Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Devil's Rights and the Redemption in the Literature of Medieval England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Devil's Rights and the Redemption in the Literature of Medieval England

Article excerpt

The aim of this study is to challenge the commonly accepted assumption that the use of the theme of the Devil's rights in later medieval literature is `something of an anachronism, an inheritance from patristic writing which, in the mainstream of theology, had been displaced by later developments' (p. 1). C. W. Marx traces this assumption to two main sources. One is R. W. Southern's claim, in The Making of the Middle Ages (1953), that Anselm's Cur Deus homo marked a turning-point in the medieval theology of the Redemption: Anselm decisively refuted the patristic theory that the Devil had rights of ownership over fallen humanity, lost only through his abuse of power in killing the sinless Christ. The other is a 1951 article by Timothy Fry (`The unity of the Ludus Coventriae', Studies in Philology, 48 (1951) 527-70) arguing that the doctrinal base of the N-Town Play was the patristic theory of the Devil's abuse of power, which Fry linked to the theme of the deception of the Devil by the concealment of Christ's divinity (a theory extended by later scholars to other medieval drama and to Piers Plowman).

Marx challenges both these theories: `Patristic writers did not formulate the redemption solely, or even primarily, in terms of the question of freeing humanity from the possession of the Devil; the issue of the Devil's rights did not disappear from theological debate after Anselm; the theme of the deception of the Devil was not an integral part of the abuse-of-power theory; and literary treatments of Christ's defeat of the Devil, in medieval drama, Robert Grosseteste's Chastea d'Amour, Piers Plowman, and a number of other texts, are not anachronistic but reflect the influence of late medieval thought on the place of the Devil in the redemption' (p. …

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