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Homily 49, Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity


1 Fourteenth Sunday [after Trinity]. The Gospel according to Luke. In that time

2 Latin rubric (Luke 17:11–19): And it came to pass, as he was going to Jerusalem, [he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain town, there met him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off. And lifted up their voice, saying: Jesus, master, have mercy on us. Whom when he saw, he said: Go, shew yourselves to the priests. And it came to pass, as they went, they were made clean. And one of them when he saw that he was made clean, went back, with a loud voice glorifying God. And he fell on his face before his feet, giving thanks: and this was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering, said, Were not ten made clean? and where are the nine? There is no one found to return and give glory to God, but this stranger. And he said to him: Arise, go thy way; for thy faith hath made thee whole.]

3 Your confession should be appropriately made [i.e., to a priest who knows his job]


Abbreviations: MED: Middle English Dictionary; NEHC: Gerould, North English Homily Collection; NHC: Northern Homily Cycle; NIMEV: The New Index of Middle English Verse, ed. Boffey and Edwards; PL: Patrologia Latina, ed. Migne; Tubach: Index Exemplorum, ed. Tubach; 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.

Christ’s commandment in Luke’s Gospel text, that a group of lepers should “show themselves” to the priests, offers the NHC-poet a golden opportunity to develop a lengthy homily on the medieval practice of confession. The requirement, following the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, that all Christians make a yearly confession to their parish priests resulted not only in the heightened emphasis on this practice, but also in the composition of penitential books both in Latin and the vernacular, which advised priests in very precise terms on the interro­gation of their parishioners. The subject of confession arises frequently throughout NHC, but the practical details of how to go about it are nowhere else given such sustained emphasis.

NIMEV 2978, 291. Manuscripts: A: fols. 174r–179v; G: (missing); D: fols. 181v–186r; L: fols. 51v–52v.

31 The maistir that spekis of this Gospel. Neither Gregory nor Bede has a homily for this Gospel text; though the parallel to Bede’s commentary on the Gospel of Luke (In Lucae) is very general, he is perhaps the most likely candidate for the maistir referred to here.

57 A hali man was parihsse preste. Tubach 2682: Host taken away. Tubach lists a great variety of exempla here, but Gerould (NEHC, p. 80) cites only the Manuel des Pechiez and Handlyng Synne as analogues. Robert Mannyng’s exemplum, which is drawn from the Dialogues of Gregory the Great (4.33), depicts a man who sins with his god-daughter, but he is not a priest and because he never confesses his sin, God takes vengeance on him after his death by causing fire to erupt from his grave, devouring his body. The NHC version in fact bears a much closer resemblance (particularly with reference to the mass wafers which miracu­lously reappear after the priest has confessed his sin) to the version found in the twelfth-century De Miraculis of Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny (PL 89.853–54).

166–67 synne mai noght forgiven be, / Bot if he it in schrift saye. The “moral” of this exemplum, that contrition and private penance are not sufficient to win God’s forgiveness, reflects the growing emphasis on confession in the years following the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215:
The theological basis for the priest’s role in confession lay in Matthew 16:19, where Jesus said to Peter, ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth will be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven’. Theologians attempted to define the conditions under which a confession was properly carried out. Penitents had to be in a mental state of contrition, which is sorrow for their sins; they had to confess candidly to a priest; and they had to perform satisfaction for the sin, which was the penance that the priest imposed on them. If penitents fulfilled those conditions, the theologians taught that they were forgiven. (Lynch, Medieval Church, p. 287)
178 And how that he suld schrive him right. The qualities which make for a good confession as enumerated in lines 178–416 parallel those found in the many manuals of instruction which appeared following Fourth Lateran, including among others: Robert Mannyng’s Handlyng Synne, the Lay Folk’s Catechism, the Book of Vices and Virtues, the Clensynge of Mannes Soule, and Myrc’s Instructions for Parish Priests. Robert Mannyng lists twelve rather than fourteen qualities but is very similar in overall content.

