Evil in Three Persons: Judas Iscariot and Middle English Christian Community

Bell, Holly, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Holsinger, Bruce, Department of English, University of Virginia

Evil in Three Persons argues that Middle English religious texts in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries imagine and construct Christian communities in relation to Judas Iscariot, betrayer of Christ. Whether the communities exclude Judas as a distant third person, embrace him as a first-person member, or seek him as the disguised, insidious threat within, a second person, the texts negotiate between horizontal loyalty to fellow Christians and vertical loyalty to God and spiritual authority. These loyalties are demonstrated largely by affect, and the texts encourage their audiences both to feel and to perform feelings before and with their communities. In the South English Legendary, Christian communities show horizontal loyalty by expressing hostility against their saints’ enemies, such as Judas, even though spiritual authority figures preach patience and forgiveness. In the Voyage of St. Brendan, Brendan shows horizontal loyalty by pitying the damned Judas and relieving his suffering even though doing so undermines divine justice. Anxiety about interfering with God’s judgment suggests a problem of vertical loyalty in the practice of suffrages for the dead. While horizontal loyalty prevails in the SEL and the Voyage, the Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ associates horizontal loyalty with heresy and with Judas’s feigned concern for the poor, suggesting horizontal loyalty is only pretense to disguise vertical disloyalty. Christians should feel loyal to their fellows only as a function of their loyalty to the orthodox Christ via the Church. Exemplarity is at issue here, whether the negative exemplarity of Judas or the sometimes exemplarity of saints. Saints are liminal figures, mediating between God and humans, sometimes preferring vertical loyalty and sometimes horizontal.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Middle English, religious, Christian, community, affect, evil, exemplarity, Judas, performance
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