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“Hospitable Reading” and Clerical Reform in Fifteenth Century London

(A version of this text was presented at After Arundel, St John’s College Oxford, 16th-18th April, 2009)
Citations from this post must be properly and appropriately acknowledged

“Categories of historical explanation are indispensable,” says the German historian of the Protestant Reformation, Berndt Hamm. “But when they lose their status as questions” he continues, “when it is no longer apparent that they are thought constructs placed upon the past, such categories come to have fatal effects on scholarship” (2004: 1). Our work on Geographies of Orthodoxy coincides with what is becoming a widely held sense that the questions asked of late medieval English piety, religious writing and ecclesiological dissent have themselves come to limit our encounter with the theological and literary controversies of fifteenth century England. Our interest in the project has been to challenge the cliché that Carthusian Prior Nicholas Love’s Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ stands as ideological opponent to the Wycliffite Bible. We aim to re-assess the coherence of this narrative and to locate Love in relation to other texts in the Pseudo-Bonaventuran tradition. Of interest to us is the issue of the security and coherence of “orthodoxy” as a classifying strategy in late medieval English devotional writing, either in the later Middle Ages or in contemporary literary history. The scholarly attention paid to the circulation of Wycliffite ideas and of the Wycliffite Bible itself distorts, we contend, the scene of fourteenth and fifteenth century theological speculation in England. Scholarship has presented us with a camera obscura, in which either the influence on religious writing of Wycliffite thought is pictured as all-pervasive or Wycliffitism is perceived as an ideological fiction propagated by the authorities in order to legitimate a tightening of secular and/or ecclesiastical control. While recent scholarship has often worked with the fine grain of religious writing in England and in English, it is our contention that these two grand récits continue to determine much of the thinking on the status of Wycliffite, Lollard or other heterodox thought.

Geographies of Orthodoxy instead has sought and is seeking to track – to map – the traffic of nominally orthodox texts across and among textual and reading communities in later medieval England. We have resisted an editorialising focus on texts themselves in favour of close investigation of the codicological contexts of their propagation. We would hope that our findings demonstrate the value and benefit to the scholarly community of such large-scale, collaborative projects. The literary and theological subtleties of late medieval writing are too great for the lone scholar, unless that scholar donates his or her career to their excavation. Large-corpus projects, while curtailed by specific time-frames and subject to the often crass whims of funding councils (“impact”?), provide scholars with an opportunity to shake up presuppositions by cutting across or through the standard registers of critical debate.

The plasticity of context for devotional writing in the years after the publication of the Constitutions suggests, as Mishtooni Bose has most recently argued, that utilising either the rhetoric of legislation or the rhetoric of dissent as an historiographical framework is no longer tenable. The meta-categories of “orthodoxy” and “heresy”, of “reform” and “dissent” subject us to vocabularies of description which are far from disinterested and not of our own choosing. “Fantasies,” says Bose, “are codified in legislation as surely as they are ever expressed in fiction” (2007: 51). Heresy and orthodoxy, as well as having specific cultural and linguistic etymologies often overlooked in their deployment by critics, have lost, we want to suggest, their explanatory and descriptive power. Attending to how books perform and materialise contemporary attitudes through what Anne Hudson calls “manuscript juxtaposition” (1988: 423) provides, we suggest, a more sensitive barometer of attitudes to religious writing and its relation to secular and ecclesiastical authority.

The MSS that we will refer to here were all produced in London in the first half of the fifteenth century, in the decades following Arundel’s death. MSS Bodley 789, Bodley 938, Westminster School MS 3, Laud Misc. 174 and Laud Misc. 23, are devotional anthologies and they fall within the scope of the Geographies of Orthodoxy survey because they contain one of two pseudo-Bonaventuran translations; in the case of three of the books, the Laud MSS and Bodley 789, that pseudo-Bonaventuran translation is the Middle English Meditationes de Passione Christi, a text that treats the events of the Passion from the Last Supper through to the Harrowing of Hell. The text structures its account of the events of the Passion into a series of meditations for the canonical hours, beginning with the “night and morwetyde”, then prime, terce, midday, none, vespers and compline, with further meditations relating to the Saturday, and closing with the meditation for Christ’s descent into hell. Our colleague, Allan Westphall, has found that these meditations are characterised by (I quote) an “economy of expression”, omitting, “what is not strictly necessary to the core narrative of Christ’s Passion”. Although the text does follow the Latin Meditationes in enjoining the reader to engage in affective consideration of Christ’s suffering, encouraging the reader to “make thee self as thou were present…with the eyen of thy soule”, and thus imaginatively witnessing scriptural events, in this the translator is also economical, shortening and sometimes omitting entirely the original’s extended affective focus on the pain of Christ and Mary.

The Short Rule of the Life of Our Lady, found in Bodley 938 and Westminster 3 is a much less substantial text, usually only occupying two or three folios in MS copies. Translated from chapter three of the Meditationes vitae Christi, the Short Rule gives an account of the manner of life lived by Mary in the years before she married Joseph. The text immediately and unapologetically signals its extra-biblical source- Mary, we are told, revealed the text to St. Elizabeth of Hungary through revelation. The Rule encourages imitatio of the young Mary, inviting the reader to follow her in her utter humility and submission to both the will of God and to ecclesiastical authority. Mary becomes an exemplary figure for a sort of mixed life, with her days dedicated to prayer and manual work.

Clearly these are texts that are thoroughly orthodox (if you were pushed to labelling them according to such political binaries), and for the most part, they occur in diverse text collections that are similarly unproblematic- religious miscellanies and anthologies with prominent pastoral, Christological and mystical interests. Indeed, the ME Meditationes even occurs as an interpolation in several MSS of that scholarly paradigm of orthodoxy, Nicholas Love’s Mirror of the Blessed Life.

In London production contexts, however, these texts are copied in much more politically unstable MSS. Almost invariably, the metropolitan contexts for these pseudo-Bonaventuran translations are books that mix supposedly Wycliffite texts (and undoubtedly reformist texts) with materials that are unequivocally orthodox. The fact that this occurs only in London contexts, might help us gain a sense of devotional tastes in the City, and how those tastes were being serviced by those involved in London’s book-trade. My necessarily brief discussion here speaks to these issues and I will focus largely on Laud. Misc. 23.

Laud 23 is one of six MSS discussed by Margaret Connolly in her 2003 article, “Books for the ‘helpe of euery persoone þat þenkiþ to be saued’: Six Devotional Anthologies from Fifteenth-Century London”, where she traced textual connections between books which had a cluster of devotional texts in common. One of the texts shared between 4 of Connolly’s six “Devotional Anthologies” is a prologue that precedes the “xij lettyngis of prayere”, and the text varies in its wording depending on the blend of items in each book. The prologue offers us a chance to reflects on the texts included in the Laud MS- and some of the issues more generally pertinent in relation to these anthologies:

    Þis litil compilacioun bigynnyþ with þe seuene dedli synnys and folwyng next ben seuene vertues remedies þer a3ens and oþer smale þynges schortly declared ¶But for as myche as sum men wenen to be herd of God alwey in here prayere . Þerfore here with Godds grace schal folwe xij lettyngis of prayere . wherporu3 men moun knowe þe betere why men be not herd in here praier of god alwey whan þei praien. ¶And for as miche as dyuers men holdyn an oppynyone þt sengle byleue wt ou3te werkys of charite sufficiþ to saluaciuone. þerfore sum schort declaracion schal folwe of þe crede whichis trewe bileue & which is but fendis bileue. whiche bileue only schal saue no man ¶And for asmyche as charite & loue comprehenyth alle þe comanndementis , þerfore next folwyng wt goddis grace schal sumwhat sue of loue of god & of ney3bore þt her þorw he may þe sunnere cum to þe kepyng of goddys comanndements . for bi loue men schulden kepe goddis hestis . & reule al here hiistis þer after & not only bi drede ¶Here endyt þe prolog. And here bigynnyn þe xii leityng of preyere

Although the prologue has been particularised to reflect the contents of Laud 23, it appears to have been reworked before the items to be included in the book were finalised. The prologue announces that the ‘compilacion’ begins with a treatise on the Seven deadly sins, “and folwyng next ben seuene vertues remedies þer a3ens and oþer smale þynges schortly declared”. The prologue fails to refer to the commentary on the Ten Commandments which is the opening item in the book, but reflects accurately Lavynham’s treatise on the Seven Sacraments, and the brief catechetical works that follow. This section of the MS, a sort of brief compendium of pastoralia treating the basic tenets of religious belief, is a common feature of these devotional anthologies, and it is here where one might also find expositions of the Pater Noster, Ave or Creed, as in Bodley MSS 789 and 938. Here, one also might expect a mixture of orthodox treatments of these basic pastoralia, with texts that are understood to have been adapted by Wycliffites. Bodley 789, for instance, has a strongly Wycliffite exposition of the Ten Commandments followed by an English translation of Deuteronomy 28, in a cluster of texts juxtaposing a probably Wycliffite treatment of the Ave Maria with a politically inert Pater Noster- (a text described by Kellog and Talbert as lacking (quote) “a single expressly Wyclifite idea”). In fact, the Pater Noster text in Bodley 789 had previously been understood as Wycliffite, primarily because of its cohabitation in books that had been identified as heterodox collections- it may be that a number of other texts need similar reassessment on their individual theological content.

Such mixing of orthodox and heterodox pastoral texts hints at the repeated processes of copying and splicing of clusters of texts that may have initially been entirely orthodox, or alternatively, entirely reformist, but that by turn resulted in thorough admixtures in the source booklets used by the scribes in London’s C15 book trade. The resulting assortments reveal a tolerance among scribes, and it would seem, their audiences, to mixed devotional perspectives.

In Laud 23, the treatment of the Seven Sacraments, and the short texts that follow (items 3 to 11) are orthodox. The treatment of the Ten Commandments, not listed in the prologue, is less straightforward, and is described by Doyle as being (quote) “of somewhat critical but orthodox tone”. This tendency to criticism of the clerisy, and the reformist tone that characterises this work, re-emerges with later items in the book; indeed there are several close verbal echoes between this treatment of the Decalogue and subsequent items, including a sermon I will discuss in detail in a moment.

Returning to the prologue, we are promised the “xij lettyngis of prayere”, followed by a text treating the Creed. This “schort declaracion…of þe crede” concerns itself with those who deny the need for charitable works, people who consider “þt sengle byleue wt ou3te werkys of charite sufficiþ to saluaciuone”. It is possible that the prologue here reveals knowledge of criticisms of the Free Spiritists, who were alleged to disavow the need for works of charity. Appropriately, given the concern here with charitable works, the prologue advertises a work on Love and Charity to complete this self-contained node of texts.

In John Rylands 85 and Durham Cathedral MS A.iv.22, books which also contain this prologue and the associated cluster of texts, the text “touching the creed” and the “Eight points of Charity” follow immediately after the “12 lettinges”, and the Prologue thus appears closely matched to the actual MS contents. Laud 23, however, reveals improvisational adaptation by the compilers, and 6 items have been added between the end of the “Lettynges” and the beginning of the “Schort declaracion”. Item 14, immediately following the “Xii Lettynges”, (a text, incidently, also found in Bodley 789) continues the interest in prayers. It advises on contemplative solitary prayer for lay persons, in a subtly affective mode, in some respects foreshadowing the devotional practices inscribed within the ME Meditaciones. Also among the additions is another cluster of texts that occur together elsewhere, even within the small selection of books I am discussing today, as Laud 174 similarly clusters the Mirror of Sinners, the Meditation of St Anselm, and Three Arrows of Doomsday, albeit in a different order to this book: these texts coalesce to stress the briefness of earthly life, the necessity of turning to Christ and good works, and the eternal penalties for the failure to do so.

