Feeling Like Saints

Feeling Like Saints: Lollard Writings after Wyclif

Fiona Somerset
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    Feeling Like Saints
    Book Description:

    "Lollard" is the name given to followers of John Wyclif, the English dissident theologian who was dismissed from Oxford University in 1381 for his arguments regarding the eucharist. A forceful and influential critic of the ecclesiastical status quo in the late fourteeth century, Wyclif's thought was condemned at the Council of Constance in 1415. While lollardy has attracted much attention in recent years, much of what we think we know about this English religious movement is based on records of heresy trials and anti-lollard chroniclers. In Feeling Like Saints, Fiona Somerset demonstrates that this approach has limitations. A better basis is the five hundred or so manuscript books from the period (1375-1530) containing materials translated, composed, or adapted by lollard writers themselves.

    These writings provide rich evidence for how lollard writers collaborated with one another and with their readers to produce a distinctive religious identity based around structures of feeling. Lollards wanted to feel like saints. From Wyclif they drew an extraordinarily rigorous ethic of mutual responsibility that disregarded both social status and personal risk. They recalled their commitment to this ethic by reading narratives of physical suffering and vindication, metaphorically martyring themselves by inviting scorn for their zeal, and enclosing themselves in the virtues rather than the religious cloister. Yet in many ways they were not that different from their contemporaries, especially those with similar impulses to exceptional holiness.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7099-8
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    This book is a study of lollardy, a religious movement associated with the Oxford heresiarch John Wyclif (ca. 1328–84). Maligned by contemporary chroniclers, condemned as heretical, then later celebrated as brave harbingers of the Reformation by protestant historiographers, Wyclif and his followers have been more noised about than read. Wyclif is said to have advocated and perhaps even participated in the translation of the bible into English, to have rejected or questioned the efficacy of the sacraments, especially the eucharist and confession, to have upheld a strictly determinist theory of predestination, and to have argued for the disendowment or...

  6. Part One

    • Chapter 1 The Lollard Pastoral Program: Reform from Below
      (pp. 25-62)

      At some point in the 1390s, a parish priest in the West Midlands formulated a large ambition: to reconfigure traditional pastoral teaching so that it would reflect his new convictions and lead his own little flock toward salvation.¹ What he produced in pursuit of this goal has broad implications for our understanding of the lollard movement.² The written record of his efforts is a lengthy cycle of sermons (SS74) that throughout its length bears the marks of intended (or very thoroughly imagined) oral delivery, even if in its most complete and earliest extant copy it has been compiled into an...

    • Chapter 2 God’s Law: Loving, Learning, and Teaching
      (pp. 63-98)

      Near the end of the final chapter of theGeneral Prologueto the Wycliffite Bible, as the writer’s defense of biblical translation comes to an end, he expresses his hopes for the effect that English translation might have upon the people of England. Until now they have been deprived of access to scripture, whether because of the negligence of the clergy or their own sinfulness. Now, he hopes this may change: “[May] God for his merci amende [rectify] þese yuele [evil] causis and make oure puple to haue and kunne [know] and kepe treuli hooli writ to liyf and deþ.”¹...

    • Chapter 3 Lollard Prayer: Religious Practice and Everyday Life
      (pp. 99-134)

      How did lollards pray? Until recently, there was little interest in this question. Yet the historical study of religion asks different questions now than it did in the past. Sharpened interest in religious practice has produced attentive studies of local variations in worship, sacramental practices, saints’ cults, the uses of written prayers, and so on. These have added depth and subtlety to our understanding of medieval religion and its role in the daily life of ordinary lay folk as well as of members of religious or elite groups.¹ But studies of this kind, especially those focused on England, have often...

  7. Part Two

    • Chapter 4 Lollard Tales
      (pp. 137-165)

      In this chapter I investigate a very common and widespread characteristic of lollard writings: their use of narrative forms, especially but not only drawn from the bible, to give their readers models for holy living. In these narratives they provide their readers with a training in feeling. Lollard writers use stories, that is, to show their readers how to feel like saints. Yet lollards are usually thought to disapprove of stories—and they do, at least some of the time, avoid narrative. TheEnglish Wycliffite Sermons, as Hudson has noted, contrast strongly with most other contemporary sermon collections in that...

    • Chapter 5 Lollard Parabiblia
      (pp. 166-202)

      The governing intention of the Wycliffite bible translation project has often been asserted or assumed. Lollards translated the entire text of the bible, Hebrew Bible and New Testament, into English because they wanted laymen and laywomen to be able to read all of its very own words for themselves, rather than having to rely on adulterated versions, interlarded with glosses and exempla that distort its message, as for example in sermons and pastoralia. The problem with this conventional wisdom is not that it is entirely wrong. After all, one lollard translator makes something like this claim: the final chapter of...

  8. Part Three

    • Chapter 6 Moral Fantasie: Normative Allegory in Lollard Writings
      (pp. 205-238)

      I begin with two lengthy quotations from late medieval English writers concerned to educate their vernacular readers in biblical exegesis. Both develop a metaphor of reading the bible with proper understanding as eating a sweet food, hidden at first, that pleases and nourishes the soul. Both of these writers insist, drawing implicitly or explicitly on 2 Corinthians 3:6, that the proper understanding of the scriptures must be spiritual, “gostly,” rather than according to the letter, or “fleschly.” Both stress that “gostly” understanding depends not only and not even primarily upon study but upon one’s whole way of life. Anyone who...

    • Chapter 7 Lollard Forms of Living
      (pp. 239-272)

      This final chapter turns to examine in depth a set of lollardy’s most self-consciously literary writings: writings that are attentive to literary style and rhetoric and that develop with unusual thoroughness the possibilities of speaking “gostili.” What they mean by “gostili” speech is nothing new for the readers of this book: it is the lollard habit of redefining in spiritual or metaphorical terms a concept usually presented as material, bodily, or closely defined by institutional convention.¹ As we learned in the previous chapter, lollard writers often deploy these spiritualizing redefinitions in the service of “moral fantasie,” a mode of normative...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 273-284)

    In summary of this book’s findings, this Conclusion examines a largely neglected short text that eschews polemical declaration but that nonetheless within its short length touches on all the characteristic emphases in lollard writings that we have discovered across the course of this book, compactly providing us with an occasion to draw them together and to demonstrate how they allow us to identify and describe lollard writings more effectively. Like theBook to a Mother, theFyve Wytteswas classified as “orthodox” by its student editor—in this case Rolf Bremmer, now a well-known scholar of Old Frisian and Middle...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-306)
  11. Index
    (pp. 307-316)
  12. Appendix A: Brief Descriptions of Frequently Cited Manuscripts
    (pp. 317-324)
  13. Appendix B: The Pastoral Syllabus of SS74 and a Detailed Summary of the Sermons
    (pp. 325-332)