Search - List of Books by Walter Hilton
Walter Hilton (died 24 March 1396) was an English Augustinian mystic.
Total Books: 51
Little is known of Hilton's life: he was probably born ca. 1340-45, and attended Cambridge University; he is first recorded in January 1371 as a bachelor of law attached to the diocesan court of Ely, and again in 1375. In some manuscripts, he is described as a commensor or inceptor decretorum -- that is, 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. At some unknown date, but probably before 1386, he rejected the legal and administrative career available to him in the court of Thomas Arundel, then Bishop of Ely, and retired from the world as a hermit; later, he decided that his true vocation was not to the heremitic life, but to a religious order. 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 Canon Regular in the priory of St Peter at Thurgarton, in Nottinghamshire.
His spiritual writings were widely influential during the fifteenth century in England. The most famous of these is the Scale of Perfection, in two books, which survives in some sixty-two manuscripts (including fourteen of a Latin translation by Hilton's contemporary in Cambridge and Ely, 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 Scale was printed by Wynkyn de Worde in Westminster in 1494, at the request of Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, and five more times before the English Reformation of the 1530s.
The Scale is distinguished by beauty of thought and complexity of expression; it is illustrated by homely, but effective imagery, and in spite of its high spirituality it is full of practical guidance. The first book, which is addressed to a woman recently enclosed as an anchoress, provides 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 (which is necessary to salvation) 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.
Three of Hilton's letters of spiritual guidance, the Latin De Utilitate and De Imagine Peccati, and the English On Mixed Life (written to a devout layman of wealth and household responsibility, advising him not to give up his active life to become a contemplative, but to mix the two) distinctly echo parts of Scale I, and were probably written around the same time: that is, in the early 1380s. The Mixed Life occasionally occurs with the Scale in fifteenth-century manuscripts, and was printed by de Worde in 1494, as a 'third book' of the Scale (possibly at the desire of Lady Margaret) -- although the Mixed Life occurs in only half of the surviving copies of that printing. All later prints of the Scale also included the Mixed Life.
Hilton also wrote three other Latin letters of spiritual guidance, the Epistola de Leccione, Intencione, Oracione, Meditacione et Allis, the Epistola ad Quemdam Seculo Renunciare Volentem and Firmissime crede, and a scholastic quodlibet on the appropriateness of reverence shown to images such as crucifixes in churches (a practice criticised by Lollards). In English, he also wrote a short tract Of Angels' Song (a criticism of one aspect of Richard Rolle's spirituality), commentaries on the Psalm texts Qui Habitat and Bonum Est (Psalms 90.1 and 91.2), and perhaps on the Canticle Benedictus (Luke 1.68) as well; he also translated Eight Chapters on Perfection from a Latin text said to have been left at Cambridge by Lluis de Font, an Aragonese Franciscan who studied there in the mid-1380s.