Most interesting of the adaptations in the book is the compilers’ apparent substitution of the “Eight points of Charity”, the text which usually follows the “Schort Declaracion”. In the Laud MS it has been replaced with a work that in some respects, fits well with the Prologue’s description of an item dealing with Love and Charity, as the text includes expositions of the Ten Commandments, the five conditions of charity, and the four conditions of Love. Headed, “Vos estis Cives Sanctorum”, the text, an elaborate sermon inspired by Ephesians 2, discusses the Christian community as ‘Citizens of Saints’, inhabiting a City in which Christ is the cornerstone. The unique, extraordinary text, mixes reformist apocalypticism with Langlandian and Wycliffite registers, as it provides a history for the City and looks forward to its apocalyptic destruction. The text repeatedly stresses the necessity for the Priesthood to preach the gospels, and castigates the glossers, those ‘ypocrites’ who will bring about the apocalypse :

    þe cause of þis is to sey goddis lawe is medlid wt glosyng . fagyng & fals expounyng…siluer is turnid in to drosse.

The sermon also refers to Lollards, and the text’s discussion appears to use the term to suggest a world turned on its head :

    So oure cristendom is defoylid whanne it is medlid with errour & heresye, with þe flesh . þe world . or þe deuel ./ þe best coloure is chaungid . now uertuous lyf is dyspisid . & sinful lyf is preysid. ¶ ffor he þat hatiþ synne is clepid a lollar .’ And he þat mysdoiþ .’ is clepid a pleyn lyuar.

The use of the ‘lollar’ is tantalising here, but its use perhaps suggests the word is regarded as being in a state of semantic flux- “lollar” a word which should not be applicable to the virtuous, is slanderously applied to them, in these, the end of days.

Although much of the language reminds us of Wycliffite registers, it may be that the sermon displays absorption of Lollard discourse, rather than outright affiliation. Certainly, despite the insistent calls for the Gospels to be preached, there remains a conservative impulse in that the text imagines this as being strictly the duty of the clergy, and there is no hint that an answer to priestly negligence might be the dissemination of translated scriptures. In this the text resonates with a number of items within Bodley 938, a MS in which the opening and closing works stress the necessity of scriptural knowledge, and where the failure of the clergy in preaching the gospel is raised in numerous texts, yet much more often than not, the obvious Wycliffite punch-line in support of translation is not supplied.

We may also wonder at the climax of the sermon, where, with Langlandian echoes, the text prophesises an age beyond the apocalypse, where the “Citizens of Saints”, freed from the hypocrites who brought destruction on themselves and the City, will rebuild it, in what is described as a “fynal vnite”. Thus, these chosen few, will live in eternal bliss.

The role of the commissioner in these devotional anthologies is difficult to figure. Would the commissioner have had a precise notion of the texts that would be copied into a devotional miscellany, when such a book could contain dozens of items? Might they have entrusted scribes or stationers as literary agents to locate types of textual clusters (such as these pastoral manual booklets), trusting them to imaginatively and pragmatically fulfil a commission. Might there even be an arbitrariness about the manner in which these books were put together? Perhaps, the exemplar containing the “Eight Points of Charity” was no longer available to the scribe of Laud 23, and so, an available exemplar containing a work that fitted the requirement for a work on Love and Charity, and was copied into the book. I think in this case that such an argument is unconvincing,- “Vose estis ciues sanctorum” resonates perfectly with other texts in the MS, and particularly those texts that were added to the pre-existing clusters of items. The rarity of some of the texts in Laud 23, with some unique texts, and some found only in one or two other MS witnesses, would tend to suggest sources in private hands, texts located by the commissioner of the book rather than the scribe accessing booklets more commonly available in the London book trade. That is not to say that such anthologies were never shaped by the availability of texts, but that exemplar availability alone cannot explain the structuring of these books- texts were rejected and replaced by copyists, and in some cases this must have been in response to the demands of the consumer.

Of the London MSS surveyed by Geographies of Orthodoxy, the most consistently heterodox is the large compendium of materials in Bodley 938, a book written by a scribe who had a knack for laying his hands on heterodox or otherwise reformist materials. He has been identified as one of the scribes of John Colop’s Common Profit book, a MS that famously mixes heterodox texts in support of biblical translations with orthodox mystical materials. It appears that one early reader of Bodley 938, the volume’s commissioner perhaps, disagreed with a number of perspectives in the book, noting offending passages by penning “quere” in the margin, and very occasionally scraping particularly problematic lines from the book. It is generally the most extreme positions that are marked- for instance, the refutation of priestly celibacy and instructions for prelates to marry, the articulation that bishops and priesthood should be replaced by “trewe prechours” of the gospels. However, the vast majority of the consistently reformist texts are untouched, and the book was evidently retained for use, perhaps not in spite of its reformist bent, but because of this.

