Walter Hilton

Takamiya MS 3: Scale of perfection

Takamiya MS 3. Walter Hilton, The Scale of Perfection. England, c. 1400-1425.

Walter Hilton (c. 1343-1396), an Augustinian canon, wrote many devotional works that were popular among both lay and religious readers. Takamiya MS 3 contains his two-part Scale of Perfection; at least forty-five copies survive of Book 1 and twenty-six of Book 2. Although it is addressed to an anchoress, the Scale of Perfection was also read and owned by members of the laity, some of whom desired to share in the contemplative life traditionally reserved for those in religious orders.

Christian vocations had long been divided into the active and the contemplative, a distinction represented in the Middle Ages by the figures of Martha and Mary from the Gospels. While Martha busied herself with practical worldly affairs, Mary listened to the words of Christ. Both fulfilled necessary tasks, but Mary’s role, the contemplative, was considered superior. In another work, the Epistle on the Mixed Life, Hilton offered his vision of a “mixed way” by which laypersons who had secular responsibilities, like Martha, still could partake in a devotional life, like Mary. Hilton advises such individuals to focus their devotions on the life of Christ and to perform works of charity.