197 And saise the preste smale synnes oute. William of Auvergne (d. 1249) gives the following advice on the size of the sins confessed:
Neither should you worry about the size of the sins. On the contrary, the bigger the sin, the bigger the success when you’ve destroyed it. . . . But for those people who confess only their least and most trivial sins, it is as if they assert a victory only over dead fleas or flies. Ancient Rome had a ruling that victory celebrations could only be held if you had killed more than seven thousand of the enemy. Similarly, you should want to show your success by confessing huge monsters of sin: elephants of pride, whales of avarice, lions of anger, wolves of rapacity and bulls of indiscipline. (Smith, “William of Auvergne,” p. 102)
232 When the wayne es atte gate. Proverbial. See Whiting C51.

262 And Abyron and Golyas. This line is omitted by D and V, perhaps indicating the obscurity of these names; Cain and Judas are of course well known. For Abyron see Numbers 16:1–2: “And behold Core . . . and Dathan and Abiron . . . rose up against Moses, and with them two hundred and fifty others of the children of Israel.” After Moses speaks, the earth opens and swallows the rebels. The first three figures named fit neatly enough into the category of traitor. The fourth, Golyas, is the Vulgate spelling for Goliath, the giant slain by David and consid­ered by medieval writers to be the type of wickedness and diabolical evil. This interpretation was popularized by lections from the breviary derived “ultimately from a sermon attributed to St. Augustine, though actually by Caesarius of Arles” (Whicher, Goliard Poets, p. 3).

304–05 Forthi if thou will schrive thee right / To mani prestis of thi plight. William of Auvergne indicates that if one confesses half of one’s sins to one’s parish priest and half to an outsider, that might not be enough since “two halves of a story do not make a whole: ‘I got married secretly to Peter’, told to one priest, and ‘I got married secretly to John’ to another, is a case in point! Furthermore, surely grace, like marriage, cannot be partial. One cannot be in part a sinner and in part a saint, or else you would be able to leave your legs in hell when your arms are in heaven” (Smith, “William of Auvergne,” p. 103).

311 rim. MED cites only NHC under this word. According to McIntosh, there are no other examples until the seventeenth century (p. 205). D’s alternate wording confirms the general sense: Wherof is neyther breche no rifte.

329 yest. The MED notes the literal meaning for this word as the yeasty froth from the top of fermenting ale, or barm. All the citations, with the exception of the NHC entry, fit this meaning well, but I have used McIntosh’s “swill” as more appropriate to the context here (p. 199).

410–11 Als sorie suld he be within, / When he him schrives of his synne. These words seem to express the NHC-poet’s wish to balance what has been seen by modern critics as a tension between the Church’s attempt to exercise control over its subjects through the public act of confession and the individual and interior expression of contrition. See Root for a good discussion of these tensions as reflected in the development of the practice of medieval confession (“Space to Speke,” pp. 47–83).


For manuscript abbreviations (ED, A, D, G, L, V), see the Introduction.

30 Als man . . . saye. Expanded according to previous occurrences.

31 The maistir that spekis of this Gospel. MS: EXPO (expositio) written at the right hand margin in slightly larger letters.

57 A hali man was parihsse preste. MS: A Tale, written in the right hand margin, framed by a crown.

66 A maiden childe or thai leste wend. Possibly corrupt. D reads: a mayde child or þei out of þe world wente.

206 to. Written above the line between And and all.

329 swyn. So D. MS: swe.

352 thee. MS: þe written above the line between schriue and to.

385 war ne. MS: written as one word. The repetition in this line is awkward but the sense is clear as seen by a comparison with D’s reading: if it ne were for doute of pask day.
Dominica xiiii. Evangelium secundum Lucam. In illo tempore:1

Dum iret Jhesus in Jerusalem transiebat per mediam etc.2




















































































   Saynte Luke the Gospellere gan saie,
In oure Gospell of todaie,
That when Criste welk in his manhede,
Towarde Jerusalem he yede;
And he come thorghe Samarye,
And Galilé that was tharebye.
Toward a castell gon he mete
With ten mesel men in the strete.
Thir mesel men on Criste gon crie,
And bad him on thaim have mercie,
And Criste bad thaim thai suld thaim schawe,
To a preste of the law.
And als thai yode frawarde Criste,
Of thaire sekenes thai ware warihst;
And ane of thaim tornid agayne,
And thankid Criste and was full fayne.
This ilk man was of Samarie,
And Criste answerd and askid whie,
That nane wald torne agayne bot he,
To loue God in Trinité.
“Es nane,” he saide, “of all tha ten,
That was langare unhale men,
That comes to thank God allmighti,
For helinge of thaire mesellrye,
Bot this a man that es comlinge,
That thankis God of his helinge?
Gange,” he saide, “and wele thee be,
For thi trouthe hase savid thee.”
This es the Gospell of todaie,
Als man in Ynglihsse tonge mai saye.

