Friday, 7 March 2014

A Prayer of Thomas Aquinas in Middle English

This is a translation of a prayer by Thomas Aquinas ('Concede mihi, misericors Deus'), attributed to Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, and said to have been written when she was eleven years old. The text is from British Library, Additional MS. 17012, via this book.

The prayer of Saynt Thomas of Aquyne, translatyd oute of latyn ynto Englyshe, by the moste exselent Prynces, Mary, doughter to the moste hygh and myghty Prynce and Prynces kyng Henry the viii. and Quene Kateryn hys wyfe. In the yere of oure lorde god M.cccccxxvii: And the xi. yere of here age.

O mercyfull God, graunte me to couyt wyth an ardent mynde, those thingys whiche may please the, to serche them wysely, to know them truly, and to fulfyll them perfytely, to the laude and glory of thy name. Order my lyuyng, that I may do that whiche thou requirest of me, and geue me grace that I may know yt and haue wyll and powre to do it, and that I may obtayne those thingis, whiche be moste conuenient for my sowle. Good Lorde, make my way sure and streight to the, that I fayle not betwene prosperite and aduersyte, but that in prosperous thingis I may geue the thankys, and in aduersite be pacient: soo that I be not lyfte wyth the oon, nor oppressid with thother: and that I may reioyse yn nothing but in this whiche movith me to the, nor be sory for nothing but for those whiche drawith me frome the: Desiring to please nobody, nor fering to displese anny besidis the. Lorde, let all worldly thingis be vile to me, for the: and that all thi thingis be dere to me. And thou, good Lorde, moost speciall above them all. Let me be wery withe that Joye whiche is withoute the, and let me desire nothing besidis the. Let the labor delite me whiche is for the, and let all the rest wery me whiche is not in the. Make me to lyfte my harte oftyntymys to the: and when I fall, make me to think and be sory with a stedfast purpose of amendement. My God, make me humble withoute faynyng, mery withoute lyghtnes, Sade withoute mystruste. Sobir withoute dulnes: Fearing withoute dysparacion: Gentill withoute doblenes : Trusting in the withoute presumpcyon: Telling my neybors fawtis withoute mokking: Obedyent withoute arguyng: Pacient withoute grutching: And pure without corrupcion. My most louyng Lorde and God, geue me a waking hart, that no curyous thought withdrawe me frome the. Let it be so strong, that no unworthy affeccion drawe me bakwarde: So stable, that no tribulacion breke it: And so free, that no electyon by vyolence make anny chalenge to it. My Lorde God, graunt me wytt, to know the: Dilygence, to seke the: Wisedome, to finde the: Conuersacion, to please the: Contynuance, to loke for the: and fynally Hope, to enbrace the : by thi penaunce here to be ponysshid, and in oure wey to use thi benefittis by thy grace. And in heuyn, through thi glory, to haue delyte in thy Joies and rewardys. Amen.

[The prayer of Saint Thomas of Aquinas, translated out of Latin into English, by the most excellent Princess Mary, daughter to the most high and mighty Prince and Princess King Henry the Eighth and Queen Katherine his wife, in the year of our Lord God 1527 and the 11th year of her age.

O merciful God, grant me to covet with an ardent mind those things which may please thee, to explore them wisely, to know them truly, and to fulfill them perfectly, to the laud and glory of thy name. Order my life that I may do that which thou requirest of me, and give me grace that I may know it and have will and power to do it, and that I may obtain those things which are best for my soul. Good Lord, make my way sure and straight to thee, that I fail not between prosperity and adversity, but that in prosperous things I may give thee thanks, and in adversity be patient: so that I be not lifted up with the one, nor oppressed with the other: and that I may rejoice in nothing but that which moveth me to thee, nor be sorrowful for anything but that which draweth me from thee: desiring to please nobody, nor fearing to displease any besides thee. Lord, let all worldly things be vile to me, for thee, and all thy things be dear to me; and thou, good Lord, most especially above them all. Let me be weary with that joy which is without thee, and let me desire nothing besides thee. Let the labour delight me which is for thee, and let all the rest weary me which is not in thee. Make me to lift my heart often to thee: and when I fall, make me to think and be sorry with a steadfast purpose of amendment. My God, make me humble without feigning; merry without lightness; serious without lack of faith; sober without dullness; fearful without despair; courteous without duplicity; trusting in thee without presumption; telling my neighbour's faults without mocking; obedient without arguing; patient without grumbling; and pure without corruption. My most loving Lord and God, give me a waking heart, that no curious thought may withdraw me from thee. Let it be so strong, that no unworthy affection may draw me backward; so stable, that no tribulation may break it; and so free, that no choice by violence may make any challenge to it. My Lord God, grant me wit to know thee: diligence to seek thee: wisdom to find thee: conversation, to please thee: perseverance, to look for thee: and finally hope, to embrace thee: by thy penance here to be punished, and in our way to use thy benefits by thy grace. And in heaven, through thy glory, to have delight in thy joys and rewards. Amen.]

Not bad for an eleven-year-old! In Women's Books of Hours in Medieval England, Charity Scott-Stokes notes in reference to this prayer that "There is likely to have been a strong Dominican influence at the court of Henry VIII during the years of his marriage to Mary's devout Spanish mother, Katherine of Aragon. The princess's education may well have been entrusted to a member of the order" - hence, perhaps, this choice of prayer. If it surprises you to find the young daughter of the staunchly Catholic Katherine of Aragon being taught not only to read Latin but to translate it into the vernacular (and very elegantly too) - well, you may have been watching too much television, and imbibed some misleading ideas about illiterate medieval Catholic women. Here's a corrective.

Thomas Aquinas, in a 14th-century English MS (BL Harley 916, f. 1)

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