14.04.29, Hudson, ed., Two Revisions of Rolle's English Psalter Commentary

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Christopher Roman

The Medieval Review 14.04.29

Hudson, Anne. Two revisions of Rolle's English Psalter commentary and the related canticles, Volume 1. Early English Text Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. 390. ISBN: 978-0-19-966920-2.

Reviewed by:
Christopher Roman
Kent State University, Tuscarawas

Anne Hudson's edition of Two Revisions of Rolle's English Psalter Commentary, Vol. 1 (hereafter Revisions) is a testament to the editorial work needed to untangle thorny manuscript problems. An update of Richard Rolle's English Psalter itself is badly needed as the current edition, H.R. Bramley's, dates from 1884. The Revisions, however, speak to Rolle's importance both in terms of influence--there are ample manuscripts that either contain complete revisions or snippets of it--as well as use. This latter category encompasses not only how a manuscript was transmitted--say from a religious to a vernacular milieu--but how it was used, and this "how" is perhaps the most important, since the emendations and additions found in the Revisions--which Hudson supplies with detailed charts and analysis--situate Rolle's work in various contexts. Hudson's edition places Rolle's text in the messy world of Wycliffism, and also questions that easy connection, further complicating Rolle's reception within the theology of Wycliffe's followers.

Hudon's introduction is extensive. She first discusses the history of identifying the various Revisions, utilizing the work of Hope Emily Allen and Dorothy Everett to settle on three revisions (RV1, RV2, RV3). As Hudson details, these revisions are associated with Wycliffite circles and probably date from the period 1382-1417 with a possible and controversial geographical origination in or around Oxford. The place of origin is controversial because of the northern dialect used in these works; Wycliffism was a southern- and Midlands- centered phenomenon. RV1 and RV2 could reflect the ways in which Wycliffism may have traveled, but as Hudson notes this is not definitive.

RV1 and RV2 make up this first edited volume. As Hudson discovers, the author of RV1 knew of copies of Rolle's Psalter text (though not his authorial text). RV1 follows Rolle's work closely and adds to the text in intriguing ways. For example, in RV1 there is clear discussion of problems of the sacrament of confession, clerical abuses, and priestly behavior. RV1, however, is more extreme in its Wycliffite positions than RV2. There are clear emendations in RV2 that reflect a discomfort with RV1's position and the scribe of RV2 made changes to soften RV1's heretical agenda. Through careful analysis Hudson makes the point that while RV1 knew Rolle's Psalter, RV2 only knew it indirectly through RV1. The group involved with RV2 were using RV1 as their source text. This is not to say that RV2 eschews Wycliffism--there is still enough material retained from RV1 to connect RV2 with a Wycliffite audience. What is of note is that these revisions may have reached out to different audiences. If Rolle was writing his original for Margaret Kirkby, as scholars have posited, the Revisions may have been intended for a wider audience since so much of the expanded commentary is anticlerical. As Hudson comments, one of the more difficult things to ascertain from these revisions is what audience they would have appealed to and exactly what they would have been used for.

As has been noted, these expansions of Rolle's commentary have a particularly Wycliffite flavor. However, not all of these expansions so clearly challenge orthodox positions. One of the things that Hudson's work inspired me to do is to read the Revisions with Bramley's 1884 edition of the text next to it. This comparison made the expanded commentaries seem even more curious, and the scope of revision more intriguing (as well as making the enormity of Hudson's work in this edition even more admirable). For example, in Psalm 2, RV1 expands Rolle's commentary on self-discipline in the face of the ill-mannered. While Rolle's commentary emphasizes the importance of maintaining one's composure because God's vengeance will be enacted on the wicked later (and by enacting revenge anyway, one falls away from the love of Jesus), RV1 expands by adding an emphasis on enduring tribulations in this world because in enduring tribulations now, one lessens the pain at the end (24, 190-95). The RV1 reviser retains Rolle's sentiments, but takes a bit more textual space to "flesh out" the issue of endurance, pain, and its relation to the afterlife. Hudson indicates that while some of the commentary would agree with Rolle's work, not all of it is "obviously" Wycliffite; the "Psalm 2" commentary is a perfect example of thinking about what would have preoccupied the revising scribes and how their commentary reorients or deepens Rolle's own text. Rolle's Psalter then becomes a material object in a vast field of revisions and change that reflects medieval manuscript culture's art of local exchange, audience, emphasis, and control.

It is exciting to ponder the openness of manuscript culture that this edition of revisions reflects. Hudson writes that "the process of ongoing revision, problematic though they may be for the editor, offer more than the fixities of a stable text" (clxxxiv). It is with such revisions that scholars can gauge exactly how a reviser emphasized various elements of the "original"--an entire spectrum of meaning is developed through looking at the revision process. As part of the revisions process, it is also significant to students and scholars alike that there was not a single reviser behind the text. Rolle's English Psalter is organized by a repeating pattern of Latin text, a close translation of that text, and Rolle's commentary. Hudson points out that the revision was "horizontal as well as vertical" (xxix) in that some workers worked on expanding commentary, while others revisited the Latin and the translation, improving on Rolle's English translation. RV2 even improves on RV1's Latin. This team effort reveals an ongoing process of Wycliffite revision that is important in thinking about what texts and commentary drew their attention.

Hudson's edition is helpful as well in formulating what Andrew Cole (borrowing from Frederic Jameson) defines as a "break without a period" in Wycliffite studies. Cole defines this as "a way of assessing what is new in a given historic moment without rushing to announce larger periodizing ideas about what is 'medieval,' proto- modern, or even modern about a given set of texts or cultural practices." [1] Taking Cole's rubric, Hudson's edition of Two Revisions adds to our (re)consideration of Wycliffite practices in a deep way. The recently edited collection entitled Wycliffite Spirituality also aims at correcting preconceived notion of what Wycliffites believed, and muddies the waters, as well, in terms of the relationship between writer, audience, and context (for example, the ways in which confessions reveal a complex relationship with "mainstream" Christianity or the perceived "tension" between the struggle over interpretation and exegesis, a hallmark of Wycliffite belief). [2]

Anne Hudson's excellent edition of Two Revisions of Rolle's English Psalter Commentary and the Related Canticles, Volume I is a testament to ongoing issues of manuscript dissemination and the ways in which that dissemination is affected by ideology, audience, and scribal participation. Rolle's text is adapted, changed, and expanded beyond what we could imagine he would have expected and, possibly, agreed with. At the end of her introduction, Hudson gestures toward more work to be done, not only on Rolle's English Psalter itself, but on the way in which RV3 (presumably in an upcoming Volume of the Revisions) may change our minds further about what these texts mean and do.



1. Andrew Cole, Literature and Heresy in the Age of Chaucer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), xiii.

2. Wycliffite Spirituality, ed. and trans. J. Patrick Hornbeck III, Stephen E. Lahey, and Fiona Somerset (New York, Paulist Press, 2013). See especially the discussion in the "Introduction" under "The Texts in Context," 30-52.

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Christopher Roman

Kent State University, Tuscarawas