“Sum Vnto Bale and Sum to Blis”: From Binary Judgment to Romance Closure
In the Northern Homily Cycle, the homilist defines Christ’s three comings. After his most literal and physical Advent, the second time he comes spiritually or “gastely” into us: “Of oureself haue we bot synne, / Bot when Criste werkes vs withinne / Dan at pe firste begyn we / Gude cristen men for to be” (473–76). Thirdly, “Criste sal come / To deme vs on pe day of dome: / Sum vnto bale and sum to blis” (483–85).1 These three advents reference, first, the literal birth and body of Christ; second, his inner (and in that sense metaphorical) manifestation within individual introspection and conscience; and third, his public judgment of bale and blis on Doomsday, where literal and metaphoric understandings coincide in the body of Christ. The literal and metaphoric realms coincide similarly for the homilist’s audiences, in standard medieval imagery from Augustine to Dante. Images of the blessed shining in glory and the damned tormented with ugly and shameful stains, such as we have seen in Christ III, express the absolute binarism of Doomsday; moreover, they suggest that Doomsday reifies metaphor to make those spiritual distinctions outwardly and irrevocably visible. Christ’s second coming thus particularly underlines the homilist’s duty to turn people away from sin and to works that please Christ before the third coming at which those works shall be witnessed and judged irrevocably. In other words, the homilist must enable them to view their sins beforehand: his responsibility is to conjure an audience that mimics, at least in their own imaginations, the audience of Doomsday.
KeywordsFifteenth Century Evil Spirit Good Deed Visual Judgment Individual Conscience
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