The Donet

Reginald Pecock, who is practically my favourite Welsh metaphysician, flourished early in the 15th century. Educated at Oxford, and preaching in London (in a fine parish church later burnt and bombed like so many in London by the Proddies, the Great Fire, the Luftwaffe), he was (to my mind) a superb explainer of Catholic doctrine, and a defender of the Church against the attacks of the Lollards and Lollardy — who alas himself slipt foul of senior clergy. You see, he did not think the Catholic teaching always “infallible,” or the creed perhaps ideally expressed, and made his own proposed revisions on several subtle points.

It is interesting, to me, that he was taking the same sort of exercise I was taking in my Idleness this week: asking himself questions like what is a soul, who has one, and how many? And making distinctions between “the beasties” and “the peeple” — yet writing in an agrarian age when both man and animal were shown more respect. Pecock was consistently well-disposed towards both, though he had enemies in politics who were out to get him, and as capable as Democrats of misrepresenting his (basically orthodox) views. Aheu!

His heresy, according to the contemporary Archbishop of Canterbury (Thomas Bourchier), was to misunderstand the principle of obedience to superiors, and to put too much stock in reason. Pecock accordingly renounced these errors, in trial, and lost a couple of handy sinecures (including a bishopric) into the bad bargain. But burning at the stake was not in the cards; for these were the Middle Ages after all, not the incendiary Early Modern.

I quite enjoyed Pecock’s stand against the “over-much weeting” of the Lollards, anticipating Luther and worse in their whining about the (supposed) sins of the clergy. In both this and his works on the faith, Pecock is pioneering arguments in the English language (previously restricted to Latin and maybe French), in a lively style that is almost informal. I love the vivid, sparkling honesty with which he tingles.

Incidentally, I will be happy to take back Thursday’s speculation about the “two souls,” should any learn’d archbishop cogently refute me.


POSTSCRIPTUM. — While denying that he is a learn’d archbishop, my priest writes: “The thing is, as I’m sure you know, that it isn’t necessary to call them two souls. Sometimes isn’t the same territory covered by distinguishing ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’?”

Haha! … I was beginning to wonder if anyone was actually reading my compositions, or whether I now had the stage to myself, like some Welsh metaphysician. …

Verily, spirit is another word.