The Medieval Review 13.01.17

Bose, Mishtooni and J. Patrick Hornbeck II. Wycliffite Controversies. Medieval Church Studies, 23. Turnhout: Brepols, 2012. Pp. xiv, 359. 90.00 EUR. ISBN: 978-2-503-53457-2. . .

Reviewed by:

Kathleen E. Kennedy
Penn State-Brandywine

One of a pair of long-awaited volumes in the Medieval Church Studies series, together with After Arundel: Religious Writing in Fifteenth-Century England, Wycliffite Controversies sets out an exceptional overview of the current state of scholarship on fifteenth-century English religion. Of the two, Wycliffite Controversies explores more directly the variety of ways scholars examine dissent currently, and directs readers' attentions to a wide range of locations deserving future work. One must tread carefully in outlining the contents of the collection to avoid repeating either the overview in the introduction (Mishtooni Bose and Patrick Hornbeck) or afterward (Fiona Somerset), and perhaps some overlap is unavoidable. Therefore, the present review will proceed methodologically, in order to highlight continuities and conversations within the volume, as well as gesture toward areas outside the volume.

As Somerset states in her afterward, "the stereotypes about Lollardy are, finally, worn out" (319). The volume presents a robust overview of the current state of the field of "Lollard Studies," and spends equal time exploring how this present point was reached, and where the field may proceed from here. As such, the essays are heavy on historiography and method, and comparatively light on textual analysis. This does not detract from the larger argument or the individual arguments, however, as the notes are replete with direction to a reader seeking these scholars' more extended work. Indeed, there is much toward which to direct a reader, as the volume contains work by a range of scholars who have made significant contributions to the field. What has been worn out, according to these authors? In short, we might encapsulate their collective contribution by saying: they demonstrate that Lollardy is manifestly not simple.

The complexity of Lollardy is evident throughout the volume. Of note are the essays that contextualize Wyclif's thought, and that of his followers, within scholasticism on an international scale. Wycliffism has long been associated with the Hussites, of course, but these essays point directly at how Wyclif's theology was founded in the orthodox debates of his day and his station. Kantik Ghosh and Ian Levy remind us of the duties of a theologian and demonstrate how Wyclif was doing very much what a theologian was supposed to do, and what a theologian was uniquely qualified to do. Alastair Minnis concentrates on one of Wyclif's lesser texts to provide a detailed illustration of how Wyclif's thought was part of the theology of his time, both in its commonalities with traditional ideas, and in the directions in which Wyclif pushed alone.

Also notable are several firm statements by historians setting out an argument for traditional, non-interdisciplinary, historical research into late medieval dissent. Echoing Christine Carpenter's recent calls for something similar for the study of political culture, I wonder if this perspective signals a disciplinary shift toward a historiography ready to engage literary criticism and interdisciplinarity directly, even aggressively. One imagines very stimulating conversations in the years ahead. Rob Lutton moves the study of Lollardy in a firmly social science direction by applying cognitive psychology to Lollardy as a religion. Ian Forrest lays out the importance of a return to nuanced social history and prosopographical approaches that trace individuals and their ties to a wide range of larger communities and structures. One can see Forrest developing a "new social history" here that might do for history of religion what Carpenter's "new constitutionalism" hopes to do for political history. Peter Marshall takes on the vexed relationship between Lollardy and the Reformation as promoted by Early Modernists. In a historiographical essay, Marshall calls out current studies for their lack of treatment of Lollardy, and like Forrest, Marshal raises "the suspicion that the topic has been subcontracted out to specialists" (315). Nevertheless, as so many of the essays in the volume attest, finding much that is mainstream in Lollardy may render it an attractive topic to scholars of the early Reformation and of the later Middle Ages, who are not otherwise invested in Lollard Studies.

In response to these historians, Shannon Gayk explores the usefulness of "new formalism" in the study of dissent. Like the historians, Gayk argues that literary critics should reconsider the possibilities in their own toolboxes, before borrowing methods from other fields. Using formalism, Gayk argues against the tradition of "poverty and plainness of Lollard style" (136). Instead, she uses Lollard literary texts to demonstrate a sensitivity to form, and willingness to employ it when rhetorically useful. However, one of her examples is a selection of a trial register, an apparent riposte to the historians' calls for limitations on interdisciplinarity. As part of her new formalism, Gayk decides to work with this trial register without reference to the scholarship devoted to the rhetoric of legal texts. The uses to which literary critics and historians put documents have stood in tension for some time, as Forrest's cautions about interdisciplinarity remind us. Like Forrest's own contentions, Gayk's decision here will certainly initiate comment.

The complementary nature of historical and literary critical strategies can be seen in Anne Hudson's and Maureen Jurkowski's essays on Lollard networks. With a social historian's precision, Jurkowski aggregates a mass of documentary sources to develop a prosopographical sketch of Lollard networks that extended widely among tradesmen no less than the gentry. Among these diverse groups she argues for a sense of group identity. Hudson traces networks of people as well, but does so by following their texts. She shows how dissenting material interpellated into otherwise mainstream texts could be left alone or disliked by readers, but might not have been identified as Lollard in either case. Beliefs and practices were complex, as the textual record shows, and likely highly contingent on an individual's personal network.

Essays in the second half of the volume tend toward narrower case- studies that highlight how Lollardy ran parallel frequently with mainstream religion. Such studies begin to get at what was unique about Lollardy as it was practiced, and also what was common to all fifteenth-century religious practices, dissenting or not. Mary Raschko's and Edwin Craun's essays about sermons and pastoral ethics explore how Lollard texts follow mainstream texts and traditions quite closely in many respects, if achieving Lollard goals in the end. Robyn Malo makes a sharp counter-argument against the tradition of Wycliffite antagonism to relics. She finds Lollards dismissive of the lavish shrines, unsubstantiated relic provenance, and the economies of pilgrimage, rather than with holy bodies themselves. In this, Malo demonstrates that Lollards followed skepticism common among the educated clergy. On the flip side, Helen Barr highlights how an orthodox, Benedictine lyric sequence could assert a range of positions consonant with Lollardy, but do so in the name of internal church reform. Matti Peikola identifies Lollard caution toward a range of saints in early tables of lessons attached to Wycliffite Bibles, and demonstrates how later copies show a traditionally mainstream selection, suggesting an eventually wide audience for the Wycliffite Bible. In a last essay by Mary Dove, she outlines the deceptively simple Lollard pastoral program presented in the General Prologue found in a few Wycliffite Bibles, and shows how it followed traditional pastoral guidelines in many respects, though varying considerably in others. Patrick Hornbeck finds that specific groups of Lollards believed in a commemorative Eucharist, and then he identifies that these groups held eucharistic ideas quite different from both Wyclif's own, and that of mainstream Lollardy. What emerges from this half of the volume is a sort of Venn diagram in which mainstream religion and Lollardy overlap to a considerable extent, albeit with important variation on either side.

During a review, one does not usually call attention to an outside volume; however, rather than draw attention away from Wycliffite Controversies, After Arundel should be viewed as a companion volume. While this review had to concentrate on the one, Barr's essay on reformist orthodoxy is representative of the balance found in the companion volume. For background on mainstream responses to dissent After Arundel should be consulted. For a concentrated overview of scholarship devoted to Lollardy, one can do no better at the moment than Wycliffite Controversies.