Langland, Wyclif, and the Late Medieval Church (Fall 2010)

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Aers, David. Faith, Ethics and Church: Writing in England, 1360-1409. Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer, 2000.
Aers, David. Sanctifying Signs: Making Christian Tradition in Late Medieval England. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004.
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica.
Augustine. Confessions.
Duffy, Eamon. Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c.1400-c.1580. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.
Langland, Piers Plowman (C-text)
Preaching in the Age of Chaucer: Selected Sermons in Translation. Trans. Siegfried Wenzel. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2008.
Salter, Elizabeth. Piers Plowman: An Introduction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962.

Historical background

Investiture Controversy: conflict between Church and states in c11, c12; popes challenged the authority of monarchs to control appointments (investitures) of church officials (bishops, abbots); ended by Concordant of Worms (1122), which was kernel of what would become Treaty of Westphalia, confirming sovereignty of nation-states -- Kings given right ("by lance") to grant secular power to church officials, pope retained right ("by ring and by staff") to grant sacred authority

Good Parliament (1376): longest sitting parliament up to that time; sincere efforts to reform government, hindered by John of Gaunt (third son of Edward III, protector of Wycliffe)

Western Schism (1378-1417): two men claim to be the true pope; political rather than theological differences

Peasants' Revolt (1381): Wat Tyler's Rebellion; public execution of Archbishop of Canterbury; Wycliffe doesn't defend, but does say if you disendow the church, the gov't wouldn't have to pay taxes and the population would be more settled/satisfied

Lollardy & John Wycliffe (1324-1384)

man in a state of sin has no claim upon government; King, though, is has divine right and therefore should remove corrupt clergy (who is then a traitor to the king) -- if he doesn't, he's remiss in his duties

King must accord his laws with God's laws; King should have theologians in his entourage to advise him

sin to oppose the power of the kind, which comes directly from God

predestination: "invisible" church of the elect, vs. "visible" church of Rome

Church should be poor, as in the days of the apostles

state has right to confiscate temporal holdings of corrupt church officials

  • John Gaunt was Wycliffe's protector; served his purposes, as he wanted to confiscate land

office of the Pope comes to be equal with the Antichrist in Wycliffe's writings; a Pope is tolerable if he is one of God's elect, but if not he becomes an Antichrist

at first, Wycliffe was supported by mendicant monks; then he began calling for their dissolution, forcing many of them to manual labor

translated (or oversaw translations) of portions of the Bible into English; opponents: "The jewel of the clergy has become the toy of the laity."

wanted to do away with priestly hierarchy , return to priests being poor with no formal vows; itinerant preachers went two-by-two, in long dark red robes carrying a staff -- called Lollards

Wycliffe is shamelessly attached to royal power; happy to be king's priest -- happy for the crown to appoint the priests

  • makes him good model for English Reformation

John Van Engen, Sisters and Brothers of the Common Life

schedule of questions by English Bishop asked to suspected Wycliffites:

  • Have you harbored hereticks?
  • Are the images in the church more than stocks and stones?
  • Is there any holiday but Sunday? May man work on Sunday?
  • Does the priest have the power to save a man's soul? What is the power of a priest?
  • What does you shall worship no false gods mean to you? Should men set candles before


  • How do you feel about pilgrimage? (Wycliffites wouldn't have liked) How do you feel about

purgatory? (Wycliffites didn't believe they existed)

issue of disendowment

presses hard on lay elites to disendow the church; if you don't, you're betraying the will of God

-- attacking the liberty of the church

when Pope Gregory first condemns Wycliffe as a heretic in 1377, they don't take his criticisms

as fraternal charity (justified reformation attempts) but as heresy

sword is in the hand fo the laity; spiritual sword in the hands of the monks

  • if the laity act, it won't be hard to enact a reformation
  • same strategy as Henry VIII

Lollard Disendowment Bill (1406-7) -- wanted to plunder the church to socialize its holdings,

build universities, hospitals

benefits treated in medieval law like property -- priest is property of local landlord of the

manor, who nominated him; yet supposed to be spiritual representative, arm of the Church

friars argue there are good theological reasons to think Church's hold on land is

contingent/subordinate to the needs of the crown

long history of disendowment before Wycliffe


"Prick of the Conscience" -- popular text, long section on pains of purgatory; "Ghost of Guy" -- medieval text, complaining about how living are not caring for the souls of the


purgatory is for the saved -- living have to look after them

1395, 12 Lollard Conclusions; nailed them on the doors of Parliament and St. Paul's

Thomas Netter, massive critic of Wycliffe and Wycliffite writings; work was printed in counter-Reformation and used against Calvinism

question of poverty: Thomistic writings: difference between a state of perfection and individual holiness; if you're

wealthy, what matters is the will -- rich man could be more free from attachment to wealth

than an angry poor man might be

thinking about virtue and vice is condition of the _will_: not just actions but from the will behind the actions

priesthood of all believers; women priests are possibel

Heresy Trials in the Diocese of Norwich, 1428-31

no police, no standing army; only found out as heretic if neighbors report you

Conscience and Synderesis

SEP, "Medieval Theories of Conscience" [[1]]

Phillip the Chancellor's treatise on conscience

voluntaristic view: Bonaventure

intellectualistic view: Aquinas

Bonaventure: conscience within the rational faculty, synderesis in affective part of the human stimulating us to do good; two parts to conscience:

  • power for discovering truth of general principles ("Obey God!"); innate and unerring
  • application of principles to situations; can be misapplied
  • dynamic faculty

for Bonaventure, synderesis is the "spark of conscience" -- motor motivating us to act on what conscience knows, and which directs synderesis

Aquinas: conscience is "the application of knowledge to activity"; synderesis is the natural disposition of the human mind to apprehend the basic principles of behavior, with secondary principles derived from experience; weakness of the will -- will as a passive potency that follows the judgments of the intellect; someone may "know" what he has to do, but is driven otherwise by passion

conscience linked with practical knowledge; not necessarily conceived of as a faculty