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Holy Scripture and the Quest for Authority at the End of the Middle Ages

Ian Christopher Levy

Publication Year: 2012

All participants in late medieval debates recognized Holy Scripture as the principal authority in matters of Catholic doctrine. Popes, theologians, lawyers—all were bound by the divine truth it conveyed. Yet the church possessed no absolute means of determining the final authoritative meaning of the biblical text—hence the range of appeals to antiquity, to the papacy, and to councils, none of which were ultimately conclusive. Authority in the late medieval church was a vexing issue precisely because it was not resolved.

Ian Christopher Levy’s book focuses on the quest for such authority between 1370 and 1430, from John Wyclif to Thomas Netter, thereby encompassing the struggle over Holy Scripture waged between Wycliffites and Hussites on the one hand, and their British and Continental opponents on the other. Levy demonstrates that the Wycliffite/Hussite “heretics” and their opponents—the theologians William Woodford, Thomas Netter, and Jean Gerson—in fact shared a large and undisputed common ground. They held recognized licenses of expertise, venerated tradition, esteemed the church fathers, and embraced Holy Scripture as the ultimate authority in Christendom. What is more, they utilized similar hermeneutical strategies with regard to authorial intention, the literal sense, and the appeal to the fathers and holy doctors in order to open up the text. Yet it is precisely this commonality, according to Levy, that rendered the situation virtually intractable; he argues that the erroneous assumption persists today that Netter and Gerson spoke for “the church,” whereas Wyclif and Hus sought to destroy it.
Levy's sophisticated study in historical theology, which reconsiders the paradigm of heresy and orthodoxy, offers a necessary adjustment in our view of church authority at the turn of the fifteenth century.    
"In Holy Scripture and the Quest for Authority at the End of the Middle Ages, Ian Christopher Levy reveals the crux of a late medieval quandary regarding ecclesial authority. He perceptively shows how theologians and the Catholic Church were mired in a nearly intractable constellation of issues involving scriptural interpretation, appeals to tradition, development of doctrine, the question of concrete, visible instruments of authority, and the role of canon law and university theologians. This highly original contribution treats themes and issues at an immensely complex and important juncture in the development of early modern religious thought and practice, the ramifications of which are still very much with us today." —Boyd Taylor Coolman, Boston College

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. ix-ix

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pp. ix-xiv

Holy Scripture was accepted as the principal foundation of authority in the late medieval church. Everyone—popes, theologians, and lawyers— was bound by the divine truth it conveyed. No teaching or practice could . . .

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pp. xv-xvi

This book has been quite a few years in the making and has undergone numerous changes along the way, both in content and in perspective. It is a work of historical theology, which may help in small ways to inform . . .

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Chapter 1: Facets of Authority in the Late Medieval Church

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pp. 1-53

This introductory chapter addresses the authoritative status that Holy Scripture enjoyed in the late medieval church. More specifically, though, it provides a look at the ways in which scripture was understood in itself, . . .

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Chapter 2: The Indignant Master

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pp. 54-91

John Wyclif was above all else a medieval theologian, which is to say that he was thoroughly steeped in the long-held assumptions and practices of the university masters. Having earned his doctorate by about 1372, Wyclif . . .

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Chapter 3: The Ambivalent Friar

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pp. 92-116

Having examined John Wyclif ’s view on scripture and authority, we can turn now to his critics. This chapter looks at the Franciscan theologian William Woodford and the objections he raised to Wyclif ’s exegetical . . .

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Chapter 4: Ad Fontes (?)

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pp. 117-149

The Carmelite theologian Thomas Netter earned his doctorate at Oxford in 1411 and just a few years later, in 1414, was elected prior pro - vincial of the Carmelites in England. His connection to William Woodford . . .

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Chapter 5: A Falling Out

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pp. 150-188

There had been a long history of reform in Bohemia that predated John Wyclif and the subsequent dissemination of his works in the region. I cannot delve into the history of Bohemian reform here, but it must be . . .

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Chapter 6: Approaching Final Authority

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pp. 189-221

As noted in the previous chapter, an ardent desire for the reform of the church in head and members was not confined to Hussites and Wyc - liffites. Indeed, leaders of the conciliarist movement, such as . . .

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Chapter 7: The Enduring Dilemma

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pp. 222-235

We have observed a protracted debate among medieval university masters that seems at times almost impossible to resolve. Perhaps Jean Gerson’s confidence in the infallibility of a general council could offer the . . .


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pp. 236-287


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pp. 288-301


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pp. 302-320

E-ISBN-13: 9780268085810
E-ISBN-10: 0268085811
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268034146
Print-ISBN-10: 0268034141

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2012