Hello Lords and Ladies, learned and lewed, and all those who reject or object to those stated binaries!
For this opening blog post, I would like specifically to bring up Gower’s treatment of the Church in his prologue to Confessio Amantis, as it highlights some really core issues at the bedrock of what we’re looking at throughout this course, and it it demands attention and focus.
Specifically, Gower brings up problems and complaints that he refuses to offer solutions or remedies for, and a locus for these is education, learning, and knowledge. He complains of the various sins of the Church, focusing on their greed and materialism and their tendency to twist biblical passages and use their authority to secure their material positions. He even likens them to shepherds, only negatively; shearing their sheep and beating the troublesome ones while quaking in fear from a wolf.
But unsatisfied with merely describing a hard place to be in, Gower applies the rock. He speaks negatively of the Lollards, who attempted to translate the Bible directly into English, and thereby undermine the Papal power directly. While this should be perfectly in line with his distrust of the current power structure, he refers to it as causing schisms and being heresy. Later, when Daniel explains Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he refers to the feet of clay as symbolizing how division will cause strife and downfall, neatly referencing the Lollardy earlier.
Gower sets up learning and knowledge to be inherently politicized; to take part in rendering the Bible into English is considered heresy to a structure that Gower himself has little love for. However, as that would cause division, which Gower repeatedly and firmly condemns as being the worst state for any sort of nation to be in. This neatly also divides the reader between trying to deal with two different problems – shoring up the divide caused by this new learning and dealing with the corrupt Church. Is Gower advocating for a sort of Hobbesian social contract theory, where being unified is more important than being good? Is he trying to get at something else? When knowledge and learning has bundled with it real worldly power, can an educator possibly be politically disinterested, and even if so, should they be? Questions of the political ramifications of learning never really go away, so what functions are they serving here?