Visionary Eschatology: Piers Plowman
Through the figure of Will, L is testing various resources for reformation, among them Joachite eschatology. L explores this version of eschatology most fully in B.3, where “Conscience attempts to reform a polity pervaded by market relations in which everything, including the sacrament of penance, is a commodity,” yet here he voices anger at and frustration with Joachite millenarianism, eschewing it as an eschatology that tempts believers away from a “Christocentric approach” to reform. That latter version interests L, whose eschatology focuses on Christ’s incarnation and promise, as allegorized at the Tree of Charity, and typified by the Samaritan, who shows love and kindness to the “semyvif.” Will is made to understand, finally, that reform cannot do away with the visible Church, which like the inn where the Samaritan leaves “semyvif” to avail himself of its means of sustenance, is the only institutional and sacramental structure within which humanity can endure the end times, a church that is, by the end of the poem itself, an ambivalent space, necessary for community yet invaded by Antichrist and his disciples. Ultimately, the church “stands, with its members, under judgment for its amnesia, its substitutions of enchanting drugs for divine gifts, its endless collusions with organized violence (slavery, cruel exploitation, war, torture), its collusion with powerful forces it fails to recognize as Antichrist’s.”
Modern Theology 16.1 (2000): 3-17.