Posted by: kljolly | March 9, 2015


Coming to the next beatitude, “blessed are the merciful” (the mildhearted in Old English), Aldred eschews commentary but seems to have some grammatical hangups with the second half of the verse, “because they will receive mercy.”


The first line is fairly straightforward, with Beati misericordes glossed eadge biðon miltheorte, the gnomic “blessed be” being his preference throughout the beatitudes, here applied to the mildhearted.  The next line should be easy since he has glossed quoniam pretty consistently with f’ðon (forðon) and ipsi with ða, or in one case ða ilco, those or those same ones.   But here he has first hiora, the third person genitive plural that he used appropriately in the first beatitude to gloss ipsorum, of them, followed by a vel (or) ða, without any correction mark to indicate hiora as in error, or, as Seumas points out in the comments below, hiora is more likely the possessive adjective “their,” and miltheortnise is properly accusative, so I have emended this post accordingly.

The third one-word line should presents no difficulties, with the accusative object misericordiam but it is glossed as miltheortnise, accusative mildheartedness, declining a feminine weak noun (heorte) in the nominative, subject position.

This grammatical change alternative makes sense given the fourth line, where he glosses the Latin deponent verb consequentur (future tense, [ipsi]they will receive back”) with him gefylges, [mildheartedness] “will follow them.”  At first I thought Aldred’s Latin grammar was terribly sloppy, but then I wondered if he was offering alternative grammatical constructions (NB:  I now realize my Old English grammar is terribly sloppy!).

If you read the Old English straight through without any gloss on ipsi, you have a perfectly sensible meaning:  eadge biðon miltheorte forðon miltheortnise him gefylges, blessed be the mildhearted because mildheartedness will follow after them.

Lacking a gloss to ipsi, and perhaps mindful of the need to offer a translation of the Latin, he gave both the genitive plural from above, possessive hiora and the nominative plural ða to emphasize the flow of mercy.  Or perhaps he put hiora first while thinking ahead to their mildheartedness of those ones, then added the vel ða later.

In any case, the meaning of the verse seemed to overtake the grammatical lesson at this point, and a well-known psalm popped into my head a bit more belatedly than it probably did for Aldred.  Psalm 22 (23): 6, “surely your mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”  Both the Vespasian and Stowe Psalters handy on my shelf show misericordia glossed in West Saxon with mildheortnesse and subsequetur (will follow) with æfterfylgeð.

So it might be natural for Aldred to think of mercy as a divine quality acting upon the blessed person.  I don’t think he is denying that receiving mercy is a consequence of  having been merciful, but chooses to put the emphasis on mercy as the agent of the verb, follow after, and the merciful person as the recipient of that mercy.

In the circumstances in which I have placed Aldred, mercy is a bit hard to put into practice:  late fall of 952, lawless viking warbands devastating the countryside, a cold bleak winter looms.

A group of us were talking about these ideals juxtaposed with the realities of contemporary atrocities like slave trafficking (see International Justice Mission, whose Just Prayer devotional pairs beatitudes with stories of rescued persons, accompanied by some uncomfortably jarring questions).   One person in our discussion raised the intriguing question:  if the opposite of this verse is also true, that the unmerciful will not be shown mercy, does that mean we should not show mercy to unmerciful persons?  But such thinking leads to a chicken-egg conundrum of who will show mercy first.  A later warning in the Sermon on the Mount, following the “Lord’s Prayer,” asserts that those who do not forgive those who sin against them, the Father will not forgive their sins (Matt. 6:14-15).  In Christian theology, it is God who initiates mercy, starting what apparently Jesus hoped in this beatitude was a chain reaction of mercifulness and forgiveness.

Still, I doubt Aldred or his community found it easy to put that kind of “mildheartedness” into practice with the vikings, but apparently they tried.


  1. As well as being the third person genitive plural, ‘hiora’ is also an indeclinable possessive adjective and means ‘their’. Aldred uses a reflexive construct (‘him’ = to themselves) enforced by ‘their’ to emphasise the active/passive nature of the Latin deponent verb. So ‘forðon hiora miltheortnise him gefylges’ might be loosely translated as ‘for they will receive back their mercy themselves’. I don’t quite follow your argument about the ‘misericordiam’ line; it is glossed correctly with ‘miltheortnise’ as the accusative singular of a strong feminine noun.
    I would suggest that the ‘hiora’ is not an error as such. This double gloss reminds me of the gloss to ‘puella’ in Mark 5.41: la dohter ł la mægden (O daughter/O maiden). Strictly speaking ‘dohter’ is incorrect, but as the context is the resuscitation of Jairus’s daughter, the ‘error’ makes sense. In such cases the second gloss indicates the usual meaning of the Latin word.

    I hope I have helped to restore your faith in Aldred’s skill as a glossator!

  2. Yes, you have restored my faith in Aldred, while correcting my defective grammar!

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