The use of debate in Piers Plowman and Dives and Pauper is a response to a long-standing conversionary challenge faced by pastoral carers: the social and psychological variety of the flock—“lay multiplicity.” Dives and Pauper represents this in the huge spectrum of Dives' questions and objections, and Piers Plowman in an even wider range of dissenting and troubled voices. But these texts use debate very differently to deal with the unpredictable reactions of the laity. Pauper engages with Dives using the readerly, rhetorical, and logical techniques derived from later medieval scholasticism. Langland avoids these techniques and eschews scholastic forms of resolution; his predilection for debate and deep-structural dialectics insists on the need to keep central theological and spiritual counterpoints in play, all the while opening up conceptual and imaginative “gaps” that bring with them an implicit imperative. It is from here that the poem's demand for spiritual renewal comes.

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