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The Prickynge of Love

Profile author: Allan F. Westphall
Revision date: June 1st, 2010

Approximate Date, Sources, Provenance

The codicological descriptions that accompany the textual profiles focus on manuscripts containing texts derived from the Latin Meditationes vitae Christi. Middle English texts derived from the all or parts of the Stimulus Amoris (including the Prickynge of Love) represent a different strand within the pseudo-Bonaventuran textual tradition, and their manuscripts have not been surveyed as part of our research project. (The Cambridge and Durham manuscripts described here are included as they also contain adaptations of the Meditationes vitae Christi; they represent only a fraction of the manuscripts containing the Middle English Prickynge of Love.)

I wish to note from the outset my indebtedness to Falk Eisermann's impressive survey of the Stimulus Amoris tradition and its manuscripts. See bibliography for details. Surveying close to 500 Latin manuscripts, as well as a range of vernacular adaptations (with clear focus on the German evidence), Eisermann's study represents the most complete analysis of this key pseudo-Bonaventuran text and its textual tradition. References to the Prickynge of Love are to page and line numbers in the edition by Harold Kane (see bibliography for details).

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The Prickynge of Love (see 'bibliographical materials') is based on the Stimulus Amoris by the Franciscan friar James of Milan (Jacobus Mediolensis). It was traditionally thought to have been written by Bonaventura, though a limited number of manuscripts ascribe the text to Henricus de Balma. It is not to be confused with the Stimulus Amoris of the twelfth century by Ekbert von Schoenau (also attributed to Anselm of Canterbury and Bernard of Clairvaux), which exerted considerable influence on both Bonaventura and the pseudo-Bonaventuran Meditationes vitae Christi. The date of the text's composition is uncertain, though probably datable to the last decades of the thirteenth century. The terminus ante quem is signalled by the preservation of the text in a manuscript dated 1301 (Eisermann, 11, 230).

The original Stimulus Amoris served as a guide to monastic contemplation, expounding ascetic, didactic teaching and incorporating a pseudo-Dionysian language of mystical ascent. The text is itself a composite work integrating passages from, among others, Bernard, Anselm and Bonaventura's De Perfectione vitae.

The Stimulus Amoris is an example par excellence of the variant and interpenetrating nature of medieval textuality. The original text by James of Milan consists of 23 chapters (including some meditations on the Pater Noster, Ave Maria, and the Salve Regina by an unknown author) and lacks the division into three books that we see in the later, expanded and more widely circulated recension. The expanded Passion meditations that occur in the first half of the later version are also absent in the original work.

With the original Stimulus Amoris as the nucleus text, later material came to be assimilated by a process of gradual accretion. In his examination of the manuscripts and textual traditions of the Stimulus Amoris, Falk Eisermann makes distinction between three main recensions; the 'minor', 'maior I' and 'maior II'. The 'minor' denotes the urtext of 23 chapters by James of Milan. The 'maior I' is the later expanded version of about 40 chapters (though with much variation) which makes selective use of the original text and divides material into three books. Finally, the 'maior II' restructures the chapter division of 'maior I' and adds material to produce a treatise of between 58-73 chapters.

Chapters 30 and 32 of Prickynge and the original Stimulus Amoris in the 'maior I' version are taken directly from Bonaventura but with no attribution (from De Perfectione vitae ad sorores and Regula novitiorum ad sorores respectively).

Of these three redactions, as Eisermann documents, 'minor' and 'maior II' both show mainly regional circulation. 'Maior II' (mid-fourteenth century) is a more specialised text circulated chiefly in Bavaria (Eisermann, 249) with expansions on contemplation and significantly omitting the teaching on the integration of action and contemplation that received particular emhasis in 'maior I'. 'Minor', apart from very limited circulation in Italy, appears to have been restricted to the Rhine-Mass area of North Germany. Eisermann notes (234-35) that the only certain evidence of circulation of the minor text outside of Italy and Germany is from England (preserved in Cambridge UL, Ms. Ff. I. 14; Oxford, Bodley, Hatton 97).

In addition to these three main versions, numerous examples exist of excerpts or single chapters from Stimulus Amoris (both Latin and vernacular texts) being copied independently or interpolated into other works. The manuscript evidence thus shows a particularly productive reception of the original Stimulus Amoris. Eisermann points out that there seems to have been a consciousness of one unified Stimulus Amoris text in the later Middle Ages and that this text was identified throughout its development with the name Bonaventura (Eisermann, 90). Nevertheless, it is difficult to discern one stable, normative text because of the progressive textual expansions that characterise what itself is originally a composite work.

Manuscript evidence

The evidence for the popularity of Stimulus Amoris is impressive. Eisermann identifies approximately 500 Latin manuscripts, dating as follows: 115 mss. from the first transmission to the end of fourteenth century; 350 mss from the fifteenth century, with 140 of these positively datable to the first half (Eisermann, 228-29. The existence of Stimulus Amoris in more than 500 Latin mss., thus towers above the other key Latin pseudo-Bonaventuran text, the Meditationes vitae Christi, extant in approximately 110 mss.). In addition 13 incunable editions are recorded. Of the geographical distribution of the Latin Stimulus Amoris, Eisermann notes these approximate numbers: 170 from present day Germany, Austria 70; France, Belgium, Netherlands 50; Italy 45; Silesia 35; England 30; Switzerland 20 (Eisermann, 229).

We know of the medieval translations of Stimulus Amoris into the following vernaculars: Middle High German, Middle Low German, Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Swedish and Danish.

Noteworthy is the particular interest in Stimulus Amoris in German-speaking regions. Here it seems to have been a key text in a monastic reform programme concentrated around the monasteries of Melk and Nuremberg (Eisermann notes the circulation of a Nuremberg redaction associated the Dominican Katharinenkloster, 401-9). With its central structural categories of 'imitatio' and 'conformitas', Stimulus Amoris appears to have played a key part in reform initiatives (especially with female monastics), and in practical and extra-mural pastoral activity at the heart of which was the production and dissemination of devotional texts.

Notable developments in the text's transmission are the frequent dissemination together with texts of the 'devotio moderna' such as those by Geert Groote, Jan van Ruysbroeck and Henry Suso, as well as the integration of selected parts of Book I into the Vita Christi of the Carthusian Ludolph of Saxony, and the Speculum Passionis by Ulrich Pinder. Both these works were adapted into English, Pinder's text in the form of the translation by John Fewterer of Syon known as The Myroure or Glasse of Christes Passion (printed 1534).

A number of striking overlaps between English and German receptions of the Stimulus Amoris merit further analysis. An example is the discussion about 'discretio spirituum' in Book III chapter 13, which was occasionally extracted and integrated into other works. It is found in two texts, The Chastising of God's Children and the Apotheke der Schwestern, which both address issues of discretion and discipline in settings of enclosed female readers. Comparative analysis of the vernacular adaptations of Walter Hilton and Johannes Neumarkt might also reveal interesting insights into the differences and shared motivations between England and Germany.

Eisermann notes references to the Stimulus Amoris in the works of the two female mystics Margery Kempe and Dorothea von Hof, both of whom witness to the appeal of the text and assert affinities between its Christological meditations and their own spirituality (Eisermann, 521-25, 534-36). The writings by these women bear witness to what is at once the conventionality of the devotions contained in Stimulus Amoris, and the externalised and dramatic nature of devotional performance recommended by it. As textual meaning becomes refracted through lived response, we see in these autobiographical accounts the dramatisations of 'imitatio', 'conformitas' and the cult of devotion to the wounds of Christ.

A striking passage found in Prickynge of Love (the most likely version of Stimulus Amoris that Margery Kempe knew) provides what in a sense is a 'licence to cry', and reflects an awareness of the potential for social controversy in outward manifestations of devotion.


Loue sterith me & no reson. and I renne with gret birre. wyder-so my loue heldeth. And thei that seen me scornen me. for thei knowen not that I am made as I were dronken for longynge in loue. Thei seyn thus. Wy crieth this wodeman thus in the stretis. But thei taken non hede how that desire of ihesu brenneth in my herte. thei wote nou3t that brennyng of loue in-wardli feled letteth ofte-sythes the vse of bodili wittes (20, 9-16)


That Prickynge might well have exercised considerable influence on the devotion of Margery Kempe, who makes reference to the Stimulus Amoris, and whose confessor, the Carmelite Alan of Lynn, is known to have compiled an index of its contents.

Reception in England

(See also Eisermann, 511-26 for a very useful survey of the tradition in medieval England)

Stimulus Amoris was influential in England from the first half of the 14th century, both through various direct adaptations, Latin and English, and, it seems, by exercising considerable stylistic influence on the devotional literature of late medieval England.

The first occurrence of the 'maior I' version is in the pastoral catechetical writings of the theologian and canon lawyer William of Pagula. The entire Stimulus Amoris is inserted into the enormous Speculum praelatorum which contains instructions for parish priests and is dated to the early 1320s. Furthermore, Eisermann (513) notes the inclusion of an unidentified chapter of Stimulus Amoris in the second part of William Pagula's Oculus sacerdotis, a manual for parish priests extant in 50 manuscripts.
Eisermann notes that the inclusion of the 'maior I' in the Speculum praelatorum is the earliest documentation of this redaction of the Stimulus Amoris, and he raises the possibility that the 'maior I' form of Stimulus Amoris may indeed be of English origin.

Other uses of Stimulus Amoris include likely traces of influence in Richard Rolle, and the inclusion of a chapter on temptation, attributed to Bonaventura, in William Flete's De remediis contra temptationes.

Chapter 15 of the Chastising of God's Children reproduces Stimulus Amoris III, 13 to instruct readers on how to respond to the devil and how to 'withstonde this temptacion and traueilyng of the imagynacion and thynkeng of the predestinacion and prescience of god' (Bazire, Colledge, eds. 160). In this case, the text is incorporated into Chastising's overall tone of caution against speculative theology and didacticism aimed at female readers. The first-person account of how 'I shal hide me in the deepe hoolis of his wounde, and there I wil rest me' (159) thus occurs in the 'discretio spirituum' and sobering devotionalism of Chastising, which otherwise contains very little on the topic of devotion to Christ's wounds.

Through texts like Chastising of God's Children and, especially, the full translation of 'maior I' known as Prickynge of Love, the Stimulus Amoris became attractive to a wider lay audience. Reaching lay readers only indirectly at first through the pastoral catechesis of William of Pagula, the chapters on life in the world and on integrating action and contemplation open the text to a potentially wide audience. With the emergence of Prickynge we have a text whose main interest is in the soul's reformation, not in progress towards mystical union. Its emphasis is not on mystical or contemplative theology, but on a psychology centered in meditation on Christ, Mary, human sin and the nature of divine mercy and grace. It becomes a key text in the development of a hermeneutics of Passion meditation to facilitate moral and spiritual transformation.


At least 5 of the 16 manuscripts containing Prickynge ascribe the text to Walter Hilton. These are Durham University, Cosin MS V.III.8; University of Pennsylvania Ms Eng. 8; British Library Ms Harley 2415; University Library Cambridge Hh I, 12; Somerset Records Office, Heneage Ms.

The question of authorship is still uncertain, but scholarly consensus seems to be in favour of Hilton's authorship. The introduction to Clare Kirchberger's translation argues for Hilton's authorship and has set the standard, it seems, for scholarly opinion (see the bibliography for details). J. P. H. Clark's essay 'Walter Hilton and the Stimulus Amoris' constitutes the most serious attempt to demonstrate similarities between Hilton's theology and that in in Prickynge. Indeed Prickynge demonstrates what are some of the main themes in Hilton's works, namely his pastoral concern with guidance to clergy and laity, and a popular Christology and meditative framework which do not delineate progressive steps to mystical union.

A number of the changes made in the Middle English to the Stimulus Amoris are fully congruent with theological emphases in Hilton's other works, and include a consistent Christocentrism ('deus' systematically replaced with 'Ihesus') and an insistence that concentration on Christ's divinity and intellectual vision of the Godhead require conformity with, and compassion for, Christ's humanity best achieved through meditation on his Passion. Other correspondences with Hilton's pastoral theology include a concern with religious enthusiasm and autonomy (evident in several of Hilton's Latin epistles and Eight Chapters on Perfection), an interest in the nature of, and realisation of, the mixed life, the encouragement of interior humulity and charity instead of any excessive asceticism or penance, a focus on transient moments of illumination rather than lasting contemplation, the cultivation of an interior awareness of sin, and emphasis on the urgent need for conformance to Christ to bring about a reform in feeling and faith. Also, a number of moderations and clarifications of spiritual terms such as 'drunkennesse' and 'nou3tynge' would appear to chime well with Hilton's explanation of mystical vocabulary and insistence on the need to be watchful against spiritual excesses and misleading corporeal sensations.

However, it is the opinion of this author that Hilton most likely was not the author of Prickynge, which may have been by someone with an intimate knowledge of Hilton's writings and theological standpoints. I base this on the observation that the numerous audacious theological statements, while reproducing similar statements in the original, seem incongruous with the scepticism so typical of Hilton regarding devotional sensations, spiritual ecstasy, the deification of the soul, and prolonged contemplation. The drastic theological formulations that dominate the Passion meditations of the text's first half, and particularly aspects of the mystical theology of the third part, constitute a significant departure from the otherwise cautious and tempered meditative disciplines delineated in Hilton's other works. Besides, most of the theological concerns with 'sikernesse' and communal engagement noted above are common features in a wide range of devotional writing around the turn of the fourteenth century.



The Prickynge of Love is not as such a life of Christ presenting a fixed narrative frame of the story of Christ's life, Passion and post-Resurrection appearance. Nor is it a guide to mystical contemplation or spiritual union and it does not progress toward any literal ascetical imitation of Christ's sufferings. Instead its concern is devotional, offering a concatenation of reflective prayers and meditations, as well as proposing techniques for meditative focusing on Christ's wounds and blood. The images expounded in the text, though sometimes developed to striking effect, are entirely conventional, found in much popular devotional literature, and accompanied by a fairly strict didacticism most often delivered through second-person address.

Prickynge is perhaps best seen as a meditative work which complements and works in tandem with lives of Christ such as Meditations on the Supper, The Privity of the Passion or Love's Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ (all of which occur together with Prickynge in manuscripts). The text's Christological focus and systematic replacement of 'deus' with 'Christ' would makes this a good companion piece to other meditative lives of Christ.

The text offers a prolonged reflection on the centrality of Passion meditation in the spiritual and moral reform of the individual. It explores and articulates the efficacy of Passion meditation, specifically how this activity can effect lasting character transformation through processes of imaginative re-creation of the Passion events, empathy, imitation and conformity with Christ.

With its careful attention to discretio spirituum, the dangers of spiritual deceit, enthusiasm and singularity, Prickynge offers a model of how desire and the cognitive dimensions of devotional meditation can be intensified, as well as remain 'siker', i.e. spiritually safe and disciplined, understood both at an individual, psychological level, and in relation to broader social and institutional practices.

Unusually for pseudo-Bonaventuran meditative writing, this text does not have a prologue.

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One of the distinguishing features of the Stimulus Amoris in its 'maior I' form, from which Prickynge is derived, is its division of material into three books. This division is not preserved in any of the Middle English versions, but its chapters (around 40) fall naturally into these divisions. The division below refers to the chapters in Kane's edition of The Prickynge of Love, and there is significant variation in the respective manuscripts.

Though the text itself presents no hierarchy of mystical ascent, or gradation of spiritual progress, it is clear how the structure reflects an 'itinerarium mentis in Deum' at every level made possible by, and having as its ideal, a powerful emotional engagement with Christ's Passion - in essence a process (not merely to be designated metaphorical) of being crucified and dying with Christ. There is little attempt to outline an exalted, imageless spiritual contemplation. Instead the meditations are designed to facilitate the process of incorporating the body of the suffering Christ in all its corporeal particularity.

Please see Eisermann, 18-58 for more in-depth and systematic analysis of the textual contents.

The following gives some suggestion of the main thematic contents of the three books that make up the Stimulus Amoris, but it should be noted that the Middle English Prickynge of Love does not retain this division into separate books:

Chapters 1-9: 'imitatio', 'conformitas'. Passion meditation and devotion to the wounds and blood; on the importance of centring one's thoughts on Christ; compassion and conformity to the suffering Christ; how the mind and heart are affected by such meditation and acquire awareness of virtues, of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and of the Ten Commandments. Intense longing and desire for intimacy with the suffering Christ dominate this section, in which didactic and meditative structures alternate.

Chapters 10-22: 'ordinatio', 'humilitas'. The most didactic section and the one reproducing the original minor text by James of Milan. This section constructs a deeper reflective level of Christocentrism and an awareness of man's soul as an 'imago dei' arrived at through a conformity with Christ. On the loathing and inescapability of sin; on interaction with fellow-Christians; that the integration of the 'vita activa' with the 'vita contemplativa' is perfection, and that one ought to strive to have contemplation through active works.

Chapters 23-40, 'contemplatio'. On the ideal of spiritual perfection; spiritual ecstacy and drunkenness; on spiritual trials, temptation and the dangers of presumption, pride, disobedience, despair and spiritual deceit. Appended to these reflections, which balance the cautionary with outpourings of spiritual elation, are a series of devotional commentaries on the Paternoster, the greeting of our Lady, and the 'salve regina'.

Rhetoric and Manner of Exposition


Kirchberger notes the frequent use of short analytic sentences, doubling of adjectives and nouns, and invention of imagery and simile as features that characterise he Middle English adaptation of the Stimulus Amoris (Kirchberger, 42).

Examples of the imagery and idiomatic expressions not found in the Latin include chapter 4 where the meditator is urged to 'be festenyd to him as a quyk lymee [limb]' (30, 2). The idea that the fully obedient Christian is 'a seelden seen brid in oure lond, ney3elike to a blak swan' (158, 9-10; 112, 2) is also original and typical of the author's predilection for striking similes.

Mary is described as one who 'counfortest vs wepande in the cradel of oure freel flessh. and fedes vs with mylke of deuocioun. whan we cry3en for hunger' (201, 21-23) . And God, in confronting us with temptation and spiritual 'dryness', is likened to a mother chastising her children: 'whanne sheo seeth that he loyneth a-wey fro hir on his play3enge. And for-3eteth here. Sheo bryngeth thenne sodenli a gret drede of cri or of noise. & the childe as tite is aferde. And for drede he thynketh on his modir and rennyth to hire als faste as he may' (163, 13-17). This same simile also occurs in The Chastising of God's Children, chapter 5.

The following are some of the notable rhetorical features and discourse types found in Prickynge.



Occurs throughout Prickynge as part of the text's penitential and didactic rhetoric. Direct exhortation and imperative addressed to the reader urge self-appraisal, preparedness for meditation, and an attitude of contrition.


Thou cristen man that art bou3te with this blood. be not unkynde a-3eynes crist. for of alle synnes. thenne are these too. that most greue good and are most enemyes to grace. Pride & vn-kyndnesse (60, 10-13).


Open now ther-fore thou cristen man with ful feith the mowth of thyn herte. & lete this blood droppe in-to the marow3e of this soule. For wite thou wel that cristes blood is 3itt als hote & as fresh. As hit was whenne he died on good Friday and shal be so in holy chirche vn-to the dai of doom (35, 15-20).



Imagined speech, dialogue

There is none of the frequent and prolonged imaginative dialogue that are characteristic of lives of Christ such as Meditations on the Supper and The Privity of the Passion. Instead, sustained second person address re-occurs as part of the text's didactic framework.

Chapter 34 and 35 consist of the complaint of the flesh to the Father about Christ who has consumed all the love of the soul and 'suffereth me ligge stille in so moche wrecchidnesse' (174, 19-20), and the following response by God. In some manuscripts this exchange between the soul and the Father forms a single chapter.


Narratorial voice

The narratorial 'I' voice occurs frequently in the opening chapters of prayer and meditation. Here it alternates with intense, personal address to the reader to work as a strong guiding and didactic presence.
The strongest expressions of desire are typically expressed through first person narration.


And nat only wole I thus be crucified. with ihesu. but I wole turne a3eyn aftir this bitternesse. of his passioun. to the swetenesse of his in-carnacioun. and bi-holde owre swete childe ihesu in his modres armes. sowkande of hire blessed brest. & I shal fonde to sowke with him. with al the feith that I haue. & thus shal I tempore to-gidere the swete mylke of marie the virgine with the blood of ihesu. and make to myself a drynke. that is ful of hele (9, 6-14)


Other than these heightened passages, the narratorial voice mostly manifests itself through imperatives to the reader which dictate exemplary responses of contrition, meekness and the loathing of sin.


Paradox, 'oppositio'


A thou precious passioun ful of desire. a thou deth ful of loue. wat is more selcouthe. thenne deth for to quicken and woundes for to hele that cristes red blood. maketh blake sowlis. wite & his lothsumnesse with filthe al disfigured makith vs faire & clene. his owerdone sorwe. bryngeth to vs ioie vnmesurable. and his pyneful bitternesse 3ueeth vs endeles swetnesse (6, 24-7, 6)


Closely following its Latin source, Prickynge creates a strongly felt antithesis between the elevation of Christ and Mary and the degradation of human sin. But the text also suggests how opposition involves relation and implication, for it is by means of a lasting awareness of sin, and through meditation of Christ's Passion, can the soul be restored as an 'imago dei'.


A certis this is a loueli & a venerable passion. that so a-cordith contraries. & so ioyneth dysseuerid. and so festeneth to shere kyndes. with the bonde of blessed loue. & onyth hem vn-partabli (33, 4-7)


The more deply that a man may knowe. his owne vilite. the more clerli mai he se goddis maieste. What is thenne more profitable thenne thus be mekid. thour3e felyng of thyn owne wrecchidnesse. and thus ben hy3ed. thour3 si3th of cristes goodnesse. Crist is lowhe & criste is hey3e. 3if thou wole go in hym lowe. thou shal come to hym hei3e (97, 17-23)



Visual evocation

We do not see the repeated exhortations to behold specific details of Christ's torment that are such a distinguishing feature of other meditative lives of Christ. The initial chapters on meditating on Christ's wounds and blood nonetheless have a strong visual character to them.

When the reader is urged to 'byholde' and 'ymagyne' this is to consider the magnitude of Christ's sacrifice and the scale of sin: 'by-holde in how moche bittirnesse ihesu was fulfilled that is angelis swetnesse. And 3it more hit aggregid his bittirnesse. oure caytif vn-kyndnesse. thenne al his bodily peyne' (29, 11-14).

Typological allegory

Prickynge shows none of the allegorical exposition that abounds in Bonaventura's works. There are no extended allegorical passages or ordering of material into various modes of allegorical significance. But notably chapter 6, 'of seuenfold risynge into contemplacioun thorow seuen 3iftes of the holigost', lists as the fifth 'styringe-vp' 'the 3ifte of connynge' which the author determines as 'to knowe holi writte and for to fynde in hit the passioun of criste. Hidde in figure & in shadow of the olde testament' (47, 13-15). There follows a lengthy exposition of the nature of typological allegory in biblical interpretation, expanded with several examples beginning with Adam through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Job.
With grounding in I Corinthians viii, 1, that 'knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth', the Middle English adaptor places special emphasis on this form of knowledge as never an end in itself, but as a facilitator of the affective immersion in the Passion of Christ which ought always stand as the first moral principle. This point is made with the adaptor's usual flair for lively imagery; the following represents a characteristic intervention by the Middle English adaptor that is not a feature of the Latin source:


Thus mai a man renne bi al holi writte. & thour3e the 3ifte of konnynge he mai finde vp faire figures of cristes passioun and thour3e deuoute thynkyng abowte the applyenge of him to cristes passioun he shal mowe souke out oyle of the harde stone. & thrist out butter fro the bitter mylk and sotelli drawe out the swetnesse of hony fro the hony-combe. And thus mai he entre in-to tresour of cristes wisdam. & fede his affeccioun with his swete loue (48, 22-49, 5).


Moral exposition

Moral exposition is extensive in Prickynge, especially in the predominantly didactic second part, which closely follows the emphases in the Latin. Noteworthy is the didactic advice given in chapter 10, 'hou a man mai most profite and most plese god', which lists the following principles in order and repeats closely what is in the source: 'that he lete hym-self vileste of all other. and vnworthi for to haue any 3ifte of god'; 'that he sorweth for no thynge. but for synne'; 'that he coueite for cristes loue. pouerte. and to suffer penaunce'; 'that he despise no man in his herte'; 'that he despise ne deme no man for hys synne'; 'that he loue the good & the profite of his brodir. als his owne'; 'that he loue no thynge but god for god'; 'that wat-so he do out-ward of wordeli bysynesse. he haue ai god in his mynde'.


Metaphoric elaboration

Metaphors abound throughout the treatise, often with sustained elaboration. This is particularly a feature of the opening chapters where the heightened rhetoric of the affective and meditative passages focuses on the wounds and blood of Christ. Images of healing and medicine recur in Prickynge, as is also the case in several of Hilton's writings.
The considerable imaginative and metaphoric exploration is both conventional and, at times, strikingly individual. I note some instances below, many of which are a feature only of the Middle English:

'Al-so criste on the crosse visited seeke men. for he bare vp-on him-self the peyne of alle oure sykenesse. We were so seke thay we my3te not come to hym. and ther-fore as a leche [physician] ful of pite. coom to vs' (66, 20-24; not in the Latin)

Christ's heart:
'Lo the spiceris shoppe is openyd to the. ful of al swete spiceri. & ful of medicinable oynementis Gracia dei. And saue is there inou3e. go in-to hit & gete the medicine for to hele the and restore the' (11, 8-11; not in the Latin)

Christ's blood:
'That blood is medicine for alle synnes. Restoring of alle graces. Counfort in alle tribulaciounis fedyng in alle deuociouns' (11, 20-22; not in the Latin)

Wound in Christ's side:
'Me thynkith hit the souerayne refute & the most soth-fast remedie a-3eynes alle synne. This is my boke and my clergie my studie & my meditacioun for to strengthe my feyth and my ope thour3e cristes blood & his passioun' (60, 4-6, 7-10; not in the Latin)

'he shal neuertheles. as my modir 3ef me sowke of his pappis. & bere me in his armes' (10, 2-4; this is in the Latin)

The activity of meditation:
'A. a selcouthe surryp is this & a precious drynke. a confeccioun vnprisable. & a medelynge most deyntyuous for to fele a trewe inly sorwe of cristes compassioun. temperid with goostly ioie of cristes goodnesse. This drynke with hertili gredynesse drunken. maketh a man drunken & alienyd fro hym-self like in-to heuenli sobernesse' (38, 23-39, 4; not in the Latin)

'Blessed is he that is sothfastli crucified with criste. & clothid in his blode. Sothly god may not for-sake hym wenne he cometh. for he hath the lyuery3e of his sone. that is his weddynge cloth. that clothing vs graunte crist ihesu for thi merci' (61, 5-9; not in the Latin)


Reading instructions

The entire work can be viewed as an instruction in the hermeneutics of Passion meditation, but there are no specific instructions on reading activity and process.


Invocation and apostrophe

Prickynge appears to assume an audience of clerics, and certainly to suggest that the Middle English author himself was a cleric. It is noteworthy that the following appeal is an addition in the Middle English text, and acknowledges a special responsibility to pray and conform to Christ.


Brederyn what shal we do. Rende we oure hertes. with the swerde of compassioun. and suffre we not siche despite be don to oure lord. that we ne speke a-3en hit and reproue hit. we nameli that han power & auctorite of spekynge and of prechynge. (116, 22-117, 1)


The prayers to Mary and Christ employ a full register of invocation, exclamation, spontaneous prayer, apostrophe, etc. Often apostrophes occur in the Middle English where none is found in the Latin. Chapter 17 opens with an invocation to Christ, which then alternates with invocations to a personified love, in a chapter which explores the reciprocity and relationality between Christ's mercy and the human capacity of love. Here repeated invocations have the effect of dramatising the felt gap between the 'hardnesse' of the human soul and Christ's love which 'breketh & melteth & vn-3eueth as wax a-3en the fire' (108, 24-25). Similarly, chapters 11 and 12 switch between apostrophes to Christ and man's 'harde herte', and intersperses these appeals with first-person introspective reflections on sin. Thus invocation has the effect of occasioning extended moral reflection, self-scrutiny, compunction and remorse. Often there is a mix of first-, second-, and third-person accounts and addresses in one chapter (notably chapter 30) to reflect on the nature of sin introspectively and imagining it communally.


A my lord ihesu criste softe thow my herte. with thy holi wounde3. And with thi precious blood make my soule drunken. that wider-so I turne me. ai mote I se the crucified with myn inner y3e (22, 17-20; in the Latin)



A swete lord ihesu criste. Sothfaste frende & helpere in al oure nede. I preie the make cleye of thi spotell. & annoynte myn innere y3en. that I mai see thi woundes. Leede me vnworthi wrecche thou I be with-inne the doore of thi temple (67, 20-24; in the Latin)



A mari wy is thi loueli herte turned in-to a lumpe of sorwe. I beholde ladi thyn herte now. & I see hit ful of bitter peyne. I seke goddis modir. & loo I fynde. pittynge. scourgynge. & woundes for she is al turned in-to hem (23, 19-23; as per the Latin but with some development in the English)



A ladi whi 3euest thou not me that I aske. Wy woundest thou not me ladi 3if I haue greued the thenne may thou ry3t-wisly wounde me. 3if I haue serued the. I aske nou3t ellis but woundes for my mede. A were is thi greet pyte now. wy art thou made vn-pitou3s to me (25, 7-12; as in the Latin)


Prickynge demonstrates a range of invocations more diverse than any other Middle English pseudo-Bonaventuran meditation. Other invocations are to the human heart (e.g. 17, 16), to sinful man (79, 22), to death (e.g. 8, 11), to Christ's wounds (e.g. 13, 9), to 'me seli soule' and the soul as spectator of Christ's Passion (5, 21), to the Father (13, 18), to the Passion (7, 16)

Textual Authority and Theological Position


Though the Stimulus Amoris appears to have been attributed to Bonaventure at most stages in its textual development and transmission, the Middle English adaptation Prickynge of Love is without the ascription to Bonaventura in most manuscript copies, and is more frequenty ascribed to Hilton. The exception is Prickynge in Harley 2254 with its colophon attributing it (interestingly together with Hilton’s Epistle on Mixed Life which follows) to Bonaventure. The tradition of the Stimulus Amoris very meaningfully invokes the authority of Bonaventure as it displays all the hallmark interests of his heritage and the insistence, found throughout the saint’s writings, on adherence to Christ as the first moral principle.

Chapters 30 and 32 of Prickynge and the original Stimulus Amoris are taken directly from Bonaventura but with no attribution (from De Perfectione vitae ad sorores and Regula novitiorum ad sorores respectively).

Frequent quotations from St Paul's Epistles are found in the Middle English text where none occur in the Latin. (e.g. 97, 98, 121, 145, 160 in Kane's edition). I discuss the distinctly Pauline emphasis in the Middle English Prickynge in the essay ‘Walter Hilton’s The Prickynge of Love and the Construction of Vernacular ‘Sikernesse’’ (see the bibliography for details).

Passion meditation and devotion to Christ's wounds

The Passion meditations of the first part are dominated by devotion to the wounds and blood of Christ. Here intensely affective focusing on the wounds and openings of Christ's body become an occasion for reflecting on the magnitude of Christ's pity and compassion, the basic discipline in the process of conforming the meditative mind to Christ. Detailed and meticulous meditation on the wounds is associated with a proliferation of, often conflicting, emotional configurations as the reader is led to feel bereavement, sorrow, pity, self-loathing, pleasure, desire, empathy, distance and so forth.


Christ's wounds are subject to extensive metaphorical exploration. As metonymical representations of the transformative pain inflicted on a body, the wounds are presented as the gates of Paradise, a wellspring out of which flows a stream of compassion, a spice shop, a refuge, a breast to be sucked; the blood is a healing drink, a sweet syrup, a medicine, the letters of a book, the fruits of a tree, etc.


The Middle English Prickynge follows the Latin source very closely in developing the wounds of Christ into a store of visual representations, aiming to stir a multitude of reader/viewer responses and urging the meditative reader to enter into the suffering body of the Redeemer. It is through a torn, lacerated and ruptured body that the contemplative is allowed absorption into Christ. Integrated into the text's affectivity and response-inviting structures, such images seem designed to be both immensely attractive and offensive.


Hit is good to me to be ay with ihesu for in him I wole make me thre tabernacles Oon in the woundes of his herte: on odir in his handis the thridde in his fet. & there wole I hide me. Fro dronynge of the world. From malice of the fende & fro the frelte of my flesh. (8, 18-22)


At the openynge of his side. mai owre herte entre & be ioyned to his (7, 6-7)


But I drede [ouer-soone]. to be sperid ou3t. fro the delites that I now fele. Certeynli 3if he caste me ou3t. he shal neuertheles. as my modir 3ef me sowke of his pappis. & bere me in his armes. or ellis 3if he do not thus. I wot wat I shal do. I wote wel that his woundes are ai open. & there-fore as ofte as I falle ou3t. als ofte shal I entre in a3en. Vn-tyl that I be vnpartabelly to hym festened. (9, 25-10, 7)


It is hardly surprising that Prickynge also suggests the feminisation of Christ's body, at whose breasts the meditator can gain nourishment. Throughout, Prickynge demonstrates a fascination with transgression, liminality and (it seems at times) the erotic, and it seems intent on exploring every conceivable imagistic representation of the wounds as nurturing, redemptive and life-affirming. The image of sucking at Christ's breast here occurs as part of a common stock of metaphors, and one which invokes the simultaneously paternal and maternal qualities of Christ. It is not used as an entry into any sustained reflection on the motherhood of Christ.

Through such imaginings, Prickynge develops a logistics of entries and exits of Christ's body.
These are images developed to a degree of extraordinary specificity as facilitators of affective immersion in the gospel events and as memorials to strengthen against temptation. Thus in chapter 32:


Haste the thane to the manhode of christe & in the woundes of his side. fonde to crepe in & there hide the. with ful feithe fro the blustrynge of the feende for-whi. haue this for a general reule that whiche tyme thou wolte bowen to the hy3e maieste of god to haue pite of thi wrechidnesse. bere thane in thi mynde the woundes of criste and whanne thou art strenthid with the blod of his precious bodi. He shal presente the to his fadir in the lyuere of his blod as owne bigeten childe. (164, 9-17)


The process of entering into Christ is related through first-person narration and it comes to signify the establishment of an intimately personal relationship.

Prickynge shows ways in which the wounds, which would have been familiar to the reader from depictions, sermons, crucifixes, etc., can become internalized in the soul and heart of the meditative reader. The entry into the wounds becomes an intimately personal, concrete image, expressive of an intensely subjective and active engagement with the body of Christ. At no stage is the significance of the wounds explained in the theological terms of the blood streaming out from Christ's side signifying the sacraments. Such explication was common in much patristic exegesis. In Prickynge the images remain intimate and sensualized, reflecting the desire to be crucified with Christ - to enter into Christ, being one with him and to be crucified in one's mental imaginings.

A striking image in the first chapter develops this idea further:

A 3ee woundes of ihesu. crist. that are so ful of loue. & that I mai wel seie. For on a time as I entrid in him. with myn e3en opened. me thou3te that myn y3en were filled ful of his blod. & so I 3eode in gropande til I come to the innerest of his herte. and ther I wonne. and soche mete as he vseth I vse & drynke of the self drynke. (9, 14-20)


Similarly, in chapter 33, the person seeks refuge in the body of Christ: 'I shal hide me in the holis of his wounded. & there shal I lurken sykerli. so that he shal no-gates fynde me with-outen hym'. (168, 10-13)

The image of groping inwards since the eyes are blinded by the blood in meditation is explored throughout the text which probes the boundaries of inside and outside, and which assumes a number of different meditative perspectives, each triggering various forms of emotional engagement.

Constant exhortations in Prickynge to 'fele', 'taste', 'byholde', 'despise', 'covet', 'drede', and so forth, combine to create a thoroughly Christocentric, assiduously detailed exercise of visual, sensory imagining which works to facilitate empathic and mimetic identification with Christ's humanity. What is outlined are modes of participatory knowledge to be elicited by entering into the range of emotions - pity, compassion, dread, longing, self-loathing, elation - circumscribed by the text and through the process of visualizing the Crucifixion in the eye of the soul and mind. In this process, empathy, role-taking, compassionate absorption and meditative focusing operate together to bring out the immediacy and ongoing reality of the Passion.

In Prickynge, an image is conveyed of compassion for Christ's humanity as a hugely enabling, and transformative capacity. In the devotional psychology developed here, any form of spiritual reform must begin with meditation on the Passion and an imaginative turning into Christ. What is central in this process is the efficacy of the meditative discipline in bringing about deepened self-understanding and lasting transformation of character. While fleeting moments of spiritual drunkenness and contemplation of the Godhead are described through heightened rhetoric (though always with some scepticism), what is really central is the capacity of Christ's humanity to stir to compassion and a lasting feeling of guilt, contrition and sorrow. To achieve this end, and to intensify a feeling of gratitude, a language of strict asceticism and self-loathing dominates throughout.

Prickynge is thus both a guide to the formation and elaboration of interior images, and a facilitator of self-focus and self-scrutiny. The act of meditation is itself an activity dependent on human will: It is voluntary and a skill to be exercised through disciplines of focusing and imaginative development. And it is conventional in its internalisation and enumeration of e.g. the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, the seven blessings of Christ in his Passion, the seven deeds of mercy, the four affections of the soul, as well as in its explication of the Pater Noster, Ave Maria and participation in the sacraments. The efficacy of Passion meditation, however, appears to be a reality very much in spite of human sin and the conflicting impulses and feelings of the human subject. Prickynge gives particular emphasis to how the human will must work with a co-operative divine grace to restore the 'imago dei' in the soul and ultimately reform intellect, memory and affect. Preoccupied as the text is, especially in the third part, with the dangers of pride and spiritual autonomy, it carefully outlines a reciprocity between human desire and divine grace in which feelings of spiritual ecstasy and mystical awareness are never entirely self-willed.


Meditative perspectives

(In the following discussion of the meditative approach and instructions of the Middle English Prickynge it is assumed that the English follows the Latin source of the Stimulus Amoris in its 'maior I' redaction very closely. I will occasionally note some instances in which the English departs from, or adds to, the Latin.)

The remarkable image in the first chapter of the eyes of the meditator being blinded by Christ's blood and a subsequent groping inwards into his body prepares the reader for several shifts in perspective and viewpoint, each with its own emotional configuration. A range of emotions is explored as the reader assumes positions as eye witness to the Passion or as Christ himself, experiencing shifts in interior and exterior perspectives.

Observing Christ crucified from the perspective of someone outside or present at the Crucifixion means undergoing feelings of guilt, love, compassion, wonder, remorse, self-reproach, gratitude, joy. This sight should always be a source of strength: 'wenne a man seeth criste spred vp-on the crosse for hym ful of peyne & angwysshe. he is strengthid and hertid to suffree alle tribulaciouns'. (40, 5-7) Chapter 4 in particular delineates a series of responses that ought to follow Passion meditation, ranging from rejoicing to extreme self-loathing. Often, a contrastive juxtaposition between the suffering yet noble Christ and the defilement of human sin urges self-appraisal and an awareness of man as the recipient of divine compassion:


A certis this is a loueli & a venerable passion. that so a-cordith contraries. & so ioyneth dysseuerid. and so fasteneth to shere kyndes. with the bonde of blessed loue & onyth hem vn-partabli. in blisse of endeles ioie. (33, 4-8)


Regular shifts (often within individual chapters) between first, second and third person accounts, together with a mix of didactic admonition, apostrophe and spontaneous first person prayer, work to explore emotional configurations of intimacy and alienation, gratitude and unworthiness (see e.g. chapter thirty on spiritual presumption).

But the reader is urged to meditate on Christ's Passion not merely as a detached observer, or even a strongly moved eyewitness. Being blinded and entering into the wounds of Christ means adopting Christ's emotions as one's own and becoming Christ-like through the challenge of entering into the feelings of pity, forgiveness and meekness that Christ displayed on the cross. For example, when understanding how Christ sees Mary suffering with him, the meditator ought to feel even more intense sorrow and compassion. This means internalising as one's own the pity shown by the one who 'sufferid al maner peyne owtaken sekenesse & synne'. (30, 23-25)

It appears to have been a particular preoccupation of the Middle English author of Prickynge to develop the idea of empathising with Christ's pity on the cross, for as he adds to his Latin source: 'thour3e this 3ifte of pite a man is made like to criste crucified'. (50, 14-15)


Wenne aman thenkith inwardly of the wonderful pite of oure lord ihesu crist. how he onli for reuthe & for pite that he hadde of man. gafe his owne lif on the crosse. thenne is his herte stired & opened to alle his euen-cristen. and filled so ful of reuthe & of pite. that he thynketh 3if need were hym-self redi for to suffer and die for hem as crist died for vs. (49, 11-18)


A short passage in the Latin is here expanded into an account of how Christ's pity becomes the meditator's pity towards fellow-Christians and how the emulation of Christ's feelings on the cross should move him to the seven deeds of mercy.


Also, and conventionally, the perspective of Mary, pierced and crucified with sorrow, is adopted in the meditations of Prickynge. 'thou art al turned in-to the woundes of crist. & al cryist is crucified with-inne the sides of thi herte'. (24, 26-26)


Divine abandonment and spiritual chastising

The Latin Stimulus Amoris explores the operations of divine grace, and the impact on devotional psychology of the removal of spiritual fervour and divine grace. These themes, and the dangers that follow abandonment, withdrawal and spiritual 'dryness', receive further emphasis in the Middle English adaptation.

The reader is often reminded that fervor of devotion is a divine gift which can be withdrawn at any moment as a result of God's grace. At the heart of the experience of devotion is the coexistence of the desire for presence and certainty, and the experience of loss. This means that any experience of presence is less to be regarded as a self-willed achievement than a gift from a God who is characterised as 'wonder liberal':


Wenne thou weneste to be siker of hym, he shal efte sodeynly absente hym fro thi si3te, and thenne shal thou haue more longynge and more brennande desire aftir hym til thou haue with mykel sekynge founden hym a3en. What may I say? Sotheli als ofte as he shal absente hym fro the and pleye with the thus comande & goande un-til thou be made so bisi for to kepe hym that thou be not siker for to holde hym, but that al be suspecte to the, bothe his comynge and his goynge. This is the game of loue. His absence shal make the for to morne for hym & lyue in longynge, and his presence shal fille the with py3ement of his swetnesse and make the like drunken. (132, 23 - 133, 10)


The author displays acute psychological insight in this and similar passages with their complex interrelation of the terms 'siker', 'si3te', and 'sekynge'. By repeating the same pattern in three sentences, he undercuts any stable notion of a devotional 'sikernesse' in which one feels a lasting presence of God's grace by presenting it as merely a place of imagined certainty. The meditator should not imagine him- or herself in a permanent 'state of sykernesse and joy, but in sorwe and drede' (123, 23-24). Such emphasis works to instil a consciousness of the radical unknowability of a God who remains beyond the cognitive grasp of the human mind, and it offers a corrective to any dissenting impulse which claims the impeccability of the human soul or centres on a secure and lasting sense of the presence of God in this life. The reader is cautioned about the impossibility of achieving complete spiritual 'sikernesse' in this life within the dynamic, sacramental interplay between presence and absence, language and the ineffable, discursive and apophatic consciousness.

So predominant is this theme that chapter twenty-six, exploring 'how mannis soule in contemplacion is dronkend of criste3 loue', is almost entirely devoted to examining how the sense of divine abandonment and withdrawal of favours may work to increase desire, humility and discretion. That this is brought out with particular clarity in the Middle English Prickynge is evident from most manuscripts, which insert the word 'sum-tyme' to form the chapter heading in the text itself (and not in the contents list) 'how a soule is sum-tyme made drunken thorou3e contemplacioun of criste'. (131, 20-21) This characteristically alters the original title (as well as the theocentrism) of the Latin 'maior I' version which reads: 'Quomodo animo inebriatur in contemplatione a creatore suo'.

We thus see in Prickynge a carefully articulated theology of divine grace, which lays stress on human meekness and humility in the context of the unknowability of the divine will. Similar emphasis is found in several of Hilton's writings, as well as The Chastising of God's Children and the interpolations by an English editor into Marguerite Porete's Mirror of Simple Souls. The withdrawal of spiritual consolation is also a theme in The Book of Privy Counselling and A Looking Glass for the Religious, the latter written at the request of a sister of Syon Abbey.

Prickynge always treats the occurrence of bodily feelings of drunkenness and ghostly sweetness (often referred to as a 'meltyng in deuocioun' or 'meltyng of teres' 28, 5) with the utmost caution. The text underscores the momentary nature of grace and the unreliability of corporeal or mystical spiritual experiences, and posits as the ideal a stabilisation of devotion achievable through conformity to Christ and devotion to his wounds:


A my lord ihesu criste softe thow my herte. with thy holi wounde3. and with thi precious blood make my soule drunken. that wider so I turne me. ai mote I se the crucified with myn inner y3e. & wat that I loke on. al reed that hit seme. with licour of thi bloode. and 3if I mai not do this ai in hoolnesse of deuocioun. Ne in likynge of goostli ymaginacioun. at the laste that I mai do hit in stabilnesse. of feith. & in holi conuersacioun. & that no-thyng like me. but 3if hit be dipped in thyn holi blood. (22, 17-23, 1; see also 8, 22-9, 2 and the passage which is much expanded in the English 28, 4-17)


It is the realisation of desire not 'with suettenesse of deuocioun' but 'with stable feith & meke entencioun' (8, 23-24) which may bring about the spiritual reform, transformation and conformity to Christ which Prickynge outlines. And it is this faith stabilised in Christ which assures the dual orientation of inner and outer, of being crucified with Christ in imagination and the exterior engagement in the community.

It is notable that Prickynge at times employs a vocabulary influenced by mystical theology, and especially associated with the advanced contemplative works of pseudo-Dionysius and its theological tradition.
Talk about the soul's absorption into God and of union with the divine, especially in the third part of Prickynge, together with terminology like 'rest of contemplacion', 'onynge', and 'nou3t/nou3tyng' appear to chime with the vocabulary of the advanced contemplative teaching that found its way into the vernacular chiefly in the works of the Cloud-author.
Where such language may be expected within the specifically monastic, contemplative frame of the original minor text by James of Milan, it is re-employed within the more popular meditative, devotional piety of Prickynge. Here the application is not apophatic and it is not employed to describe advanced epistemological exercises alien to the general strand of popular meditative piety. The use is closer to an Augustinian/Gregorian one that focuses on the internalisation of the image of the human soul's corruption as a result of sin, and which describes man's turning to God through grace, as the following passage suggests.


Thenne a man nou3teth hym-seelf. and chesith wilfully to be counted and hated. and that all men knewen al his synne. als fulli as god knowith. for thenne wiste he wel. that men wolde vgge [loathe] hym. & fulli despise hym. and that he only coueyte to loue god. and to biholde hym. & to be stired in hym. and a-boute nou3te elles. and leyeth god in his herte or elles he fyndeth hym there al redi ley3ed. & thenne he reccheth [cares] of nou3te but of hym. hou he my3te be plesid and moste worsheped. This is a gracious chaunge worth mykel good. for to chaunge the woundes of synne. in-to woundes of criste. (126, 17-127, 3)


The process of 'nou3tyng' here stands for a moral reform which results in a penitential mentality of sorrow and contrition and which never takes leave of Christ's humanity. It demands no insistent theocentrism or demanding exercise of imageless abstraction. 'Mynde of the passioun' is always at the centre of the didacticism of Prickynge and the meditative reader is never urged to negate or reject the literal sense of the meditations on Christ's humanity.

It may perhaps be useful to regard Prickynge as occupying a middle ground between Hilton's pastoral teaching and the negating rhetoric of a pseudo-Dionysian negative theology. But in it, we see the occasional employment of a vocabulary of mystical theology adapted within a Christocentric piety and conventional devotional topoi, and terms such as 'nou3tyng', 'rest' and 'derknesse' apply to the introspection necessary for conformity to Christ and for a proper receiving of the sacraments.

We may perhaps say that Prickynge is apophatic in its own distinct way. It is not focused on the contentless abstraction or on the advanced exercise of imagistic effacement as we see it in the texts of the Cloud-corpus. Rather, it is concerned with how the movement of withdrawal and the chastising force of absence work to keep the soul on the track of humility without going astray into pride, singularity or heresy. Gestures of contrition and meekness, not control, and a sustained focus on abandonment, co-operative grace and on mortal sin as a pattern of thought and behaviour, thus work to inculcate ideals of humility and devotional 'sikernesse'.



As a text which posits no ideal of advanced or withdrawn contemplation, and which systematically replaces the theocentric references of the original with an insistent Christocentrism, Prickynge outlines a clear and unequivocal logistics of access to the divinity. Reiterating John 14, 6 that 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me', Prickynge sees God in Christ's tormented humanity, never bypassing conventional devotional practice or outgrowing consideration of Christ's body:


3if thou mai thenke on his passioun depeli and mai entre with thyn affeccioun in-to the wounde of his side. thou shalt sone thenne come to his herte. and thenne mai thou reste the. there as in thi bedstead. Who-so wenyth to come to contemplacioun of criste. and cometh not by this dore. ne bi this wey. ne bi the bitternesse of crist in his manhede he is but a theef and a mychere. for whenne he weneth to be with-inne. he is ful fer with-outen. Hou mai a man come to criste. & se hym. and haue hym. with-outen criste. Nai hit mai not be. for he seyth hym-self. I am wei and sothfastnesse and life. ther-fore go aftir hym in weye of his manhede. that thou mai come to life of his godhead. (124, 15-125, 2, see also 73, 13-16)


This passage replicates the Latin fairly loyally, but provides considerable added emphasis on the manhood of Christ, and it also inserts the quotation from John 14, which is not part of the Latin source. In the articulation of spiritual 'sikernesse' stipulated in Prickynge there can be no disregard for Christ's humanity and no way of circumventing the entry to the redemptive body through an attitude of compassion and humility. This is a Christ who is accessible in incarnate form, as the subject of the readers' desirous imaginings and through hermeneutic repertoires that remain mimetic and empathic.

Prickynge does not outline any model of ascent or speak of stages of mystical progress. And it offers no sustained discussion of a more exalted contemplation or union with the Godhead. But the incarnational dialectic contained within the body and life of Christ, and the process of conforming the meditative self to this life, are what raises desire to the Godhead. Thus the meditations, which offer a relentlessly literal exegesis of Christ's body and of incorporating the image of Christ in his humanity, may concern Christ's immanence but do not stop there. Facilitated by grace, they are what restores the imago dei in the soul of the meditator and bring about the moral reform intended.


Prente her-fore ihesu sadli in thi thou3te for ofte mynd of his holy flesh & of his passioun. shal waste in the al fleshly & vicios loue. and hit schal reise vp thi disire to loue of his godhead. hit shal shewe hou thou shalt worche. & hou thou shalt fele and hit shal enflaume the herte to suffren hardnesse of penaunce. and to coueite to be despised & reuyled as most wrecchid man. and in thou3t in word & in werk hit shal reule the. (6, 17-24)


This is characteristically Bonaventuran/Franciscan teaching which unites the highest meditation and desire for the Godhead with Christocentric meditation, and it blurs the demarcation line between meditative and contemplative activities. The advice to 'haue my thou3te festened to thi precious manhede' (73, 14) as the door leading to contemplation of the 'godhede' occurs occasionally in Middle English devotional writing and can be found in Hilton's Ladder of Perfection (in both Book 1 and 2) and in The Book of Privy Counselling, likely by the same author as The Cloud of Unknowing (see J.P.H. Clark, 'Walter Hilton and the Stimulus Amoris', 84-85, for examples and discussion).

It should be pointed out that meditation on Christ's self-emptying humility in a way which in no way entails leaving behind the mysteries of God, never leads to sustained theological speculation in Prickynge. When the reader is urged to 'for3ete now alitel bi-holdyng of the manhede. & thenke on the godhead thus' (30, 14-15), then the emphasis remains almost entirely on the bodily degradation that Christ underwent in his Passion, while any more advanced intellectual or theocentric engagement leaves the field of vision.


I aske nouther richesse ne fairhede. ne noon ertheli thing. ne I aske no gret hie knowynge. of thi privitees. ne noon soche goodli thynges but I aske mekenesse of thi passion that hit were prentid in my sowle. that I my3te seie woth felynge of herte. with the apostel thus. Forbeden be to me al ioy3ynge but in the crosse of oure lord ihesu criste. (71, 11-17)


Prickynge offers a model for conformitas, not vision. It expounds didactically what seems to be implicit in other meditative lives of Christ that sufficient knowledge of the Godhead is contained within the image of Christ's humanity explored continually as a concrete and visible reality.

This parallels similar teaching in Hilton in his Mixed Life where he chastises those desiring 'for to seke knowynge and feelynge moore goosteli of the godhede' (Ed. Ogilvie-Thomson. Mixed Life. 66), and Nicholas Love makes clear distinction between 'the miht of the godhede' and the sphere of the reader's meditative activity of 'the kyndely infirmite of the manhede' (Ed. Sargent. Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, 159).

The demarcation between 'manhede' and 'godhede' appears to be a divisive, artificial dichotomy, or even a dialectical over-determination which fails to do justice to the reality of the Incarnation and the doctrine of hypostatic union in which human and divine are united in the person of Christ. But, entirely in line with its affective teaching, Prickynge suggests how a dual awareness of Christ in his human and divine natures can work emotively in the reader by conveying the uncompromising scale of the torment and show the need for active virtue.


He my3te thou3rou vertu of his godhead. haue putt a-way the peyne of hunger & of thrist 3if he hadde wolde. Als he my3te haue doon alle the odir but he wolde not. This shulde stire vs for to helpe pore men & 3eue hem mete and drynke. For woche tyme that we feden or 3euen hem drynke to the leeste of his lymes. we 3euen hit to him-self. (64, 2-8)


The same point is made Love's Mirror, when the reader is urged to take note that Christ, in choosing to suspend the 'godhede' in his Passion, also refused himself comfort and relief: 'than sithen he toke none succour of the godhede, bot onely suffrede after the kynde of the manhede, the leste peyne that he hade, was more peynfull to him than it miht be to any other manne' (Ed. Sargent. Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, 160).

As part of the programme of transformation and moral reform, Prickynge shows how the meditative activity leads to desire for active virtue. Love of Christ, of fellow-Christians, and desire for the Godhead ought to operate together and enhance each other. It becomes clear, also, that the model of devotional involvement, with its dual orientation towards the spiritual life within and religious identity without, is one best manifested in what Walter Hilton referred to as the mixed life.


Mixed life

In Prickynge, Christ's body, understood and glossed as a body ripe with social significance, offers a model for worldly involvement and action. Conformity to the character of Christ means both altruism and communal work, as well as empathy, imitation, and the exercise of meditative visualisation.

Prickynge offers a gloss to the account of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, 38-42, traditionally understood to assert a hierarchical distinction between the contemplative and active lives.


3ee a blessed man were he. that my3te in actife life serue oure lorde with martha. and 3itte neuertheles reste at oure lordis feet. sittande with maria. For thus doon aungelis parfiteli that seruen vs in erthe. & 3it thei seen ay goddis face in heuene. ry3t so doth soche a man that trauayleth & serueth an hol man or seke. For-wy. he serueth his brother not als a man but als to oure lorde ihesu in a man. (104, 4-9, 14-15)


Go to the infirmorie & fynde criste there hou he is pined & angwysshed and ouer-trauailed with disese. Helpe hym. ese hym. and haue compassioun of hym. wher-to makes thou the as thou3e thou woldest kisse cristes mouth. & as 3if thou woldest rauyshe thyself to heuene out fro thi-self bi trauaile of thyn owne self. 3e go to a mysell or to seke a man & kysse hym. 3if thou wolt al-gates. kisse ihesu thi spouse. kysse him first foule. that thou may3te aftirward kisse hym faire. Kisse hym firste in his seke lymmes that thou may3te kysse him aftir-ward in him-self whether hit be soth. that thou loue criste in him-self. that feles no loue to thyne euen-cristen. Hit semeth nay. Lo breder thus mow we seke criste & haue contemplacioun of him in actiffe werkis. (105, 18-106; 106, 8-11)


Through this form of 'active mysticism', Prickynge provides a rationale for a transformation and moral reform into Christ acted out in the world. Spiritual and social are never separated and the reader is never detached from the community.

This notion of a clear social engagement effected by Passion meditation is one developed in Hilton's other writings, notably his short Epistle on Mixed Life (British Library, Harley 2254 includes Prickynge and Mixed Life as the only two items). A passage in Mixed Life develops further this idea of contemplation through action and charitable social deeds.


Thou makest the for to kisse his mouth bi deoucion and goosteli praier, but thou tredest upon his feet and defoulest hem in as moche as thou wolt not tende to hem, for negligence of thi silf. Bot sothli he wole the more thanke for the meke waschynge of his feet when thei are ri3t foule and stynken upon thee, than for al the precious peyntynge and arraiynge that thou can make aboute his heed bi mynde of his manhede. (Ed. Ogilvie-Thomson. Mixed Life. 58)


Taking into account the relative early date of the 1320s by which English authors show awareness of the Stimulus Amoris (in its 'maior I' redaction) and the diversity of adaptations through which it was made available in England, it is tempting to think that this text was influential in shaping later fourteenth/century discussion about the respective merits of the active and contemplative lives, and the possibility of their integration in a third, mixed life. It is most notably the sixteenth chapter on 'how a man in al that he doth mai shape him to be contemplatif' (2, 5-6) which demonstrates an interweaving of collective and individual significance within the discipline of affective visualisation of Christ's Passion. But throughout the treatise the reader is made aware of a mixed life through a process of introspection, in which private, interiorized incorporation of the symbol of Christ's body also becomes a public, social valuation of that same body.

In a passage which the Middle English adaptor took particular care to expand and clarify, the way is defined as 'the sikerest' in which


A man geder hym-self al to hym-self. fro the cleuynge-to of al owtwarde thynge and entre into his owne thou3te & there 3elde hym & relente hym al in-to god and that he no thinge se ne fele ne rewarde but god. as 3if there were no thing elles but god & he. and that he were so turned & transformed in-to god. thour3e syche a depe prentynge of thou3te in hym that on siche side he turned hym he shulde not fele ne considere. but ihesu criste. & wat maner werk he dide to man specially. or generally bi-fore men he shulde fulli feele and wene. that he dide hit to god. The kepynge of this forme. makith a man contemplatife and actyfe and hit rauysheth a man to god. fro loue of the worlde. (107, 7-19)


This paragraph shows a number of concerns of the Middle English transator. He is wrestling with the drastic and consistently theo-centric formulations of the original, substituting 'deus' with 'ihesu criste' in one place and clarifying that to be 'turned in-to god' (from the Latin 'deificatus') means to contemplate Christ and his actions towards men, i.e. Christ as the embodiment of the perfect mixed life. Here introspection and mental focusing are designed to lead to a deeper understanding of individual as well as collective meanings of desire, love and affect.

This was clearly a theme very popular in its time, notably with the Carthusian emphasis on developing meditation into action. And it is noteworthy that texts like Hilton's Mixed Life, Love's Mirror, Pecock's Reule of Crysten Religioun and even the Book of Margery Kempe all propose a view of the perfect life, more perfect than a strictly contemplative life, as that which combines action and some form of contemplation, and that which sees Christ in fellow-Christians.

Prickynge appears to set a standard for a pastoral valuation of a mixed life and for the pastoral debate of the 15th century. The 'sikerest' way is to have contemplation in the active life - a form of contemplation that urges charitable communal involvement and service of Christ in the sick. The fully-realised contemplative life possesses its own value, but it is located in the realm of desire of the imagined reader; it is not a life to be actively emulated. 'I reproue not gret 3ernynges. and louely longyngis that sum men han to god. that 3euen hem onli to tente to him in contemplacioun. and to no thynge elles. for that is gode. But my menynge is. for to telle how a man may with werkis of actif lyfe haue contemplacioun of ihesu crist'. (106, 25 - 107, 5)


Spiritual presumption and autonomy

Prickynge contains the following remarkable paragraph, which is not part of the original Stimulus Amoris.


Rise nou3 & renne abowte & seke whether thou may fynde owhere parfite obedience in any place or persones. i trowe that unnethes [scarcely] thou may fynde hir lurkande in any place. Sheo is a seelden seen brid in oure lond, ney3elike to a blak swan... Now we excusen us & putten from us the softe 3ok of obedience & seyn that we are not called of god in-to thraldom ne in-to seruage for to lyuen undir obedience of men, but in-to fredom of spirite for to lyuen als us liste only undir obedience of god. thus seyn summe for thei knowen not that sothfast fredom of spirit is for to seruen god undir the 3ok of obedience. (158, 6-10, 161, 6-13)


Prickynge examines the notion of withdrawal in the sense of a divine withdrawal of grace and its impact on devotional psychology. In the second and third parts it treats also of those who withdraw themselves from true and orthodox devotion. We see anything else than stasis or secure spiritual progress in this text which describes the occasional favours of a divinity who is 'wonder liberal' and perceives human desires always as volatile and conflicted.

Discipline is 'a black swan', and the man who is genuinely holy is 'a seelden seen brid' (112, 2). It is inappropriate to speak about the exemplary obedience of the holy Fathers; 'hit is more accordable to vs. for to speken of confusioun of oure oune pride. Wene we that we mai be contemplative men with-outen vertu of obedience and of mekenesse' (160, 15-18). Through a series of expansions to the original, the Middle English writer seems to offer a diagnosis of his time. But these are as much a part of his style of writing and determination to urge a self-appraisal which inculcates humility and an acute awareness of sin. Following affective meditation on Christ's exemplary obedience and meekness on the cross in the first part of Prickynge, the text exalts the specific virtue of obedience 'not onli to god in hym-selfe. but to god in thi prelate thou3e he were the vileste and the werst man that is' (162, 20-22)
From this perspective, Prickynge can be seen to offer a check on subversive tendencies. It does so by virtue of its strict didacticism, and, more subtly, by suggesting how increased awareness of divine abandonment can be useful in countering tendencies of singularity and pride, and in framing devotional identities of conformity, humility and communal involvement.

Addressing the 'proud wrecche' who sees no need for 'the softe 3ok of obedience' (a term also found in Hilton's Eight Chapters on Perfection) and thinks himself called into 'fals fredom of spirite', the author calls for obedience to 'god and to oure souereynes' (162, 11). Although the rebuke here seems directed less against specific forms of doctrinal heresy or divergence and more against a general mentality of disobedience, it does seem to be the case that Prickynge offers us some insight into the concern in late-medieval England regarding freedom heresies which existed in a continuum with Lollard heresy - quietist heresies, beguine and beghard doctrines, 'spiritus libertatis', 'secta liberi spiritus', etc.

Prickynge targets issues similar to those in Chastising of God's Children, Hilton in his Eight Chapters on Perfection and the theological annotations by the Middle English adaptor of Marguerite Porete's Mirror of Simple Souls. These concern audacious speculation on prophecy and salvation, claims to be devoutly free in spirit, to have transcended conventional morality or the need for active virtue, to have obtained special insight into sin and purity, to experience the absorption of the soul into the divine, and similar bold claims of the loftiest spirituality.

Often the expansions as well as moderations in Prickynge seem to be responses to spiritual error or pride, and seem directed against the mystical dimensions of speculative, autonomous or unitive mysticism. As a measure against such tendencies the text offers its own brand of 'sikernesse' in the form of a Christological piety stressing the value of dread and a stable faith in absence of feeling of devotion.

Chapters 27 and 31, both considerably expanded to nearly twice their original length, are particularly telling with respect to Prickynge's attempt to contain spiritual non-conformism. The tone in both chapters is decidedly cautionary and not without a touch of the polemical. Being sensitive to issues of devotional psychology and the potential for spiritual deceit and to how corporeal and imaginative visions may have potentially disruptive effects, the emphasis is placed on the discipline of 'discretio spirituum'. Distinctions are made in chapter 27, similar to those in Hilton's Ladder of Perfection and Of Angels' Song, between a genuine stableness in faith on the one hand and visions and sense perceptions, which may potentially have an idolatrous element to them, on the other.

To clarify the nature and affective impact of spiritual 'dronkonnesse'/'drunkenhede' a distinction is introduced (134-36) between two manifestations of drunkenness. One centres on a strongly felt reality of the Incarnation and 'a newe ly3tenynge of cristes presence aftir mykel wepynge goande bi-fore' (134, 6-7). Following from Passion meditation 'with-inne' and seeing Christ in the created, this drunkenness signifies not a withdrawal but the meditator's further integration into general spiritual life with a desire for active virtue and a new compassion for others in conformity with nature of Christ. The other seems confined to sensations and physical stimuli, consisting in 'felyng with-owten and with-inne swetter then hony' (135, 2-3) The caution here is that 'ouermoche swetnesse maketh that bodi for to reste in stilnesse' (135, 5-6). The author perceives a ready transition from such corporeal impressions to inaction, disregard of guilt and sorrow and a detrimental self-confidence.

Prickynge does not as such demarcate particular heretical positions, but rather cautions against a transition commencing with spiritual excesses, enthusiasm, deceit, misguidance, developing into pride, singularity, disobedience and a false liberty of spirit. A polemic against heresy is thus articulated within the text's devotional psychology, which cautions that undue attachment to sensations of sweetness is likely to lead the astray and that pride and presumption, when unrestrained, easily degenerate into singularity, potentially even heresy.

Prickynge demonstrates that ideas of spiritual autonomy clearly were not alien in England. The text is alert to the dangers represented by enthusiastic immersion in disciplines of contemplation and 'imitatio' - disciplines central to the intense Christocentric religiosity which is part of orthodoxy and pious enthusiasm.

It needs to be noted that Prickynge itself contains some of the most intensely affective and corporeal meditations that we have, and that it retains a language of mystical union and a number of audacious theological statements from the original Stimulus Amoris. For instance, chapter 24 tells of how 'good it is to a man for to be turned in-to god' (125, 17) and how a man 'nou3teth hym-self' (126, 17) in a process in which the soul is deified, wedded to Christ and ravished out of the body. References to the perfection of the soul, to union with the body of Christ, to ravishing, ecstasy and melting abound throughout the work.

There is an extent to which Prickynge generates its own hermeneutic tension. It preserves the powerful language of fervent devotion of the original, while systematically omitting or downgrading the most exalted phrases of the original that speak of the absorption of the soul into God, or could be taken as suggestive of ecstatic, self-centred contemplation. We see in it some of the boldest phrases that we have in Middle English religious writing (phrases not to be found, for example, in the more cautious Chastising of God's Children), but at the same time the reader is instructed how such can be made sense of within a frame of 'sikernesse' in devotion. The Middle English adaptor is constantly introducing added theological clarification and distinction into the original text.

Such a process of adaptation suggests some considerable ambiguity in the reception of Continental works. Middle English writers might have been drawn to such material for the opportunities it offers for spiritual advancement and perhaps seeing the attractiveness of mystical or mildly quietist tendencies, yet they found these worrying in unglossed form and were clearly alert to the inherent dangers to orthodox individual devotional psychology.


Theological emphases in the Middle English adaptation

In Prickynge we see a deliberate politics of textual adaptation. It makes little sense to examine it as a substitution of the original Stimulus Amoris, or as a translation conceived of in terms of the narrow binaries of free or literal. We are confronted instead with textual transference, appropriation and creative intervention.

J.P.H. Clark argues in favour of Hilton's authorship of Prickynge and demonstrates points of theological agreement between Prickynge and Ladder of Perfection. These points include a focus on the sacred humanity of Christ as the necessary route to contemplation of the divinity, an emphasis in the virtues of humility and meekness, a strong awareness of the centrality of divine grace, a caution and added precision regarding sensory stimuli in devotion, and urgent warnings against religious enthusiasm and autonomy. To the points discussed by Clark we may add an exploration of the nature and psychological ramifications of the feeling of divine abandonment and spiritual 'drynesse', a theme which is enhanced through a series of interpolations particular to the Middle English adaptation and extends from the interest in the operations of divine grace. Also the key term 'sikernesse' re-occurs in Prickynge and the known works by Hilton as a denomination for what constitutes safety, security and indeed permissibility in the devotional life of the individual. It is a term progressively unfolding in its meanings, signifying for example a moderation in devotion, the clarification and sometimes elimination of mystical abstraction, and the centrality and efficacy of conventional sacramental worship (for this latter point see e.g. 122, 12-123, 2).

The parallels between the cautionary strategies of Prickynge and other Middle English devotional works, especially adaptations of Continental works, are sometimes noteworthy and worthy of further investigation. There are clearly overlapping (co-ordinated?) efforts to harness speculative mysticism and quietistic impulses in such works like Hilton's Latin writings, his Eight Chapters on Perfection, The Chastising of God's Children (with its adaptations of Suso and Ruusbroec), 'M.N.'s' glosses to Porete's Mirror, and the translations and glosses of the Carthusian Richard Methley. Shared concerns include the following: the clarification of ideas of unitive mysticism; clarification of literal and figurative registers in the discussion of mystical sensations; the idea of the soul's impeccability and transcendence of sin; the adaptation of pseudo-Dionysian vocabulary; the nature of singularity, obedience, and sacramental worship; the possibility of attaining to revelation and vision of the Godhead in this life; the possibility of outgrowing meditation of Christ's human nature to concentrate on his divinity; the dangers of passivity and the salvific value of charitable deeds; the possibility of a prolonged and unbroken experience of the divine nature; the Pelagian controversy concerning the possibility of 'unio mystica' and redemption through God's gift of grace or through the soul's own efforts.

One of the more interesting features of Prickynge, and a source of some inherent tension within the text, is the varying forms of the chapter headings, which briefly capture the 'sententia' of the individual chapters. There is occasional inconsistency between the chapter titles as these occur in the list of contents prefixed to the text and the chapter headings occurring within the text. Since some chapter titles in the list of contents refer to chapters in the Stimulus Amoris that have not been included in Prickynge it seems to be the case that the contents have been translated originally and independently (also pointed out by Clark, 106). A typical difference is chapter 22 which in the list of contents states 'how a man shal greith hym or he go to goddis bord', which in the text becomes 'how a man shal greithe hym bi-fore resseyuynge of the sacrament'.

As example of the 'dialogue' taking place between the two sets of chapter headings is the headline in chapter 23 'wat mai bringe a man to reste in contemplacion of ihesu crist' which becomes 'whiche thynges wolen brynge aman to contemplacion'. The motivation for this alteration may be to avoid the suggestion of a lasting state of contemplation, and is in accordance with the emphasis in the Middle English text on the fleeting nature of divine favour. Similarly in chapter 26; 'how mannis soule in contemplacion. is dronkend of criste3 loue' becomes 'hou a soule is sum-tyme made drunken. thorou3e contemplacion of criste'. Unique to the Prickynge in the Vernon Ms. is the title in the body of the text of chapter 24 'hou joyeful hit is to a mon. and on what manere he mai plese god', where all the other manuscripts retain the striking original 'hou good hit is to a man for to be turned in-to god'.

Such instances offer some glimpses into the reception and adaptation of daring theological assertions in a cautious environment. Though only a few chapter titles get altered, and only in certain manuscripts, we do see authors and scribes wrestling with theological concepts and drastic formulations, being clearly alert to the dangers represented by them.

Prickynge does not physically separate gloss from main text as is the case with the M.N. interpolations in Porete or Nicholas Love's additions to Mirror - cases where separate interpolations into the Latin source work to create a double-voiced text and re-claim it for orthodoxy. But it does actively rework the text for vernacular readers through sporadic touches and through slight re-directions of content and phrasing. The contours of devotional 'sikernesse' and of orthodox Christological meditation come to be defined in this process highly specific to the individual text.

Dissemination and Reception Contexts

No systematic study of the manuscript evidence for the Middle English Prickynge of Love has been undertaken as part of our research project. For details of manuscripts and dissemination, we refer to the introduction in the edition by Harold Kane (see bibliography for details).


Bibliographical Materials

Acknowledgements: I wish to note my indebtedness to Falk Eisermans's impressive survey of theStimulus Amoris tradition and its manuscripts. See below for details. Eisermann's study represents the most complete analysis of this key pseudo-Bonaventuran text.


B. Lewis Augustine, ed. Stimulus Divine Amoris, that is The Goad of Divine Love. Douai, 1642. (Repr. Ed. W.A. Phillipson. London: R. & T. Washburne, 1907.)
(An edition produced by a member of the English recusant community in Douai, France. In a long preface the editor, B. Lewis Augustine, develops the imagery of Christ as a book: Christ's skin is the leaves, his wounds the letters of the book, the torment inflicted on Christ is the action of the bookbinder, the Garden of Gethsemane is the printing press, etc. This elaborate simile occurs briefly in the original Stimulus Amoris and in Prickynge, and constitutes a central metaphoric cluster in much Middle English religious writing. Here it is explored and elaborated in a seventeenth-century exiled religious community keen to invoke continuities with the mystical tradition of medieval England).

Clare Kirchberger, ed. Walter Hilton: The Goad of Love. London: Faber and Faber, 1952.
Edited from Ms Vernon with comparison with Bodley 480. Kirchberger does not question the attribution of the Middle English version to Walter Hilton, and offers her introduction to the text as 'a study of Walter Hilton'.
(The edition contains a thorough introductory essay, which usefully outlines the textual development of the Stimulus Amoris, as well as assesses the theological emphases in the Middle English text (in terms strongly admiring of Hilton's 'wisdom and gift of piety', 28, 38). This edition presents a superficially modernized text with the occasional invented archaism. Passages original to the Middle English adaptation are identified with angle << >> brackets).

Harold Kane, ed. The Prickynge of Love. 2 vols. Salzburg Studies in English Literature 92:10. Salzburg: Institut fur Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1983.
(The ambition of Kane's edition is to produce 'a near-diplomatic version of the Prickynge' (xxiv) by using Harley 2254 as the standard text and meticulously recording all variants from the other manuscripts, complete as well as incomplete. An introduction briefly describes all sixteen manuscripts containing Prickynge (ten complete and six fragments), and comments on the relationship of the manuscripts and issues of dialect. Considering the issue of authorship, Kane notes that Margery Kempe makes mention in her Book of 'Stimulus Amoris' and 'Hylton's boke' with no attempt to connect the two. This is seen as 'negative compelling evidence to separate Hilton and the Prickynge' (xxiii)).

Sarah Beckwith. Christ's Body: Identity, Culture and Society in Late Medieval Writings. London: Routledge, 1993.

Jennifer Bryan. Looking Inward: Devotional Reading and the Private Self in Late Medieval England. Piladelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.
Chapter 3, 'Private Passions', offers an important discussion of the practical theology of Prickynge of Love.

J.P.H. Clark, 'Walter Hilton and the Stimulus Amoris', Downside Review 102 (1984) 79-118.
(An argument in favour of Hilton's authorship of Prickynge, which also demonstrates points of theological convergence between Prickynge and Ladder of Perfection. Notes particularly the emphasis in Prickynge on the operations of divine grace).

Vincent Gillespie, ‘Strange Images of Death: The Passion in Later Medieval English Devotional and Mystical Writing’. Analecta Cartusiana 117 (1987), 110-59.

Dan Merkur. Crucified with Christ: Meditation on the Passion, Mystical Death, and the Medieval Invention of Psychotherapy. New York: State University of New York Press, 2007. (A study of medieval Passion meditation as instigator of personality change. Concentrates on the writings of Bonaventura and Hilton, but with examinations of Ignatian spirituality, Bernard, Henry Suso, pseudo-Dionysius, and others. Merkur argues that 'verbal thinking and mental imagining were understood to be human acts that were within the natural power of human will. Contemplation and vision were instead regarded as manifestations of divine grace. The distinction between the two was ontological' (98). Meditation on the Passion is then analysed as personal, self-willed experiences of psychotherapeutic efficacy).

Falk Eisermann. Stimulus amoris: Inhalt, lateinische uberlieferung, deutsche ubersetzungen, Rezeption. Tubingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2001.
(A monumental study of the Latin Stimulus Amoris and its vernacular adaptations. Surveys the following aspects of the Stimulus Amoris tradition: textual contents, Latin transmission (offering brief codicological descriptions of the more than 500 manuscripts containing full texts or excerpts), German transmission, and the reception of the Stimulus Amoris, including a useful overview of the work's reception in England).

Allan Westphall, ‘Walter Hilton’s The Prickynge of Love and the Construction of Vernacular ‘Sikernesse’’, in Opening the Pseudo-Bonaventuran Middle English Lives of Christ, ed. by Ian Johnson and Allan Westphall (Turnhout: Brepols, forthcoming).

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