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Homily 3, Third Sunday in Advent


1 Second Sunday in Advent according to Matthew

2 Latin rubric (Matthew 11:2–10): Now when John had heard in prison the works of Christ: sending two of his disciples he said to him: Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another: And Jesus making answer said to them: Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen. The blind see, the lame walk, [the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me. And when they went their way, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: What went you out into the desert to see: a reed shaken with the wind? But what went you out to see? a man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings. But what went you out to see? a prophet? yea I tell you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.]


Abbreviations: DOST: Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue; MED: Middle English Dictionary; NHC: Northern Homily Cycle; NIMEV: The New Index of Middle English Verse, ed. Boffey and Edwards; OE: Old English; OED: Oxford English Dic¬tionary; 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 poet returns to John the Baptist for his text and homily, explaining the different aspects of the Baptist’s character as illuminated by Christ’s threefold posing of a question in Matthew: “And when they went their way, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: What went you out into the desert to see? a reed shaken with the wind? But what went you out to see? a man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings. But what went you out to see? a prophet? yea I tell you, and more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:7–9). He departs from his usual structure, whereby the Gospel paraphrase, homily, and exemplum follow one another in neat order. Instead he pauses after his explication of Jesus’ first posing of the question, in order to tell the story of Herod’s murder of the Baptist, which offers a perfect illustration of John’s steadfastness, the first of the three qualities brought out by Jesus’ question. Following this narrative he returns to the passage in Matthew, picking up on the further implications of Jesus’ question, but then he circles back to the opening of the Gospel text where John the Baptist has his disciples ask Christ whether he is indeed the one who has come to be the redemption of mankind. To answer this question he turns to Gregory the Great, his favorite commentator, to whom he refers three times in the course of this homily.

NIMEV 3018, 3399. Manuscripts: ED: fols. 20V–22V; A: fols. 10V–15R; G: fols. 15R–19R; D: fols. 45V–48V; L: fols. 4V–6R.

19 "I gif the blind," he said, "thair siht." The NHC-poet follows Gregory here in passing quickly from the listing of miracles to the response they evoke. In contrast, Robert of Gretham in his Miroir develops a lengthy allegorical reading of the blind, the deaf, and the lepers (Duncan, Middle English Mirror, pp. 38-47). As will be seen in the NHC homily for Septuagesima (Homily 14), there are occasional correspondences that suggest our poet's familiarity, at least, with the Miroir; by and large, however, as noted in the Introduction, the two texts have little in common.

24 And pouer men mas me ful rife. Morey suggests that this verse represents a significant rewriting of Matthew 11:5 ("The poor have the gospel preached to them"), which indicates that the poor "are not being preached to but themselves are preaching, either literally or by emulating Christ through their conduct. Here is subtle but significant evidence of how the homilist recognized the transforming and empowering effect of vernacular texts" (Morey, Book and Verse, p. 68).

25-26 And ful bliced . . . es he / That es noht sclaunderd in me. The NHC gloss of these lines makes explicit what is only implicit in Matthew: that it is Jewish unbelievers who will be "scandalized" by Jesus. Gregory explains that Jesus' words are a kind of foreshadowing of his death and his understanding that "unbelievers took serious offence at him when after so many miracles they saw him dying" (Forty, Homily 5, p. 29). A modern commentator notes, along similar lines, "the career of Jesus was not Messianic in any sense that would correspond to Jewish expectations of the Messiah. The cross proved to be the ultimate 'stumbling block' to Jews; a crucified Messiah was unthinkable" (Beare, Gospel According to Matthew, p. 258).

