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Homily 12, Fifth Sunday after Epiphany


1 Fourth Sunday after the Octave of Epiphany, according to Matthew.

2 Latin rubric (Matthew 13:24–30): Another parable he proposed to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seed in his field. But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed [cockle among the wheat and went his way. And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle. And the servants of the goodman of the house coming said to him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it cockle? And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? And he said: No, lest perhaps gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn.]

3 And nevertheless, not a single day from beginning to end


Abbreviations: AT: Alphabet of Tales, ed. Banks; NEHC: Gerould, North English Homily Collection; NHC: Northern Homily Cycle; NIMEV: The New Index of Middle English Verse, ed. Boffey and Edwards; OE: Old English; OED: Oxford English Dic­tionary; PL: Patrologia Latina, ed. Migne; Tubach: Index Exemplorum, ed. Tubach;. For manuscript abbreviations (ED, A, D, G, L, V), see the Introduction.

The text for this Sunday is the second of Jesus’ well-known parables of the sower, wherein a farmer discourages his servants from pulling up weeds when they first appear among the wheat, telling them instead to wait until the time of the harvest when the weeds can be more easily distinguished and discarded. The allegorical readings of the Church Fathers identify the weeds as heretics, but the NHC-poet opts for a much simpler reading, first emphasizing the importance of preachers who “sow” grace in men’s hearts with their words, and then listing the “weeds” of wickedness which Satan tries to plant there instead.

NIMEV 3740, 306. Manuscripts: ED: fols. 33v–34v; A: fols. 46r–48v; G: fols. 43v–45v; D: fols. 73r–74r (first 38 lines missing); L: fols. 16v–17v.

7 Darnel. From OE darnel, a weedy annual grass, occurring first as the English name for the Vulgate zizania. The earliest OED citation is the passage from NHC.

70 A god tal Sain Jerom us schawes / Of an ermyt, an hali man. Tubach 210: Anchorite, temptation of; 3105: Saint Macarius and devil’s drink. No one has been able to find anything similar in the writings of Jerome, but the tale is a popular one, the earliest versions of which are found in the Vitae Patrum (PL 73.769, 981, 1027). English vernacular versions are included in Jacob’s Well (33) and AT (745). Most name the hermit as Macarius, one of the Desert Fathers who joined a scattered settlement of hermits in Scete (c. 330) and was famous for his spiritual maturity and power over demons.

76 leche. The detail whereby the devil is disguised as a physician occurs only in NHC. By this time the word means both “physician” and “bloodsucker,” and the second meaning is commonly regarded as a transferred use of the first meaning. According to OED, however, OE lyce (“bloodsucker”) was assimilated to OE laece (“physician”) through popular etymology.

80 Asked him quidir he wald wende. The prescience cleverly revealed in the Vitae Patrum hermit’s greeting: “Quo vadis, maligne? ” (PL 73.769) is absent from NHC, which nonetheless resembles the Vitae Patrum in its detail and drama more than it does the later and mostly briefer versions.

86 housel. The devil gives a clever ironic twist here to the conventional meaning of this word, which normally means "to administer Communion.”

121–22 For ilkan woned in sere celle, / Als it than til thair order felle. In the Vitae Patrum, which in some form was certainly a source for this exemplum, we find Macarius the hermit living in the wilderness a little apart from those who have followed him and who themselves live in separate cells:
Abbas Macarius habitabat in loco nimis deserto: erat autem solus in eo solitarius. . . . In inferiore vero parte erat alia solitudo, in qua habitant plurimi fratres. . . . Surgens autem abbas Macarius, perrexit ad inferiorem eremum: quod cum vidissent fratres, acceperunt ramos palmarum et occurrerunt obviam ei. . . . Senex autem requirebat quis inter eos Theoctistus vocaretur in loco illo; et inveniens eum, intravit in cellam ejus (PL 73.981–82). [The Abbot Macarius was living in a very deserted place; however, he was alone in it all by himself. But in the lower part was another deserted area, in which very many brothers live. . . . Rising, how­ever, Abbot Macarius went to the lower hermitage: and when the brothers had seen this, they took up palm branches and hurried to meet him. . . . However, the old man asked who among those in that place was called Theoctistus; and [upon] finding him, he entered into his chamber.]
In his own description the NHC-poet appears to have put together what he has read with what he knows or has heard about from his own experience. Given the significant number of exempla which revolve around hermits, it is worth pausing to reflect on what images of hermits would have been available to him, as idea or reality. The twelfth century had seen a growing discontent with the traditional forms of monastic life, one focus of which became the desire to return to primi­tive monastic observances such as the eremitism of the Desert Fathers. Among the new religious groups which proliferated at this time, both the Augustinian canons and the Premonstratensians, whose form of living was essentially coenobitical, nonetheless placed a strong emphasis on solitude (see the Introduction, pp. 5–6, for the possibility that the author was a member of one of these orders). “Jean Leclercq …has emphasized the importance of the existence of real hermits, as he put it, ‘within the very heart of the traditional cenobitic institution’” (Constable, “Eremitical Forms,” p. 239). Constable also notes that no form of monastic life was entirely free from the influence of eremitism at this time (“Eremitical Forms,” p. 241). Benedictines, who were by far the most numerous among the monastic orders, customarily slept together in a common dormitory, but a desire for more privacy led, in the later Middle Ages, to the construction of individual cubicles within the dormitory (Dickinson, Monastic Life, p. 33). The Carthusians created a group hermitage in which the individual pursued a solitary life within the context of a community: a series of independent stone cells was arranged around a covered cloister walk (Lawrence, Medieval Monasticism, p. 161). More­over, the archaeological evidence shows that eremitical cells were often located in the vicinity or even formed part of conventual buildings of cenobitical communities (Constable, “Eremitical Forms,” p. 260). Though the original fervor which had marked the twelfth century reforms may have dimmed by the time of NHC’s composition, and despite the growing tendency to return to more traditional forms of monasticism, Watson points out that in the late Middle Ages the term ‘hermit’ still covered a wide and familiar range of types, including, on the one hand, the un­educated hermits who could be found acting as bridge-builders, road-minders and vagabonds, and, on the other hand, the members of the Carthusian and other eremitical orders, some of whom were highly educated (Richard Rolle, p. 43).

