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REVIEWS Judith Ferster shows how a good book can now be written on the his­ torical importance ofworks that had previously been deemed dull, even explaining why they had to be dull in the first place. They do not be­ come any less dull in themselves, but what can be written about them becomes, by substitution, more interesting. DEREK PEARSALL Harvard University PAMELA GRADON and ANNE HUDSON, eds. English Wycliffite Sermons. Vols. 4 and 5. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. Pp. 333 and 443. $110.00 and $125.00. Originally planned as a single volume (see vol. 1: 6-7), these two vol­ umes bring to some kind ofconclusion the herculean task ofediting the English Wycliffite sermon-cycle. They provide the much-needed com­ mentary on the individual 240 sermons (and two related texts) edited in the first three volumes, part ofwhich is presented as a long, separate sec­ tion dealing with the polemical issues of Lollard teaching disseminated throughout the cycle. The culmination, though not the end, of an im­ portant scholarly project, these volumes constitute an indispensable vade mecum to a certain kind of Wycliffite thinking in the vernacular. That there are only just over three pages ofcorrigenda to volumes 1-3 suggests an extremely high level of initial accuracy in transcription and in appli­ cation ofediting policy. The same level ofaccuracy is carried through in the erudite, judicious, and thoroughly reliable commentary. Volume 4 opens with a comprehensive discussion of matters of date (before 1400, and probably nearer 1390), authorship, and audience. The editors reconsider the claims of Wyclifand Purvey, the previous candi­ dates, for author, but submit that the writer was anonymous: someone in orders, probably in the university, and with intellectual interests. Displaying little concern for the pastoralia, the sermons interestingly draw on the commentary, rather than sermon, tradition. Their brevity also hints at extraliturgical use. The editors conclude that the English cycle belongs to the same production method (collaborative, with hor­ izontal rather than vertical division of labor) as the Wycliffite Bible, Glossed Gospel commentaries, and the Floretum and Rosarium handbooks. 259 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER The valuable discussion of polemical issues isolates the sermons' re­ current doctrinal preoccupations with matters such as penance and oral confession, and cites the most favoured locutions in which these dis­ cussions are framed. A number of new terms emerge from this present study, providing a useful addition to Hudson's earlier work on Lollard sect vocabulary: for example, rownyng (p. 45), pejoratively, "oral confes­ sion"; fable(s) (pp. 81-82), as opposed to the truth of Scripture; and pre/at (pp. 103-11). As might be expected, saints are held in low es­ teem; preaching is essential; the true church is the congregation ofpre­ destinati; the papacy, church hierarchy (especially cardinals), temporal­ ities, sects, and sins of the clergy are condemned; and the authority of Scripture is absolute (there is useful matter here for those interested in issues of translation, for the discussion touches on the distinction be­ tween the material "ink and skin" and the transcendent sentence). The sermons reflect Wyclif's later teaching on the Eucharist and show wide­ spread concern for the poor, but contain little discussion of dominion or the status of the ranks in civil society. Comments on war are mainly focused on the Despenser crusade, led by Bishop Henry Despenser of Norwich on behalf of Urban VI, and condemned by Wyclif. There is a dominant concern for persecution. The notes on the individual sermons, which begin in volume 4 and take up nearly all of volume 5, are scrupulous and yet economical, their two prime purposes being to elucidate obscurities in the text and to point out parallels with Wyclif's Latin sermons and his other writings. Unavoidably, ambiguities remain: for example, the meaning of schap in 23 / 55 is not obvious in context. A number of important revisions to MED entries are offered in the commentary, but since there is no glos­ sary this information must be retrieved somewhat laboriously from the notes. That the commentary also provides evidence of theological com­ monplaces and ultimate patristic sources incidentally implies that the radicalism of Wycliffite thinking in the vernacular resides...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 259-262
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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