Intellectual Pregnancy Metaphysical Femininity, Metaphysical Femininity, and the Social Doctrine of the Trinity in Piers Plowman
PPl sponsors a Trinitarian model of spiritual generativity which rejects the patristic distrust of femininity at the same time that it privileges community over individuality. L’s Trinitarianism is less interested in abstract psychology than in historically and socially attentive vision, an epistemology of direct, social experience as a reflection of divinity, and finds Trinitarian conception and generativity directly in immediate social experience. L’s treatment of human generativity is distinguished from Bonaventure and Mirk by his location of lay, physical procreativity prior to intellectual and clerical authority, or even social rank. Faith elaborates the image of the family as the image of the Trinity, with procreation becoming the great leveller in which all humans are linked as one entity, the community of Mother Church. By claiming the notion of “kyndenesse” as the direct instantiation of the Holy Spirit, the Samaritan maintains the centrality of procreative and familial relationships, which includes both the lay and clerical family. L’s exemplum of nursing mothers as models of the active life (C.9.74-82) contrasts Bonaventure’s alignment of active creativity with the Father, offering a feminized conception of generativity as love. The correlative epistemological goal of the poem emerges in the image of God’s historical, incarnate “suffraunce” – an utter receptivity that balances an utter creativity. Faith’s comparison between Christ and a “widewe” implies not only Jesus’s deprivation of the father, but knowledge learned through experience. With the explicit feminizing of the Son’s intellectual posture, suffering as a human being among humans becomes the primary means for intellectual and spiritual growth, even God’s. The Father’s pregnancy of all history is both self-sufficient and incomplete, both for his own knowledge and for the reflections of that process in his creatures. This epistemology of passivity and locating a model of charity in patient social experience mirrors L’s persona within the poem, as L portrays himself as a flawed poet-teacher of sacred experience in his own familially unified world.
YLS 12 (1998): 117-52.