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Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ

Profile author: Allan Westphall and David Falls
Revision date: June 1st, 2010

Approximate Date, Sources, Provenance

This textual profile uses Michael Sargent's The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ: A Full Critical Edition (Exeter, 2005). We also refer readers to the very substantial introduction in this edition, and would like to thank Michael Sargent for the generous help and support he has provided in our work on this text.

The Mirrour of the Blessed Lyf of Jesu Christ (Mirrour) is the only English pseudo-Bonaventuran text whose provenance and authorship can be determined with certainty. Several of the earliest manuscripts of the text names its translator as one Nicholas Love, in all likelihood a former Benedictine monk, who served as Prior of the Mount Grace Carthusian house from its incorporation into the Order until 1423, as the text’s translator (see Smith, Heads of Religious Houses. 362).

The Mirrour is the only extant full-scale English prose translation of the Latin pseudo-Bonaventuran Meditationes vitae Christi, probably by the Franciscan Johannes de Caulibus, although other candidates for authorship have been put forward in recent research, notably by Sarah McNamer (see bibliography for details). Indeed, while many of the English texts based on the Meditationes translate only specific sections of the Latin text, usually the sections on Christ’s Passion, the Mirrour not only includes the majority of material from before the Incarnation to the Resurrection, but also repeats the meditative structure according to the seven days of the week, as suggested to readers at the conclusion of the Meditationes (see further the section ‘Textual Authority’ on the modification of the Latin source’s comments about reading practices). This hebdomadal structure is not only important to the textual tradition of the Mirrour but also the manuscript tradition, as many of the manuscripts contain rubricated headings dividing the text into daily sections matching the hebdomadal structure of the Meditationes.

While the Mirrour translates more of the original Latin source than any other English pseudo-Bonaventuran text there are a number of important structural modifications, excisions and additions. The Mirrour has an added ‘Proheme’ which precedes the ‘Prologue’ of the original Latin text in which the translator offers remarks about appropriate reading and response models (see the section on ‘Theology’ below). This ‘Proheme’ may also reveal something of the motivation behind the English translation of the Latin text, claiming it was made ‘at þe instance & þe prayer of some deuoute soules’ (10: 17). Moreover, the ‘Proheme’ is used to justify the apocryphal material of both the Mirrour and the Meditationes, noting that ‘alle þo þinges þat Jesus dide, bene not written in þe Gospelle’ (10: 40-41). It is also in the extra ‘Proheme’ that the translator names the work as ‘þe Mirrour of þe blessed life of Jesu criste’ , explaining that the life of Christ ‘may not be fully discriuede as þe lifes of oþer seyntes, bot in a maner of likenes as þe ymage of mans face is shewed in þe mirrroure [sic]’ (11: 14-16).

The original 108 chapters of the Latin Meditationes are condensed into 63 chapters in the Mirrour, with the major excisions being a large number of the Latin chapters on the active and contemplative lives, two chapters on the capture and execution of John the Baptist, as well as several short chapters on the early miracles of Christ’s ministry. Some of the main structural changes made by Love to the Latin Meditationes will be discussed in the ‘Contents’ section below.

We also refer to the Introduction in Sargent's Critical Edition for extensive discussion of Nicholas Love’s sources and his transformation of material from the Meditationes (esp. pp. 38-54).

The body of the text also contains several sections which can be read as ‘short tretyses’, most obviously at the conclusion of the chapter on the Annunciation in which we find a verse exposition of the Ave Maria. Indeed many of the chapters, such as those on the Temptation, the Conversion of Mary Magdalene, and the Last Supper can be said to be so thoroughly reworked by the translator that they could be read as independent ‘tretyses’ or theological expositions. Many, although not all, of the English interpolations and modifications to the Latin text are signalled throughout the text through the use of marginal 'N.' and 'B.' notes, which attempt to separate material translated from the Latin pseudo-Bonaventuran source from original material added by the English translator. A series of Latin ‘notae’, which occur in the majority of Mirrour manuscripts, inform Latinate readers of Love’s processes of annotation and textual reworkings. Furthermore, a marginal apparatus found throughout Mirrour and occurring with notable consistency across the manuscript corpus works to identify cited authorities and to highlight the text’s anti-Lollard polemic, often with the words ‘contra lollardos’. (Many of the specific additions made by the Love will be addressed further below.)

The main body of the text is followed by an extended and original ‘Treatise on the Eucharist’ in which the translator defends the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This treatise offers substantial orthodox theological explication of the sacrament, and records several Eucharistic miracles explicitly intended to rebut contemporary Lollard beliefs. (See further the ‘Theology’ section for discussion of the Mirrour’s engagement with Wycliffite and Lollard doctrine.)

To judge from its survival in approximately 65 MSS, the Mirrour would appear to have been the most popular pseudo-Bonaventuran adaptation in late medieval England. The other known monastic composition, the Mirror to Devout People (or the Speculum Devotorum) which appeared from the Birgittine Abbey of Syon and was written shortly after Love’s Mirrour, exists in only two copies, and like Love’s text itself was probably in its initial conception composed for, and addressed to, associated religious houses and possibly a close circle of secular benefactors.

Recent scholarship has tended to understand the wide dissemination of Love’s Mirrour on the basis of its assumed central position in the theological and ecclesiastical politics of the age. Nicholas Watson has argued that Love’s Mirrour was inherently linked to Archbishop Thomas Arundel’s 1409 ‘Constitutions’, a legislative programme which attempted to control the spread of ideas connected with the Oxford theologian John Wyclif and his Lollard followers (‘Censorship and Cultural Change’). Watson views Love’s Mirrour as an authorised archiepiscopal commission largely on the basis of a Latin ‘Memorandum’ attached to around half of the manuscripts of the Mirrour, which records Love’s submission of the ‘original copy’ of the Mirrour to Arundel in London around 1410 as well as the Archbishop’s subsequent authorisation of the texts dissemination for the ‘edification of the faithful and the confutation of heretics and lollards’. The personal connection suggested by the ‘Memorandum’ seems to be supported by the financial connection between Arundel and Love’s Mount Grace Charterhouse, and indeed these connections have become a staple of modern scholarship on Love’s Mirrour and orthodox ecclesiastical politics. Particularly dominant has been the critical narrative that views the Mirrour as an authorised text, ‘written to order’ around 1410, as part of a political relationship between the Archbishop and the Carthusian Prior.

However, as the ‘Memorandum’ is a much later composition than the Mirrour, and because the Mirrour exists in a number of different early textual versions which do not include the ‘Memorandum’, there is little compelling evidence for assuming that a specific version was composed for such a narrow political purpose (see especially Sargent, ‘Textual Affiliations’ on pre-publication versions). Nor was there probably a specific moment in time in which the work was definitively completed, so we should not automatically assume that a final ‘publication’ version was ever intended.

It seems plausible that the Latin exemplar for Love’s English adaptation was Ripon Cathedral MS. 6, a turn of the century Latin manuscript of the Meditationes which moved to Love’s Mount Grace Charterhouse early in its life. If this is so, Love may have commenced his translation project as early as 1400, with the earliest manuscripts of the three textual families described by Sargent representing evolving forms of the text. We may more correctly regard these evolving textual forms as reflecting an intention to address specific readers, or networks of readers, rather than as ‘pre-publication’ versions of what became an ecclesiastically authorised or commissioned text at a later stage. We might thus view Love’s Mirrour as a work of ‘functional diversity’, which envisages multiple readerships and engages with a range of cultural and theological issues clearly of importance not only to the translator, but reflecting the interests and preoccupations of the Mirrour’s contemporary readers.

Love adds a section at the end of the pseudo-Bonaventuran ‘Prologue’ in which he states that the purpose of composition is the ‘grete confort & gostly profite in deuoute contemplacion of cristes blessede lif’ (12, 38-39), and that this is facilitated by a process of making the ‘soule present to þoo þinges þat bene here written seyd or done of oure lord Jesu’ (12, 41-13,1). Such remarks place the Mirrour squarely within traditions of Latin and English Franciscan-inspired affective theology, and, more specifically, within an established corpus of English adaptations of the pseudo-Bonaventuran Meditationes.

However, the scope and variety of Love’s textual modifications and additions made to his Latin source show a concern with a range of contemporary issues of religious controversy, sacramental theology and meditative theology that goes beyond what is found in any other Middle English pseudo-Bonaventuran work. These issues will receive extended treatment in the ‘Theology’ section below.


