Meditations on the Life of Christ and other 15th-century manuscripts

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The volume contains six different manuscripts:

  • f.1: Bonaventura's Life of Christ, translated by Nicholas Love;
  • f.125: The Boke of the Craft of Dyinge;
  • f.137b: A tretyse of gostely bataile right devoute;
  • f.152: A lytil shorte tretyce that telleth howe there were vi masters assembled togedir, etc.;
  • f.152b: Nota de paciencia infirmitatis (in Latin);
  • f.153: The xii prophetis of tribulacioun.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Meditation on the Life of Christ or the Meditatione Vitae Christi was believed to have been written by the famous 13th-century Franciscan John Bonaventura but more recent scholarship has now attributed the authorship to a little known 14th-century Italian Franciscan, Johannes de Caulibus. A devotional life of Christ, intended to be used for meditation, the original work was immensely popular all over Europe and was rendered into the vernacular of most European countries. The text emphasises Christ's human nature, and the author frequently appeals to the reader's immediate experience to make the Biblical narrative more directly present. The overall structure of the work sets the meditation over the seven days of the week and apportioned at canonical hours of the day. The translation by Nicholas Love saw some alteration of the Latin text for his early 15th-century audience, with his introduction making it clear that he was writing for a secular readership. He retained the structure but rearranged and abridged much of the material. He includes a paraphrase of Paul's Epistle to clarify his motives, and possibly protect himself from confusion with Lollard demands for access to Holy Scriptures without priestly control.

Little is know of Love himself, though it appears that he was the prior of Mount Grace, a Carthusian monastery in Yorkshire, as a 'Dom Nicholas Love' is listed as such in 1410. Nonetheless his precise dates are unknown with only a suggestion of a 1427 death.

The Book of the Craft of Dying was an English work based in the tradition of the Ars moriendi, or the art of dying well. This tradition came in the form of various works that acted as personal guidebooks leading the reader, not only at sickbed, but at any stage of life, through preparation for a good death. Such a good death was one in faith, in bodily discipline, with a clear conscience and hoping for a good future. In this vein the Book itself describes the five temptations confronting the dying man: to be averted from faith; to be turned against hope by despair; to give in to impatience; to allow pride to prevent contrition; and to be overly occupied with the temporal world, that is, with avarice. In order to achieve a good death these temptations must be countered by their corresponding inspirations: confirming faith; leading to contrition; encouraging patient suffering; humility; and detachment from worldly goods.

The Treatise of Ghostly Battle is a composite manuscript made up from various extracts, including the Pore Caitif and The Three Arrows on Doomsday, detailing the fight against temptation and sin while allegorising the accessories of knighthood into spiritual virtues.

The next three manuscripts, namely A little short treatise that tells how there were six masters assembled together, the Nota de paciencia infirmitatis and The twelve profits of tribulation, are all 15th-century theological manuscripts on the nature of suffering. Originally separate, these manuscripts have ended up together in what is assumed to have been a popular edition.

Excepting the Meditation on the Life of Christ, all the other works have been at one time or another been attributed to Richard Rolle de Hampole. The original Latin prose of The Book of the Craft of Dying that formed the basis for Love's translation has been attributed to Rolle, though he is only one choice out of many. Since the Treatise of Ghostly Battle contains extracts from Rolle's other works, like the Pore Caitif, it too has been attributed to him, though his authorship has been disputed over stylistic differences between his accepted work and this treatise. The last three manuscripts have a more complicated relationship with Rolle. An early and separate version of the Twelve Profits of Tribulation has been identified as possibly coming from Rolle, the result of which was that the three combined manuscripts were also attributed to him. However more recent scholarship has identified dialect differences between the earlier and later versions that point to a different source and cast doubt on the link between Rolle and the other two works as well.

Conditions Governing Access

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by Gordon Duff for the John Rylands Library from the London booksellers Bull & Auvache for £50 in January 1894.

Note

Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, with reference to:

Other Finding Aids

Detailed description in N.R. Ker, Medieval manuscripts in British libraries, vol. III, Lampeter-Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), p. 415.

Related Material

The JRUL holds other manuscript copies of the Meditation on the Life of Christ: see English MS 98, Speculum vite Christi (GB 133 Eng MS 98) and English MS 413, The Lyif of Crist.

For other works attributed to Richard Rolle of Hampole, see the JRUL's Pricke of Conscience Manuscripts (GB 133 Eng MSS 50, 51 and 90).