Riches and poverty in English protestant culture, c.1550-1800: Vernacularising the parable of Dives and Lazarus

Journal article


Hitchcock, D. and Waddell, B. 2024. Riches and poverty in English protestant culture, c.1550-1800: Vernacularising the parable of Dives and Lazarus. The English Historical Review. https://doi.org/10.1093/ehr/ceae080
AuthorsHitchcock, D. and Waddell, B.
Abstract

The story of the rich glutton Dives and the poor beggar Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) was a popular subject in sermons, pamphlets, poems and ballads in early modern England. This article is the first substantial analysis of how the short but powerful biblical narrative was adapted and explained over the course of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It shows that – despite the huge religious, social and economic changes of this period – the message remained remarkably consistent. The beggar Lazarus himself was always depicted as a straightforwardly positive figure, offering an unusually clear association of poverty with virtue. However, many authors also used him to present a model of acceptable behaviour that imposed severe limits on the agency of the poor, and some turned him into a foil to sharply criticise those who failed to conform to such a model. Meanwhile, most portrayals of the rich man Dives presented his sinful misuse of his wealth as a lesson about not only the dangers of luxury but also the virtue of charity. A few authors offered more extreme interpretations that fit with their specific circumstances, including radical condemnations of the rich and powerful during the mid-seventeenth century political unrest. However, even more noticeable is the striking resilience of a very ‘traditional’ core message, which previous scholarship on early modern religious attitudes towards wealth and poverty has tended to neglect.

KeywordsCultural history; Early modern; United Kingdom; Protestantism; Parable; Religious culture; Social history; Poverty; Wealth
Year2024
JournalThe English Historical Review
PublisherOxford University Press
ISSN0013-8266
1477-4534
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1093/ehr/ceae080
Official URLhttps://academic.oup.com/ehr/advance-article/doi/10.1093/ehr/ceae080/7686510
Publication dates
Online02 Jun 2024
Publication process dates
Accepted02 May 2024
Deposited05 Jun 2024
Accepted author manuscript
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File Access Level
Open
Output statusPublished
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