English Preaching in the Late Middle Ages

English Preaching in the Late Middle Ages

English Preaching in the Late Middle Ages

English Preaching in the Late Middle Ages


This interdisciplinary study of English sermons written in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries focuses on material recorded in English and relates the surviving texts to their historical and cultural background. H. Leith Spencer shows how the use of the vernacular to explore ideas hitherto expressed in Latin anticipated the better-known developments of the sixteenth century. His detailed and original study, drawing on the most up-to-date research, uncovers the pluralism of the medieval English church that anti-heretical legislation and Reformed propaganda sought to deny.


There never was a merry world since the fairies left dancing, and the parson left conjuring.

John Selden, Table Talk

In stories, many quasi-scientific, or unashamedly magical, contrivances (amulets, King Solomon's crown jewels, police boxes of obsolete design) have been supposed to have the power to carry their owners through time, especially into time past. in the case of the Connecticut Yankee, a blow on the head with a crowbar did the trick; with less pain, thousands every year, who visit the facsimile of Viking York situated below a modern shopping precinct, attempt to buy the illusion. But, however they achieve the privilege, all who are enfranchised in the fourth dimension commonly retain their awareness of conditions within their 'own' time, and so they are able to define the pastness of time past by making comparisons. Merely by exercising their five wits in the ordinary way, time-travellers believe they acquire an extraordinary insight into what life then was 'really' like. of course, the inventors of such magical curios, the creators of the illusion, have usually had recourse to the laborious and often pedestrian procedures of historical research in order to persuade their audiences that they have participated in this special understanding which can only be had by going into the past to see (hear, touch, taste, and smell) for oneself.

Which of us, if we were freely offered the facility (together with an indemnity from the hazards to life prevailing in our chosen 'then') would abstain from this nostalgic curiosity? Even those who are most convinced that the business of the present is the present might find it hard to resist the temptation to have at least a peek. and the current popularity of historical fiction and fantasy surely testifies that many hanker after escapism into a pre-industrial, often medieval, past, when it seems in some indefinable-- not to say improbable--way that more people than now lived life to the Full. 'In London is not a friar plays his wanton lute beneath a chamber window but he goeth better clad than thou,' sagaciously observed a precocious fourteenth-century child, better known to history as Geoffrey Chaucer, when he stumbled across one William Langland on the Malvern Hills--where else? the source of this aperçu, Florence Converse Long Will, a Romance (1903), reads like a historical game of Consequences. It . . .

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