Welcome to the Geographies of Orthodoxy project
Van der Weyden, Descent from the Cross


Middle English Meditationes Passione Christi

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

Approximate Date, Sources, Provenance


This profile of the Middle English Meditationes de Passione Christi uses the text in Joseph Jenks' doctoral thesis, ‘A Critical Edition of the Meditations on the Passion Michigan State University Manuscript No. 1’. Jenks edits the version found in Oxford, Bodley 789; this is a text that retains a number of idiosyncrasies in relation to those found in other manuscripts, and I will occasionally note divergence when this is substantial. For the Latin source, the Meditationes de Passione Christi, references are to the 1965 edition by Stallings. See bibliography for details. I refer to the codicological descriptions by Ryan Perry for more detailed description of issues of dialect, provenance and dissemination.

- -


The Middle English Meditationes de passione Christi (MEMPC) occupies a special place in the English pseudo-Bonaventuran corpus by being the closest we get to a full-scale English translation of the Passion sequence of the Latin Meditationes vitae Christi,generally thought to be by the Italian Franciscan friar John of Caulibus. With a few exceptions, which chiefly are in the form of minor omissions and structural alterations, the MEMPC offers a very close rendition, and in many case a word-for-word translation, of the Latin source.

The provenance of this text is unknown; see the manuscript descriptions by Ryan Perry of the approximately ten know manuscripts, where more detailed discussion of dialect and dissemination issues is provided.

The MEMPC, however, appears to have come into existence, not from direct translation of the Latin Meditationes vitae Christi, but via the Latin Meditationes de passione Christi (MPC). This latter redaction is a separate, self-contained version of the Passion meditation of the Meditationes vitae Christi, commencing with the Last Supper and concluding with Christ's Descent into Hell (with no treatment of the risen crucified Christ). All evidence suggests that the MPC (and with that the MEMPC) is an English phenomenon and a separate redaction from the Meditationes vitae Christi (MVC), which had no circulation outside of England.

A number of biblical quotations and very minor alterations in the MEMPC that do not occur in the MPC, suggest that we might regard the MEMPC as a very close rendition of the Latin, but not a straight-forward translation. (See further the section ‘Theology and textual authority’.)

A likely date for the MEMPC is from the last quarter of the 14th century or very early in the 15th century. Evidence suggests that it predates Nicholas Love's Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ of the first decade of the 15th century. Indeed, Love may himself have sourced the MEMPC (and/or other vernacular adaptations of the Meditationes vitae Christi) for the purposes of his own writing. It is noteworthy that there are several instances in which the MEMPC occurs as an interpolation in manuscript copies of Love's Mirror, where it either replaces Love's treatment of the Passion narrative or, curiously, is copied alongside it. The hypotheses have been put forward that the MEMPC represents an early draft by Love himself of the Passion (Salter, 1974), or that Love interpolated the already existing MEMPC into his own text in order to hurry it towards completion, and then at a later stage replaced it with his own stylistically more elaborate and accomplished version (Sargent, 1992,146-47; 2005, 18-20). What appears to have been the case, is that the MEMPC exercised particular appeal with readers who, for one reason or another, preferred a shorter version of the Passion story, and one with greater flexibility in the context of devotional practice. It is possible and indeed likely, therefore, that at a comparatively early stage in the transmission of Love's Mirror readers may have preferred the distinct MEMPC redaction, which offers a different ordinatio of prayers in accordance with the canonical hours and more convenient for daily meditations, instead of the hebdomadal structure of Love's text.

The MEMPC is significantly shorter than the Passion sequence of the Meditationes vitae Christi, and the tendency is somewhat mechanically to translate and condense the Latin. The prose style is not nearly as developed and ornate as Love's Mirror, and literary features and verbal artifice tend to give way to an economy of expression that leaves out what is not strictly necessary to the core narrative of Christ's Passion. On the whole, the MEMPC appears far less interested in offering extended imaginative and affective augmentation of the key events of Christ's suffering, and it often either shortens or, in some cases, entirely omits the frequent meditative directives to the reader that characterise the Latin Meditationes, and most vernacular adaptations thereof. The focus on Mary as a co-sufferer and on her process of dying with her son on the Cross is much less prominent than in other pseudo-Bonaventuran adaptations such as The Prickynge of Love and the vernacular version of the Meditationes vitae Christi found in Michigan State University Ms 1. Another significant excision in the MEMPC is the meditative choice conventionally given to the reader between different versions of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion scene, where, in the Latin, the alternatives of meditating on Christ crucified on the upright Cross or on the Cross lying on the ground are included. Prioritising the succinct narrative over meditative and affective amplification, the adaptor presents the reader with no opportunity to choose the meditative configuration most capable of stirring specific modes of affective devotion. Interestingly, the passage commonly found in the meditation on the Last Supper that considers the special value of the mixed life (which receives varied and usually extended treatment in other English pseudo-Bonaventuran adaptations) is omitted in the MEMPC.

