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BOOK I.: ON THE WRITINGS OF WYCLIFFE STILL IN MANUSCRIPT. - John Wyclife, Tracts and Treatises of John de Wycliffe 
Tracts and Treatises of John de Wycliffe, D.D. with Selections and Translations from his Manuscripts , and Latin Works. Edited for The Wycliffe Society, with an Introductory Memoir, by the Rev. Robert Vaughan, D.D. (London: Blackburn and Pardon, 1845).
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ON THE WRITINGS OF WYCLIFFE STILL IN MANUSCRIPT.
In this section the attention of the reader will be directed in the first place to the pieces written by Wycliffe in English, and which, for the most part, were addressed alike to the clergy, to the opulent among the laity, and to the people at large. Even these pieces, though the most popular of the Reformer’s productions, were they printed entirely and to the letter, would prove wearisome to most readers in our day, partly from the obsoleteness of their language and allusions, and partly from the frequent repetitions of thought and illustration with which they abound. Such iteration of great principles served an important end in the history of the Reformer, but cannot contribute to the agreeableness of his writings as read by men in different circumstances, and in a later age. My impression is, that the attentive reader may form as correct a judgment in respect to the writings of Wycliffe from the present volume, as would be acquired by an immediate perusal of the whole of his works; nothing characteristic of those works, so far as my knowledge extends, being wanting in the descriptions here given of them, and the selections here made from them.
I.Expositio Decalogi.a Wycliffe wrote several expositions of the Decalogue. One forms a part of the collection of treatises, under the title of “The Poor Caitiff:” another, of much greater extent, in Latin, is preserved in the Bodleian Library. Similar thoughts and passages appear in all these pieces. From internal evidence, I conclude the piece from which the following passages are selected to be one of the Reformer’s earlier productions, of much the same period probably with the several tracts in The Poor Caitiff.
In the prologue to this exposition, Wycliffe laments that men should be found calling God master, and professing to honour “his Son from heaven,” and for “forty, threescore, fourscore years,” be ignorant of his “ten commandments.” He exhorts his reader, accordingly, after this wise, “If thou wilt be God’s servant, begin and think how thou camest first into this world; how thou wast born of thy mother with pain and sorrow, poor, feeble, and unable to help thyself. Think how thou art set here in this wretched world, to sweat and toil for thy sustenance. Think also that thou shalt go out of this wretched world, poor and naked as thou camest in;—and that thou shalt have nothing with thee of thy goods, save thy good deeds or thy wicked.” He then speaks of the “high bliss of heaven,” and of “the pains of hell,” as supplying motives to the obedience required. The signs of not being in deadly sin are said to be “when a man will gladly and willingly hear the word of God; when he knoweth himself prepared to do good works; when he is willing to flee sin; when a man can be sorry for his sin,”
The great obligation of man is said to be, that he should honour and love God supremely; but to this end it is necessary that he should “hear the commandments of God read, preached, and taught, and do after them as God hath bidden. But what man is there now-a-days that dreadeth to break God’s commandments, or setteth any price by the sweetest word or the sharpest word in all God’s law? Dear God, it is a wonder of all wonders on earth, that from the beginning of our life even to our last end, we are never weary, either night or day, to labour about worldly goods, pleasing to our wretched body, which shall last here but a little while; but about the learning of God’s commandments, which shall be food and nourishment for our souls that shall ever last in bliss or pain, about such things may we not labour truly to the end even one hour of the day?” This introduction concludes with an expression of regret and sorrow that the conversation of “bishops, parsons, priests, and friars,” no less than that of the people generally, had respect everlastingly to trifles and vanities, “without a word of God or his commandments.”
In the exposition of the first commandment, men are exhorted to obedience to the Divine will, as procuring them “a part in all the good prayers, and good deeds of all saints, from the beginning of the world to the last end, and to the everlasting bliss of heaven.” The precise meaning of this passage is not easily determined, but from the manner in which Wycliffe expresses himself on doctrine of this nature in his undoubted works, and in works belonging no less certainly to the later period of his life, I am disposed to trace this obscurity of language on a point of so much importance, to the partial light which had fallen on the mind of the Reformer when committing it to writing. In the same connexion sanction is given to a worship of images, and to the invocation of saints. By these “dead images,” the laity, and the more ignorant especially, are said to learn “how they should worship the saints in heaven, after whom those images are shapen.” We know that the term worship was commonly used in the age of Wycliffe to denote nothing more than a decent reverence or homage, and had no necessary connexion with the idea of worship in a religious sense. But the following passage, from the same connexion, while it points to these different uses of the term worship, leaves the word applicable in its higher sense to the regard which should be paid to saints: the man is said to have “a false god” who “worshippeth or prayeth to an image made of man, with that worship and prayer that is due only to God, and his saints.” This piece bears internal marks of being from the pen of Wycliffe, its thoughts, illustrations, and language, being in many instances strictly such as we find in his other writings: but, for the reason stated, the above passages oblige us to attribute it to a comparatively early period in his history. This circumstance, however, adds to the interest of the work, in place of detracting from it, inasmuch as we possess ample means of illustrating the opinions of the Reformer in his later years, while the lights relating to his doctrine at an earlier period are few and feeble. In the present treatise we may trace many of the seeds of his ultimate principles, and, above all, the eminently devout spirit in which he prosecuted his inquiries.
Thus the man who would be obedient to the command which requires him duly to honour God, is reminded that “he must steadily believe, that Almighty God in Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, three persons in one God, are the noblest object that may be, so that all power, all knowledge, all wisdom, all goodness, all charity, all mercy, is in him, and cometh of him. Also, thou must fear God before all things in this world, and break his commandments for no worldly good. Also, thou must love God before all things, and labour earnestly to understand and know his will; that thy will may be so ruled and set that it may ever accord with God’s will. Have a mind also of the goodness of God, how he made thee in his own likeness, and how Jesus Christ, both God and man, died so painful a death on the cross, to buy man’s soul out of hell and to the bliss of heaven, with his own heart’s blood!” All trust in amulets, or the devices of magic, is described as so much weakness and impiety: and the question is asked—“Since men dread so much the pope’s cursing, the bishop’s cursing, and other priests’ cursing, why do not men fear the rightful, the dreadful, and the terrible cursing that God giveth to those who will not keep his commandments?”
In regard to the second commandment, “all men and women who would be called Christians, and who live contrary to the living and teaching of Christ and of his apostles, take God’s name in vain; for it is in vain for a man to say that he is a Christian, when he doeth not the works of Christ.” Men are further chargeable with taking God’s name in vain when they indulge in profane or unlawful swearing. He then cites certain canons which menace profane swearers, if ecclesiastics, with “degradation,” and if laymen, with “excommunication;” and adding to that authority the authority of our Lord in his sermon on the mount, he remarks—“These are Christ’s own words in his Gospel, and therefore for love of him who for you shed his blood, beware henceforward night and day of your oathes swearing, and always that you swear not in vain, and much more, that you swear not falsely, for a great clerk hath said, he that sweareth falsely maketh God false, for he maketh God the author of falsehood.”