Love’s Mirrour contains 64 chapters and divides these into seven sections according to the seven days of the week. As a full-scale adaptation in English of the Latin Meditationes, Love’s text is the only one in the Middle English pseudo-Bonaventuran corpus to continue this seven-day (hebdomedal) meditative division from its source.

The Latin Meditationes outlines the hebdomadal reading structure in its final chapter, ‘The Method of Meditating on the Life of the Lord Jesus and the Conclusion of the Book’:

On Monday, start at the beginning (of the Lord’s life), and go as far as the Lord’s flight into Egypt; then stop at this point. On Tuesday, resume there, and meditate as far as his opening of the Book in the synagogue. On Wednesday, proceed from there to the ministry of Mary and Martha. On Thursday, go from there to the passion and death. On Friday and Saturday, go as far as the resurrection. Finally, on Sunday, meditate on the resurrection itself up to the end of his earthly life. (Ed. and trans. Stallings-Taney et al. Meditations, 332)

Meditationes verosic divide, ut die Lunae incipiens, procurras usque ad fugam Domini in Aegyptum. Et eo dimidimisso, die Martis, pro eo rediens, mediteris usque ad apertionem libri in synagoga; die Mercurii exinde, usque in ministerium Mariae et Marthae; die Jovis abinde, usque ad passionem; die Veneris et Sabbati, usque ad resurrectionem; die vero Dominica, ipsam resurrectionem, et usque in finem. (Meditationes, ed. Peltier, 329)


Love follows this arrangement in broad outline, but does make minor alterations as indicated below:

Monday: Christ’s Incarnation to the Flight into Egypt.

Tuesday: The Flight into Egypt to Christ’s Baptism. (The Temptation is moved to the meditation for Wednesday)

Wednesday: On the Temptation in the desert to the plucking of the ears of corn. (The ministry of Mary and Martha, which introduces the prolonged treatment of the active and contemplative lives in Meditationes, is moved to Thursday)

Thursday: Christ feeds the Five Thousand to the event of Last Supper.

Friday: Christ’s Passion from the Arrest to the Burial.

Saturday: A single chapter dealing with Mary’s actions on the Saturday after the Passion.

Sunday: Christ’s Resurrection and appearances; the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles.

The Mirrour concludes with the long and independent ‘Treatise on the Eucharist. (See the ‘Textual Authority’ section below for further discussion of how Love’s modification of the pseudo-Bonaventuran hebdomadal model is designed to impact the reader’s approach to, and experience of, the text.)

Whenever a substantial alteration is made to the chapter ordering of the Latin Meditationes, the changes are usually recorded by Latin notes within the text. These records give a revealing insight into the mechanics of Love’s editorial procedure and allow the structure and full content of his Latin exemplar(s) to remain intact in spite of his substantial interventions and reworkings. The presence of these notes in Latin suggests that Love may have been aware of readers who had access to both his text and the Latin, and took an interest in juxtaposing the two, or checking his adaptation against a Latin source.

These Latin editorial notes largely fall into two different categories. Firstly, those that inform the reader of Love’s rearrangement of material from the pseudo-Bonaventuran text into his own chapter structure:

  • De mora domine apud presepe, continetur in proximo capitulo, excepta meditacione, de ministerio suo & solicitudine circa puerum Jesum, de quibis poterit quis faciliter meditari. (47, 13-15)
  • DE aperitione libri in sinagoga nota in capitulo sequenti. (76, 19)
  • Nota hic pretermittitur processus passionis in generali qui postea inseritur, scilicet in fine hore tercie, quia videtur magis conueniens ibidem. (160, 38-40)
  • Nota hic ponitur contemplacio in generali passionis Christi. Quam ponit B. in principio tractatus de passione que tamen videtur conueniencior. (172, 19-21)
  • CApitulum sequens de Chananea pretermittitur vbi notatur de Angelis, ut infra capitulo xxx.(109, 8-9)


Secondly, Love includes Latin notes that inform the reader of instances when he has excised entire chapters of the pseudo-Boanventuran source:

  • Hic pretermittuntur duo Capitula de Johannne Baptista. (94, 3)
  • [H]ic pretermittuntur plura Capitula, & transitur ad Capitulum xxxvij in Bonaventura, pro eo quod materia illius Capituli videtur conuenientius sequi istud Capitulum pretactum. Sed postea sequuntur de ipsis quinque Capitula pertinentia ad contemplationem pro die Jouis. (95, 37-41)
  • Hic pretermittuntur duo Capitula Bonauenture. (134, 4)


The specific major rearrangements of the Latin text are thus signalled by Latin editorial notes. However, it is more common for the translator’s voice to enter the narrative to inform his reader that material has been removed from the translation. Indeed, in Love’s ‘Proheme’ he informs the reader that there will be ‘more putte to in certyn partes & [also] wiþdrawyng of diuerse auctoritis [and] maters as it semeþ to þe wryter hereof most spedefull & edifyng to hem þat bene [of] simple vndirstondyng’. (10, 19-22)

Omissions are justified in a number of ways by Love, typically noting that material is available in other sources (and so Love here assumes a continuum of reading activities and availability of texts), that material is inappropriate for readers, or not useful for meditative purposes.

Most frequently, excisions are signalled by Love within a chapter, commenting that he will ‘passe ouer’ certain material. An example is found in the section in Cap. 8 on the exposition of the gifts of the Three Kings at Christ’s birth:

What þat þese þre 3iftes offred of þese kynges bytoken gostly & many oþere þinges þat þe gospel more ouere telleþ at it is expownet by holy doctours is sufficiently & fully written in many oþer places, wherefore we passen ouer alle þat here. (46, 7-10)

In a passage in the chapter on Christ’s Temptation, Love reveals that two of his reasons for ‘passing over’ material from the Latin source is, firstly, its ready availability in other works, and, secondly, the primacy of meditative material in his work which makes certain Latin source material less relevant:

Bot þerfore was he þere opunly reproued, & fully venkyshede & ouercome as diuerse doctours tellen, þat expowen more pleynly þees temptaciones & þis gospel, & þerfore we passen ouer þe shortly here as we do in oþer expositions, standing principally in meditaciones, as it was seide at þe begynnyng of þis boke. (72, 17-22)

Indeed, in a long passage in the same chapter Love again sets out the rationale for ‘passing over’ material not only in terms of the primacy of meditation, particularly on the Passion, but also in terms of the material he judges to be important to his readers:

Bot for als miche as hit were longe werke & perauenture tediose boþe to þe rederes & þe hereres hereof, if alle þe processe of þe blessed life of Jesus shold be wryten in englishe so fully by meditaciones as it is 3it hidereto, aftur þe processe of þe boke before nemede of Bonauenture in latyne þerfore here aftur many chaptires & longe processe vat seme[þ] litel edificacion inne, as to þe maner of symple folk þat þis boke is specialy written to shal be laft vnto it drawe to þe passion, þe whiche with þe grace of Jesu shale be more pleynly continuede, as þe matere þat is most needful & most edifying. And before onely þo materes þat semen most fructose & þe chapiteres of hem, sholen be written as god wole 3ife grace. (75, 36-76, 5)

However, while Love repeatedly points out that he removes material from his translation for the ‘symple soules’ for which his book was made, he claims, in a passage from the chapter on the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, that he is omitting material as it is available not only in English but also in Latin. This suggests that he is well aware that some of his readers would indeed have been comfortable with reading Latin texts:

As þe text of þ[at] gospel opunly telleþ, & diuerse doctours & clerkes expowen it sufficiantly, þe which processe we passen ouer here for als mich as it is written boþe in latyn & english in many oþer places. (82, 13-16)

Love’s Proheme also makes it clear that his work will have ‘more putte to in certyn partes’, and indeed in the chapter on the Last Supper the translator signals that he will actually expand the material rather than ‘pass over’ aspects of the text:

Now take hede & beholde with all þi mynde þou þat redest or herest þis, alle þat followen, þat bene tolde, spoken or done, for þei bene ful liking & stiryng to gret deuocion. For in þis processe is þe most strengþe & gostly fruyte of alle þe meditaciones þat bene of þe blessed lif of oure lord Jesu, principally for þe passing tokens & shewyngis in dede of his loue to mankynde, wherefore here we shol not abregge as we haue in oþere places bot raþere lengh it in processe. (145, 9-16)

This is not the only example of Love’s expansion of the Latin text to address specific issues which seem to have been of importance to him. Indeed, a number of chapters (summarised below and further addressed in the ‘Theology’ section) are thoroughly reworked from the Latin source to address issues of doctrine and religious practice. (Below, we use the term 'original' to designate material made up entirely by Love)

  • Of þe Incarnation of Jesu, & þe feste of the Annunciation, & of þe gretyng Aue Maria. (Includes an original ‘short tretyse’ on the Ave Maria.)
  • Of þe fasting of oure lord & hese temptacions in deserte.(Includes an original meditation on Christ’s meal.)
  • Of þat excellent sermon of our lord Jesu in þe hille. (Includes an original treatise on the primacy and efficacy of the Pater Noster.)
  • Of þe conuersion of Marie Maudelyn. (Includes a long defence of auricular confession.)
  • Of þe receyuyng of oure lord Jesu by þe tweyn sisters Martha & Marie, & of þe two maner of lyuyng þat bene actif & contemplatife in holi chirch. (Excises 12 chapters of the pseudo-Bonaventuran material on the active and contemplative lives and replaces these by a brief summary and a reference to further reading in the works of Walter Hilton.)
  • Of þat worþi sopere þat oure lord Jesus made þe night before his passion, & of þe noble circumstances þat befelle þerwith. (Includes a long defence of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.)


The Mirrour also contains a scheme of marginal annotation which accompanies the body of the text. Sargent has commented that these marginal notes ‘are so relatively stable, and must be treated as a part of the text itself, for all textual-critical purposes’ (Sargent. Critical Edition, Intro., 102); Sargent’s edition also divides these notes into these six distinct categories:

  • Scriptural citations
  • Textual ‘auctoritates’
  • Special topics (usually doctrinal in nature)
  • Editorial alterations N-B (referring to the ‘Attende’ note, and delineating Love’s material from that of the pseudo-Bonaventuran source)
  • General Notae

Rhetoric and Manner of Exposition

We refer to the extensive scholarship available on the rhetorical aspects of Nicholas Love's Mirrour. See especially the Introduction to Sargent's critical edition (2005); Elizabeth Salter, Nicholas Love's Myrrour of the Blessed Lyf of Jesu Christ; Ian Johnson, 'The Late-Medieval Theory and Practice of Translation'.


Textual Authority and Theological Position

For extensive discussion of Nicholas Love’s sources and his transformation of material from the Meditationes, see Sargent, Intro, esp. pp. 38-54.

Love’s original 'Proheme' takes great care to align itself with the general affective tradition of writing meditative works on the life of Christ:

Also bene wryten diuerse bokes & trettes of devoute men not onelich to clerkes in latyne, but also in Englyshe to lewde men & women & hem þat bene of symple vndirstondyng. Amonge þe whiche beþ wryten deuovte meditacions of cristes lyfe more pleyne in certeyne parties þan is expressed in the gospel of þe foure euaungelistes. (10, 4-9)


There is throughout Love’s Mirrour an awareness of writing within a specific Bonaventuran meditative tradition. The original Latin source, Bonaventure’s Meditationes vitae Christi, is acknowledged from the outset:

Bonauentre wrot hem to A religiouse woman in latyne þe whiche scripture ande wrytyng for þe fructuouse matere þerof steryng specialy to þe loue of Jesu and also for þe pleyn sentence to comun vndirstondynge [s]emeþ amonges oþere souereyngly edifiiyng to simple creatures þe which as childryn hauen need to be fedde with mylke of ly?te doctrine & not with sadde mete of grete clargye & of h[ye] contemplacion. (10, 10-16)

Love’s fidelity to his Latin source is evident from his determination to produce a full scale English version of the Meditationes, as well as his inclusion of the pseudo-Bonaventuran Prologue. The occurrence of these features is unique in the English language pseudo-Bonaventuran corpus. He does not however shy away from modifying the outlined reading instructions of his Latin source, nor its inclusion of specifically Franciscan references and practices (see further the discussion in the ‘Theology’ section below).

Love also specifically references two other Latin works for his reader to consult. Firstly in the chapter on the ‘Temptation’ in which Love directs the reader to Cassian’s ‘Collationes Patrum’ (69, 25), and secondly in the chapter on the ‘Special Reward’ in which he recommends Bernard’s ‘De colloquio simonis & Jesu’ (112, 5), both of which are Latin texts and both of which are accompanied by references to either ‘Monke[s]’ (69, 26) or ‘gostly folke’ (111, 37).

Redirecting Franciscan Textuality

In a significant change to the textual authority of his Latin source one notable feature of Love’s Mirrour is his excision of St. Francis as an ideal model of meditative practice. At the very beginning of the ‘Proheme’ while commenting on Paul’s letter to the Romans, Love comments that ‘tweyne þinges’ strengthen a man’s hope of eternal life ‘pacience in herte’ but also the ‘ensaumple of vertues & gude liuyng of holy men written in bokes’ (9, 13), as such, it is interesting that one of the first major excisions of material from the Meditationes should be its invocation of St. Francis as a model for the Christian devotee:

How do you think blessed Francis arrived at so great an abundance of virtues and so lucid an understanding of the Scripture, and also at such a clearsighted realisation of the deceits and vices of the enemy if not from meditation and habitual association with his Lord Jesus? He was so ardently drawn towards that life that his own life became a Mirror resemblance of Christ’s life. (Ed and trans. Stallings-Taney et al. 3)

Unde credis quod beatus Franciscus ad tantam virtutum copiam, et ad tam luculentam intelligentiam Scripturarum, ad tam etiam perspicacem notitiam fallaciarum hostium et vitiorum pervenerit, nisi ex familiari conversatione et meditatione Domini sui Jesu? Propterea sic ardenter afficiebatur ad ipsam, ut quasi sua picture fieret. (Meditationes, ed. Peltier, 510)

The obvious question then becomes why would Love excise a reference to one of the most holy men from his own book? Indeed, only once is Francis mentioned in the entire text of the Mirrour in a passage in the chapter on the Last Supper in which he is invoked as an example of discretion: ‘As it is writen of seynt Francese þat priuey reuelacions he reueled not withoutforþ bot what tyme þat nedeþ made him for hele of menus soules, or þe stiryng of god by reuelacion meuede him þerto’ (147, 14-17). The answer may be found in the final section of the Proheme before Love begins his translation of the Meditationes. In this section on the naming of his work, Love comments that:

For als miche as in þis boke bene contynede diuerse ymaginacions of cristes life, þe which life fro þe bygynnyng in to þe ending euer blessede & withoute synne, passing alle þe lifes of alle oþer seyntes, as for a singulere prerogatife, may worþily be clepede þe blessede life of Jesu crist, þe which also because ‘it may not be fully discriuede as þe lifes of oþer seyntes, bot in a maner of liknes as þe ymage of mans face is shewed in þe Mirroure. þerfore as for a pertynent name of tis boke, it may skilfully be cleped, þe Mirrour of þe blessed life of Jesu criste. (11, 9-18)

This section seems to demonstrate the first significant split between source and translation, and signals the inherent tension of a Carthusian translator / compiler composing a work for his own purposes from a Latin exemplar heavily influenced by the personal theological politics of its Franciscan author. Indeed, while one was out in the world imitating Christ following the model codified by St. Francis, the other was enclosed, meditating on the Divine, and ‘preaching with his hands’. As such, for the author of the Meditationes vitae Christi, the ‘Mirror’ of Christ was the life of St. Francis, for Love the ‘Mirror’ was the text itself, and if the two texts can be seen as demonstrating two distinct vocations it should not be surprising that they also diverge in favouring the practices of their particular orders (see the ‘Theology’ section on 'Monastic Modifications').

As such the Mirrour could be seen as an adaptation of the deeply Franciscan Meditationes into a work reflecting the textual cultures which were of importance to the fifteenth-century English Carthusian translator.