   The maistir that spekis of this Gospel
Saise thus, als I sall yow tell:
He saise that thir meselles ten,
Betaknes all thir sinful men,
That synne makes full unhale,
And bringes thaim to sekemen tale.
For hale men with meselles wlates,
And gode men that all synne hates
Wlates with thaim that liggis in synne,
And will nowise thaire foli blynne.
Forthi behoves swilk meselles
Come to Criste that sekmen helis
And on him fast call and crie
And praie on thaim he have mercie;
And als swithe als thai do so,
Oure Lorde biddes that thai sall go
To prestis, for to schewe thaire synne
That makes man unhale within;
For thof a man have repentaunce,
And do never so grete penaunce,
All his dede es noght worthe a hawe,
Bot in schrift his synne he schawe.
That mai ye here wele be a tale,
That I to you now tell schale,
Of a preste that thorghe his folie,
Fell in the synne of liccherie.

   A hali man was parihsse preste,
And lufid a frende that wonid him neste.
Mikil lufe was thaim bitwene,
And that was on thaire dedis sene.
This man that was the prestis frende,
Was almous-gern, cortaise and hende.
He had a gude wommane to wife,
And in lewté thai led thaire life.
Betwix thaim two oure Lorde gon send
A maiden childe or thai leste wend;
And this preste I spake of are,
Hoove this childe with mikil fare.
The fadir and modir died bathe,
And left it nouthir mete no clathe.
All the kin it than forsoke,
And than the preste it to him toke,
And norihsst it with mikil belde,
To it was commen on full elde.
So lange wonid scho with him thare,
That scho the prestis keyes bare.
He fand hir lele in dede and wise,
For to do all his servise.
Bot forsothe it es folye,
To preste or clerk to have him bye
Womman, outher sibbe or fremmid —
For chaunce mai fal that no man wend.
This preste was a full hali man,
For all to God he had him tane;
Bot the fende at him had envye,
And fandid him in liccherie.
He made all his halines full thin,
And gert him with this mayden synne;
Bot when he had his synne done,
He repentid him full sone.
Sorowful he was and sorie,
And that forsothe was na ferli,
For he hir hove atte fonte stane,
And sone he had hir saule slane.
This womman did he sone him fro,
And wald himself for sorowe slo;
Bot God comfortid him sone in hye,
And gert him have hope of mercie.
He thoght to live in sorowe and care,
For schrive him thoght he never mare;
For him ware levere to dye sone,
Than ani wist what he had done.
For he had bene so hali a man,
Mikil schame thoght him than,
That ani suld witte swilk thinge him to,
Forthi he thoght penaunce to do.
“I will,” he saide, “my life lede
In pyne to bete mi sinfull dede.
Bot nevermore I will me schrive
To preste ne clerk that es on lyve;
For schame it ware that ani mane,
Suld witte how I have missegane.
For saghtil with God how that I maie,
Mi synne will I to na man saie.”
Thus the fende putte him in will,
For so he wold to hell him till.
This preste began to fast and wake,
And mikil penaunce to him to take.
Messe for to singe durst he right nane,
For he thoght him curst begane.
A twelf monethe lived he swa,
In mikil penaunce and in wa.
When this twelf monetwe was commen to ende,
This preste than full witirli wende,
That God his synne him had forgiven,
Thof he thareof ware noght schriven.
Than to the awtere gon he gange,
And full baldeli his messe he sange;
And when the sakeringe was done,
Goddes flehsse and his blude full sone
Was oute of his sight so nommene
That he ne wist whare it was becommen.
And than was this preste full sarie,
And full wele he wist tharebie,
That his penaunce was noght worthi
To bete his synne and his folie.
He thoght to doubil his travaile,
To loke if it moght oght availe.
Than more penaunce the tother yere,
He did in fastinge and prayere,
Than he had done ever yete,
For so he wende his sin to bete.
Sone eftir the tother yere,
He yode to singe at ane awtere,
And swilk aventere fell him thare,
Als did before, als I saide are.
For Goddes flehsse and his blode bathe
Wente oute of his sight rathe,
When he it suld ressaive and take;
Tharebi wist he that his sake,
Might nevermore him be forgiven,
Bot he of his sin ware schriven.
Than he schrave him till a preste,
And putte the fende oute of his breste.
When he was schriven his messe he sange,
And when he suld Goddis bodi fange,
He wend to take bot ane oblé,
And than before him fand he thre,
That he had sacrid before at messe,
Als I you talde are, mare and lesse.
This preste sawe this mirakle swete,
And all thre the ostis he ete.
