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Homily 56, Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity


1 Twenty-first Sunday after the feast of Holy Trinity. The Gospel according to John

2 Latin rubric (John 4:46–53): And there was a certain ruler, whose son was sick at Capharnaum. [He having heard that Jesus was come from Judea into Galilee, went to him, and prayed him to come down, and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him: Unless you see signs and wonders, you believe not. The ruler saith to him: Lord, come down before that my son die. Jesus saith to him: Go thy way; thy son liveth. The man believed the word which Jesus said to him, and went his way. And as he was going down, his servants met him; and they brought word, saying, that his son lived. He asked therefore of them the hour wherein he grew better. And they said to him: Yesterday, at the seventh hour, the fever left him. The father therefore knew, that it was at the same hour that Jesus said to him, Thy son liveth; and himself believed, and his whole house.]

3 Marginal notation: John 4:46. MS D has numerous marginal annotations of this type, in a later hand (probably sixteenth century). See the textual notes for a listing of them.


Abbreviations: MED: Middle English Dictionary; 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. For manuscript abbreviations (ED, A, D, G, L, V), see the Introduction.

This segment comes from D; it has been lost from A, and G has only the homily. The exemplum of the nun despised for her ugly looks is the third instance of a hermit taken to task for thinking himself more holy than others, in particular, those tested by worldly temptation and/or suffering (see the exempla of the Harsh Hermit, pp. 113–17, and King Oswald, pp. 147–50). The NHC-poet here expresses once again his sensitivity to and sympathy for his audience, who must deal with the temptations of everyday life: the reclusive hermit whose “holiness” is shown up by comparison with the ascetic life of King Oswald reveals the poet’s sense of humor; even more significantly, the experiences of the young hermit assailed by physical desire and the nun scorned for her ugliness strike a note that would surely have resonated with the experience of ordinary layfolk.

NIMEV 2935, 2859. Manuscripts: A: (missing); G: fols. 146v–147v (homily only); D: fols. 203r–206r; L: fols. 60v–61r.

34 But herof I wile sumthing telle. Though Gregory’s homily on John’s text is not cited, it is similar in theme and emphasis (Forty, Homily 28, pp. 221–25).

87–88 But in this world is many a man / That mekil werldli wisdom can. Compare Gregory: “We do not respect in people their nature, made in God’s image, but their riches and reputation. When we consider what is important about them we scarcely regard what they are within. We pay attention to what is physically displeasing about them and neglect to consider what they are” (Forty, Homily 28, p. 222). The last sentence also parallels the theme of the exemplum which follows, concerning a nun whose physical appearance is loathsome but whose soul is pure and beautiful.

108 That love these fayre men and white. This line, along with its marginal annotation, love faire whit men, reminds us of one of the most important components of the medieval ideal of beauty. As Curry notes, “[W]hite is very commonly used to describe beautiful women and children and handsome men as well” (Middle English Ideal, p. 80). Isolde “of the white hands,” Blancheflur, the eponymous heroine of Floris and Blancheflur, and Chaucer’s Blanche, who is evoked through a pun, “And goode faire White she het” (Book of the Duchess, line 948), suggesting the link between whiteness and beauty, are just a few of the many examples found throughout medieval literature (Curry, Middle English Ideal, pp. 80–81). Interestingly, the religious symbolism which frequently associates white with religious virtue and purity is absent; here white marks only the external beauty which is to be shunned (Lampert, “Race, Periodicity,” p. 401).

123 Seynt Basil tellith sothfastli. Tubach 3504: Nun, worthiest. The exemplum comes from the Vitae Patrum, where it is found in several different places: PL 73.1140, PL 74.299, attributed to Heraclides Paradisus, and PL 73.984, attributed as in the NHC, to Saint Basil. Middle English versions include the AT (322), and Jacob’s Well (12).

134 And callid hire oule and outcasting. All versions of this exemplum are very similar, but NHC contains a good many more colorful details than the others regarding the nun’s appearance and the other nuns’ treatment of her.

138 yeste. This word also occurs in Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (49.330). Here, as there, the meaning “pig-swill,” as suggested by McIntosh, fits the context better than the MED definition, “the yeasty froth from the top of fermenting ale, or barm” (p. 199).

159 For an ermyte wonid ther beside. See the Introduction, p. 6, and Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (12.121–22n) for general information about hermits.

229 foul sage. Ordinarily a sage is a wise person, but must here (as MED notes with reference to the term fol sage, though NHC is not cited), mean something else: “one who feigns or pretends to wisdom.”


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.

40 Myght. The scribe has omitted either the last half of the m or the first stroke of the y.

42 For his Godhed knew he nought. D contains many marginal notations in a different hand (italic, probably late sixteenth century) throughout the entire manu­script. Their purpose is chiefly to draw attention to what the annotator con­siders to be the most important aspects of the text; here, the notation reads: he knew not his godhead.

62 have. MS: have had, with had canceled.
seyd is written above in.

77 D distinguishes major transitions in the text by beginning the line with a large capital letter in blue or red. I have indicated this by indenting the lines where these letters occur.

108 Marginal notation: love faire whit men.

111 Marginal notation: yf a man might see the likeness of the trinitie in the soule of man how he would worshyp it.

122 Marginal notation: St Basill.

123 Marginal notation: Narracio (in yet another hand).

124 Marginal notation: A nunnerie.

127 Marginal notation: A nun.

159 Marginal notation: Protormes an Hermite.

165 thou. So V. MS: now.

261 worldis. MS: wlorldis, with a cancellation mark under the initial l.
Dominica vicesima prima post festum Sancte Trinitatis. Evangelium secundum Johannem.1

Erat quidem regulus cuius filius infirmabatur Capharnaum et cetera.2

























































   Seynt John the good Gospellere3
Seyth thus in oure Gospel here:
A town was callid Capharnaum
To whilk Crist was wont to com;
A kingis sone ful sike ther lay,
And whan his fader the king herd say
That Crist was comen to that cuntré
That than was callid Galilé,
He com and preyd Crist as his frend
That he wolde to his hous wend,
And help his sone that ther sike lay;
And than Crist to him gan say:
“But if ye wonderful tokins se,
Ellis trowe ye not in me.”
The king seyde, “Lord, come in hi
And help my sone or than he di.”
Than answerid Crist and bad him gange,
And seyde, “Thi sone is hol and strange.”
He trowid Crist and was ful fayn,
And turnid him fast homward agayn;
And as he wente be the strete,
His owne servauntis gan he mete,
That told him in that ilke stound
That his sone was hol and sound.
The king hem askid what tyme and whan
That he was hol, and thei seyde than:
“Yesterday as we yow say
The fyvere him lefte about mydday.”
The king him umbethought than right,
It was the same tyme that Crist him hight
That his sone schuld helid be
Therfor in Crist ful wel trowid he.
This is the strengthe of oure Gospelle,
But herof I wile sumthing telle.

   How this king trowid not stedefastli
In oure Lord God Almyghti;
For this king bad him com
Bodili unto Capharnaum,
For he wende that his manhed
Myght mor do than his Godhed
That his sone hol were wrought,
For his Godhed knew he nought.
Therfor wold Crist lete him se
That overal was his pousté,
And bad him gon with mylde chere,
And seyde his sone was hol and fere;
As who say, “Thu may wite therbi
That thouh I come not bodili
Mi Godhed is myghti nevertheles
To hele thi sone of his syknes.”
For Goddis myght and his maystri
In alle stedis is ay so redi,
That nouht so privé may be done
That he ne knowith it als sone;
And that not thorw his manhede
But thorw the myght of his Godhede.
And therfor we may understande
That this king was mystrowande
Whan he preyd Crist to come
Bodili unto Capharnaum;
For if he had ben stedefast
In trouthe he schuld have seyd in hast:
“Lord, thi wil thu schew to me
For ther ageyn may no thing be.
Comaunde, Lord, for thi mercy,
That my sone be hol in hy,
For I trowe Lord stedefastli
That thu art God Almyghti.”
But for he wende that his manhed
Was mor of myght than his Godhed,
Therfor he bad Crist come in haste
To hele his sone or he yald the gaste;
And therfor seyde Crist him to:
“But if ye se me wondres do,
Ellis trowe ye not that I
Be Goddis Sone Almyghty.”

