Never God-bereft: allegory and agency in late medieval literature

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2025-05-24

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2023

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For Augustine, Scripture resounds like a Bach cantata. At every moment, its allegories reverberate with many voices. In the Psalmist David’s voice we hear Christ’s, in whose voice we hear the Church’s, in whose voice we hear the saved or sinful soul. Voices—persons—agencies are in allegory distinct yet simultaneously entwined. I argue that such allegorical multivocality, in which voices, persons, and agencies are intermingled, affords a means to understand our shared agency and life with God. My dissertation explores this claim through two late medieval texts. In the anonymously authored fourteenth-century poem Pearl, the polysemy of memory reveals the polysemy of allegory and agency. Through recursive recollection the dreamer finds that his grief and despair are threaded through with God. Likewise Julian of Norwich’s Revelation of Divine Love declares that even in deepest sin God is present. We have no autonomous, sin-stained selfhood, no self- and sin-defined meaning to our lives apart from an allegorical and Christological hermeneutic. Altogether our texts attest to our deep-grounded life in God. However dark our grief and despair, and however deep our sin, we are never God-bereft.

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Li, Shirley Yueling (2023). Never God-bereft: allegory and agency in late medieval literature. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/27708.

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