Fullynge’ Nature: Spiritual Charity and the Logic of Conversion in Piers Plowman.
Recent studies of L’s evident attraction to theories of universal salvation fail to reconcile the poem’s universalist ethic with its promotion of conversion. In drawing attention to this problem, Davis focuses on Anima’s speech in passus 15 of the B text. Anima exhorts all Christians, and especially the Christian clergy, to fulfil the obligations of kynde, in part by converting the ‘rude’ non-Christians (B.15.461). As Anima reminds his Christian audiences, being kynde means distributing not only physical necessities to the materially poor, but also spiritual goods to those who lack knowledge of Christ. Anima portrays non-Christians as figures of undeveloped nature, and, accordingly, enjoins the Christian clergy to teach or cultivate non-Christians so that the bareness of their natures might be clothed with grace and brought to salvation. In explicating Anima’s argument in the larger context of the poem’s directives for spiritual charity, Davis demonstrates that L’s distinctive concept of kynde provides the logic that reconciles the imperative to evangelize with the impulse toward universal salvation inherent in the rise of the vernacular. While nature itself may signify a basic insufficiency, according to Anima, the ethics of kynde provide a mechanism for completing, or ‘fullynge’, nature’s deficits.
YLS, 19 (2005), 59–80.