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THE AMHERST

GOLDEN EPISTLE
 
 

his Epistle, in Middle English, here translated into Modern English, immediately precedes Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love in the Amherst Manuscript. It is a text much beloved in monastic circles and by no means original. St Ephrem wrote an early version of it. This text, here misascribed to St Bernard writing to his cousin, is from Thomas de Froidmont , who was born in Beverley in Yorkshire and who wrote for his sister, Margaret, who was born to their parents while they were on pilgrimage, in Jerusalem.

Birgitta of Sweden loved this text carrying it in a Spanish manuscript around in her pocket, in which again it is misascribed to St Bernard and as written to his sister and which survives today. There it is called ' Liber de modo bene vivendi ad sororem' and is today, Uppsala University Library, C240, with the label ' Hunc librum qui intytulatur doctrina Bernardi ad sororem portavit Beata mater nostra sancta Birgitta continuo in sinu suo ideo inter reliquies suas asseruandus est', while the text begins, ' {S oror mea,' (Aron Andersson and Anne Marie Franzén, Birgittareliker [Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1975], pp. 54-55, 60). See St Birgitta of Sweden: Her Relics.

Uppsala C240, open to ' {S oror mea'

The title, ' Golden Epistle', usually is awarded to a similar work by Guillaume de St Thierry, and which greatly influenced Marguerite Porete . Finally, St John of the Cross also expressed these sentiments, and we see them mirrored in the Regla para Eremitas .

The Amherst Manuscript is in brown ink with rubrication as here and blue capitals with red penwork.
 

{his Epistle St Bernard wrote for his cousin, which is called the Golden Epistle because of the great abundance of fruit that is in it. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
{y friend if you will come perfectly to those things that you desire two things are essential. The first is that you set no more store in transitory and earthly things than if they were not. The second is that you give your self so entirely to God that you neither say nor do anything but what you believe will truly please him. You may achieve the first this way. Always despise your self and hold yourself as nothing. And judge all other people as good or better than yourself. For so shall you best please God. And whatsoever you hear or see of any religious or famous person, whatsoever it is, consider the best of it even if it seem to you otherwise and contrary, for we are often deceived by suspicions. You shall displease no one by your will nor repeat anything in praise of yourself to anyone however close they are to you, but work always to hide your virtues more than your vices. Say nothing against any person, if the deed be true and open, but otherwise you may not open your sin and then that you do it in confession. Always be glad to hear any person praised. When you speak let your words be few, wise and of God. And if a worldly person speaks with you and begins to tell you vain things, as soon as you can break into the story and turn it so that it is about God. Whatever happens to you or to any of your friends in this world set not great store thereby. If these are prosperous do not rejoice. And if it is adversity do not mourn but set all such things at nought and always praise God. Work as much as you may and ever be diligent to that which shall be everlasting health for your soul. Flee much talk as much you can for it is better to keep your peace than to speak at length. After Compline

Hans Memling, St John Writing Revelation on Patmos, St John's Hospital, Bruges

do not speak until Mass the following day unless there is a great need for it. And if you see anything that displeases you, take good heed to see if you can find the same thing in your self and, if you can, change it, I pray you. If you see or hear anything that displeases you, take heed if it be in yourself and if it is festering. And if it is not in you, you may forget it. And so shall all things be to you like a mirror as to how heavily you bear anything. Let no one know you to complain but rather that you see it to perfect yourself. Affirm or deny nothing obstinately but let your 'yeas' and your 'nays' be also doubts. Never mock, laugh seldom, and among only a few people and with brevity. Behave in all your speeches in such a way that there is no selfish will seen in them. The second part of my counsel can come by this way. Pay heed to your prayers with great devotion and say them at the due times. Whatever you read, remember it well in your heart and fasten it in your mind and remember often the condition of those for whom you pray. Always remember three things, that is to say, what you have been, what you are, and what you shall be. You were but a man's smelly seed. You are but a sack of filth. You will be but worms' meat. Also imagine what pain that they have in hell and how it shall never end. And for a little delight and pleasure how much pain they suffer. In the same way imagine the love of heaven. And how it shall never end. And soon it may be had. And they may sorrow and complain who lost it for a little lust of the false world which is so short in comparison to that which shall never end. And when you have or dread anything that displeases you, then think that you were in hell you would have the same, and all that heaven you would not have, and so you shall have patience to suffer all things for the love of Christ with a good will. And when you have a thing which pleases you, then think that if you were in heaven you would have the same thing without anything else that you would desire. And if you were in hell you should not have your desire. When this falls on a feast day of any saint remember what he or she suffered for our Lord and you shall find that their suffering was but short. Then remember what was their reward. And you shall find that it was everlasting life. Also think how the tribulations of good men pass soon. And the delight of evil men soon ends. And good men for their patiently suffering tribulation get everlasting joy. And evil men for their short time of delight go to everlasting pain. Therefore when you have leisure take this little short writing and remember all the things in it and consider them. How much time you lost when you might be occupied in reading, praying or meditation. For time, I tell you, is most precious. And those who are in hell for just a little time would give, if they had it, this world, so that they might have it at their own leisure to repent. When you have any trouble think then that those who are in heaven lack all troubles. And when you have any comfort think of those in hell lacking all such comforts. When you lie down to sleep remember what you have thought, what you have said, and what you have done that day. And how you have spent the time of it that was given to you to purchase thereby everlasting life. And if you have spent it well pray and thank God for that. And if you have spent it negligently weep and spend not the next day so ill but confess your fault. This I put in the condition of my writing. I want you often to imagine two Cities, one full of all the torments that are in hell. The other full of all joy and that is heaven. And think seriously about the one of these two to which you must go. Therefore keep well all these words given above and forget none of them. And read this lesson often, I pray. And if you find yourself that you do as it teaches you, then praise God, who is ever merciful to sinners of which I am the greatest. I pray you tenderly pray to Jesus for me that he of my sin will have mercy. Amen.
 



See also Margaret of Jerusalem and Thomas de Froidmont and Amherst Manuscript


JULIAN OF NORWICH, HER SHOWING OF LOVE AND ITS CONTEXTS ©1997-2017 JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAY  || JULIAN OF NORWICH  || SHOWING OF LOVE || HER TEXTS || HER SELF || ABOUT HER TEXTS || BEFORE JULIAN || HER CONTEMPORARIES || AFTER JULIAN || JULIAN IN OUR TIME ||  ST BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN  ||  BIBLE AND WOMEN || EQUALLY IN GOD'S IMAGE  || MIRROR OF SAINTS || BENEDICTINISM|| THE CLOISTER  || ITS SCRIPTORIUM  || AMHERST MANUSCRIPT || PRAYER|| CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO (HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS ) || BOOK REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY ||