John Wyclif: Poverty and the Poor.
Aers offers his study on this somewhat neglected aspect of Wyclif’s theology and politics in the hope that it will encourage not only further work in the area, but also specific comparisons with L’s ideas about poverty in order to elucidate a rather thorny issue in PPl scholarship: “the relations between Piers Plowman and Wyclif, as well as between the so-called Piers Plowman tradition and Wycliffite tradition” (55). Setting out from Margaret Aston’s “justly influential” 1984 essay on the centrality of apostolic poverty to Wycliffite theology, Aers assesses several key texts by Wyclif, notably, De paupertate Christi, the Dialogus siue speculum ecclesie militantis, De blasphemia, and the Trialogus. Aers concurs in finding that Christ-like poverty is indeed central to Wyclif’s ideas of Christian discipleship, but pace Aston, finds that his political theology is not uncomplicatedly benevolent. Significantly, Wyclif’s obsessive desire to dispossess and disendow the ecclesiastical hierarchy “was to be imposed by the armed and wealthy lay elites” who would only be strengthened by this reformation (67). Additionally, Aers does not find any direct support in Wyclif’s work for the rebels who sought to end serfdom in 1381. Thus, in Wyclif’s political theology, along with the Life of Christ, poverty and the poor are prongs of the fork “directed against the religious orders and the clergy” (68). From a brief comparison with two key moments in PPl—Patience’s “Franciscan discourse” and Liberum Arbitrium’s threat to disendow the contemporary Church—Aers finds that L is more given to exploring sympathetically and dialectically the various sides to any argument about poverty or mendicancy, and he concludes that, unlike Wyclif, L deliberately did “nothing to strengthen the political and economic power of lay elites” (69).