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date: 06 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

A controversial idea associated with religious culture in the late Middle Ages is that anyone who considers himself a part of mainstream religion must know his difference from heretics. A religious writer in this period who does not hew closely to orthodox teachings may be accused of being a heretic in his lyrical or prosaic musings about Church hierarchies, the Scripture, or the sacraments. This notion has become a subject of considerable debate among some specialists in Middle English literature. This article considers other paradigms that may broaden our notions about religious literature in fifteenth-century England. In particular, it proposes a paradigm that includes bishops rather than heretics, in part because bishops are mainly responsible for innovations that are neglected in a focus on Wycliffism. It also explores the critically neglected innovations within what it calls ecclesiastical humanism, some of its features, and how it emerged during the fifteenth century. It argues that the prevailing cultural obsession with the Wycliffite heresy had largely disappeared between the 1430s and the 1480s and was replaced, in part, by attempts to promote ecclesiastical institutions as centers of patronage and humanist literary culture.

Keywords: religion, heretics, Middle English literature, religious literature, England, bishops, Wycliffism, ecclesiastical humanism, heresy, patronage

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