125–26 This ermyt asked yef he war oht / Fanded wit fleis liking in thoht. Despite Gerould’s claim (NEHC, p. 43) that the ruse by which the hermit persuades the young hermit to confess is not found in the Vitae Patrum, it occurs in all the versions in a very similar manner to NHC: the young man first denies being tempted, but then blushes even as he speaks. Then, after the older man confesses his own weakness, the younger follows suit.


Abbreviations: MED: Middle English Dictionary; Nevanlinna: Nevanlinna, The Northern Homily Cycle; NHC: Northern Homily Cycle; Small: English Metrical Homiles, ed. Small. for manuscript abbreviations (ED, A, D, G, L, V), see the Introduction.

125 oht. An initial h has been scraped away from hoht.

128 lathe. MS: lahe; lahe added at end of line with caret to show point of insertion.

132 fleis fra. MS: ti canceled between these two words.

138 am. So A. MS: haf.

157 nane. So A. MS: man.
Dominica iiii post Octavam Epiphanie, secundum Matheum.1

Dixit Jesus discipulis suis: Simile est regnum celorum homini qui seminavit bonum semen in agro suo. Cum autem dormirent homines, venit inimicus eius et super seminavit. et cetera.2





































   Til his decipeles said Jesus,
Als Sain Matheu her telles us:
Heven es lic til an husband,
That seu god sed apon his land,
And quen al folc on slep ware,
Than com his fa, and seu riht thare
Darnel, that es an ivel wede,
Riht al imang this hosband sede;
And quen this sede quarof I mene,
Was hey aboven the erthe sene,
Than was thar darnel sen imang,
That thoht this hosband hine ful strang.
Thir hyne said til this hosband:
“Seu thou noht god sed on thi land?
Quethen com darnel that es sen
Imang thi corn nou al biden?”
This hosband ansuerd thaim sone
And said, “Mi fa this ded haves done.”
Thai asked him yef he wald thaye
Suld draw it op and do it awaye.
And he ansuerd and said, “Naye,
For suagat spil mi corn ye maye,
Yef ye draw up the darnel smalle,
Ye mai draw up the corn witalle,
Bot lates it til hervest stande,
And I sal say til men scherande,
Gaderes the darnel first in bande,
And brennes it opon the land,
And scheres sithen the corn rathe,
And bringes it unto my lathe.”
This es the strenthe of our Godspelle,
Als man on Ingelis tung mai telle.

   We mai wel gastli understande
Godd almihti bi this hosbande,
For God schawes in mennes hertes
His graz, that thaim til godnes ertes;
For Goddes graz es gastly sede,
That beres froyt of rihtwis dede,
And other sede our Lauerd sawes,
That Cresten men til god lif drawes,
Quen he sendes his messageres,
That es at sai, thir sarmouneres,
That clenses man of gastli wede,
And schawes in him Goddes sede;
For quen thai snib us of misdedes,
Than clens thai us of gastly wedes;
And quen thai scheu us hevenes mede,
Than sau thai in us Goddes sede.
This es the sede that gastli springes,
And froyt of god werkes forth bringes;
For it bringes forth charité,
And bousomnes, and chastité,
And riht penanz, wit almous dedes,
That into the blis of hevene ledes.
Bot Satenas es Cristes fa,
And waites ay to do us wa.
He sawes imang Goddes sede
In mannes hert, darnel and wede,
That geres men oft and mani sithe,
In dedes wic costes kithe,
For sede of darnel geres men wed,
And swa dos that unseli wede,
That Satan saues in our hertes,
For us to wekkednes it ertes;
Of this waful sede springes wrethe,
And prid, and nithe, and brother lethe,
And covaitys, and tricherie,
And glotounye, and licherye.

