Idleness was a multifaceted concept in the later Middle Ages. While the word itself had a variety of meanings such as emptiness, vanity, and uselessness, it also signifies a branch of the deadly sin of sloth. As such, idleness was presented in pastoral writings as part of the seven vices that would ravage the soul of a sinner. In the wake of the Black Death, demographic and socio-economic changes created a crisis of labour. The reactionary legislation linked social change with pervasive sinful behaviour. By the 14th century, idleness had left the pages of pastoralia and preambles of legislation and was appearing personified in the drama Occupation and Idleness. This paper will compare the presentation of the concept of idleness as seen in moral treatise Handlyng Synne to that of the Statute of Labours and Occupation and Idleness. While these texts belong to very different genres their aim is the same: to highlight the dangers of sinful behaviour to the community and attempt to bring them towards a more virtuous and socially acceptable life.
This paper will consider Reginald Pecock’s place among the pan-European debate of the 15th century over the place of philosophy in vernacular theology. Comparing Pecock’s approach to lay education with that of Jean Gerson and Nicholas Cusa, the paper will focus on Pecock’s perception of the intellectual capacity of his audiences to understand more complex issues of faith than that to which they are exposed through pastoralia. In attempting to equip the laity with intellective tools usually reserved for the ‘lered’, Pecock recognises a religious curiosity among his audiences that cannot be satisfied by out-dated, simplified education.