An Unpublished Lollard Psalms Catena in Huntington Library MS HM 501

Article excerpt

Lollard attitudes toward the Old Testament have not received the scholarly attention they deserve. The four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Pauline epistles, and to a lesser extent, the Apocalypse, all figure prominently in the writings of John Wyclif and his followers, and therefore, appropriately enough, in modern accounts of Lollardy. Wyclif's honorific, Doctor Evangelicus, (2) acknowledges the priority of the New Testament in his thought. It would be difficult to undervalue the importance to Wycliffism of a text such as the Glossed Gospels, for instance, with its sustained coordination of the narratives of Christ's ministry and the pastoral activity of Lollardy itself in the form of commentaries assembled from the best exegetical authorities and translated into the vernacular. (3)

At the same time, however, a movement based in the ideology of sola Scriptura could hardly neglect Old Testament writing--and in fact Lollard authors concentrate on and emphasize the Old Testament in many important ways. For example, key features of Lollard critiques of secular authority derive from the Book of Kings: "This prosces [argument] of the .iij. book of Kingis schulde stire [incite] kingis and lordis to be mersyful and pytouse on her sugetis that trespasen a3ens hem, and in alle thingis eschewe [reject] ydilnesse, leccherie, tresoun, ydolatrie, and false counceilouris." (4) Many Lollard ideas about the veneration of images and the character of true and false oaths, major themes of the popular arm of the movement, evolved from Wycliffite readings of a number of Old Testament texts. (5) According to the medieval practice of typological exegesis, certain events or "types" of the Old Testament (e.g., the Deluge) are linked not only chronologically but prophetically with the New Testament, in which they have their "antitypes" or fulfillment (e.g., the baptism of Christ). (6)

While Lollardy was suspicious of overly ingenious allegorizing, which it dismissed as self-serving (one thinks of the glossing Friar in Chaucer's "Summoner's Tale"), it accepted and even valorized a disciplined application of this hermeneutic. (7) Wyclif's remark in his treatise De ecclesia that "in all of Scripture there is not a syllable without meaning" (in tota scriptura non ponitur vel una sillaba sine sensu) (8) applies of course to the Old Testament as well as to the New and encouraged among Wycliffites a close and persistent interpretation of both scriptures independently and in relation to each other.

In this essay I discuss Lollard attitudes toward an especially important Old Testament book, the Psalms, in connection with an unpublished and apparently unique abridgement of the Wycliffite Psalter (Later Version) that survives in Huntington Library MS HM 501, a compendium of selections from across the Wycliffite Old Testament. (9) The Huntington Psalms abridgement is presented by its anonymous compiler as a catena, a linked series of extracts from twenty-three psalms, one of these used twice, without any intervening expository matter (Figure 1). Despite the lack of exposition, I argue that the text may have been intended as a kind of sermon, perhaps an experiment in the almost exclusively Scripture-based homiletics that the Lollards preferred to formal, scholastic sermonizing as practiced by the friars. (10)

My discussion falls into three parts: an introduction to Lollard regard for the Psalms as a preeminent biblical book, a description of the catena as an underappreciated medieval literary form, and in light of these remarks and two Latin psalm commentaries especially favored by the Lollards, Augustine's Enarrationes in Psalmos and the Psalms section of Nicholas of Lyra's Postilla perpetua, an analysis of the Huntington Psalms catena. I then offer a critical edition of the Huntington catena collated against Forshall and Madden's edition of the Wycliffite Bible and arranged to reflect the rhetorical structure and argumentative patterns implicit in the text. …


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