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Noster, Credo, and Ave Maria
in the Late Medieval Period (1281 AD-1400 AD):
Occasionally, a student discovers an unusual passage
in literature that is difficult to interpret. For instance,
Shakespeare's King Lear refers to foxes being "fired"
from an area. A medieval jokebook might refer to a cord of scarlet
tied in a window. Chaucer might make a pointed reference to
the Wife of Bath's deafness. To make sense of these passages,
the student creates all sorts of elaborate allegories or symbolic
interpretations. Frequently, however, the answer is much simpler;
it's an allusion to something in the Bible.
Alternatively, a student may find a critic or
scholar who interprets passages making elaborate allegorical
connections to Biblical features in what seems like an unlikely
source. The student's response may be incredulous: "How
can this be correct? It sounds like baloney to me that Chaucer's
cuckolded carpenter in 'The Miller's Tale' is supposed to represent
Noah, or that Shakespeare's racist villain Iago is supposed
to be a figure for the devil!" Before we dismiss that sort
of reading however, it is useful to be aware of how prevalent
and strong-rooted religious belief was in past centuries.
It's difficult for modern readers to imagine,
let alone understand, how pervasive religion and theological
concerns were in the medieval period and in the Renaissance.
But these concerns did permeate the society. The dates that
rents were due to landlords in 14th century London were scheduled
to coincide with certain Saint's Days ("What? St. Barthomew's
day has come? I'm late paying rent to the landland!").
After the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, the church ruled that
every Christian had to attend Church and confess her sins at
least once a year. During the Protestant reign of Henry VIII,
all citizens in England were required by law to attend to Church
every Sunday. Being a part of society in medieval England was
in fact the same as being a part of the Church, and up until
the Renaissance, the Catholic Church was the only officially
accepted church in Western Europe (though there were other churches
in Eastern Europe and elsewhere).
Separation of Church and State is a concept that
doesn't appear until the Enlightenment. The two institutes were
continuously tangled up in medieval politics. For a long time
in Europe, it was common for regional bishops to be appointed
by the local duke or king rather than by an archbishop. King
Henry VIII declared himself to be the head of the Church of
England in 1500s. In these cases, local government officials
stepped in and changed the church to their own liking. The opposite
case was often also true, and church officials would intervene
in local government by excommunicating kings who disagreed with
church policy or who were enemies of powerful figures in the
church. In the Western medieval mind, only the Pope could maintain
unity in the Church, and since the world made little distinction
between church and state, religious disunity was equivalent
to social and governmental anarchy. Medieval people generally
believed it was imperative to maintain a single religious doctrine.
Thus, it was important for each citizen know religious
doctrine. Even illiterate individuals who would never read a
Bible in all their lives would be expected to learn the basics.
The only available education in the medieval period was an elementary
religious education in a monastery or in a "cathedral school,"
or occasionally from a local parish priest. Every child was
expected to know the proper means of crossing oneself and learning
how to recite (in Latin) the Pater Noster, the Ave
Maria, and the Credo. Ideally, there was to be no
rote memorization of the Latin sounds, but rather the student
was supposed to know the meaning of the Latin as well.
After the Lambeth council of 1281, the following
list was considered to be the primary components of a child's
education. Every medieval citizen was expected to know this
curriculum, much as we expect every child to learn basic arithmetic
in modern America. The curriculum was as follows:
- The Fourteen Articles of Faith (the
statements in the Apostle's Creed)
- The Ten Commandments
- The Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Sloth,
Envy, Lust, Avarice, Wrath, Gluttony)
- The Seven Holy Virtues (Faith, Hope,
Charity, Justice, Temperance, Prudence, Fortitude)
- The Two New Laws of the Gospels
("Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and strength"
and "Love your neighbor as yourself.")
- The Seven Sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation,
Communion, Confession, Ordination, Marriage, and Last Rites)
- The Seven Works of Bodily Mercy
(feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing
the naked, sheltering the stranger, nursing the sick, visiting
the prisoner, and burying the dead).
Below, in both Middle English and Latin, I offer
samples of primary religious texts such as the Lord's
Prayer (Pater Noster), the Hail
Mary (Ave Maria), and the Apostle's
Creed (the Credo). The right column has the Middle
English, the left column has the Latin.
Lord's Prayer (Pater Noster)
Fadere oure that art in heaven
Halwed be thi name
Come thi kyngdom
Fulfild by thi wil
in hevene as in erthe;
Oure ech-day bred yef
us to day,
And foryeve us our
As we foryeveth to
And ne led us nouht
Bote delivere us of
evil. So be it.
Pater noster qui in coelis
Adveniat regnum tuum
Fiat voluntas tua et
in terra sicut in coelo
Panem nostrum quotidianum
da nobis hodie
Et dimitte nobis debita
Sicut et dimittemus
Et ne nos inducas in
Sed libera nos a malo.
Heil Marye, ful of grace
God is with the [thee]
Of alle wymmen thou
art most blessed
And blessid be the
fruyt of thi wombe, Ihesu.
So mote it be.
Ave Maria, gratia plena
Benedicta tu in mulieribus
Et benedictus fructus
Apostle's Creed (Credo)
I beleve in God, Fader almyghty,
Makere of heven and
And in Ihesu Crist,
his onely sone oure Lorde
That is concyved by
the Holy Gost,
Born of the Mayden
Suffred under Pounce
Ded, and beryed;
Descended to helle;
The thridde day he
aros fro dethes
Styed [rose] up to
Sitte on his Fader
Schal come to deme
The quick and dede.
I beleue in the Holy
That is alle that schulle
And in communion of
Remissioun of synnes,
Risyng of flesch,
And everlastynge lyf.
Credo in Deum Patrem Omnipotentem
Creatorem coeli et
Et in Jesum Christum
Filium eius unicum, dominum Nostrum
Qui conceptus est de
Natus ex Maria Virgine
Passus sub Pontio Pilato,
Mortuus, et sepultus
Descendit ad inferna
Tertia die resurrexit
Ascendit ad coelos
Sedet ad dexteram Dei
Inde venturur judicare
Vivos et mortuos
Credo in Spiritum Sanctum,
Sanctam Ecclesiam Catholicam,
Et vitam aeternam.