What these case-studies illustrate is the extent to which the production and circulation of religious texts in London is unaffected on the ground by Arundel’s prohibitions. The likelihood is that the London episcopate was tasked with the implementation of the Constitutions and the evidence suggests considerable permissiveness. Paul Strohm has suggested that Arundel’s legislation spoke powerfully to a specific socio-political moment, but – as with modern governmental pronouncements, it seems to us as if its moment passed extremely quickly. As the manuscripts and texts we’ve discussed here suggest, there continues to be a capacious appetite for religious writing in the vernacular. Indeed, the books we’ve discussed seem in fact to index the variety and range of theological and catechetical interests of fifteenth century London readers: they present us with a snapshot of a debate on the present and future constitution of the clergy and its pastoral and political responsibilities. To our mind, they evidence what we have termed – not without caution – devotional cosmopolitanism. We do not, of course, intend cosmopolitanism as it is today conceived by a politically anxious, latte-swilling, broadsheet-reading middle class: as a pat solution to problems of multiculturalism. The notion of cosmopolitanism is ancient, reaching back to Cicero. But it also has a distinctly Christian heritage, which issues particularly in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: “Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners; but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God. Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone: In whom all the building, being framed together, groweth up into an holy temple in the Lord” (2: 19-21). Cosmopolitanism is, at base, the ethic of hospitality by another name: the willingness to take the Other, on the Other’s terms, into one’s own home (an ethic which has its roots, too, in the Parable of the Samaritan). Paul (if indeed the author of the Epistle) here imagines the redemption of cultural and religious difference under the sign of Christ’s death and resurrection; typically its fulfilment is patterned eschatologically, with the Second Coming which will fulfil politically what Christ’s crucifixion announced spiritually. While our discovery of the extraordinarily dense, hortatory, richly intertextual Sermon on Ephesians in Laud Misc. 23 is recent, our immediate work on the text suggests that this homily, with its obviously Langlandian idiom and its recognition of the cultural and political utility of the word “lollar” as a byword for any sort of reform, imagines a future Church in which the various shades of religious difference can be accommodated to the benefit of all. While its rhetoric is apocalyptic, its interest is reform with a small “r”: its commingling of Joachite, Wycliffite and Langlandian discourses is, in our view, demonstrative of a devotional cosmopolitanism which draws from all available sources, whether nominally orthodox or nominally heretical, in order to forge a new account of Christian community. These books and texts record cultural experimentation and innovation, rehearsed in sermons and other contexts of public performance, exhorting audiences to evaluate a variety of devotional and ecclesiastical forms. We are talking about a moment when the Church and its critics – with the exception of the Wycliffite minority – are re-imagining what the Church might be and how it might overcome a crisis of confidence, of government, of authority.

The devotional cosmopolitanism we imagine is not unique to the fifteenth century. And it is not unique to metropolitan contexts. It informs and structures both orthodox and heterodox models of ecclesia. And neither should it be conceived as a form of idealism – either of communities or of literary culture. Derrida (2001) has alerted us to the paradoxes of cosmopolitanism, to its inherently destabilising effects on the fixities of identity: the polities of host and guest commingle and become confused. Paradox, we contend, might be the textual mark of the influence of Arundel’s Constitutions. Future research will demonstrate how, for conformist and non-conformist reading communities across England, the availability of multiple strands of theological innovation, indigenous to England but also imported from continental Europe, provide audiences with renewed vocabularies of Christian identity rooted in a model of “hospitable reading.” If the task of Church authorities in the fifteenth century was to imagine and legislate for the suppression of such innovation as heresy, it is the task of the historian of late medieval religion not to reinforce its supposed homogeneity but to disentangle its complexity and richness.


Berndt Hamm. The Reformation of Faith in the Context of Late Medieval Theology and Piety. Leiden: Brill, 2004.
Mishtooni Bose. “Religious Authority and Dissent” in A Companion to Medieval English Literature and Culture, c.1350-1500, ed. Peter Brown. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006, 40-55.
Margaret Connolly. “Books for the ‘helpe of euery persoone þat þenkiþ to be saued’: Six Devotional Anthologies from Fifteenth-Century London” Yearbook of English Studies 33 (2003): 170-181.
Jacques Derrida. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. London: Routledge, 2001.
A. L. Kellogg and E. W. Talbert. “The Wyclifite Pater Noster and Ten Commandments, with Special Reference to English MSS. 85 and 90 in the John Rylands Library’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 42 (1959-60): 345-77.
Wendy Scase. “Reginald Pecock, John Carpenter and John Colop’s “common-profit” books: aspects of book ownership and circulation in fifteenth-century London”. Medium Aevum, 61:2 (1992): 261-74.


7 comments for ““Hospitable Reading” and Clerical Reform in Fifteenth Century London”

  1. This is a very interesting paper, and I’m the more sorry I wasn’t able to come to the session at “After Arundel” in which it was given or to hear the discussion. The approach through manuscript compilations clearly has tremendous mileage, and the ideas of community and hospitality that you are developing at the end offer a lot of food for thought. As does the opening quotation, with which I strongly agree.

    I have one area of puzzlement, with how the paper, and perhaps the Geographies of Orthodoxy project in general, is conceptualizing heterodoxy. Rather as you complain has been true in the field as a whole, heterodoxy here still seems sometimes to be an ecclesiastical construct, sometimes an actual phenomenon; specific texts, especially those that bear on Bible translation, are liable to be labeled “heterodox” – a word I would certainly not use, for example, of straightfoward defences of Bible translation, even if they do contradict the Constitutions (a synodal document that does not in general set out to define religious orthodoxy). I do see that part of the project is to draw scholarly energy away from the Wycliffite “margin” into the orthodox “center” by framing that center in some of the ways you do here, a project that tempts one to the marginalization of Wycliffism (in the manner, say, of Richard Rex).

    But I wonder whether the definition of community, and indeed hospitality, you’re left with here isn’t in danger of sentimentality, simply because of the ways it prefers a narrative of “pluralism” to narratives that would have a place for “conflict” and even “dissent,” that is, narratives that would see fifteenth-century Wycliffism as part and parcel of the fabric of English religion, quite impossible to separate from the whole. (Even The Lantern of Light deserves a place within any definition of the communal religiosity of C15 London, of course it does.) You come very close in your remarks to Derrida’s exploration of the relation between “hospes” and “hostes” but seem, interestingly, to step back from it. As a result, I don’t see at present how the model offered really differs from the models it hopes to replace except in emphasis. A more ground-shifting model would, perhaps, limit the use of “heterodox” to highly specific instances (eucharistic theology, perhaps), and would include the “enemy” within its framing of community. Or am I simply extrapolating from too little data, or, worse, missing the point? At any event, thanks for a stimulating and thought-provoking piece.

    Can we be sure that Westminer 3 is post-Arundel? I’d seen no signs of this and would have stuck to the “c.1400″ date. I’m not sure how much, if at all, this matters to your argument.

    Posted by Nicholas Watson | April 29, 2009, 12:43 am
  2. Thanks for this thoughtful and insightful response. To pick up on some of the issues raised in terms of our use of ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heterodoxy’, it is perhaps not clear from this piece that we are very much interested in challenging scholarly applications of these terms. My section of the paper was designed for performance rather than reading- and any use of such dichotomising nomenclature should be imagined in scare quotes. We are not, for instance, confirming the heterodoxy of the texts in MS Bodley 938 (although it is clear that at least one reader found what he considered to be unpalatable readings in the book). The use of the term ‘heterodox’ in respect of the items and manuscripts listed draws on previous accounts of these texts, and rather than affirming such notions, our overarching interest is to test their validity, and eventually, to problematise their very usage- particularly, as you suggest, in respect of issues such as vernacular translation. Your point that the Constitutions should be appreciated as a synodal document and isn’t necessarily to be understood as ‘defining orthodoxy’ is precisely in accordance with our thinking, and I suppose ties in with our increasing appreciation of multiple ‘orthodoxies’, where localized pressures are perhaps of more significance in defining religious deviance than synodal decrees or academic debates. Indeed sociological studies of the crucial difference between illegal and deviant behaviour perhaps has something to tell us in respect of variously reactionary and tolerant responses to reformist ideologies in late medieval England. Illegal activity is not always deviant, and likely to provoke the indignation of a community, as it were. And whereas an entire nation might share the same laws, what is, or is not considered deviant, might evolve culturally on a much more local level. Thus, although the possibility of delimiting the application of ‘heterodox’ to issues such as dissenting Eucharistic theologies is potentially a much more sensitive approach to the problem of definition, it still maintains the rigidity of current approaches to defining heterodoxy (although it is certainly a more useful formulation than looking for a wide range of reformist agendas). Gospel translation, therefore, might very well be considered ‘heterodox’ in certain cultural and regional settings (indeed, the mere mention of the Gospels pricks the ears of York ecclesiasts in The Book of Margery Kempe), even if it cannot be used as a more general indicator of heterodoxy. It is these more nuanced patterns that we hope to pick up upon, even if it will only ever be a fragmentary reflection of England’s theologico-political landscapes.
    As regards the dating of Westminster School MS 3, I don’t really think it does impact upon our reading, and if anything an early date would further suggest continued reformist agendas in London books that straddle the pre- and post-Constitutions eras. That being said, the shared sources between MS Bodley 938 (a book generally dated to the 1st-2nd quarter C15) and the Westminster MS, suggests to me that the books were compiled around the same time, and by compilers who were somehow linked. Whether that means we date the Bodley MS earlier, the Westminster MS later, or a bit of both, remains an open question.

    Posted by Ryan Perry | May 18, 2009, 2:42 pm
  3. Nicholas, thank you for a terrific response. We really hope, as our findings begin to be published in the coming months, that colleagues engage with the work we’re doing and argue with us about our emphases and interpretations.

    In the work we’re doing, some of the project team are wondering what’s left when we suspend the use of certain rhetorically over-determined words from our critical vocabularies. These include ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heterodoxy’. By the early to mid-fifteenth century, it may be that these terms, or what they signified, were similarly over-determined. In the Sermon on Ephesians in Laud Misc. 23, we find a writer attempting to work through alternative models of Christian community, under the stamp of an utopian apocalypticism: this is the utopianism of a redeemed community, a community _to come_ (I cannot help but hear echoes of Agamben’s _Coming Community_ in this sermon; Agamben’s politics of potentiality are, of course, heavily informed by St Paul). The hospitality we envisage – or rather, the hospitality we claim this sermon envisages – prioritises debate regarding the constitution of the Church’s authority and of the community to which it administers. It thereby rejects a punitive treatment of religious dissent, but rather imagines a milieu in which dissent is tolerated. However, to describe the text as tolerant would be to indulge in the pluralistic sentimentality against which you are warning.

    However, Derrida’s account of hospitality is not particularly satisfactory either, as it operates at a level of ethical interrelations so abstract (inevitable, given its debt to Levinas) that no politics, no praxis, could be predicated upon it. Derrida’s rejection of cosmopolitanism is a rejection of its roots, latterly, in Christian tolerance. He wants to imagine instead an absolute hospitality which, according to Richard Kearney, requires us “to suspend all criteria of ethical discrimination… Deconstructive non-judgementalism needs to be supplemented… with a hermeneutics of practical wisdom which might help us better discern between justice and injustice” (Kearney, _Strangers, Gods and Monsters_, p.72).

    We might argue that the Sermon on Ephesians is working out and deploying precisely such a “hermeneutics of practical wisdom”. In itself it is rejecting the binaries which have so determined contemporary scholarship of religious conformism and non-comformism in our period. Indeed, the Sermon might be said to be “cosmopolitan” to the extent that it welcomes, and offers to host, encounter with the supposedly heterodox in the interest of defining a community capable of engaging all Christians. Thus its utopianism – and its apocalypticism. It’s a fascinating text, and I can’t help seeing its “devotional cosmopolitanism” in a wide array of late medieval religious writing, including, in places, Love’s _Mirror_. But more anon on this!

    Posted by Stephen Kelly | July 6, 2009, 12:14 pm
  4. I don’t think the sermon on ephesians is cosmopolitan, or grey area as Anne Hudson might say, I think it’s lollard! But this is not to say that I want to fall back into old ways of thinking about old categories. I completely agree with your fine and thought-provoking paper that we need new ways to talk about the relationship between different stances or ideologies in late medieval English texts, and that one very helpful tool is codicological evidence, with all it can tell us about the relationships between texts.

