.
221 said. MS: said said, with second occurrence canceled.
232 thaim. So A. MS omits.
234 stez. The MED lists this, along with the slightly more usual spelling stece, as the only occurrence of this word, meaning “force, compulsion." A: strife. G: stryue.
239 Thou havis. MS: Þou hauid. A: has. Small emends or misreads Þou as You, and leaves havid unaltered. That Þou is intended is confirmed by A’s reading, as well as by the use of the second person singular pronoun throughout this passage. I have accordingly adjusted the ending of havid to conform with the second person singular as ordinarily written in ED.
243 this. MS: þit.
247 Thou. MS: Þou. Once again Small has transcribed this as “You," which is clearly wrong.
271 us. MS: til canceled before.
Inicium Evangelii Jhesu Cristi filii Dei, sicut scriptum est in Ysaya Propheta. Ecce mitto angelum meum ante faciem tuam qui preparabit viam tuam ante te. Vox clamantis in deserto parate viam Domini, rectas semitas facite eius. Fuit Johannes in deserto et cetera.1
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