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Homily 11, Fourth Sunday After Epiphany


1 Third Sunday after the Octave of the Epiphany, according to Matthew

2 Latin rubric (Matthew 8:23–27): And when he entered into the boat, his disciples followed him: And behold a great tempest arose in the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves, [but he was asleep. And they came to him, and awaked him, saying: Lord, save us, we perish. And Jesus saith to them: Why are you fearful, o ye of little faith? Then rising up he commanded the winds, and the sea, and there came a great calm. But the men wondered, saying: What manner of man is this, for the winds and the sea obey him?]


Abbreviations: CA: Catena Aurea, ed. Newman; NHC: Northern Homily Cycle; NIMEV: The New Index of Middle English Verse, ed. Boffey and Edwards; Tubach: Index Exemplorum, ed. Tubach. For manuscript abbreviations (ED, A, D, G, L, V), see the Introduction.

The word epiphany, which comes from Greek, means "illumination" or "divine manifestation." One of the most ancient annual liturgical celebrations, the Feast of the Epiphany was of Eastern origin. In the Egyptian calendar the winter solstice and the feast of the sun-god were both observed on January 6 and this date was originally chosen to draw Christians away from pagan celebrations by introducing a feast to celebrate Christ’s birth. When Rome began to celebrate January 6 in the second half of the fourth century, it shifted to this date the remembrance of the adoration of the wise men which became the main theme of its Epiphany, while December 25 remained the day for celebrating the birth of Jesus (Martimort, Church at Prayer, 77–88). The sequence of Sundays following Epiphany brings the liturgical calendar to Septuagesima which begins the Easter cycle. In his homily for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, on Christ’s stilling of the waves, the NHC-poet preaches, as we might expect after this Gospel text, on Christ’s power to help those who pray to him. The poet’s greatest eloquence, however, is reserved for a favorite theme which is only tan­gentially related to the biblical text: the oppression of the poor by the rich. The link between homily and exemplum is provided by the former’s diatribe against the wicked rich, which prepares us for the story of a rich but repentant usurer. yet the ingenuity of the introduction to this exemplum may owe more to the poet’s creative imagination than to its actual appropriateness: the sea, which represents worldly wealth, metaphorically “drowns” mankind, thereby leading them to hell. Hell, it seems, is full of “watery worms” (line 114), and it is a real worm, it just so happens, who will devour the usurer in the tale.

NIMEV 3021, 45. Manuscripts: ED: fols. 32r–33v; A: fols. 42v–46r; G: fols. 41r–43v; D: fols. 69v–71v (last 58 lines lost); L: fols. 15r–16v.

23–24 Al Hali Kirc, als thinc me, / Mai bi this chippe takened be. As Owst notes, the “nautical simile . . . has had a long and honoured career in medieval preaching” (Literature and Pulpit, p. 68). His chapter on Scripture and Allegory includes many citations from medieval sermon manuscripts that offer different allegorical interpretations of the ship, most often, as here, Holy Church (Owst, Literature and Pulpit, pp. 68–76). CA 1.319–23 offers numerous commentaries on the scriptural text (Matthew 8:23–27): e.g., Pseudo-Origen’s: “We are all embarked in the vessel of the Holy Church, and voyaging through this stormy world with the Lord. The Lord himself sleeps a merciful sleep while we suffer, and awaits the repentance of the wicked” (1.323), or Bede’s: “The boat is the present Church, in which Christ passes over the sea of this world with His own, and stills the waves of persecution” (1.323–24). While it is impossible to know which collection or set of distinctiones the NHC-poet might have used, the CA is an excellent example of the kind of work into which the writings of the Church Fathers were gathered to gloss Holy Scripture. Gregory does not have a homily for this text and Robert of Gretham, who does, uses some of the same allegorical similes (the ship as Holy Church), but some quite different ones as well (the sea as the cross), and there is little similarity between the two homilies overall (Duncan, Middle English Mirror, pp. 104–11).