He thankid God that taght him than
What schrift duse to sinfull man.
Herebi may we all se,
That synne mai noght forgiven be,
Bot if he it in schrift saye,
For than at first it es awaie.
Forthi saise Luke the Evangeliste
In oure Gospell, that Jesu Criste
Bad the sekemen all o rawe
That thai to prestis suld thaim schawe;
For penaunce es noght worthe a hawe,
Bot if the preste oure synnes knawe.
Forthi es almous for to kenne
Lawed brether and werldes men,
How sinfull man suld schewe his plight,
And how that he suld schrive him right.
Forthi I will yow schewe belive
How sinfull man sall him schrive,
For he that will him schrive right
And stande agayne the fende in fight,
He sall noght do als folis duse,
That gase to schrift als kowe to buse.
Bot whoso will him schrive wele,
And do the foule fende mikil unsele,
He sall wele his synne porvaie,
Or he it to the preste saie;
And offir to oure Lorde gift
Of praiere or he ga to schrift,
That in his schrift God give him grace,
That he mai breke the fendes lase;
And schame oute of his hert cast
That bindes mannes hert so fast,
That it geres him leeve his moste plight,
When that he suld schrive him right,
And saise the preste smale synnes oute,
Whareof he hase leste doute.
That leves for schame his synne to schawe,
Thare es his schrift noght worthe a hawe.
Bot wha so thinkes on Domisdaie,
In schrift he puttis schame awaie;
For all the synne that ever es hidde,
Sall than to all folk be kidde
To ma aungelles than tonge mai telle,
And to all the fendes of hell.
All thinge sall oure synnes thare se,
Bot we therof schriven be.
Than sall thai bere full sorowful blame,
That leves to schrive thaim here for schame.
Than es gude we schrive us right,
And saie oute all oure saules plight;
Than er we of the fendes qwite,
And oure synnes oute of his scrite.
Oure synnes forsothe all will he tayle,
His roll es more than all Cornewaile.
Bot schrift of mouthe and hert sare,
Makes his mikil roll full bare;
And who so will amende his lyve,
To schrift behoves him be hastive.
For es na man so wise no sley,
That wote the daie that he sall dye.
Forthi me think that foles er thai,
That drawes thaire schrift fro daie to daie;
For so longe in synne mai thai duell,
That thai go stoupeand even to hell.
In hell forsothe es no man schrivene,
Ne no synne es thare forgivene.
Forthi es gude we schrive us sone,
Of all the synne that we have done;
For than God wote es to late,
When the wayne es atte gate:
Than es ovre late for to saie:
I walde me schrive, bot I ne maie.
Yit awe thi schrift for to be
Willfull when thou schrives thee;
For wha swa schrives him mawgré his,
God connes him litil thank iwisse.
He es ataynte of his missedede,
Forthi he tynes all his mede.
Noghtforthi the mikil schame
That he thare tholis, and the blame,
Sall stande for penaunce of his synne,
If he fra that tyme will it blynne.
Bot if thi schrift right sall fare,
Thee awe to make thi sin all bare,
And saie how oft with hert sare,
Thou hase done synne and when and whare.
Cover noght thi sin with fals sawes;
For God that all mennes thoghtes knawes
Thou ne mai begile be na gate,
For all thi synnes wele he wate.
Yit sall thou noght in schrift be fikil,
Bot trowe that mercie es so mikil,
That thof thou have done all the synne,
That ever yitt did all mankin,
Yit es oure Lorde more redie,
Of thee to have gode mercie.
Forthi sall thou noght in wanhope,
That geres man fall in the develes rope,
Als did Cayn and Judas,
And Abyron and Golyas.
Thir men fell fra Goddes grase,
And festnid thaim in the fendes lase.
Yit awe in thi schrift to nevene,
All the dedeli synnes sevene:
That is Pride, Yre and Envye,
Covetise and Glotonie,
Forworthinnes and Liccherie.
And sithen thir othir synnes trye;
Than ripis thou thi gasteli wounde,
And makes thi saule bathe safe and sounde.
And if thou in thi schrift be slye,
Thow awe thiself for to wrye,
And nouther thi felawe ne thi frende,
For if thou do thou ert unhende.
For if thou thi schrift make,
Of other mennes synne and sake,
To him thou hase no charité,
Of whaim thow wald vengid be.
Forsothe if thou thee schrive swa,
Thi schrift es noght worthe a stra.
Of wryinge couthe I mikil speke,
Bot will I noght mi matere breke,
For I will saie you more of schrift,
How man to God his hert sall lift;
For I have talde thinges sevene
Of schrift, that bringes mannes saule to hevene.
Yit will I other sevene nevene,
And than es thare fourtene evene.
Thi schrift behoves be all hale,
If thou will bete thi saule bale:
