The text below translated from a medieval German Convent Chronicle is the third and last of the jubilus passages chosen from the works of mediaeval German women writers. It follows excerpts from the works of Gertrud of Helfta and Mechthild of Magdeburg.1 But there is an important difference to be noted from the outset between this text and the two previous passages: the writer of the Convent Chronicle does not write from her own mystical experience but reports the experience of someone else.
Medieval German Convent Chronicles, also called the Sisters’ Books (Schwesternbücher or Nonnenbücher), are works written in Dominican convents of Southern Germany and what is today Switzerland between 1300 and 1350, There are, according to the most recent research available,2 nine such Chronicles extant, all but one in Middle High German (the Unterlinden Chronicle) is preserved in Latin.3 Their authors were sisters of the convents they wrote about, but only five of them are known by name. The Chronicles often start with a short history of the beginning of the respective convent some hundred years before the time of writing. They then concentrate on the vitae of the first sisters of these communities, most of whom had in the meantime acquired a reputation for saintliness. These lives are filled with legendary clichés used as a mode of expressing the spiritual accomplishments of the first nuns of the convent. Only occasionally is this rhetorical pattern interrupted by a personal expression of faith or a genuine insight into the way of life at the convent during those early days. In spite of a prevalent mystical vocabulary (such as that of the spiritual senses, of bridal imagery, of liquids, and of the topos of spiritual drunkenness) , the Convent Chronicles must not be understood as works of mysticism as such. Rather, interpreted for what they are, they constitute a treasure of mediaeval women’s spirituality.
The jubilus in its pure form is the exulted and often stammering expression of the highest possible joy caused by the experience of the ineffable mystical union.4 At its best, and as exemplified for instance in Gertrud of Helfta, the jubilus has a cosmic dimension comprising heaven and earth in one great jubilant song of praise. Clearly, such a song can only be sung by the mystic herself. While a chronicler may skillfully convey the contents of the jubilus, as we shall see, she cannot fill it with the emotional and spiritual impact of its original utterance. The text given below is often listed among the typical jubilus-texts of mediaeval mysticism, and yet it is essentially a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, albeit a beautiful one; and it also contains some supplications. As such it differs considerably from the exuberant shouting for joy in Gertrud of Helfta’s Spiritual Exercises. But seen within its context, its beauty can still be fully appreciated.
Our excerpt is taken from the so-called “Ulm” Chronicle, which is probably the oldest of the Convent Chronicles and was presumably written between 1300 and 1310. The name of its author is not known, nor has the Dominican community itself been fully identified.5 We only know from the Chronicle’s ending that the convent was situated close to the city of Ulm in Southwestern Germany.
The jubilus is found within the first vita of the “Ulm” Convent Chronicle, which relates the exemplary life of Adelheit von Hiltegarthausen. The author introduces the passage as a song of praise that Adelheit is said to have been taught by Adam, Moses, St. John the BaptIst, and St. Augustine. lt is to be used, the chronicler states, by all those who hope to participate some day in the eternal Joy. The text6 begins with two words in the manuscript marked in red ink and they are, if the editor is consistent, the only red emphases in the entire “Ulm” Chronicle. The words read: “Merck eben”, i. e. Nota bene.
Lord, holy Father, with this prayer I praise and honour you as you are in your blissful eternity.
I praise your nobility, your great and wondrous honour.
I praise and honour you as you are, and as you were before you established the world as a blissful kingdom in yourself.
Lord Father, I praise you; you give birth7 in your eternity at all time.
I praise you, eternal fountain, and [I praise] in you the outpouring [of your love] by which you create angels for the praise of your Son so that they may see in you the mirror of eternity and [understand] how they are to praise you.
l praise you for having thrown down the haughty one who wanted to possess this for himself.
Lord Father, I honour you through all your creation, which you have made so that everything may live in your goodness.
O noble Trinity, I praise and honour you who wanted to create human beings through your power, and wisdom, and will. Now I ask you, holy Father, that you deign to grant me, a pauper, the strength [to sing] your highest praise. I ask you, Lord, wisdom of the Father, that you deign to enlighten my understanding to the highest knowledge of you. O Lord, Holy Spirit, I ask you to pour into my soul the best will with which I may please you well.
I praise and honour your inscrutable depth as you are in your inscrutable depth; your blissful depth as you are in your beauty.
I praise your goodness beyond measure as you are in your goodness.
I praise your eternal riches as you are in your eternal riches, and I ask you to make me rich in vIrtues.
I praise your ineffable virtue, and I ask you that you deign to grant me virtues and such a virtue through which I may well please you.
I praise and honour you for being all that you are and for the same goodness that you are.
Lord Father, I praise and honour you in your incomprehensible being beyond measure.
I praise your inscrutable blissful heart in which you give birth to your blissful Son, your image, your radiance.
O blissful Son, I praise and honour you who wanted to be born from your Father’s blissful tender heart. O ever-noblest Lord, what is the love that has forced you to want to come to this earth into the womb of my Lady and to be born through the efficacy of the Holy Spirit?
And I honour and praise the birth, and that you wanted to take upon yourself that which you had not been before.
O eternal noble Lord, I praise you for having wanted to be born from the womb of my Lady, a Son of the Father and my saviour.