Four excuses urged by profane swearers are then mentioned and refuted. It was pretended that even such mention of the name of God tended to keep him in the thoughts of men, and was so far good. In the same manner, it is replied, it must be good that a conspirator should make mention of the name of his sovereign, though it should be only to betray him. The force of custom was pleaded:—“So the thief might say, I have had so long a custom of theft, that I cannot cease to steal other men’s goods.” The third excuse was, “that God is merciful, and will hardly damn men for a light oath.” But the parties making this excuse are reminded—“Since God is so great a Lord, and commandeth his liege men on pain of hell without end, to keep so easy a commandment as refraining his tongue from vain and false swearing, he is worthy to be damned the deeper if he breaketh it. It was little in Adam to eat an apple in paradise without the forbidding of God: nevertheless for the eating it against the forbidding of God he and all mankind were justly condemned, till Christ bought them again with his precious blood and hard death upon the cross.” The fourth excuse of the profane is—that they swear in order to be believed. But such swearing is described as treachery towards God, and as poor evidence of trustworthiness toward man. Adverting to the prevalence of this vice, even among the servants and retainers of the clergy, he exclaims—“Surely it is wonder, apart from the endless mercy of God, that the earth openeth not and swalloweth them quick into hell for this treason and others beside!”
On the precept concerning the Sabbath-day, it is observed that this day should be kept by “three manners of occupation.” First, it should be kept in thinking—“thinking how God is Almighty. Why? because he made all this world of nought. He is All-knowing. Why? because he governs all things most wisely. He is All-good. Why? because he maketh all things turn to the profit of good men who faithfully love him. He is All-just. Why? because he rewardeth all good deeds, and punishes all trespasses, in due time, and in due measure, both secret and open, and no creature may withstand his punishing, neither in earth, in purgatory, nor in hell. He is All-merciful. Why? because he is readier to receive sinful men to grace, that would truly leave their sins, than they are to ask mercy.”
On Sunday it should be matter for our meditation, that creation was completed on that day, that Christ rose from the dead on that day, that knowledge and wisdom came to the earth by the descent of the Holy Spirit on that day, and that on that day, “as many clerks say, shall be doomsday—for Sunday was the first day, and Sunday shall be the last day.”
“And bethink thee heartily of the wonderful kindness of God, who was so high and worshipful in heaven, that he should come down so low, and be born of the maiden, and become our brother to buy us again by his hard passion, from our thraldom of the devil. He was beaten, buffeted, and scourged. He was crowned with a crown of thorns for despite, and when the crown, as clerks say, could not sit fast, and close down to his head, for the long and stiff thorns, they took staves and beat them down, till the thorns pierced the place of the brain. He was nailed hand and foot, and with nails sharp and rugged, that his pain should be the more, and so at last he suffered a painful death, hanging full shamefully on the hard tree. And all this he did and suffered of his own kindness, without any sin of his own, to deliver us from sin and pain, and to bring us to everlasting bliss. Thou shouldst also think constantly, how, when he had made thee of nought, thou hadst forsaken him, and all his kindness through sin, and hadst taken thee to the devil and his service, world without end, had not Christ, God and Man, suffered this hard death to save us. And thus shouldst thou see the great kindness, and all other goodness that God hath done for thee, and learn thereby thy own great unkindness, and thou shalt thus see that man is the most fallen of creatures, and the unkindest of all the creatures that ever God made. It should be full sweet and delightful to us to think thus on this great kindness and this great love of Jesus Christ.”
The second occupation proper to the Sabbath, is said to consist in speaking. This should be first in confession of sin, made immediately to God—confession of having lived a false, sensual, and unnatural life, neglecting the study and the observance of his will, after the manner of the brute. This confession being made, Wycliffe’s counsel to the penitent is, that he should “cry heartily to God for grace and power to leave all sin, and ever after to live in virtue. And after this be about with thy speaking to bring thy neighbours to better living. And if they are at debate, bring them by thy power to love and charity and concord. If thou be a priest, be a true lanthorn to the people, both in speaking, and in doing truly all things that belong to a priest. And seek wisely the ground, and the true office of priesthood, and be thou not led blindly by the lewd customs of the world; but read God’s law, and the exposition of holy doctors thereupon—study it, learn it, and keep it; and when thou knowest it, preach it to them that are unknowing, and look evermore that thy deeds be so rightful, that no man may blame thee with reason.”
The third manner of occupying the Sabbath-day, was to be careful to attend public worship; to endeavour to bring pure motives to the service of God; and that the mind may be in its best state for attending to the duties of that day, it is urged that there be little indulgence in the pleasures of the table. After public worship, says the Reformer, “visit such as are sick or in mischief, especially those whom God hath made needy by age, or by other sicknesses—the feeble, the crooked, the lame: these thou shalt relieve with thy goods after thy power and after their need, for thus biddeth the Gospel. But thou shalt not do so to strong and mighty beggars well arrayed, whether they be laymen, priests, or friars. And so men should not be idle, but busy on the Sabbath-day about the soul, as men are on the week-day about the body.”
On the precept concerning the honour to be rendered to parents, it is remarked, that we have three fathers—our natural father; the priest by whose means we become the spiritual children of the church; and our Father in heaven.
The mutual obligations of children and parents, are judiciously explained and earnestly enforced. “Thy second father,” says Wycliffe, “is thy ghostly father, that hath special care of thy soul, and thus thou shalt worship him—thou shalt love him before other men, and obey his teaching, in so far as he teaches God’s law, and shalt help, according to thy power, that he may have a reasonable maintenance, when he doth well his office. And if he fail in his office, by giving evil example, and in ceasing from teaching God’s law, thou owest to have great sorrow on that account, and to tell meekly and charitably his default to him, between thee and him alone.”
It will be seen from this extract, that Wycliffe had not proceeded so far at the time when this treatise was written, as to counsel, and even to urge strongly, as he did afterwards, the withholding of maintenance from priests habitually delinquent.
Concerning our third Father, the Reformer writes, “He is best of all,” and for his sake his true children are prepared to meet all suffering, and even death itself.
On the remaining precepts the observations are of a general nature, and present little remarkable.a But it is thus the Reformer expresses himself at the close of the work:—
“Many think if they give a penny to a pardoner, they shall be absolved of breaking all the commandments of God, and therefore they take no heed to keep them. I say thee for certain, though thou hire priests and friars to pray for thee, and though thou hear every day many masses, and found chauntries and colleges, and go on pilgrimage all thy life, and give all thy goods to pardoners, all this shall not bring thy soul to heaven. But if thou keep the commandments of God to thy life’s end, though thou have neither penny nor halfpenny, thou shalt have everlasting pardon, and the bliss of heaven!” Christ, it is added, said, “Suffer for me as I have suffered for thee, for it behoveth the members to follow the head. Jesus Christ is our head, and we are his members, if we do well. What apostle, martyr, confessor, or virgin, or saint, ever came to God without suffering? Then what shall we wretches say, that herein read the lives of saints, which through many torments went to God joying and singing. We wretches that bear falsely the name of Christian men, when only touched by a little short breath of our neighbour’s tongue, we lose charity and patience, and mindfulness of our death, of the quaking judgment, of the day of doom, of the everlasting pains of hell, of the everlasting joys of heaven!”
II. In a manuscript volume in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, including a series of the most interesting of the tracts and treatises published by Wycliffe in English, the first in order is a piece intitled, De Hypocritarum Imposturis. It consists of a commentary on the text, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,” and is meant to identify the mendicant orders with that sect of ancient religionists, in respect to their want of sincerity. It begins with the words, Christ commandeth to his disciples, and to all Christian men, to understand and flee the sour dow of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.b The volume has been injured by damp, and nearly the whole of the first page is illegible. In a portion of that page remaining, the Reformer speaks of the importance of “bringing men cleanly to the Gospel, and the peace and freedom of Christ’s order, that being the most perfect, and the most easy to win heaven by.” The treatise extends to twenty-two pages, double columns, in quarto, and from its reference to the papal schism, and to the disputes concerning the eucharist, it manifestly belongs to the later period of the Reformer’s life.a
“See now,” he writes, “where these friars break falsely all the commandments of God. If they choose to be ruled more after the ordinance of sinful men and idiots, than after the clean ordinance of Christ; and say that sinful man’s ordinance is better, and truer for man, and more perfect than is the clean ordinance of Christ—then they worship false gods, and are heretics and blasphemers, and so they break the first commandment of God. If they dread more, and punish more for breaking of sinful man’s traditions, than for breaking the commandments of God; and study and love more their private rules, than the hestsb of God, then they worship, love, and dread sinful man, and, it may be damned devils, more than God Almighty—for as Austin saith, a man maketh that thing his God the which he dreadeth most and loveth most.”
“If they hinder curates and poor priests from teaching man God’s law, by hypocrisy and help of Antichrist’s laws, for dread lest their hypocrisy be perceived, and their winning and worldly pride laid down, they are cursed manquellers,c and the cause of the damnation of all the souls that perish through their default in not knowing and keeping God’s commandments. If they preach principally for worldly muck and vainglory, and so preach to be praised of men, and not simply and plainly the Gospel of Christ for his glory, and gaining of men’s souls, they are corruptors of God’s word, as Paul saith.”
Of the clergy generally, he remarks, that a schism having grown up in the papacy—
“One part holdeth with one pope, and the other with another pope, and each party saith, and teacheth as belief, that this pope is true, and none other, and that all who believe not so are accursed heretics, and out of belief, and are bringing all others out of belief. And yet they in common judge both parties as Christian men; and so they say one thing and do the contrary.”
It is in the following terms that he exhorts men to Christian fidelity:
“It is cowardice in Christ’s disciples if they spare for bodily pain and death to tell openly the truth of God’s law. And therefore telleth Christ afterwards to his disciples, that they should dread God and nothing else sovereignly.a Sothely,b saith Christ, ‘I say to you, my friends, Be ye not afraid of them that slay the body, and after these things have no more which they shall do. But I shall show to you whom you shall dread: dread ye him who after he hath slain, he hath power to send into hell; and so I say to you, Dread him.’ Here Christ will that men dread no thing principally, but God and his offence. For, if men dread bodily pains and death, and therefore cease to tell openly the truth, they are with this unable to regain the bliss of heaven, and if they say openly and sadlyc the truth of God, nothing may harm them, so that they keep patience and charity.”
He then remarks, that what our Lord spoke concerning the sparrows, was to “comfort his disciples” under suffering and persecution; and adds, that “nothing may come without his knowing and his ordinance, and that it is all for the best.” Christ, he writes, “maketh us willing to die for his law by reward of the bliss of heaven, when he saith thus, that such as acknowledge me before men, man’s Son shall acknowledge him before the angels of God.” Towards the close of the treatise, the Reformer indulges in much lamentation over the sale of benefices, said to be common everywhere, but most common at Rome, “where he who can bring most gold shall soonest be opened to great benefices.” The men so introduced are described as setting “an example of pride, lechery, and other sins, hindering other true priests from teaching God’s law. And this is one way of greatest vengeance which God taketh on sinful men, to suffer such hypocrites to rule the people, and draw them to hell by withdrawing from them God’s law.” In common speech, such men were described as “able curates, and great men of holy church;” but such language the Reformer denounces as “Antichrist’s blasphemy.”
Having censured the vices, not only of the mendicants, but of the regular clergy, he extends his rebuke to “secular lords.” These also are said to “fail foul in charity.” In maintenance of their worldly dignity they will labour much, and fight valiantly; “but to maintain God’s law, and to stand for the worship to which they are bound upon pain of losing their lordship, and body and soul in hell without end, who is that lord will truly speak, labour, and suffer meekly, despite of persecution, in time of need? Those lords ought to quake against doomsday, and against the time of their death, that travail more largely to maintain their little worldly lordship, and to seek their own worship, than they travail to maintain the rightful ordinance of Jesus Christ in his church, and to nourish and maintain Christian souls in good governance and holy life.” Merchants, and all classes, are said to be affected by this insincere and worldly temper, “but the hypocrisy of the Pharisees is the most accursed and poisonous of all.”
III. The next treatise in this collection is intitled, De Obedientia Prelatorum. The English title is, How men owe Obedience to Prelates, &c. It begins with the words, Prelates slander poor priests, and other Christian men, that they will not obey to their sovereigns, nor fear the curse, nor dread nor keep the law, but despise all things that are against their liking.a On this account they are said to be “worse than Jews and Pagans, and all lords, and prelates, and mighty men should destroy them, for else they will destroy holy church, and make each man to live as him liketh, that so they may the more destroy Christendom.”
“But here poor priests and true men say they would meekly and willingly obey to God and holy church, and to each man in earth, inasmuch as he teacheth truly God’s commandments, and profitable truth for their souls. And no more oweth any man to obey to Christ, God and man, nor to any apostle. And if any worldly prelate axeth more obedience, he surely is Antichrist, and Lucifer’s master, for Jesus Christ is the God of righteousness and truth, and peace and charity, and may not do against righteousness and truth, nor against the health of man’s soul, nor against charity, since he may not lie nor deny himself. How then should any sinful prelate charge and constrain men to do against righteousness, and the health of their souls in good conscience? For Christ saith in the Gospel of John, that the Son may not do but that thing which he seeth the Father do; and therefore Christ commanded all men that they should not believe in him, but as he did the works of the Father in heaven. Why then should Christian men be constrained by Antichrist’s clerks to do after their commandments, when they do no works of God, but works of the fiend? And thus Christ speaketh to the Jews, and axeth why they believe not to him, if he saith truth. Therefore, also, Christ saith to the Jews, Who of you shall reprove me of sin? and he would that each man had so done, if he might have done so truly. Therefore in the time of his passion he said to the bishop’s servant who smote him in the face, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear thou witness of the evil.’ And thus, if prelates are vicars of Christ, they ought to follow him in this obedience, and axe no more of any man.”
Wycliffe then complains that prelates should thus demand greater reverence and submission than had been claimed by the apostles, or by Christ himself, while their life commonly bore so little resemblance to that of the Redeemer. He bids them remember that “Christ, God and Man, sought man’s soul, lost through sin, thirty years and more, with great travail, and weariness, and many pains, by many thousand miles upon his feet, in great cold, and storm, and tempests!” To this example, it is contended, his vicars should be, at least in some good measure, conformed: and it is demanded with some warmth, “Why should a sinful idiot claim more obedience than did Christ and his apostles?”
