Pecock, Reginald

Pecock, Reginald
(ca. 1395–ca. 1460)
   Reginald Pecock was a theologian whose works were controversial not only for their contents, but also because they were written in the then vulgar English. His most important work, The Repressor of Over Much Blaming of the Clergy (ca. 1449), was written as an argument against LOLLARD ideology, but proved to be the work that resulted in his ultimate ruin with the orthodox church.
   Pecock was born in or near St. David’s in Wales around 1395. He was educated at Oriel College, Oxford, where he became a fellow in October 1417. He was ordained a subdeacon in 1420, and deacon and priest in 1421. He earned his bachelor of divinity degree in 1425, and proved himself to be so brilliant that Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, took notice of him and introduced him to the court in London. In 1431, he was elected master of Whittington College, London, and rector of St. Michael’s in Riola. In 1444, he was promoted to bishop of St. Asaph. In 1450, he became bishop of Chichester, and in 1454, he was made a member of the Privy Council.
   Because his writings were so controversial, Pecock was expelled from the Privy Council just three years after he was made a member. At the same time his works were examined before Archbishop Bourchier. It was found that he was guilty of “[setting] natural law above the scriptures, disregarding the authority of the pope and the saints, and . . . writing on these important matters in English” (Kunitz 1952, 398). The latter was deemed a transgression because it allowed lay people, who were not theologically trained, to consider difficult spiritual questions, which could lead them into heresy. Pecock was condemned for heretical opinions and given the choice of public recantation or burning at the stake. He gave a public recantation at St. Paul’s Cross on Sunday, December 4, 1457. He chose to abjure his works and delivered 14 of his books to be burned. He was stripped of his bishopric and sentenced to Thorney Abbey, Cambridgeshire, to spend the rest of his life in seclusion and deprived of books and writing materials. Pecock’s works were written in defense of the orthodox church that ultimately condemned him. In his earliest extant work, The Reule of Crysten Religoiun, Pecock tries to use persuasion to convince the Lollards that natural law is higher than that of the Scriptures. Even in this early work, Pecock offended orthodox believers, but because of his connections to the house of Lancaster, there was no immediate retaliation.
   His two best-known works were the Donet (ca. 1440) and its supplement, The Follower to the Donet (ca. 1454). They were written as a dialogue between father and son and served as an introduction to the chief truths of the Christian religion. The Repressor of Over Much Blaming of the Clergy (ca. 1449) was arguably Pecock’s most important work and was written as a defense against the Lollardist arguments. He states he will examine 11 of their objections, but only analyzes six and refers to other works for the other five. In this work, some of the points he considers include the Lollardist oppositions to “images, pilgrimages, clerical endowment, ecclesiastical hierarchy, papal authority, and the religious orders” (Pearsall 1999, 423). In the Book of Faith (1456), Pecock examines “faith and the roles of reason and scriptural authority” (Ousby 1993, 728). He came close to stating that faith can be established by rational argumentation. This was the work that culminated in his examinations by church authorities. Pecock spent his life writing religious works in defense of orthodox religion. Ironically it was this devotion that forced him to make the decision between his life’s work and his life.
   ■ Brockwell, Charles W. Bishop Reginald Pecock and the Lancastrian Church: Securing the Foundations of Cultural Authority. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1985.
   ■ Brockwell, Charles W., Jr. “The Historical Career of Bishop Reginald Pecock, D.D.: The Poor Scholeris Myrrour or a Case Study in Famous Obscurity,” Harvard Theological Review 74, no. 2 (April 1981): 177–201.
   ■ Kunitz, Stanley J., and Haycraft, Howard, eds. British Authors Before 1800: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: The H.W.Wilson Company, 1952.
   ■ Ousby, Ian. The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
   ■ Pecock, Reginald. The Reule of Crysten Religioun. Edited by William Cabell Greet, ed. EETS, o.s. 171. London: Oxford University Press, 1927.
   ■ Pearsall, Derek, ed. Chaucer to Spenser: An Anthology ofWritings in English 13751575. Oxford/Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1999.
   Malene A. Little

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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