After Arundel: Religious Writing in Fifteenth-Century England

By Wenzel, Siegfried | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2013 | Go to article overview

After Arundel: Religious Writing in Fifteenth-Century England


Wenzel, Siegfried, The Catholic Historical Review


After Arundel: Religious Writing in Fifteenth-Century England. Edited by Vincent Gillespie and Kantik Ghosh. [Medieval Church Studies, Vol. 21.] (Turnhout: Brepols. 2011. Pp. xx, 657. euro135,00. ISBN 978-2-503-53402-2.)

Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury (1396-97, 1399-1414), drafted in 1407 and promulgated in 1409 a set of constitutions that aimed at reform in the English church, especially at suppressing the Wycliffite move- ment by regulating preaching (and teaching) as well as censoring transla- tions of the Bible and biblical texts into English. In the wake of modern stud- ies of John Wyclif and his influence, some historians have come to see the "stultifying public consequences" (p. 44) of Arundel's legislation, not only on the production of literature in English but also on the entire religious and intellectual life of fifteenth-century England. It was especially Nicholas Watson's far-reaching article1 that argued forcefully that Arundel's censor- ship caused profound changes in the production of what Watson calls "ver- nacular theology"-defined as any kind of writing in the vernacular that communicates theological information, thus covering sermons, pastoral works, and works of devotion. Such changes were seen in the quantity, cir- culation, and tone of this literature.

Watson's essay painted a nuanced picture of the effects of Arundel's legis- lation on later vernacular religious literature and, by implication, on the entire religious and intellectual life of fifteenth-century England. This picture inspired a 2009 conference in Oxford on the 600th anniversary of Arundel's Constitutions.The volume under review gathers thirty papers connected with that conference. Some argue that Arundel's legislation should be seen in the light of a more universal European unease and desire for reform as it was dis- cussed at several general councils, especially Constance and Basel, where English delegates gave important addresses (Vincent Gillespie, Alex Russell). Another essay similarly reminds us of parallels between English and Continental universities in the diminution of academic theological work (Jeremy Catto). …

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