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The Wycliffite Heresy: Authority and the Interpretation of Texts (review)
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180 Reviews Parergon 21.1 (2004) troths, secrets and lies’ (p. 169) to its interest in the circumstances of its own production – its own transformation into genre. The final essay, Edwin D. Craun’s ‘Fama and Pastoral Constraints on Rebuking Sinners: ‘The Book of Margery Kempe’ examines the bourgeois wife’s correcting of her superiors. How does her autobiography going about assuring her ‘fraternal corrections’ the status of charity rather than slander? Besides a substantial contribution to the body of knowledge surrounding the fascinating cultural phenomenon of fama, this volume represents a model of what interdisciplinary studies can be.The essays form a coherent whole, and the methods they elaborate reciprocally illuminate the contents presented across the collection. Tracy Adams School of European Languages and Literatures University of Auckland Ghosh, Kantik, The Wycliffite Heresy: Authority and the Interpretation of Texts (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002; hardback; pp. 312; £45; ISBN 0521807204. The Wycliffite Heresy is a valuable contribution to the study of the intellectual climate of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Drawing on many unpublished sources, Ghosh examines not only the hermeneutic principles underlying Wyclif’s writings, but also those of his critics. Importantly, he underlines the academic nature of Lollardy and its ‘imbeddedness in traditions of self-conscious intellectual endeavour’ (15). He believes that ‘Lollardy was as much a symptom as a cause of larger changes taking place in late-medieval scholasticism’ (214) and that it ‘brought about a reassessment and reconfiguration – in terms both of values and methodologies – of late-medieval intellectuality…hermeneutic and historical positivism, as well as its interest in textual criticism, in patristics, in ecclesiastical history and the psychology of faith’ (216). Ghosh nowhere claims to be definitive, but his masterful study provokes much thought and should assist scholars to deepen their research into the world of Oxford at this crucial time, as well as in medieval religion, literature, psychology and philosophy. Wyclif believed that the whole of sacred scripture is one word of God, and in his attempt to translate the Bible into a text accessible to opyn reson by all, he recasts the distinction between the literal and the spiritual into two aspects of the literal. He read figurative language not as metaphorical but as sharing in a Reviews 181 Parergon 21.1 (2004) common universal, and so his philosophical realism underpins his exegesis. Wyclif sought for the literal sense, even in allegory, but his ways of knowing, mediate and inmediate, are not easily resolvable. His ‘universalising attempt at limiting the cognitive role of the individual – thereby discounting the inevitability of hermeneutic variation – seeks instead to stress the fixity, stability and determinateness of biblical meaning’ (24). A fixed meaning is, however, problematic for Lollards whose emphasis on textual analysis made them aware of the text as a product of historical and individual context. To bridge the gap between scientia (human reason) and sapientia (divine reason) Wyclif had to rely on the knowledge of the intention of God. This understanding can lead ‘from a system of textual interpretation to a direct apprehension of God’s mind’ (43). To explain how this occurred, Wyclif sought to redefine divine ‘logic’as a means of textual analysis, or scientia and so helped shift scholastic debate from rhetoric to logic. However, Ghosh’s claim that ‘reason and scripture are two not necessarily harmonious sources of authority’ (54) relies, perhaps, on a view of logic as purely human. An older, traditional understanding of ‘reason’ as ratio or logos found meaning sited in the apprehension by the human seminal logos of the divine logos. The openness and diversity of the intellectual world are most clearly seen in the various responses to Lollardy, presented chronologically by Ghosh. The hardening of attitudes towards this ‘heresy’ is illustrated through the almost disinterested debate of Ullerston with Wyclif, to the later polemical works of Butler and Palmer. William Woodford opposed the notion of a fixed meaning and was aware of the vagaries of time and of the differing historical contexts which produced the text. There is much of interest here for scholars to ponder how differing medieval thinkers responded to reason and faith, foreign languages, the nature of the...