James H. Morey

title.none: Hudson, Selections from English Wycliffite Writings (Morey)

identifier.other: baj9928.9808.005 98.08.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: James H. Morey, Emory University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Hudson, Anne, ed. Selections from English Wycliffite Writings. Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching, 38. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. Pp. xii, 235. $16.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-802-08045-6. First published by Cambridge University Press in 1978..

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.08.05

Hudson, Anne, ed. Selections from English Wycliffite Writings. Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching, 38. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. Pp. xii, 235. $16.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-802-08045-6. First published by Cambridge University Press in 1978..

Reviewed by:

James H. Morey
Emory University

An y title appearing in the Medieval Academy series of reprints has obviously stood the test of time and has manifest utility for teachers and scholars. Anne Hudson's collection of Wycliffite writings, first published by Cambridge University Press in 1978 and well received at that time, is certainly worthy of inclusion in what has become a roll call of the foundational texts of medieval studies.

In the original preface, Hudson notes that "[t]he present selection was undertaken as a preliminary to a full edition of the standard Lollard sermon-cycle and of other related writings" (vii). Gratifyingly, that edition has recently been completed in five volumes edited by Hudson and Pamela Gradon, and both women stand as authorities in the field of Lollard studies.[1] Much research has been done in the past twenty years in this field, though apart from an update to the five- page bibliography and a rewritten note (p. 182, note to line 184, where St. Zita of Lucca has taken the place of St. Osyth), the text is unchanged from the 1978 printing. Hudson acknowledges in a note to this reprint--and I agree--that "it would be impossible to take account of that research without completely rewriting the book" (viii). The primary texts have not changed, and nearly everything Hudson says in her introduction and annotations is as true and well-reasoned today as it was twenty years ago.

The introduction is brief and informative and provides the essential information concerning Wyclif's biography and intellectual legacy: his leadership of the Oxford movement, the reasons for his declaration as a heretic, his influence on Jan Hus, and the variety and character of texts which qualify as "Lollard." Throughout, Hudson is measured and almost restrained, taking care not to overstate while still giving Wyclif his due as a major university teacher and preacher and as the premier religious reformer of the English middle ages.

The 27 primary texts are divided into four parts, "The Nature of Wycliffite Belief," "The Lollards and the Bible," "Lollard Polemic," and "Lollard Doctrine." The most important point to make about these selections is that "Wycliffite" does not necessarily mean that the text was written by Wyclif or even by fellow Lollards. Ironically, the substance of much Lollard doctrine survives in court documents, recantations of defendants, and refutations of opponents dedicated to stamping out the movement, and the texts here printed reflect the full range of the writings somehow associated with it. With regard to many of the texts, such as the biblical translations, we simply do not know exactly who was responsible for producing what. The book provides, therefore, not just a sectarian sampler, but a cross-section of the intellectual climate and religious controversies of fourteenth-century England. One should also emphasize that the word "English" in the title signals the language of composition; all of the texts are in Middle English, and appear here with a minimum of emendations (always carefully noted at the base of each page, along with biblical citations). Though many selections have Latin sources or analogues, only references appear to the vast corpus of Lollard texts in Latin, whether produced in England or not. I make this point not as a criticism, but only as a reminder of the complexity and size of the Lollard movement--concerns that Hudson always foregrounds for her readers.

Because of this very complexity, guides such as Hudson are most welcome, and one's gratitude increases when reading through her very thorough annotations to the texts. Again and again, after reading one of her notes, I was sent back to the primary text to recover and understand more fully the subtlety and sophistication of the documents. Cross references to sermon and polemical literature, proverbs, the fathers, associates of Wyclif such as Nicholas Hereford and John Purvey, and authors such as Langland and Gower (especially his Vox Clamantis appear frequently. The density and quality of Hudson's notes are such that I found myself wishing for an index to them. Perhaps one can someday be made, if only to serve as a kind of skeleton key to Wycliffite writings, not least since many texts still languish in nineteenth-century and early twentieth- century editions.

The head notes to each selection are also well done, and Hudson never fails to state clearly which manuscript or early printing is the copy text. Major highlights of the 27 selections printed are the following:

Text 5, "The Confession of Hawisia Moone of Loddon, 1430": Hawisia was the wife of Thomas Moone, convicted of heresy, and she was responsible for making their household a center of Lollard activity. Here she enunciates a digest of Lollard belief as she recants before the Bishop of Norwich. She is one of nine female defendants (out of a total of 60) whose recantations appear in Westminster Cathedral Diocesan Archives MS B.2, most of which are in Latin.[2]

The biblical selections in Texts 6 through 13: facing page selections of Isaiah 53:1-12 from the Early and Later versions of the Wycliffite Bible, the full text of Jonah (in the Early version, with variants from the Later Version), the parable of the prodigal son from Luke 15:11-32 and the "I am a good shepherde" passage from John 10:11-18, again with Early and Later Versions on facing pages, followed by glossed commentaries and sermons on these gospels. Interestingly, the sermons (following usual Wycliffite practice) provide independent translations, and thus there are three versions to compare. As a unit, these selections provide a fine introduction for undergraduates to general medieval exegetical practice and to the particular temperament of the Lollards.

Text 14, the last chapter of the Prologue to the Wycliffite Bible, which not only argues for the importance of English translations of the Bible but also raises issues of national identity and textual criticism. (I am not sure why the prologue appears last in the section "The Lollards and the Bible," nor why Text 20, another defense of the Bible in English, appears later in the section on "Lollard Doctrine" instead of with the other biblical texts.)

Text 16, "Images and Pilgrimages," which enjoins giving to the poor, the "quicke ymagis of God" (p. 85, lines 98-99), and which condemns the excesses of those making pilgrimages.

Text 17, "Epistola Sathanae ad Cleros," a wonderful letter in the spirit of Uncle Screwtape, on how to counter the Christian work of the "lewid Lollers" (p. 92, line 146).

Text 19, the well known "tretise of miraclis pleyinge," which, in the spirit of Jorge from Eco's The Name of the Rose, condemns the frivolity of dramatic productions, and which insists that, since Christ never laughed in Holy Writ (p. 98), all such "bourdying" diminishes the seriousness of our relationship to Christ.

Text 21B, a Tract on the Eucharist, which is really a sermon on signs in the context of the accidents and substance of the Host, and on how words produce meaning through predication.

Misprints, though very few, persist: "litergical" for "liturgical" on page 167, "no. 99" where "no. 9" is meant (p. 170), and an incorrect running title on page 121. Some readers may also have difficulty finding the full citation of the Manual of Writings in Middle English (abbreviated throughout as Manual; it appears in section I.b.i of the bibliography under E. W. Talbert and S. H. Thomson). The volume also contains a "List of Important Dates," a glossary, and an index of proper names (exclusive of biblical names). These components, like Hudson's introduction and notes, are produced to a very high standard. The importance of the primary texts and the quality of Hudson's apparatus make the book eminently suitable for courses in medieval history, theology, literature, and linguistics.


[1] Anne Hudson and Pamela Gradon, eds. English Wycliffite Sermons. 5 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983- 1996.

[2] Norman P. Tanner, ed. Heresy Trials in the Diocese of Norwich, 1428-31. Camden Society, fourth series, vol. 20. London: Royal Historical Society, 1977.