46 Riht als the quale fars wit the elringe. “Most popular of all created things in pulpit moralization were the beasts, birds and fishes of the animal kingdom” (Owst, Literature and Pulpit, p. 195). The analogy between the rich who devour the poor and big fish who eat little ones is lightly allegorical and certainly a familiar medi­eval trope, yet what is most interesting here is the number and specificity of the fish named. While not coming close to the eighteen different kinds of fish enu­merated in Havelok the Dane, the NHC-poet takes a similar pleasure in detail based on local knowledge. The three large fish named here (quale, sturion, lobbekeling) are also found in Havelok; of further interest, as pointed out in Smithers’ edition of that poem, “the jurist Bracton reports . . . that large fish such as sturgeon and whale belong to the king,” a fact which underlines the division between rich and poor and which therefore fits admirably with the moral drawn by the NHC-poet (Havelok, p. 110, line 754n). The three smaller fish (merling, sperling, elringe) do not occur in the Havelok list (too small for a serious fisherman like Grim?), but two of the three are found in Boke of Nurture, which contains a highly detailed listing of fish and the preparation entailed for cooking them (J. Russell, pp. 155–73). The third small fish, the elringe, is not found in either of these sources, but A, G, and D all substitute the more familiar herynge, of which elringe must be a Northern variant. One further demonstration of our poet’s local knowledge: Furnivall (in J. Russell, Boke of Nurture, p. 173n2) comments that the sparlyng (NHC sperlyng) “is taken chiefly upon our Northern coast.”

107–08 And ai the richer that man esse, / The mar him langes efter riches. Aristotle’s attitude towards trade, which is echoed here, played a substantial role in forming the medieval arguments against usury, the subject of the exemplum which follows this homily. In his view, as paraphrased by Bisson, “introducing money as an exchange mechanism creates an insatiable, and unnatural, desire to acquire more, just for the sake of having more” (Chaucer and the Late, p.174).

117 An hali man biyond se. Tubach 5038: Usurer eaten by adders. Out of the nearly forty exempla listed by Tubach under the heading of “usurer,” the NHC item is almost the only one in which the usurer is saved, suggesting that the poet wants to encourage his audience, however sternly, to believe that no one who repents is beyond God’s mercy. Gerould lists two thirteenth-century Latin analogues of this tale, one by Étienne de Bourbon, the other found in Caesarius of Heisterbach’s very popular Dialogus Miraculorum. Gerould thinks the Dialogus, which, as he says, was certainly known in England, is the more likely to have been the NHC-poet’s source but, as he further notes, neither version is as detailed as this one (NEHC, pp. 41–42).

121 That thoru kind was bond and thralle. The fact that this knight was born to a con­dition of servitude from which he has escaped by clever usurious practices, expresses classic medieval disapproval of social climbers who seek to move beyond the estate to which divine justice has assigned them. Medieval estates theory defined three basic categories of individual as constituting society: those who fight, those who pray, and those who work. Drawing on Saint Paul’s the­ology which portrayed the human body as composed of different parts which worked together harmoniously to create a whole, social theorists took a highly conservative view of the relationship between class and social position. In the eyes of the poet, the knight’s villainy is compounded by his being a social climber as well as a usurer, but his changed status also suggests that in historical terms, English society was already beginning to experience the social fluidity charac­teristic of the later fourteenth century (Bisson, Chaucer and the Late, pp. 143–46).

123 This catel gat he wit okering. Antagonism against usurious practices, which is found early on in the writings of the Church Fathers, was influenced both by Deuter­onomy 23:19: “Thou shalt not lend to thy brother money to usury,” and the words of Jesus in Luke 6:35: “But love ye your enemies: do good, and lend, hoping for nothing thereby.” The Second Lateran Council in 1139 pronounced the first explicit decree of universal prohibition against usury for clergy and laity alike and the thirteenth-century writings of Aquinas on usury were highly influ­ential in the development of the Church’s arguments. Following the growth of commerce in the later Middle Ages, public usurers were nonetheless tolerated as a necessary evil and most, though not all, were Jews, for whom Mosaic law prohibited usury only with regard to other Jews (Buckley, Teachings on Usury, pp. 101–32). Typically, the practice of usury as portrayed in medieval exempla is rarely connected to the Jews; rather, as in this narrative, it is seen as one more instance of the devil’s attempt to bring Christian souls to hell (Gregg, Devils, Women and Jews, p. 200).

159 This quet, I rede thou selle me. This clever detail is not found in either of Gerould’s analogues. The picture of the usurer who repents but cannot resist falling back into his old bad ways by forcing the beggar to sell back to him the “alms” he has just given, adds a neat and delightfully ironic twist to the story as a whole.

171 And toc tharfor fif schilling. The usurer here offers the beggar what most would have considered a fair price. Between 1275 and 1325, with a few exceptions during years of famine or bad harvest, the cost of a quarter of wheat remained close to five shillings (Bolton, Medieval English Economy, p. 67). The beggar ends up with money in his pocket and the usurer has not made a profit; hence he is not, strictly speaking, acting in an usurious manner. But the issue seems to be, as the beggar indicates, that an act of “charity” has been turned into a com­mercial exchange. Canon law consistently warned, during these early stages of the profit economy, of potential sin involved in buying and selling, and it was around this time that the pictorial theme of men and apes defecating coins was first seen in the margins of manuscripts (Little, Religious Poverty, pp. 34–38).


