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Atonement of Christ, Christianity, mystery plays


The English Corpus Christi plays were a vibrant expression of late medieval Christianity, but they did not survive the Reformation. Many Protestant reformers opposed religious drama altogether, but there were some attempts by reformers to edit the plays and recast them in a Protestant mold, attempts which were ultimately unsuccessful. This paper examines one such attempt and finds that the problem went far beyond obvious references to, and representations of, specifically Catholic beliefs. Focusing on representations of the Atonement in the York and Towneley plays, I found at least four distinct theological approaches to this central concept of Christian theology, approaches not only found side by side, but interwoven. This theological eclecticism may have increased the plays’ didactic effectiveness, appealing to a diverse audience, but it also sealed their fate at a time of intense focus on doctrinal orthodoxy.