The Wycliffite Heresy: Authority and the Interpretation of Texts

By Kantik Ghosh | Go to book overview

Afterword: Lollardy and late-medieval
intellectuality

In 1382, Bishop Buckingham of Lincoln issued an order prohibiting one William Swinderby, hermita, living in the Chapel of St John near Leicester, and claiming to be a priest, from preaching against the determinations of Holy Church, and initiated proceedings against him. 1 Swinderby abjured before leaving for Coventry and later for the Hereford diocese, where Bishop Trefnant examined him again in 1391. In the account of the investigation of his beliefs recorded in the register of Bishop Trefnant, there occurs a curious passage. Among various other allegations of doctrinal heterodoxy, Trefnant criticises the fallacious hermeneutics of the new sect of Lollards, of whom Swinderby is a particularly perverse representative. According to Trefnant, the Lollards read Holy Scripture in a new way,

exponendo … scripturam populo ad litteram more moderno aliter quamspiritussanctusflagitat, ubivocabulaapropriissignificacionibus peregrinantur et novas divinari videntur, ubi non sunt iudicanda verba ex sensu quem faciunt sed ex sensu ex quo fiunt, ubi construccio non subjacet legibus Donati, ubi fides remota a racionis argumento.

expounding … scripture to the people in the modern fashion according to the letter otherwise than the Holy Ghost demands, where words are moved from their correct meaning and appear to bring in new meanings, where the words are not to be judged by the sense they make but from the sense from which they are made, where the construction is not bound by the rules of Donatus, where faith is taken far from the force of reason. 2

The interest of this mixed bag of polemic lies less in its articulation of a coherent vision of a heterodox hermeneutics — one would be hard pressed to find one here — than in its random juxtaposition of some

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