Visions of Inclusion
PPl participates in a widespread and heterodox “lay theology,” in which the reality of divine mercy was seen as incompatible with the church’s teaching on God’s willingness to damn. Mandeville’s Travels, Julian of Norwich’s Revelation of Love, the Book of Margery Kempe and PPl all reflect an underlying theological narrative of universal salvation. Scripture’s appeal to Matt. 22:14 (“Many are called but few are chosen”) in passus 11 is immediately challenged by Will, who identifies this position with the learned clergy, and forces Scripture to acknowledge that Christ’s offer of salvation was addressed to all humankind. The universalist doctrine receives its strongest endorsement from Christ himself in passus 18, as he shifts the hieratic relationship of lord and servant that had been operative in the poem to a horizontal one, by calling himself the brother of all mankind. His observation that “I were an unkynde kyng but I my kyn helpe” (a pun that works only in the vernacular) fuses Christ’s divine righteousness as king with the mercy he must by nature show his subjects as their kin. Without committing himself explicitly to a universalist position, L establishes by implication the impossibility of damnation for anyone. The vernacular offers the most appropriate mode of expression for universalist theology, as it challenges the hierarchic dominance of Latin, the language of high culture and the church.
Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 27 (1997): 145-87.