Grace Abounding: Justification in Passus 16 of Piers Plowman
Those who view L’s theology concerning justification as a form of semi-Pelagianism, Robert Adams among them, argue that the poet presents acceptance by God being guaranteed by one’s best efforts. A neo-Augustinian view, on the other hand, stresses L’s stance on sola fideism, faith in Christ’s atonement being sufficient for acceptance. In this view, good works follow conversion rather than preceding it. The Tree of Charity scene actually reinforces the Augustinian view: Piers represents fallen humanity, helpless to save himself. It is not his righteous anger that causes the Incarnation, as Adams claims, but the mercy of God. Satan possesses the fallen fruit because sin and death have not been defeated yet, a predicament God will mercifully overcome through the Incarnation. Passus 16 affirms the necessity of faith alone. Liberum Arbitrium’s attempt to protect the fruit fails at times because, according to Bernard and Augustine, the unaided will cannot make right choices. Overcoming the assaults of sin is the work of the Trinity. This point is reinforced in the figure of Abraham, who is justified before God wholly by faith. His quest for Christ is analogous to Will’s quest for salvation, though Will’s conversion is deferred.
PLL 34 (1998): 162-78.