Wayne John Hankey

title.none: Gradon and Hudson, eds., English Wycliffite Sermons, Vol 4 (Hankey)

identifier.other: baj9928.9807.005 98.07.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Wayne John Hankey, King's College University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Gradon, Pamela and Anne Hudson, eds. English Wycliffite Sermons, Volume 4. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Pp.. $110.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-198-12775-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.07.05

Gradon, Pamela and Anne Hudson, eds. English Wycliffite Sermons, Volume 4. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Pp.. $110.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-198-12775-8.

Reviewed by:

Wayne John Hankey
King's College University

The completed publication of a definitive scholarly edition, carried through by the most careful and learned experts, at least one of whom has devoted a working lifetime to it, and brought forth by the most prestigious and lavish press of one of the very greatest publishers, must arouse gratitude in the scholarly world. The appearance of volumes IV and V of English Wycliffite Sermons, which comprise an Introduction to and a Commentary on the sermons published in three volumes between 1983 and 1990, is such an event.

Our gratitude must go first to Anne Hudson, who, in articles published in 1971, examined the problems confronting the edition.[1] She must be given recognition as the Prime Mover. Her name appears solely on volumes I and III (though Pamela Gradon wrote the third chapter of III dealing with the relation of the English sermons to Wyclif's Latin sermons, a question considered very exactly in the volumes before us). Pamela Gradon was responsible for the second volume of texts, which appeared in 1988, and for the Commentary to the individual sermons in which comprise the greater part of volumes IV and V. Anne Hudson was primarily responsible for the Introduction, which makes up most of volume IV. The Introduction deals with "Date, Authorship and Audience" and gives a lengthy doctrinal summary, under the heading "Polemical Issues."

Despite the editors' lengthy labours, they do not, however, regard the work as complete. They tell us that they decided to "call a halt" which will allow others "to pursue the chase" with "different equipment and divergent preconceptions".[2] For this we can also be grateful -- the readers of volume I have waited 13 years for the Commentary on its text! Despite the admirable modesty with which they have allowed their efforts to appear, the readers of this journal will have noticed that Anne Hudson has not retired from the field. Her "Hermofodrita or Ambidexter: Wycliffite Views on Clerks in Secular Office," has just appeared in Lollardy and Gentry in the Later Middle Ages.[3] As she hoped, and, as the reviewer, Jill C. Havens, discerned, Hudson's article stands in this collection with the work of a thriving new generation of scholars in the field of Lollard studies. For them the volumes before us are a priceless resource.

The texts in the first three volumes consist of 294 sermons, providing a complete homiliary for the ecclesiastical year. The basis of each sermon is the gospel or epistle of the Sarum use. So 54 sermons on the Sunday Gospels and 55 sermons on the Sunday Epistles are printed in volume I. Thirty sermons for the Common of Saints and 36 sermons for the Propers of Saints appear in volume II. One hundred six sermons for the Ferials are in volume III.

The interpretation of the lections in these cycles is intended to provide a repertory of vernacular preaching material for those adhering to this Biblically oriented reform movement which anticipated some features of the English Reformation. Hudson synonymously designates the movement as either "Wycliffite" or "Lollard," refusing to regard the first as "academic" and the second as "popular".[4] Much which would be essential to the 16th century English Reformation was not anticipated in what Hudson called The Premature Reformation, though there are fundamentals in common and Wyclif's reform would in many regards have been more radical.[5] Crucially, what the Bible is, and how it is to be interpreted, in this back-to-the-Bible-and-the-Fathers movement, are determined by the very particular views of Wyclif on the subjects. Ironically, though Wyclif has been in the 19th and 20th centuries primarily a hero for Evangelical followers of the Reformation (e.g. their theological colleges in Oxford and in Canada are named after him), his views on these essential matters will not reappear among the 16th century reformers.[6]

Wyclif's teachings and his practical concerns are at the heart of these homilies, which were not written by him, and may have been the work of a group of collaborators,[7] but for which the most important sources are his Latin sermons and other works. As indicated, Gradon's Commentary in volumes IV and V details the exact relation between each of the English Wycliffite sermons and Wyclif's own Latin ones. She finds many particular discrepancies between the texts we have of Wyclif and the Wycliffite result: supplements, abbreviations, misunderstandings, differences in teaching on particular points in comparable texts. Some of the divergences between the two texts led Gradon to the tentative conclusion that there must have been a "continuous evolution" of the principal source, the Latin sermons, from "about 1377 until Wyclif's death in 1384". Whether this hypothesis will stand up to scrutiny or whether another explanation of the differences will emerge remains to be seen, but now we have the phenomena presented and conclusions have been drawn by those who know the texts best. The editors conclude that the series probably originated in the late 1380s or 1390s.[8]

This is not of course the only comparison carried out in these notes. Besides the necessary endeavours to clarify obscure passages and words, and to supply what is needed to understand references to the Bible and to the ecclesiastical and political situation and history the sermons suppose, the Commentary requires and is filled with references to the doctrinal and interpretative traditions which function as sources. The Fathers -- especially Augustine, on account of Wyclif's view of him as by far the greatest -- are prominent. But so are the medievals, despite Wyclif's contempt for most of what appeared on his side of the divide between the first and second Christian millennia. This contempt was necessary to his critical position and is reflected in his accounts of the shape of history, accounts repeated by the author(s) of these sermons. As one would suppose, Wyclif's contempt for the theologians of his own era -- except for Bernard, Grosseteste, Bradwardine and FitzRalph -- neither he nor these Wycliffites are able to carry through into consistent practice. To give one example, the Commentary shows their dependence on and general agreement with the commonplaces of Biblical interpretation as these are developed, ordered, determined and handed on even by the Dominican theologians. A special hatred was reserved for the Friars because of their supposed fundamental corruption of theology by means of the doctrine of substance and accidents.[9] Those who know Wyclif's writing will remember that bitter vituperative polemic is an outstanding feature. He hated much and hard.

But, hate as he might, Wyclif could not free himself from the scholastic theologians of whom he judged that a dozen were less valuable than any one from before the millennial turn when the Satanic enemy of truth was loosed to sow his lies.[10] Besides all the other difficulties Wyclif and his followers would have had in leaping out of the time in which they lived, neither of them could distinguish at crucial points between the Fathers and the medieval pseudo-Patristic literature which often totally distorted their understanding of Patristic thought.[11] Wyclif, and those who followed him, are dependent upon those they despised for their relation to the matters they disputed. It is in dealing with this that the limits of the Commentary and the doctrinal summary which introduces it appear.

As a result of all the labours of Hudson and Gradon, a Wycliffite teaching emerges which is summarized in volume IV, (pp. 41-182). Appropriately, given the character of the movement to which the sermons belong, their teaching is gathered under the head: "Polemical Issues." The doctrine is generally that of Wyclif and reflects, even if it does not develop, his determining metaphysics, as well as his practical preoccupations.

As the traditional Oxford curriculum requires, these volumes of sermons come not from members of the Faculty of Theology but of History. Though a change is beginning, one consequence of the English Reformation is that the Faculty of Theology did not treat what lies between the 6th century, where the Fathers end, and the Reformation. So the Middle Ages belongs to Modern History (as opposed to Ancient History which belongs to the Classicists). The problems occupying our editors are thus historical, not theological. Above all they want to locate the sermons relative to Wyclif and as part of Lollardy. What the sermons teach theologically must be known in order to find their place in this history, and the doctrinal and textual references must be rendered intelligible. This our editors have done admirably, even if they miss a good part of the hermeneutical metamorphosis involved in the recuperation of Patristic texts by medieval theologians.[12] But there is another problematic in the 14th century. Theology is being transformed as its problems and positions become more clearly philosophical ones. Consider part of the philosophical situation in respect to two central concerns of these would be reformers. Wyclif and, thus, his followers, think of the Bible and the Eucharist as they do in virtue of a strongly realist Platonic idealism which they suppose to be Biblical. Despite thinking this idealism to belong to the Bible, they know they need a key which unlocks true understanding. This Wyclif supposes Augustine has taught them. Their key to Scripture we would identify as Augustine's Platonism.

Our learned editors know perfectly what historians of philosophy have worked out about Wyclif's metaphysics, and they use what they know to illumine obscure passages of the sermons. But here their interest stops. What is moving theology in its relations to philosophy, they do not pursue. In consequence, the doctrinal gathering which distills all their labours is not more or less than a list of "Polemical Issues." Our historians are not to be blamed because they have not done the work of the theologians. They are to be thanked for the successful completion of their own proper labours and for doing what the theologians need as a beginning for their own work. This we hope they will in their turn undertake. When considering sermons, beyond polemic one would hope to discern something of theology and its history moving.


[1] See volume I, pp. 8 and 98 and her collection of articles: Anne Hudson, Lollards and Their Books (London and Ronceverte: Hambledon Press, 1985).

[2] Volume IV, pp. v and 3.

[3] Margaret Aston and Colin Richmond, eds. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997); reviewed in TMR 98.04.02.

[4] For her reasons, see her Lollards and Their Books, ix-x and her The Premature Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 2-4.

[5] See The Premature Reformation, 508.

[6] See Michael Tresko, "John Wyclif's Metaphysics of Scriptural Integrity in the De Veritate Sacrae Scripturae", Dionysius, 13 (1989), 153; volume IV, pp. 72-3.

[7] Volume IV, pp. 29-37.

[8] Volume III, p. cxlviii and volume IV, p. 19.

[9] E.g. volume V, p.134, 87; see IV, pp. 53-5, 144-5.

[10] Wyclif, De Apostasia (London, 1889), p.50; Volume V, p. 85, 49-50.

[11] See W.J. Hankey, "'Magis... Pro Nostra Sentencia': John Wyclif, his mediaeval Predecessors and reformed Successors, and a pseudo- Augustinian Eucharistic Decretal," Augustiniana, 45, fasc. 3-4 (1995), 213-245.

[12] E.g. compare volume IV, p. 50, note 3 with Hankey, "Magis."