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This article traces the deployment of the 14th century devotional treatise, The Meditationes Vitae Christi, in late medieval and early modern England. Beginning with a discussion of Nicholas Love’s 1409 translation of the treatise, The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, the article examines how later editors and redactors reshape the treatise for new audiences. Not only does Love’s treatise have a lively print history after the introduction of the printing press, but the later editions by Caxton, de Worde, and Richard Pynson were faithful reproductions of Love’s translation. By the seventeenth century, however, the treatise underwent some drastic revisions under the hands of Charles Boscard and John Heigham. This article presents some much-needed attention to Heigham’s 1622 re-presentation of the text as The Life of Our Blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In reworking this treatise for a much later audience, Heigham deftly combines material from both the Meditationes Vitae Christi and The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, while also making some interesting additions of his own.
This Introduction provides an overview of the study as a whole. It argues for an understanding of scholastic biblical commentary in fourteenth-century England as a capacious and creative literary form, one which includes works in Latin and Middle English, and which opens biblical exegesis to more demotic devotional uses. In either language, commentators pick their way shrewdly, knowingly, imaginatively, and selectively among the various resources available to them, weighing the authoritative interpretations of earlier writers even as they seek to experiment with their own new ways of reading. The Introduction considers the relevance of this broadly appealing idea of commentary for our understanding of some of the most familiar works of Middle English religious literature, and it ends with a summary of the chapters that follow.
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