   Here may we seen that the Godhede
Is more to love than his manhede,
And mannes soule withouten les
Of the Godhed hath the liknes.
Therfor schuld we mekil more
Loke that oure soule wel wore
Than oure foule wrecchid bodi,
And ellis oure lyf is al foli;
For the bodi schal rote in clay,
But the soule schal laste for ay.
   But in this world is many a man
That mekil werldli wisdom can,
And to the bodi thei take good yeme
In lust and liking it to queme.
But of the soule thei rekke no del
Whether that it farith ille or wel.
With worldli welthe the flesch thei fede
And not the soule with no good dede;
Forsothe me thinkith that alle swiche
Unto this king may wel ben liche,
That mor worschipid Cristis manhed
Than he dide his heye Godhede.
For who so do his soule nedis,
He worschipith God in his dedis;
For mannes soule as we rede here
Is Goddis owne ymage clere.
Therfor if we oure lawe wile yeme,
God himself make we ful queme,
For everi holi soule is Goddis spouse
That he schal bringe to blisful house.
   But here arn many men to wite
That love these fayre men and white
Mor for fayrhed of hire bodi
Than for the vertu of the soule gostli.
But forsothe if thei myght se
The liknes of the Trenyté
That in mannes soule is wrought,
And how dere that it was bought,
Thei wold more love therto kithe
Than to the bodi a thousand sithe.
But with the bodi wold thei wlate,
And honoure the soule for the grete state.
We schuld love men for hire goodnesse
Mor than for bodily fayrnesse.
And that may we seen be a tale here
That acordith to this matere.

   Seynt Basil tellith sothfastli,
That in a lond was a nonneri
Wherin nonnes dwellid good won;
And among hem was on
That caste hire love so inwardli
Upon oure Lord God Almyghti,
That of hireself nothing sche rought,
But on Jhesu was hire thought.
Hire chere was ay semand sori.
Hire felawis held hire wod forthi,
And made of hire ful gret skornyng,
And callid hire oule and outcasting;
For alle the nonnes that were thore
Wend wel that sche fonned wore,
And summe on hire foul water keste,
And sumtyme draf and sumtyme yeste;
And summe rubbid hire withoute
With ground mustard al aboute.
But sche made no grucching
For al hire evyl skornyng,
But all sche suffrid ful mekeli,
And to hire servise was ay redi.
For oftetymes sche grecid hire schos,
And wisch hire vessel as a quystroun dos.
And whatsoevere thei put hire to
Wit a good wil al dide scho.
Hire hed was wounden al aboute
With a foul lynen cloute;
And for sche was so unlikli
Alle thei letin of hire skornrfulli.
But yet sche was ful derworthi
Beforn oure Lord God Almyghti.
Thus led sche longe ful holy lyf,
But sche made nevere hire goodnes ryf,
For evere hire holynes sche hid
But atte laste oure Lord it kid.
   For an ermyte wonid ther beside,
That in that lond was knowen ful wide.
Protormes the ermyte hyght;
To him God sente an aungil bright,
That swiche wordis unto him seyde
Ther he was in his preyeris leyde:
“Thu wenist,” he seyde, “that thou here art
An hali man and clene of hert.
Ther is a woman I wot wel whore,
That of holynes hath mekil more
Than evere thu yet had in thee;
And if thu wilt, thu may hire se.
Wit a good tokne I schal thee bynde
How thu schalt that mayden fynde:
Unto that nonneri thu go to morn,
And calle the nonnes alle thee beforn,
And sche that hath hire hed wounden
And al with cloutis aboute bounden,
That is sche that holy may
That servith God bothe nyght and day.
Hire felawis don hire tene and tray,
And al sche takith it in play.
Sche preyth for alle that don hire mys,
Forthi with God ful dere sche is.
And thu sittist here al alone,
And anger and tene sufferist thu none,
And wenist thiself be ful holi,
And beforn God ful derworthi.
Thu latist thin herte ful wide stray,
And thinkist on worldli game and play.
Therfor I sey thee full witterli,
Thu art not half so holi
As is that blisful and holy may
That suffrith so gladli tene and tray.”
   Upon the morn this ermyte aros,
And to the nonneri faste he gos;
And als sone as he com there,
The nonnes made him good chere.
So holi man and good was he,
That alle were fayn him for to se.
Thei askid sone what was his wille,
And of his comyng to wite sum skille.
He answerid and seyde to hem than:
“Among yow is a good woman
That I am come for to se,
For of hire wile I blissid be.”
He lokid about him ful wide whore,
And askid if thei alle were thore.
“Me thinkith,” he seyde, “that I hire mysse
For whom I come heder iwisse.”
   To this ermyte than answerid thei,
And seyde ther was not on awey
But a caytif, a fonnyd wight
That schuld come in no mannes sight.
“Sche is so foul and so fulsome
That sche aforn men may not come.”
Than answerid this holi man
And seyde, “I wile seen that woman.”
Than yede a nonne hire for to calle,
And brouht hire forth beforn hem alle.
Whan this ermyte of hire had sight,
To hire fete he fil doun right.
Sche was affrayd that he dide so,
Hire schamyd sore and was ful wo.
To the ground plat fil sche thore,
And wepte ful tenderli and sore.
Whan the nonnes saw hem don thus
Thei seyde unto Protamus:
“Rise up, Fader,” thei seyde in hi,
“Thu dost thiself gret vileny;
Thu liggist beforn a foul sage
That lyvith in wodnes and in rage.”
“Ye gabbe,” he seyde, “alle witterli;
In this woman is non foli,
But ye arn folis and have ben longe
That have dispisid hire with wronge
For wite ye wel without les,
Sche is of wel mor worthines
Beforn Jhesu Cristes face
Than alle that stande in this place.
An aungil told me al hire state
Forthi hire goodnes al I wate.”
   Than made the nonnes ful mekil mone,
And on hire knes thei fille ilkone,
And askid hire forgifnes sone
Of al that thei had hire mysdone;
And seyde, “We arn worthi to blame
For we han don hire mekil schame.”
This blissid mayden ful myldeli
Forgaf hem alle ful inwardli,
And seyde, “My Lord God Almyghty
On yow and me he have mercy.”
But whan sche saw that mor and les
Knew hire lyf and hire goodnes,
Al worldly loos sche thouhte to fle,
For in worschipe sche wold not be.
Sche fled awey upon a nyght,
And com no mor in mannes sight.
Mighte no man seththe in no land
Of this mayden here mor tidand.
But we trowe that God hire tok
To Paradys, for sche forsok
Al this wrecchid worldis blis,
That nothing but fantam is.

