Four Lollard dialogues: an edition with commentary
Gordon, Briar E R
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 issues embraced by Lollardy. Parallels can be drawn, for instance, from the literature of Chaucer, Langland and Gower, whose writings provided an alternative expression of the reform ideal. But it is equally important to note where the parallels end. Whereas orthodox critics lamented the evils current in the contemporary church, these Lollard authors were explicitly alienated from the established church by their antisacerdotalism and especially by the antisacramental implications of their theology. Because the doctrinal heresy of the dialogues is frequently allusive, cumulative and implicit rather than overt, the contemporary repudiation of Wycliffism is instructive. It throws light on the activities of the movement, on the impact of its doctrines, and on the concern which it aroused. These refutations indicate that a particular opinion was seen in its time to be Wycliffite, heretical and seductive. However, from the evidence of the dialogues, it can be appreciated that the false doctrine of the Lollards could present an alternative doctrine to current orthodoxy, and one not easily distinguished from orthodoxy. The heresy of the dialogues is fully evident only in the light of other Wycliffite writings as well as in the wider context of the literature written to oppose Wycliffism. The form of the dialogues implicitly invites comparison with the literature of the opposition as the Lollard protagonists counter the arguments of orthodoxy. In the case of the dialogues, however, there is not a shadow of doubt as to the strength of the Lollard position, nor of the purpose of the dialogues, to inform, persuade and propagandize on behalf of the movement.
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: English
Research Type: Thesis