Medieval English Prose for Women: Selections from the Katherine Group and Ancrene Wisse

By Bella Millett; Jocelyn Wogan-Browne | Go to book overview

The Custody of the Soul

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, "The Custody of the Soul" begins here.

If the head of the household knew at what time a thief would come, he would keep watch and not allow his house to be broken into.

Our Lord in the Gospel gives us instruction and teaching through a parable on how we should carefully guard ourselves against the Devil of hell and his wiles. 'If the head of the household knew', he says, 'when and at what time the thief would come to break into his house, he would keep watch, and would not allow the thief to break into it.'

The house which our Lord is talking about is man himself. Inside, man's reason is master in this house, and Will can be described as the unruly wife, who, if the household follows her lead, reduces it to chaos, unless Reason as master disciplines her better, and often deprives her of much she would like. And yet all that household would follow her in everything, if Reason did not forbid them, because they are all undisciplined and careless servants unless he corrects them.

And what are these servants? Some are outside and some are inside. The outer servants are man's five senses -- sight and hearing, taste and smell, and sensation in every part of the body. These are subject to Reason, as the head of the household, and wherever he is negligent, there is not one of them who does not often behave in an unruly way and frequently offend, by an impudent manner or by criminal acts. His inner servants plot in all kinds of ways to please the housewife against God's will, and swear with one voice that things shall go as she wants them to. Although we do not hear it, we can feel their din and unruly disturbance, until Reason intervenes and, with both fear and love, disciplines them better. Because of these servants, his house will never be properly guarded if he falls asleep or travels anywhere away from home -- that is, when man forgets his reason and lets them be.

But it is not right that this house should be robbed, for in it is the treasure for which God gave himself -- that is, man's soul. There are many thieves -- invisible spirits with all evil qualities -- plotting day and night to break into this house after this treasure, which God bought with his death and for which he gave up his life on the cross; and

[?]iwelen B 22 Wit] RT, hit B 24 fare] R, fares T, om. B 27 tresor] RT, tre at end of line B 29 gastes] gasttes B

-87-

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Medieval English Prose for Women: Selections from the Katherine Group and Ancrene Wisse
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction xi
  • Further Reading xxxix
  • A Note on the Texts and Translations xli
  • Texts 1
  • Hali Meiðhad - Epistel of Meidenhad Meidene Froure 2
  • A Letter on Virginity - A Letter on Virginity for the Encouragement of Virgins 3
  • Seinte Margarete 44
  • Saint Margaret 45
  • Sawles Warde I Þe Feaderes Ant I Þe Sunes Ant I Þe Hali Gastes Nome, | Her Biginneð 'sawles Warde'. 86
  • The Custody of the Soul 87
  • Ancrene Wisse, Part 7 110
  • Guide for Anchoresses, Part 7 111
  • Ancrene Wisse, Part 8 130
  • Guide for Anchoresses, Part 8 131
  • Textual Commentary 150
  • Glossary 166
  • List of Proper Names 217
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