The Role of Scientia in Piers Plowman.
Piers’s disparagement of the knowledge gained through human instruction draws on a monastic tradition exemplified by the twelfth-century Tractatus de Interiore Domo and the Meditationes PilsiMAE de Cognitione Humanae Conditionis (cited at B.11.3). Classical and patristic treatments of the liberal arts recognize the possibility of an unlettered person achieving wisdom, but generally defend the necessary use of the liberal arts for most people. That Dame Study knows she cannot give a complete understanding of truth is consistent with medieval formulations that stress the incapacity of the arts to teach moral virtue. Augustinian scientia, derived from the trivium, quadrivium, and allied disciplines, prepared one for the pursuit of sapientia, gained through reading Scripture. Clergy also recognizes the limitations of his “sevene sonnes,” and points toward a higher knowledge. Piers’s knowledge of God is “kynde,” or sapiential, but Langland recognizes the propaedeutic function of the acquired disciplines.
Kratzmann and Simpson, eds., Medieval Religious and Ethical Literature, 49-65.