William of St. Thierry

Indeed, this ambivalent attitude towards his Franciscan source may be best explained by the 'Proheme'’s second invocation of textual authority, William of St. Thierry’s Golden Epistle, wrongly attributed in both a Latin marginal note and in the text itself to Bernard of Clairvaux ('Bernardus ad fratres Cartusie de monte dei'):

to þe which symple soules as seynt Bernerde seye contemplacion of þe monhede of cryste is more lyking more spedefull & more sykere þan is hy?e contemplacion of þe godhed ande þerfore to hem is pryncipally to be sette in mynde þe ymage of cristes Incarnation passion & Resurreccion so that a simple soule þat kan not þenke bot bodyes or bodily þinges mowe haue somewhat accordynge vnto is affecion where wiþ he maye fede & stire his deuocion. (10, 22-29)

This interpolation of textual authority may demonstrate that Love’s work was composed from a position within, or at least with an awareness of, a specifically Carthusian tradition of devotion to Christ, and may suggest not only that Love’s translation of the Meditationes may have been motivated by a similar desire to William’s: to instruct the brethren and novices recently arrived in the charterhouse. It may also suggest that an early audience of Love’s Mirrour may have been the members of his own charterhouse, and indeed the Carthusian Order in general. (See the discussion of monastic modifications in the ‘Theology’ section.)

Michelle Karnes, among others, has however read the inclusion of this authority in a different way; William of St. Thierry, she claims, ‘characterizes as “simple” those novices who have yet to ascend in spiritual proficiency, and so refer to the spiritually unsophisticated rather than to the laity. "Symple creatures” can fairly be seen to represent “laypeople” in Love’s text because he does not allow these “creatures” to graduate to any less simple state. They start out as they end and so constitute the unlearned rather than the learning’ (385). In contrast to this view, Ian Johnson has long argued for the sophistication of Love's Mirrour, its participation in Latin academic rhetorical traditions, as well as its position in more demanding reading programs. More recently, Ryan Perry has argued that ‘Love’s text should be seen as complementing, and indeed, directing its audience to other books of interest that extended beyond the devotional limits prescribed in the Mirror’ ("Thynk on God, as we doon, men that swynke", forthcoming).


That Love would find the devotional guide writings of Walter Hilton both for adding theological nuance to his own meditative text and for providing practical pastoral advice is hardly surprising. Indeed, there seems to have been a close bond between the Carthusian Order and Hilton; as Sargent notes, ‘Hilton held the Carthusian Order in high esteem, as is known from his letter to Adam Horsley, who was about to enter the Charterhouse of Beauvale… the feeling was certainly mutual: Carthusian copies of the Scale of Perfection abound’ (‘Transmission’ 235). As such, it seems entirely possible that readers of Love’s text were both capable of, and possibly expected to, progress with their devotional Meditations with reference to works such as Hilton’s. Love’s reliance on Hilton is most obviously apparent in Cap. 33 which treats the subject of the active and contemplative lives. Here Love excises the majority of material from the Meditationes chapters 46-58, which consist almost entirely of quotations from St. Bernard, and instead suggests that anyone wanting further information should consult the work of Walter Hilton:

Whereof & oþer vertuese exercise þat longeþ to contemplative lyuyng, & specialy to a recluse, & also of medelet life, þat is to sey sumtyme actife & sumtyme contemplative, as it longeþ to diuerse persones þat in wordly astate hauen grace of gostly loue who so wole more pleynly [be] enfourmed & tauht in english tonge let him loke þe tretees þat þe worþi clerk & holi lyuere Maister Walter Hilton þe Chanon of Thurgaton wrote in english by grete grace & hye discrecion & he shal fynde þere as I leue a sufficient scole & a trew of alle þees. Whos saule rest in euerlastyng pese as I hope he be ful hye in bliss, ioynede & knyt without departing to his spouse Jesu, by perfite vse of þe best part þat he chase here with Marie. (122, 34-123, 3. See further discussion on the active and contemplative lives in the ‘Theology’ section.)


Meditative Reading and the ‘St Cecilia Model’

While Love’s initial model of how his reader should approach the text of the Mirrour is drawn directly from his Latin source, in the form of his appropriation of the model of St. Cecilia as an idealised devotional reader, Love significantly modifies this model.

In the concluding passage of his own material in the ‘Proheme’ Love describes the ‘Bonaventuran’ material on Cecilia as an introduction to the ‘profitable matire of þis boke’ (11, 19). This ‘profitable matire’ described by Love is not simply the previously stated ‘contemplacion of þe monhede of cryste’ (10,23-24), but also how this contemplation can, or should, be achieved by Love’s own reader through the medium of the Mirrour and using as an example Cecilia. In fact, it would have been hard for a reader of the text who has just read Love’s section on the naming of his book as ‘þe Mirrour of þe blessed life of Jesu criste’ (11, 18) to ignore the fact that the material following foregrounds Cecilia’s piety in terms of her own devotional meditation on the life of Christ:

Amonge oþer vertuese commendynges of þe holy virgine Cecile it is written þat she bare alwey þe gospel of criste hidde in her breste þat may be undirstand þat of þe blessed lif of oure lord Jesu writen in þe gospel. (11, 24-26)

Love’s inclusion of Cecilia’s leaning on gospel passages, in which ‘she chace certayne parties most deuoute’ (11, 26-27) would also have clear resonance to his own reader as he has already signaled that the material in the Mirrour had already been filtered with ‘more putte to in certeyn partes & [also] wiþdrawynge of diuerse auctoritis’ (10, 19-20) in order to ‘fede & stire … deuocion’ (10, 29). In effect the model of Cecilia acts as a primer for the reader of the Mirrour as Love then follows his Latin source in recommending the practice demonstrated by Cecilia to his own readers:

In þe same manere I counseil þat þou do. For among alle gostly exercises I leue þat þis is most necessarye & most profitable, & þat may bringe to þe hyest degree of gude liuyng þat stant specially in perfite despising of þe worlde, in pacience, suffryng of adversitees, & in encrese & getyng of vertues (11, 31-36)

While Love then truncates this section of the Meditationes, excising a section on St. Francis, and a section in which pseudo-Bonaventure talks directly to his female reader (see ‘Theology’ section on Monastic Modifications), he does retain the core subject matter of the importance of devout meditation on the life of Christ, claiming there is ‘grete confort & gostly profite in deuoute contemplacion of cristes blessed lif’ (12, 38-39), as well as how this should be practised and facilitated through the medium of the Mirrour:

þou þat coueytest to fele treuly þe fruyt of þis boke þou most with all þi þought & alle þi entent, in þat manere make þe in þi soule present to þoo þinges þat bene here writen seyd or done of oure lord Jesu, & þat bisily, likyngly & abidingly, as þei þou hardest hem with þi bodily eres, or sey þaim with þin eyen don. Puttyng awey for þe tyme, & leuyng alle oþer occupacions & bisynesses. (12, 40-13, 4)

While this model of devout reading would have had obvious appeal to both Love and the presumed author of the Meditationes as writers schooled in the monastic tradition of devotional reading, and would have been an entirely appropriate model for their monastic dependents, most modern scholarship on works of the so-called ‘vernacular theology’ genre have used this model of devout readership to place Love’s text on the restrictive side of the supposed debate over lay access to scriptural material. Indeed, Watson, referring to the passage in which Love claims that Cecilia, ‘when she hade so fully alle þe manere of his life ouer gon, she began a?ayne’ (11, 28-29), has commented that:

Cecilia lives her days in a repetitive round of devotional meditation on episodes from Christ’s life selected for their affective impact, and she derives from that exercise a form of perfection that consists in otherworldliness and the interior, wholly unintellectual virtues of patience and strength against tribulation. Responding to the complexities of the world by refusing to notice them … such is the dubiously flattering picture of the devout reader offered the actual readers of the [Mirror]. (854)

However, what is overlooked in this model of ‘un-intellectual’ reading presented to the readers of the Mirrour is how certain passages added by Love to his translation of the Meditationes actually widen the model of Cecilia’s reading practices, appropriated from the Latin source, and provide his readers with an alternative and more independent practice. Indeed, at the end of the ,Proheme', Love describes how the text can be read either daily as with the model he appropriates from the Meditationes (and uses for his own structural divisions), or how sections can be read at appropriate times during the year:

for als mich as þis boke is dyuydet & departet in vij parties, after vij dayes of þe wike, euery day on partie or sume þerof to be hade in contemplacion of hem þat hauen þerto desire & deuocion. þerefore at þe Moneday as þe first werke day of þe wike, bygynneþ þis gostly werke, telling first of þe deuoute instance & desire of þe holy angeles in heuen for mans restoring, and his sauacion, to stire man amongis oþer þat day specially to wyrshipe hem… bot also it longeþ to þe tymes of þe 3ere, as in aduent to rede & deuoutly haue in mynde fro þe bigynnyng in to þe Natiuite of oure lorde Jesu, & þere of after in þat holy feste of Christenmesse, & so forþ of oþer matires as holy chirch makeþ mynde of hem in tyme of þe 3ere. (13, 10-17-20-24)

Similarly, the instruction to the reader to begin again when ‘alle þe manere of his life ouer gon’ does suggest a circular model of reading to the first-time reader of Love’s text. But by the time one reading is complete, the reader will have received several directions which suggest way in which subsequent readings can be more independently structured. Indeed, at the conclusion of the Mirrour, at the point which the Meditationes describes the daily division of the text for his own reader, and again invokes the model of Cecilia, Love includes a section which directly addresses the reader, and which Carol Meale has described as ‘explicit in defining … [another] way in which his book of Meditations could be used … [and recommending] a more informal contemplative scheme’ (Meale ‘Oft siþis’ 36-37):

it semeþ not conuenient to folowe þe processe þerof by þe dayes of þe wike after þe entent of þe foreseide Bonauentur, for it were tediouse as me þinkeþ, & also it shulde so sone be fulsome & not in confortable deynteþ by cause of þe freelte of mankynde þat haþ likynge to here & knowe newe þinges & þoo þat bene seldom herde bene oft in þe more deynteþ. Wherefore it semeþ to me beste þat euery deuout creature þat loueþ to rede or [to] here þis boke take þe partes þerof as it semeþ moste confortable & stiryng to his deuocion, sumtyme one & sumtyme an oþere, & specialy in þe tymes of þe 3ere & þe festes ordeynet in holy chirche, as þe matires bene perteynent to hem. (220, 25-36)

Indeed, at the conclusion of the ‘Monday’ section of the Mirrour, Love adds a passage that seems to articulate more clearly his own selective model of how his devotional work should be used for imaginative purposes to ‘visit’ the holy family through contemplation at specific ‘tymes of þe 3ere’ and ‘festes ordeynet in holy chirche’:

forþermore as worldly men maken bodily mirþe in þis tyme of Christenmesse fro þe Natiuite in to þis feste of þe Purification þat is cleped Candelmesse so shold euery deuout soule in þis tyme specialy with deuocion & gostly mirþe in soule, wirchipe & honour þat blessed child Jesus, & his modere Marie, visiting hem by contemplacion & sume deuoute prayere, at þe leste ones on þe day as þei seene in spirite oure lady with hir child liggyng at þe cracche, hauyng þerwiþ in mynde, þe mekenes þe pouerte & þe buxumnesse of hem, as it is seide, & louyng hem & kepyng hem vertuesly in dede. (50, 21-30)

If Love’s initial appropriation of the Cecilia reading model in the 'Proheme' is clearly attributed to his ‘Bonaventuran’ source, by the conclusion of the text he seems to have no problem in manipulating this authoritative model and augmenting it with his own independent model for piecemeal, reiterative meditative reading.

Monastic Modifications

Love’s original 'Proheme' develops two different models of readership, derived from two different (mistaken) authorities, from two different spiritual traditions, i.e. Bonaventura and Bernard, which Love’s conversion of the Meditationes into the Mirrour attempts to synthesise. From the outset, Love acknowledges his primary Bonaventuran source:

Bonauentre wrot hem to a religiouse woman in latyne þe whiche scripture ande wrytyng for þe fructuouse matere þerof steryng specialy to þe loue of Jesu and also for þe pleyn sentence to comun vndirstondynge [s]emeþ amonges oþere souereyngly edifiiyng to simple creatures þe which as childryn hauen need to be fedde with mylke of ly3te doctrine & not with sadde mete of grete clargye & of h[ye] contemplacion. (10: 10-16)

However, in an interesting reworking of the textual authority of the Latin source Love systematically removes all references to St. Francis from his own work. Indeed, it is not only Francis himself that is excised from the Mirrour: similarly, specifically Franciscan revelations such as the apocryphal story of Christ’s stone pillow in the ‘Nativity’ section, told to the Latin author by a Franciscan ‘brother who saw it’ (Ed. and trans. Stallings-Taney. Meditations 31) still stained with blood, are also excised, as are a number of specifically Franciscan practices. At the very beginning of the ‘Temptation’ chapter in the Meditationes the author refers to Christ’s life as ‘punishing and beset with bodily affliction’ (Ed. and trans. Stallings-Taney. Meditations 73). This passage is excised from the beginning of Love’s translation, and although Love includes the bulk of the Meditationes material on the appropriate ‘exersise of a Monke’ (69, 25-26) he rewrites the entire ending of the section. The material excised from the Latin text includes two references to Christ travelling barefoot: ‘Contemplate the Lord of all with a deep compassion, as he goes alone and barefoot’ (Ed. and trans. Stallings-Taney. Meditations 78), ‘Pity him, and as always, go along with him, for he travels alone in his usual manner, barefooted, and for so long a trip as seventy-four miles’ (Ed. and trans. Stallings-Taney. Meditations, Intro., 79). The author of the Meditationes consistently refers to ‘the Lord travelling barefooted, one of the customs of the Franciscan friars’ (Ed. and trans. Stallings-Taney. Meditations xiv). Love, however, records only twice in the Mirrour that Christ went ‘barefote’, the first reference being during his journey to be baptised by John, and the second in the chapter ‘of þe conuersyon of Marie Maugdelyn.’ [Cap. 22], in which it is necessary to portray Christ as barefoot as Mary is recorded as weeping on his feet and drying them with her hair (89, 7-8).

Another practice common to the Franciscan vocation, but removed from the Mirrour is the practice of begging. While Love excises all of the specifically mendicant passages from his translation of the Meditationes he does comment on the practice of begging in the chapter ‘How þe child Jesus laft alone in Jerusalem.’ [Cap. 12]. In a section marked with an N. marginal note Love adds material which demonstrates anxiety over this practice:

sume doctours seyn þat he beget in þo þre dayes. Bot þerof litel forse, so þat we folowe him in perfite mekenes & oþer vertues. For beggyng withoutforþe bot þere be a meke herte withinneforþe is litel worþ als to perfeccion. (60, 8-11)

This ambivalent attitude towards his Franciscan source may be explained by the ‘Proheme’s’ second invocation of textual authority, William of St. Thierry’s Golden Epistle:

to þe which symple soules as seynt Bernerde seye contemplacion of þe monhede of cryste is more lyking more spedefull & more sykere þan is hy3e contemplacion of þe godhed ande þerfore to hem is pryncipally to be sette in mynde þe ymage of cristes Incarnation passion & Resurreccion so that a simple soule þat kan not þenke bot bodyes or bodily þinges mowe haue somewhat accordynge vnto is affecion where wiþ he maye fede & stire his deuocion (10, 22-29).

As is perhaps natural for someone writing for an enclosed female reader, the author of the Meditationes constructs the figure of Mary herself as an enclosed religious. But Love goes even further in this emphasis by stating: ‘here þan mai3t þou take ensaumple of Marie, first to loue solitary praire’ (24, 40-41).

However, by far the most obvious ‘Mirror’ of Love’s Carthusian values in the text is usually the character of Christ, and indeed Love actually begins to impose these virtues, such as that of enclosure, on his protagonist before his birth. In the chapter ‘How Joseph þought to leue priuely oure lady seynt Marie.’ [Cap. 5], Love rewrites the section on Christ’s enclosure in the womb, marked with an N. note, into an exposition of the practices and virtues of the enclosed religious:

Bot for als mich as bodily enclosing is litel worþe or no3t, without gostly enclosing in soule. þerfore þou þat art enclosed bodily in Celle or in Cloystre, if þou wilt be with Jesu vertuesly enclosed in soule. First þou moste with him anentish þi self in þin owne reputacion, & bycome a child þorh perfite mekenes. Also þou most kepe & loue silence not spekyng bot in tyme of nede or edification. (36, 14-20)

In many ways this can be seen as representing the rebirth of a novice entering the Carthusian Order when he was to renounce all his worldly goods and ‘to realise that he was now “alien” to everything of this world’ (Thompson 33). Similarly, another important aspect of Carthusian enclosure raised in this passage was the strict silence obeyed in the charterhouse.

Love also reworks a great deal of the domestic life of Christ, as found in the Meditationes, to promote his own Carthusian vocation, specifically the practice of enclosure, in the chapter ‘What manere of lyuyng lorde Jesus hadde.’ [Cap. 13]. The importance of this addition is marked by Love in a passage which describes Christ’s domestic life as central to the purpose of the Mirror:

Bot now to go a3eyn to oure principale matere of þe Mirrour of þe blessed life of oure lord Jesu. beholde we þere þe maner of lyuyng of þat blessed cumpanye in pouerte & simplenes. (63, 33-35)

In this section the house of the holy family is transformed into a Carthusian charterhouse in which Christ, Mary and Joseph ‘wenten to praiere by hem self in hir closetes. For as we mowe ymagine þei hade no grete house bot a litel, in þe whiche þei hadde þre seuerynges as it were þre smale chaumbres, þere specialy to pray & to slepe’ (64, 9-12). The detail provided in this passage clearly reworks the material of the Meditationes in which the arrangement is described as ‘Three beds in some kind of little room’ (Ed. and trans. Stallings-Taney. Meditations 61).

Similarly, in the long passage marked with an N. note in the chapter ‘Of þe fasting of oure lord Jesu & hese temptacions in deserte.’ [Cap. 15], Love rewrites a substantial amount of material from the Latin source to root certain practices of the Carthusian vocation further in Christ’s example. This section would already have had particular resonance for a Carthusian audience in their appropriation of the role of desert dwellers, and indeed, Love begins the section by addressing the reader as a ‘solitarye’, an address not found in the pseudo-Bonaventure:

Now take gode entent here specialy þou þat art solitarye & haue in mynde, when þou etest þi mete alone as without mannus felashepe, þe manere of þis mete, & how lowely oure lorde Jesus sitteþ don to his mete on þe bare gronde for þere hade he neiþer bankere nor cushyne. (74, 6-10)

Love also takes the opportunity to link Christ’s meal directly to his Carthusian brethren, claiming that ‘þis felawship hast þou þouh þou se hem not, when þou etest alone in þi celle’ (74, 16-17).

This portrait of Christ would have had a special resonance with the practical abstinence of the Carthusian readers as the Order had, from its very beginnings in La Grande Chartreuse, ‘determined to be self supplying; by the cultivation of their own lands and by their flocks, and by a rigid humility, or rather, poverty, in living and dress, they reckoned that they could maintain their comparatively small number’ (Thompson 48).

Indeed, the theme of abstinence is integral to Love’s construction of a figure of Christ which reflects Carthusian practice. In fact, in the chapter ‘Of þe spekynge of over lorde Jesus with þe woman samaritane at þe pyt [of water’ [Cap. 23] Love concludes with an addition (marked by his characteristic marginal 'N.'), reminding the reader that it is not only the poverty of Christ that should be observed, but also his abstinence:

Bot for als miche as here is made mynde of pouerte of oure lord Jesus as it is oft before, & also of his abstinence. þerfore of þees tweyn vertues perfitely tauht vs by ensaumple boþe of him self & his disciples, it sal folowe more plenerly in þe nekst Chaptire. (95, 31-35)

While there is no specific reference in the Mirrour to the strict vegetarianism of the Carthusian Order, in the chapter ‘Of þat worþi sopere þat oure lord Jesus made þe night before his passion’ [Cap. 39], Love includes a section, again marked with an N. marginal note, that states ‘as clerkes seyn we fynde not þat oure lord ete flesh in all his life, bot onely at þis tyme in etyng of þat lambe more for mistery þan for bodily fode’ (147, 33-35). Love’s inclusion of these practices in the Mirror could clearly be seen as suggestive of an ‘implied’ Carthusian audience for the Mirrour as Love appears to be speaking to, and reminding them of, their own specific practices.

Confronting Wycliffite doctrine

Memorandum quod circa annum domini Millesium quadringentesimum decimum, originalis copia huius libri, scilicet Speculi vite Christi in Anglicis presentabatur Londoniis per compilatorem eiusdem .N Reuerendissimo in Christo patri & domino, Domino Thome Arundell, Cantuarie Archiepiscopo, ad inspiciendum & debite examinandum antequam fuerat libere communicata. Qui post inspeccionem eiusdem per dies aliquot retradens ipsum librum memorato eiusden auctori proprie vocis oraculo ipsum in singularis commendauit & approbauit, necnon & auctoritate sua metropolitica, vt pote catholicum, puplice communicandum fore decreuit & mandauit, ad fidelium edificacionem, & hereticorum siue lollardorum confutacionem. Amen. (7: 9-21)

Memorandum: that around the year 1410, the original copy of this book, that is, The Mirror of the Life of Christ in English, was presented in London by its compiler, N, to the Most Reverend Father and Lord in Christ, Lord Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, for inspection and due examination before it was freely communicated. Who after examining it for several days, returning it to the above-mentioned author, commended and approved it personally, and further decreed and commanded by his metropolitan authority that it rather be published universally for the edification of the faithful and the confutation of heretics or Lollards. Amen (Sargent 2005 intro 36-37)

Reading the ‘Memorandum’, which we find attached to around half of the Mirrour manuscripts, may give the idea that a response to Lollard doctrine was the primary motivation behind Love’s work. Indeed, this idea has, as noted earlier, become a staple of scholarly discourse on the text. However, evidence suggests that the ‘Memorandum’ is actually a later composition applied retrospectively to Mirrour manuscripts. It seems reasonable to assume that the utility of Love’s Mirrour in replying to some (but by no means all) of the issues raised by the Lollards motivated the composition and attachment of the ‘Memorandum’ to the Mirrour, rather than the other way around.

Indeed, Sargent has pointed out that there are instances of ‘verbal echo’ which connect the composition of the ‘Memorandum’ to sections of Love’s text on the defence of the Real Presence in the Eucharist in the chapter on the Last Supper and the transitional passage between the conclusion of the translation and the ‘Treatise on the Eucharist’:

In confusion of alle fals lollardes, & in confort of alle trewe loueres & wirchiperes of þis holi sacrament. (152, 13-14)

We shole speke sumwhat more of confort of hem þat treuly byleuen, & to confusion of alle fals heritykes. (221, 3-5)

Sargent has also stated that of these ‘echoes’ the original phrasing (occurring in all copies) is drawn from the chapter on the Last Supper (integral to all manuscripts) and reproduced in the language of the ‘Memorandum’ (Sargent 2005. Critical Edition, Intro, 149).

Although responding to Lollard views may not have been the prime motivation behind Love’s composition of the Mirrour, the text does seem to respond to certain issues raised by them. One example of this is Love's insistence on obedience to clerical authority, even when clerics may be evil livers (i.e. contra to the common Lollard position):

Bot wolde þou know wheþer þou be of his peple or wilt þou be of his peple do þat he oure lord Jesus biddeþ in þe gospel & þe lawe & þe prophetes, & also þat he biddeþ by his ministres, & be buxum to hes vikeres, þat bene in holy chirch souereyns, not only gude & wele lyuyng bot also schrewes & yuel lyuyng, & so lerne of Jesu to be meke in herte & buxom & þen shalt þou be of his blessed peple (25, 22-28)

Neuerles þerewiþ he bad þe peple, þat þei sholde kepe & fulfille alle hir teching[e] bot þat þei shold not folowe hir werkes & yuel lyuyng. (142, 19-21)

Similarly, Love can be seen to confront and respond to the criticism of almsgiving that was a widespread phenomenon at the time and also a hallmark feature of Lollard positions:

Here mowe we forþermore note specialy to purpose þat þei are of Judas parte þat reprehenden almesdede[s], offrynges & oþere deuociones of þe peple done to holi chirch, haldyng alle siche 3iftes of deuocion bot foly, & seying þat it were more nedeful & bettur, to be 3iuen to pore men. (137, 42-138, 4)

These sections seem to reply to issues raised by the Lollards, and are marked by ‘conta lollardos’ marginal notes. But it is significant that Love does not here refer specifically to Lollards, as he does in his other additions on the sacraments of Penance (specifically regarding confession) and the Eucharist, which also come with anti-Wycliffite marginal notes. With this in mind, it seems possible that the inclusion of these issues may have been generated by a desire to respond to a more general criticism of ecclesiastical practice, while the original material added on the sacraments, which do include the term 'Lollard' in the text, may be the only sections which respond to specifically Lollard doctrine. The section below examines instances of Love’s sacramental expositions that are designed explicitly to provide refutation of Wycliffite positions.

Sacramental theology and the ‘Treatise on the Sacrament’

There are indications throughout the Mirrour that Love recognises sacramental theology as the epicentre of social and ecclesiological conflict. The subjects of vocal confession and the Eucharist are given sustained treatment, often in passages marked ‘contra lollardos’, that highlight the confrontation between Church doctrinal orthodoxy and Wycliffite belief.

The sacrament of penance and vocal confession:
Cap. 22 on the conversion of Mary Magdalene contains a long addition in the form of an orthodox defence on auricular confession. This interpolation has multiple addresses, with Love addressing preachers instructing them to be outspoken against sin and not fear ‘displesyng of hem þat feden hem, or 3iuen hem oþer bodily sustinance’ (93, 10-11).

The main address is to Love’s devout readers and offers caution about, and corrective to, Lollard belief about penance. (The beginning of the interpolation is accompanied by the marginal note ‘contra lollardos nota de confessione’. 90) Specifically, Love rejects the position that no priestly mediation is required for confession and that it may occur between self and God, or potentially any devout Christian. The example given here is of course Mary Magdalene who confessed her sins to Christ ‘in generalle, & also by wille in speciale’ (92, 14). This is given as example of the ‘trewe penance nedeful for dedely sinne, not onely by repentance in herte, bot also by shrift of mouþe to þe preste in goddus stede if we mowen’ (91, 34-36).

In this section, Love provides a detailed and carefully argued defence of vocal confession (‘confessio vocalis’) as a part in the sacrament of penance that comprises stages of sincere contrition, absolution and the imposing of satisfaction. The concern here parallels another pseudo-Bonaventuran text, The Meditations on the Supper and the Hours of the Passion, which is similarly preoccupied with confession, the efficacy of a sincere penitential mindset, and effective absolution. Nothing in the pseudo-Bonaventuran corpus, however, parallels Love’s prolonged, discursive and academic treatment of the sacrament of penance, which addresses the two persons central to the penitential process, priest and sinner. The Lollards (always in the plural for Love) feature in this discussion as a present absence; they are never addressed directly by Love, but figures as the paradigm of non-conformism who comes largely to set the terms and agenda of Love's sacramental polemic.

See also the discussion of confession in Mirrour, Cap. 34 on the Rising of Lazarus.

The sacrament of the Eucharist:
The sacrament of the Eucharist is given extended treatment by Love in a series of expansions to his Latin source. These lengthy expansions occur most notably in Cap. 39 ‘Of þat worþi sopere þat oure lorde Jesus made þe niht before his passion, & of þe noble circumstances þat befelle þerwiþ’, and in the ‘Treatise on the Eucharist’.

The ‘Treatise on the Eucharist’ is appended to a large proportion of the manuscripts of Love’s Mirrour. There is a possibility that this ‘Treatise’ is part of a later, polemicised redaction of Love’s text. (see Sargent, Critical Edition. Intro., 66-68). The ‘Treatise’ has rightly been characterised as being written in the style of an ‘'academic sermon’ (Sargent, Critical Edition. Intro., 67). Certainly, it can be seen to conform to models of the ‘artes praedicandi’, with the key structural components being the opening ‘thema’, ‘exempla’, repetition of ‘thema’, ‘divisio’/’partitio’, and closing prayer and ’invocatio’.

The organisation of the ‘Treatise’ may be divided into the following five parts:

  1. (223, 4-224, 38) an introduction to the sacrament of the Eucharist as a commemoration of the Incarnation (here Love continues the theme already discussed in Cap. 39 on the Last Supper); a brief outline of the doctrine of Real Presence.
  2. (224, 39-226, 20) On the necessity of dread of God and obedience to Holy Church; on the pride and presumption of heretics who are motivated by inordinate logical reasoning and disobey Church ordinance and teaching.
  3. (226, 21 – 235, 12) On Eucharistic miracles and their division into miracles ‘withinforþ’ and wiþoutforþ’ (see Sargent 68-69); the three reasons why miracles occur, i.e. to comfort and intensify devotion of those that believe, to convert ‘hem þat bene of misbyleue in to þe trewe byleue’, and to demonstrate the power of the Eucharist to deliver from pain and mischief. (see Sargent, Critical Edition. Intro., 68-70)
  4. (235, 13-238, 9) On the errors of the Lollards that prevent them from experiencing the sweetness of the Eucharist; errors stem from undisciplined pursuit of speculative knowledge (in the face of divine mysteries), and from the deceit that follows false miracles.
  5. A Eucharistic prayer. This invocation is derived from the sixth chapter of the Middle English The Seven Points of True Love and Everlasting Wisdom, itself in all likelihood a Mont Grace Charterhouse composition and a partial translation of Henry Suso’s Horologium Sapientiae (Sargent, Critical Edition. Intro., 70-74).

A sharp contrast is drawn in the ‘Treatise’ between Love’s declared priorities of affective and ‘un-intellectual’ instruction, and the Lollard adherence to ‘clergy & euidence of worldes konnyng according to naturele reson’ (236, 18-19). Yet Love himself replicates a terminology of ‘forme’, ‘figure’, ‘likenes’, ‘substance’, ’substancially’, ‘accidentes - words suggesting the adherence to Aristotelian reasoning (and, we may add, an 'incompetent' use of scholastic discourse), which Love sees as the hallmark of Wycliffite heresy. Obviously feeling compelled to justify the occurrence of such terms within a predominantly affect-orientated hermeneutics, Love frames his orthodox discourse on sacramental theology in direct response to heresy:

Þese termes I touch here so specialy bycause of þe lewede lollardes þat medlen hem of hem a3eynus þe feiþ falsly. And more oure, þis before seide feiþ of holi chirch touching þis excellen sacrament tauht by holi doctors & worþi clerkes is confermede by many maneres of miracles as we redene in many bokes & heren alday prechede & tauht. Bot here lawheþ þe lollarde & scorneþ holi chirche in allegence of seche miracles, haldyng hem bot as maggetales [idle chatter] & feyned illusions, & bycause þat he tasteþ not þe swetnes of þis precious sacrament not feleþ þe gracious wirching þerof in himself. Þerof he leueþ not þat any oþere doþ. (152, 2-12)

Polemical statements such as those in Cap. 39 on the Last Supper, anticipate the examples of Eucharistic miracles in the ‘Treatise on the Eucharist’, and are offered as explicit correctives to Lollards who are unable to experience the efficacy of the sacraments. More revealing, the passage gives an idea of the large extent to which Love’s sacramental theology is determined by his commitedly anti-Wycliffite agenda. The Lollard is the subversive, dissenting ‘other’ of Love’s adaptation, forcing Love not only to justify the vocabulary he uses (‘þese termes I touch here so specialy bycause of þe lewede lollardes…’), but also determining the organisation and content of Love’s orthodox response. Specifically, it is because of the existence of a non-conformist Lollard position on the sacrament that Love is made to justify the fact that he is not consistently offering ‘mylke of ly3t doctrine’, and must resort to a theologically nuanced account of the Real Presence of Christ’s body in the consecrated host.

The Active, Contemplative and Mixed Lives

Nicholas Love follows the tendency in other Middle English pseudo-Bonaventuran Meditations to offer a much abbreviated summary of Meditationes vitae Christi chapters 46-58 on the topic of the active and contemplative lives. This is by far the largest single excision of material from the Latin source. It is, however, Love’s Mirrour which provides the most prolonged treatment of the Christian modes of living in the textual corpus (Cap. 33). The tripartite division of this chapter in the Mirrour firstly provides a gloss of the Mary-Martha episode from Luke 10: 38-42, then outlines the three stations of active, contemplative and perfect active life, and finally returns to the figures of Mary and Martha to describe the ideal comportment and virtue that their lives manifest.

Love is entirely conventional in opening the theme of the Christian modes of living in the context of Luke 10: 38-42, and he follows his Latin source in providing a traditional gloss on the story of Mary and Martha, derived chiefly from Gregory's Moralia in Job (or the Magna Moralia). There is a distinct sense of standing on the shoulders of giants (Bonaventure, Bernard, Gregory) when Love offers his very summary teaching of the active and contemplative lives. Any extended treatment of the subject is judged as unnecessary (or unfit) for Love’s imagined readership of ‘comune persones & simple soules’:

And specialy þe forseid Bonauenture in þis boke of cristes life makeþ a longe processe alleggyng many auctoritees of seynt Bernard, þe whiche processe þouh it so be þat it is ful gude & fructuouse as to many gostly lyueres, neuerles for it semeþ as impertinent in gret party to many commune persones & simple soules, þat þis boke in English is written to, as it is seid oft before, þerfore we passen ouere shortly taking þerof þat semeþ profitable & edificatife to oure purpose at þis tyme. (118, 11-18)

It is notable that Love, again following tradition, presents the theme of the Christian modes of living as pertaining to religious persons only, ‘prelates, prechours & religiouse’ (118, 22). It follows that the detailed description of the active and contemplative lives offered by Love are intended to describe processes of religious progress and inner reform for such people. Thus the treatment does not relate directly to either solitaries or those leading active lives in the world.

Following the Gregorian paradigm for the Christian lives, Love does not as such exalt contemplation over action. Rather, he presents a dynamic model in which active and contemplative lives are stages in the life of prelates and preachers. Love describes the three stations in this manner:

  • First part of active life consists of ‘exercise in praiere, & in study of holi scriptures & oþer gude werkynges in comune conuersacion. Amendyng his life & wiþdrawyng fro vices & profiting in getyng of vertues’. (118, 38 – 119, 1)
  • Contemplation is ‘forsakyng alle worldes bisinesse with alle his miht be about [with full mental absorption], continuely to þenk on god & heuenly þinges, onely tentynge to plese god’. (119, 3-5)
  • Second part of active life (or ‘perfite actif life’) ‘stant in þat exercise þat longeþ to þe profite of oþer men principally, þouh it be also þerwiþ to his owne mede þe more þerby. As it is in gouernyng of oþer men & teching & helping to þe hele of soule, as done prelates & prechours & oþer þat hauen cure of soule’. (118, 31-35)

This structuring places particular value on a mode of action which itself is built on, and deepened by, the experience of withdrawn religious contemplation, and which consists in the performance of sacerdotal functions for the physical and spiritual welfare of others. But Love’s remarks do not present an ideal of solitary contemplation to be pursued as an end in itself. In fact, in a stern aside inserted into this discussion of the lives Love rebukes solitaries for claiming perfection who have little real experience of a contemplation that is enriched by prior practice of active meritorious deeds.

In þis tyme many þer bene boþe men & women in þe state of contemplatife life, as specyaly ankeres & recluses or hermytes þat witen litel as in effecte trewly what contemplative life is by defaut of exercise in actife lif… And þerfore it is ful perilous & ful dreadful to be in a state of perfection & haue a name of holynes as hauen specialy þees recluses, bot þe lyuyng & þe gostly exercise of hem be acordyng þerto. (119, 24-31)

It may seem surprising that such remarks emerge from within a religious house with an undisputed reputation as a site for austere and ascetic contemplative withdrawal. Indeed, in this part of the adaptation, and in Love’s interpolations, there is a valorisation of the active and mixed lives that recalls the pastoral guide treatises of Walter Hilton and, later in the fifteenth century, Reginald Pecock. We should note, of course, that Love here writes not primarily about or for those in the solitary life, but proposes an ideal for prelates and preachers, for whom the cure of souls builds on contemplative disciplines.

It is significant that Love finally refers his readers to Hilton for more writing on the active and contemplative lives, and what he terms (using Hilton’s phrase) the ‘medelet life’ (122, 35). This not only allows Love to proceed to the important and much augmented Rising of Lazarus chapter, it also opens up the possibility of a wider application of the teaching on the active and contemplative lives. It was the achievement of Walter Hilton to remain within a Gregorian paradigm, while extending the possibility of who could be called to the perfect active life (‘medelet life’) so that this also included some prosperous laymen in addition to secular clergy.

We may assume that Love has in mind several of Hilton’s works (but centrally the Epistle on Mixed Life) when he refers to Hilton as a ‘sufficient scole’ and the English authority on the Christian modes of living. It is not difficult to see complementarity between these two writers and to understand how attractive it would be for Love to situate his own writing in the proximity of those of Hilton. Love could usefully invoke the rationale for a piety of ‘discrecion’, mekenesse’ and ‘sikernesse’ [security, moderation] that we find articulated with such nuance in Hilton’s writings. Conversely, Hilton can be seen to assume the reader’s experience with the kind of prolonged Christocentric Meditations found in Mirrour.

Obedience and Intellectual Humility

The important subject of the obedience to Church teaching and authority is brought up in Cap. 3 of Mirrour (and reoccurs throughout), in an interpolation by Love on the doctrine of the Trinity:

Study not to fer in þat matere occupy not þi wit þerwiþ als þou woldest vndurstande it, by kindly reson, for it wil not be while we ben in þis buystes body lyuyng here in erþe. And þerfore when þou herest any sich þinge in byleue þat passeþ þi kindly reson, trowe soþfastly þat it is soþ as holy chirch techeþ & go no ferþer’. (23, 34-39)

The model of obedience, acceptance and intellectual restraint is grounded first and foremost in the disciplining of the power of reason to refrain from rational interrogation of points of theological doctrine.

The significance of obedience and loyalty to the determination of the Church is treated specifically in the context of the sacrament of the Eucharist. In the concluding ‘Treatise on the Eucharist’, Love defines ‘sikernesse’ (‘security’, ‘safety’) in religion as the ‘trewe byleue’ that adheres unconditionally to sanctioned doctrinal belief:

Þe sikere part were to byleue as holy chirch techeþ with a buxom drede. For in þat we leuyn oure kyndely reson, & bene obeshant to god and holi chirch as him self biddeþ vs, & also we withdrawe not in oure beleue of þe miht of god, not of his loue & souereyn godenes to vs, bot raþer maken it more if it so were þat it were not soþe as we beleuen, & þat were litel perile or raþere none bot mede to vs in alle partes for oure gude wille to god & holi chirch. (226, 5-12)

In this paradigm for obedience and restraint, absolute unconditional faith in the teaching of the Church means a secure faith in God (note the twice-repeated ‘to god & holi chirch’). The abandonment of ‘kyndely reson’ crucially signifies the will to obey God and Church, even if the teaching of the Church was found to be erroneous. A model of this surrendering of reason in favour of unquestioning faith is found in the response of the disciples to Christ’s institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper when they ‘laft alle hir kyndely reson of manne, & onely restede in trew byleue to alle þat he seide & dide’. (149, 32-34. See also the discussion by David Aers in Sanctifying Signs, 12-28)

The antithesis established here is between the unquestioning faith exemplified by the disciples (which enables them to ‘fele & haue þe vertue & þe gostly swetnes of þis blessed sacrament’[149, 34-35]), and the inordinate exercise of reason and lack of intellectual humility that characterise the heretics (who ‘fele not ‘þe gostly swetnesse of þis heuenly mete of his precious body’ [237, 24-25]). Love’s reader is exhorted to ground his faith in the sacrament ‘not by errour affermyng bot deuoutly ymaginyng & supposyng’ (72, 37-38). Thus questions of discipline and faith in personal devotion become connected with broader issues of ecclesiastical authority and sacramental efficacy.

The highlighting of obedience and the discipline of reason in Love’s Mirrour is not nearly as nuanced as we see it the Mirror to Devout People; the other ‘institutional’ Pseudo-Bonaventuran life of Christ from the Birgittine Syon Abbey, written by someone evidently familiar with Love’s text (either aware of the existence of the text, or familiar with it from own reading). This text goes to greater length in exploring the obedient ‘entent’ of the reader, particularly as this relates to issues of prophecy, vision and any form of potentially transgressive theological speculation about the sacraments. However, the Mirrour’s instruction in absolute, unquestioning belief in Church teaching on the sacraments closely resembles the following exhortation by the Birgittine author:

I conseille yowe not to seche mony questions aboute this precyouse sacramente, bot to holde yowe payede with this litell that I haue seide to yow, and to putte your feythe generally in the feyth of Holy Chirche, and in that feyth, when yhe receyue it, to receyue with all the loue, drede, and reuerence that yhe kanne. (160, 142-46)

When Love characterises religious obedience, and obedience toward clergy, as an act of directing one’s will to God, he touches on an important subject in the writings of Walter Hilton, and one intimately connected with the key virtues of ‘mekeness’ and ‘discrecioun’. Hilton, in, for example, the Scale of Perfection, Mixed Life and The Prickynge of Love, provides substantial discussion ofvoluntary submission to ecclesiastical authority as a moral imperative and habit. Such analysis, which gives added theological substance and precision to important terms in the Mirrour, may provide further suggestion of the particular resonance that Hilton may have in Love’s work. Love invokes Walter Hilton in the context of the contemplative and active lives, but his interest in, and affinity with, the works of Hilton clearly extend beyond the subject of the Christian modes of living.

Dissemination and Reception Contexts

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