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22.02.07 Griggs (trans.), Aelred of Rievaulx, The Liturgical Sermons

22.02.07 Griggs (trans.), Aelred of Rievaulx, The Liturgical Sermons

Aelred (1110-1167) served as the second abbot of the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire from 1146 until his death and is, aside from Bernard of Clairvaux, perhaps the best-known medieval Cistercian monk. The present volume, No. 81 of the Cistercian Fathersseries, contains translations of forty-nine of the ninety-eight sermons contained in BNF, MS. Nouv. Acq. lat. 294, the “Reading-Cluny collection,” so called because of the manuscript’s provenance. The sermons in this collection are numbered as 85-182 in Aelred’s corpus of sermons. Sermons 85-133 are translated in this volume, and translations of the remaining forty-nine sermons (134-182) will be published in a subsequent volume. The sermons contained in this collection were first identified as Aelred’s in 1981 by Gaetano Raciti, who believed them to have been copied from a manuscript of sermons revised, compiled, and written down by Aelred himself. The present volume also contains an introduction by Marjory Lange and Marsha Dutton and an index of Aelred’s references to scripture and other texts. The Latin text of the ninety-eight of Aelred’s sermons in the Reading-Cluny collection is published in Raciti’s2012 edition. [1]It should be noted here, as Lange and Dutton do in their introduction, that the term “sermon” can mislead. The modern sermon is preached by a priest during the liturgy. These sermones were, rather, preached on special feast days in monastic chapter meetings to monks and, on certain feast days, lay brothers.

The translations in this volume follow the order of the manuscript, which is structured according to the progression of the liturgical year: Advent to Christmastide to Lent to the Easter Triduum to Pentecost, with a few notable exceptions. These exceptions, Lange and Dutton (agreeing with Raciti) argue, are not out of place by happenstance or the carelessness of a scribe or compiler, but in order to emphasize certain thematic connections. The fifth Pentecost sermon in the volume (133) is, for instance, curiously located apart from the other four Pentecost sermons (126-129), after Aelred’s three sermons on the Solemnity of the Trinity (130-132). Lange and Dutton suggest that this ordering reflects Aelred’s intention to clarify the term Paraclete using the authority of Bede and Gregory (xliv-xlv).

The introduction itself is generally thorough and provides more than adequate background about Aelred. After a brief account of Aelred’s life and works (xiii-xx), Dutton and Lange then introduce Aelred’s sermons and the genre of the medieval monastic sermon generally (xx-xxiii). Next they describe the Reading-Cluny collection and outline Raciti’s discovery of the texts and his analysis of the manuscript and its contents (xxiii-xxvii). They discuss the importance of Godfrey of Babion, a widely-known French preacher of the early twelfth century who is little known today (xxvii-xxx). Godfrey was an important source for Aelred as he composed his sermons, as the authors show in their analysis of sermons 100 and 102 in the next section (xxx-xxxiv). The remainder of the introduction (xxxiv-xlviii) discusses the contents of the present volume and provides more insights into the spirit and methods of Aelred’s preaching. For Dutton and Lange, Aelred is at once heavily reliant on authorities (Godfrey of Babion, Bernard, Bede, Gregory) and attentive to the unique needs of those placed under his care. Aelred’s preaching, they suggest, springs from a “love for his community and a desire to guide and teach those among whom he lived” (xlvi).

As with the other translations in this series, the notes and apparatus are thorough, but not overwhelming for non-scholarly readers. The annotation of allusions in the outer margins of pages, as opposed to in footnotes, is a useful practice here as it is in other volumes in this series: it allows the reader to see that a particular text is referred to without disrupting the flow of reading. Explanatory footnotes are minimal.

Griggs’s translation is generally elegant, accurate, and readable and admirably preserves the intricacies of Aelred’s language. It should be noted that some readers may grow frustrated with occasional awkwardly etymological translations. These moments may cause little trouble for a Latinate reader, who will recognize the translator’s intent. Readers who are less familiar with Latin, however, may be left scratching their heads at times. For example, in sermon 85.1 (the first sermon of the collection) Griggs translates Dominici adventus observantiam frequentare et iugi eius frequentia exsultare debemus, fratres mei as “We ought to celebrate the observance of the Lord’s Advent and rejoice in his ever-flowing frequency, my brothers.” “Frequency” in modern English connotes serial repetition in time, whereas the Latin word can mean a large assembly of persons or things--“abundance” is a more apt translation here, and since frequentare is translated as “celebrate,” Aelred’s wordplay on frequentia / frequentare is lost anyways. Some other instances are at 89.7 (“rapt up” for raptatus est); 90.1 (“sufficient” for sufficientia); 117.15 (“stigmata” for stigmata); 118.18 (“miserable” for miser); and 133.15 (“expertise” for peritia). Still, this translation represents a wonderful accomplishment, and its occasional infelicities should not detract from the fact that this volume is a substantial and welcome contribution.

This volume will be of interest to scholars of Aelred, those interested in Cistercian spirituality, and those who study the sermon as a genre. It should also be of especial interest to scholars interested in manuscript compilation practices: if Raciti’s assumptions (noted above) that the Reading-Cluny manuscript is a copy of a text that was revised and arranged--almost, but not quite according to liturgical chronology--by Aelred himself, then this translation can serve as an introduction to a fascinating case study in why medieval books were composed as they were.



1. Aelred of Rievaulx, Sermones, ed. Gaetano Raciti, Aelredi Rievallensis Opera Omnia IV, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis, 2C (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012).