Biography of Walter Hilton
Walter Hilton - English mystic
Walter Hilton was an innovator. He was the first man to write a book of mysticism in the English language. At that time, Latin was the language of the church--although Wycliffe and his Lollards had worked hard to circulate manuscripts of an English Bible.
Hilton urged holiness. Every Christian is called to overcome sin, he said. As he saw it, this would come through ascetic practice and contemplation of God. His Ladder of Perfection sets out to describe the steps by which a soul attains the new Jerusalem. According to Hilton, the soul is formed in the image of God, first by faith, then in both faith and feeling. After passing through a dark night (in which humility and love stand it in good stead) the soul learns a longing "to love and see and feel Jesus and spiritual things." When true love comes, vice is destroyed and Jesus becomes the life of the soul. A man is now able to see Christ working in all things.
Curiously enough, this man who set himself up as a guide for others admitted that he had never experienced the familiarity with the Divine that he described in his writings. This has not kept mystics from embracing his system. It was a fairly common outline of spirituality in Medieval Europe.
Little is known about Hilton, although there is evidence that he trained as a canon lawyer and spent years as a hermit before joining the Augustinian friars around 1386. He was well educated as his many quotes show. He translated Latin works into English and quoted Latin scripture in his book, with his own English translations.
Walter Hilton died March 24, 1396. His books, printed about a hundred years later, influenced 15th and sixteenth century mysticism.