Abbreviations: MED: Middle English Dictionary; NHC: Northern Homily Cycle; OI: Old Irish; ON: Old Norse; Small: English Metrical Homiles, ed. Small. For manuscript abbreviations (ED, A, D, G, L, V), see the Introduction.

10 forfare. So A, G, and D. MS: fofare. Small reads sofare. It is often difficult to dif­ferentiate scribal f and s, but in this case the biblical text makes the intended meaning clear.

12 And said. MS: said added at end of line with caret to mark point of insertion.
fered. MS: feþed.

19 Quatkin man mai. MS: man added at end of line with caret to mark point of insertion.

32 That gladli Goddes will will wirc. So A. MS: Þat goddes wil gladli wille wirc. The placement of a caret following gladli indicates the scribe’s intention to change the word order in some way, but there is no second caret to indicate a point of insertion; I have therefore adopted A’s reading which is metrically smoother.

38 bare. A, G, and D all change what is evidently an obscure word. It comes from ON. Compare OI bara and is cognate with modern English “bore,” which means “a tidal wave.”

70 Thou. Small emends this to thoh (though without noting it as such), but I have retained the manuscript reading as an acceptable variant.

86 swilc. So A. MS: silc.

92 Wote. So A. MS: Quat.

96 biseninges. MS: bseninges.

98 to ger yow fle. So A. MS: þis werldes welt do fle, with yow omitted and to added at end of line with caret to mark point of insertion.

124 corsing. The NHC passage is the only MED citation for this word, but the noun corser, from Medieval Latin cursor, for “trader,” is more frequently found and lends support to the meaning given here.

135 yef he walde tac. MS: yef walde he tac, with carets around walde to indicate change of position.

149 quat he wald haf. MS: wald haf quat he, with carets to mark point of insertion.

185 on a rase, So A. MS: sa ras.

197 Thou. See note to line 70.

201 okerer. MS: okeres. MED lists this form as an error for okerer.

205 said, “Lef fader. MS: said added at end of line with caret to mark point of insertion.

214 borne. So G. MS: bor.
Dominica iii post Octavam Epiphanie, secundum Matheum.1

Ascendente Jhesu in naviculam secuti sunt eum discipuli eius; et ecce motus magnus factus est in mari ita ut navicula operiretur fluctibus. et cetera. 2




















































   Sain Matheu the wangeliste
Telles us todai, hou Criste
Schipped into the se a tim,
And his decipelis al wit him.
And quen thair schip cam on dep,
Jesu selven fel on slep,
And gret tempest bigan to ris,
That gert the schipmen sar grise.
Thai wakned Crist, and said yare,
“Help us, Lauerd, for we forfare.”
And Crist, als mihti Godd, ansuerd
And said, “Foles, qui er ye fered?”
Als qua sai: Godd es in this schip,
That mai wel save this felauschip.
And Crist comanded wind and se
To lethe, and fair weder be.
And sa fair weder was in hie,
That al his felaues thoht ferlie,
And said, “Quatkin man mai this be,
Til him bues bathe winde and se?”
This es the strenthe of our Godspelle
Als man on Ingelis tong mai telle.

