Title Background

Universal Salvation and Its Literary Context in <i>Piers Plowman</i> B. 18.

Universal Salvation and Its Literary Context in Piers Plowman B. 18.

B. 18.366-79a, a passage that unambiguously promises salvation to all at the Last Judgment, even to the unbaptized, might have been defined as heretical at some times in the history of the Church, but in WL’s time is better understood as the poet’s individual response to a difficult eschatological problem -the reconciliation of hell with the Judaeo-Christian emphasis on the benevolence and justice of God and with the notion of God as a creator who is implicated in his creation. Origen’s idea of apocatastasis, that all things will revert to the good order established by God at creation, was denounced by Augustine, yet Ambrose and Jerome continued to believe that all baptized Christians could expect to be saved, and orthodox eschatological visions like the Visio Pauli and the Apocalypse of Mary offer mitigation of the sufferings of the damned. There are scattered instances of these beliefs in OE literature and in the comforting promise Julian of Norwich receives from God concerning the effects of sin. In the Gospel of Nicodemus, Inferus speaks as if Christ had rescued all who had been imprisoned. In this text the Harrowing is universal and the implications for the Last judgment implicit; in PPl only the worthy are saved at the Harrowing, but mercy will extend to all at the judgment.