Reginald Pecock: Vernacular, and a Vision of Humanism
Medieval and Early Modern English Studies, Volume 16 No. 1 (2008)
In this article, a historical approach to appreciate Reginald Pecock’s vernacular works has been made in three ways. First, Pecock was fully aware of the function of literacy, especially vernacular in transmitting ideas and elevating lay piety. In an age when the use of English is severly restricted by the authorities as hazardous to the unity of society, Pecock believed that, through vernacular literacy, the church authorities and the laity could be mutually communicated for a social discourse to restore society. This conviction made him write his own vernacular theological works with a clear purpose to instruct the laity sound doctrines. Secondly, in progressing the ideas, Pecock adopted scholastic syllogism, but his new philosophical attempt to use ‘reason’ as a crucial tool in understanding the truth is noteworthy. Pecock’s reasoning led to the conclusions similar to the modern higher criticism. He questioned over the historicity of the Donation of Constantine, the Apostles’ Creed, and the biblical tradition. Pecock believes that the church was subject to change toward perfection. The ideal church, for Pecock, was not something to be embodied by returning to the apostolic church, but something to be brought about by continually changing. This is his understanding of tradition that can make the church a dynamic organic body which takes shape in its present progressive form in consequence. Thirdly, what is most striking in Pecock’s ideas is in his new understanding of human ability, especially of the laity. This is clearly demonstrated in his claim that the laity can be participants of intercourse in theological matters. Pecock argues that the differences between the clergy and the laity did not originate from their hierarchical inequality, but from their different duties.
Over all, Pecock’s passion for vernacular and books, ability to approach documents in a critical manner, and new perspective on the lay ability seem to be major components that can be associated with the coming English Renaissance.