   Al Hali Kirc, als thinc me,
Mai bi this chippe takened be,
That Crist rad in and his felawes,
Imang dintes of gret quawes.
For schip fletes on the flode,
And Hali Kirc wit costes gode,
Fletes aboven this werldes se,
Flouand wit sin and caytifté
God Cresten men er Hali Kirc,
That gladli Goddes will will wirc.
This schip ful gret wawes kepes,
And Crist tharin gasteli slepes,
Quen he tholes god men and lele,
Wit wic men and fals dele,
That betes thaim wit dede and word
Als se bare betes on schipbord.
For wit ensampel, mai we se
That al this werld es bot a se,
That bremli bares on banc wit bale,
And gret fisches etes the smale.
For riche men of this werd etes
That pouer wit thair travail getes.
For wit pouer men fares the kinge,
Riht als the quale fars wit the elringe,
And riht als sturioun etes merling,
And lobbekeling etes sperling,
Sua stroies mare men the lesse,
Wit wa and werldes wrangwisnes,
And schathe that lesse tholes of mare
Smites als storm of se ful sare.
And forthi that Crist tholes this,
Ite sembeles that he slepand is;
Bot thai that thol thir strange stowres,
Thai waken Criste and askes socoures
Wit orisoun, that es prayer,
That wakenes Crist, and geres him her
Al thair wandreth and thair wrake,
And wit his miht he geres it slake.
For rihtwis Cristen man praier
Es til Jesus sa lef and dere,
That quatsaever we ask tharin
And we be out of dedeli sin,
Our Lauerd grauntes it us son,
Yef sawel hel be in our bon.
For yef we prai God that he
Grant that igain our sawel be,
Us au to thinc na ferlye
Thou Godd it warnes overtlye.
For bi ensampel mai we se
That prayer mai unschilful be;
Als ef thou prai Godd that he
Apon thi fais venge thee
Thi prayer es igain his wille,
Forthi wil he it noht fulfille;
Or yef thou prai efter catele,
That es igain thi sawel hele;
Or efter werdes mensc and miht,
That geres foles fal in pliht;
Or ef thou praye him that he leche
Thi fandinges, and thi wandrethe,
That dos into thi sawel gode,
Yef thou it thol wit milde mode.
Wit resoun mai thou Godd noht wite,
Yef he thee swilc askinges nite,
For yef he graunt thee thi schathe,
Thou war noht lef til him, bot lathe.
Forthi es godd that we him praye
Thing that our sawel hele mai;
For ar we bigin our prayer,
Wote he warof we haf mester.
   Bot for our Godspel spekes of se,
Quarbi this werld mai bisend be,
Forthi wil I chaw other thinges,
That er apert biseninges,
Bituixe thir wlanc werld and se,
This werldes welt to ger yow fle.
Bi salte water of the se,
Ful graitheli mai bisend be
This werldes welth, auht, and catel,
That werdes men lufes ful wel,
For salte water geres men threst,
And werdes catel geres men brest.
The mar thou drinkes of the se,
The mare and mar threstes thee;
And ai the richer that man esse,
The mar him langes efter riches.
And in se dronkenes folc ful fele,
And sua dos in werdes catele;
For water drunkenes the bodie,
And catel the sawel gastelie;
For catel drawes man til helle,
Thar wattri wormes er ful felle,
And of thir wormes wil I tell
A tal, yef ye wil her mi spelle.

   An hali man biyond se,
Was bischop of a gret cité;
God man he was, and Pers he hiht,
And thar bisyd woned a kniht,
That thoru kind was bond and thralle,
Bot knihthed gat he wit catelle.
This catel gat he wit okering,
And led al his lif in corsing,
For he haunted bathe dai and niht
His okering, sine he was kniht,
Als fast als he did bifore,
And tharwit gat he gret tresore.
Bot Crist that boht us der wit pine,
Wald noht this mannes sawel tine,
Bot gaf him graz himself to knau,
And his sin to the bischop schawe.
Quen he him schraf at this bischop,
This bischop bad him haf god hop,
And asked him, yef he walde tac
Riht penanz, for his sinful sac.
“Ful gladli wil I tac,” he said,
“The penanz that bes on me laid.”
And the bischop said, “Thou sal mete
A beggar gangand by the strete,
And quat als ever he askes thee,
Gif him, this sal thi penanz be.”
And ful wel paied was this kniht,
For him thoht his penanz ful liht.
And als he for hamward, he mette
A beggar that him cumly grette,
And said, “Lef sir, par charité
Wit sum almous thou help me.”
This kniht asked quat he wald haf,
“Lauerd,” he said, “sum quet I crave.”
“Hou mikel,” he said, “askes thou me?”
“A quarter, Lauerd, par charité.”
This kniht granted him his bone,
And gert met him his corn sone.
This pouer man was will of wan,
For poc no sek no havid he nan,
Quarin he moht this quete do;
And forthi this kniht said him to,
“This quet, I rede thou selle me,
For ful pouer me think thee.”
The pouer said, “Lathe thinc me
To sel Goddes charité,
Bot len me sum fetel tharto,
Quarin I mai thin almous do.”
And he ansuerd and said, “Nai;”
For al that this beggar moht sai,
And said, “This thou selle me,
For fetil wil I nan len thee.”
The beggar moht na better do,
Bot sald this corn igain him to,
And toc tharfor fif schilling,
And went him forthe on his begging.
   Quen this corn to the kniht was sald,
He did it in an arc to hald,
And opened this arc the thrid daye,
And fand tharin, selcouthe to saye,
Snakes and nederes thar he fand,
And gret blac tades gangand,
And arskes and other wormes felle,
That I kan noht on Inglis telle.
Thai lep upward til his visage,
And gert him almast fal in rage,
Sa was he for thir wormes ferde;
Bot nohtforthi that arc he speride,
And to the bischope on a rase
He ran, and tald him his cas.
   The bischop sau that Godd wald tac
Of this man sin wrethful wrac.
And said, “Yef thou wil folfille
Wit worthi penanz, Goddes wille,
And clens wit penanz riht worthi,
Al thi sinnes and thi foli,
I red that thou self thee falle
Naked, imang tha wormes alle —
No gif thou of theeself na tale,
Bot bring thi sawel out of bale.
Thou tha wormes thi caroin gnawe,
Thi pynes lastes bot a thrawe;
And than sal thi sawel wende
To lif of blis, witouten ende.”
This okerer was selli radde,
To do that this bischop him badde,
Bot of mercy hafd he god hop,
And yern he prayd the bischop,
And said, “Lef fader, I prai thee
That hou prai inwardli for me,
That God gif me his graz to fang
One my bodi, this penanz strang.”
The bischop hiht this man lelye,
To prai for him riht inwardlye.
This man went ham thoh he war rad,
And did als his bischop him badde;
For imang al thir wormes snelle,
Als nakid als he was borne ifelle.
Thir wormes ete that wreche manne,
And left nathing of him bot ban.
   The bischop went into that toun,
Wit clerkes in processioun,
And com into this knihtes wanes,
And soht ful gern his hali banes;
And til this forsaid arc he yod,
And opened it wit joiful mod,
And riped imang tha wormes lathe,
Bot nan of thaim moht do him schathe,
And forthe he gan tha banes draw,
And thai war als quite als snaw.
Quen al tha banes outtan ware,
Tha wormes geret he brin ful yare,
And bar thir bannes menskelye,
And fertered thaim at a nunnrye.
Thar Godd schewes mirakelle and miht,
And gifes blind men thair siht,
And croked men thar geres he ga,
And leches seke men of wa,
And schewes wel wit fair ferlikes,
That thar banes er god relikes.

