Lollards and Their Influence in Late Medieval England

By Fiona Somerset; Jill C. Havens et al. | Go to book overview

Franciscans, Lollards, and Reform

Lawrence M. Clopper

Historians of the English Franciscans have in the past expressed puzzlement at the apparent absence of dissent among the English brothers. Where are the Ubertino da Casales? the Peter John Olivis? the Ockhams? Where is the evidence that the English friars were involved in or engaged with the disputes within the order that were so rancorous and divisive and at times deadly such as those that took place in the south of France and Italy? Although we know that some writings of Olivi and Ubertino and some pseudo-Joachist texts were circulating in England, we have no direct evidence that there were Spirituals like those in southern France and Italy. 1 Nevertheless, I believe there is more evidence of Franciscan and mendicant dissent in England than has been recognized in the past. I also think that some of this evidence has not been recognized as such because the texts in which it appears have been labeled Lollard.

Recent scholars who have turned to the study of English Lollard writers have become increasingly aware of the wide diversity of thought in these texts; they have also begun to map out the Lollard indebtedness to the larger pool of reformist rhetorics prior to Wyclif's. 2 I wish to enlarge the latter discussion by making the claim that some texts that have been ascribed to the Lollards may attest to Franciscan rigorist rhetoric in England; indeed, whether they were written by English authors or simply brought into England and translated, they may bespeak an English interest in the rigorist position. A second possibility that I will explore is that friars who objected to the papal limitations on preaching may have moved to a position reminiscent of the rigorist one when they found themselves pursued as apostates to their orders. The ways the critiques of Franciscan practice are framed within the "Wycliffite" translation of the Rule and Testament, "Of the Leaven of Pharisees, and "Fifty Heresies and Errors of the Friars” suggest to me that these texts were written by Franciscan rigorists or

____________________
1
Morton Bloomfield, "Piers Plowman” as a Fourteenth-Century Apocalypse (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1961), 227 n.13; Wendy Scase (1081, 115, 209 n.131); and Kathryn Kerby- Fulton, Reformist Apocalypticism and "Piers Plowman” (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990), 172―200.
2
I am referring here in particular to papers and discussions in the Lollard Society sessions at Kalamazoo and Leeds over the last several years, but also to the work of Anne Hudson, Margaret Aston, Wendy Scase, Fiona Somerset and others, including contributors to this volume.

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