In Salvation and Sin, David Aers continues his study of Christian theology in the later Middle Ages. Working at the nexus of theology and literature, he combines formidable theological learning with finely detailed and insightful close readings to explore a cluster of central issues in Christianity as addressed by Saint Augustine and by four fourteenth-century writers of exceptional power.
Salvation and Sin explores various modes of displaying the mysterious relations between divine and human agency, together with different accounts of sin and its consequences. Theologies of grace and versions of Christian identity and community are its pervasive concerns. Augustine becomes a major interlocutor in this book: his vocabulary and grammar of divine and human agency are central to Aers’ exploration of later writers and their works.
After the opening chapter on Augustine, Aers turns to the exploration of these concerns in the work of two major theologians of fourteenth-century England, William of Ockham and Thomas Bradwardine. From their work, Aers moves to his central text, William Langland’s Piers Plowman, a long multigeneric poem contributing profoundly to late medieval conversations concerning theology and ecclesiology. In Langland’s poem, Aers finds a theology and ethics shaped by Christology where the poem’s modes of writing are intrinsic to its doctrine. His thesis will revise the way in which this canonical text is read. Salvation and Sin concludes with a reading of Julian of Norwich’s profound, compassionate, and widely admired theology, a reading which brings her Showings into conversation both with Langland and Augustine.
“David Aers’s Salvation and Sin is an important and provocative book. It throws a particularly enticing gauntlet down to medievalists, daring us to return with Aers to the primary texts, to think with key authors, and to subject literary texts to a logical scrutiny as powerful as that we apply to theology. Beautifully organized and written, his book is a model of scholarship in its learning, clarity, and humility.” — Lynn Staley, Colgate University
“In Salvation and Sin Aers continues to break new ground in his ongoing discussion of Christology and ecclesiology in medieval literature and culture. His reading of Langland and Julian is rooted in a bold and refreshing approach to Augustine that serves as a powerful corrective to the dominant, Pelagian view of theology in Piers Plowman, one that leads the reader to embrace a new understanding of how Langland imagines divine will and human agency.” — Jim Rhodes, Southern Connecticut University
“David Aers does not reconstruct an Augustinianism for the fourteenth century—an exercise that would have been an ode to an empty abstraction. Instead he begins with a profound reading of Augustine’s own struggle to acknowledge the patient work of grace. He then goes on to refract this reading through the theological inventions of William of Ockham, Thomas Bradwardine, William Langland, and Julian of Norwich. The result is, at one level, a rich grammar of incipiently modern theologies; at another, it is the amplification of an original inspiration. Some of our best theologians are apparently residing in English departments.” — James Wetzel, Villanova University
“In this exploration of the intersection of the late medieval literature and theology, Aers continues a discussion he most recently undertook in Sanctifying Signs: Making Christian Tradition in Late Medieval England. The book’s five chapters focus on the themes of sin and conversion in selected theologians and in Piers Plowman. . . . Aers takes frequent, fruitful digressions into theology and effectively demolishes any monolithic view of late medieval religious thought.” — Choice
“Like every one of its predecessors for thirty years and more, this is an important book. It is hard to exaggerate how gripping Aers’s writing can be or how precisely grounded and inexorable his conclusions can seem. Here is an exegete worthy of his grand theme, who writes only of matters that passionately concern him, for whom late-medieval religious thought still deserves the respect of deep analysis and critique, and whose ethical and critical intelligence are a constant challenge to fellow practitioners.” — Speculum
“In Salvation and Sin, David Aers examines with uncompromising clarity and depth the subject that inspires two of the greatest pieces of extant Middle English literature: Piers Plowman and the Showings of Julian of Norwich. His approach is to examine first selected writings of Augustine whom scholars quote as the foundation of medieval religious thought, then two fourteenth-century theologians, Ockham and Bradwardine, before embarking on the two literary works.” — Parergon
“This study stands strong as a personal, interesting, detailed and highly scholarly reading of fourteenth-century theologians conversing with Augustine (directly and through Aers’ role as a moderator in the debate). . . ." — Review of English Studies
“In its five thick, substantial chapters, one of the most theologically astute medievalists of this generation offers a commanding, even authoritative conspectus on late medieval theology in the English context. Aers’s important and engaging book is amply and meticulously supported with textual references, astute annotations, good bibliography, and a useful index.” — Modern Theology
“This is a highly specialized and also a highly personal book. David Aers . . . investigates the difficult and hotly debated aspects of sin, divine grace and salvation with special reference to Piers Plowman and Julian of Norwich. In his discussion, he offers a wide panorama of theological commentaries, ranging from Augustine to Karl Barth (and beyond).” — The Medieval Review
“It is impossible in a short review to do justice to the details of Aers’s arguments, the rigor of his analysis, and the passion of his convictions. His brilliant reading of Augustine is profound, subtle, and often highly moving . . . His Augustinian understanding of salvation and sin offers a great deal of fresh insight to the major writers whose work he studies as though the fate of our very souls depends on getting the theology right.” — Journal of English and German Philosophy
“In this provocative work, David Aers reassesses the traditional understanding of Augustine’s post-Pelagian soteriology and then employs this evaluation to discern the degrees of Augustinian convergence or divergence by the fourteenth-century English writers William of Ockham, Thomas Bradwardine, William Langland, and Julian of Norwich. This book is laudable for its fresh attention to the essential role Christology plays in the late Augustine doctrine of grace and anti-Pelagian polemics. Equally praiseworthy are its penetrating analyses of Bradwardine, Julian, and especially Langland regarding their distinct vocabularies and grammar of sin, agency, and conversion.” — Sixteenth Century Journal
“David Aers’s new book offers a ‘Prelude’ on Augustine’s theology of agency, grace, and sin, and chapters on Ockham and Bradwardine, the Samaritan Passus in Piers Plowman, and Julian of Norwich, concentrating on her idea of the ‘beastly’ and the ’godly’ will in man. Aers brings out expertly the Augustinian dynamics of conversion, mediated by persons and processes, with its Christ-centered sense of salvation in and through a community, which is set against the self-loving secular city, and of sin, especially sin grown habituated and systemic, that has a destructive impact on community and individual.” — Medium Aevum
“Aers offers an intensely focused study of the use of medieval theology in vernacular writing. He passionately approaches each of his subjects, particularly Augustine and Langland, through a nuanced and sophisticated analysis of a number of important theologians and vernacular literary texts and in the process suggests their ongoing relevance to medieval studies. Aers’s book is an important addition to both literary and theological study, and his call to take up primary sources with renewed interest is an invaluable one that highlights the importance of theological debates to the understanding of fourteenth-century vernacular culture.” — Journal of British Studies
“David Aers’s latest journey toward ecclesiological understanding makes for an intriguing read. In five densely argued and heavily documented chapters, he provides close and passionately engaged readings.” — Studies in the Age of Chaucer