   Be this tale may we seen wel
That God is be the hundrid del
Bettere payd of that fayrnes
That in a mannes soule is,
Whan he is out of dedli synne,
Than of al this worldis wynne.
For this woman was in hire bodi
Foul of syghte and unlykly,
But hire soule notforthi
Was to God ful derworthi.
Therfor be we not to bolde
Of oure flesche that schal rote in molde;
But be we tendere of that drury
That Crist so dere on rode wolde by:
That is oure soule that I of mene
God geve us grace to hold it clene
For als often as we it file
Goddis ymage make we vile.
If we this ymage so despite,
And he be wroth, who may him wite?
God graunte us grace it clene to bringe
To hevene blisse at oure endinge. Amen.



did say
Unless; miraculous signs
in haste
before he dies
believed; glad

very moment



(see note)


thought; physical presence
To make his son whole
Divinity; (t-note)

healthy and strong
As if to say; know



faith; at once; (t-note)

against it


greater in power

gave up the ghost

more to be loved

See that our soul be upright

(see note)
Who much; knows
great care
desire; please
care not at all



attends to

take heed of

(see note); (t-note)

truly; (t-note)

dearly; purchased
be disgusted
its good spiritual condition

is appropriate; (t-note)

(see note); (t-note)
according to good custom
directed; (t-note)


expression; in appearance sorrowful
considered her to be crazy
were scornful of her
owl and outcast; (see note)

Thought; insane
chaff; pig swill; (see note)

their; scorn

polished their shoes
And washed their dishes as a scullion does

because; ugly
mistreated her scornfully


made known
hermit dwelled; (see note); (t-note)

was called

Where; positioned
think; [you] are; (t-note)
know; where

sign; give


head wound about

companions; annoyance and mischief

do her wrong
Therefore to

allow; wander



Such a
at once
know; reason

all about him

do not see

one missing
Except a wretch; deranged creature
ought to

wish to see

She was ashamed

You lie; idiot; (see note)
deceive yourselves; certainly

know; without lies

great moaning
each one

done wrong


[may] he have

to be worshipped



a hundred times



wished to buy




[Homilies 57–58 not included in this edition. See Explanatory Notes.]

Go To Homily 59, Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity