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Reginald Pecock and Vernacular Theology in Pre-Reformation England

  • Author(s): Smith, Jennifer Anh-Thu Tran
  • Advisor(s): Kelly, Henry A
  • et al.

Reginald Pecock and Vernacular Theology in Pre-Reformation England is about the adaptation of inaccessible Latin forms of discourse into texts intended primarily for an English reading lay population in Late Medieval England. It focuses on the surviving pedagogical and polemical texts written by Reginald Pecock in the middle of the fifteenth century: The Reule of Crysten Religioun, The Donet, The Folewer to the Donet, The Poore Mennis Myrrour, The Repressor of Over Much Blaming of the Clergy, and The Book of Faith. Pecock is significant for many reasons, both historical and linguistic. He was the most prolific English theologian of the fifteenth-century, writing in English at a time when doing so was fraught with political and religious implications. He was also the only sitting bishop to be convicted of heresy before the Reformation. Despite Pecock's importance to fifteenth-century history and literature, however, his writings have often been maligned and misunderstood, in large part because his style and language are famously difficult to follow. The project that I have undertaken attempts to close the conceptual gaps that make Pecock so difficult an encounter and to provide the critical tools and analysis that will open up his work to wider scholarly engagement. On that account, my dissertation provides both thorough literary analyses coupled with the linguistic and historical background that has heretofore been absent in Pecock studies.

The first half of the dissertation is dedicated to the language and style of Pecock's works. It includes a systematic survey of Pecock's entire extant lexicon gathered from five source texts and the implications of Pecock's many new word formations, their etymologies and their types. It is the first such survey and the results have been very fruitful: Pecock's entire vocabulary numbers over 7,000 unique items and he forms 715 new lexical items. The second half of the dissertation is the first systematic analysis of Pecock's pedagogical system, one which he terms the "Four Tables of God's Law" and saw as a better teaching alternative than the Ten Commandments. It compares Pecock's techniques to his contemporaries, both orthodox and heretical, lay and religious. Fundamentally, the project moves from specific issues dealing with Pecock's language use and progressively broadens in scope and analysis to situate Pecock and his writings at the transition between the Medieval and Early Modern eras. The underlying organization of my approach is structurally cumulative: from individual words to sentences, from sentences to the argumentative units that they contain, from those argumentative units to the genres in which they operate, and finally, how all of those elements together relate to the curriculum of the layman. It is a forward-looking and increasingly open research program that aspires to show the relevance of Pecock as an educator, writer, and theologian within the broader story of the reform movements in England that brought with them an increase in vernacular instruction.

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