   This tal haf I nou tald here,
To ger you se on quat maner,
That the mar catel that man haves,
The mar and mare his hert craves;
And namlic thir okereres,
That er cursed for thair aferes;
Bot yef thai her thair lif amend,
Thai wend til wormes witouten end,
That sal thaim reuli rif and rend
In helle pin witouten ende.
That wist this bischop witerlye,
And forthi did he quaintelye,
Quen he gert wormes ette this man,
To yem his sawel fra Satan.
For wormes suld his sawel haf rended,
Quarsaever it suld haf lended,
Yef he no havid wel be scriven,
And his caroin til wormes given.
Bot for his fleis was pined here,
His sawel es nou til Godd ful dere,
Thar it wones in plai and gamen,
Godd bring us thider alle samen. Amen.

one time


That made the sailors greatly fear
perish; (t-note)

As if to say

To be still
occurred so quickly
thought it a marvel
What kind of; (t-note)

(see note)
ship signified
blows; waves



waves fends off
allows; loyal
wicked; have dealings with

the sea wave; (t-note)

fiercely rushes ashore; harm

What the poor with their labor obtain
whale; herring; (see note)
sturgeon; whiting
large codfish; sprats
With woe; worldly wickedness
harm; lesser suffer; greater


makes him hear
sorrow; ruin


soul’s health; request

Grant that which is not for [the good of] our soul
We ought; no wonder
Although; refuses openly; (t-note)




worldly honor
makes fools; sin
trials; misery

such; deny; (t-note)
dear; hateful


He knows what we have need of; (t-note)

open symbols; (t-note)
Of; proud
wealth to make you flee; (t-note)

worldly goods; burst
more and more you thirst
(see note)

drown; many
so do they; worldly goods

sea serpents are numerous

(see note)

was called
nearby dwelled
nature; a bondsman; slave; (see note)
obtained; wealth
usury; (see note)
trading; (t-note)
engaged in


confessed to

accept; (t-note)


graciously greeted
for charity’s sake


Eight bushels; for the sake of charity

did measure; grain
at a loss
bag; sack
grain place

advise; (see note)

I think it hateful

container (vessel)

Sell me this [the grain]

received for it; (see note)


water newts; many

nevertheless; shut
in a rush; (t-note)

angry vengeance

advise; throw thyself

Nor take any account of thyself
Although; corpse; (t-note)
short time

usurer; very frightened; (t-note)



promised; loyally

fell; (t-note)



groped; horrible

taken out
He had the worms burned; quickly

And there he makes crippled men walk



cruelly; tear


torn apart
Wherever; dwelled
been shriven
But because


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