In setting the apologia of Piers Plowman in passus 5 of the C-text alongside Martin Luther's 1525 text De servo arbitrio and his earlier lectures on the Psalms, this essay moves across the Reformation divide to argue for continuities between these writers' treatments of the theological grammar of “serve and deserve.” The article argues that when Langland has his narrator questioned by Reason and asked, “Can you serve?” Langland understands the question, like Luther, in the broadest theological and ethical sense. The article attends in detail to conventional readings that see the apologia as referring to Langland's putative clerical status, to his status as a laboring body under the terms of the 1388 labor statutes, or to his own vocation as a poet and maker of vernacular theology. Establishing significant parallels between Langland and Luther allows the picture of the “Lutheran moment” painted by recent literary historians to be questioned and challenged.
Jim Knowles; Can You Serve? The Theology of Service from Langland to Luther. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 September 2010; 40 (3): 527–557. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-2010-005
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