Henry Pepwell.

The cell of self-knowledge: seven early English mystical treatises printed by Henry Pepwell in 1521: online

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Translated by Alice Kemp-
Welch. With an Introduction
by L. Brandin.

lated and edited by Alice Kemp-

LADY. Translated and edited
by Alice Kemp- Welch.

GEMINIANO. Translated and
edited by M. Mansfield.

Manners for the Young. Modern-
ised and edited by Edith


Translated by Mary G. Steeg-
MANN. With an Introduction by
Algar Thorold.

OF LOVE. Edited by Edith

Edith Rickert.

MAS CAROLS. Collected and
arranged by Edith Rickert.

LEDGE : Seven Early English
Mystical Treatises. Edited by
Edmund G. Gardner, M.A.

Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2009 with funding from

Boston Library Consortium IVIember Libraries


•^ i'<^:^




The Frontispiece is taken from
B.M. MS. Faustina, B. VI.


\ C 2.2S3



All rig his reserved

*' Stiamo nella cella del cognoscimento di noi ; cogno-
scendo, noi per noi non ess ere, e la bonta di Dio in noi ;
ricognoscendo I'essere, e ogni grazia che e posta sopra
I'essere, da lui." — St. Catherine of Siena.

" Tergat ergo speculum suum, mundet spiritum suum,
quisquis sitit videre Deum suum. Exterso autem speculo
et diu diligenter inspecto, incipit ei quaedam divini
luminis claritas interlucere, et immensus quidam insolitae
visionis radius oculis ejus apparere. Hoc lumen oculos
ejus irradiaverat, qui dicebat : Signatum est super nos
lumen vultus tui, Domine ; dedisti laetitiam in corde meo.
Ex hujus igitur luminis visione quam admiratur in se,
mirum in modum accenditur animus, et animatur ad
videndum lumen, quod est supra se." — Richard of St,



I. A very Devout Treatise, named Benjamin, of the
Mights and Virtues of Man's Soul, and of the
Way to True Contemplation, compiled by a
Noble and Famous Doctor, a man of great holi-
ness and devotion, named Richard of Saint
Victor I

The Prologue ...... 3

Cap. I. How the Virtue of Dread riseth in
the Affection 7

Cap. II. How Sorrow riseth in the Affection 8

Cap. III. How Hope riseth in the Affection 9

Cap. IV. How Love riseth in the Affection 10

Cap. V. How the Double Sight of Pain and
Joy riseth in the Imagination . . .12

Cap. VI. How the Virtues of Abstinence and
Patience rise in the Sensuality . . 15

Cap. VII. How Joy of Inward Sweetness

riseth in the Affection .... 19




Cap. VIII. How Perfect Hatred of Sin
riseth in the Affection . . . .22

Cap. IX. How Ordained Shame riseth and
groweth in the Affection . . .24

Cap. X. How Discretion and Contempla-
tion rise in the Reason . . -27

II. Divers Doctrines Devout and Fruitful, taken out

of the Life of that Glorious Virgin and Spouse

of Our Lord, Saint Katherin of Scenes . . 35

III. A Short Treatise of Contemplation taught by

Our Lord Jesu Christ, or taken out of the Book

of Margery Kempe, Ancress of Lynn . . 49

IV. A Devout Treatise compiled by Master Walter

Hylton of the Song of Angels . . .61

V. A Devout Treatise called the Epistle of Prayer 75

VI. A very necessary Epistle of Discretion in Stir-
rings of the Soul 93

VII. A Devout Treatise of Discerning of Spirits,

very necessary for Ghostly Livers . . '117


FROM the end of the thirteenth to the beginning of
the fifteenth century may be called the golden age
of mystical literature in the vernacular. In Germany, we
find Mechthild of Magdeburg (d. 1277), Meister Eckhart
{d, 1327), Johannes Tauler {d. 1361), and Heinrich Suso
{d. 1365) ; in Flanders, Jan Ruysbroek (d. 1381) ; in
Italy, Dante Alighieri himself (d. 1 321), Jacopone da
Todi {d. 1306), St. Catherine of Siena {d. 1380), and
many lesser writers who strove, in prose or in poetry, to
express the hidden things of the spirit, the secret inter-
course of the human soul with the Divine, no longer in
the official Latin of the Church, but in the language
of their own people, " a man's own vernacular," which
" is nearest to him, inasmuch as it is most closely united
to him." ^ In England, the great names of Richard
Rolle, the Hermit of Hampole {d. 1349), °^ Walter Hilton
{d. 1396), and of Mother Juliana of Norwich, whose
Revelations of Divine Love professedly date from 1373,
speak for themselves.

1 Dante, Convivio, i. 12.


The seven tracts or treatises before us were published
in 1 521 in a little quarto volume : " Imprynted at London
in Poules chyrchyarde at the sygne of the Trynyte, by
Henry Pepwell. In the yere of our lorde God, m.ccccc.xxi.,
the xvi. daye of Nouembre." They may, somewhat
loosely speaking, be regarded as belonging to the fourteenth
century, though the first and longest of them professes
to be but a translation of the work of the great Augus-
tinian mystic of an earlier age.

St. Bernard, Richard of St. Victor, and St. Bona-
ventura — all three very familiar figures to students of
Dante's Paradiso — are the chief influences in the story
of English mysticism. And, through the writings of
his latter-day followers, Richard RoUe, Walter Hilton,
and the anonymous author of the Divine Cloud ofUn-
knowtng, Richard of St. Victor is, perhaps, the most
important of the three.

Himself either a Scot or an Irishman by birth, Richard
entered the famous abbey of St. Victor, a house of
Augustinian canons near Paris, some time before 1140,
where he became the chief pupil of the great mystical
doctor and theologian whom the later Middle Ages
regarded as a second Augustine, Hugh of St. Victor.
After Hugh's death (1141), Richard succeeded to his
influence as a teacher, and completed his work in creat-
ing the mystical theology of the Church. His master-
piece, De Gratia ConUmplationis, known also as Benjamin


Major, in five books, is a work of marvellous spiritual
insight, unction, and eloquence, upon which Dante
afterwards based the whole mystical psychology of the
Paradiso?- In it Richard shows how the soul passes
upward through the six steps of contemplation — in
imagination, in reason, in understanding — gradually dis-
carding all sensible objects of thought ; until, in the sixth
stage, it contemplates what is above reason, and seems
to be beside reason, or even contrary to reason. He
teaches that there are three qualities of contemplation,
according to its intensity : mentis dilatatio, an enlarge-
ment of the soul's vision without exceeding the bounds
of human activity ; mentis sublevatio, elevation of mind,
in which the intellect, divinely illumined, transcends the
measure of humanity, and beholds the things above itself,
but does not entirely lose self-consciousness ; and mentis
alienatio, or ecstasy, in which all memory of the present
leaves the mind, and it passes into a state of divine trans-
figuration, in which the soul gazes upon truth without
any veils of creatures, not in a mirror darkly, but in its
pure simplicity. This master of the spiritual life died
in 1 173. Amongst the glowing souls of the great doctors
and theologians in the fourth heaven, St. Thomas Aquinas

1 Cf. the Letter to Can Grande [Epist. x. 28), where Dante,
like St. Thomas Aquinas before him, refers to the Benjamin
Major as " Richardus de Sancto Victore in libro De Contem-


bids Dante mark the ardent spirit of " Richard who in
contemplation was more than man." ^

Benjamin, for Richard, is the type of contemplation,
in accordance with the Vulgate version of Psalm Ixvii. :
Ibi Benjamin adolescentulus in mentis excessu : " There
is Benjamin, a youth, in ecstasy of mind " — where the
English Bible reads : " Little Benjamin their ruler." ^
At the birth of Benjamin, his mother Rachel dies : " For,
when the mind of man is rapt above itself, it surpasseth
all the limits of human reasoning. Elevated above itself
and rapt in ecstasy, it beholdeth things in the divine
light at which all human reason succumbs. What, then,
is the death of Rachel, save the failing of reason ? " ^

The treatise here printed under the title Benjamin
is based upon a smaller work of Richard's, a kind of in-
troduction to the Benjamifi Major, entitled : Benjamin
Minor ; or : De Praeparatione animi ad Contemflationem.
It is a paraphrase of certain portions of this work, with
a few additions, and large omissions. Among the portions
omitted are the two passages that, almost alone among
Richard's writings, are known to the general reader — or,
at least, to people who do not claim to be specialists in
mediaeval theology. In the one, he speaks of knowledge
of self as the Holy Hill, the Mountain of the Lord : —

^ Par. X. 131, 132.

2 Ps. Ixviii. 27.

3 Bejij'amin Minor, cap. 73.


" If the mind would fain ascend to the height of science,
let its first and principal study be to know itself. Full
knowledge of the rational spirit is a great and high
mountain. This mountain transcends all the peaks of
all mundane sciences, and looks down upon all the philo-
sophy and all the science of the world from on high.
Could Aristotle, could Plato, could the great band of
philosophers ever attain to it ? " ^

In the other, still adhering to his image of the moun-
tain of self-knowledge, he makes his famous appeal to the
Bible, as the supreme test of truth, the only sure guard
that the mystic has against being deluded in his lofty
speculations : —

" Even if you think that you have been taken up into
that high mountain apart, even if you think that you see
Christ transfigured, do not be too ready to believe any-
thing you see in Him or hear from Him, unless Moses
and Elias run to meet Him. I hold aU truth in suspicion
which the authority of the Scriptures does not confirm,
nor do I receive Christ in His clarification unless Moses
and Elias are talking with Him." ^

1 Benjamin Minor, cap. 75. Cf. Shelley, The Triwtnph of Life :
"Their lore taught them not this: to know themselves." This
passage of Richard is curiously misquoted and its meaning per-
verted in Haur^au, Histoire de la Philosophic Scolastique, i,
pp. 513, 514, in the Dictionary of National Biography, vol. xvi.,
and elsewhere.

2 Benjamin Minor, cap. 81.


On the other hand, the beautiful passage with which
the version closes, so typical of the burning love of Christ,
shown in devotion to the name of Jesus, which glows
through all the writings of the school of the Hermit of
Hampole, is an addition of the translator : —

" And therefore, what so thou be that covetest to come
to contemplation of God, that is to say, to bring forth
such a child that men clepen in the story Benjamin (that
is to say, sight of God), then shalt thou use thee in this
manner. Thou shalt call together thy thoughts and thy
desires, and make thee of them a church, and learn thee
therein for to love only this good word 'Jesu^ so that all
thy desires and all thy thoughts are only set for to love
Jesu, and that unceasingly as it may be here ; so ■ that
thou fulfil that is said in the psalm : ' Lord, I shall bless
Thee in churches ' ; that is, in thoughts and desires of the
love of Jesu. And then, in this church of thoughts and
desires, and in this onehead of studies and of wills, look
that all thy thoughts, and aU thy desires, and all thy studies,
and all thy wills be only set in the love and the praising
of this Lord Jesu, without forgetting, as far forth as thou
mayst by grace, and as thy frailty will suffer; evermore
meeting thee to prayer and to counsel, patiently abiding
the will of our Lord, unto the time that thy mind be
ravished above itself, to be fed with the fair food of angels
in the beholding of God and ghostly things; so that it
be fulfilled in thee that is written in the psalm : Ihi


Benjamin adolescentulus in mentis excessu ; that is : ' There
is Benjamin, the young child, in ravishing of mind.' "^

The text printed by Pepwell differs sHghtly from that
of the manuscripts, of which a large number have been
preserved. Among others, it is found in the Arundel MS.
286, and the Harleian MSS. 674, 1022, and 2373. It has
been published from the Harl. MS. 1022 by Professor
C. Horstman, who observes that " it is very old, and
certainly prior to Walter Hilton." ^ It is evidently by
one of the followers of Richard Rolle, dating from about
the middle of the fourteenth century. External and
internal evidence seems to point to its being the work
of the anonymous author of the Divine Cloud of Un-

This is not the place to tell again the wonderful story
of St. Catherine of Siena (l 347-1 380), one of the noblest
and most truly heroic women that the world has ever seen.
Her life and manifold activities only touched England
indirectly. The famous English captain of mercenaries,
Sir John Hawkwood, was among the men of the world
who, at least for a while, were won to nobler ideals
by her letters and exhortations. Two of her principal
disciples, Giovanni Tantucci and William Flete, both
Augustinian hermits, were graduates of Cambridge ;

1 Cf. below, pp. 32, 33.

2 Richard Rolle of Hainpole and his Followers, edited by C.
Horstman, vol. i. pp. 162-172.



the latter, an Englishman by birth, was appointed by
her on her deathbed to preside over the continuance of
her work in her native city, and a vision of his, concerning
the legitimacy of the claims of Urban the Sixth to the
papal throne, was brought forward as one of the argu-
ments that induced England, on the outbreak of the Great
Schism in the Church (1378), to adhere to the Roman
obedience for which Catherine was battling to the death.
A letter which she herself addressed on the same subject
to King Richard the Second has not been preserved.

About 1493, Wynkyn de Worde printed The Lyf of
saint Katherin of Senis the blessid virgin^ edited by
Caxton ; which is a free translation, by an anonymous
Dominican, with many omissions and the addition of
certain reflections, of the Legenda, the great Latin bio-
graphy of St. Catherine by her third confessor, Friar-
Raymond of Capua, the famous master-general and
reformer of the order of St. Dominic {d. 1399). He
followed this up, in 15 19, by an English rendering by
Brother Dane James of the Saint's mystical treatise,
the Dialogo : " Here begynneth the Orcharde of Syon,
in the whiche is conteyned the reuelacyons of seynt
Katheryne of Sene, with ghostly fruytes and precyous
plantes for the helthe of mannes soule." ^ This was not
translated from St. Catherine's own vernacular, but from

1 Sene, Senis, or Seenes, "Siena," from the Latin Senae [Catha'
rina de Senis).


Friar Raymond's Latin version of the latter, first printed
at Brescia in 1496. From the first of these two works,
the Lyf, are selected the passages — the Divers Doctrines
devout ani fruitful — which Pepwell here presents to us ;
but it seems probable that he was not borrowing directly
from Caxton, as an almost verbally identical selection,
with an identical title, is found in the British Museum,
MS. Reg. 17 D.V., where it follows the Divine Cloud,
of Unknozving.

Margery Kempe is a much more mysterious personage.
She has come down to us only in a tiny quarto of eight
pages printed by Wynkyn de Worde : —

" Here begynneth a shorte treatyse of contemplacyon
taught by our lorde Jhesu cryste, or taken out of the boke
of Margerie kempe of Lynn."

And at the end : —

" Here endeth a shorte treatyse called Margerie kempe
de Lynn. Enprynted in Fletestrete by Wynkyn de

The only known copy is preserved in the University
of Cambridge. It is undated, but appears to have been
printed in 1501.^ With a few insignificant variations, it
is the same as was printed twenty years later by Pepwell,
who merely inserts a few words like " Our Lord Jesus
said unto her," or " she said," and adds that she was a

1 Cf. E. Gordon Duff, Hand-Lists of English Printers, 1501-
1556, i. p. 24.


devout ancress. Tanner, not very accurately, writes :
" This book contains various discourses of Christ (as it is
pretended) to certain holy women ; and, written in the
style of modern Quietists and Quakers, speaks of the
inner love of God, of perfection, et cetera." ^ No manu-
script of the work is known to exist, and absolutely no
traces can be discovered of the " Book of Margery
Kempe," out of which it is implied by the Printer that
these beautiful thoughts and sayings are taken.

There is nothing in the treatise itself to enable us to
fix its date. It is, perhaps, possible that the writer or
recipient of these revelations is the " Margeria filia
Johannis Kempe," who, between 1284 and 1298, gave
up to the prior and convent of Christ Church, Canter-
bury, all her rights in a piece of land with buildings and
appurtenances, " which falls to me after the decease of
my brother John, and lies in the parish of Blessed Mary of
Northgate outside the walls of the city of Canterbury." ^
The revelations show that she was (or had been) a woman
of some wealth and social position, who had abandoned
the world to become an ancress, following the life pre-
scribed in that gem of early English devotional literature,
the Ancren Riwle? It is clearly only a fragment of her

1 Bibliotkeca Britannico-Hihernica, p. 452.

2 Quietaclamium Margeriefilie Johannis Kempe de domihus in
parochia de Northgate. Brit. Mus., Add. MS. 25,109.

3 She was, however, apparently less strictly enclosed than was
usual for an ancress.



complete book (whatever that may have been) ; but it
is enough to show that she was a worthy precursor of
that other great woman mystic of East Anglia : Juliana
of Norwich. For Margery, as for JuHana, Love is the
interpretation of revelation, and the key to the universal
mystery : ^ —

" Daughter, thou mayst no better please God, than
to think continually in His love."

" If thou wear the habergeon or the hair, fasting bread
and water, and if thou saidest every day a thousand
Pater Nosters, thou shalt not please Me so well as thou
dost when thou art in silence, and suffrest Me to speak
in thy soul."

" Daughter, if thou knew how sweet thy love is to Me,
thou wouldest never do other thing but love Me with
all thine heart."

" In nothing that thou dost or sayest, daughter, thou
mayst no better please God than believe that He loveth
thee. For, if it were possible that I might weep with
thee, I would weep with thee for the compassion that I
have of thee."

And, from the midst of her celestial contemplations,
rises up the simple, poignant cry of human suffering :
" Lord, for Thy great pain have mercy on my little pain."

We are on surer ground with the treatise that follows,

1 Cf. G. Tyrrell, Sixteen Revelations of Divi?ie Love shewed ta
Mother Julia?ia of Norwich, Preface, p. v.



the Song of Angels?- Walter Hilton — who died on
March 24, 1396 — holds a position in the religious life and
spiritual literature of England in the latter part of the
fourteenth century somewhat similar to that occupied
by Richard Rolle in its earlier years. Like the Hermit
of Hampole, he was the founder of a school, and the
works of his followers cannot always be distinguished
with certainty from his own. Like his great master in
the mystical way, Richard of St. Victor, Hilton was an
Augustinian, the head of a house of canons at Thur-
garton, near Newark. His great work, the Scala Perfec-
tionts, or Ladder of Perfection^ " which expoundeth many
notable doctrines in Contemplation," was first printed
by Wynkyn de Worde in 1494, and is still widely used
for devotional reading. A shorter treatise, the Epistle
to a Devout Man in Temporal Estate, first printed by
Pynson in 1506, gives practical guidance to a religious
layman of wealth and social position, for the fulfilling of
the duties of his state without hindrance to his making
profit in the spiritual life. These, with the Song of
Angels, are the only printed works that can be assigned
to him with certainty, though many others, undoubtedly
from his pen, are to be found in manuscripts, and a com-
plete and critical edition of Walter Hilton seems still in

1 In the British Museum copy of Pepwell's volume, ff. 1-2 of
the Epistle of Prayer and f. 1 of the Song of A?igels are trans-


the far future.^ The Soitg of Angels has been twice
printed since the edition of Pepwell.^ In profoundly
mystical language, tinged with the philosophy of that
mysterious Neo-Platonist whom we call the pseudo-
Dionysius, it tells of the wonderful " onehead," the union
of the soul with God in perfect charity : —

" This onehead is verily made when the mights of the
soul are reformed by grace to the dignity and the state
of the first condition ; that is, when the mind is firmly
established, without changing and wandering, in God
and ghostly things, and when the reason is cleared from
all worldly and fleshly beholdings, and from all bodily
imaginations, figures, and fantasies of creatures, and is
illumined by grace to behold God and ghostly things,
and when the will and the affection is purified and cleansed
from all fleshly, kindly, and worldly love, and is inflamed
with burning love of the Holy Ghost."

But to this blessed condition none may attain perfectly
here on earth. The writer goes on to speak of the
mystical consolations and visitations granted to the

1 Cf. C. T, Martin, in Dictionary of Natiottal Biography, vol.
ix. For Hilton's alleged authorship of the De Imitatione Christi,
see J. E. G. de Montmorency, Thomas a Kempis, his Age and
Book, pp. 1 41-169.

2 Edited by G. G. Perry, under the title The A?iehede of Godd
with mannis saule, as the work of Richard RoUe, in English
Prose Treatises of Richard Rolle de Hampole (Early English Text
Society, 1866), pp. 14-19 ; and, in two texts, by C. Horstman,
op. cit., vol. i. pp. 175-182.


loving soul in this life, distinguishing the feelings and
sensations that are mere delusions, from those that truly
proceed from the fire of love in the affection and the light
of knowing in the reason, and are a very anticipation of
that ineffable " onehead " in heaven.

The three remaining treatises — the Epistle of Prayer,
the Epistle of Discretion in Stirrings of the Soul, and the
Treatise of Discerning of Spirits ^ — are associated in the
manuscripts with four other works : the Divine Cloud
of Unknowing, the Epistle of Privy Counsel, a paraphrase
of the Mystical Theology of Dionysius entitled Dionise
Hid Divinity, and the similar translation or paraphrase
of the Benjamin Minor of Richard of St. Victor already
considered.^ These seven treatises are all apparently by
the same hand. The Divine Cloud of Unknowing has
been credited to Walter Hilton, as likewise to William
Exmew, or to Maurice Chauncy, Carthusians of the
sixteenth century, whereas the manuscripts are at least
a hundred years earlier than their time ; but it seems
safer to attribute the whole series to an unknown
writer of the second part of the fourteenth century, who

1 In the MSS. this Js called : A pystyll of discrecion in knowenge
of spirites ; or : A tretis of discrescyon of spirites.

2 All in Harl. MS. 674, and other MSS. The Divine Cloud
of Unknowing, and portions of the Epistle, Book, or Treatise, of
Privy Cotifisel, have been printed, in a very unsatisfactory manner,
in The Divine Clotid with notes and a Preface by Father Augustine
Baker, O.S.B. Edited by Kenry Collins. London, 1871.


" marks a middle point between RoUe and Hilton." ^
The spiritual beauty of the three here reprinted — and,
more particularly, of the Epistle of Prayer, with its
glowing exposition of the doctrine of Pure Love — speaks
for itself. They show us mysticism brought down, if
I may say so, from the clouds for the practical guid-
ance of the beginner along this difficult way. And, in

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