Title Background

Reformist Apocalypticism and <i>Piers Plowman</i>.

Reformist Apocalypticism and Piers Plowman.

Argues the influence on the prophetic voice in PPl of medieval reformist apocalypticism, dating from the twelfth century, in which apocalyptic events are projected to a time long before the end of the world, an emphasis is placed on clerical reform along with a desire to return the clergy to the ideals of the earlier Church, and a sense of realism regarding the present and optimism about the future obtains. WL shares many reformist apocalyptic themes and motifs with Hildegard of Bingen, including wrath directed toward lax clergy, condemnation of the vagatio as a metaphor for their instability of will, representation of an active response of the Church Militant, a call for an immediate despoliation of the clergy, idealization of the eremitism of the Desert Fathers, use of biblical verses as seals of authenticity, prophecy of a forcible secular power to redistribute clerical wealth, use of series of Old Testament leaders to highlight salvation history, and a foretelling of the coming of the Antichrist at a time other than at the end of the world. Stylistically, both authors feature a fluid use of allegory and typology, an ambivalent handling of the visionary narrator, conflation of biblical episodes, and a combination of the poetic and empirical “I.” Many of the so-called “non-medieval” qualities of PPl-inconsistent handling of allegorical figures, occasional absence of visualization in otherwise visionary writing, shifting of time and place, elusive handling of authority figures, autobiographical features of the dreamer-are paralleled in early and medieval visionary literature, though not elsewhere in Middle English. WL’s antimendicantism is mixed with a genuine hope for reform of the friars and a surprisingly “fraternal” view of clerical poverty; his antimendicantism is an apocalyptic tool for reform used to express his sense of crisis, and is more even-handed than that of William of St. Amour. WL may well have been influenced by pseudo-Joachite thought in the utopian tendency of his social and religious organization; in the notion of a reforming pope; in a sense that the decline of the Church can be dated from the Donation of Constantine; and in a historical division in which the Visio equals the time of the Old Testament, the Vita the New Testament, with the vision of the Church in crisis marking a transition into the Joachite seventh period of renewal.

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