Saturday, 11 April 2015

Jeffrey Witt: "I should not believe the gospel except…": Tradition, Authority, and the Grounds for Belief in the Late Fourteenth Century

In this paper, I will introduce a previously undocumented late-fourteenth century use and interpretation of Augustine's famous statement in Contra Epistolam Manichaei, 5.6: "For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church."
The use is found in the lecture of a secular master named Peter Plaoul (fl. 1390s). Plaoul's use is noteworthy partially because it occurred at a time when debates about how to end the Western Schism were raging at the University of Paris. It is also notable because Plaoul clearly adopts a particular way of thinking about Church tradition singled out by Heiko Oberman, who contrasts it with an alternative approach represented by the likes of Bradwardine, Wyclif, and Huss. Thus, after showing that Plaoul adopts this view of tradition, I will point to his interpretation of the quotation from Augustine as a representative example of how proponents of this view of church tradition might approach the quotation in the last decade of the fourteenth century.

Finally, because the interpretation of this passage and the varying views on the nature of the authority of tradition are closely linked to how theologians have thought about faith and theology, I will close by contextualizing Plaoul's interpretation within the larger debates about tradition, faith, canon law, and theology. Here I will attempt to draw lessons about how commitments like those seen in the text of Plaoul will pair with related commitments on the nature of faith and the theological enterprise.

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