27 eft and nithe. Small: "heftand, in Scot., signifies abiding, lasting" (p. 181). I have not been able to confirm this reading, which is nowhere to be found in DOST. A close perusal of the manuscript, however, persuades me that eft and and are two separate words, a reading supported by at least two other occurrences in ED (First and Second Sundays after the Octave of the Epiphany), where both also form part of the expression eft and nithe. A replaces what is evidently an unfamiliar word with hate and nythe, an expression frequently found elsewhere in Middle English, and G has nyght, meaning "envy," on its own. The MED cites two of the three NHC quotations under the listing evest, with the meaning "envy or malice" which makes good sense given the word's evident derivation from OE aefst ("envy"). MED implies that eft is a scribal error for efst, but the scribe's persistence in spelling the word eft suggests, at the least, intention. Further indications of the obscurity of the phrase can be seen in the following couplet from D: as who seyth iewis come ful bliþe / to me for wunderis þat I now kiþe, which, in suggesting that the Jews come gladly to Jesus because of his miracles, gives a quite different meaning.

48 A red that waives wit the winde. These words introduce a lengthy series of comparisons of the bending reed to human behavior, loosely based on Gregory but much expanded. As so often, the poet glosses Jesus' words in such a way as to introduce a favorite theme: the evil influence of wealth, and the wicked ways of the wealthy.

77-79 That es at say, thir glotherers . . . thai. Proverbial. See Whiting F198. The NHC's is the earliest occurrence listed, with others, including Lydgate, Caxton, and Skelton, all much later.

81-83 Thai kindel baret wit bacbiting, / And slokenes it wit thair glothering, / Thai heeld in tuin, als dos the red. Compare Gregory: "As soon as [the reed] is touched by approbation or slander, it turns in every direction" (Forty, Homily 5, p. 30).

99 The king Herode. As indicated by the poet in lines 97-98, what follows here is not an exemplum, strictly speaking, but a narrative based primarily on the account of John the Baptist's imprisonment at the hands of Herod Antipas, as found in the synoptic Gospels. The NHC-poet could also have read further (and more unified) accounts in various medieval commentaries and glosses on the Bible, such as the Enarrationes attributed to Anselm or the Glossa Ordinaria, which draw on Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.2, for this particular story.

125 tumbeled. Apparently she was an acrobatic dancer.

198 gren and gra. Here the NHC glosses expand Jesus' comment on the soft garments worn by kings with a specific allusion to color, clearly intending its signification at this time as a marker of the rich and royal. Although Gregory criticizes changing fashions in clothing, and "the desire of women for costly clothes," he says nothing about color (Forty, Homily 5, p. 31). Whereas the medieval poor dressed in drab or brownish garments for the most part, "colored woolen cloth was the princely fabric par excellence." Colored garments, especially blue, became more widespread in the later Middle Ages, but the sumptuary laws, with their attempts to regulate color according to social groups, give further evidence of the ways in which color continued to be symbolically read (Piponnier, Dress, p. 60).

287-88 Bot her mai sum man thinc ferly, / Als sais the clerk, Sain Gregorie. Here our poet draws explicitly on Gregory to deal with what many commentators evidently considered a problem: why should John have to ask something to which he supposedly already knew the answer? Modern commentators have acknowledged the likelihood that John, in prison, had begun to have doubts in that the ministry of Jesus did not "correspond to the picture that John had drawn of the mightier one to follow him" (Beare, Gospel According to Matthew, p. 256). Patristic commentators shied away from attributing any loss of faith to John and instead read a variety of implications into his words. According to Gregory: "He did not ask because he doubted that Jesus was the Redeemer of the world, but to know if he who had come into the world in person would also go down in person to the courts of hell . . . 'Just as you deigned to be born on behalf of human beings, make manifest whether you will also deign to die on our behalf'" (Forty, Homily 5, p. 29). To this idea the NHC-poet adds the typically medieval image of Christ going down to "heri [harrow] helle als king mihtye" (line 308).


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.

Rubric audistis. MS: audisti.

26 sclaunderd. MS: schaunderd.

29 Forthi. So A. MS: for.

33 Swilk. So A. MS: slk.

36 drawe. MS: drwe.

50 welthe. MS: wethe.

61 quether. MS: quer.

64 stalworthe. So A. MS: stalwoht.

79 watir. So A. MS: fir.

84 fals dede. So A. MS: fairhede.

85 riche men. MS: riche added at end of line with caret to indicate point of insertion.

89 med. Compare A: gode and moke, where moke ("muck") is a figurative expression for wealth.

93 it was. So A and G. MS: to wat.

103 snibbed. MS: snbbid.

110 Forthi. MS: Foþi.

122 drank. So G. MS: drak.

127 hir. MS: his.

133 "If thou." So A. MS: þou þou.

146 And said, "Sir, this. MS: And sir þis said with carets to mark point of insertion.

152 he herd. MS: he added at end of line with caret to mark point of insertion.

160 this. MS: þit.

167 snibbed the king. MS: snibbed added at end of line with caret to mark point of insertion.

182 be. So A. MS omits.

195 whether. So A. MS: quer.

200 wald. So A. MS: wal.

213 And. Small omits, following A's reading. A makes better sense, in that And is awkward grammatically as an introduction to Gregory's ideas, but the meaning is clear enough without emendation.

223 he fandes fleis. MS: fandes added at end of line with caret to mark point of insertion.

231 schroudes. So A. MS: schoudes.

236 oure pride to fell. So A. MS: in our godspel.

257 he said. MS: he said he said.

271 than. So A. MS: and.

280 of. So A. MS omits.
Dominica iii. Adventus Domini secundum Matheum.1

Cum audisset Johannes in vinculis opera Cristi, mittens duos de discipulis suis, ait illi; Tu es qui venturus es, an alium expectamus. Et respondens Jhesu Crist, dixit illis: Euntes renunciate Johanni que audistis et vidistis. Ceci vident, claudi ambulant. et cetera.2; (t-note)
































































   Sayn Mathew the Wangeliste
Sais that Sain Jon the Baptiste
Was in prisoun, and herd telle
Of Cristes dedes and his spelle,
And send of his decipils tua,
And bad thaim thai suld ga
To wit at Crist, quether it war he
That suld cum mannes bote to be?
“Or we,” he said, “another Crist sal bide,
That fel miht the fendes pride?”
Sain Jon decipels yed and said
Thair erand that on thaim was laid,
And quen Crist thair asking herd,
Ful mildely he thaim ansuerd,
And bad thaim tille thair maister schaw
His dedis that thai herd and sawe;
Als qua sai, “Dedes bers wittenes
Of me, that I sothefast Godd es.
I gif the blind,” he said, “thair siht,
I ger the halt men ga riht,
I mac unhale men al hale,
And def men I bet of bale,
I rais men fra ded to life,
And pouer men mas me ful rife;
And ful bliced,” he said, “es he
That es noht sclaunderd in me.
Als qua sai, Jowes havis eft and nithe
At me for the ferlikes that I kithe,
Forthi er thai sclaundered in me,
Quen thai mihit of mi Goddhed se,
And for bliz ic him wit graze
That folues noht the Jewes traze.”
Swilk wordes til thaim spak Crist
That com fra Sayn Jon the Baptist,
And quen thai hafd herd Crist sawe,
Hamward til Sain Jon gan thai drawe.
And als thai til Sain Jon ward yode,
Crist spac tille thaim that bi him stode,
For thai havid ben Sain Jon to se
In wildernes, for thar woned he,
Bifor that Herodis the feloun
Did Sain Jon in his prisoun.
Forthi asked Crist mare and lesse,
Quat thing thai soht in wildernes.
“Quat thing,” he said, “yed ye
Intil wildernesse to se?
Wend ye of Sain Jon for to finde
A red that waives wit the winde?”
Als qua say, he es nan of tha
That waifes for welthe or for wa;
For werdes welthe and wa es winde,
That makis werdes men ful blinde,
For welthe to pride our hert draus,
And wa geres us thol hard traues,
Bitwix thir tua we held als reed,
In wa we murne, in welthe we wede,
Bot Sain Jon igain bathe stode,
For nouther of thaim chaunged his mod;
Forthi asked Crist quether man him soht
Als he war man of fliker thoht,
And thus askid Crist quether men yede
To se a wind waivande rede,
Quen thai yed sain Jon to se,
That stithe stode als stalworthe tre;
Als qua sai, “Wen ye that he
Es als tuifald of hert als ye?
Nai, for he es sa stedfaste
That na wind mai him fra me caste.”

