Failed Signification: Corpus Christi and Corpus Mysticum in Piers Plowman
This essay explores L’s eucharistic theology and argues that PPl‘s penultimate passus constitutes a poetic engagement in later medieval theological discussions of the Eucharist as an allegorical sign. L links the seemingly disparate elements of the passus—Will falling asleep during Mass, the discussion of names of Christ, Christ’s vita, Pentecost, the founding of the church, Unity’s invitation to and rejection of the Eucharist—through the concept of signification as it is elaborated in eucharistic theology. For L, the power of the Eucharist lies in its unification of the two halves of the allegorical sign: the material appearance of bread unites with Christ’s body, and the consecrated host which signifies the Christian community becomes one with that community through eucharistic reception. Both Will and the Christians in Unity fail to receive the Eucharist in the penultimate passus because they refuse to recognize their role in the Eucharist’s signification and to transform their own divided social body into the perfect reflection of the unified body of Christ. L suggests that proper eucharistic reception requires Christians to understand the Eucharist as a sign of both Christ’s physical body (Corpus Christi) and Christ’s corporate body (Corpus Mysticum). L’s interest in the corporate body is not a slight to belief in the Real Presence but rather stems from his sense of the inseparability of the two as sacramentally related concepts. (JG)
YLS, 23 (2009), 97-123.