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Van der Weyden, Descent from the Cross


Passion Meditation, Michigan State University Manuscript 1

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

Approximate Date, Sources, Provenance

(This textual profile uses the unpublished Critical Edition of Meditations on the Passion by Joseph B. Jenks (Michigan State University, 1956). This edition very usefully prints the Meditations on the Passion alongside the Latin Meditationes vitae Christi (as edited by Peltier) and the Middle English Meditationes de Passione Christi from Bodley 789 (with variants noted from Caius 646/669 and Laud Misc. 23). An introduction in Jenks’s edition briefly surveys various Middle English Passion texts and adaptations from the Latin Meditationes. Furthermore, it describes relevant manuscripts, provides linguistic analysis of the Michigan Meditations, and considers aspects of textual addition and condensation in the process of adaptation from Latin into English. I will note below when my analysis below coincides with main points made in Jenks’s introduction.)

The Passion meditation found in Michigan State University Ms 1 (MSU Passion) is an adaptation of the Passion sequence of the Meditationes vitae Christi, beginning with the Last Supper, and concluding with Christ’s appearance to his disciples on the day of his Resurrection. This vernacular adaptation is extant in this one manuscript only, probably dating from the mid-late fifteenth century. Orthography and dialect features suggest principally Northern and Northeast Midland location (see the dialect analysis in Jenks’s unpublished edition, xxiv-xxii, and see further the codicological analysis of Michigan SU MS1 by Ryan Perry)

In the MSU Passion we read what is close to a full-scale translation of the Meditationes’ Passion narrative. The vernacular adaptation remains in the whole faithful to the source throughout, and, apart from some structural re-arrangement of the division into canonical hours, changes and omits very little. Further discussion is found in the section 'Contents' below. A major abbreviation occurs in the chapter of Christ’s appearance to the disciples on the way to Emmaus, and the first part of the Canticles of the Saints in Limbo is included in much abridged form. As Stephanie M. Day has pointed out in her doctoral thesis ('A Critical Edition of The Privity of the Passion and The Lyrical Meditations', pp. 21-22, see details in bibliography), there is evidence that the author of the MSU Passion, in composing the chapters of Christ’s post-Resurrection appearances, relied on the same chapters from the English text know as the Privity of the Passion. I discuss the relationship between the MSU Passion and the Privity of the Passsion in the section ‘Contents’ below.

The English adaptor does however make a number of expansions that are not found in the Latin Meditationes or in any other Middle English adaptation of it. These expansions take the following three forms: (1) apostrophes and spontaneous prayers, which take the form of either extended Marian laments, or first-person penitential responses to the meditations on Christ’s suffering; (2) prolonged, detailed descriptions in the Scourging and Crucifixion sequences of the blood of Christ and the horrors of rupturing and tearing apart Christ’s skin; (3) meditations on the magnitude of Mary’s suffering and grief, and reflection on Mary’s special love for Christ. (Some of these features are also noted in Jenks’s critical introduction, as will be pointed out below.)

This last point of Mary’s special sorrow seems to have been a very particular preoccupation of the English author, who develops the conventional stabat mater motif and the process of an imaginative dying with Christ. What emerges from the augmentations made to the source is a meditative phenomenology of pain, centring on the figure of Mary whose grief is explored as an exemplary model for the devout reader to emulate, and at the same time as transcending any conventional, human understanding of pain.

The most creative intervention by the English author in his handling of the Latin source is a number of apostrophic prayers occurring in the hours of None and Compline, which are composed in alliterative metre and uttered by either Mary or the first-person narrative voice. Articulated through these emotionally charged prayers, themselves directly motivated by the rehearsal of the horrific details of the Passion, are attempts to understand the doctrine of atonement and the righteousness of Christ’s sacrifice. In such instances, the MSU Passion displays theological interests that are not a feature of, or at least remain unexplored in, the Meditationes. Moreover, the English adaptor adds nuance to his material, and to a heritage of Franciscan Christocentric meditation, through a number of short, but original and theologically significant, interpolations that reflect on meditative and imaginative perspective. (See further the section on theology and textual authority.)





MSU Passion is a prose translation and adaptation of the Supper, Passion and post-Resurrection sequence of the Latin Meditationes vitae Christi. It remains at all stages a very close translation and adaptation into verse of the Latin original, and makes no significant omissions of material found in it.

The chapters from the Last Supper until Christ's Descent to Hell are numbered consecutively in Latin, although the chapter number has been left out for the Last Supper. Numbering therefore commences with the 'medytacyon of Crystis Passyon in generall', numbered 'capitulum secundum'. Christ's Descent marks the last numbered and thirtieth chapter ('capitulum tredecimum'). The following chapters relating Christ's Resurrection appearances are not numbered.

As in the Meditationes, the Passion sequence is organised according to the canonical hours, while the meditations on Christ's Resurrection, starting with his Descent into Hell, occur after the canonical hours and are divided by thematic headlines.

Some substantial reworking of the original division into hourly prayers takes place in the MSU Passion. The rationale behind this re-arrangement is uncertain: it seems confused or unintentional as with the two separate meditations for None. Or it reflects an effort to subdivide the relatively long meditations in the source into bite-sized, more thematically coherent individual meditations. These are the most noticable re-arrangements:

  • In the MSU Passion the Crucifixion becomes the meditation of Sext, and Christ's words on the Cross and Mary's following lament comprise the separate first meditation of None. The Latin versions tend to conflate the Crucifixion and the words of Christ and Mary in the same meditation.
  • The English has two separate meditations for what is the hour of None in the Meditationes. Most of the Vespers section of Meditationes becomes the second None in the English.
  • Christ's Deposition from the Cross (forming a part of 'Vespers' in Meditationes) is expanded and constitutes the separate chapter of Vespers ('euensong') in the English.
  • The long Compline section of Meditationes is divided into four thematically coherent chapters of roughly equal length in the MSU Passion ('The meditacyon at complyn', 'The medytacyon aftur complyn of ther goyng home', 'A medytacyon in the Saturday of our Lady and felyschype' and 'A medytacyon of the goyng done of our Lorde Ihesu un to hell aftur hys dethe').
  • The meditation of Christ's Descent into Hell is treated separately and incorporates what in Meditationes are part of the 'Compline' section and part of the Canticle of the Saints in Limbo. )

There is also some minor re-arrangement of the chapters of Christ's post-Resurrection appearances.

Through an extraordinary degree of realistic description (evident especially in the level of detail of Christ's physical torment), and a concatenation of elaborate speeches and added prayers, the English adaptor provides some amplification of the Passion sequence of Meditationes. He is often drawn towards a somewhat lyrical mode, as in the following example (not found in the source), in which the natural world responds to Christ's death. (Jenks also notes this passage as an example of interpolation with no parallel in the Latin, see the Introduction to his Critical Edition, p. liii).


The sone was all dyrke, the mone, the sternes gafe no lygth. Yt wase all dyrke fro vndrone to none generally throgth all warlde as yt ys in a dyrk nygth. The stones clafe, the vale of the tempull braste in two; the erth qwoke, the bodys of holy men that were many 3eres dede befor ryse owt of ther grafes & come into Jerusalem and apperede to many men. Then many that saw thies wonndurs were turnede & for drede qwok ther brestis. (123)



Of the venerabull soper that owre lorde Jhesu made with hys dyscypulis or he were betrayed to the jues
The four points of the Supper; Christ's five virtues shown in the Supper; on the active and contemplative lives; Christ's sermon to the disciples; crossing the Cedron

A medytacyon of Crystis Passyon in generall
On the concentration required for meditation; a summary of Christ's Passion

A medytacyon of Crist in de nygth
Christ in Gethsemane; Christ's prayer to the Father; words between the Archangel Michael and Christ; Judas' Betrayal; Arrest and Mocking by Jews; Mary's sorrow and special love for Christ; Mary's prayer to the Father

The medytacyon of Crystis Passyon in the howre of prime
Christ before Pilate and Herod; the Scourging; Christ crowned king

The medytacyon of Crystis passion in the thyrde howre
Tearing off Christ's skin; the road to Calvary

The medytacyon of Crystis passion at the vnduron howre
Calvary; Crucifixion (two versions); Mary crucified in heart; Mary and Christ pray to Father

The medytacyon of Cryst in the howre of none
Christ's words on the Cross; Christ's final cry heard in hell and the response of the natural world; Death; Mary's sorrow

The medytacyon of Cryst in the howre of none
Mary's lament; Longinus pierces Christ's side; the death of Mary's soul

The medytacyon at euensong of Crystis body doyng downe of the crose
Arrival of Nichodemus and Joseph of Arimathea; Mary, John and Joseph worship at the Cross; Deposition from the Cross

The meditacyon at complyn
The sorrow of Mary and Mary Magdalene; washing Christ's body with tears

The medytacyon aftur complyn of ther goyng home
Mary as widow; worship at the Cross; the gathering in Mount Syon; Mary recollects the Passion

A medytacyon in the Saturday of our Lady and felyschype
Arrival of disciples; words between Mary and disciples; preparation of ointments; 'this ys the medytacyon of the Saturday'

A medytacyon of the goyng done of our Lorde Ihesu un to hell aftur hys dethe
Christ descends into Hell, 'Abraham bosum'; Christ's exemplary pity, meekness, mildness and charity shown in his Descent

The song of the holy fadurs that were in hell agayne Crystis comyng
Rejoicing of fathers in hell; 'now hase thou here that thou mai resonabuly thynke on the Saturday'

The medytacyon of the vprysyng of our lorde Jhesu & how he first aperde to hys modur Mary
Mary's prayer to Father and Christ; Christ appears to Mary, 'lo, this ys now a gladsome pasch and a gret'

How Magdalene and other two Marys come to the graue
The three Marys recollect the Passion and worship at the Cross; arrival at the grave; ignoring the angel's words

How Petur and John come to the graue
Peter and John arrive at the empty grave; Magdalene's sorrow

How Jhesu apperede to Mary Magdalene in the garthyn
Christ appears to Magdalene; 'touch me not'; 'here ys now a full grett pasch'

How oure lorde Jhesu apperede to the thre Maris
Christ instructs the three Marys to seek the disciples

How our lorde Jhesu apperede to Joseph of Aramathye and saynt Jame the Lesse
Christ releases Joseph from the Jewish prison

How Jhesu aperede to Symon Petur
Peter repents and Christ forgives

How Jhesu aperede to the two dyscypulis goand to the castell
Christ appears on the road to Emmaus; Christ appears to all disciples; the disciples make confession; Christ blesses the food; concluding appeal to reader to feel joy in each of these appearances.


The relationship between the Privity of the Passion and the MSU Passion:

In her unpublished critical edition of the Privity of the Passion and the MSU Passion (referred to as the ‘Lyrical Meditations’), Stephanie M. Day notes that the MSU Passion is ‘independent of Privity up to the Harrowing of Hell. The post-resurrection is a copy of the post-resurrection which concludes Privity’. (‘A Critical Edition of the Privity of the Passion and the Lyrical Meditations’, pp. 21-22).

As the examples listed below demonstrate, there are indeed striking overlaps between the two texts in both phrasing, narrative scope, and in how they re-arrange some of the material in the Latin. However, to term the post-Resurrection chapters in the Michigan manuscript ‘a copy of the post-Resurrection section which concludes Privity’ is problematic as the Michigan text occasionally includes material from the Latin Meditationes which is absent from the Privity. I provide the comparisons below between the Michigan Passion, the Privity, and the Meditationes vitae Christi as edited by Peltier to add substance to the claim by Day, who does not provide much comparative analysis in her introduction.

The following are some instances of striking similarity between the Michigan Passion and the Privity of the Passion. They show additions particular to the two English texts that do not occur in the Latin Meditationes as edited by Peltier.

In this example the English texts note that Christ’s clothes are whiter than snow. No such analogy is found in the Latin.

Whylis that schee thus prayes with lofly teres, sodanly comes our Lord Jhesu in clothes whytter than the snaw with brighter face than the sune, al precyus, all gloryus and all joyande, and sayd to hyre: Hayle, holy modur”. (193)

And whylles scho prayed thus with louely teres: sodaynly come oure lord Ihesu in clothes whyte as any snawe, his fface schynyng as the sone, all specyouse, all gloryouse & all full of Ioye, and said to his modir: “Haile, holy modire”. (Privity of the Passion, ed. by Horstmann, p. 213)

Illa ergo sic orante, et lacrymas dulciter emittente, ecce subito Dominus Jesus venit in vestibus albissimis, vultu sereno, speciosus, gloriosus et gaudens, et dixit ei quasi ex latere: Salve, sancta parens. (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. by Peltier, p. 617)

In the account of Christ’s appearance to his mother, the English texts say that Christ is in endless joy, but this is not noted in the Latin.

3a, my wyrschypfull modur, all payne and dyssese ys gone ffor I haf ouer-come dede and all angwys, and schall no more fele of them; but be in yoj and blysse withowten ende. (193)

3a, my dere modire, I haue ouer-comene sorrow & wo, and I sall no more fele ther-of: bot I am, & sall be, in Endlesse Ioye & blysse. (Privity of the Passion, ed. by Horstmann, p. 214)

Reverenda mater, omnis a me dolor abscessit, et mortem, et dolorem, et omnes augustias superavi, nec de caetero inde aliquid sententiam. (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. by Peltier, p. 617)

Again, it is only in the English that note the spitting in Christ’s face. We do however notice differences in phrasing between the two English versions:

Ther wase he that day so crwelly, so felly schot forth of the Jues, spytand in hys face and made hym to go fast, nerehand to ryn. Here dyspoylede thay hym. Here naykede thay hym. (197)

And here was it that they schot hym forthe so felly & so cruelly and spytte in his face, and garte hym hye so fast. Here dispoyllede they hyme & nakynd hyme. (Privity of the Passion, ed. by Horstmann, p. 214)

Hic sic crudeliter et fortiter impulerunt eum, ut velocius ambularet, et quasi eum currere coegerunt: hic spoliaverunt eum, et totum nudum fecerunt. (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. by Peltier, p. 617)

Regarding structural divisions that are shared between the two English texts and represent departure from the Latin we may note the following:

Both the MSU Passion and the Privity of the Passion have two separate divisions for the accounts of Mary Magdalene and her sisters’ and Peter and John’s arrivals at the Sepulchre. The division in the Meditationes vitae Christi is rather different as the Latin treats together the arrivals of the Marys and Peter/John respectively as ‘Quomodo Magdalena, et aliae duae Mariae venerunt ad monumentum, et de cursu Petri et Joannis’ (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. by Peltier, p. 617). But the Latin then resumes the narrative of the three Marys in a new chapter ‘Quod Dominus appervit tribus Mariis’. (The divisions in Love’s Mirror agree more with the Latin than with that found in MSU Passion/Privity of the Passion.)

Both the MSU Passion and the Privity of the Passion omit the reference to Origen in their accounts of Peter and John running to the Sepulchre. This has in the Latin ‘Amor hoc faciebat, quia, ut dicit hic Origenes, anima sua non erat ubi ipsa erat, sed ibi erat, ubi Magister suus erat’. (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. by Peltier, p. 617). Nicholas Love retains this reference in his Mirror.

Again, both texts make significant and similar omission from the chapter of the Lord’s appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Here a lengthy explanation in the Latin of Christ’s goodness and humility demonstrated at the Supper at the Castle of Emmaus is omitted (it is retained in Love’s Mirror).

It is important to realize that it is not merely a case of the Michigan Passion ‘copying’ the Privity. There are numerous examples of material found in the Michigan Passion as well as in the Latin but absent from the Privity. Some cases are listed below:

Bot loke my dere sonne thou come sone agayne to me. And than he halses hys modur and gose forth. (201)

I pray the, my dere sone, that thou com sone agayne to me. (Privity of the Passion, ed. by Horstmann, p. 215)

Et memento redire ad me, et amplexans dimisit eum. (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. by Peltier, p. 618)

The following example shows clear parallels between the Michigan text and the Latin in their naming of persons. The Privity text is the distinct one here:

And this two dyscypulis come agayne to Jerusalem the same howre and founde all the dyscypulis togedur, owt take Thomas, and tolde tham what hade be-falne be the way, and how our Lorde wase sayth fastly rysyn and hade apperede to Symon Petur. (217)

And then they rose vp & 3ede to Ierusalem & tolde to other disciples what had be-fallene theme in the waye and how they knewe hyme in brekyng of brede. (Privity of the Passion, ed. by Horstmann, p. 217)

Redierunt autem praedicti duo discipuli statim in Hierusalem, et invenientes alios discipulos congregatos, absenta Thoma, eis ista narraverunt. At partier audierunt, quia surrexit Dominus, et apparuit Simoni. (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. by Peltier, p. 620)

On the basis of these examples, I conclude that the author of the Michigan Passion consulted the Privity for his writing of the post-Resurrection sequence; there is considerable overlap in formulations and structural divisions to ascertain the association of the two texts. But there are also many features of the Michigan post-Resurrection chapters that remain distinct and that retain what is found in the Latin but is absent from the Privity. I deem it perfectly likely that the author of the Michigan Passion consulted and sourced both the Latin Meditationes as well as the Middle English Privity as he produced his very own adaptation of the post-Resurrection sequence.

The following final example shows clear similarities between the Michigan text and the Privity, and substantial addition to what is found in the Latin Meditationes. The passages are from the account of Christ’s appearance to Magdalene in the Garden, and they show attempts to add theological nuance and clarification to the very succinct Latin. The noli me tangere sequence is here given further substance through theological determination of the nature of the risen Christ. I note with interest that the same passage from Nicholas Love’s Mirror shows striking similarity with the other two English texts; all the English texts agree in their theological commentary and provide what is absent from the Latin.

And then schee rynnes to hys feet and wolde hafe kyssede tham, but owre Lorde wolde rayse vp hyre hert to heuenly lufe that schee schulde no more seke hym here in erth by fleschly affeccyon as schee dyd befor, onely beholdande hys manhede as pure man, but that schee schuld lufe hym gostly by gostly affeccyon, beholdande hym as God and man. And ther for says he tyll hyre: Towge me nogth, for 3yt I am nogth vpstyede to my fadur; that ys to say, in this forme of man that thou seys with bodely eyn am I nogth euyn to my fadur, but lesse than he, and thare towch me nogth so, but go and say to my bredur, I stegth vp to my fadur and 3our fadur, vnto my God and 3our God. (203)

And than scho rane & ffell downe at his fete & wold hafe kissed theme. Bot oure lorde Ihesu rayssede hir vp to heuenly lufe & gostely, that scho sulde no more seke hym here in erthe be ffleschely affeccyone, onely behauldand his manhede as pure mane only, bot that scho sulde lufe hym gostely be gostely affeccione, be-haldyng hyme as god in mane; and thare-fore said he to hire: “Mari, touche me nott, for 3itt haue I nott styed vp to my ffadir”, as who say: in this forme of man that thou sees with thi bodily eghe, am I nott euene to my fadir, bot lesse than he, & therefore touche me nott soo: “Bot go saye to my Brethire that I stye to my fadir and 3our ffadir, my gode & your gode”. (Privity of the Passion, ed. by Horstmann, pp. 215-16)

Et currens ad pedes osculari volebat. Dominus vero volens animum suum elevare ad coelistia, ut non quaereret eum amodo in terra, dixit: Noli me tangere, nondum enim ascendi as Patrem meum; sed dic fratribus meis: Ascendo as Patrem meum, et Patrem venstrum. (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. by Peltier, p. 618)

And anone she ranne to him, & fallyng done to the erthe, wolde haue kissed his feete as she was wont before by vnperfite affeccion to his manhode that was then deadly, bot not so after his resurrexion. Wherfore oure lorde willyng to lift vp gostly hir herte & hir affeccion to heuene & to the godhead, & that she sholde no more seke him in erteh as she dide before when he was deadly, seide, Touche me not in that erthely manere, for I haue not steyhen vp to my fadere, that is to sey, I am not 3it lift vp in thi soule by trewe & perfite byleue, that I am euene with the fadere verrey god, & therefore touch me not in that manere imperfitely. Bot go & sey to my bretherne, I stey vp to my fadere & 3our fadere, to my god & 3our god. (Nicholas Love, The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, ed. by Sargent, p. 198)


Rhetoric and Manner of Exposition



Direct exhortation and imperative addressed to the reader occur throughout the text, directing the reader’s affective and imaginative involvement with the gospel narrative. Such directive and exhortation often repeat closely what is found in the Latin source, but just as often provide expanded instruction or insert what is not part of the Latin (some examples are noted below). Repeated injunctions to ‘behold’, ‘beholde gostly and se interely’ or ‘behold and be present’ underline the visually orientated nature of the affective imaginings which the reader is instructed to perform.


Here beholde hym besyly and along whyle and yf thou hafe noo compassion of hym I deme that thou hase a hert of stone (85)


Behold and see then in thi sawle gostely owre lorde Jhesu in a corner of the howse spekyng with hys dyscypullis (3)


Behold furthermore with an inwarldly menyng of compassion in thi sawle (93; adapts the Latin ‘Intuere etiam eum diligenter, et pietate ac compassione movearis’ [Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. Peltier, p. 604])


Beholde with gostly eyen, as thou were in hys passion ther present, for ther leues mekyll more in hys passion whylke wyll draw in to hwgge compunccyon and into a grett swetnes of contemplacyon (45; not in the Latin)


Behold than besyly all this sorrow and sett thi self in thi saule to be ther present for to serufe this blyssyde body and for to comforth them; beholding afturwarde how thay were sett to soper; how febully thay ete; how ylkone comforth other, for to this tyme thay wer fasting; and than afturwarde with the blyssyng of our lady thay may go to rest. (171; not in the Latin)



Exclamation and apostrophe


It is through features of direct speech, and primarily through exclamation and apostrophe, that the Middle English adaptor makes his most notable addition to the Latin source.


Particularly prominent are the sustained addresses in the None and Compline hours (the latter being the prolonged planctus Mariae that follows the Deposition from the Cross), which convey a vivid sense of immediacy and emotional participation. These are substantially reworked and expanded from the Latin. It is the ambition of the author to augment the culminating passages of Christ’s Passion with prayerful and pathetic direct invocations, as well as to use alliteration to enhance their affective poignancy. (The unpublished critical edition by Joseph Jenks presents these passages separately as verse, while they are integrated in the prose text in the manuscript.)


A thou benyng God, thou mercyfull & almygthy God;

How suffers thou thi myschefes modur,

Merous of meknes; lanterne of lygth;

The worthest woman of this warld;

The chambur of chastyte, the seler of soberness,

The clothing of clennes, thus dolefully be dysesede? (139)


My swete sonne, my dere darling full of dole,

I behold the dede lying in my lapp.

Thi dolefull dede hase dygth a deuorse

Betwene vs two. A meruelus mygth,

A lufly lykyng and luf withowten lakkyng

Wase between vs two; withowten wrong or wreth;

Withowtten wykkednes wee ware emong all other.

Thofe thou be cruelly kylde full myschevusly as a mysdoer,

With swete seruyce sekerly I seruffe the

And full myldely mekede the to me.

In thi dolefull dede thi frendes wer few,

And in thi feruent fygth thi foyes wer full fell.

Thi frendly fadur lete the alone

And in thi passing payne sent the no socur. (155-57)


A series of penitential prayers and apostrophes, uttered in the first-person and not part of the Latin Meditationes, occur at regular intervals throughout the first half of the Passion sequence. These offer exemplary articulations of remorse and contrition in response to the central events of Christ’s Passion.


A Lorde Jhesu, thou standes bune nogth answering to the falsnes that ys put on the, & I lye bunden in synn, falsnes continually mayntynyng. Therfor Lorde I pray the, in my hert lat thi grace grow that I may 3elde me culpabul of the synnes that I hafe done; and as thou answere nogth to the falsnes that wase put on the, so lat me neuer my falsnese mayntene, swete Ihesu I pray the. (73)


A swete Jhesu, thi mercy and thi pete I hask; for how oft has thou passyde away fro me for synn that I hafe done. And nogth onely passede away, but I Lorde vngentely, vncurtasly, ya cursedly & traytourly I haue put the away. Therfore swete Jhesu of thi mercy and thi pete I pray the that thou encherch my sawle and perch my hert bitterly with sorrow for my synnis so that afterwarde I may luf the that yow neuer pase fro me. (27)


See also p. 15 for a similar prayer, inserted by the Middle English author in the middle of Christ’s sermon to his disciples.


In addition to these apostrophic interpolations, the author adds a number of direct addresses to Judas (17), to Pilate (79) and to Mary (105). The following invocation to Joseph in the ‘euensong’ meditation also seems to be unique to this version.


A Joseph, joyfull may thou be, for to toch that blysfull body and halde yt in thi armys. A wold God Joseph, that I mygth tok yt gostely as thou dose bodily; then schuld I loke on hys wounds wyde; on hys body boyth blody and bloo, full bytterly beten. (147)



Imagined speech and dialogue


The MSU Passion retains virtually all instances of direct speech in its source. These include:

Christ’s words to his disciples (9)

words between Archangel Michael and Christ (59-61)

The Jews mockery of Christ (71)

The Jews to Pilate (87)

Christ’s words on the Cross (117-23)

Mary to the dead Christ (129-31)

John to the soldiers (135)

The canticle of the Fathers in Hell (187-189)


Many instances of direct speech are expanded from the source, or are, in the author’s words, ‘with certayne addycyons’ (57). A notable example includes Christ’s speech to the Father before his Arrest (51-55).




Narratorial voice


The MSU Passion retains the very short autobiographical passage in the source, in which the author acknowledges his own limited experience with advanced contemplation.


This maner medytacyon or deuocyon for to fellow, I knawlaghe myselfe boyth vnworthy and vnkonyngly; for whoso euer whylle haue thi deuocyon, hym bus with all the mygth of hys spyryte, with all the qwyknes and the affection of hys hert and with gostely eyn of hys sawle leuying all other besynes owtwarde and belayed and dressede to byrnyng contemplacyon. (35-37)


It is the narrative ‘I’-voice that dictates the answers to the few rhetorical questions occuring in the meditations. These occur mostly in connection with reflections on Mary’s sufferings.


In how gret a payne trowes thou that sorowfull sawle of hys modur wase in when schee saw hyre dere sone fall so seke, wepe, and so dy with so gret a payne, with so gret a noyse. I trow forsoyth that for the gret bytternes and multitute of angwys that sche hade, sche wase so grettly reuyschede in sorrow that schee mygth no thyng se, no thyng here, no thyng fele; but a schee had bene dede with hyre sone, sche fell done to the grounde. (123)



Visual evocation


Occurs throughout the text. Typically prefaced by the imperatives ‘behold’, ‘see’ and ‘loke’. The reader is constantly reminded to form mental pictures of the gospel events and to see Christ directly and vividly with the eye of the mind (‘behold with gostely eyen’, ‘se interely’, etc.). The meditations alternate constantly between narrative passages and injunctions to ‘see as if present’ the key events of the Passion through the visualising power of the imagination.


Beholde tham besyly and with all the mygthys of thi saule make thiselfe ther present beholdyng Cryst & than with thi gostely eyn how some sett the crose in the erte. (103)


This passage actually abbreviates the following meditative instruction in the Latin source:


Hic autem toto mentis intuitu te praesentem exhibeas, et intuere diligenter cuncta, quae sunt contra Dominum tuum, et quae dicuntur et fiunt ab ipso atque per ipsum. Videas ergo oculis mentis alios figere crucem in terram. (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. Peltier, p. 605


Behold now entirely how Cryst standes nakede befor many a man, a fare 3ong man passing in bewte, full semly, hys chekes rody, hys hyppys clere, hys skyne as whytt as mylke; all feturs sett in perfyte proporcyon and in schape of body most of bewte that euer was of mankynde. How he suffered byttyr strokes and sorofull of fowle men & vnclene, boyth in body and in sawle. How that flech so tendur, how that skyn so white, so clene, so full of bewte, the flower of flech of all mankynde ys fylde full of wondes and brystyng with hedows strokkis and scorgyngis. (83; a close translation of the Latin)


In an elaboration of his source text, the author suggests how a close visual focus may lead to wonder and a very concrete reflection as part of the meditative discipline. The following has no parallel in the Latin, and represents a specific interest in this English adaptation in the physiology of Christ’s torment. See further the section ‘Physical suffering and the blood of Christ’ below.


Behold here and meruayle gretly in thi sawle how hys tendur handys mygth byde the wegth of hys body and the pullyng of thes cursyde men; wondur yt wase that thay lastyde so long and that the nayles rent nogth owt all the flech between the fingers and so all the body sqwte to the grownde. (109; not in the Latin)



Glossatory, contextualising exposition


The MSU Passion demonstrates an interest in details of topography and the material objects associated with Christ’s Passion. Although the author adds nothing of his own material, he takes care to include all contextualising material from his source. Examples include the description and measurement of the table at the Last Supper (7), the measurement of the Cross (95, with the reference to Peter Comestor’s Historia Scholastica), and the consideration of Christ’s hair (149, reproduced exactly from the Compline section of the Meditationes).


The explication of the four conflicting wills in Christ (the wills of flesh, sensuality, reason and the Godhead) is found in the long meditation for Matins (‘nyght”) (65), as in the Latin.


References to material remains (‘tokyns’) of objects and places associated with the Passion occur throughout, e.g.


Thay band hym to a peler of stone of the whylke peler the most perty ys myllerde away, but 3yt ther ys sum therof, as yt was tolde me of frens that hafe bene ther and sene yt with eyne. (71)


Therefore in thies two places ther Cryst fell donne & our Lady also, in mynde of thayr boyth myschefes were byggede afturwarde two kyrkkis, and 3yt to this day ys lyftyr [left] some tokyn of tham. (99)



Metaphoric elaboration


There are some figurative passages, and these translate what is in the Latin.


Beholde now hys dyscypullis goyng aftur hym sekyng ilkone other whylke mygth most go nygth hym flokkyng togedur as thay hade bene lambes or chekyngis that follow a hene, now schewyng one the tane side, another on the other for gret desire that thay hade in heryng of hys swete wordes. And he as a hen lykens himself, or els to a mylde lame gladely suffers ther schownyng. (33)


And beholde also the gret dyssese, in how grete sorrow in sobyng and in wepyng they were as thay hade bene fadurlys schyldur full of drede. (69)


Most remarkable are the alliterative interpolations, original to the MSU Passion, which present a concatenation of metaphoric descriptions of Christ and Mary. A striking example occurs as the conclusion to the second meditation of None:


A thou benyng God, thou mercyfull & almygthy God.

How suffers thou thi myschefes modur,

Merous of meknes; lanturne of lygth;

The worthest woman of this warld;

The chambur of chastyte, the seler of soberness,

The clothyng of clennes, thus dolefully be dysesede?

A sweta Jhesu, how suffers thou thi myld modur

The meruelus maden, the rose of rygthwysnes,

The lilly of lufsumnes, the grace of godnes,

The modur of mercy, thus wofully be by-gone? (139)





There are many examples (concentrated from the Crucifixion to the Burial) of the use of alliteration, and the Middle English author/adaptor evidently sought ways in which the Latin could be translated alliteratively. Noticeable are approximately five instances in None and Compline and the meditation following Compline, in which the adaptor inserts alliterative lyric themes – themes that are often found in this literary tradition, but for which no direct source has been identified. Some take the form of apostrophe uttered by the narrative ‘I’ voice and addressed to God.


A thou gode God, why sufers thou thi woful weedow, thi dolefull dogthur, thi curtase qwene, thi kynde creature, the forme of thi flech, thi morning modur, thus be merrede with myscheues. (161)


The longest alliterative composition is a planctus Mariae concluding the Compline section and beginning thus:


My swete sonne, my dere darlyng full of dole,

I behold the dede lying in my lapp.

Thi dolefull dede hase dygth a deuorse

Betwene vs two. A meruelus mygth,

A lufly lykyng and lyf withowten lakkyng

Wase between vs two; withowten wrong or wreth;

Withowten wykkednes wee ware emong all other.

Thofe thou be cruelly kylde full myschevusly as a mysdoer,

With swete seruyce sekerly I seruffe the

And full myldely mekede the to me.

In thi dolefull dede thi frendes wer few,

And in thi feruent fygth thi foyes [foes] wer full fell.

Thi friendly fadur lete the alone

And in thi passing payne sent the no socur. (155)


This translates and adapts the following Latin with considerable accuracy and intelligence:


Fili mi, in gremio meo te mortuum teneo: durum est valde divortium mortis tuae; jucunda et delectabilis fuit inter nos conversation, et sine querela et offensa fuimus inter alios, quamvis tu, dulcissime fili mi, ut nocenssis modo occisus. Fideliter, fili mi, servivi tibi, et tu mihi, sed in hac pugna tua dolorosa, nec Pater tibi auxiliary voluit, nec ego potui. (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. Peltier, p. 610)


Mary’s prolonged lament following Christ’s Deposition from the Cross (in the Compline of the Latin Meditationes) is substantially reworked and expanded in the English. The words before the Cross, which recollect the events of Christ’s Passion, are reworked into alliterative metre.


Here dyede dolefully my dere worthy derlyng.

Here suffer my sone woundes full wyde.

Here blede he hys blode of hys blyssede body.

Here wase hys fare flech rent on the rode.

Here with a spere thay stongen hys side; and

Here for the lufe of man he hys lyft lost. (165)


These lines provide considerable expansion of the succinct Latin:


Hic requievit filius meus, et hic pretiosissimus sanguis ejus (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. Peltier, p. 611)


For some further examples of the Middle English adaptor's alliterative composition, see the Intro. to Jenks's Critical Edition, pp. lv-lvii. 


Reading instructions


The ‘medytacyon of Crystis Passyon in generall’ which prefaces the detailed, chronologically arranged narration of Christ’s Passion, underscores the concentration and determination required in the meditative discipline:


Whooso in passion of Cryste & in the crosse of owre Lorde Jhesu desyrys to haue a gostely joy with a besy medytacyon in hys herte, hym bus be lenger bydyng therin. The whylke werkis and priuytes of swetnes yf he wolde besely be abowte them with all hys mygthes and strengthes of hys mynde, into a new state thay wyll hym bring. (35)


Passages, translated from the Latin, address the reader directly, advising him/her to enter into the ‘aperynges’ of Christ’s Passion with total mental absorption. Occasionally the English author pauses the narrative to offer his own directives, exhorting the reader to cultivate actively and rehearse pity and compassion through the activity of meditation.


Bot yf yow hafe vndurstangdyng and comfortyng of this that I hafe sayde, the behoues make thiself als present in ylk a stede, and ylk a dede in this saule as thou were soythfastly ther present in thi body on the same in that, that ys sayd. (209)


And here in all this sorrow beholde hym and hafe hym in thi sawle of hym a inwarde rwth and compassion, for yf thou saw a man with thi bodily eyn for hys mysdede thus done to as Cryst what, 3yt be way of kynde thou schulde hafe rwth of hym; mekyll more compassion schulde thou hafe of thi Lorde God when thou seys with thi gostly eyn thies schamfull turmentis suffer withowtyn any gylt of hym. (71)


As in the Latin, there are two instances in which the reader is offered ‘dowbul meditacyon’ on single events. This pertains to the Last Supper with the disciples eating standing up or sitting down, and the central Crucifixion scene, first with the upright Crucifixion and later with the horizontal. The reader is urged to choose the meditation of greatest efficacy for meditative purposes.


But there er dyuerse that hald nogth that Cryst wase downe thus on the crose, for thay say that he wase donne whyles the crose lay on the erth, where yf this plese the more, beholde ruefully how thay take hym dyspytuusly as the fowlest harlot that gose on grounde and cast hym wodely on the crose, taking hys armys drawing them vylansly. (109)


Textual Authority and Theological Position

Textual authority


The MSU Passion, as we have it, remains unattributed. It contains no introductory heading with the customary ascription to Bonaventura, but opens with the explanatory title of the first meditation: ‘Of the venerabull soper that owre lorde Jhesu made with hys dyscypulis or he were betrayed to the Jues’. (1)


The meditation on the Last Supper repeats the references in the Latin to St Augustine (cited via the Legenda Aurea) and St Francis (from Bonaventura’s Legenda maior) on the topic of the contemplative life.


The author retains the passage from the original that underscores authorial allegiance to received authority:


Wharefore in this wark I thynke nogth to say ne to afferme any other thing than ys wryttyn in holy wrytt or ellis holy doctors sawys approuyde of holy kyrke. (37)



Affective meditation and the visualising imagination


The English adaptor keeps the so-called ‘meditacyon in generall’ that occurs before the hour of Matins in the Latin Meditationes, and which offers a brief recapitulation of the events of the Passion. This passage also serves to assert the Passion meditation that follows as a particular discourse; detailed (‘in specyall), divided into an hourly prayer cycle, and different from a brief, factual and emotionally detached recapitulation of events (‘in generall’). Treatment of Christ’s Passion ‘in specyall’ poses particular demands on both writer and reader: it demands of the writer that he does not present his subject as a matter ‘lygthly tretede’, but that he offers a detailed, amplified, absorbing meditative account that enables the reader to live out specific modalities of feeling and devotional response. It requires that the reader reads attentively and with total mental and emotional concentration in an effort to conform the meditative self to Christ. The author uses this opportunity to specify compunction and sweetness of contemplation as the effects that his meditations are intended to have on his reader. The particular emphasis in this passage on compunction is one not elaborated on in the source.


Here may thou see schortly the passion that Cryste suffered fro the tyme that he whase taking tyll the howre of undron that he whase done on the crosse. But the hugge bytternes and so grett a payne of our Lorde Jhesu schulde nogth be so lygthly tretede. Befor beholde with gostly eyen, as thou were in hys passion ther present, for ther leues mekyll more in hys passion whylke wyll draw in to hwgge compunccyon and into grett swetnes of contemplacyon. Wherfore this that ys rehersyde before of hys passyn ys sayde of hym in generall, but this that fellows eftur ys sayde of hys passion in specyall… Therfore lat nogth thies meditacyons be yrksum to the, for the sorrow that Cryst soferde was all togedur for the. (45)


Immediately following, is the meditation of Matins, in which more specific instruction is given about the significance of imagining oneself present ‘bodely’ at the events narrated.


Yf it plese the for to wade depper in deuocyon thou may doo as God of hys godnes has giuuitt the grace. Then take hede to euer perte of Crystis passion be hymselfe as yow were ther present, and beholde besyly how he made a ende of hys sermon goyng be the way tyll he come in garthyn, as yt was rehersyde before. Bot now enter with Cryste dyscypuls gostely into the garthyn as thou ware ther bodily and take hede affeccyonily, how felowly, how hamely he spekis to tham, prayng and monasyng tham to prayowre. (47)


The English text here repeats and thus underscores the need for the reader to include herself imaginatively and as if present ‘bodely’ in the Passion story. The first half of the passage quoted above follows the Latin in framing the meditative discipline within a visual/optical paradigm of beholding; the imaginative re-presenting of events is to allow graphic images to imprint themselves on the mind of the reader. These are images which, once established as memorial imprints, may serve to anchor the meditator’s attempt to conform the will to Christ. Interestingly, in the second half that follows, the English author departs from his source by shifting the focus from Christ to his disciples. In this brief, but significant, emendation the agency and perspective shift, as the episode in which Christ enters the garden with his disciples, is imagined as an instance in which the meditative reader enters the garden in the company of the disciples to listen to Christ’s words. The present tense verb form in which Christ ‘spekis’ (the Latin employs past tense ‘loquitur’) underlines the actuality and immediacy to be experienced by the reader in meditation. The phrase ‘bot now enter with Cryste dyscypuls gostely into the garthyn as thou ware ther bodily’, suggests another level of meditative reflection in which the meditative self can become a disciple of Christ. And it suggests a trajectory from ‘bodely’ ‘beholding’ to a ‘gostely’ re-living and re-presenting of events. These nuances are unexplored in the Latin.


The MSU Passion contains a faithful rendition of the statement in the Meditationes about its intended psychological re-formation of the reader. Rehearsing the meditations ‘with all hys mygthes and strengthes of hys mynde’ is designed to lead the reader ‘into a new state’ (35).


He schall persaue a new compassion, a new lufe, a new comforth and a new rewyng in hys saule of deuocyon, of the whylk schall feloy a a new state in thi saule and a new begynnyng of perfeccyon, the whylke schall seme to be a gret perty here of gostely blysse. (35)


Throughout, the twin virtues of ‘rwth’ and ‘compassyon’ are presented as the primary virtues to be cultivated through responses to meditation on Christ’s Passion. A brief original interpolation in Matins uses the dynamic of ‘bodely’ and ‘gostely’ beholding to reflect on the urgency of responding with proportionate measures of pity and compassion.


And here in all this sorrow beholde hym and hafe hym in thi sawle of hym an inwarde rwth and compassion, for yf thou saw a man with thi bodily eyn for hys mysdede thus done to as Cryst whas, 3yt be way of kynde thou schulde hafe rwth of hym; mekyll more compassion schulde thou hafe of thi Lorde God when thou seys with thi gostly eyn thies schamfull turmentis suffer withowtyn any gylt of hym. (71)


The English author’s preoccupation with inculcating compassion and contrition in the hearts of readers leads him to compose and insert a series of penitential interpolations, concentrated in the first half of the Passion narrative and all uttered in the form of first-person apostrophes (15, 27, 63, 73; for examples, see under ‘exclamation and apostrophe’). Commensurate with an original Franciscan emphasis on cultivating compassion and contrition in the hearts of the devout, these emotionally charged appeals, which are full of spiritual longing and desire, urge self-appraisal and a consciousness of, and remorse about, past sins committed. As a result of such additions, a sense of human loss, distance and unworthiness becomes integral to the English version and to the devout identity of the imagined reader. In the self-loathing rhetoric of these exclamations, a reciprocity between human and divine is imagined, as the narrative ‘I’-voice appeals to Christ for pity on his sinful state and asks to become wounded with heartfelt contrition.


The MSU Passion frequently pauses the narrative sequence to reiterate the main points of the torments undergone by Christ in his Passion. The effect is a frequent, cyclical recapitulation of suffering, which presents the culminating events of the Passion as events constantly returned to in a variety of contexts. The theme of the omnipresence and omnitemporality of the crucial events (events returned to in meditation and re-enacted in the mass) is thus very clearly brought to the attention of the reader. To a greater extent than its Latin source, the English version presents the Passion structurally and thematically as a repeated sacrifice to be kept afresh in the minds of Christians in order for them to participate in its salvific effects. As an example of this emphasis, the following passage elaborates the physical exhaustion of Christ on the road to Calvary, and uses it as an opportunity for reiterating the bloodshed of the torments ‘before’. Such reiterative recollection of what occurred before is for the most part absent from the concise Latin narration.


Beholde here wele, how he goys stopyng and crokyng vnder the heuy crose for the bytter burthen that he berys, blawyng, blasting and payntyng for wery, for the grett turment that he hade in waking all the nygth before; for the grett plenty that he schede of hys blode in scorgyngis before; for the rentyng of hys skyn in the pullyng of of the purpure; for the cronyng of hys hede with thornes; and, for the rentyng of hys schuldurs with the gret tre of the crose, the whylke before were rent with scorgis and withdrawing of of hys clothes of purpure, the qwylke nogth only the schuldurs, bot all hys body yt rent & made yt to ryne on rede blode. (97)


Often meditative recollection such as that cited above is framed in collective responses. When John and the Marys are gathered in Mary Magdalene’s house, for instance, the Virgin Mary remembers the events of the Passion, which leads to a scene of collective grieving and mutual comforting (171, see also 197 where the three Marys meditate affectively on the past events). This is a scene which can be seen to set the example to all those who subsequently meditate the events of the Passion. Domestic settings are often where such acts of communal remembrance and comfort are performed. When Mary is reunited with the disciples after the Burial of Christ, they collectively narrate the story of the Passion in a scene of homely intimacy in which they ‘stand now full dolefully closede in a howse this mene whyle comforthyng themselfe togedur with spekyng of the dedys of our Lord Jhesu (181, see also 179). On the whole, the MSU Passion offers detail sometimes not found in the Latin to portray an intimate, domestic ‘felyschype’ in Christ, with people working, grieving and, finally, rejoicing communally (see, e.g. 183, 219).


An extraordinary degree of verisimilitude characterises the meditations in the MSU Passion and it takes various forms. An interest in the specifics of topography is revealed through the many references throughout the text to material remains (‘tokyns’) of churches or other buildings associated with events of the Passion (see e.g. 57, 71, 99; all these are in the Latin), and there is occasional glossatory detail such as the discussion of Christ’s hair (149). But first and foremost, the English adaptor builds on his source material by adding a layer of graphic, gruesome expansions in the depiction of the physical torture of Christ. The shedding of Christ’s blood is described in particular detail (see below on physical suffering and the blood of Christ), and the gradual tearing off of the skin during the Scourging is dwelt on with a degree of corporeal detail absent from the Latin source.


Take hede how yt [Christ’s skin] clenyth so faste that when thay drawyn of, yt teryth; how thay drawyne yt of gobytmelon [piecemeal]; how the skyn that was all to-rent byfor terythe away gobytmelon as the cloyth es pullede away. (91)


A similar macabre explicitness is evident in the scene of the upright Crucifixion, where the English version expresses particular wonder with how the pierced flesh is able to sustain the full weight of Christ’s body.


Then sone aftur ther come anothyr and toke hym be the fete, drawyng with all hys mygth, and he also toke a nayle and drafe yt dyspytuusly throgth hys fett depe into the tre. Behold here and meruayle gretly in thi sawle how hys tendur handys mygth byde the wegth of hys body and the pullyng of thes cursyde men; wondur yt wase that thay lastyde so long and that the nayles rent nogth owt all the flech between the fingers and so all the body sqwte to the grownde. (109)


This specific anatomical reflection is repeated on the following folio of the manuscript, which proceeds to consider the Crucifixion with the Cross resting horizontally on the ground. Here the narrative voice wonders why the nails do not tear the flesh the moment the Cross is inserted into the mortise (a moment described in the English as ‘the doune-sqwattyng of this crose’, 111). It is clearly a particular priority of the MSU Passion to facilitate meditative immersion in grisly details of bodily affliction, and, through this immersion, to make a lasting imprint on the mind of the reader. The extended laments of Mary and her friends that often follow such elaboration of sundry tortures provide the reader with exemplary cues for response to inculcate the ‘inwarde rwth and compassion’ that the text so actively promotes.



Physical suffering and the blood of Christ


The MSU Passion displays interest in the tormented, ruptured body, and in particular in how Christ’s pain is being renewed and increased in the course of his Passion.

As Jenks also notes in his introduction to his Critical Edition (Intro., p. 50), where the Latin Meditationes briefly notes that Christ’s wounds are reopened as he is stripped of his clothes before his Crucifixion, the English describes a gushing of blood since


hys clothys wer so cleuyng to hys flech that mygth nogth gett tham of, but yf rent with the clothes the dry blode that the woundes were stoppede with all. (103)


Similarly, in an elaboration of his source, the English author details how the blood ‘waxen [sic] drye and colde’ is able to tear away the skin.


3a, I dare wele say this wase a passing turment; how hys blyssyde body rennes to the gronden on ylke a side; how gobetes of hys flech and of skyn clene [stick] on the cloth; how all hys body ys blody raw rent and flayn; to a spyryt that ys wele dysposyde, a full rwthfull sygth. (91)


This is a sight pitiful and horrific to onlookers, who are able to respond to Christ’s bloodshed, following the examples of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, with a well of ‘teres of sorow and compunccyon’ (153, 155). There is an element of blood veneration in the English version that is not present in the Latin, and the author provides several interpolations concerning the corporeality and freshness of Christ’s sacrificial blood. Two passages in the scene of the horizontal Crucifixion explore the dynamics of Christ’s dry versus fresh blood (with some alliteration on the words ‘blode’, ‘blody’, ‘body’, blyssyd’), and offer striking images in which the old wounds with the blood dried up are made to run anew with the fresh blood spilling onto the ground (111).


There is some indication that the English adaptor sought to build on his source text by exploring the utility of Christ’s bloodshed as a means of arousing devotion and intensifying guilt. Thus the passage (from Luke 22; 43-44) in the Meditationes in which Christ bleeds after his prayer to the Father in Gethsemane is also found in the English (57), but here it is followed by an original reflection on how this bloodshed is caused by a vision through which Christ’s Godhead reveals to his manhood all the torments he is to undergo (59). This is a reflection that elicits a fervent penitential prayer uttered by the narrative voice in this dense apostrophic address (an address which may eventually become the reader’s own prayer):


Alas, alas, Lorde Jhesu, what schall I do? The blode of the rynnes donne to the grounde for me, and I for the synn that I hafe donne may vnnes wepe a tere. A, mercyfull Lorde, enspyre thou me with thi grace and pete, and sett in me a waschyng well with bytter teres of my eyn that I may be clensyde of my synn and afturwade to hafe rwth of the cup blode rather for to spyll then euer do more agayne thi wyll. (63)


Characteristic of the MSU Passion is this exploration of the reciprocity of blood and tears - a reciprocity that comprises heartfelt sorrow (as with the eruption of tears of the two Marys, and the notion that tears of sorrow and compunction can function as an effective means to forgiveness), but which just as often induces an awareness of longing and distance, as the narrative persona finds himself unable to shed tears of compunction and penitence. What characterises this vernacular adaptation in comparison with its source is also the fact that it is meditation on the bloodshed of Christ that brings about the most fervently affective outbursts. The text makes an original contribution to pre-modern blood piety and specifically to the veneration of Christ’s blood in medieval England, and at the heart of it is an acute awareness of debasement; i.e. the human debasement through original and ongoing sin understood as ultimately a debasement of Christ’s blood. Hence the recurring preoccupation with blood on the ground, with contaminating and spilling the blood from the cup.



Mary’s sorrow and immaculate motherhood


As in the Latin Meditationes and its vernacular adaptations, the Virgin Mary receives special focus in the MSU Passion as the co-sufferer of Christ and as an example to be followed by the devout reader. Conventionally, there are frequent apostrophic addresses in the narrative voice to Mary, and frequent extended, highly affective speeches by Mary addressed to Christ and the Father. Also, we are told that Mary was the first to worship at the Cross (165), and that Christ made his first appearance before Mary, even if, as the author notes, this is not explicitly stated in scripture (213).


But the Middle English author goes far beyond the conventional invocations of Mary and articulations of exemplary grief, in order to offer a more nuanced description of the phenomenology of devotional sorrow and compassion. Her suffering is analysed in detail with the effect of providing a particularly strong model for the devotions in the text. The basis for understanding the magnitude and significance of Mary’s grief is an appreciation of her unique love for Christ. The assertion of Mary’s widowhood in the meditation after Compline characterises Christ as ‘hyre sonn, hyre husbande, hyre fadur and hyre modur and all hyre gode and all hyre ryches’ (161, as in the Latin but the English adaptor adds ‘modur’). Before this, a striking interpolation in ‘Matins’ determines three reasons why Mary’s love for Christ is unique and surpasses that of any other mother: (1) Christ is conceived exclusively with Mary’s own blood through the workings of the Holy Spirit, and not with the blood of a father and mother mixed together; (2) Mary’s love transcends human nature and is derived from inspiration; (3) Mary loves her God singularly and lovingly recognises both the Godhead and the manhood in her son. (75)


Mary’s maternal love of Christ thus exists in the intersection of familiarity and otherness, of describability and unutterability. Indeed, the English version constantly returns to the inadequacy of human language to convey pain on such a scale. In this regard, the English often expands the Latin with references to the ineffability that accompanies the magnitude of sorrow and suffering related in the gospels: ‘A, blyssyde Lady, how mekyll ys thi sorrow; for soyth thu suffers yt but tell thou mygth nogth’ (105). Particularly noticeable is the reiteration of the term ‘passyng’ which becomes the crucial indicator of a mode of suffering that transcends our categories of pain: ‘this wase a passyng turment’ (91), ‘thay were in a passyng wo’ (125), ‘with a passyng inwarldly sorrow of hert; (131). These experiences of indescribable pain are of course directly contingent on Christ’s own ‘‘passyng payne’ (59): ‘A, gloryus maden and modur, in how passyng a sorrow ys thi swete sone sett!’ (105).


Particular stress falls in the English on the interdependence of Christ’s and Mary’s torments, and how they mutually reinforce each other. The following passage, which uses a rhetorical question to confront and engage the meditative reader, is one of several that augments the Latin to communicate the process of dying with Christ, as new layers of pain are added to Mary’s experience.


In how gret a payne trowes thou that sorowfull sawle of hys modur wase in when schee saw hyre dere sone fall so seke, wepe, and so dy with so gret a payne, with so gret a noyse. I trow forsoyth that for the gret bytternes and multitute of angwys that sche hade, sche wase so grettly reuyschede in sorrow that schee mygth no thing se, no thing here, no thing fele; but a schee had bene dede with hyre sone, sche fell done to grounde. ffor yf schee made a passing sorrow when schee mete with the crose; mekyll more soro hardely schee made when schee saw hyre dere sone dy with so hedus a cry. (123-25; see also 113, 115, 137 for original additions on the same theme)


The formulation of such reciprocity of responses and perspectives constitutes an original and theologically significant development of a theme only briefly explored in the Latin Meditationes. The reader is to practise constantly the meditative agility of producing extended visual and aural imaginings that incorporate several perspectives – a theme that receives the English author’s finest articulation in the extended instructions to the reader, alliterated and inserted as the conclusion to the meditation on the Crucifixion in the hour of None.


Syt done gostely by the crose beholdyng this blystful body, Crystis modur, Jone, Mary Magdalene and other Marys also, with a inwarldly sorrow and compassion of thi hert; then thou may se on the tone syde what desese, what tribulacyon, what anwys, what payne Cryst for the luf sufferd, beholdyng hys hede, hys vysage & all the remlande of hys body; blo, bytterly betyn, hys woundys wyde and wan; hys blyssyde blode abowt hys body boyth cloterde and colde; hys hangyng; hys lymes owt of lyth; hys handis, hys feet perscede with nayles; hys syd and hys hert thorlede with a spere and all hys body to-rent and drawyn. Loke than on the tother syde on Crystis modur and on thoy that were with hyre, and ther thou sall se full sobyng, full soroful sygthyng, full carefull crying, full meruelus mornyng, full wofull wepyng and handis wryngyng, throgth whylk thou may bryng into thi saule a inwarldly ruth of Crystis compassyon. (125-27)


Five evenly distributed injunctions to visualise imaginatively, or ‘gostely’, (‘beholdyng’, ‘loke’, ‘se’), guide these scripted meditations, which start out with a general view of Calvary and the dramatis personae of the Passion story, and then proceed to produce shifts in the imagined perspectives of Christ and the eyewitnesses. Part of such meditative engagement is also training the ability to engage spatially with the mise-en-scene presented, so that the meditator ideally can ‘syt done gostely by the crosse’ and experience profound empathy from various visual and spatial perspectives. Always required to use such meditations as an occasion for self-reflection and reform of feeling, the meditative reader may feel guilt and gratitude at the thought of Christ’s death for sinful man (‘what payne Cryst for the luf sufferd’). Sorrow and compassion are to be cultivated in conformity with the compassion shown by Christ (‘bryng into thi saule a inwarldly ruth of Crystis compassyon’) for those present on Calvary, and, ultimately, for the reader who imaginatively re-presents himself with them.


Finally, mention should be made of the impressive conclusion of Mary’s sustained lyric speech in ‘None’, which is the literary version of the pieta scene ubiquitous in late medieval devotional iconography, and an occasion for the English adaptor to mobilise the full repertoire of exclamation, apostrophe and alliteration.


My lufly lyue lyes on my lappe.

My dere childe ys dolefully dede.

A what schall I do? I wolde dye,

But I may nogth. A dere worthy

God, whedur schall I go? Thou wote

Thou erit my fadur, my modur and all

My God. In the ys my hope and trest.

In the ys all my comforth.

My hoppe ys hyde; my comforth ys cast;

My God ys gone. (157-159)


In the earlier interpolation on Mary’s special love for Christ, we learn that it is her recognition of both the manhood and the Godhead in her son which makes her love unique, and ‘passyng’ that of any other mother for her child. The object of her love, in other words, equally includes dimensions of familiarity and transcendence. Now, at this moment of despair in bereavement, and after Christ has yielded his spirit to God, Mary desires to die together with him who is at the same time ‘my dere childe’ and ‘worthy God’. The direction of her address now shifts from the manhood to the Godhead, but the feeling of absence and abandonment prevails. (In a parallel way, the meditative reader is instructed to maintain a dual vision of Christ’s humanity and divinity. See, for instance, the directions to the reader on p. 93 that include a series of meditative shifts between the human Christ and the ‘hye maiesty that hase taken flech and blode’). With his particular interest in the psychology of dying with Christ, the English author makes Mary’s final word in this speech, ‘my God ys gone’, echo Christ’s fourth proclamation on the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why hase thou forsaken me? (119), thus underscoring their mutual despair and the interdependence of their sufferings.


At the centre of the phenomenology of pain articulated in the MSU Passion is the conformity of the meditator to Christ through ‘rwth and compassion’, and an imaginative process of dying with Christ. The meditations ‘ aftur complyn’ and ‘in the Saturday’ offer emotional scenes of communal grief, centred on the collective recollection of Christ’s Passion (e.g. 171, 175). But in the text’s multifaceted literary exploration of sorrow, such grief is imagined as both maternal and paternal, as individual and collective, and as silent, unutterable and yet articulated.





The long lyric planctus Mariae in the None follows the Latin closely in raising questions about salvation and the sacrificial logic of Christ’s death. Part of Mary’s lament is an attempt to make sense of the atonement, and to balance her grief with an understanding of the soteriological significance of the sacrifice.


Thi lufly lyfe thou leues for lufe,

And for saluacyon of sawlis thou forsake thiselfe. (…)

3yt somewhat I am plessyde with thi passion,

For restoring to rest of synfull saules.

But thi pytuus paynes ere printede in my saule

Of thi wounes wyde, and of thi body bloo,

That dolefully I desire to dye. (157)


As in the Latin, these meditations are inserted into the long consideration of Mary’s and Mary Magdalene’s exemplary tears of sorrow and compassion that anoint Christ’s body (153, 159) and suggest the efficacy of human tears in washing away sin.


The MSU Passion’s original penitential prayers (15, 27, 73) can be seen to develop the theme of Christ’s atonement for human sin. In these apostrophic prayers, the narrative voice offers a series of reflections on the righteousness of the sacrifice in the light of human unworthiness, and on the power of heartfelt compunction and compassion to eradicate the image of sin.



Active, contemplative and mixed lives


As is the case with the Meditationes and the other key pseudo-Bonaventuran work Stimulus Amoris, the MSU Passion considers the respective merits of the active and contemplative lives and promotes a mixed life theology. Additions in the English version, however, reveal a particular determination to present the mixed life and virtue through active deeds as the most accomplished mode of Christian living. The following addition to a discussion about how the contemplative should demonstrate discretion and be ‘reueshede fro the dedys that be done owtewarde’ reveals the mixed life to be a special concern of the adaptor.


Neuer the latt the lyf of contemplacyon menged with actyfe lyfe es oft tymes more perfyte than ys contemplacyon be hym selfe the whylke menged lyfe Cryst vsyd hymself here in erth & hys apostels, for other whyle thay ware prayng in hygth contemplacyon other whyle thay were prechyng abowt ther lyfelode gedyng the whylk ere warkes of actyfe lyfe. (13)


The introductory appeal to the reader in the general meditation does retain the instructions in the Latin, suggesting that accomplished meditation implies some abandonment of worldly concerns.


Whoso euer whylle haue thi deuocyon hym bus with all the mygth of hys spyrytte, with all the qwyknes and the affection of hys hert and with gostely eyn of hys sawle leuying all other besynes owtwarde and belayde and dressede to a byrnyng contemplacyon. (37)



Dissemination and Reception Contexts

One single ms: Michigan State University Manuscript 1.

Fore further details see the manuscript description by Ryan Perry. Detailed linguistic analysis can be found in Jenks's unpublished Critical Edition of 1956.

Bibliographical Materials



Day, Stephanie M., 'A Critical Edition of the Privity of the Passion and the Lyrical Meditations’, University of York

Jenks, Joseph B., ‘An Edition of Meditations on the Passion, Michigan State University MS 1’, unpublished MA diss., Michigan State University, 1951.

Jenks, Joseph B., ‘A Critical Edition of Meditations on the Passion, Michigan State University MS 1’, unpublished PhD thesis, Michigan State University, 1956.

Peltier, A. C., ed. Meditationes Vitae Christi, S. Bonaventurae Opera Omnia, vol. XII (Paris, 1868) pp. 509-630.




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