AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Four Lollard dialogues: an edition with commentary

by Briar E R Gordon

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Record ID: 1316739
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/5022


The four dialogues which are the basis of the present study have not hitherto been printed in full. They are grouped together because of their use of a common form. The dialogues represent an intellectually respectable facet of English Lollardy, moderate in opinion, with little elaboration of overtly heretical doctrine and with signs of modest learning. Their doctrinal content emphasizes their implicit connections with the chief themes and aspirations of Wycliffism. Like much Wycliffite writing, they are highly allusive and often elliptical in style, and only fully intelligible in the light of the documented arguments of Wyclif, and more widely, against the whole historical, philosophical, theological, social and literary background of their period. For this reason, the Introduction and Commentaries refer heavily to this background, suggesting parallels for the doctrinal and historical allusions of the dialogues, and elucidating their connections in the Lollard context. The parallels between the dialogues and the writings of Wyclif are important for the wider consideration of Lollardy. The marked similarity of thought between Wyclif’s writings and the vernacular Lollard works was once thought to provide evidence for their common authorship by Wyclif. This principle is no longer accepted, but it has suggested a new interpretation, already well documented in the case of the Lollard sermon cycle: that the vernacular works were produced in a milieu where Wyclif's writings were known and accessible, and that there were continuing links between the vernacular Wycliffite movement and the learned tradition from which the movement sprang. Vernacular Lollard writers responded to the demands of a pious and increasingly literate laity, making available for them the learning of the schools by bridging the gap between scholastic theology and popular religion. The dialogues provide examples of just such a class of popular theology. On the surface, the dialogues do not support the notion that a common literary standard operated among Lollard writers, for there is considerable disparity among them in literary style and linguistic competence. Nevertheless, the literary methods of the dialogues indicate points of correspondence with the style of the wider Lollard canon, and even Wyclif's writings. At the most basic level, this is seen in the predictable use of a common store of biblical and patristic citations, allusions and analogies. It is also apparent in the use of some specifically connotative diction and of a narrow range of dialects. More elusively, there is a general adherence to an aesthetic framework shaped by doctrinal principles and conforming to the plain style of the sermo humilis. It is important not to ignore the participation of the dialogues in current trends and issues. For nearly all the doctrinal and polemical issues elaborated in the dialogues, contemporary and earlier parallels can be cited from orthodox texts. These provide valuable evidence for the currency of Wycliffite thought and of the…