Lollards and Their Influence in Late Medieval England

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

Walter Brut's Theology of the
Sacrament of the Altar

David Aers

"Amen, amen I say unto you: He that believeth in me, hath everlasting
life. I am the bread of life.” (John 6.47―48) 1

Walter Brut is an early Wycliffite whose extraordinarily rich testimony has received surprisingly little attention. 2 This latinate layman and Herefordshire farmer (278, 284) had been accused of heresy in the 1380s by both the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop John Gilbert of Hereford, cited to answer articles allegedly against the Catholic faith which he had been maintaining in public (279). The testimony we have is written in Latin at the command of Bishop John Trefnant, the successor of John Gilbert who accused Brut of erring in many matters of the faith (285). Anne Hudson has described the "seriousness" with which Trefnant addressed Brut's views and the ways in which "interest in the trial spread far beyond the bounds of Hereford or its diocese.” 3 Her study of his learning and latinity, his identity as "laycus litteratus, ” shows the academic sources of Lollardy and corrects K.B. McFarlane's condescending and inaccurate account of Brut's work and its significance. 4 But while Hudson gives us important contexts in which to study Brut, she acknowledges that, "The views of Brut are not my

____________________
1
John 6.47―48: for English translation of the vulgate I use The Holy Bible translated from the Latin Vulgate, Douay-Rheims revised Richard Challoner (Rockford: Tan Books, 1989).
2
Text in Registrum Johannes Trefnant (213): his text at 285―356: 278―394 for trial documents with judges' responses. The main commentary on Brut is by Anne Hudson (722) and by Curtis Bostick (335, 147―154). The passage of Brut's testimony most noted concerns women and their ability to consecrate the host: see Woman Defamed and Woman Defended, ed. Alcuin Blamires (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992), 250―60; Margaret Aston (274, 52―59), and Fiona Somerset, "Eciam Mulier: Women in Lollardy and the Problem of Sources, ” in Kathryn Kerby-Fulton and Linda Olson, eds., Reading Women: New Approaches to Female Literacy in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, forthcoming). Also relevant here is A. Blamires and C.W. Marx (119).
3
Hudson (722, 224).
4
See K.B. McFarlane (933, 135―38). McFarlane's condescending dismissal of Brut's use of the Apocalypse simply overlooks its importance in the claims it makes for "Britones" as an elect people (Brut, 293―96), its attempts to distinguish medieval fables of Antichrist from scriptural prophecies and its application of the latter to Church history, with its carefully institutionalizing reading of Antichrist (296―303): see Bostick (335, 147―54) and Penn Szittya, "Domesday Bokes: The Apocalypse in Medieval English Culture, ” ch. 16 in The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, ed. R.K. Emmerson and B. McGinn (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1992), see 396―97 (though it seems odd to call Brut's Latin text "popular rather than learned, ” 396: cf., Hudson, 722).

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