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Encyclopedia > Pierce the Ploughman's Crede
The frontispiece of Reyner Wolfe's edition of Pierce the Ploughman's Crede, printed in 1553
The frontispiece of Reyner Wolfe's edition of Pierce the Ploughman's Crede, printed in 1553

Pierce the Ploughman's Crede is an alliterative poem of 855 lines, savagely lampooning the four orders of friars. Surviving in two sixteenth-century manuscripts and one early printed edition, Crede is datable on internal evidence to 1393-1400. Like much political or religious poetry of the alliterative revival (i.e., Piers Plowman, Mum and the Sothsegger), the poem takes the form of a quest for knowledge. It is narrated by a layman who has memorised nearly all of the rudimentary texts demanded by the Fourth Lateran Council. He can read, and is able to recite the Ave Maria and Pater Noster proficiently: yet he does not know the Creed. He seeks help from the friars, first turning to the Franciscans, then the Dominicans, followed by the Austin friars and the Carmelites. But rather than learning anything of value, all he hears are imprecations. Each order savagely attacks one of its rival groups of mendicants: the Franciscans denounce the Carmelites; the Carmelites denounce the Dominicans; the Dominicans denounce the Augustines; the Augustines complete this carousel of invective by denouncing the Franciscans. The entire poem seems like an uproarious inversion of cantos xi and xii of Dante's Paradiso: just as Dante has the Dominican Aquinas and the Franciscan Bonaventure lauding one another's orders, so the Crede-poet makes the mendicants exchange abuse. Alliteration is one of the stylistic devices (literary technique) in which successive words (more strictly, stressed syllables) begin with the same sound or with the same letter. ... A friar is a member of a religious order of men. ... Events Ottoman Turks occupy Veliko Turnovo in north-central Bulgaria. ... Events Henry IV quells baron rebellion and executes The Earls of Kent, Huntingdon and Salisbury for their attempt to have Richard II of England restored as King Jean Froissart writes the Chronicles Medici family becomes powerful in Florence, Italy Births Owen Tudor, seventh generation descedant of Rhys ap Gruffydd (approximate... Page from a 14th century Psalter, showing drolleries on the right margin and a plowman at the bottom. ... The Fourth Council of the Lateran was summoned by Pope Innocent III with his Bull of April 19, 1213. ... This article is about the proposed Catholic Community in Florida. ... Pater Noster may refer to: The Lords Prayer, a Christian prayer paternoster lift, a kind of elevator This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ... A creed is a statement of belief—usually religious belief—or faith. ... Franciscans is the common name used to designate a variety of mendicant religious orders of men or women tracing their origin to Francis of Assisi and following the Rule of St. ... The Order of Our Lady of Mt. ... Dante redirects here. ... Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 - March 7, 1274) was a Catholic philosopher and theologian in the scholastic tradition, who gave birth to the Thomistic school of philosophy, which was long the primary philosophical approach of the Roman Catholic Church. ... This article refers to the Italian saint. ...

But all is not entirely lost. As he returns home, the narrator encounters a poor Ploughman, dressed in rags and so emaciated that men myyte reken ich a ryb (432). Although starving, the Ploughman freely offers the narrator what food he does have. When the narrator tells him of his experiences with the friars, the Ploughman launches into a blistering diatribe on the four orders. Recognising the wisdom of the Ploughman's words, the narrator asks him whether he can teach him the Creed. He is glad to do so: the poem ends with the Ploughman's recital of the elusive text.

Two features make Crede particularly worthy of note. Firstly, it is the earliest text to imitate William Langland's Piers Plowman. The selfless Ploughman is of course directly drawn from the earlier work. Perhaps written within eight years of the final version of Piers, Crede thus testifies to the appeal of Langland's more subversive, anticlerical sentiments among his early readers. Of course, the Crede-poet only uses Piers as a launch-pad for his own views. Crede is markedly more confident than Langland in its opposition to the clergy. The fact that it abandons Langland's dream-vision framework is suggestive of this, as if the lay perfection that the Ploughman represents has become more achievable in reality. William Langland is the reputed author of the 14th-century English dream-vision Piers Plowman. ... Page from a 14th century Psalter, showing drolleries on the right margin and a plowman at the bottom. ...

