Piers Plowman And The Problem Of Belief
Author: Britton J. Harwood
Publisher: University of Toronto Press
Release Date: October 01, 1991
Piers Plowman is one of the greatest poems of Middle English. In this study Britton F. Harwood considers it as an expression of a crisis of faith and, as such, a landmark in the theological and philosophical history of the medieval era. Harwood shows how the protagonist of the poem represents himself as one in need of a knowledge of Christ as present and existing. This kind of knowledge was elaborated in late thirteenth- and fourteenth century thought as 'notitia intuitiva': the poet wants, not a report of Christ, but Christ as an object of perception. Any conversion for him is consequent upon the vision of God. The action of the poem, then, consists in the poet's testing of certain human capacities for their ability to recover the vision of God. Following through each segment of the poem, Harwood charts the course of the poet's inquiry, showing how each vision advances the poet's search until he reaches the knowledge of Christ in remorse--suffering being the point where God and humanity meet. On this basis, Harwood suggests that Piers Plowman is the first Middle English poem to have been motivated by the deterioration in theological and philosophical foundations experienced by the fourteenth-century writer, as argued by Muscatine and Middleton. This is the first book on Piers Plowman to take the narrator seriously when he rejects moral instruction as a substitute for the knowledge of God, and to argue that the poem is authentically exploratory.