Late Medieval Historical Theology

Wyclif and the Literal Sense of De Veritate Sacrae Scripturae

Wyclif’s hermeneutic, upholding the sensus literalis, provides more than just a slight quandary for the contemporary scholar. Perhaps there is no better way of illustrating the nature of historically situated interpretation or the conflation of being with Being than an attempt to explicate the sense of a hermeneutician who found himself out of step with the popular and somewhat novel milieu of biblical interpretation in his day. On the one end of the continuum of interpretation, Wyclif exposed the excesses of Latinate religiosity while lambasting the sophist critics on the other end. He carefully guarded Scripture from the excesses of papal decrees and church tradition while fending off those who used Aristotle’s logic to pare down the amount of Scripture considered truthful under the close inspection of bare literalism. The text of Wyclif’s Sermones frequently presses the charge that the contemporary exegetical practice of his day had frequently flaunted the boundaries of the text, yet Wyclif did not rely upon a strict literalism to confine the meaning of the text. Instead, Wyclif presented a fairly nuanced understanding of the text and its connection to the intentio auctoris, allowing for equivocal meaning.
Wyclif scholarship lacks an analysis of his hermeneutic without an over-concern with its results or viability. While Wyclif reveals his views in many of his writings, for there is a cohesive logic that binds his philosophy, politics and theology together, De veritate sacrae scripturae is Wyclif’s statement on the matter. After a brief description of Wyclif’s context, I will seek to describe the status of Wyclif scholarship on the matter of his hermeneutic. I will then add to these opinions my own with a somewhat detailed description of Wyclif’s hermeneutic as described in De veritate sacrae scripturae. Finally, I will attempt to relate an understanding of Wyclif to current discussions in the realm of postmodern hermeneutics. The question to be asked is the status of Wyclif’s literalism. What did he mean by literal? How did he treat an understanding of univocity in a text that freely engages in equivocation? But first, it seems prudent to provide some context and an assessment of the scholarship.

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