It is maintained further, that no man should leave the greater duty in favour of the less, and the duty to continue to preach the Gospel must be more manifest, than the obligation to obey any summoning from prelates who would gladly prevent such preaching. This summoning of prelates, he insists, “is not grounded in Christ’s life, nor in the life of his apostles, nor in reason, but in Antichrist’s power, through the endowing of the church with secular lordship contrary to Holy Writ. Thus, instead of Christ’s meekness, and poverty, and charity, and true teaching of the Gospel, is brought in the worldly pride of priests, and simony, and covetousness, and dissension among Christ’s people, and bodily tormenting of them by priests, as though they were worldly lords of the king’s liege men.” Concerning such men, as putting forth such claims, he demands—“Where are more false Antichrists, more poisonous heretics, or more accursed blasphemers?” The maxim expounded in the next section is, that “no man oweth to put God’s biddings behind, and the biddings of sinful man before;” and since God biddeth every man to discharge his natural obligation to wife and children, all contrary bidding notwithstanding, much more is every priest bound to the discharge of his spiritual duties toward the flock committed to him, and not to “leave his sheep unkept among the wolves of hell.” Prelates may enjoin the contrary, but in such case no prelate is to be obeyed. “Christ, also, saith in the Gospel, that if the blind lead the blind, they fall both into the lake. These worldly prelates are blind in God’s law, both in the knowing thereof and in life, and accordingly no man should be led by them, for dread lest they both fall into hell-ward, for ignorance of Holy Writ.
“By reason, also, and by man’s law, if a man be summoned together by the higher judge and a less, he shall be excused from the less by virtue of the higher. But each man is summoned first of God to worship him with all his wit, and with all his might—and by virtue of this chief dominion, he oweth to be excused from the less.
“Men of law say, and reason also, that it is worst of all to take doom under a suspected doomsman. But these worldly prelates are suspected doomsmen against God’s servants, for they are enemies to the persons of Christ’s servants, and also to the cause of God. And the new religious assessors of these worldly prelates are more to be suspected than any other, for they put the decrees of the church and of their founders before the law of God, and thus charge deficiency and evil on the author of Holy Writ, deceiving lords and ladies in matters of faith and charity, and making them to trust that it is alms to destroy true men, that stand fast for God’s law and true living. And thus the damnable ignorance of God’s law, and the accursed life of these worldly prelates, and the strong maintaining of their own sin, and the sins of other men, is the cause why poor priests and Christian men have been suspected of heresy, and counted enemies both of God’s cause and of his servants.
“But let prelates study busily and truly Holy Writ, and live openly well thereafter, and destroy open sin of other men, and poor priests and Christian men, without any summoning, would with great travail, and cost, and willingness, by land and by water, meekly come to them, and do them obedience and reverence, as they would to Peter and Paul. Let the world judge whether these divisions come from worldly prelates, ignorant, and cursed in life, or from poor priests and true men that fain desire night and day to know God’s will and worship, and to do it before all things.
“As to cursing,a Christian men say truly, that they dread it so much, that they would not willingly, or knowingly, deserve God’s curse for any good in earth or in heaven: nor man’s curse, in so far as it accordeth with the rightful curse of God. But they will, with great joy of soul, rather suffer man’s wrongful curse, than knowingly or willingly break any commandment of God, for to win thereby all the worshiping of this world, and to keep their body in all good never so long, and rather to suffer slandering, and backbiting, and imprisoning, and exile, hanging, drawing, quartering, and burning, with the help and grace of God, than to forsake the truth of Holy Writ, and the life of Christ.
“As to law, true men say, that they will meekly and wilfully dread and keep God’s law, up to their knowledge and might; and each law of man’s making, in so far as they know that it accordeth with God’s law, and reason, and good conscience. Christian men know well from the faith of Scripture, that neither Peter nor Paul, nor any creature, may do aught lawfully against the truth of Holy Writ, nor against the edification of holy church—that is, against the good teaching, governing, and amending of Christian souls. What power have these worldly prelates to make so many wicked laws, since God curseth those who make wicked laws, and commandeth that no man shall add to his words, nor take from them, on pain of the great curse of God?—that is to say, let no man add a false interpretation,a or a false gloss to Holy Writ,—for then, as Jerome saith, he is a heretic; and let no man draw any truth away from God’s words, for they include all needful truth, all truth profitable for man’s soul. And to this intent saith Paul in his epistle, if even an apostle, or an angel from heaven, preach other thing than is taught of Christ and his apostles, we must not obey.”
Having insisted in such terms on the sufficiency of Holy Scripture, and the right of private judgment, as opposed to all church pretensions, he concludes this treatise by saying, “Let worldly prelates cease to slander poor priests, saying that they will not obey their sovereigns, nor dread the curse, but despise the law—for in these three things they are clear before God and man, if right, and reason, and charity, be well sought.”
IV. The next treatise in this series is intitled, De Conversatione Ecclesiasticorum. Its purport is indicated in the words with which it commences—Here it telleth of prelates, that prelates leave preaching of the Gospel, and are ghostly manquellers of men’s souls.b The former treatise related to the obedience which prelates were wont to demand; the present relates to the duties devolving on that order of persons, and to their negligence in the matter of those duties. It is in this respect that this piece “On Prelates” is distinguishable from the piece “On Obedience to Prelates.” The strictures of the Reformer on this subject extend to forty-three chapters.
In the first chapter it is shown that our Lord and his apostles were devoted to the work of preaching, and were studious that their lives might be commendatory of their doctrine. “Christ,” it is said, “ordained all his apostles and disciples, both before his death and after his rising from the dead, to preach the Gospel to all men; and since prelates and priests, ordained of God, come in the stead of apostles and disciples, they are all bound by Jesus Christ, both God and man, thus to preach the Gospel.” Three things are said to be included in feeding the church after the manner intended by Christ in his injunction to Peter: the example of a good life; the true preaching of the Gospel; and a willingness to suffer death, if need be, to render men stable in the truth, and in the hope of bliss. The case of Eli and his sons is cited, as showing the domestic and national evils which follow naturally in the train of an unholy priesthood. The language of Ezekiel also, on the responsibility of the minister of truth, is adduced, as holding forth the same warning. Hence also the language of the apostle—“woe is me if I preach not the Gospel:” and as Peter was called Satan, when opposing himself to the death of Christ, so may prelates be thus designated, if they interpose to prevent that salvation from coming to men, which the death of Christ has brought near to us. “Christ,” says Wycliffe, “purged the temple with his own hands, as the Gospel telleth, in token that, if the priests were good, the people would soon be amended. And for this reason, true men say, that prelates are more bound to preach truly the Gospel, than their subjects are bound to pay them dymes;a for God chargeth that more, and that is more profitable to both parties. Therefore prelates are more accursed if they cease from their preaching, than the people are if they cease to pay tithes, even while prelates do their office well.” Matins, masses, and chantings, are all described as “man’s ordinances,” but the preaching of the Gospel is of Divine obligation, as having been enjoined by Christ, both before and after his passion.
In the beginning of the second chapter, the authority of the venerable Bede, of Gregory I., of Augustine, and others, is cited in support of the importance which the Reformer ascribes to preaching. Prelates who do not preach themselves, and who prevent others from doing so, are described as monsters who refuse to feed their own offspring, and who will not suffer others to feed them: and they are denounced accordingly, as “procurators to the fiend, enemies of Christ, and traitors to his people!”
In the third chapter, Wycliffe censures, with great freedom, the gay equipage, the profanity, the gluttony, and drunkenness, of many among the prelates, and speaks of their establishments, and their general manners, as proclaiming them members of the “devil’s church,” rather than of “holy church.” Prelates, he writes, “rob the poor liege men of the king by false excommunications, put forth under colour of holy correction, but giving men leave to dwell in sin from year to year, and from one seven years to another seven years, and commonly all their life long, if they pay by year twenty shillings, or something more or less.” It is then calculated, that should certain bishops live as vendors of this art of merchandise through twenty years, they must amass not less than sixty thousand marks, “all robbed from the king’s liege men.” In this manner, “these wicked prelates sell Christian men’s souls to Satan for money, for which souls Christ shed his precions heart’s-blood upon the cross;” and if secular lords endeavour to amend this state of things, then they are slandered, accursed, and their lands are laid under an interdict; “and thus almost all men are conquered to the fiend, and these prelates show themselves very Antichrists, procurators of Satan, and traitors to Jesus Christ and his people.” One prolific source of this corruption, is said to be the prevalence of simony. Most of these dignitaries enter upon their office by such means, and it is said to cleave to them “as a leprosy all through”—a depraved priesthood everywhere producing a depraved people. Lords and ladies who confer benefices on such men, and after such fashion, are admonished, that however plausibly such things may be done, the guilt of simony is upon them, and such proceedings will remain “to be judged in respect to both parties” in the last day.
In the fourth chapter, Wycliffe says, “Lords and ladies who hold curates in worldly offices, from the souls of which they have the care, are traitors. For God giveth them lordship and presentation of churches, that they should maintain his law, and help true priests in the preaching of his Gospel; and if they withhold curates, who are God’s treasure, in their worldly services, or prevent them from keeping Christian souls, the which Christ bought with his precious blood, they are foul traitors to Jesus Christ, and to the people whom they thus destroy.” But if it is a great sin in the laity thus to bind the clergy to secular things, it is a greater sin in the clergy to consent to be thus bound, and a greater sin still, when a clerk descends to add craft to worldliness, and to play the false confessor for gain. These “three treasons” are said to be frightfully prevalent. “But the simony of the court of Rome doth most harm, for it is most common, and done most under the colour of holiness, and robbeth most our land, both of men and treasure.” The customary exactions of the Roman see are then described and censured, especially because those exactions, and the money spent in journeying to Rome, and during the delays which kept men there, were all so much wealth lost to the kingdom. “When a lord hath the gold for presentation, then the gold dwelleth still in the land. But when the pope hath the first-fruits, then the gold goeth out, and cometh never again.”
But the purchase of benefices with money was only one form of simony. “Pardons, if they are aught worth, must be free, and to take money for them, is to sell God’s grace, and so simony.” Hence masses, and other services, “for which money is taken,” are spoken of as so much fraudulent invention, meant to give the priesthood the power of spoiling the people. The history of Jeroboam, and the fall of Gehazi, and of Simon Magus, are cited as showing the displeasure with which simoniacal preachers are regarded by the Almighty. “The king and lords,” says the Reformer, “are charged of God to destroy this sin and others, and if they do it not, they are consenters to it, and fauterersa thereof.”
The following passage is from the seventh chapter of this work:—
“Worldly prelates command that no man shall preach the Gospel, but at their will and limitation, and forbid men to hear the Gospel on pain of the great curse. But Satan in his own person never dared do so much despite to Christ or his Gospel, for he applied Holy Writ to Christ, and would have pursued his intent thereby. And since it is Christ’s counsel and commandment to priests generally to preach the Gospel, and this thing they must not do without leave of their prelates, who, in some cases, may be fiends of hell, then it follows that priests may not do Christ’s counsels and commandments without the leave of fiends! Ah! Lord Jesus, are these sinful fools, and, it may be, fiends of hell, more knowing and mighty than thou, that true men must not do thy will without leave from such? Ah! Lord God, all-mighty, all-knowing, and all full of charity, how long wilt thou suffer these Antichrists to despise thee and thy holy Gospel, and to let the health of Christian men’s souls? Endless, rightful Lord! this thou sufferest for sin reigning generally among the people; but, endless, merciful, and good Lord, help thy poor wretched priests and servants to have love and reverence to thy Gospel, that they be not let from doing thy worship and will through the false feignings of Antichrist and his fiends. Almighty Lord God, merciful, and in knowledge endless, since thou sufferedst Peter and all the apostles to have so great dread and cowardice in the time of thy passion, that they fled all away through fear of death, and for a little poor woman’s voice, and afterwards by comfort of the Holy Ghost thou madest them so strong that they were afraid of no man, nor of pain, nor of death, help now by gifts of the same Holy Ghost, thy poor servants, who all their life have been cowards, and make them strong and bold in thy cause, to maintain the Gospel against Antichrist, and against all the tyrants of the world!”
In the two following chapters, the same subject is continued. Prelates are rebuked as men deriving their chief revenue from the sins of the people. It is because there are so many sins to be confessed, that “the rotten penny” is demanded continually: and by such means “a proud name in the world, and great householding,” are sustained. Clerical example, which should conduce to the edification of the people, contributes, in such case, to their destruction. Many of the sins of such men “are so open, that it needeth no man to declare them; but of sin against chastity, men say that many prelates are full thereof, and of the most cursed species thereof, such as it would be a shame to write; and so curates take example from them, and subjects take example from curates, both wedded men and single.”
In the ninth and tenth chapters are the following passages:—
“These prelates charge more their own cursing, that is many times false, than the most rightful curse of God Almighty. And hereby they mean, and show indeed, but falsely, that they are more than Almighty God in Trinity. For if a man be accursed of prelates, though wrongfully, anon all men are taught by them to flee him as a Jew or a Saracen. And if he dwell forty days under their curse, he shall be taken to prison. But they who are cursed of God for breaking his commandments, as proud men, envious, covetous, gluttons, the unchaste, are not punished thus, but holden virtuous and manly. So God’s curse is set at nought, while the wrongful curse of man is charged above the clouds. And yet, though a man be accursed of God, and of a prelate also, if he will give gold he shall be assoiled,a though he dwell in his sin, and so under God’s curse.
“But see now the sinfulness of man’s curse. If a true man shall displease a worldly prelate by teaching and maintaining God’s law, he shall be slandered for an evil man, and forbidden to teach Christ’s Gospel, and the people shall be charged upon pain of the greater curse, to flee, and not to hear such a man, for to save their own souls. And this shall be done under the colour of holiness; for they will say that such a man teacheth heresy, and bring many false witnesses and notaries against him in his absence, and in his presence speak no word. And they pretend, by means of this invented and false law, that if three or four false witnesses, hired by money, say each a thing against a true man, that then he shall not be heard, though he could prove the contrary by two hundred.”
In this manner did the Reformer plead for natural right, and liberty of conscience, against the abuses of power on the part of a worldly and vicious clergy. To concede that such methods of proceeding are just, he remarks, would be to concede the justice of the death inflicted on the martyrs, and on Christ himself, against whom it must, of course, have been easy to produce three such witnesses. By such means, indeed, it were easy to prove “each king of Christendom foresworn, and therefore no king.” But as the judgment of Elijah prevailed against that of eight hundred false priests, so shall the judgment of one true man prevail against that of a host of prelates; and if “the clerks of Antichrist curse the soul into hell, as they pretend, surely they are evil fathers, who thus violently curse their own children into hell—not for rebellion against God, nor against his law, but because Christian men withstand the prelates’ covetousness or pride, or because they teach and maintain the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In the next chapter Wycliffe touches on the subject of prayer, on its nature, and its supposed efficacy. “Prayer,” he remarks, “standeth principally in good life, and of this prayer speaketh Christ, when he saith in the Gospel that we must ever pray. For Augustine and other saints say, that so long as a man dwelleth in charity, so long he prayeth well.” Prayer is also said to “stand in holy desire,” and “in word;” but prayer in word “is nought worth, unless it be done with devotion, and cleanness, and holiness of life. Ah! Lord, since prelates are so far from God’s law, that they will not preach the Gospel themselves, nor suffer other men to preach it, how abominable is their prayer before God Almighty! Lord, since prelates know not whether their prayer be acceptable or abominable, why do they magnify it so much, and sell it so dear? For the prayer of a lewda man who shall be saved, is without measure better than the prayer of a prelate who shall be damned.” Vicious priests, it is observed, “need to have new laws, made of sinful fools, to colour their sin by, and to gather greedily tithes, when they do not their office; for God’s law helpeth them not thereto, but condemns their pride, covetousness, and other sins.” He then combats the notion that such men are heard “not for their own holiness,” but “in virtue of holy church;” and replies to this “dreaming,” that it is “not grounded in Holy Writ, for God saith generally that such prayer is abominable.” The offering of strange fire on the ancient altar, betokened the offering of prayer without charity.
In the twelfth chapter Wycliffe resumes his censure of the prelates who fine, curse, and imprison men, for preaching the Gospel, and who grant absolutions to the most guilty, on payment of the required “rent to Antichrist.” Coercion, he maintains, “belongs to lord’s office, as Peter and Paul teacheth,” and all punishing of the body, and loss of goods, should come from the secular power only.
The thirteenth chapter exposes the frauds practised in the matter of indulgences. Prelates are said to “destroy foully Christian men by these feignedb indulgences or pardons.” Such men are described as holding out this promise of indulgence as procured “by virtue of Christ’s passion and martyrdom, and holy merits of saints, which they did more than was needful for their own bliss.” But this doctrine, it is replied, “Christ taught never in all the Gospel, and never used it, neither Peter nor Paul.” Some of these indulgences, it seems, were granted in terms extending over a thousand years, and Wycliffe ridicules such grants by reminding those who value them, that “after the day of doom there will be no purgatory, and no man knoweth how soon that doom may come.” But the Reformer pushes his argument on this subject to a length which his opponents must have felt to be not a little inconvenient. “It seemeth that the pope and his are all out of charity, if there dwell any soul in purgatory. For he may with full heart, and without any other cost deliver them out of purgatory.” To confess the want of inclination in this particular, Wycliffe argues, must be to confess a gross want of charity; and to confess the want of power must be to confess the hypocrisy which makes pretension to such power. Allusion is made to the manner in which these indulgences were dispensed in favour of the recent crusade in Flanders, conducted by Spencer, bishop of Norwich, when it was seen that their use was “not to make peace, but dissensions and wars.” The whole system of indulgences, and pardons, is denounced as “a subtle merchandise of Antichrist’s clerks, to magnify their counterfeit power, and to get worldly goods, and to cause men not to dread sin.”a “Marvellous it is that any sinful fool dare grant anything on the merit of saints, for all that ever any saint did may not bring a soul to heaven without the grace and might of Christ’s passion.” In that passion, it is maintained “all merits that are needful” will be found, and the judgment of God hereafter will not be found to have been influenced by the caprice or the biddings of man. Wycliffe concludes this instructive chapter by praying that God would of his endless mercy “destroy the pride, covetousness, hypocrisy, and heresy of this feigned pardoning, and make men busy to keep his commandments, and to set fully their trust in Jesus Christ.”
From prelates at home, Wycliffe proceeds to touch on the pretensions of the great prelate abroad—this he does in the following terms: “Also prelates make many new points of belief, and say it is not enough to believe in Jesus Christ, and to be christened, as Christ saith in the Gospel of Mark, unless a man also believe that the bishop of Rome is head of holy church. And certainly the apostles of Jesus Christ never constrained any man to believe thus concerning himself. And yet they were certain of their salvation in heaven. How then should any sinful wretch, who knows not whether he shall be damned or saved, constrain men to believe that he is head of holy church? Certainly, in such case, they must sometimes constrain men to believe that a devil of hell is head of holy church, when the bishop of Rome shall be a man damned for his sins.”
In this bold manner did the genius of our Reformer separate between the institutional and the moral, the political and the spiritual, in the religion of Christ, inculcating that no reverence should be evinced towards mere office, if not allied with the spirit proper to it—the irreligious man who assumes a religious office, becoming only so much the more guilty, and the more despicable in so doing. It is not difficult to see that this one principle included the germ of all subsequent revolution in religious usage and opinion. Heavily does the Reformer complain of the arrogance which required that the people should not presume to judge in respect to the life or doctrine of the clergy, while Paul from the third heavens, and Jesus Christ, God and man, challenged such scrutiny from friends and foes. But the intention of this doctrine is said to be, that men “may not reprove such persons for any sin whatsoever which they may do;” and that good men may not presume to preach the Gospel except as bad men shall give them permission, which, according to the right of private judgment, as held in fact, though not in terms, by Wycliffe, was to place the authority of Satan before the authority of Christ.
Nor was it enough that this description of clergymen should claim exemption from all popular censure,—they affected the same independence of the highest authorities, and in respect to civil matters no less than the religious. “Prelates most destroy obedience to the law of God, for they say that they are not to be subject to secular lords, to pay them taxes, or to help the commons; and are not to be amended by their subjects (people) of their open sins, but only by the pope who is their sovereign, and he by no man on earth, because he is the greatest of all.” But the men who avow this doctrine are reminded that Christ paid tribute to a heathen emperor, and to his religion or church, when it was demanded of him, though “he had no secular lordship, nor plenty of tithes, and much more therefore should these rich priests” be made to comply with such demands.
In the twenty-second chapter the Reformer resumes his strictures on the pretensions of the sovereign pontiff. It is said openly, he observes, “that there is nothing lawful among Christian men without leave of the bishop of Rome, though he be Antichrist, full of simony and heresy. For commonly, of all priests he is the most contrary to Christ, both in life and teaching; and he maintaineth more sin, by privileges, excommunications, and long pleas; and he is most proud against Christ’s meekness, and most covetous of worldly goods and lordships.” He is described as the head and representative of all the corruptions by which the ecclesiastical system was disfigured; and to subject the church to such a sovereignty, it is added, must be assuredly to subject her to the power of Antichrist.