    A pervasive problem in your paper, one I can see that you’re aware of, is how to decide what might count as ‘heterodox’ or ‘orthodox’ in the first place, let alone ‘lollard’, ‘reformist’, ‘mainstream’, ‘radical’, ‘conformist’, or ‘conservative’. Even ‘grey area’. Or ‘pastoral’, ‘instructional’, ‘contemplative’, ‘mystical’, ‘spiritual’, or ‘polemical’. We need ways to talk about these categories and these terms. Nicholas was right to observe in his closing address at After Arundel that the field is in terminological crisis: he and I have just been discussing this again a propos of the Afterword to the Wycliffite Controversies volume that I’ve just written, and we might want to recycle some of that conversation here, if that’s OK with you, in order to broaden it out and get more views.

    Here’s the problem: you say that the sermon on ephesians is rejecting the binaries of contemporary scholarship on religion in our period. But this is to suggest (I don’t mean to catch you out here, this is a pervasive problem in the field) that the binaries are operating pervasively in the field of cultural production in which the contents of these manuscripts were composed or translated, copied, circulated, and read, just as they are in lots of our scholarship. That this binary is pervasively theirs as well as ours. That is, you’re suggesting that everything is either orthodox or heterodox, that everyone thought so, and that this was readily apparent to everyone. This would then be the backdrop for innovative rejections or reworkings of this binary like the one in this sermon. I know that you don’t really think quite this, I can see that elsewhere in your paper and responses. The problem is how not to get tied up in the terms – and especially in older attempts to ‘define’ whether texts are lollard or not. Heaven knows, much as they contributed to scholarship, we can’t rely on Kellogg and Talbert to tell us. (Judith Jefferson’s marvellous thesis on ten commandments commentaries, which will at some point be published as an EETS edition, is on the other hand much more fine-grained in its analyses.) Nor would I agree with your criteria for deciding whether the sermon on ephesians is lollard, though I very much appreciate the attentive spirit with which you pursue this question, because they draw (like that older scholarship) on categories imposed from without. I like your use of ‘registers’ as a way to try to get past this, but i think your criteria (like everyone’s) need development.

    I’m pointing at moments in your paper where you’re trying to define or redefine some grounds for discussion, rather than at the new kind of work you’re doing, something that isn’t quite fair (especially since thinking about how to characterise lollardy is not your main concern, and it is mine right now). But the reason I’m doing that is that I think the work you’re doing, and the work I’m doing, on relationships between manuscripts in which materials with different ideological stances nestle (or jostle) up against one another, can help us to develop new ways of understanding how the heterodoxy-or-heresy vs orthodoxy binary operated – and just how often it did not. When we look at the manuscripts, we do not see repression (as I said in the session, and you did too). We also do not see a situation where heterodoxy and orthodoxy are sharply and always opposed. In fact this is rare, especially in the sorts of miscellanies we are both focusing on. A new study by (my student!) Mary Raschko, now I think out in Viator, on the Schort Rule of Life, helps to highlight what is going on in the relationships BETWEEN these texts. This is where our analysis needs to focus: on the relationships between the contents of specific manuscripts, as well as texts that travel in groups between manuscripts; on the relationships between copies of a given text and their mouvance; on the relationships between often very different versions of a highly plastic text, or one that was multiply translated or interpolated. ‘Heresy’ and ‘orthodoxy’ are inadequate categories except at the rare moments of sharp opposition where something is juridically defined as one or the other, or where a text or its copyist sharply labors to define their boundaries. This is not, let me emphasize (as if I needed to, to you) the motivation behind every change that may be made in a text in its mouvance, or in the differing choices made by a reviser or interpolator or a different translator, let alone in the procedures of selecting which texts to put in an anthology: not every change is a response to repression, or defiance of it. The boundaries between heresy and orthodoxy are not at all closely policed.
    Mary shows (returning to her article!) that most copies of the Schort Rule are not at all closely attuned to the materials within that text that make it lollard. Only one copy, a multilingual prayer book owned by a house of religious women, carefully expurgates all of them. (In the process, I think, confirming her analysis of what they are. Deciding what makes a text lollard is still a vexed question, though I say a bit more about this below.) Nor do the varying ideological stances of the copies we have line up neatly with the overall purposes (insofar as those can be deduced) of the anthologies in which they appear. Exemplar poverty is surely a factor here, but so is the broad appeal of this particular lollard text, far beyond a lollard audience. (How to think about that lollard audience is another question to be pursued separately.) But it is not that all the other copyists and readers are pluralist, or tolerant, though some of them surely were, as much as that most of them really don’t care, are not sensitized to these hot-button issues. This is a crucial kind of lack of definition: we need to understand that there is a readership, and any number of sites and channels of book production, in which lollard ideology travels freely because it is not viewed as dangerous or heretical. What we can observe here happening on the level of changes made in copying the text itself (whether in this copy or an earlier recension) is also writ larger in the processes of selecting the contents of given anthologies.

    So, this is a key point: lollardy and heresy are not the same thing. Lollards did not think of themselves as heretics, and while their affect, religious experience, and religious practices, not least their writings, were shaped by persecution, their identity as heretics, when it was imposed, was imposed from without. [I would like to acknowledge that I was fudging in that last sentence: we cannot think of lollard writers and lollard readers quite so seamlessly, though I do think that there were lollard readers, and readers (and surely writers!) who moved in and out of lollardy, as well as the crucially indefinite interested wider readership who should not be too quickly classed as lollards.] So were the terms by which this identity was imposed, at the moments when it was. (See Ian Forrest’s book on the detection of heresy for the narrowly juridical definition of heresy: this is important, even if polemical writers and chroniclers often talk as though ‘heretic’ were a more stable identity.) We can’t decide what texts are lollard by looking for stark opposition to mainstream religion (for lollards are not always and everywhere opposed to mainstream beliefs and practices) or for mainstream religion’s rejection of lollardy (for lollards and persons outside the movement were sometimes good neighbours, as Anne Hudson explores in a very fine new paper, ‘Who is my Neighbour?’ forthcoming in the Wycliffite Controversies volume). Instead, we need to develop an intrinsic, positive account of lollard belief, practice, and experience that sees binaries only where they are occasionally present, rather than expecting them everywhere and manufacturing them with episcopal or backward-looking reformation glasses on (or rejecting texts from consideration) when they aren’t. Actually reading lollard texts attentively and seeing what they have in common, with each other and with Wyclif and earlier writers, is essential here. But so is exploring the relationships between texts and manuscripts, without rejecting possible comparisons along an orthodox/heterodox binary. As an example, see James Simpson’s very early comment in his IMEP volume of Paris manuscripts, that a set of texts with clear affiliations with lollard copies ‘contain nothing specifically Wycliffite’. Even if this is so – and older criteria for deciding this question may or may not be in play – nonetheless we still need to explore these texts’ relationships with their perhaps more overtly lollard affiliates.

    Why not just call the field of crucial indefinition ‘the grey area’, certainly a very useful term? One reason is that again there’s an issue with writership/readership, as well as the book production in between: these are different kinds of crucial undefinedness and we need to at least attempt to distinguish them carefully case by case. Another is that to label things grey is in some ways to perpetuate the governing heuristic value of the binaries on either side (grey is black and white mixed, and there’s more to it than that). A third is the temptation that a grey pigeonhold might pose to us, to label texts grey and be done with it. Instead, we really need to explore the relationships between them.

    On the other hand, my alternative to lollardy at the moment is ‘mainstream’, a term I see as a better alternative than ‘orthodoxy’, since ‘orthodoxy’ implies a constant and even perhaps strenous effort to think rightly. Nobody thinks of their views as heretical, but very often people aren’t thinking at all about how to define themselves against heresy, either, and there is a wide variety of religious thought, practice, feeling, and experience that is not likely to be subjected to orthodox/heterodox determination. Cults come and go, texts wax and wane in popularity, prayers and songs go in and out of fashion, lay people explain their religion to themselves differently than clerics might (and there are of course other axes of variation). Oddly enough my use of ‘mainstream’ is very much how Duffy defines ‘orthodoxy’ in the preface to his second edition of Stripping of the Altars, and how Rob Lutton uses ‘orthodoxy’ in some very fine new work he is doing, building on his first book, using a variety of legal records to explore the regionally and situationally variable texture of relationships between parts of local religious community, some lollard, some not – some hard to define. Yet Nicholas points out to me that ‘mainstream’ is by no means an adequate description for everything that is not lollard either: it is not adequate for most of the texts he is working on. Nor may it be adequate, in particular, for texts that circulated in the vernacular among audiences of religious, sometimes without much interest in making them more widely available, as Vincent Gillespie explores in ‘The haunted text’ (see the version in the Renevey/Caie volume). Or for Ralph Hanna’s ‘Tradition’ of Hilton/Cloud/Rolle as found in Vernon, and as opposed to the messy rest of texts that were multiply translated and narrowly circulated (intro to IMEP 12). In other words, when I look outside lollardy (something i need to do more) then a ‘mainstream’ isn’t exactly what I see: it’s more like a delta plain with a variety of deeper and narrower channels, large pools, and marshes. Across which lollard writings and their derivatives are variously distributed.


    BTW for any readers, you can cite this comment, and please do if you want to agree or argue, but you might also want to check out the Afterword to Wycliffite Controversies (Brepols 2010) and my upcoming monograph Feeling Like Saints, for what will doubtless be more articulate versions.

    Posted by Fiona Somerset | September 4, 2009, 6:27 pm
  5. WOW, Fiona – that’s quite a response! I’m going to digest this and get back to you. I think it’s a question of *modalities* in devotional culture. A ‘Lollard’ in Leicester can be quite different to a ‘Lollard’ in London – both in communal and self-perception. I continue to wonder what’s at stake for historians when they (we) deploy terms not of our choosing, but laden with the ideological determinations of those who coin and distribute them. This is the value of theory: it allows us, as long as we are careful, to derive terminologies of our own with which to shed brighter, better light on the past without necessarily succumbing to the rhetorics by which past cultures define themselves and are defined by contemporary institutional power. As for Lollardy and related issues not being at the heart of our project, I disagree: the investment in reading Nicholas Love in terms of Lollardy and/ or Wycliffitism remains embedded in our field.

    These are initial thoughts, then: more over the weekend! Thanks for getting engaged; such debate is the intellectual objective of this project.

    Posted by Stephen Kelly | September 4, 2009, 8:06 pm
  6. All the better, then, if you see this as central too! I agree that regional variation in lollardy deserves more attention. Rob Lutton in his article in Wycliffite Controversies does some of this comparative work, and points at others who have (esp the Spufford collection, The World of Rural Dissenters, and work by historians such as Plumb, Burgess, himself). Of course we also need to remember that lollards travelled from place to place to avoid persecution. I am very interested in the question of whether we can locate regional patterns in the writing, production, distribution, and reading of certain lollard texts: that’s something I’m trying to do, while also remembering that LALME locations can mean ‘London’, and that texts as well as people probably travelled between communities…

    The thing I like about ‘lollard’ (pace andrew, as I will be explaining at length in writing soon) is that it was used by lollards as well as those opposed to them, and by sympathizers: it’s multivalent and self-identifying as well as imposed, in a way that ‘heretic’ (often used as its synonym in anti-lollard sermons, and certainly so in Duffy) is not.

