William Langland ‘The Visions of Piers Plowman’ Passus 18

This text opens a selection of the texts titled “Christ’s Humanity”, showing the shift that took place from the 12th century on in theology and worship, emphasizing the human nature of Christ, especially regarding his suffering on the cross. Believers were encouraged to meditate upon Christ’s passion and empathize with him. The new kind of devotion put more emphasis on the emotional identification with Jesus and less on theological disquisitions.

In Passus 18, Langland describes the vision he has of Christ’s passion, using material from the Gospel and the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. In his vision Jesus becomes almost identical with Piers, but the relationship between these two is kind of difficult to pinpoint. The excerpt starts with Christ’s entrance to Jerusalem, which is described in terms of a knight’s entering the tournament, where he is going to joust with the Devil in Piers’s armour, that is his body. So it seems like Piers at this point in the poem Piers stands for human nature, which Christ assumed through Incarnation. What follows is the account of Christ’s passion: the trial, death, and piercing of his side by a Roman soldier named Longinus who (this is the apocryphal element) was blind and was cured by Jesus’ blood.

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