Literature and Heresy in the Age of Chaucer

Simon Yarrow reviews a title on John Wyclif and Lollardism.

Simon Yarrow | Published in History Today
In the third week of May, 1382, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtenay, hosted a church convocation at the London headquarters of the Dominicans. The Blackfriars Council, as it became known, published 24 conclusions on points of theological controversy, defining as heretical many of the ideas that were being taught by the Doctor of Divinity at Oxford University, John Wyclif. English history has traditionally regarded Wyclif as a weathervane, his take on the Eucharist, ideas on papal and clerical authority and vernacular translations of the New Testament all pointing toward the English Reformation. A convention of that history is that itinerant teams of poor preachers took Wyclif’s ideas to the people and that by these means the popular heresy of Lollardism was born.

Andrew Cole’s challenging book does much to upset these orthodoxies about Wyclif’s importance. He tracks his legacy not through its popular religious aspect but rather in its diffuse influence on the literary concerns of the age, despite and sometimes even because of its heterodox connotations.

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