Slic wordes als I you telle
Sais Crist todai in our Godspelle
Of Sain Jon, that stithe stode
Igain fanding of werdes flode,
For he no was noht lic in dede
Til thaim that heldes als the rede.
For mani man mai bisend be
Unto the rede, als thinc me;
That es at say, thir glotherers
That in thair an hand fir beres,
In the tother watir ber thai;
Als lawed men er won to say.
Thai kindel baret wit bacbiting,
And slokenes it wit thair glothering,
Thai heeld in tuin, als dos the red,
Wit fair speche and wit fals dede,
Thai ger thair riche men misdo,
For al thair thing thai spek thaim to;
For quethir sa thai do wel or ille,
Thai hald wit thaim in al thair wille.
Mirthe and med and werdes belde
Gers thaim til falshed helde.
Bot sua did noht Sain Jon, iwis,
That snibbed Herod quen he did misse,
And said it was igain the lawe
His brother wif fleyslic to knawe.
He helded noht, bot stithe stod,
And for sothe sawe he sched his blod.
Insted of tal, I wille you telle
Hou it of his slahter felle.

   The king Herode wit mikel unriht
Raeft his brother his wif, that hiht
Herodias, and Sain Jon herde
Wit quatkin sin Herodes ferd,
And snibbed him of his sinne,
And bad him that he suld it blinne.
Quarthoru Herodes als feloun
Did Sain Jon in his prisoun.
Herodias als wikke womman
Wald that Sain Jon havid ben slan.
He mired hir flesly liking,
Forthi scho wald to ded him bring,
Bot chesoun till him fand scho nan,
For Herodes that him hafd tan,
Sau that he was an hali man
And thoht ful lathe to be his ban,
For of Sain Jon stod him awe,
And sinned les for his sawe,
And herd his word wit god wille,
And did mikel that he said him tille.
Herodes mad a fest, and cald
Princes tharto and bernes bald;
And als he wit his gestes seete,
And mad him glad, and drank and eet,
Bifor him com a fair yong lasce,
That Herodiases dohter was,
And tumbeled sa wel for alle
That thar war gedered in that halle,
That al war payed of hir play.
And Herodes til hir gan say,
“Quat sa thou wil, thou ask me,
For freli sal I graunt thee.”
He swar his athe that he suld fille
Alle hir asking and hir wille.
“If thou,” he said “ask halven dele
Mi kingerik, I grant it wele.”
This mai ran tille hir moder swithe,
And bad hir that scho suld hir lithe
Quat the king hir haved bed,
And asked hir moder quat scho red.
Hir moder was fain quen scho this herd,
And sone hir dohter scho ansuerd,
And said, “Loc that thou ask noht
Bot that Sain Jones hefd be broht
In a disce sone bifor thee,
For this thing wald I gladli se.”
This maiden child ran to the king,
And said, “Sir, this es min asking,
Yef thou wil that mi wil be don,
Thou grant me min asking son,
And gif me in a disce weved
Sain Jon the Baptist heved.”
Ful ille payed was the king
Quen he herd this asking;
Him thoht scham igain to kalle
That he havid hiht bifor thaim alle,
And for he havid sworn his athe,
To wrech that laze thoht him lathe,
Forthi he send his queller soune
And bad hir wil suld be don.
His queller did als he him bad,
And mad this maiden child ful glad,
For he broht hir als scho havid said,
Sain Jones hevid in a disce laid.
   Thus was this mai Sain Jones ban,
That was for riht and sothesaw slan,
But thurt him noht haf tint his heved,
Yef he als red wald haf wevid.
Yef he havid noht snibbed the king,
Bot loued his dedes wit glothering,
Than moht he haf gan quit away,
And lifd in werdes welth and play.
Bot he did wel better than, iwisse,
For nou es he in well mar blisse,
And Herod and Herodias
Er bathe in hel wit Satenas.
   Nou haf ye herd hou Sain Jon stod
For sothefastnes, and ched his blod.
Forthi in our Godspel sais Crist
Til the folc, of Sain Jon the Baptist,
“Wend ye of Sain Jon for to find
A red that waives wit the wind,
Nay, bot swa stedfast es he,
That nathing gers him tuifald be;
For he sal stand in sothefastnes,
And thol ded for rihtwisnes.”
   An other asking, als auntour felle,
Asked Crist in our Godspelle,
Til thaim that stod him about,
And of Sain Jon havid dout,
“Quat yed ye,” he said, “to se
In wildernes, ye tel me:
A man robed in wlank wede?”
Als qua sai, nai, no in fairhede;
For al men wist that knew Sain Jon,
That he havid camel har apon.
Forthi asked Crist, whether thai yed
To se Sain Jon in wlanke wede,
Als qua sai, es he nan of tha
That er cled in gren and gra.
Crist spac of thaim that gas in gren,
To scheu the folc quat he wald men.
“In kinges houses,” he said, “won thai
That er cled in gren and grai”
Als qua sai, about kinges es
Wel mar prid than in wildernes.
   Her mai ye se that Jhesu Criste
Loues Sain Jon the Baptiste.
For he in pouer wed was cled,
And in povert his lif he led,
And herbi wil Crist us lere,
To forsak proud clething her.
The god clerk, Sain Gregorie
Schewes us aperteli,
And yef sin no war in wlanke wede
Haved noht Crist loued Sain Jon in lede
For the clething of povert.
For thoh prid be al in the hert,
Riche clething nohtforthi
Schroudes sua man bodi,
That rifli geres it man thinc mar
Of his bodi, that it wel far,
Than he of his sawel dos.
Sua thinc him of his wed gret ros
Quil he fandes fleis to fede,
And mac it fayr wit wlanc wede.
His fairnes witout he schawes
To sem better than his felaues.
For elles forze wald he nan mak
Quether his clething war quit or blac,
Bot for he will be heier calde
Than othere, and for better talde,
Forthi he schroudes his bodi
And lates of pouer men hetheli;
The liking of his wlanc wede
Gers him tin his sawel mede.
Forthi loues Crist in our Godspel
Pouer wed, oure pride to fell,
And askes ef the folc yed
To se Sain Jon in wlanc wede.
Als qua sai, bisen sal ye take
This werdes welth for to forsak,
For werdes welthe and prid and play
Endes all wit ten and tray.
In our Godspel yet askis Crist
Of Sain Jon the Baptiste,
(For thris the folc askid he),
Quat thing thai yed for to se
In wildernes, and at the last
He cald Sain Jon prophet sothefast,
And said to thaim, “I sai you yet,
Yed ye to bihald the prophet,
Of Sain Jon in wildernesse?”
Ya, wit ye well that mar he esse
Than prophetes war in his tim,
For prophetes spac mikel of him,
Thoru quaim God hit he suld send
His angel, mannes lif to mend.
“I send,” he said, “mi messager
Bifor mi face mi word to berre.”
This sais the Fader of hevin to Crist
Of Sain Jon the Baptist,
That bifor Crist graythed the way
Als sais our Godspel of today.

