Title Background

<i>Lay Piety and Religious Discipline in Middle English Literature</i>

Lay Piety and Religious Discipline in Middle English Literature

This study focuses on a group of five Middle English prose spiritual guides (The Abbey of the Holy Ghost, Fervor Amoris, Book to a Mother, The Life of Soul, and Walter Hilton’s Mixed Life). PPl is considered selectively as analogue and counterpoint to The Life of Soul, Book to a Mother, and Mixed Life. Chapter 2 shows how these three guides use dialogic form to extend ‘clerical understanding’ to lay readers. An initial contrast is drawn with Will’s dialogue with Imaginatif in passus B.12, which widens the gap between ‘lewed’ and clerical subjects. Chapter 2 also argues that these three dialogic guides approach the Bible as a set of texts to be consumed to effect self-reformation. The Life of Soul ‘s approach to the Bible as an ‘open’ text is likened to Will’s dialogue with the Good Samaritan in passus 17, in which Will converses with Christ via the biblical text. Chapter 3 juxtaposes PPl with Walter Hilton’s Mixed Life and John Wyclif’s writings on lordship, pastoral care, and charity. Where L depicts the mutual imitation of prelates and laymen as undermining clerical discipline, Hilton recuperates the prelate as a model for the lay gentleman. This chapter delves into PPl on the incompatibility of pastoral care and possession, considering Anima’s tirade on the Donation of Constantine in passus 15, Dame Studie’s critique of rich lords in passus 10, and Wit’s lament over episcopal failure in passus 9. The chapter concludes with discussion of charity and Covetise. While L offers fleeting glimpses, in passus 15, of the ordering of charity through mutual imitation of laymen, Christ, and prelates, he demonstrates graphically in passus 19 the impossibility of reconfiguring covetise on a broad scale. In contrast, Hilton ultimately proposes to spiritualize covetise, assimilating the rich lay lord, pastor, and Christ himself. (NR)

Rev. by:
  • Amy Appleford, YLS, 24 (2010), 219-22; 
  • Mary C. Erler, Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 32 (2010), 462-65; 
  • Shannon Gayk, Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures, 36 (2010), 259-62;
  • Tamara Atkin, Notes & Queries, 58 (2011), 300-01; 
  • Virginia Blanton, Speculum, 85 (2010), 1017-19; 
  • Theresa Coletti, Religion and Literature, 43.2 (2011), 179-81; 
  • Mary Dove, Review of English Studies, n.s. 62 (2011), 302-03; 
  • John C. Hirsh, Medium Ævum, 80 (2011), 141-42.