Textual Borrowings, Theological Mobility, and the Lollard Pater Noster Commentary

By Lewis, Anna | Philological Quarterly, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Textual Borrowings, Theological Mobility, and the Lollard Pater Noster Commentary


Lewis, Anna, Philological Quarterly


The ways in which Lollards made use of existing orthodox materials such as biblical commentaries and manuals of religious instruction is a subject that merits further investigation. Recent studies by Shannon McSheffrey, Matti Peikola, Fiona Somerset, and Kevin Gustafson, among others, demonstrate how an examination of the sometimes very close connections among orthodox texts, Lollard writings, manuscripts, and readers can clarify our understanding of how Lollardy viewed both itself and contemporary religious culture. (1) Lollard concern with instruction in scripturally based fundamentals of the faith meant that existing materials, which were "well translated ... with good declaration [exposition];' were incorporated into Wycliffite anthologies. (2) McSheffrey suggests that by the end of the fifteenth century such orthodox works made up the bulk of Lollard reading. As she points out, these works effectively became "Lollard" not because of their content but because of the ways in which they were read (as a means of gaining "direct knowledge of the scriptures ... without clerical mediation") and understood (as supportive of Lollard views). (3) a Gustafson also highlights the role of readers' attitudes to texts, rather than the inclusion of identifiably heretical content within texts, in the creation of"Lollard" literature: "dissent could be fostered as old [and orthodox] texts were read through the eyes of a new theology." (4) That being said, Lollards evidently did choose to adapt the content of some orthodox works, changing words, or adding and extending commentary. While we have reason to believe that this policy was not as widespread as once thought, examples of such adaptation are found among texts relating to the basic articles of the faith (the Ave, the Creed, the Ten Commandments), the kind of literature that in other contexts Lollards accepted and used. (5) Changes made to these texts were presumably designed to "correct" them in the light of Lollard doctrine or turn them into vehicles for Lollard teaching, perhaps as part of a greater framework of Wycliffite instruction such as that posited by Peikola. Peikola argues that Lollards produced and disseminated "alternative vernacular interpretations of the rudiments of the faith" as part of a "Wycliffite 'programme' for catechetical instruction" designed to "compete with existing orthodox expositions." (6) In contrast with the Lollardy McSheffrey describes (residing "more in intention than in doctrine, more in contests about authority than in the minutiae of belief"), Peikola sees a movement that carried out its contest with orthodoxy at the level of the "lexical minutiae of... the most elementary items of faith" such items being "carefully scrutinized and if necessary modified." (7) While Peikola's view may require some qualification (as I suggest below), the evidence of texts and manuscripts is that different Lollards at different times could both accept and look to benefit from existing orthodox material, and alter and "correct" such material.

Lollard commentaries on the Pater Noster comprise one group of texts that reflect this dual use of orthodox material. There are three so-called "Lollard" commentaries on the Pater Noster, all ascribed by their Victorian editors to Wyclif himself; two of these (one shorter, one longer) were edited by Thomas Arnold in his selection of English works by Wyclif and are identified below as Arnold 1 and Arnold 2. The third appears in E D. Matthew's edition of tracts by Wyclif. (8) Neither of the two shorter commentaries (Arnold 1 and Matthew) contains any Lollard comment, but they appear in Wycliffite compilations where they were, presumably, read in accordance with a Lollard perspective. (9) The longest of the commentaries, Arnold 2, combines radically Lollard complaints with all the familiar ingredients of Pater Noster expositions and therefore might seem to fit in with that clearly "alternative" "catechetical programme" that Peikola describes. …

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