From the Vulgate to the Vernacular: Four Debates on an English Question c. 1400

Edited by
Elizabeth Solopova, Jeremy Catto and Anne Hudson

Studies and Texts 220; British Writers 7 • cxxxvi, 216 pp. plus 8 b&w plates • ISBN 978-0-88844-220-8 • Cloth • $150

Co-published with The Bodleian Library (ISBN 978-1-85124-563-5)

Translation is at the centre of Christianity, scripturally, as reflected in the biblical stories of the Tower of Babel or of the apostles’ speaking in tongues after the Ascension, and historically, where arguments about it were dominant in councils, such as those of Trent or the Second Vatican Council of 1962–64, which privileged the use of the vernacular in liturgy.

The four texts edited here discuss the legitimacy of using the vernacular language for scriptural citation. This question in England became central to the perception of the followers of John Wyclif (sometimes known as Lollards): between 1409 and 1530 the use of English scriptures was severely impeded by the established church, and an episcopal licence was required for their possession or dissemination. The issue evidently aroused academic interest, especially in Oxford, where the first complete English translation seems to have originated. The three Latin works presented here survive complete each in a single manuscript. Of these texts, two, written by a Franciscan, William Butler, and a Dominican, Thomas Palmer, are wholly hostile to translation. The third, the longest and most perceptive, edited here for the first time, emerges as having been written by a secular priest of impressive learning, Richard Ullerston; his other writings display his radical, but not unorthodox opinions. These are joined here by an English work, a Wycliffite adaptation of Ullerston’s Latin.

The volume provides editions and modern translations of these texts, together with an introduction explaining their context and the implications of their arguments, and encouraging further exploration of the perceptions of the nature of language that are displayed there, many of which, and notably of Ullerston, are in advance of those of contemporaries.


Elizabeth Solopova is a Research Fellow and lecturer of the English Faculty, University of Oxford. Her work has focused on Old and Middle English language and literature, and more recently on the text and historical context of the Wycliffite Bible. She has published on Chaucer, medieval maps, the language and style of medieval English poetry, English and Latin biblical and liturgical manuscripts, and the origin, production, dissemination and use of the Wycliffite Bible. She currently leads a group of scholars working on new editions of the Wycliffite Bible and closely related academic and liturgical texts.

Jeremy Catto (1939–2018) was Fellow Emeritus of Oriel College in the University of Oxford. A late medievalist with research interests in the history of scholarship, universities, heresy and orthodoxy, he was editor of The Early Oxford Schools (1984) and co-editor (with Ralph Evans) of Late Medieval Oxford (1992), the first and second volumes of The History of the University of Oxford. His published essays range in subject from the political thought of Aquinas to the theology of Wyclif, and also touch on patronage, preaching, and law, as well as ‘practical Latin’ and formal English.

Anne Hudson is a Fellow of the British Academy, Professor Emerita (personal chair) of Medieval English at the University of Oxford, and an Honorary Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Her scholarship, recognized by many national and international awards, established the study of the Wycliffite movement as an academic field. In addition to foundational work on the texts published here, she has explored at length and in detail the writings of John Wyclif and his followers, including those in continental Hussite Latin manuscripts, and has researched and edited a number of extensive English texts, many of them based on Latin models. She currently collaborates with Elizabeth Solopova on the study and editing of the Wycliffite Bible and texts it inspired.


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