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Illumination of the Intellect: Franciscan Sermons and Piers Plowman

Illumination of the Intellect: Franciscan Sermons and Piers Plowman

This article examines the university sermons of the Franciscan thinker Bonaventure and how their “modus operandi . . . achieves literary expression [in PPl] through Langland’s reliance upon similitude and metaphor,” since the common aim of both the sermons and L’s allegorical poetry is to seek “an affective and pragmatic effect upon [their] audience[s] through . . . emphasis upon Christocentric values” (199, 198). Strong begins the article with an extended study of the development of Franciscan theology in the context of the antiheretical activity following Lateran IV and Francis’s own compassion towards heretics and his desire to equip his friars to combat heresy. Strong then discusses Bonaventure’s Collationes in Hexameron, the sermons of which collection “encourage . . . an approach towards mediation and reconciliation with opposing schools of thoughts” (200). Though academic in origin, Bonaventure’s sermons avoid needlessly abstruse rhetoric and work instead to capture the audience’s imagination and to inspire intellectually and spiritually. Similarly, L uses ideas central to Franciscan sermonizing – viz., creation and man’s relation to it, the natural goodness of the world, the curiosity to know what lies beyond reason – to show how one can “explore metaphysical matters without forgoing Christian theology” or denigrating “faith-inspired truths” (210). For Strong, much of the Franciscan thrust of PPl comes in the allegorical method of instruction and in L’s proposition that man operates as a microcosm within the macrocosm of creation, a truth succinctly conveyed in Will’s encounter with Ymaginatyf in B.11 (see 39 below also). Just as Franciscan ideology “inspires connections between the erudite and the common, the aesthetic and the natural,” L dramatizes Will’s quest within the context of a polemical art that privileges Franciscan hermeneutics within the bounds of orthodoxy (219).


Donavin, Nederman, and Utz (no. 11), 197-220

Cross Reference



Strong, David