Response to Lawler’s “The Secular Clergy in Piers Plowman“
Lawler usefully draws attention “to the terminological and institutional distinctions” between the secular and regular clergy for this enables a clearer perception of the place of the secular clergy in PPl. One should not conclude, however, that two exclusive sets of standards and ideals are implied here; the ideals expected of the secular “must also apply mutatis mutandis to the regular,” and Lawler’s correct insistence that parish priests are “primary instructors” does not preclude the possibility that they are not the only ones. The exclusive and narrow interpretation of terms like “holy church” and “charity” puts a strain on crucial interpretative moments; for instance, taking “holy church” as referring exclusively to the local parish church vitiates the more general understanding of the argument between Lady Holy Church and Theology over the lineage of Lady Meed as a “continuing dialectic in the relations between . . . academic theology and the institutions of pastoral administration,” and would call for it to be interpreted in terms of a specific English conflict. The more fundamental difficulty with Lawler’s argument, as with Clopper, concerns why any particular “institutional ideal or ideology” should be looked to. Related to this is the question of whether the different versions of PPl and their use and variation of particular vocabulary can be taken together for the sake of interpretation as one “Platonic ‘idea’ of PPl,” as Lawler seems to do. In sum, his broader argument does not convince; PPl “does not enunciate terminological or conceptual simplicities” and a complex and “capacious” critical standard such as that of Scase is most satisfying.