Above: Richard Rolle
Image in the Public Domain
RICHARD ROLLE (1290/1300-SEPTEMBER 29, 1349)
English Roman Catholic Spiritual Writer
Richard Rolle has at least two feast days. The Episcopal Church celebrates his life on September 28 and adds two other saints–Walter Hilton (died circa 1396) and Margery Kempe (died circa 1440) to the mix. I have chosen, however, to stay close to The Church of England’s practice of celebrating his life apart from those of Hilton and Kempe, and of doing so on January 20. I booked January 20 fully, so I have moved Rolle’s feast day to January 19.
We know little about the early life of Richard Rolle. Even the year of his birth is a matter of debate. We do know, however, that he dropped out of Oxford at age 18 to become an ascetic and a hermit against his family’s wishes. Rolle spent many years moving from hermitage to hermitage, converting a host of people along the way. Finally he settled down outside the Cistercian Convent of St. Mary, Hampole, England, where he advised the nuns spiritually. Rolle died at Hampole on September 29, 1349.
Our saint left an impressive written legacy in both English and Latin. His Latin style was academic and his English prose style flowed nicely. Rolle, who was steeped in the Bible, wrote commentaries on entire books of scripture (such as the Psalms and the Lamentations) and parts of other books (such as Job and the Song of Songs). He also attracted a following of other spiritual writers, some of whose writings have proven difficult to tell apart from those of Rolle. Tradition has falsely attributed The Pricke of Conscience to our saint, for example. Rolle defended the contemplative life against critics and himself against those who accused him of promoting an overly subjective form of Christianity. Our saint, who was well-versed in major theological works, composed both prose and poetry. He advocated for solitude, physical self-control, and love of God. Among his theological works were De Emendatione Vitae (The Mending of Life), Incendium Amoris (The Fire of Love), Ego Dormio, The Form of Perfect Living, and The Commandment of Love of God.
Part of the beauty of good theological writing is that, when it survives its authors, members of successive generations can benefit spiritually from it. We who live in these times are fortunate that Rolle’s writings remain available.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
SEPTEMBER 18, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE RODAT, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF VILLEFRANCHE
THE FEAST OF EDWARD BOUVERIE PUSEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST
Gracious God, we give you thanks for the life and work of Richard Rolle,
hermit and mystic, who, passing through the cloud of unknowing, beheld the glory.
Help us, after his example, to see you more clearly and love you more dearly,
in the Name of Jesus Christ our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit
lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
–Altered from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 611