The fact that we have some evidence of the MEMPC found together with Lollard material in devotional miscellanies that send very mixed (and, it seems, contradictory) signals concerning their orthodox intent is very suggestive. As a shortened redaction of English provenance, which leaves out much extended affective engagement and Marian focus, this distinct, self-contained version of a key Latin devotional text might well have been the one least offensive to tastes on the fringes of orthodox devotion. See further the section 'Audience, circulation, manuscripts'.

(This textual profile uses Joseph Jenks edition of Bodley 789, with variants noted from Gonville and Caius College Ms 646/669 and Bodleian Laud Misc. 23)






The manuscripts of the MEMPC typically open with the following incipit:

Here is a meditacioun of the cardinal Bon Auenture. The tyme nei3ynge and comynge to of the pite and merci of the lorde, in which tyme he ordeynede to make his puple saaf, & also to a3en-bite hem; not with corruptible gold ne siluer, but with his owene precious blood, he wolde make a notable soper with his disciples er that he wolde departe from hem by deeth into a memorial signe of record; & also that he wolde fulfille the mysteries that weren to be fulfilled. (2)

This translates and adapts the following Latin:

Adveniente iam et imminente miserationem et misericordiarum Domini Jesu, quod disposuerat salvam facere plebem suam et eam redimere, non corruptibili auro et argento, sed pretiosissimo sanguine suo: voluit coenam facere cum discipulis suis notabilem, antequam ab eis per montem discederet, in signum memoriale recordationis, ac etiam ut compleret memorial recordationis, ac etiam ut compleret mysteria, quae restabant complenda. (Stallings, ed., p. 87)


Some versions omit the meditation on the Last Supper and instead open with the following MEMPC formula:

Tho thinges that now folewen perteynen to Cristis passioun and therefore speke we of hit furst in general and afterward in special. (34)

The MEMPC explicit occurs at the end of the 'meditacioun of Cristis goynge doun to helle'.

Blessid be oure lord God of Israel, for he hath uisitid and maad redemption of his puple; that regneth with the fader and the holi gost, bi alle wordlis of wordlis. Amen. Here eendith a meditacioun or a contemplacioun of the passioun of Crist & of his moder oure ladi Seynte Marie, in seuene ouris of the day. (188)



Below are the chapter headings as in the text:

Here is a meditacioun of the cardinal Bon Auenture
The Last Supper; the four points of the Supper; a demonstration of Christ's five virtues; Christ's sermon to his disciples; crossing the Cedron.

Meditatioun in general
Instructions to the reader in the discipline of meditation; a summary of the events of the Passion.

Meditacioun in the ny3t and in the morwetyde
Christ in Gethsemane; the prayer to the Father; words between Christ and the Archangel Michael; Judas' Betrayal; the Arrest and Mocking by the Jews; Mary's sorrow; Mary's prayer to the Father.

Meditacioun of Cristis passioun at prime
Christ before Pilate and Herod; the Scourging; Christ crowned king.

Meditacioun of Ihesu Cristis passioun at underne
The Jews demand Christ's Crucifixion; the Road to Calvary.

Meditacioun at midday
On Calvary; Christ crucified on the upright Cross; Mary crucified in her heart; Mary and Christ pray to the Father.

Meditatioun at noon
Christ's seven words on the Cross; Christ's final cry; Death; Mary's sorrow.

Meditacioun of thinges that were doun after his deeth
Mary's lament; Longinus pierces Christ's side; the death of Mary's soul.

Meditatioun at euensong time
Arrival of Nichodemus and Joseph of Arimathea; worship at the Cross; Christ's Deposition from the Cross.

Meditatioun of Cristis passioun at complyn
Joseph and Nicodemus wrap Christ's body; Magdalene washes Christ's feet with tears of compunction and compassion; Mary's words to the dead Christ; carrying Christ to the Sepulchre.

Meditatioun of Cristis passioun at complyn
Mary as widow; worship at the Cross; the gathering in Mount Syon; Mary recollects the Passion.

Meditacioun in the saturday
Arrival of the disciples; Peter's repentance; words between Mary and disciples.

Meditacioun of Cristis goynge doun to helle
Christ descends into Hell; Christ's exemplary pity, charity and meekness shown in his Descent.

The MEMPC makes a few structural alterations to the Passion sequence of the Latin Meditationes vitae Christi as this has been edited by A. C. Peltier. The general purpose of these seems to be to subdivide the relatively long meditations in the source into bite-sized, more thematically coherent individual meditations. These are the most notable changes.

  • The MEMPC divides the Latin meditation of vespers (the piercing of Christ's side, the Deposition) into two meditations entitled 'of thinges that were doun after his deeth' and 'euensong'.
  • The long meditation of compline in Meditationes (from the wrapping of Christ's body to the Descent into Hell) becomes two meditations, both carrying the same heading of 'complyn' in the English.
  • The English adaptor omits a large part of the penultimate chapter, 'meditacioun in the Saturday' (part of vespers in the Latin). The omissions concern the labour of the two Marys to prepare the ointments for Christ's body, the importance of observing the Sabbath, and a series of appeals to the reader to meditate on Mary's sadness and devout tears.

What characterises MEMPC throughout, are a series of minor omissions of source material and a general economy of expression. The Middle English adaptor leaves out what is not strictly necessary to the core narrative of Christ's Passion, and typically this includes the recurring directives and injunctions to the reader that are a characteristic feature of the Latin. Also, most transitional passages in which the author remarks on the structure of the meditations and prepares the reader for the episodes that follow, are omitted.

The opening 'meditatioun in general' abbreviates much of the instruction addressed to the reader, and it leaves out the short autobiographical passage in which the author states his ineptitude adequately to deal with the material at hand.

Other notable omissions concern the meditation on the disciples' countenance, and especially John's response, during the Last Supper (32), mention of John's detailing of the events of the Passion to Joseph of Arimathea (144), and an appeal to the reader at the end of terce ('underne'), with a consideration of how meditation on Christ's pain induces pity and compassion (100).

Systematically, the MEMPC either shortens or entirely omits the elaborate apparatus of reading instructions that occur throughout the Meditationes. Choosing a path different from other adaptations of the Latin, which tend either to retain or augment such hermeneutic guidelines, the English adaptor is far less concerned to signpost particularly significant passages or exemplary virtues to be noted and emulated by the reader. Among the many such directives omitted are injunctions in the original Latin treatment of the Last Supper to contemplate in depth Christ's actions during the Supper, and to expand these imaginatively in meditation. Such instructions in imaginative meditation occur in other adaptations of the Meditationes (e.g. Love's Mirror and the unique version found in Michigan State University Ms 1), but are absent in the MEMPC.

The following three examples from the Latin Meditationes and their equivalent in the MEMPC convey some impression of the fidelity to the source, as well as the characteristic economy of expression demonstrated by the English adaptor.

Surgit ergo tertio ab oratione totus sanguine madefactus: quem conspice tergentem sibi vultum, vel etiam forte in torrente lavantem, totumque afflictum reverenter cerne, eique intime compatere, quia sine ingenti acerbitate doloris hoc sibi contigere nullatenus potuit. (Stallings, ed. p. 102)


Thanne riseth oure lorde Ihesu the thridde tyme from his praier, al maad weet with blood. Whom bihold thou, wepyng his semblaunt or waischinge in water. And here haue inwardly compassioun, for withoute greet bitternesse of sorewe this my3te no3t bifalle to him. (64)




Conspice nunc eum, quomodo dicitur ab illis nequissimis de torrente sursum Hierusalem festinanter et anxie, minibus post tergum ligatis, exchlamydatus tunica, supercinctus non curiose, capite discoopertus, et curvus ex fatigatione, et vehementi acceleratione incedens. Cum autem praesentatur principibus sacerdotum Annae Caiphae et aliis senioribus congregates, illi quasi leo capta praeda exultant. (Stallings, ed. p. 103)



Bihold now he is forth lad of thilke wickede Iewis hiyngli to Ierusalem, his hondis bounden byhinde him. And thus was he presented to the princes of the prustes, to Anne and Cayfas and to here elder men gaderid to hepe. And thei ioyeden as a lioun that hath cau3t his praye. (70)




Et Petrus annuit Joanni, ut ipse referat. Joannes vero incipit at narrat totum; et sic tam de his quam aliis, quae fecerat Dominus Jesus cum eis, narrat ad invicem, modo unus, modo alius, sicque totam diem de ipso sermonizando percurrunt. O quam attende auscultabat Magdalena, sed multum attentius ipsa Domina! O quoties in ipsa die dicebat in narratione gestorum: Bene dictus sit filius meus Jesus! (Stallings, ed. p. 128)



And Peter bekenede to Ioon that he schulde telle. And Ioon began & tolde al togidre, and so as wel of these as of othere thinges that oure lord Ihesu hadde don before, thei tolden ech on to othere. And thus spekynge of Crisits wordis & dedis thei spenden al this day. O how ofte in spending of this dai in telinge of these dedis saide oure Ladi: Blessid be mi sone Ihesu. (180)


Rhetoric and Manner of Exposition


M. Jordan Stallings makes the following observations about the stylistic features of the Latin MPC.


The quick succession of events and details presented, just as in ordinary conversation, absorbs what might be glaring stylistic defects, such as the frequent use of et at the beginning of sentences, and the lack of balance and interplay of sentence structure. The presentation and development of the scenes is simple, direct and highly effective – certainly born of a fervor and zeal of the Franciscan spirit which inspires it. (Stallings, ed. p. 35)


Such simple and succinct style characterises the MEMPC, which can be regarded as a very close rendition of the Latin source. Unless otherwise noted, the examples of textual rhetoric given below closely translate similar passages in the Latin.




We see in the MEMPC the injunctions ‘lo’, ‘beholde’, ‘se’ that are so characteristic of the Latin MVC. These repeat what is in the Latin, and there is never any attempt to elaborate the affective, visualising dimension beyond what is in the source.


Biholde her wel and folwe thi lord pacientli and benigneli. (68)


Abide her therefore and bihold thi lord Ihesu bi long tyme, and 3if thou haue no compassioun, holde the to haue a stonen herte. (86)

Haue compassioun therefore to him in as muche as thow mist. (98)

Bihold now he is forth lad of thilke wickede iewis hiyngli to Ierusalem. (70)

Therfore thow man, as I haue seid in othere placis; diligently biholde the takynge doun of hem. (144)


Such exhortations in the MEMPC occur less frequently than in the MVC. They often stress the didactic and moral, more than the affective, aspect of meditation on Christ’s Passion (as signalled by the imperative ‘tak good hede’ and other similar forms).


Exclamation and apostrophe


Rhetorical exclamations occur as in the Latin MVC, e.g.:


But thou wickede herte, harder than al hardnes, that wexist no3t softe at so muche mekeness. Ne art thou no3t aschamed of the Lorde of maieste knellinge at thi feet. (18-20)


Se in what disese thei weren put ynne. O benygne Lord, how suffridist thou thin owene chosen moder, queen of al this worlde so to be turmentid and troubled? Time hit were that sche hadde a litil respit of reste. (138)



Imagined speech and dialogue


There are a number of direct speeches that occur only in the Middle English version of MPC. The following speech by Christ to his disciples, after he has washed their feet, occurs in MEMPC, but is absent in both MVC and MPC. The Middle English adaptor here draws on John 13, 12-15 for a speech that provides more background to Christ’s exemplary acts during the Last Supper, and to the five moral virtues contained in it.


3e clepen me mayster and lord and 3e seyn wel, so forsothe I am. Now thenne sith I am maister and lord, to teche 3ow a lessoun of mekenesse, haue waische 3oure feet so schulden 3e waische ech oon other feet for I haue 3oue to 3ou ensample that as I haue do, so do 3e also. (20)


Judas’ Betrayal appears in the MEMPC with the words ‘Whom-so-euere I schal kisse, he hit is. Holde 3e him’ (68), while this short speech is absent in MVC and MPC.

Other than these and a few other instances, the MEMPC reproduces direct speech in straightforward, though occasionally shortened, translation from the Latin. In the Compline meditations, he long lamentations by Mary in connection with Christ’s burial reiterate what is in the Latin (156-60).


Narratorial voice


Visual evocation

It is a tendency of the MEMPC to shorten, or in some cases omit altogether, passages of extended visual and affective imaginings. There are no instances of the adaptor adding longer imaginative visualisations to his source.

The injunction ‘bihold’ occurs throughout (particularly in the Crucifixion narrative), and rather routinely reproduces what is in the Latin MVC, with no attempt to develop it.


Bihold him while he is lad & a3enlad, goyng with a mylde semblaunt and schamfast, and herynge the cries and upbraides and scornynges of alle hem, and suffrynge mekli strokes, haply of stones and othere filthis that thei castiden on him.(82)


Bihold therefore with the i3en of thi soule; summe to fiche the crosse in the erthe; summe to bringe naylis and hameres. (104)



Glossatory, contextualising exposition

Evidently favouring the quick succession of events instead of detailed, contextualised narrative, the adaptor excises the references in his source to the topography of the Holy Land and to the material remnants of sites associated with the Passion.

Instances of omission are the references (in Matins) to the pillar to which Christ was bound, and (in Terce) to the two churches erected in memory of Christ’s road to Calvary. The references we find in MVC to Peter Comestor’s Historia scholastica are absent in MEMPC, with one exception where the adaptor cites it for the detail that ‘as hit is seid in stories, thilke crosse was fifteen feet of lengthe’ (96).


Metaphoric elaboration

Characteristic of MEMPC is a style that is plainer and rhetorically less ornate than in the Latin MVC. Figurative and metaphoric passages reiterate rather closely what is in the Latin, and nothing new is added. The following two examples give some sense both of the fidelity to the Latin source, as well as the economy of expression that is usually applied in the process of translation:


And his disciples, as children that sewen hire fader and moder, and as chikenes that putten the hen hider and thider to come under the winges, so thei putten hym hider and thider in the goynge for desir of nei3ynge to here his wordes (34)

This translates the following in Latin:


Conspice nunc discipulos euntes post eum, et cum eo, quomode quilibet, qui magis potest, magis ei approximat, congregatim pergentes, sicut mos est pullorum pergere post gallinam, impellendo eum modo unus, modo alius ex desiderio appropinquandi, et audiendi verba ipsius. (Stallings, ed. p. 95)


- -

And so thore thei seten echon biholdinge othere as faderles and modirles children, fulfilled with greet turment and sorwe; not spekynge ony to othere. (176)


This is in the Latin:

Domina et aliae sociae una cum Joanne afflictae et dolorosae, tanquam orphanage et plenae moerore, non loquentes, sed memorantes sedebant simul, aspicientes se mutuo raptim, sicut contingere consuevit magna pressure et calamitate gravatis. (Stallings, ed. p. 127)



Reading instructions

MEMPC occasionally omits the instructions to the reader found in the MVC. Examples of such omission include the passage immediately before the Last Supper underscoring the necessity of deep and prolonged meditation, and the value inherent in expanding the events of the Supper (which contains the signs of Christ’s exceeding love), rather than shortening them.

In a similar way, the MEMPC leaves out the extended instructions to the reader in the opening of the ‘meditatioun in general’. In the MVC, these directions focus on the concentrated meditation required to bring about moral and pious reform. The same happens in the opening of the meditation ‘in the morwetyde’, where directions to elaborate meditations to comprehend fully the affection and intimacy of Christ’s address to the disciples are omitted.

Notably, and unlike MVC, MEMPC offers no alternative choices in meditations concerning the Last Supper (with the disciples either sitting down or standing) and the Crucifixion (Christ crucified upright or horizontally with the Cross on the ground.

Textual Authority and Theological Position



Textual authority

Incipits, e.g.:


Here is a meditacioun of the Cardinal Bon Auenture (Jenks, ed., 2: from Bodley 789)


Here begynneth a good tretys that Cardynalle Bonauent made of Crystes passyone (Jenks ed., 2: from Caius 646/669)


We see the common deference to authority in the ‘meditatioun in general’, which follows what is in the Latin:


For nothing sothli I thenke to telle in this litil book that may not be said or apreued bi holi scripture and seyntis sawes or opiniouns approued. (38)


In the Latin we find:

Non enim in hoc opusculo aliquid affirmare intend, quod non per sacram Scripturam, vel Sanctorum, vel opinions approbatas affirmatur, vel dicitur. (Stallings, ed. p. 96)



Affective meditation and the visualising imagination

In the plain style and matter-of-fact narration that characterises MEMPC, the adaptor provides more substance to the Passion story by occasionally providing additional biblical citations (see the next section below). The adaptation is a condensed redaction that presents the nuts and bolts of the Passion story with little reference to what is outside of the self-contained narrative. For instance, the layer of circumstantial detail and topographical specificity that we see in MVC is most often omitted in MEMPC.

The adaptation also represents a tendency to avoid elaborating the visual and imaginative nature of the meditations such as we see it in e.g. the Passion narrative in Michigan State University Ms 1 and Nicholas Love’s Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ.

The MEMPC takes care to reproduce the instances of direct speech from MVC, and occasionally adds speeches not in MVC but taken from the gospels (see the next section below). However, the passages following such speech that urge readers to imagine and empathise with the speakers is often either abbreviated or left out. An example of an omission occurs after Christ’s final words to his disciples in the opening meditation on the Last Supper where MEMPC leaves out much of the focus on the sorrow of the disciples and the special intimacy existing between John and Christ.

MEMPC also lacks the specific interest in the sorrow and pains of Mary that we see developed in other Middle English versions such as Privity of the Passion and the Passion text in Michigan State University Ms 1. On the subject of the interdependence of the sorrow of Christ and Mary, the adaptor translates the following directly from the Latin:


And alle these thinges weren seid and don in the presence of his moder moost sorwful; whos compassioun encreside much the sone his payne. And a3enward sche hyng with him in the crosse bi compassioun of sorwe & rather chees to dye with him than to lieu lenger. (114)


But otherwise, the tendency in MEMPC is to abbreviate certain aspects of Marian piety present in the MVC, notably the topic of Mary dying with Christ on the Cross. Mention that Mary was the first to worship at the Cross is omitted in the Compline meditation. Also, Simeon’s prophecy (in Luke 2, 35, and in the Vesper meditations in MVC) that predicts the piercing of Mary’s soul together with Christ on the Cross is left out. The ‘meditacioun at mydday’ omits the extended treatment in MVC of the sorrows of John, Magdalene and Mary’s sisters, and the interdependence of their sufferings with those of Christ.

Attempts in the Latin source to bring out the applicability of the meditative discipline and relate to the Christian modes of living (especially the life that integrates spheres of action and contemplation) are much less a feature of MEMPC. The English adaptor shortens the discussion from Augustine (Homilies on the Gospel of John) on the active and contemplative lives, and he omits any reference to St Francis on the topic of discretion in contemplation that occurs in the meditation on the Last Supper in MVC. The interpolations that we find in most Middle English adaptations of MVC regarding the respective merits of action and contemplation, and the special value of the mixed life, do not occur in MEMPC. In other words, unlike much contemporary writing of meditation and spiritual direction, there is no attempt here to associate the discipline of devout Christocentric meditation with a rationale for the Christian life that advocates a deeper religious awareness through a mixed life that is partly contemplative and otherwise active in worldly affairs.


Additional scriptural citations in the Middle English translation

The English adaptor, in preparing the MEMPC, evidently consulted the New Testament and was interested in providing fuller Biblical citation than what is the case in both MPC and MVC. For instance, there are examples of speeches in the MEMPC that occur in neither MPC or MVC, such as Christ’s speech during the Last Supper taken from John 13, 12-15 (see the section ‘imagined speech and dialogue’ above).

The following passage at the end of Terce (‘underne’) in MEMPC is a very close translation of Luke 23, 27-30:


So thei hastiden him forth that ladde him to crucifiynge. And furthermore he passynge turnede him to the wymmen that camen bihynde him wepynge and seide: Dou3tris of Ierusalem, wepe 3e not on me, but on 3ouself wepeth & on youre children. For daies schulen come in whiche thei schulen seie: Blessid be bareyn wymen and the wombis that han not born children, and the tetis that han not 3iuen souke! Thanne thei schulen bigynne to saie to mounteyns: Fal 3e doun on us! And to smale hillis: Keuere 3e us! (100, quoted from Bodley 789, but omitted in some other versions of the MEMPC – absent in Laud Misc. 23 and Caius 646/669)


By contrast, MPC (as is the case with the MVC) is content with the short version, with a reference to the fuller speech in the Gospel of Luke:


Ulterius autem Dominus procedens parum post convertit se ad mulieres flentes, et dixit eis: Filie Ierusalem, nolite flere super me, sed super vos ipsas flete, etc., sicut in Evangelio plenius continetur. (Stallings, ed. p. 110)


Following this passage, the Latin Meditationes Passione Christi mentions the material remains of churches erected in commemoration of Christ’s suffering on the way to Calvary (see Stallings, ed. p. 110). Characteristically, this reference is omitted in the Middle English adaptation.

Another scriptural addition, absent from both MVC and MPC, is the following from the meditation of Sext (‘mydday’), in which the adaptor provides the full passage from the Old Testament Psalms 21,17-18.


And thus oure Lord Ihesu Crist was crucified and drawen on breede and lengthe on the crosse that alle his bones mi3ten be noumbrid. And so the prophecie was now fulfilled that seith in the name of Cristis persoone: Many wickede houndis han goon aboute me, the counseil of wickid men hath bisegid me and thei han noumbrid alle my bonys. (110)

And so ye prophecye was fulfilled yat sayde in ye name of cristes passion [red] Circumdederunt me canes multi consilium malignancium obsedit me soderunt manus meas et pedes meos dinumerauerunt omnia ossa mea [end red] Many wicked hondes has gane aboute me / ye counseile of wicked men has besieged me / yai delued my handes and my fete and yai noumbred all my banes (Princeton, Taylor MS 11, fol. 101v).


For this we find in the Latin MPC as edited by Stallings:


Ecce crucifixus est Dominus Iesus, et sic in cruce extensus, quod dinumerari omnia ossa eius possent sicut ipse conqueritur per Prophetam. (Stallings, ed. p. 113)


A few other interpolations and changes found only in the MEMPC, and absent from the Latin, should be noted:

Narrating the story of the Road to Calvary, the MEMPC names Simon of Cyrene as the person who helps Christ carry the Cross (100). He remains unnamed in both the Meditationes vitae Christi and the Latin MPC.

In the meditation at Compline, the MPC and MVC attribute the following prophecy to Isaias (50, 6), whereas, erroneously, the majority of copies of MEMPC names Jeremias as the source. The attribution to Jeremias rather than Isaias appears to be a scribal error and one that developed in the copying tradition; it occurs for instance in Bodl. 789, Laud 174,  (The MEMPC version preserved in Edinburgh UL MS 91, Gonville Caius, Princeton Taylor Ms 11 preserve the correct reference together with the Latin; Laud 23 preserves the correct reference but with no Latin line. )


Dicit enim Isaias in persona Domini: Corpus meum dedi percucientibus, et genas meas vellentibus. (Jordan Stallings, ed. p. 121)


And now was the prophecie of Ieremie uerified that seide in the persoone of Crist: I 3af mi bodi to men smytinge me, and mi chekis to hem that drowen up the heer bi the rote. (Jenks, ed. pp. 150-52)


The Sacrament of the Eucharist

MEMPC follows its Latin source closely in the opening meditation, which treats of the so-called third article of the Last Supper; Christ’s institution and consecration of the Eucharistic host before his disciples. However, there occurs in this section a number of minor alterations, elisions and additions that reveal the Middle English redaction's specific interest in this most sensitive of theological issues.

Following the Latin, the adaptor of MEMPC presents the third article of the Last Supper, ‘as anentis the glorious sacrament of his precious bodi ordeynynge’ (22). We find in this version the most literal rendition that we have in the Middle English pseudo-Bonaventuran texts of the MVC's Latin


Ipse est qui est in tali hostia modica oblatus, et tibi exhibitus. Ipse est Dominus Jesus Christus filius Dei vivi. (Jordan Stallings, ed., 92-93).


He that in such a little oost is offrid or 3iue to the is oure lord Ihesu Crist the sone of lyuynge God. (24)


The following is the key passage of the founding act of consecration. It gives the text in Bodley 789, and prints in bold what are additions to MVC.


And he takynge breed lifte up his i3en to his fader and made the ful hi3e sacrament of his bodi, and he 3yuynge hit to his disciples seide: this is my bodi that schal be bitrayed for 3ou. And also he takinge a challis with wyn seide: this is my blood that schal be sched for many into for3euenesse of synne. Tak hede how and biholde, and namely thou prust, hou diligently, hou freely and treuly & deuoutly Ihesu Crist made and ministride this sacrament and seide to his disciples: As ofte as euere 3e do this, 3e schulen do hit into mynde of me. No thinge forsothe my3te he leue swetter, derrer, ne profitabler to us than hymsilf. For him forsothe that we receyuen in the glorious sacrament goostly is thilke same that wonderfully took fleisch and blood in the mayde Marye. (22-24)


The direct address in the form of an admonition to the priest who officiates at the sacrament of the Eucharist (also found in Nicholas Love’s Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ), reveals a concern with the proper ministration of the sacrament, the correct words for valid consecration, and a correct understanding of its significance and efficacy.

The words for the consecration of the Holy Blood, ‘this is my blood that schal be sched for many into for3euenesse of synne’ is a development of both the Latin MVC and MPC which have merely ‘hoc est sanguis meus, qui pro vobis effundetur’. (Jordan Stallings, ed., 93) The Middle English adaptor here looks to Matthew 26, 28, (‘For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins’), whereas MVC and MPC rework Mark 14, 24 (‘This is my blood of the new testament which shall be shed for many’.) and Luke 22, 20 (‘This is the chalice, the new testament in my blood, which shall be shed for you’.). With the words of consecration in MEMPC the remission of sin is placed at the heart of the Eucharist. This version turns the focus towards soteriology (a dimension lacking in the Latin source), and reflects an interest in the controversial question whether the sacrament can remit from mortal sin, or be a medicine against venial sin.

With the words of consecration in MEMPC the remission of sin is placed at the heart of the Eucharist. This version turns the focus towards soteriology (a dimension lacking in the Latin source), and reflects an interest in the controversial question whether the sacrament can remit from mortal sin, or be a medicine against venial sin.


Bodley 789 is the only version of MEMPC to include the word ‘gostly’ in ‘For him forsothe that we receyuen in the glorious sacrament goostly is thilke same that wonderfully took fleisch and blood in the mayde Marye’. The emphasis is here on the spiritual significance of the Eucharistic host. It is unclear if some polemic is intended in this addition, in the face of a Church insisting that identity and real presence are free from figurative meaning and that Christ’s body is present really, literally, carnally (realiter). One might cautiously suggest that such an ambiguous formulation could work to open up an interpretative space to a reader attentive to such individual wordings and subtle semantics. Underlying such changes made to the Latin source may be an attempt to accommodate more liberal thinking about Eucharist and soteriology, for example that we receive Christ spiritually and not sensually, in a text that is entirely orthodox on the doctrine of transubstantiation and other doctrinal issues.

Finally it should be noted that MEMPC omits the passage about how the Eucharist should be received. This passage is found in the Passion meditation in Michigan State University Ms 1 which translates with minor abbreviation, but still accurately, from the Latin MVC.


This rememberaunce and mynde of byrnyng lufe schulde euer kynde sawle hafe in resaynyng of hys blyssyd body thorwgth the whylke he schulde byrne as a bronde brygth inn byrnyng lufe & charyte that he mygth be transformede and reueschede into Cryst body into hym thrwgth the passing swetnes of deuocyon that he schulde hafe in this blyssyde body. (23)


The omission of this paragraph from the MEMPC chimes well with the text’s general tendency to omit what is not strictly necessary to the core narrative, to shorten or leave out instructions to the reader, and to produce a more tempered, less emotionally fervent, version of the Passion sequence in the Meditationes.

MEMPC closely reproduces what is in MVC concerning the institution of the sacrament of the altar. But one possible way of summing up the changes found in MEMPC and its particular handing of the sacrament is that it omits what is in the MVC, namely focus on the sweetness of emotion in the presence of the Eucharist, while it includes what is absent in the MVC, i.e. admonition to the priest and mention of the Eucharist as remission of sin.

Dissemination and Reception Contexts


There are 11 complete or partial manuscripts.

We refer to the codicological descriptions by Ryan Perry for more details about dissemination and reception contexts.

Bibliographical Materials



Day, Stephanie M., 'A Critical Edition of the Privity of the Passion and the Lyrical Meditations’, University of York, 1991.

Jenks, Joseph, ‘A Critical Edition of the Meditations on the Passion Michigan State University Manuscript No. 1’ PhD thesis, Michigan State University, 1956. (This unpublished thesis contains the MEMPC as a parallel text to the Passion meditation preserved in Michigan State University MS1)

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

Sargent, Michael, ed., Nicholas Love: The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ: A Full Critical Edition. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2005.

Stallings, M. Jordan, ed. Meditaciones de Passione Christi olim sancto Bonaventurae Attributae. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press,1965.

- -

Reakes, Jason, 'A Middle English Prose Translation of the Meditaciones de Passione Christi and its links with manuscripts of Love's Myrrour', Notes & Queries, 27 (1980), 199-202.

Salter, Elizabeth, Nicholas Love’s Myrrour of the Blessed Lyf of Jesu Christ. Analecta Cartusiana 10. Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1974.

Please wait...