   And of this sede that Satan sawes,
A god tal Sain Jerom us schawes
Of an ermyt, an hali man,
That woned in wasti bi him an;
And als he in his celle sate,
He saw a fend ga bi the gate,
And boystes on himsele he bare,
And ampolies, als leche ware.
And thar biside was an abbaye,
And thiderward he toc the waye.
That hali man that saw this fende,
Asked him quidir he wald wende.
“Til yon abbaye,” he said, “I gang,
For thethen haf I ben to lang.”
And this ermyt thoht gret ferlye
Of thir boystes, and asked quie
He bare on him tha boystes alle.
“With thaim,” he said, “housel I salle
Al the brether of yon abbaye,
For wit thaim wille I fand to playe,
And qua sa a medecin forsake,
Another sal I ger him take;
Yef he wil noht of glotounye,
I sal him housel wit envye,
Or with sum other specerye,
Of prid and nith and felounye,
Or wit sum other lufli drinc,
That may ger him of sin thinc.”
This ermet leet that fend ga,
And bad him com igain riht swa,
And prayed Godd help in that nede,
And lett that fend in al his dede.
This fend intil that abbay yede,
And faand yef he moht oht spede.
Quen he haved don al that he moht,
And sau that his dede litel doht,
And come igain bi this ermite,
Wit waful cher and soru and site,
This ermit asked him fol son,
“Hou haves thou sped, hou havis thou don?”
And he said, “Ic haf sped ful ille,
For nan of thaim wille do mi wille;
Wald nan of thaim mi lare liste,
Bot an that hatte Teociste,
For I find him redi to do
Mi wil, ay quen I com him to.”
   Quen this was said, he went away,
And this ermyt yod to the abbay.
The monkes com al him igaine
For of his com thai was ful fayne.
He asked efter Teocist,
And thai kend him til his biwist;
For ilkan woned in sere celle,
Als it than til thair order felle.
Wit Teocist this ermit mette,
And aither other comly grette
This ermyt asked yef he war oht
Fanded wit fleis liking in thoht,
And he ansuerd and said, “Naye,”
For him thoht lathe the sothe to saye.
And this ermyt ansuerd him thanne,
And said, “Ic am a wel ald mane,
And thohquethir, noht a day til ende3
Mai I mi fleis fra fanding fende;
Hou may thou than be in thi youthe
Wit fleysly fanding sa uncouthe?”
Thusgat spac this eremyt him tille,
To ger him chaw his thohtes ille;
And Teocist asked mercye,
And said, “Lef fader, sua am I
Sua hard fandede witt licherye,
That my fleys may I noht chastye.”
This ermyt kend him than hou he
Suld stithe igain Satanas be;
And quen this monc was broht in state,
This ermyt toc hamward the gate,
And son tharefter eft he sawe
The fend tilward that abbay draw;
And sone efter com he igain,
And this ermyt bigan to frain
At Satenas, hou he hafd spedde,
And he ansuered als he war medde,
And said, “Allas and wailewaye
That ever I com at yon abbaye,
For in na chaffar may I winne,
Of tha lurdanes that won tharinne,
For likes nan of thaim my play,
Bot alle thar kache me away.
In thaim part may I haf nane,
For al the craftes that I kan —
For Teocist that me was left,
Es nou ful schamli fra me reft;
To me was he won to be bain,
Nou es he stithest me igain,
Forthi I se that me no thare,
Tilward yon abbay founde mare.”

   This ermit lofad Godde almihtye,
That mad the fendes craft emptye.
This tal ful openly us schawes
Quat sed of helle the fend sawes.
Pray we forthi that Godd us reede,
And child us fra the fendes seede,
That he no haf miht us to tele
With gastly dranc and wit darnele.
For sed that Satan in man sawes,
Thair fleys til lust and liking drawes.
Our Lauerd schild us fra that sede,
And len us sa our lif to lede,
That we may gastly froyt forthe bring,
On Domesday bifor our king,
That wic men fra god sal schille,
And cal the god men him tille,
And send the wic to tac thair hire
For thair froit til helle fire;
Bot god men sal Crist than lede,
Til hefenes blis to tak thar mede.
Our Lauerd Jesus thider us bring,
Amen, amen, we alle sing. Amen.


enemy (foe)
Cockle; (see note)

servants; strange

so soon

wished that they

in that way; grain

along with it

men who are shearing

cut; quickly


grace; draws






wicked behavior show
envy; hatred

story; (see note)
dwelled in a wilderness by himself

boxes; carried
And little bottles, as if he were a physician; (see note)

(see note)

away from there

fill; (see note)

one; refuses

medicinal ingredient
malice (envy, anger)

And tried to see if he might succeed in any way


teaching, listen to
was called



showed; dwelling
dwelled; different; (see note)
As was the custom in their order

had been at all; (see note); (t-note)
Tempted; fleshly desire

he was reluctant; truth; (t-note)

temptation; defend; (t-note)


make him show

Dear; (t-note)

brought into a good state



sluggards; dwell


remained to me
taken away
accustomed; obedient

I need not
go towards



spiritual fruit

wicked; good; separate

receive their pay



Go To Homily 13, Purification