Make hale thi schrift and saie all oute,
Whareof thou felis thi saule in doute.
If thou the preste one parti tell,
And lates another in thee dwell,
And schewes another preste thi synne,
That thou hase halden thee within,
And will noght late a preste witt all
Thi synnes, bathe grete and small,
Swilk schrift es forkid and noght hale,
For twifald makes thou thi tale.
Thi schrift behoves be anefalde,
Forthi if thou will schrive thee right
To mani prestis of thi plight,
To ilkone of thaim sall tow schewe,
All thi synne and thin unthewe.
To all sall tow tell a tale,
For than mase thou thi schrift hale,
For hale and anefalde es thi schrift,
When thare es nouther ni rim ne rift
For all men sall yelde acounte,
What all thaire synnes sall amounte,
For God that knawes all mannes thoght,
He forgives outher all or noght.
Yit awe thi schrift to be so sikir,
That thou tharein nothinge flikir,
Bot als ferforthe als thou maie,
In thi schrift sall thou the sothe saie:
How oft thou hase done thi synne
And therof will forever blynne;
For if thou sinne eftir thi schrift,
Thou bringes thi saule to mikil unthrift,
And drawes it to hell grounde;
For thou duse right als duse the hounde,
That castis oute of his bodie,
That he gulpis in glotonye,
And sithin that at he oute keste,
He likkis it uppe als swyn duse yest.
For so duse all thise caytives,
That first of dedeli synne thaim schrives,
And eftirward fallis in that ilk,
Als flies falles in swete milk.
And forthi he that schrives him right,
His hert suld be sikir and wight,
That for all this werldes wynne,
Ne wolde he fall eftsones tharein,
Him suld think levere to be slayne,
Than for to fall in synne agayne.
Yit solde a man in schrift schawe,
All his synne with sothe sawe,
And saie noght of himself leese,
For God prayses noght swilk mekenes.
Bot saye how thi synnes was done,
And God forgives thaim thee full sone.
And if thou be in schrift schomiande,
Thi schame for penaunce sal thee stande.
For schame in schrift and repentaunce
Standes in stede of grete penaunce.
And if thou will right schrive thee,
Skilfull awe thi schrift to be:3
That thou schrive thee to swilk a man
That thou trowes thee wele lere can,
And can laie on thee penaunce right,
That may clens thee of all thi plight.
For if a blind man be ledde,
And his ledare be so stedde,
That thai be bothe blind ilike,
Thai bothe than fallis in the dike.
So faris it of thir lerid men,
That lawde folk suld lede and ken,
If thai na bettir skill canne
Of Hali Writte than lawde man;
Than er thai bothe ilike blinde,
For thai can nouther the gate finde,
That suld thaim lede to hevene rike,
Forthi thai er bothe blind ylike.
Of this matere coude I saie mare,
Bot God wote I ne dare —
For bettir es pese to halde,
Than for to be in speche ovre balde.
Forthi tell I forthe mi tale,
How sinful man him schrive sale,
For whoso will lede hali live,
Oft him buse of synne him schrive,
And bide noght to the twelfmonethe ende,
For he may di or ever he wende.
Of mani folk me think ferlie,
That makes na forse in synne to lye
All the twelf monethe ovre and ovre,
And will noght oute of thair synne covere
Or Lentine thaim to schrift dryve;
For Lentine geres man thaim schrive,
That never thoght thaire synne to saie,
Ne war ne schame ware of Pasche daye.
For werldes schame and Cristen lawe,
Geres mani man his synne schawe;
For Cristen man will he be talde,
And Cristen custome will he halde;
Bot when the Paske daie es done,
Agayne in synne he fallis als sone.
This man es lyke unto the tike,
To whaim langare I made him like:
For right als hounde wlatis with metes,
And castis and his castinge etes,
So duse the man that wlates with sakes,
And castis thaim oute and sithen thaim takes;
When he in synnes fallis eft,
Forsothe he takes that he are left.
For grete mistir have we all,
To schrive us als oft als we sall,
For God oure Lorde es aye redie,
Us to forgive all oure folye;
And when we us of synne schrive,
If we have will to mende oure lyve,
Yit sall man in schrift have care,
And grete for his synne full sare,
For als mikil lust and likinge
Als man hase in his synne doynge,
Als sorie suld he be within,
When he him schrives of his synne.
Than may his sorowe answere right,
Unto the likinge of his plight.
Now have ye herd somethinge of schrift.
How man to God his hert suld lift.
Forthi es gude that we us schrive,
And with penaunce amende oure lyve;
Than maye we at oure endinge daie,
Come to the joye that lastis aie.
Oure Lorde Jesu Criste us spede
To do penaunce and thider us lede. Amen.

went about in human form


show themselves

went away from



Who earlier were ill

one; a foreigner
Go; may you be well


(see note); (t-note)

Whom; unwell
be accounted sick men
are disgusted by lepers
Despise; lie


even though

the fruit of the hawthorn (i.e., a trifle)
Unless; confession

(see note); (t-note)
lived next to him

charitable; gracious


when they least expected it; (t-note)

Baptized; great ceremony

food nor clothing


had charge of

relative; stranger

dedicated himself



baptismal font
put away from him

he would rather

such a thing about him

make amends for

gone astray
For however it may be settled with God

persuaded him
thus; draw

that he was cursed

certainly thought




atone for
be worth something




thought; one sacramental wafer



(see note)


helpful; teach
acknowledge; guilt
correctly; (see note)

cows to the stall

cause; regret
reflect on


omit; greatest sin

(see note)
Whoever fails
hawthorn berry (i.e., worthless)
reflects on the Day of Judgment

made known



written account
add up
scroll; bigger than
a sorrowful heart

he must be quick

put off


wagon; (see note)
too late

in spite of himself
owes him little thanks
loses; reward
take the place of
is to proceed correctly


deceive; in no way


[fall] into despair

(see note)

[you] ought; name

sift out
bring to fruition; spiritual




Concerning accusations could
interrupt my discourse



amend; harm

kept inside yourself

(see note)


no crack; rift; (see note)
give an account
amount to


as far as


that which
He licks it up as pigs do swill; (see note); (t-note)

same [sin]

he would rather


full of shame
stand in the place of penance





overly bold

Often he needs

I am amazed
think it no matter

be delivered from
Before Lent

Were it not for the shame of Easter; (t-note)


is sickened by his food

is disgusted by [his] sins



the doing of his sin
(see note)

rightly compensate
For the pleasure of his sin

make us hasten


[Homilies 50–51 not included in this edition. See Explanatory Notes.]

Go To Homily 52, Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity