Categories: English Literature

Conventions and Institutions

Benedictine

Rule Monastic orders existed in Ireland and Wales in the fifth century, first arrived in England in the sixth and seventh centuries, and in the eighth century the Rule of St. Benedict (480–ca. 550), Benedict’s set of codes for behavior, also came to be known in the British Isles. Receiving additional impetus after 1066 and then again with the arrival of orders of canons and friars in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the monastic orders had their maximum numbers at the beginning of the fourteenth century, declined with the pestilence later in the century, then recovered significantly. From their inception many monastic houses received large endowments, were powerful landholding institutions, and were deeply and directly involved in the economic, legal, and social lives of all of society’s strata in both immediate and extended geographical areas. William Caxton (ca. 1422–92) began his career as a merchant. In the 1440s he went to Bruges, Cologne, and Ghent where he began his career as a printer and translator. He returned to England in 1476 with movable type and proceeded to publish over one hundred titles in the remaining sixteen years of this life, including several of Chaucer’s, Gower’s, Lydgate’s, and Malory’s works as well as his own translations. Six English translations of the Benedictine rule survive from the eleventh century to 1516. None of the translations is dependent on each other, nor is any direct French or Latin source known. Caxton’s edition from about 1490 also contains Heinrich Suso’s Horologium sapientiae and other texts, and it, like several manuscript versions, is addressed to both men and women.

Also like the other versions, Caxton’s print lays out the qualifications and duties of the abbot and abbess, the process of admission to the order, directions for divine service, cultivation of obedience and the twelve rungs of the ladder of humility, and the practical regulation of dress, food, and manual duties.[B]ere in thy mynde this synguler note that the hede or the sovereyn wyth all the congregacion streytly be bounde to folowe the rule in every poynte and that none of theim be soo bolde to decly[n]e or departe therfro so that none folowe the wyll of theyr owne mynde oonly but ever be redy to be reformyd. The subgettes also owe to be ryght ware that they make no strife wythyn or wythout wyth theyr sovereyns; yf that they doo, anone lete hem have the streyt reguler punysshment wyth the fere of God and in kepynge the rule, remembrynge that the hede withoute ony dowte shall yeve a full streyte accompte oo day of all their jugementes and byhavour to God atte ferefull daye of rekenynge . . . Also, the sovereyn and the subgettes owe ever to flee idylnesse, the norisshe1 of al synnes, and to be ocupyed ever in vertu, lovyng God wyth all their herte, of all theyr soule, and of all their strength, and theyr neyghbour as theyr selfe, doyng ever unto theym as they wolde be done unto, dyspisyng theyrselfe, and folow Crist by the crosse of penaunce.

Also, they must chastyse theyr body and flee the pleasur therof and to use fastynge, and refresshe the poore peple wyth dedes of mercy, goostly and bodely, and medle lytyll wyth worldly actes, no thyng preferryng above the love of God, wrath or deceyte never to kepe in herte or to promyse ony false peas, kepynge ever charytee, and use never to swere, leeste that by custome ye fall in perjurie, and sey ever the trouth in herte and mouth, never yeldyng evyll for evyll but rather good for evyll, doyng no wronge to ony but for to suffre paciently whan it is done to you. Love your enmyes, and curse hem not, and be redy to take persecucion for a rightwys mater; never be prowde or dronklew nor moche etyng or slouthfull, not grutchynge or bakbytynge, ever puttynge your trust in our Lord God.

Whan that ye see ony goodnes in your-selfe, anone put it to oure Lorde and not to your-selfe. All thinge that is evyll ascryve to your-selfe. Fere ever the daye of jugement and the dungeon of hell, desyrynge wyth all your mynde and herte the everlastyng lyfe, and have evere deth suspecte afore your eyen, and gyde ever your dedes wysely in every hour, and be certeyn that God beholdith theim in everi place, and every evyl thought that commyth to your mynde, anone put it awaye by thynkyng of Cristes passyon, and shewe theym by confessyon to your goostly fader, and kepe ever your tongue from evyll and schrewde langage, and speke lytyll and well, and ever avoyde vayn wordes and dissolute laughter and japes, and be glad to here gode lectures and lyves of sayntes with preyer, dayly waylyng your synnes and the synnes and ignoraunce of the peple wyth amendes makyng. The preceptes of your sovereyn in all thynges obey, lefull as to God, and fulfyll them. Love ever chastyte; and flee ever envy, hatrede, and stryff; and worship your elders; and favour the yong in all love and drede of God. Ever pray for your enmyes and, or the sone goo downe, be in perfyte peas wyth theym dayly to your power, and never dyspeyr of the grete mercy of God. Loo, thyes ben the instrumentes of the spirituell crafte and occupacion, the which exercisid and doon, oure Lorde hath promysed to you and us that eye never sawe, nor ere ever herde, nor cowde ever in-to mannys herte ascende, the whiche to al his lovyng servantes he hath ordened. Amen.

Obedyence is a grete vertu done without grutchyng or taryenge. It is the fyrst steppe unto mekenes, and it is right specyous and nedefull to be had for all peple and namely for relygyous persones. True obediencers, assone as thei be called or commaundid of theyr sovereyn, anone after the worde seyde, they be redy wyth all gladnesse to doo the dede so commaundid, settyng asyde all other thynges undone and their owne wyll in every poynt, and that wyth all quyknesse of herte and body for drede of our Lorde. Wherfore, he callyth suche a lyfe a streyt waye to heven and not a comyn waye where synners take her owne wyll, and be not undir the yocke of obedyence to an other. Wythouten doubte trew obedyencers folow surely oure Lorde and his wordes where he seyth, “I come not in-to thys world to doo myn owne wyll but the wyll of my fader the whiche sent me.”2 Thenne this obedience is gretly acceptable to God and swete to al Cristen peple whan it is done quikly and wythoute grutchynge or frowarde3 countenaunce in worde or in herte. Our Lorde loveth a thyng done unto hym cherefully in soule, and such obedience done to the sovereyn is done to God and for God, as he seyth hymselfe. Yf one obey with grutchyng either in worde or in their herte, fulfyllyng the commaundement of theyr sovereyn, yet it is not acceptable to God, the whiche beholdyth the herte ever and the wyll of the doer therof, and he shal have noo grace but rather payne ordeined for grutchers, without he amende him. As for silence, doo aftir the cheyf prophete of God, David, where he seyth in the sauter, “I have seyd that I shall not offende in my tongue. I have put a kepyng to my mowth and am dompe and therwith made meke and silent.”4 In moche speche, as it is writen, synne cann not be avoyded; also, in the power of the tongue is deth and lyfe. As it accordith to a mayster to speke and teche, so it behoveth the disciple to here and be silent; wordes of unclennes voyde or, mevynge to disolucyon or to laughter, ben dampned by the rule in ony place to be had, and it is commaundid streytly by the same, none to be so bolde to open their mowth in suche maner of talkyng.

Also, silence is to be kept by the rule at all tymes and spyrituelly at nyght after complyn, and noo licence thenne is to be gyven to any for to speke but oonly to officers or to theim that grete nede causith to speke with sadnesse and honestee, and silence also is to be kept at all refeccions and meles and in other places, and at other tymes specyfyed by the rule. Yf theyr be founde ony gylty in theis premyses, thei ought to be punysshid streytly and grevously. Holy scrypture cryeth and seyth, “He that wyll high hymselfe shal be made lowe, and he that mekyth hym selfe shall be made high.”5 In thys is shewid that exaltacyon is the doughter and nygh of kyne to pryde, whiche is mortall. Yf we wyll atteyne and come to the heyth of perfyte mekenes, the whiche wyll bringe us to the honour of heven in body and soule, lete us lyft up our herte and mynde unto heven by the skale and lader of Jacob, descendyng wyth the angels from ony exaltacyon, and clymme up to theym by mekenes and humyliacion . . . [The twelve steps are then specified; the sixth and twelfth follow here.] The sixth degre of mekenes is whan one is well content wyth symple araye or habite, and is glad to be set lytill by and to be take as a drudge or outcast of the religion, and to be ever redy to doo al thynges that is boden hym to doo, jugyng him an idyll servaunt and unworthy to God and man . . . The twelfth degree is whan one, not oonly in his mowthe but aswell in his body, shewyth meknesse to all that beholde hym as in al his dedes in chaptour, in chirche, in garden, in felde, sittynge, walkynge, or standynge, and his hede enclynynge and his sight to the grounde, shewynge hym selfe every houre gylty of hys synne, havynge ever suspect for to be brought to the ferefull jugement of God, seyeng thus wyth the publycan, “Good Lorde, I a synner am not worthy to lyfte up myn eyen to heven.”6 Who som ever hath ascendyd al thise degrees of mekenesse shall anone have the charyte of God perfitely, the whyche thenne puttyth awaye all drede in suche thynges, the whyche he dyde afore with drede, and also dooth thenne al his actes of accustome as it were naturalle to hym, cherefully and wythoute labour, and that not for the drede of hell he dooth it, but for fervent love that he hath to God by a custome and delyte of vertue, the whyche grace is yeven of the holy gooste . . .

The grete vice and syn of properte in relygyon is namely to be cutte awaye by the rote. Presume none in relygyon to yeve ony thyng or to take wythout the wyll and commaundement of the sovereyn, nor it is leefull ony to have a thyng to theyrself propre, not as moche as their owne body, or to have their own wyll in their power. All thynges to theim necessary is to be had of the sovereyn accordynge to theyr nede, not acceptynge ony persone more than an other but accordyng to nede and in-firmyte. And all thynges must be commyn emonge theym accordyng to the lyfe of the apostles. None presume to sey: “Suche a thynge is myne.” Yf ony be founde gylty in this venemouse offence of properte, lete hem twyes or thries be correct; yf they doo not amende, see thenne to their cha[s]tysment. Yf at ony tyme one nede a lytyll thyng, thanke he our Lorde and say he ever “Deo gracias,” not beyng sory that another that nede hath, that pite is shewid uppon hym. And he that hath suche pite shewyd upon hym shal not therof be proude by contenaunce or by worde, and thus shall all the congregacyon be in rest and charitee, and grutchynge layd a syde, the whiche is perilous to be had eyther by worde or sygne. Yf ony therin be founde culpable, anone put theim to streyt disciplyne. Eche one be besy to serve other, and none is to be exscusid from the dressing bord of the kechyn wythout they be seke or other wyse occupyed for the commyn well. In suche meke and low service is goten grete mede, charite, and rewarde, and whan they shall departe wekely from the kechyn by cours, they owe to make al thynges clene at theyr departyng, and the clothes that the covent hath fyled with theyr handes or fete, they shall delyver clene also wyth all mekenes. And moreover theyr owne fete they shall make clene in theyr departyng, and delyver al the naprye7 and clene clothes to the celerer. Suche servytoures by the rule may take a lytyll refresshing of mete and drynke afore high dyner for by-cause of their attendaunce and servyse at the same . . . In the tyme of Lent echon by theyr-selfe have the Bible, the whiche they owe to rede complete and hole besyde theyr servyse, and the seyde Bible is to be delyverd unto theym atte begynnynge of Lent. And the serchers of the relygyon owe to see warely about that they be occupyed in lecture therof Sonday and other, and not aboute fables, japes, or sluggisshenes. Yf ony suche be founde, see that they be spoken unto sharply ones or twyes, and yf they amende not theyr-wyth, lete theym be correct soo that all other maye beware by theym. If theyr be ony so slouthfull or neclygent that they maye not or wyll not be occupied in redyng or holy medytacyon, thenne lete theym be assigned to other occupacyons to doo so that they be never unoccupied in vertu. If they be seke or feble for age, thenne such an occupacyon is to be put unto theym that they maye awaye wyth and not to be ydyll, by the discrecion of the sovereyn.

How be it that a relygious persone owe every tyme to kepe Lent, yet for by-cause that fewe have thys vertu, therfore we advise and counseyll, seyth Saynt Benet,8 all of the relygyon spiritually theys forty dayes of Lent to kepe in all clennesse of lyfe, and to put utterly awaye all theyr neclygences and olde custome of synne, and thenne more spiritually to gyve theim to prayer, waylyng and wepinge, redinge, and abstinence in mete and drynke, wythdrawynge somwhat of theyr takynge in mete and drynke other wyse than they dide afore, and that wyth good wyll, offerynge it in his mynde to God and to the poore peple, and to wythdrawe some what of slepe and speche and wanton behavour. And as for abstynence of mete and drynke, it owe to be doon wyth the consente ever of the sovereyn and the helpe of prayer. For yf it be otherwyse doon, it is to be taken of presumpcyon and vayne glory, and thenne it hath noo mede . . . Clothynge to the covent, and habyte, is to be yeven accordyng to the hete of the yere or to the coldenes of the countre that they dwell in, lasse or more as nede is. And the sovereyn must have consideracion therof and to bye suche cloth that is made in that countre or provynce of the vilest and lyghtest pryce. And as oft as they shal take new, thenne to rendre up the olde for the use of pore peple. Of other thynges necessary for theyr body daye and nyght in wynter and somer, and of theyr celles and lodgyng, and of their behavour in theim with other, the hole rule certifieth, and how the sovereyne shal dyligently serche that thei lacke no thyng to theym necessary soo that all occasion of grutchyng, or for ony thynge werkynge, or for ony thynge kepyng have no place in the relygyon, ever remembryng the wordes wrytyn in the Actes of the Apostles where it is seyde that it was distribute and delyverd to echone of theym as theyr nede required . . .9 [A] monestary is to be sette in suche a place where all thynges necessary soone maye be had so that the covent nede not to passe the boundes of the clausures therof, the whiche yf thei dide, shulde be perylle for theyr soules. Saynt Benet woll that the rule be red effectuelly oftymes in the yere afore the congregacion for by-cause none of hem shal pretende ignorance or ony exscuse. Whan ony of the bredern must doo a journey without the clausure of the place, after licence had, he shall commende hym to the prayer of his sovereyn, and ever at last oryson in the servyse of God shal a prayer be sayd for him and all that is absent.

And the daye that they come home ayen, they shal lye prostrate all the servyse tyme and desyre the covent to praye for theym for theyr excesses done in the journey, as in syght, heryng of ony vanytees or evyll thynges, or ony voyde wordes. And they shall not tell ony thyng that they sawe or herd in theyr journey, for it is a grete meane to the destruccion of suche a place of relygion. And he that presumyth to doo the contrary or to goo oute of the clausure of the monestary to ony place, thought it be never so lytil, wythout commandement or licence of the sovereyn, owe to be streytly punysshyd.

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