The Chilling of Charity: Eschatological Allusions and Revisions in Piers Plowman C.16-17.
C.17.48-50 adds in revision an eschatological allusion from Matt. 24:12 (the chilling of charity) and Matt. 24:32-33 (grace growing green-leaved). Regarding the former, WL parallels Nicholas of Lyra in identifying the persecutors and pseudo-prophets of Matthew as perverse clerics and false teachers. The budding fig tree of Matt. 24:32-33, though interpreted by Christ as a simile for his coming in judgment, inspires hope in medieval exegetes for the joys of heavenly reward after Doomsday; and the ficus arefacta of Matt. 21:18-21 is identified with the synogogue and the ultimate conversion of the Jews shortly preceding Doomsday. These interpretations are reflected in Langland’s comparisons of wicked prelates to a fig tree in C.17 and of the corrupt church to a partially infected tree in C.16. In speaking of the fructifying power of grace and charity, WL identifies grace with the power of the Holy Spirit; the arboreal imagery in Liberum Arbitrium’s speech superimposes the work of the church and clergy with the “enspiring” work of the Holy Spirit, in effect defining Holy Church as charity and the actual role of the church hierarchy as a channel for grace and charity.