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Did Langland Read the Lignum Vitae?

Did Langland Read the Lignum Vitae?

Bonaventura’s opusculum is a triadic, chiastic, ramified Life of Christ combining narrative, visualization, exposition, and prayer in the exercise of affective meditation. L’s reading of it would account for what is essentially new in B: the penitential, contemplative resolution of the soul’s errancy; the iconography of the Tree of Charity; Will’s threefold vita Christi visions; Conscience’s ultimate definition of Dowel, Dobet, and Dobest as the progressive perfection manifested in Christ’s life; even Conscience’s patient suffering of Antichrist’s evil within God’s just and merciful order. The chronological incoherence and spiritual coherence of L’s later passûs may also be indebted to the Lignum vitae, where exemplary episodes in Christ’s life are subsumed within the mysteries of Incarnation, Passion, and Glorification. L’s indebtedness is supported by small correspondences and large thematic and structural similarities, possibly also by the chiastic and triadic theological application of alliterative versification norms as seen in lines like 16.183: ‘That oon dooth alle dooth · and ech dooth bi his one’. In an appendix, Smith surveys the fourteen Lignum vitae manuscripts of English provenance (of 175), some known only from library catalogues. Only one is Franciscan. Most are in miscellanies, copied or collated with — among others — Augustine, Anselm, the Victorines, Grosseteste, Pecham, Rolle, various Latin and English treatises, commentaries, sermons, and poems. The lyric ‘Synful man loke vp and se’ occurs right after one Lignum vitae. One manuscript is trilingual; another contains the Lignum vitae, the Gospel of Nicodemus, and a version (probably Meditationes vitae Christi) of the Four Daughters of God allegory. The Lignum vitae, in other words, was not only available to L but was bound with other works congenial to his intellectual interests and appropriated by him in composing PPl. (MS)


Writers Reading Writers: Intertextual Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Literature in Honor of Robert Hollander, ed. by Janet Levarie Smarr (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2007), pp. 149–82.


Smith, Macklin