Peggy Knapp

title.none: Barr and Hutchison, eds., Text and Controversy (Peggy Knapp)

identifier.other: baj9928.0510.015 05.10.15

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Peggy Knapp, Carnegie Mellon University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Barr, Helen, and Ann M. Hutchison. Text and Controversy from Wyclif to Bale: Essays in Honour of Anne Hudson. Series: Medieval Church Studies, vol. 4. Turnhout: Brepols, 2005. Pp. xxii, 448. $116.00 (hb). ISBN: 2-503-52209-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.10.15

Barr, Helen, and Ann M. Hutchison. Text and Controversy from Wyclif to Bale: Essays in Honour of Anne Hudson. Series: Medieval Church Studies, vol. 4. Turnhout: Brepols, 2005. Pp. xxii, 448. $116.00 (hb). ISBN: 2-503-52209-2.

Reviewed by:

Peggy Knapp
Carnegie Mellon University

This beautifully presented book is volume 4 in the Medieval Church Studies series. The handsome cover design based on an illuminated manuscript page is matched by the sustained seriousness and care with which the content is prepared. All the writing here is clear and scrupulous, and all of it bears on the issues indicated by the title. Opening the volume are a witty Encomium Anne by A. Georgio Rigg, in Latin and then in English (the prestige of the vernacular is of course one of the issues treated by several of the essayists) and an introduction by the editors, which (after an intriguing opening paragraph) stresses the remarkable diversity of controversial writing in late medieval England. Concluding it are "Aftermath" again by the editors, a bibliography of Anne Hudson's published work, and a very helpful selected bibliography and index for the whole volume. Within this frame twenty essays on various aspects of the theme are presented in four major sections.

The first section, "The Question of Sources," makes available the findings of archival study. Here and in the next section are many valuable disclosures for those of us who cannot regularly visit the archives. The first of these, H. L. Spencer's "Friar Richard 'Of Both Sexes'" runs counter to our usual sense of the gravity of doctrinal disputes between secular and regular clergy. Dominican Richard Helmsley became known as "Frater Utriusque sexus" because he alleged that Lateran IV's requirement that Christians "utriusque sexus" ("of both sexes") confess to a curate once a year meant that only hermaphrodites were so bound. Helmsley may look silly by claiming at his trial that the Lateran Council 's mandate that people "of both sexes" must to confess yearly means that only hermaphrodites must do so, but his case throws light on adjacent issues: the monetary interests of the secular clergy, the uses of exempla in preaching, and the practices of heresy trials.

Ralph Hanna provides another glimpse of linguistic wit in recounting Peter Payne's accusation that Peter Partridge had instructed him in the scriptural truths of Wyclif's writing. Partridge, having now recanted his Lollard leanings, is referred to as Peter Perdix, "Peter the relapse." Pamela Gordon's commentary on the Hussite claim for Wyclif's authorship of a commentary on all of scripture (Postilla in totam Bibliam) has a long and fragile history in archival research and E. A. Jones explores the implications of two 15th C. devotional texts, including the fact that one of them quotes lines from Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. Douglas Gray's description of British Library, Additional 37049 a s a "spiritual encyclopedia" focuses largely on its homely colored drawings illustrating devotional material, which, he argues, "vividly illuminates one corner of the spiritual landscape of late medieval England."

In "Wyclif's Influence and Reputation," Jeremy Catto writes about Thomas Moston's use of Wyclif as a teacher of logic at Oxford (1410), representing his contributions to academic study as "widely admired" for his restoration of "realist logic to influence at Oxford." And James Carley explicates John Leland's ambiguous and "uneasy" attitude toward both the "monastic past" and toward Wyclif himself. Vincent Gillespie discusses the library of the Convent of Syon established by Brigitta of Sweden, where the Martiloge, both a record of the affairs of the house and a liturgical book, expresses views on teaching much like Wyclif's, especially in his De veritate scarae scripturae. In addition, there were Wycliffite writings in Syon's registry and notation o f their being purged in 1502, although glossed gospels keyed to Wycliffite translations were allowed to remain in the library. Gillespie's essay contributes substantially to the general conclusion to be drawn from the volume that the record we have cannot show "orthodox" and "heretical" positions to be clearly defined or immediately separable.

It is a pleasure to see the Wycliffite translations themselves, as Conrad Lindberg presents them for us: the first 31 verses of Genesis and the last 21 of the Apocalypse, printed so as to show both early and late versions. This begins a longer section called "Controversies and Reform." That section continues with a close look at the book producers implicated in Oldcastle's career. Maureen Jurkowski has located all four of them, and described a substantial underground den of Lollardy in London (even to the very street, Turnmill, mentioned in Shakespeare's II Henry VI).

I found the essays by Alastair Minnis and Kantik Ghosh esp ecially searching. Both of them implicate Wycliffite thought and its aftermath with ecclesiastical practices and lay piety, clarifying both the meticulousness and the eccentricity of medieval horizons of understanding. Minnis focuses on the trial in 1391-93 of the Welshman Walter Brut, which brought together the Donatist implications of Wyclif's doctrine of dominion and the suitability of women to perform priestly sacraments. Dominion is rightly exercised, not by those given ordination by a visible institution, but by personal moral rectitude, which might be claimed by either sex (although Wyclif held no brief for the ordination of women priests, it was a logical outcome of his doctrine). Brut did press the issue. John Trefnant and his team of interrogators responded with the theological distinction, that between potentia absoluta and potentia ordinata. According to the first of these, God can do anything that does not involve direct logical contradiction, so he could empower a woman to administer sacraments (as Brut had argued), but that claim that would be no more convincing than that she could "make the sun and the moon" as well, so he must be wrong. These trial records end up displaying the "integral connection between denial of transubstantiation and non-ordination of women" (Margaret Aston), and they also give us a good look at the argumentative strategies of both the "heretic" and his accusers.

Ghosh's essay also displays the wide arc of medieval debate. His focus is on Reginald Pecock's attempt to dissuade Lollards in the 1440s and 50s by adopting in his writing a "post-Lollard intellectual mentality." The assumption Pecock shares with Wycliffites is that of a lay population literate in English and capable of considerable sophistication. The scripture in English will therefore, he thinks, produce hermeneutic and moral anarchy, but his anti-Lollard position leads to two shocking assertions: that biblical hermeneutics is "ir relevant to the moral life of man" and that the moral status of the interpreter is irrelevant to a right reading of scripture. Eventually Pecock himself becomes "an Episcopal heretic," tried in 1457, dying in house arrest 1459. The conclusions Ghosh draws from his analysis of this case and its fifteenth-century context is that an "unprecedented cultural situation" was produced by the Lollard controversies, that "Lollardy" is less aptly considered a sect than "an attitude of intellectual questioning and criticism, supported by books in English" (265). Jill Havens's essay makes a similar point from the direction of manuscripts that contain both "orthodox" and "heterodox" materials. The famous "grey area" posited by Hudson is neither clearly one shade nor the other because, in the dangerous political situation, some writers did not want their positions known and others did not understand the subtleties of the controversies they invoked. The closeness of orthodox and Wycliffite w riting on devotional subjects is also Fionna Somerset's subject, and she treats it by noting Wyclif's apparent reliance on Richard Rolle's "Form of Living" for his "Five Questions of Love." Wyclif's reputation for intellectual rigor in doctrinal matters notwithstanding, Somerset sees a strong affective note in this vernacular text and its Latin precursor de Amore. The main difference from Rolle is Wyclif's insistence on activity rather than Rolle's "household-focused" meditation.

Wendy Scase provides a political dimension for the immediate reception of one of the defining documents of Lollardy, the "Twelve Conclusions," finding it never to have been acknowledged by its assumed audience-Parliament-but amply, as retort, by a clerical one. Roger Dymmok's reply is the chief source in which such reaction has survived, and it may have spurred a petition in 1397 by clerks (probably Arundel's) urging the burning of heretics in England, which in turn may have led to the 1401 De heretico comburendo. Other indications of the political climate are suggested by Roger Ellis, who discusses two early defenders of the orthodoxy of Birgitta of Sweden, canonized in 1391, and by Frantisek Smahel's work on the Acta of the Council of Constance concerning Jerome of Prague, tried along with Wyclif and Hus.

It has usually been assumed that the prohibition of Arundel suppressed all English religious writing. Anne Sutherland deals with some interesting cases in which Latin and English were both used; in "The Chastening of God's Children," for example, the author's practice seems to indicate a battle between the "democratic and despotic impulses." James Simpson finds a clear counter-case to the suppression of the English vernacular in John Audelay's "Marcol and Solomon," written after 1409. Not only is the treatise written in English, it shares with Langland a discursive space for "orthodox yet trenchant vernacular ecclesiological satire and theolog y in unpropitious circumstances" (389). Unlike Hoccleve and Lydgate, Audelay is less concerned with establishing a case against Lollards than in providing a defense of satire. He unmasks the overzealous orthodox practice that calls a truly virtuous priest a Lollard, with some very clever strategic rhetorical devices. Like Minnnis, Ghosh, Somerset, and Havens, Simpson points to a varied and difficult field of competing ideas, which were sometimes contiguous, yet, when tagged as unapproved, produced serious consequences for those who expressed them.

Readers will use this volume in various ways. For archival studies, it offers valuable descriptions of and commentary on a variety of manuscripts and their histories of address and ownership. For a more general consideration of English intellectual history, many of the essays make important contributions to our sense of the structures of thought and feeling available in the late Middle Ages. As I read I was haunted by the timeline ss of the appearance of this book, much of which points to the dangers that accrue to civil society when religious orthodoxy is implicated in the political process.

The editors are to be applauded for designing so accessible a book for several kinds of readers. Section headings, translations of Latin quotations, and a comprehensive bibliography and index help various kinds of readers find what they are looking for. My one quibble is that they might have regularized the format for translations from Latin (some are in footnotes, some follow the Latin in the text, a few are left untranslated). They have produced a tribute to Anne Hudson that continues her work on the "premature reformation," reflecting the breadth and thoroughness of her work and the importance of the subject she chose to investigate.