In the two subsequent chapters Wycliffe rebukes those martial prelates whose passions tended to destroy the men, body and soul, whom they should have saved; and renews his lamentations that simony should be allowed so greatly to deprave both priest and people, and to transfer the wealth of the country to the coffers of its enemies. In the twenty-sixth chapter he writes, “Prelates say, that Holy Writ is not sufficient to rule holy church, and that the teachers thereof are not profitable to the people.” But to this, it is replied, that “it is the pride of Lucifer, and even greater pride than his, to say that the teachers of man’s traditions, made of sinful fools, are more profitable and needful to Christian people than the preachers of the Gospel.” If Christ has not made his law complete, it is argued that this must be either because he could not or would not. But to say either of these things, would it not be “to put a foul heresy on Christ?” This nevertheless is done—done “secretly to maintain their own covetousness and pride.” In the two following chapters, it is lamented that notwithstanding the clearness of such arguments, men are found “leaving Holy Writ and reason, for feigned dreams and miracles—and sinful man’s traditions full of error:” while prelates convert secular lords into destroyers of men’s souls, by converting them into the persecutors of men who preach the Gospel.
In the thirtieth chapter Wycliffe remarks, “Worldly prelates say, that since the people should worship Gregory, and Peter and Paul and other true apostles of Christ, and as they themselves come into the place of apostles, then the people should worship them after the same manner. But they take no account how those apostles came to their state by choosing and ordaining of God, and by holy life and true service which they did to Christian people, in true teaching of the holy Gospel, both in word and deed.” Adverting to the reasonable claims of the clergy on their people, the Reformer observes, “It is good that Christian priests should have worldly goods for their necessary livelihood, and clothing, as Paul teacheth, and reason.” But the inordinate wealth of the clergy is said to have filled them with pride, to have rendered them the victims of lust, and to have raised a Bible made up of man’s traditions, into the place of the true Bible.
In the remaining portion of this work, Wycliffe insists that it is just and scriptural thus to rebuke a vicious clergy. “Christ and his apostles reproved Pharisees, and Herod, and heretics, in their absence and before the people, as the Gospels and Epistles witness, and this was for our example, to be followed with charity and discretion.” Were it not so, a depraved priesthood might be left to “wax rotten in their lusts, rob the people, and destroy Christendom:” and however agreeable such exemption may be to such men, it does not comport with the sense of public duty in some other men that they should be left in the enjoyment of it.
Masses, pardons, and pilgrimages, all are described as “novelties,” the effect of which is, “to make people believe that if a priest say a certain mass for a soul, it shall anon be out of purgatory, though God in his righteousness ordain that soul to abide there forty year or more, and though the priest himself be accursed for simony and pride, for, as they falsely pretend, the mass may not be impaired by the priest’s sin.—Prelates blaspheme against God, the Father of heaven, by taking to themselves the power which belongs only and especially to God—that is, the power of absolving sins, and the full remission of them. For they take on them principally to absolve, and make the people to believe so, when they have only absolved as vicars, or messengers, to witness for the people that God absolveth on contrition, or else neither angel, nor man, nor God himself absolveth—unless the sinner is contrite, that is, fully have sorrow for his sin.”
The treatise concludes thus—“In these three and forty errors and heresies, men may see how evil prelates destroy Christendom—for of them and no other is this speech—and how they are the cause of wars, and of evil life in the people, and of their damnation. God of his might and mercy amend these errors, and others, if it be his will!”
V. The next piece in the collection under review is intitled, Speculum de Antichristo. Its title in English is, How Antichrist and his clerkes feren treue priests from preaching of Christ’s Gospel by four deceits. It begins with the words, First they say that preaching of the Gospel maketh dissensions and enmity.a
In answer to this first “deceit,” it is said, that “Christ came not to make peace for sinful men, by leaving them to live in their fleshly lusts, and worldly joy, at their liking.” Christ means his people to be in peace only as they are holy.
The second “deceit” is, “that many men will be damned notwithstanding the hearing of the Gospel, and the more damned because they hear God’s word, and do not thereafter.” The reasoning cited on this point is of the true Antinomian complexion, neutralising precept by speculations about necessity. But it is contended that men should continue to pray and preach, even to enemies, assured that as they so do “fewer will be lost, and more will be saved.” Even concerning the reprobate it is observed, that “sometimes they have compunction, and leave their sins for a long while, and that to them is better than all this world. And God giveth to each man free will to choose good or evil, and God is ready to give them grace if they will receive it. And in this life they do many good deeds of kind,a and because of them they shall have much reward in this world, and at the last a less pain in hell. And it is a great vengeance from God when he withdraweth preaching from a community, accounting them not worthy to hear his word; and wherever a gathering of people is, there is commonly some good done, and for those who will receive the word principally men preach it.” But if none will hear, it is admitted that from such a people, after apostolic example, the preacher should turn away. The reader will not fail to mark the moral discrimination which is blended with this treatment of a subtle theological question. It has been too much the practice of divines to estimate the moral and immoral in the unregenerate by the same rule.
The third “deceit” is, “that good men shall be saved though there be no preaching, for God saith they may not perish; while some wicked men shall never come to bliss for any preaching on earth. Here true men say that as God hath ordained good men to come to bliss, so he hath ordained them to come to bliss by preaching, and by keeping his word. So as they must needs come to bliss, they must needs hear and keep God’s commandments, and to this end serveth preaching with them. And some wicked men shall now be convinced by God’s grace and hearing of his word; and who knoweth the measure of God’s mercy, or to whom the hearing of God’s word shall be thus profitable? Each man should hope to come to heaven, and should enforce himself to hear and to fulfil the word of God. For since each man hath a free will, and chooseth good or evil, no man shall be saved except he that readily heareth and steadily keepeth the commandments of God, and no man shall be damned except he that wilfully and endlessly breaketh God’s commands.” It is very difficult to ascertain the real opinions of the Reformer on topics of this nature as set forth in the Latin of his more scholastic pieces. The preceding observations furnish one of the most explicit expositions of his views that I have met with.
The fourth “deceit” is, when it is said, “that men should cease from preaching, and give themselves to holy prayers and contemplations, because that helpeth Christian men more, and is better.” But in answer, “true men say boldly that true preaching is better than prayer by the mouth, or though it should come from the heart and from pure devotion, and that it edifieth more the people. Therefore Christ especially commanded his apostles and disciples to preach the Gospel, and not to shut themselves up in cloisters or churches to pray as some men. Hence Isaiah cried, ‘Woe is me that I was still;’ and Paul says, ‘Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel.’ Devout prayer in men of good life is good in certain time; but it is against charity for priests to pray evermore, and at no time to preach, since Christ chargeth priests to preach the Gospel, more than to say mass and matins.” These enlightened views concerning the paramount importance of preaching, exhibit the mind of Wycliffe as some two centuries in advance of his age; but he cites Gregory and Jerome in support of these opinions, and as censuring customs which deprived society of the benefit of good examples, and led to much sin in the way of omission.
