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Fiction, theology, and social practice
Author: Mary Raschko

The politics of Middle English parables examines the dynamic intersection of fiction, theology, and social practice in translated Gospel stories. Parables occupy a prominent place in Middle English literature, appearing in dream visions and story collections as well as in lives of Christ and devotional treatises. While most scholarship approaches these scriptural stories as stable vehicles of Christian teachings, this book characterises Gospel parables as ambiguous, riddling stories that invited audience interpretation and inspired the construction of new, culturally inflected narratives. In parables related to labour, social inequality, charity, and penance, the book locates a creative theological discourse through which writers reconstructed scriptural stories and, in doing so, attempted to shape Christian belief and practice. Analysis of these diverse retellings reveals not what a given parable meant in a definitive sense but rather how Middle English parables inscribe the ideologies, power structures, and cultural debates of late medieval Christianity.

Author: Laura Varnam

The church as sacred space places the reader at the heart of medieval religious life, standing inside the church with the medieval laity in order to ask what the church meant to them and why. It examines the church as a building, idea, and community, and explores the ways in which the sanctity of the church was crucial to its place at the centre of lay devotion and parish life. At a time when the parish church was facing competition for lay attention, and dissenting movements such as Lollardy were challenging the relevance of the material church, the book examines what was at stake in discussions of sanctity and its manifestations. Exploring a range of Middle English literature alongside liturgy, architecture, and material culture, the book explores the ways in which the sanctity of the church was constructed and maintained for the edification of the laity. Drawing on a wide range of contemporary theoretical approaches, the book offers a reading of the church as continually produced and negotiated by the rituals, performances, and practices of its lay communities, who were constantly being asked to attend to its material form, visual decorations, and significance. The meaning of the church was a dominant question in late-medieval religious culture and this book provides an invaluable context for students and academics working on lay religious experience and canonical Middle English texts.

The parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard
Mary Raschko

Teaching unreasonable tales 27 1 Teaching unreasonable tales: the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard Me þynk þy tale vnresounable; Goddez ryȝt is redy and euermore rert, Oþer holy wryt is bot a fable. In sauter is sayd a verce ouerte Þat spekez a poynt determynable: ‘Þou quytez vchon as hys desserte, Þou hyȝe Kyng ay pertermynable.’ (Pearl 590–6)1 When the maiden in the Middle English poem Pearl concludes her rendition of the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1–16), the Dreamer quickly denounces it as an ‘vnresounable’ tale. His reaction

in The politics of Middle English parables
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Writing parabolic fiction: Langland’s pardon episode
Mary Raschko

216 The politics of Middle English parables Epilogue Writing parabolic fiction: Langland’s pardon episode I have argued that parables, within the context of the Gospels, share certain dynamics that generated the varied acts of revision and cultural negotiation featured throughout this book: Gospel parables are often explicitly metaphoric, they portray familiar scenes from everyday life, yet they render that familiar world strange or unfamiliar. In essence, the form of Gospel parables intensifies the interpretive work involved in their translation. As writers

in The politics of Middle English parables
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The parable of the Good Samaritan
Mary Raschko

142 The politics of Middle English parables 4 Ethical allegories: the parable of the Good Samaritan … and siþþe þus I hym tolde How þat feiþ fleiȝ awey and Spes his felawe boþe For sighte of þe sorweful segge þat robbed was with þeues. ‘Haue hem excused’, quod he; ‘hir help may litel auaille.’ (Piers Plowman B 17.90b–93)1 To an even greater degree than the story of Dives and Lazarus, the Good Samaritan parable (Luke 10:25–37) appears on its surface to be a moral exemplum: it showcases charitable good living, almost hyperbolically, and ends with an explicit

in The politics of Middle English parables
The parables of the Wedding Feast and Great Supper
Mary Raschko

Matthew that compares the narrative to the kingdom of heaven,4 the two stories begin similarly: both tell of a host who sends his servants to summon invited guests to his feast. In these initial lines, the primary distinctions between the parables pertain to individual descriptors: supper versus feast, host versus king, and a standard meal versus one 178 The politics of Middle English parables celebrating a wedding. In both parables, the invited guests refuse to attend. In Luke, the guests excuse themselves to tend to other obligations: one bought a town, another

in The politics of Middle English parables
Consecration, restoration, and translation
Laura Varnam

2 The Book of the Foundation of St Bartholomew’s Church: Consecration, restoration, and translation So al these thyngis that bene seide or shall be seide, they beholde the ende and consummacioun of this document. For trewly God is yn this place.1 This statement appears midway through the Middle English translation of the twelfth-century Latin foundation legend known as The Book of the Foundation of St Bartholomew’s Church. As a foundation legend, the text’s primary aim is to narrate the construction of the church in question: St Bartholomew the Great, in

in The church as sacred space in Middle English literature and culture
Placing the people at the heart of sacred space
Laura Varnam

4 What the church betokeneth: Placing the people at the heart of sacred space In the Middle English translation of the compendium for Lollard preachers, the Rosarium Theologie, the entry for ‘edifiyng’ asks: ‘wilt þou belde þe house of God?’ If so, the reader is instructed to proceed as follows: Giffe to trewe pore men warof þei may liffe and þou has edified a resonable house to God. Men forsoþ duelleþ in beledyngz, God forsoþ in holi men. Wat kynez þerof be þai þat spoilez men & makeþ edifyngz of martirez? Þei made habitacions of men and sturbiliþ habitacions

in The church as sacred space in Middle English literature and culture
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Laura Varnam

undercroft of the cathedral. The intricate miniature cathedral stands as testimony to the donations and support of a worldwide community who value the medieval cathedral and its sanctity. The Lego cathedral replicates the real cathedral, both as an image and a material object; the complexity of the model, the length of time it took to complete, and the essential support of the community playfully re-enact the original building process. The model reminds us of the sacred wonder of the building and the skill and devotion of those who created it, just as the Middle English

in The church as sacred space in Middle English literature and culture
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Reading sacred space in late medieval England
Laura Varnam

how it participated in the formation of communal identity. The church as sacred space in particular invites such a methodology, as performance and practice are at the core of sacred space from its inception in the consecration ceremony. Since Paul Strohm’s Theory and the Premodern Text in 2000, theoretical approaches to medieval texts have flourished. In the introduction to the 2013 Handbook of Middle English Studies, in which scholars brought a range of theories to bear upon literary texts, Marion Turner comments that ‘Aristotle, Augustine, and Dante are theorists

in The church as sacred space in Middle English literature and culture