Response to Scott’s “Nevere noon so nedy ne poverer deide’: Piers Plowman and the Value of Poverty”.
The respondent considers the question of poverty according to four sub-topics. The first is Christ’s livery, which involves the problem of recognizing Christ on the road to Emmaus (B.11.233-37) with that of recognizing the “livery of the poor,” the truly impoverished who are of course a figure for Christ. Furthermore, sumptuary laws “construct social recognition as a means of preserving a reciprocal hierarchy,” but they do nothing to facilitate an easier assessment of the “livery of poverty.” The poor-seeming, unkempt, and initially rejected Hawkyn is a case in point, since his coat evinces that he has indeed worked before. The second sub-topic concerns economic imagery, which has us consider further that L is critical of commercial, and hence depersonalized, forms of charity, but that, paradoxically, “the congruent gift given anonymously to strangers . . . most closely imitates the pure giving of Christ.” Donors themselves, moreover, are involved within the economics of salvation, in so far as their charitable acts must bear a “burden of proof.” Human agency is the third sub-topic: L “imputes a degree of agency to those who accept and endure their condition with patience as opposed to bearing their circumstances with an attitude of bitter resignation.” “Bargains with God” is the last sub-topic, and takes its title from a chapter in Richard F. Green’s Crisis of Truth, which details the traditions of conventual theology that view “redemption as a legal process.” At points, L affirms universal salvation, but at others “confirms the conditions of the contract: faith strengthened by patience in poverty, by penance for sinful acts, and by performance of charitable works.”