A second, related point of interest is that Crede is a Lollard production. It is startlingly candid in its heretical leanings. At one stage it showers praise on Wyclif himself, as well as saluting Walter Brute, a Welsh Lollard examined between 1390-3. Its content wholly conforms to Lollard views of the friars. Most of the charges against the friars are familiar from other works such as Jack Upland, the Vae Octuplex or Wyclif's Trialogus, and most are ultimately derived from William of Saint-Amour's De Periculis Novissimorum Temporum (1256). As in all Wycliffite satire, the friars are lecherous, covetous, greedy, vengeful, demanding extravagant donations for even the most elementary services. They seek out only the fattest corpses to bury, and live in ostentatious houses that are more like palaces than places of worship. They are the children of Lucifer rather than St Dominic or St Francis, and follow in the footsteps of Cain, the first treacherous frater. But the fact that the poem's main approach is dramatic rather than didactic or polemic, and its frequent passages of striking physical description, elevate it beyond the vast bulk of antifraternal writing. Elizabeth Salter's charge of empty 'sensationalism' seems highly unjust. The poem's vicious and unremitting attacks are impressively constructed, and even entertaining in their lacerating cynicism. Plus, as Christina von Nolcken and Helen Barr have shown, there is a remarkable subtlety to the poem, as it draws on even the most purely philosophical aspects of Wyclif's system. The opposition between the friars and Piers is finely crafted. While the friars squabble and bicker with one another, the true (i.e., Lollard) Christians form a single unity; at the end of the poem, in the words of Barr, 'the voices of Peres, narrator and poet all merge' into a single 'I': Lollardy or Lollardry was the political and religious movement of the Lollards in late 14th century and early 15th century England. ... Wycliffe may also refer to Wycliffe Bible Translators John Wycliff (or Wycliffe) (1328 - December 31, 1384) was an English theologian and early proponent of reform in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century. ... Lucifer is a Latin word made up of two words, lux (light; genitive lucis) and ferre (to bear, to bring), meaning light-bearer. ... St Dominic presiding over an auto de fe, Spanish, 1475 Saint Dominic (born at Calaroga, Spain, around 1170; died August 6, 1221, at Bologna, Italy) founded the Dominican Order. ... Numerous saints have been named Francis. ... In stories common to the Abrahamic religions, Cain or Káyin (קַיִן / קָיִן Possession, Standard Hebrew Qáyin, Tiberian Hebrew Qáyin / Qāyin; Arabic قابيل Qābīl) is the eldest son of Adam and Eve, and the first man born in creation according to the Genesis. ...

all þat euer I haue seyd soþ it me semeþ,/
And all þat euer I haue writen is soþ, as I trowe,/
And for amending of þise men is most þat I write

The poem exists in several modern editions: Thomas Wright and Walter Skeat produced independent versions in the nineteenth century; more recently, James Dean has edited the text for TEAMs, and Helen Barr has produced a generously annotated edition in The Piers Plowman Tradition (London: J.M. Dent, 1993) (ISBN 0460870505). Alternative meaning: Nineteenth Century (periodical) (18th century — 19th century — 20th century — more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 19th century was that century which lasted from 1801-1900 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar. ...

References and further reading

  • Helen Barr, Signes and Sothe: Language in the Piers Plowman Tradition (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1994) ISBN 0859914194
  • James Doyne Dawson, 'William of Saint-Amour and the Apostolic Tradition', Medieval Studies 40 (1978), pp.223– 38 - available online from JSTOR.
  • A. I. Doyle, 'An Unrecognized Piece of Piers the Ploughman's Creed and Other Work by Its Scribe', Speculum 34 (1959), pp.428-36 - available online from JSTOR.
  • George Kane, 'Some Fourteenth-Century "Political" Poems', in Medieval English Religious and Ethical Literature: Essays in Honour of G. H. Russell, ed. by Gregory Kratzmann and James Simpson (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1986), pp.82-91. ISBN 0859912205
  • Ritchie D. Kendall, The Drama of Dissent: The Radical Poetry of Nonconformity, 1380-1590 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986) ISBN 0807817007
  • David Lampe, 'The Satiric Strategy of Peres the Ploughmans Crede ' in The Alliterative Tradition in the Fourteenth Century, ed. Bernard S. Levy and Paul E. Szarmach (Kent: Kent State University Press, 1981), pp.69-80. ISBN 0873382552
  • Christina Von Nolcken, 'Piers Plowman, the Wycliffites, and Pierce the Plowman's Creed', Yearbook of Langland Studies 2 (1988), pp.71-102.
  • Elizabeth Salter, Fourteenth-Century English Poetry: contexts and readings (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984) ISBN 0198711026
  • Penn R. Szittya, 'The Antifraternal Tradition in Middle English', Speculum 52 (1977), pp.287-313 - available online from JSTOR.
  • Penn R. Szittya, The Antifraternal Tradition in Medieval Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986) ISBN 0691066809

JSTOR (Journal Storage) is an online system for archiving academic journals. ... JSTOR (Journal Storage) is an online system for archiving academic journals. ... JSTOR (Journal Storage) is an online system for archiving academic journals. ...

External links

  • Six Ecclesiastical Satires, ed. by James M. Dean, TEAMS Middle English Texts (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1991): full edition of Crede online.
  • Pierce the ploughmans crede (about 1394 AD). to which is appended God, spede the plough (about 1500 AD), ed. by Walter W. Skeat, Early English Text Society o.s. 30 (London: Trübner, 1867): another edition of Crede, largely rendered obsolete by Dean's edition, although the spelling is less modernised.
  • John Matthews Manly XXX: Peres the Ploughman's Crede, in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, ed. by A.W. Ward and others, 18 vols. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907–21), II: The End of the Middle Ages (1908).
  • James M. Dean, Plowman Writings, in Medieval English Political Writings, ed. by James M. Dean (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996): essay on the Ploughman tradition in medieval literature, with links to texts.



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