Academic journal article Medium Aevum

From Manuscript into Print: The Festial, the Four Sermons, and the Quattuor Sermones1

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

From Manuscript into Print: The Festial, the Four Sermons, and the Quattuor Sermones1

Article excerpt

For five centuries, the Quattuor sermones has resisted all attempts to divide it satisfactorily into four sermons.2 First published by Caxton in 1483 and issued alongside the Festial (STC 17957-75) for over forty years, the book that originally appeared under this name has three apparent parts.3 The first, the 'Catechetical instruction', is related to the so called Lay FoIk9S Catechism, a vernacular instruction in the basics of Christian belief, written by John Gaytryge to accompany Thoresby 's Latin Injunctions (1357).4 The second part is aversion of the 'Sentence of excommunication', which bears some similarities to that in the York Manual, and the third is the 'Bidding prayers for Sunday' or 'Bedes', based on Sarum use. Yet despite this obvious tripartite structure, printers and critics have been trying to divide the work in to four since 1508. A detailed examination of the early printed history of the Quattuor sermones and, in particular, the 1493/4 Festial and 1494 Quattuor sermones (both STC 17962) will suggest that the tide was erroneously attached to these three texts in 1494 and that the mistake has been repeated ever since.

The history of the Quattuor sermones is inseparable from that of John Mirk's Festial, a collection of orthodox sermons, written in the last quarter of the fourteenth century. The Festial has a long manuscript history and is extant, in whole or in part, in forty-three known manuscripts, but its popularity climaxed with the advent of print. Caxton printed the Festial for the first time in 1483 (STC 17957), followed very soon after by another edition, and again in 1491 (STC 17959), adopting in the latter the text of Rood and Hunt's 1486 version (STC 1795 8).5 This text then remained in print until 1532 (STC 17975), going through the hands of nine different printers and at least twenty-two editions. The Quattuor sermones appears to have been issued with the Festial from the start, although printed separately, and the only printers to publish the Festial without an accompanying Quattuor sermones were Rood and Hunt. After Wolfgang Hopyl's 1495 edition (STC 17964), the two works were printed under one set of signatures.

John Mirk wrote the Festial to educate unlearned priests in the 13808, as he explains in the prologue:6

By myne owne febul lettrure Y fele how yt faruth by othur that bene in the same degre that hauen charge of soules and bene holdyn to teche hor pareschonus of alle the principale festus that cometh in there ... But for mony excuson ham by defaute of bokus and sympulnys of letture, therfore in helpe of such mene clerkus as I am myselff, I haue drawe this treti ...7

In this aim, the Festìal forms part of a long English tradition of educating the lesser clergy, which has its roots in the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). The Great Council's famous canon - Omnis utriusque sexus - commanded every Christian adult to confess their sins at least once a year to their parish priest and led to a recognition that the laity needed to be better educated if they were to make adequate annual confession. At the same time, the diocesan statutes that were issued in response to the Lateran Council and, later, Langton's Constitutions recognized that first the clergy had to be educated. As Judith Shaw notes, 'it was in order to meet this need that several English bishops either appended books of instruction for confessors to their local diocesan statutes or else included the necessary information in the statutes themselves'.8 This bifurcated focus on educating the clergy and the laity led to an early blurring of the lines between what was meant for the eyes of the priest alone and what was meant for the eyes and ears of his congregation.

A clear and apropos example of this is John Thoresby's Latin Injunctions meant for clerical readers and accompanied by an English text, John Gaytryge's so-called called Lay FoIk9S Catechism, to which the 'Catechetical instruction' is related. This English text was aimed at priests with little Latin, but could be used by the laity when stripped of its prefatory material. …

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