The Lollards

Article excerpt

The Lollards. By Richard Rex. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. xv + 188 pp. £45.00/$65.00 (cloth); £14.99/$21.95 (paper).

The publication of yet another study of the late medieval English heretics known as Lollards may give some scholars pause. After all, the Lollards are probably the most extensively studied of all late medieval dissenters, and attempts to link their religious teachings and confessional practices to the Reformation of the sixteenth century are hardly the stuff of cutting edge historical writing. Yet Richard Rex offers here a brief and highly readable account of Lollardy one that students and scholars alike will find simultaneously challenging and rewarding.

Rex reveals quite clearly from the outset his awareness that he treads on well-worn ground, and states equally clearly that some portions of his book make "no pretence to originality." He aims, rather, to present a concise review of recent scholarship, to point out to his readers areas of study that remain problematic, and, most important, to offer a revisionist analysis of arguments about the Lollard movement that have long been received wisdom. Thus, he dismisses the myth of a close and intimate connection between John Wyclif and the kings powerful uncle, John of Gaunt. "Wyclif," he concludes baldly, "had no political career," though he is careful to state that the latter did enjoy "political significance" (p. 29). A review of Wyclifs extensive writings allows Rex to offer new insight into the originality and distinctiveness of the Oxford-trained preachers views on predestination, faith, salvation, the sacraments, and Christian life generally. The authors contention that Wyclif was a radical comes as no surprise, but he makes a convincing case for seeing in the treatises produced by Wyclifs pen a degree of dissent that explains fully why the church came to see in Lollardy a profoundly disturbing movement. …