A Humble Guise: The Role of Prologues in the Wycliffite Glossed Gospels
This essay is part of the ‘Forms of Faith’ cluster, curated by Mary Raschko and Elizabeth Schirmer. Raschko argues that prologues to the late fourteenth century gospel commentaries known as the Wycliffite Glossed Gospels should be read as crafted, literary forms, rather than as transparent, technical discourse. Among the nine surviving copies of the Glossed Gospels, four distinct prologues survive. Based on their material conditions in their respective manuscripts, the article suggests the prologues are likely later additions, texts that variously relate the scriptural commentaries to spiritual reform, not faithful descriptions of the compilers’ identities and methods. Analysis of the prologues’ contents focuses on commonalities across the four texts (such as humility topoi, the listing of exegetical authorities, and closing prayers), demonstrating how each text contains elements typical of academic prologues yet also integrates conventions of Middle English literary culture. While showing Wycliffite investment in textual form and literary production, the article furthers our understanding of how late medieval writers infused anonymous works with textual authority, imagined idealized reading communities, and attempted to translate scripture into personal and societal reform.