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Economies of Salvation: The Forms and Processes of William Langland's Theological Vision

McKENNEY, CULLEN (2021) Economies of Salvation: The Forms and Processes of William Langland's Theological Vision. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This thesis argues that William Langland’s Piers Plowman is an important contribution to the ways in which the late-medieval church discerned the development of doctrine. Langland’s poetry is embedded in a maze of political, philosophical, economic, theological and linguistic crosscurrents of fourteenth-century England. Over the course of at least thirty years and three distinct versions, Langland’s poem both engages and reacts to debates between John Wycliffe and Archbishop Arundel over English politics and the practice of vernacular theology. The poem itself becomes wrapped up in the rallying cries of John Ball and others during the Great Rising of 1381. It reflects keen attentiveness to the visceral exchanges between William of Ockham and Pope John XXIII over wealth, poverty and the church’s witness, as it also displays enmeshment within philosophical debates between realists and nominalists of the fourteenth century. Langland’s command of interconnected and shifting themes is matched only by the brilliance of his art. Specifically, a form of poetry that, as this thesis argues, is both distinctly capable of investigating the complex themes Piers Plowman examines and particularly fitting for the subject of its explorations.
Just as Piers Plowman proves capable of demonstrating the elasticity of language to stretch out towards the God who is ineffable, the poetry also portrays the consequences of that same language breaking, and folding back in upon itself. Langland presents practices, virtues, words, and characters whose meanings and identities are turned upside down and inside out to reweave the social fabric which makes up the body of Christ into a web of death-dealing machinations commanded by anti-Christ. Langland’s contributions to church discernment of the development of doctrine are not merely noetic. Rather, Langland’s poetry offers a fierce argument in both form and content for how the church might learn to see itself, its Head, the space between, as well as the way to journey faithfully in the gap.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Langland, ecclesiology, development of doctrine, Aquinas, Augustine
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Mar 2021 14:38

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