   Nou haf I graytheli you tald
Hou Sain Jon the Baptist es cald
Jesus Crist messager,
For he was send his word to ber,
And I todai fourtenniht tald
Hou Sain Jon bodword broht bald.
He was ryt Cristes messager,
For he broht word that he was ner.
And als was he mar than prophet
Quen he scheued that he bihet.
It falles to prophet for to sai
The thing that efter falle may,
Bot Sain Jon said and scheued bathe,
For that he hit, he scheued rathe.
Quen Crist com to flum Jordan
Als other men did mani an,
Of Sain Jon to be baptist,
Than said Sain Jon of Jesu Crist
Til al that folc wit swetli swar
That thar habout him gederid war,
“This es that lamb that I you hiht,
That dose away this werdes pliht,
Godes lamb mai ye se her,
Of him spac ic als messager.”
   Bot her mai sum man thinc ferly,
Als sais the clerk, Sain Gregorie,
That sin Sain Jon the Baptist
Knew sa wel that Jesu Crist,
Quarfor send he sithen him tille,
To wit quether he suld fulfille
Thing that was said in prophecie
Of him that mankind suld bie?
First Sain Jon said that Crist was he,
That al mankind bot suld be,
And sithen he spired quether he war cumen
To felle the fend that man havid nomen.
Ful schilfuli and wit resoun
Mai men ask this questioun.
The god man, Sain Gregorie
Undos this word dohtilye,
And sais that Sain Jon ful wel wist
That he of quaim he spac was Crist,
That tok kind of maiden Mari,
Bot he no wist noht witerlye,
Quether he suld mankind bye,
And heri helle als king mihtye,
And forthi send Sain Jon him to,
To wit quether he war com to do
Thing that moht bring man fra helle,
Thar him bihoved ever dwelle,
Tille he war comen that haved mihte
To fulfille that the prophetes havid hyhte:
That es at say, to mak the fin
For sin, and bring thaim of pin.
To blis that may haf nan ending,
Our Lauerd Jesus thider us bring. Amen.

sent for
told; should go
learn from; whether
should come; redemption
Or if we; shall await
might destroy
was given to them


As if to say
true; am
(see note)
make; lame
make; sick; whole
deaf; heal; harm
make me well known; (see note)
blessed; (see note)
That does not take offence at me; (t-note)
undying hostility; (see note)
Towards me; miracles; make known

because; bless
follows; path
Such; (t-note)

did they go; (t-note)
went toward

all the people
did you go

Did you think
reed; bends; (see note)
not one of those
bends; misfortune; (t-note)
worldly; wind
makes us endure; torments
Between the two; bend
In misfortune we mourn, in wealth we run mad
neither; mood
whether they sought him
As if; wavering
went; (t-note)

sturdy; upright tree; (t-note)
Do you think


temptation; world’s flood
may be likened
as I think
flatterers; (see note)
one; fire carry
the other; (t-note)
ignorant; accustomed
stir up strife; (see note)
slacken; flattering
bend in two
lies; (t-note)
go astray; (t-note)

whether they do good or ill
follow them [the flatterers]
wealth; worldly pleasure; (t-note)
rebuked; amiss
brother’s wife carnally
because of true words


injustice; (see note)
Stole his brother’s wife, who was called

what kind of sin; behaved
rebuked; (t-note)
told; cease
Wherefore; criminal

hindered; desire
wanted; (t-note)
reason [for this] in him found she none

was very reluctant; death
he stood in awe
less on account of his words

bold men
guests; sat
ate; (t-note)

tumbled; (see note)
pleased; (t-note)

Whatsoever you want

oath; fulfill

Although; half part [of]; (t-note)

maiden; quickly

see; nothing
Except; head

request; (t-note)


He was ashamed to take back
What; promised
He was unwilling to anger that girl


maiden; slayer
true-speaking slain
needed; lost
praised; flattering



truth; shed

Did you expect
reed; bends

makes; irresolute; (t-note)

suffer death
question; as it happened

What did you go

proud attire
As if to say, no, not in splendid array
whether they went; (t-note)

he is not one of those
clothed; green and gray; (see note)
wear green
would mean; (t-note)

Much more



If there were no sin in proud clothing; (t-note)
praised; among the people

frequently makes
About his body’s well-being

Thus; clothing; pride
While he attempts to feed his body; (t-note)

outer fairness

otherwise; pay no regard
Because; accounted more important
taken for better
regards poor men scornfully
desire for
Makes; lose; reward
[in order] to destroy our pride; (t-note)
proud clothing

harm and vexation
yet [again] questions



Yes; know; greater
[other] prophets [who]
Through whom God promised



two weeks ago
announcement; bold

also; (t-note)
demonstrated what he promised
It is a prophet’s task
afterwards; happen
both said and demonstrated
promised; immediately
many a one
By; baptized
gracious words
about; gathered

marvelous; (see note)


Why did he send to him


destroy; who had captured mankind

Explains; cleverly

human nature
know; truly

out of
he must

what the prophets had promised
out of torment

[May] our Lord

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