O eternal wisdom of the Father, I praise you that you, great in the Father, wanted to be seen smaller. Through this love that has forced you to come to earth, l ask you that you deign to grant me that I love you with all my heart and that I be alert to all things that may bring me close to you.
Lord Father, I praise you that you reach out [to us] in your tenderness beyond measure. I praise your divine spirit, and I honour you, Holy Spirit, with this prayer, you who are in the Father and in the Son a love beyond measure, a central kiss, an eternal friendship, an unrelenting embrace,
O eternal love, I praise you who have formed the tender humanity o my Lord Jesus Christ and made it one in the womb of my Lady. Lord Holy Spirit, I ask that you flow from the tender one-ness into my soul and deign to enlighten and inflame it so that all harmful things in me may be extinguished. And I ask you that my soul be made one with you and also be lifted up to know, taste, enjoy the bliss and tenderness that you are in the Father and the Son.
I praise and honour you, blissful Trinity. O blessed unity, O eternity beyond measure.
Lord Father, I praise and honour you. Reaching out in your power, in your strength, you wanted to impose the passion on your tender son.
I praise you, O eternal noble Son, that you wanted to show through yourself to God the Father the creation that he had created for your praise.
I praise and honour you who wanted to prove how much you love God the Father in us that his blissful godhead might flow into us.
I praise and honour you, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God the Father who, obedient to your Father, wanted to suffer.
I praise and honour you for your waking, for your tiredness, for your preaching.
I praise and honour you, Lord, that you wanted to announce to us that you have a Father in heaven.
Lord Jesus Christ, I praise and honour you for all your suffering that you suffered from your childhood until your death on the cross.
Lord Jesus Christ, I praise and honour your death in which you redeemed us from eternal death, and I ask you through your death that you take from me everything that you dislike in me.
I praise you, Lord, that you were taken down from the cross, and I ask you that you free me from all temptation of the evil enemy.
Lord, I honour you for your burial, that you wanted your pure divine body to be laid into the ground and wanted to make it light up with your noble body. Lord, I ask you through your holy burial that you deign to enlighten my blind heart.
Lord Jesus Christ, I honour and praise your holy resurrection, and I honour your tender soul, which is a throne of the bliss-like godhead.
I praise and honour you who have accepted so praiseworthily the tender humanity that the Holy Spirit has clothed you with. I offer you thanks and gratefulness that you wanted to raise up your noble humanity in yourself, and that you did not want to have your five wounds forgotten. These I honour with this prayer.
I praise you that you ascended into heaven with praise and joy and in jubilo et exultacione,8 with the noble host of your saints, into the honour of your Father.
I praise and honour the honour with which God the Father has honoured your humanity, which you have had with him before the world was created.
I praise and honour you sitting blissfully in the eternity of the Father to whom is given the power, the strength, the compassion, and the judgement.
I praise and honour your godhead exuding light through the light of your noble humanity.
I praise and honour the flowing [river] with which you fill heaven and earth, and I ask you that you flow into my soul and thus make it drunk so that I love you with all my heart; and I ask you through your shining wounds that you deign to enlighten my five senses so that I may never be deceived, neither inside nor outside.
I praise and honour you, Holy Trinity, as you are in your eternal eternity. O Lord, holy Father, who have foreseen and chosen, among all humankind, a virgin as a daughter for yourself.
I praise you, O innate one of the Father, one being with the Father and with the Holy Spirit; you have foreseen and chosen this virgin as a mother for yourself to be born by her.
O Lord, Holy Spirit, I praise you that you have foreseen and chosen, in eternity with the Father and the Son, my Lady, holy Mary, as a spouse for yourself, and have sanctified her in her mother’s womb and have guarded her against all evil and have made her overflowing in all grace.
I praise and honour you, O noble Trinity, as you are in your wondrous honour. You have raised up my Lady, holy Mary, to a queen of heaven and earth, and you have also raised her above all choirs of angels and saints, and you have honoured her so that she is the very closest to you with blissful dignity.
I praise you that you have given her, immediately next to you, to all saints to be honoured most blissfully; and all the saints and angels rejoice in her with special joy.
Lord, I honour you that you granted her the power in heaven and earth that she may reward her servants as much as she pleases.
I praise and honour you, ever sweetest queen, and the joy and knowledge that you have in all this eternity, and as you are honoured by all Trinity. I ask you, Lady, my holy Mary, through the knowledge that you have in God, the Father, the eternal light, [that you let me] know the eternal light.
O Lady, I praise and honour the knowledge that you have in your Son, how he is the Father’s eternal wisdom, and how you, Lady, are nobly created in him, and how all things are wisely [created]. O holy and holiest of all the holy ones, you are filled with the Son of all knowing. I ask you that you help me to come to profess the eternal wisdom.
O holy Mary, I praise and honour the knowledge you have in the Holy Spirit, how he is the eternal tenderness in the Father and in the Son, and in yourself, woman full of tenderness. I ask that you make my soul taste the same tenderness so that I may fervently love you and your Son. O my Lady, holy Mary, O ask you through all the sweetness and knowledge that you have in the eternal blessed and forever honorable Trinity, that you make me, a pauper, rejoice at the time of my death with your ever sweetest child, and that he deign to redeem my soul mercifully and gracefully from all temptation of the evil spirit through Christ our Lord. Amen.