This chapter juxtaposes Bernard Gui's accounts of heretic speech in his Inquisitor's Handbook with William Thorpe's personal narrative of his interview with Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury. Gui's thirteenth-century text is a surprisingly rich source for medieval linguistic and pragmatic ideas. His accounts of dialogues with suspected heretics reveal how pragmatic ideas and analysis informed the official Church's view of heretics’ uses of equivocation, hedging, and recontextualization as strategies for evading examiners’ questions and establishing speaker agency. Thorpe's early fifteenth-century narrative describes his use of similar discursive and conversational strategies to evade Arundel's repeated calls that he affirm or disavow his heretical views.
Keywords: heretic speech, equivocation, echoic speech, pragmatics, Bernard Gui, William Thorpe, conversation analysis
In 2011 Barry Bonds, US Major League Baseball's all-time homerun slugger, was convicted of “providing evasive testimony to a federal grand jury” in 2003 at the height of baseball's steroid era. Before he testified in court, Bonds promised to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Prosecutors also argued, unsuccessfully, that Bonds should receive a fifteen-month prison sentence for “his pervasive efforts to testify falsely, to mislead the grand jury, to dodge questions …” (New York Times, 16 December 2011). As a result of his conviction, Bonds’ batting records now come with an asterisk.
Cooperation, truth telling, and sincerity are values prized in not only western law and Gricean pragmatics but also by medieval inquisitors investigating people's orthodoxy and defending the faith. Bernard Gui and Olivi, for example, would likely agree with Grice's Maxim of Quality: “Try to make your contribution one that is true.” subdivided as a) “Do not say what you believe to be false.” and b) “Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence” (Grice 1975). And like the prosecutors in the Bonds case, medieval theologians, theorists, lawyers, and inquisitors took a dim view of evasive testimony and deceptive speech as well as heterodox and nonconformist behaviors. For them, evasive and deceptive speech violated the commonly presumed or institutionally imposed communi intentiones of the European Christian faithful.
As we seek to grasp the scope of medieval pragmatic thinking, the status of vague, ambiguous, or uncooperative speech opens an intriguing and complex space for reading how pragmatic ideas and metapragmatic thinking informed both orthodox and heterodox discourses.