Langland and Chaucer’
This essay begins with a discussion of medieval theology — its many definitions, disciplines, authority, and reforms and conflicts up to (and beyond) the papal schism of 1378 — and then proceeds to discuss L ‘among those [authors] who refuse to take sides’ in theological controversies, training his ‘writerly energies on analysing both the problems and their possible, often mutually incompatible solutions’ (p. 366). In contrast to Chaucer, L is ‘driven by his belief in impending apocalypse to push beyond his uncertain sense of his prophetic voice and speak publically [sic] to Christian society as a whole about its predicament’ (p. 368). While L attempts ‘good theology’, which is ‘a version of truth that performs what it promises’ (p. 368), he also shows its breakdown: he is clearly opposed to many kinds of formal theology, as produced in the university, monastery, or pulpit, and refuses to commit to a single or unitary point of view, despite the fact that his poem is riddled with personifications and authoritative Latin sayings that express the ideals of formal theology. Even the formal theology of the Athanasian Creed does not ‘have much permanent influence’ (p. 373) on PPl. None of this is to say that L rejects formal theology in its entirety; rather, it is to insist that after so many indictments of the limits of clerical learning, and of Clergy, and after an ending that leaves in place a corrupt, visible church, L can hardly be said to offer ‘a ringing endorsement of the achievements of formal theology’ (p. 374).
The Oxford Handbook of English Literature and Theology, ed. by Andrew Hass, David Jasper, and Elisabeth Jay (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 363–81.