Love of God and Neighbour: The Communal Ethics of Langland’s Samaritan Parable
This essay examines L’s Samaritan parable not simply as an allegory of Christ but as an articulation of the communal ethics that follow from the Redemption. It argues that scholars’ focus on L’s Christological allegory and its exegetical sources has obscured the dialogic nature of the Samaritan episode, in which L brings together allegorical and moral discourses about the parable to articulate a Christological ethic. The essay widens our interpretive context for L’s parable by examining Middle English redactions of and commentaries on the story. These vernacular texts reveal debate about its moral implications, specifically whether the parable enjoins indiscriminate charity for those in need or giving according to merit. They also underscore the challenge of reconciling allegories of the Redemption with a practical, actionable ethics of imitation. Exploring how L participated in such interpretive debates, the essay shows that L advocates indiscriminate charity with reference to the parable but rejects the idea of imitation as the primary moral response. Instead, he suggests that people should work with the Samaritan in their respective social roles. This collaboration has both ethical and Christological implications: describing love of neighbour as integral to the Trinity, L characterizes social responsibility as a means of participating in the Redemption. (MR)
YLS, 26 (2012), 49-76.