Sunday, February 24, 2013

Walter Hilton (1340 - 1394)

Little is known of  Walter Hilton's personal life, apart from his writings. We do know that he abandoned a promising career as a  lawyer. he may have completed the studies and examinations that would have entitled him to become a Master of canon law, but without undertaking the regency that would have given him the latter title. Prior to 1386, he retired from the world as a hermit,when he developed a deep devotion to the Carthusian Order.

His spiritual writings were influential during the fifteenth century in England. The most famous of these are the two volumes of Scale of Perfection. It survives in some sixty-two manuscripts, including fourteen of a Latin translation by Hilton's contemporary in Cambridge  the Carmelite friar Thomas Fishlake.  In Fishlake's translation, the Scale became the first work written in English to circulate on the European continent. It was printed by  Wynken Worde in Westminster in 1494, at the request of Lady Margret Beauford  the mother of King Henry VII, and five more times before the English Reformation of the 1530s.

The first book of Scale is addressed to a woman recently enclosed as an anchoress, providing her with appropriate spiritual exercises; the bulk of its ninety-three chapters deal with the extirpation of the 'foul image of sin' in the soul—the perversion of the image of the Trinity in the three spiritual powers of Mind, Reason and Will (reflecting the Father, Son and Holy Spirit respectively, according to a tradition drawn from St Augustine) -- through a series of meditations on the seven deadly sins. The second book, which opens by addressing itself to Hilton's former reader, who, he says, has further questions, seems from its style and content rather to be addressed to a larger, perhaps more sophisticated audience; its major themes are the reformation of the soul in faith alone and in both faith and feeling. This latter is described in an extended metaphor as a spiritual journey to Jerusalem, or 'peace' in meditation, a gift which is also its own giver, Christ. The first book of the Scale was apparently written some time before the second, and circulated independently.

In 1386, he wrote the Latin epistle of spiritual counsel, De Utilitate et Prerogativis Religionis, for his friend Adam Horsley, a former officer of the Exchequer, who was about to enter the Carthusian Order. According to manuscript tradition, Hilton died as an Augustinian regular  in the priory of St Peter  in Nottinghamshire. However, this manuscript was written much later than the history it reports, and it contains a number of historic mistakes

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