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IMC 2009: Sessions

Session 512: Heretical Cultures in England, IV: Langland, the Bible, and Liturgy

Tuesday 14 July 2009, 09.00-10.30

Moderator/Chair:David John Young, Department of English, University of Birmingham
Paper 512-aThe Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist in Piers Plowman
(Language: English)
Rosanne Gasse, Department of English, Brandon University, Manitoba
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Lay Piety
Paper 512-bPower and Dissent: Langland's Unorthodox Use of the Bible
(Language: English)
Gail Lesley Blick, School of English, Communication & Philosophy, Cardiff University
Index terms: Biblical Studies, Language and Literature - Middle English
Paper 512-cReligious Critique and Orthodoxy in The Vision of Piers Plowman
(Language: English)
Jorge Goldar-Diéguez, Departamento de Filoloxía Inglesa e Alemá, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Religious Life

This session brings together varying views of Langland's own religious stance and the sources for and articulation of his views in Piers Plowman

Paper -a:
In terms of the theology behind them, penance and communion are two of the most complex sacraments. Discussion of the Eucharist in particular was apt to lead one into doctrinal difficulties, if not outright heterodoxy. Langland did not shy away from the vernacular discussion of religious matters that would become dangerous, forbidden subjects in the less tolerant 15th century, and both penance and the Eucharist are centrally important in his poem. Langland may be controversial, but his treatment is orthodox.

Paper -b:
If discordia be 'equivalent to heresy', can Langland be regarded as heretical? The poet hides subtle seeds of dissent; allusion and contextual knowledge of the Bible considerably strengthen attacks on the Church (e.g. C.XVI.263-269 cf. Acts 20:28-31, 23:1-3). In criticizing the probity of power, Langland must have undermined the dogmas laid down by that authority; questioning invites an audience to re-think. The Church could not remain in concordia, of one heart and mind, under the attack of such dangerous criticism. I will argue that, although Langland is theologically sound, the use of the Bible as a weapon made his orthodoxy, unorthodox.

Heresy quote taken from Morton W. Bloomfield, 'The Seven Deadly Sins: An Introduction to the History of a Religious Concept with Special Reference to Medieval English Literature (Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 1952), p.65.

Paper -c:
The Vision of Piers Plowman has been considered for long a work of an enormous value as the starting point for various cultural studies about the 14th century, especially those related to religion. The purpose of this paper is to analyse the different thoughts and attitudes towards the 14th-century English church that exist in the poem, which range from an open critique to strict orthodoxy and adhesion to Church commands. We will show how these two attitudes merge forming a coherent and logical discourse. At the same time, we will analyse how this relates to the lack of precise information we have on the author of the poem, William Langland.