Langland’s Documents-Meed’s charter, Truth’s Pardon, Hawkyn’s acquittance, Moses’s ‘maundement,’ and Peace’s patent-belong to a tradition of commentary and penitential, literary imagining deriving from Colossians 2:14-15 and comprehending such exegetes as Augustine and Ambrose. There are three main imagistic, theological developments from within this rich tradition. 1.) The chirograph that was a record of original sin in the form of a written contract made between humanity and the devil, a contract obliterated by the passion. It could also represent the ongoing transcript of actual sin. 2.) The chirographum dei, which nullifies the devil’s chirograph and pardons the debt of sin, thereby granting heaven to the sinner. For Augustine, the act of reading the divine chirograph, the legal record of God’s past and future promises to humanity, is both a penitential imperative and the sole source of the true pardon. 3.) And a fourteenth-century development in which the crucified Christ is imagined as a charter. This last was taken up by a host of writers, not the least of which were the Wycliffites, who viewed Christ’s sacrifice as a pardon/charter that replaces altogether such things as indulgences; Charters of Christ have a certain penitential efficacy: they alternately shock the pilgrim-reader out of complacency and relieve him of despair. L adapts this soteriological master narrative . . . [and] invokes specific documentary practices to integrate salvation history with late fourteenth-century piety, most notably in B.14.189-95, where Patience’s sermon to Hawkyn, but also in the general movement of the poem itself, where Meed’s charter stands for the devil’s record and Truth’s Pardon for Christ’s charter. L obscures the sources of these two documents through his social commentary, yet the former document evidently offers a more sympathetic narrative of an individuals alienation from grace, someone who . . . has despaired of salvation and must ‘yeld’ his soul to the devil at ‘at one yeres ende’; the latter recalls the original document of emancipation drawn up on the cross and is, therefore, an absolute pardon a poena et a culpa as it claims to be at the beginning of passus 7. The essay closes with an analysis of documents in passus 17-18, Moses’s maundement and Peace’s patent, comparing these, in an unprecedented fashion, with the wooing letters carried by the patriarchs and Christ in the Ancrene Wisse.
YLS 14 (2000): 95-107.