The Good the Bad, the Bad, and the Penitent Thief: Langlandian Extremes, the Edge of Salvation, and the Problem of Trajan and Dismas in Piers Plowman, and the Problem of Trajan and Dismas in Piers Plowman
This essay, available at www.marginalia.co.uk, explores L’s use of the figures of Dismas, the good thief crucified alongside Jesus, and Trajan, the virtuous pagan emperor of Rome. These two figures are deployed as extreme opposites to allow L to examine two contrasting beliefs about salvation, salvation via God’s grace and a kind of Pelagian salvation via good works. Through the depiction of these two contrasting figures and other antitheses, L makes a strong case for a salvific belief where the two contrasting theories exist in tenuous equilibrium. In such a belief, the possibility of salvation for both believers and non-believers exists, but L emphasizes the difficulty of realizing this possibility – all sinners must dangle, like Trajan and Dismas, precariously on the edge of salvation. (from the editors’ foreword)
Marginalia, 12 (2011), 1-13.