    Posted by Fiona Somerset | September 4, 2009, 8:25 pm
  7. Hey, guys –

    I haven’t looked at this thread since the initial paper was printed, and am pleased to see all the new material. Wow. I’ve got a bunch of things to go look up as soon as I get to the library. And Fiona – when is “Wycliffite Controversies” coming out? It looks like there will be a lot in it that I would love to see – unfortunately – before we all have to hand in the revised versions of our “After Arundel” papers. I was thinking of dumping the last part of mine and taking up Fiona’s challenge that I provide my own reading of late medieval spirituality in England. I wasn’t being flippant when I answered her question “I don’t know”, since it’s such a tall order; but I guess it’s time that I said more than just that I don’t feel the “atmosphere of anxiety” that Nicholas senses in the air after the Lambeth Constitutions. Yes, there was anxiety. Sometimes. Some people. Some places. But to extrapolate from a few instances (even if if they are as quotable as “I would rather burn my books than that my books burn me!”) to a generalized atmosphere puts a slant on all the literature that just doesn’t feel right to me when I am reading.

    I am pleased to see the turn in the “Geographies” approach, to think of even Nicholas Love in terms of his placement in the pseudo-Bonaventuran tradition, rather than just as the anti-Wycliffite lobbyist-in-chief. He’s a complex character, and I think that there are at least three things that need to be noted about him recently that need to be emphasized. One of them, which I did put into the edition, but upon which I expanded in a paper for the Lausanne “Lost in Translation” conference two years ago (which is still languishes in proofs), is that we have to keep in mind the political/economic side of Love’s alliance with Arundel. He bought Mount Grace its life – changed it from the “Ricardian” to the “Lancastrian” column in one move. And Arundel and Thomas Beaufort (who got the beautiful e Museo copy of the “Mirror”) became annual donors to Mount Grace and the Order in general. A trental (actually, a tricennarium: a ten-times-trental) for each of them every year, and a perpetual memorial when each died. The second thing is that we now know (thanks to David Smith’s 3rd volume of “The Heads of Religious Houses) that Love was prior of Mount Grace until his death, probably in late spring or early summer, 1423. This means that he was the prior of Mount Grace at whose instigation Henry called his extraordinary reformist convocation of the English Benedictines in 1421. And, according to the Croyland chronicle, said prior of Mount Grace was a disgruntled ex-Benedictine. Maybe that’s where he got his very non-Carthusian ideas that he had a vocation outside of his cell. I learned this bit just in time to tag it onto the end of the “Translation” paper. But the other thing is that if Love was a Benedictine before he entered Mount Grace, then this gives a different slant to the beta-two version of the “Mirror”, the most prominent copy of which belonged to Sybil de Felton, abbess of Barking. We already know that the best copy of the beta-one tradition, Toshi Takamiya’s MS 8, belonged to Joan Holland, the widow of the founder of Mount Grace – but this is additional evidence that the version of the “Mirror” into which a major chunk of the “Middle English Meditationes de Passione” has been inserted was the original version of the book. I am doing a paper for Jen Brown’s volume on Barking Abbey (not due until March, thank God) in which I want to talk about the Barking (olim Foyle) manuscript, and suggest that back before he decided to take up his anti-Lollard tone – back when he was expanding, not contracting, his text – he may have been intending something much more along the lines of the Middle English Bonaventuriana that the “Geography” project is talking about.

    Back to the original topic: I do like the idea of a lollard “discourse” rather than a vocabulary (although the two are obviously related); and I like working through Foucault (with a dash of Bourdieu). But I think that Foucault gives us a tool to get past the “Yes, but other people said that before (or elsewhere), and they’re not lollards.” objection. Yes, both scholastic and Wycliffite (and Lollard, but they’re not the same thing) hermeneutics depended upon a literal/historical interrogation of the biblical text – but to me the epistemic change that Wyclif represents is the focus on What the Text Actually Means, in opposition to the artful (even artistic) spinning of new meaning out of the text. I think of the latter as particularly characteristic of late-medieval monastic theology – the Cistercians in particular. Authors like Bernard could make the text say things that the text Never Said – the guarantee of the validity of their readings was in their allegiance to an interpretive tradition. Of course, such readings could, and did, disagree with each other, but the real hatred was of people in the scholastic tradition of Abelard, who dared to ask,
    “Yes, but what does the text really say.” So the kind of interpretation that Wyclif did was centuries old already – but he is the historical “marker” for when it could first claim to be the dominant mode of interpretation. Not that the traditional kind of reading didn’t continue – sometimes even in the hands of Wycliffite writers – but here is where I would say that there is a change in atmosphere. It is what makes Wyclif, in the Foucauldian sense (for me) an “author”.

    But there were other things going on – many of which I think of as characteristic of the social/spiritual aftermath of the plague. The question becomes more pertinent, “What must I to in order to be saved?” There are a number of different kinds of evidence that there was a real search for individual and corporate* ways of working out one’s own salvation: the abrupt rise in the number of endowments of chapels and hospitals (there were no new monastic foundations after the plague, except for the Minoresses at Denney, the Carthusians and the Brigittines); the rise in the literature of “spiritual ambition” that Nicole Rice talks about; collections of exemplary saints’ lives, and so on – you know the list as well as I do. And the real changes in approach to spirituality: What would have happened if someone had written something like Hilton’s “Mixed Life” to Bernard of Clairvaux’ father and elder brother when they were about to throw over the world and become monks? So I think of the age that followed the plague as one of spiritual ferment – and Lollardy, whether or not it coincides at any particular point with the actual theological/ecclesiastical positions espoused by Wyclif (Worship of Images, anyone?) is just one moment force in all of this. And I want to use the metaphor of “moment forces” (remember your high school physics class, anyone?) rather than the usual “pie-slice” approach that is used to talk about what is and what is not Lollard. Pie-slicing forces you to think in terms of the definition of boundaries; I think it might be more useful to think in term of the defining direction of a tendency.

    *Bring in David Wallace on associational forms here.

    Ooops — Just had a visitor from Porlock: Lost my train of thought.

    Any way – there’s a lot to read and think about over the course of the next couple of months…


    Posted by Michael Sargent | October 11, 2009, 10:23 pm

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