Title Background

<i>Piers Plowman</i> and the Liturgy of St. Lawrence: Composition and Revision in Langland’s Poetry.

Piers Plowman and the Liturgy of St. Lawrence: Composition and Revision in Langland’s Poetry.

Examines two C-text revisions, C.2.127-36 and C.17.64-71, in which St. Lawrence (unmentioned in earlier versions) is cited as a counterexample to degenerate churchmen of WL’s day. C.2.127-36, like its corresponding B-text lines, affirms the possibility of just payments in an argument for marrying Meed to Truth, but brings a spiritual dimension to the discussion in the mention of Lawrence, who was able to earn meed “an heye.” This passage is recast as speech to Simony (rather than to Civil), and the allusion to Lawrence calls attention to the proper relation of spiritual and temporal goods. Use of the term leuyte (L. levita) suggests that WL’s source here was the Lawrence liturgy rather than the Lawrence saint-legend, but both traditions offer relevant examples of his meritorious, selfless activity that serve as counterexamples to Simony’s involvement in Meed’s marriage. Whereas B.15.326-31 has as its source Ps. 111:9 as well as Paul’s use of the line in 2 Cor. 9:8-9, the mention of Lawrence in the C revision of these lines (C.17.64-71) suggests that WL has enriched the allusion through associations with the liturgy of the saint, in which the line from the Psalms is incorporated. WL’s allusions to Lawrence present an exemplary cleric who behaves in exemplary fashion with respect to the administration of ecclesiastical wealth to the poor, the willingness to give up one’s life for Christ, a recognition of the proper relation of spiritual and temporal goods, and a concept of meed that is well earned and eternal. References to him also relate, however, to WL’s concern for individual reform, “to the call away from the world, the call to perfection,” and to a simpler, more spiritual life that nonetheless honors social responsibilities.

Volume

SP 84 (1987): 245-71.

Author

Tavormina, M. Teresa.