Thursday 7 March 2024

Reading Tips for a Pious Young Lady

Gregorio Correr (1409-1464)
'Epistola ad Ceciliam virginem de fugiendo seculo'

   Restat ut tibi secularium litterarum lectionem penitus interdicam, maxime poetarum. Quomodo enim seculo renuntiasse crediderim, si que sunt seculi amas? Quid refert qua ex parte seculum diligas? Diligis certe seculum si litteras amas. Danda venia secularibus, ut, reiectis tantum obscenis scriptoribus, cetera discant. Sponsa Christi nihil aliquid legat quam sacra volumina et scriptores ecclesiasticos. Proinde tuum illum dilectum Maronem, vel cum Victorini pace, dimittito; sume pro eo Psalterium, pro Cicerone Evangelium. Crede mihi (expertus dico), seculares litterae, ne aliud noceant, animum a divina lectione seducunt. Habes in scriptoribus ecclesiasticis, si etiam illud requiris, summam eloquentiam. Resolve libros Lactantii, Cypriani, Hylarii, Hieronymi, Ambrosii, Augustini, Gregorii, Leonis, Cassiani, Sulpicii, Bernardi, Salviani quoque, cuius libros De providentia Dei, e concilio Basyliensi rediens, de Germanorum ergastulis in Italiam reportavi. Nonne in his tanta eloquentia, ut ne huius quoque rei delectatio, sive imitatio ab aethnicis petenda sit? His, igitur, lege et que a graecis doctoribus traducta sunt, Gregorio, Basylio, Chrysostomo, Athanasio et Ioanne, cui Clymaci nomen inditum. Syrum quoque, Ephrem numerare possem et plures praeterea, si tibi cathalogum scriptorum ecclesiasticorum scribere instituissem.
   Quid ergo aliena quaerimus in tanta nostrorum, idest Christianorum, copia? Aliena quoque existimare debes nenias quasdam et delyramenta somniantium, sicut libellum illum, nescio cuius mulierculae, qui Speculum animarum simplicium inscribitur. Quibus repudiatis, nil, nisi a doctis usitatum et probatum, leges. Habes sanctorum scripta, quibus te oblectes, quibus animum pascas. Hec legito. Horum insuper flores ne pigeat capere, et pro edificatione simpliciorum virginum in maternum sermonem vertere.

   Hereafter I utterly prohibit you from the reading of pagan literature, especially poets. For how am I to trust that you have renounced the world, if you love things which are worldly? What difference does it make what part of the world you esteem? Surely, if you love pagan literature, you love the world. Lay readers may be forgiven if, having given up only indecent writers, they continue to study the rest! A spouse of Christ should read nothing other than sacred books and ecclesiastical authors. Hence cast away your delightful Virgil, with the approval of Vittorino da Feltre*, and instead take up the Psalter; cast aside Cicero and take up the Gospel. Trust me (I know from experience), lest pagan letters cause one harm, and lest reading them diverts one’s soul away from the divine. You have in ecclesiastic authors, if you indeed require it, the highest eloquence. Open the books of Lactantius, St Cyprian, St Hilarius, St Jerome, St Ambrose, St Augustine, St Gregory the Great, St. Leo the Great, St John Cassian, Sulpicius Severus, St. Bernard, and also Salvian, whose book, On God’s Providence, I, returning from the Council of Basel, I brought back to Italy from the dungeons of Germany. Is there not such eloquence in these Christian books, are they not such a source of pleasure and imitation, that one must seek these things from the pagans? Therefore, read these books and those which are translated from the Greek doctors: St Gregory of Nazianzus, St Basil, St John Chrysostom, St Athanasius and St John Climacus. I could also add St Ephrem the Syrian and others besides, if you were intent to make a catalogue of ecclesiastical authors.
   Why then do we seek in such unworthy materials for things that are in our own authors, that is, in the works of Christians? You too ought to regard as unworthy such incantations and delusions of dreamers, such as are found in that book, by what little woman I know not, entitled
Le Miroir des âmes simples.+ Having scorned such things, you will read nothing unless it is familiar and esteemed by the learned. Cherish the writings of the saints, with which you may amuse yourself, with which you may feed your soul. Read these authors, whose flowers one is not ashamed to pluck; who can be translated into the vernacular for the edification of simple maidens.
Gregorio Correr, Opere, ed. by Aldo Onorato, 2 vols (Messina: Sicania, 1991-1994), vol. II (1994), pp. 548-50. My translation.

*Correr was a former student of the humanist educator, Vittorino da Feltre.
+The authoress of this work was Marguerite Porete.