Title Background

The Sacrament of the Altar in <i>Piers Plowman</i> and the Late-Medieval Church in England.

The Sacrament of the Altar in Piers Plowman and the Late-Medieval Church in England.

L’s theology has been recognized as “ethical rather than sacramental” (Adams), but this division might not have been made “quite irrevocable when L wrote.” As such, studies of PPl and the sacrament of the altar are few since the poem does not seem to give it the attention that might be the impetus for such work. To understand what L is doing with the sacraments requires an exploration of the “conversations” and the context of PPl’s theology without the prejudice that the poem must fit an anti-Wycliffite orthodoxy. The “web of interlocutions” in which L wrote the C version included the doctrine of transubstantiation, its Wycliffite rejection, and the orthodox/anti-Wycliffite defense of that doctrine. L’s poem points the readers towards the eschatological and communal dimensions lacking in other Eucharistic literature, constituting a “sacramental theology that resists abstraction . . . from the contexts of reception.” The progressive analysis of pass?s 7–18 shows how a pattern of “not yet” is at the heart of L’s sacramental theology, just as Christ is the “seemingly absent centre and end of PPl.” The eschatological perspective works against the temptation to fetishize the sacrament of the altar or to fix it as a test for distinguishing the worthy from the heretic—this is also a probable explanation for the deletion from C of B.12.83–87 where Imaginatif exemplifies “clergie” with reference to the Eucharist. C.21–22 envisage the response of contemporary Christians to Conscience’s “invitation to endless communion” and the consequences of their decision.


Dimmick, Simpson, and Zeeman, Images, Idolatry, and Iconoclasm, 63–80.

Cross Reference



Aers, David.