Translation, Censorship, Authorship and the Lost Work of Reginald Pecock
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Translation, Censorship, Authorship and the Lost Work of Reginald Pecock Andrew Taylor University of Ottawa On the fourth of December, 1457, a crowd of twenty thousand gathered at Saint Paul's Cross in London to hear Reginald Pecock, bishop of Chichester, recant his errors. ...1 confess and acknowledge that I have beforetime, presuming of mine own natural wit, and preferring the judgment of natural reason before the New and Old Testaments, and the authority and determination of our mother Holy Church, have holden, feeled, and taught otherwise than the Holy Roman and Universal Church teacheth, preacheth and observeth; and over (besides) this..J have made, written, and taken out and published many and divers perilous and pernicious doctrines, bookes, works, and writings, containing in them heresies and errors contrary to the faith catholic and determination of Holy Church. J At this point, according to the surviving document, Pecock switched to Latin and listed his seven theological errors, the last of which was "that anyone may rightly understand the literal sense of Holy Scripture, nor is anyone required for the sake of salvation to hold to any other sense." (Item, bene licebit unicuique Scripturam Sanctam in sensu litterali intelligere, nee teneretur aliquis de necessitate salutis alicui alteri sensu i inhaerere.) Resuming in English, he exhorted the crowd not to "give faith or credence to my said pernicious doctrines, heresies, and errors; neither my said books keep, hold , or read in any wise" but to "bring all such books, works, and writings as suspect of heresy...unto my said lord of Canterbury or to his commissaries or deputies." Then Pecock surrendered to the executioner fourteen volumes of his works that they might be consigned to the flames, thus demonstrating his obedience to the Church and saving his life. Pecock's recantation says nothing directly about translation, either of the Bible or of other religious texts, nor is the topic of biblical translation mentioned more than a handful of times in his entire surviving corpus. Yet it is translation, above all biblical translation, that lies at the heart of Pecock's project, at the heart of the Lollard project that Pecock 144 THE POLITICS OF TRANSLATION was trying to combat and at the heart of the Church's condemnation of both. Pecock's misfortunes testify to the political tensions surrounding the question of religious translation in late medieval England-arguably the most controversial religious, cultural and political issue in the land from the late fourteenth century until the Reformation. In tum, these tensions, and the censorship they provoked, also helped to strengthen Pecock's sense of authorial identity, leading him to draw together his written works into a coherent body in a way no writer in English had before him. The issue of translating the Bible was charged in England in part because English had only begun to acquire the status of a national written language. French Bibles had been available for centuries, and their use had gradually spread with the spread of literacy. An English Bible, on the other hand, was a novelty, and a novelty with a clear political agenda. Since aristocrats and the upper gentry already had access to Bibles in French, translating the Bible into English was an overtly populi st move.i Indeed, it could be seen as a triple threat, to ecclesiastical hierarchy, to theological orthodoxy and to political stability. The Lollards, a loose affiliation of religious reformers, combined demands for biblical translation with a savage critique of ecclesiastical powers and central doctrines, notably that of the Sacrament (Hudson 1978, 24-29). Lollard preaching was regarded by some as a factor in the Rising of 1381 (Saul 1997, 300). When in 1409 Archbishop Arundel issued a set of constitutions directed against the Lollards that placed severe restrictions on preaching and specifically forbade any written translation of Scripture into English, he was attempting to suppress a threat to the authority of both the Church and the Lancastrian regime.' The Lollard uprising of 1413-14 further reinforced the association between the demand for an English Bible and more general political radicalism, so that the call for wider translation of almost any religious text came to be seen as a threat to political stability. By this point, as Anne Hudson puts it, the "conviction that vernacular scriptures were legitimate.. .could be sufficient to bring the arrested person to the stake" (Hudson 1989, 125). Indeed, unless one belonged to the gentle classes, simply owning an English book was regarded as prima...


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Subject Headings

  • Translating and interpreting--Europe--History--To 1500.
  • Translating and interpreting--Europe--History--16th century.
  • Civilization, Medieval.
  • Renaissance.
  • Literature, Medieval--Translations--History and criticism.
  • European literature--Renaissance, 1450-1600--Translations--History and criticism.
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