VI. We next come to the treatise intitled, Of Clerks Possessioners. Its object is to expose the irreligion which, in the view of the Reformer, had resulted from the inordinate wealth, and the secular jurisdiction of the clergy. It consists of forty chapters.a
In the commencement, St. Augustine, St. Gregory, and St. Bernard, are introduced as censuring the secular lordship of the clergy, declaring it to be opposed to the design and precepts of the Gospel. Clerks who live “a lustful and worldly life,” are said to declare, that “the life and example of Christ are not a sufficient rule,” and in so doing proclaim them as “strong heretics.” Such men are “traitors to God, to lords and to the common people.” To God they show themselves traitors by deserting his law; to lords by cursing them unless they are prepared to maintain what is called holy church; and to the people by deceiving them, “teaching them openly, that they shall have God’s blessing, and bliss in heaven, if they pay truly their tithes and offerings to them.” These persons are described as preferring “the smiles of sinful man, to the smiles of Christ, God and man;” as coming in “under colour of saints,” and as living a life contrary to that of their professed patrons; and this fact is said to account for the attempts made by pretended devotees to falsify the lives of their founders.
Some men of this class are said to attempt a justification of their assuming a secular lordship by appealing to the example of Christ; “But Christ saith in the Gospel of St. John, that his kingdom is not of this world. And by worldly lordship he had not once where to rest his head. Therefore it is heresy to put this secular lordship on Christ.” Worldly jurisdiction, it is argued, must bring with it worldly and distracting duties, which Christ and his disciples knew not—such as must unfit men “for studying and teaching Holy Writ,” and be unfriendly to “devotion, and prayer, and meditation, and heavenly sweetness.” Such occupations, indeed, cannot fail to ensnare men to “simony, covetousness, gluttony, and idolatry;” disposing persons professing deadness to the world to a life the most worldly; converting men who should be preachers of the Gospel into preachers of fables; and teaching them to fight against the truth, and not for the truth.
It will be seen from these remarks, that under the title of clerks possessioners, Wycliffe included not only the beneficed and higher clergy, but also the opulent religious orders. But while monks and canons profess to take their model from the community of goods in the church at Jerusalem, they are described as destitute of the well-regulated temperance, and the Christian piety, in which that usage originated. Much complaint is made that the private rules of religious sects are made to be of more binding authority than the most manifest precepts of Christ; and that the delinquents who thus place the authority of man before the authority of God, should so commonly betray the nature of the training they receive in their secular offices by becoming persecutors “of good men following the example of Holy Writ, and living poorly and justly, and going about teaching freely God’s law.” Some fraternities among the religious orders are said to possess “many books,” and some copies of Holy Writ, which have come to them by gift or testament; “but they hide them from secular clerks,a and suffer their noble books to rot in their libraries, and neither will profit themselves by studying in them, nor leave them to other clerks that would; so that seculars and clerks may scarcely have a book of value.”
The men who thus subordinate learning, as well as religion, to their love of pomp and indulgence, are reminded that they cannot fail to know from their own laws, as well as from Holy Scripture, that whatever they possess as more than necessary to decent “livelihood,” is not their own, but “poor men’s goods;” and they are admonished, accordingly, to cease their visitings of the great, and to become visitors of the poor, the fatherless, and the widow. The claim of the clergy to be exempt from the loss of their goods by any judgment from the civil power, even “though they should be trespassers by long custom,” is treated as arrogant and unjust, otherwise “God’s law is false, which giveth power to kings and secular lords to punish generally, out-taking no man.”
In the remaining chapters of this treatise the Reformer exposes the folly of supposing that the existing race of clergymen would be found equal to the duties of “two lordships,” the secular and the spiritual, while Christ and his apostles were so careful to avoid such a weight and mixture of obligation. He laments, also, the many instances in which the laws of God are “put aback,” and the laws of men advanced to their place; and all this that priests may be sustained in pleading exemption from the authority of the civil power, and from the usual burdens of the state, and persecuting all good men, who, by living a holy life and preaching truly the Gospel, reprove them for their sins. He concludes the piece, as was his custom, by a prayer. “God Almighty, stir up priests, lords, and commons, to know the hypocrisy, and treason, of Antichrist’s worldly clerks, and to know and maintain the rightful ordinance of Christ, and the profit and freedom of the Gospel. Amen.”
VII. The work intitled De XXXIII. Erroribus Curatorum, has for its English title, How the Office of Curates is ordained of God; and begins thus—For the office of curates is ordained of God, and few do it well, and many full evil.a In the Cambridge Collection this piece follows that “On Clerks Possessioners.” The term curate in this tract is used to denote the regular parochial clergy. This piece, accordingly, relates to the faults of the inferior clergy, as the three preceding pieces related to the faults of their superiors. As may be expected, the same errors come again under review, and much of the same kind of reasoning is employed to expose and correct them. It will be sufficient, in consequence, to cite a few passages. The following extract includes the whole of the first chapter:—
“For the office of curates is ordained of God, and few do it well, and many full evil. Therefore, tell we some of their defaults, to amend them with God’s help.
“First, they are more busy about worldly goods, than about virtues, and the keeping of men’s souls. For he who can best get the riches of this world together, and hold great household and worldly array, he is holden a worthy man of holy church, though he know not the least point of the Gospel. And such a one is up in full favour of the bishop and of his officers. But the curate who giveth himself to study Holy Writ, and teach his parishioners to save their souls, and who liveth in meekness, penance,b and busy travail about ghostly things, and seeketh nought of worldly worship and riches, is holden a fool, and a disturber of holy church, and is despised and persecuted of high priests, and prelates, and their officers, and hated of other curates in the country. And this maketh many curates to be negligent in their ghostly cures, and to give themselves to occupation and business about worldly goods. But these negligent curates think full little how dearly Christ bought man’s soul with his precious blood and death, and how hard a reckoning he will make for those souls at doomsday. Certainly, it seemeth that they are out of the faith of Christian men. For they make themselves not ready to come and answer how they came into their benefices; and how they lived, and taught, and spent poor men’s goods. For if they had this faith ready in their mind, they would begin a better life, and continue therein.”
The following passage is from the twenty-sixth chapter:—
“They (the worldly clergy) are Antichrists, forbidding Christian men to know their belief, and to speak of Holy Writ. For they say openly that secular men should not intermeddle themselves with the Gospel to read it in the mother tongue, but attend to a holy father’s preaching, and do after such in all things. But this is expressly against God’s teaching. For God commandeth generally to each layman, that he should have God’s commandments before him, and teach them to his children. And the wise man biddeth every Christian man, that all his telling be in the commandments of God, and that he have them evermore in his mind. And St. Peter biddeth us, as Christians, be ready to give a reason for our faith and hope to each man that asketh it. And God commands his priests to preach the Gospel to each man, and the reason is, because all men should know it, and rule their life according to it. Lord! why should worldly priests forbid secular men to speak of the Gospel, and of God’s commandments, since God giveth them great wit of kind,a and great desire to know God, and love him? For the more goodness they shall know of God, the more they shall love him; while worldly priests, from their own ignorance, sloth, idleness, and pride, stop Christian men from knowing God, and shut up from them the gifts which God hath given to them. Since the beginning of the world, none have heard higher craft of Antichrist, whereby to destroy Christian men’s belief and charity, than is this blasphemous heresy—that laymen should not intermeddle with the Gospel.”b
The next passage is from the thirtieth chapter:—
“They take not tithes and offerings by form of the Old Testament, parting them in common to all priests and ministers of the church. Nor according to the form of the Gospel, taking a simple livelihood, given of free devotion of the people, without constraining, as Christ and his apostles did. But by the new law of sinful men, one priest challengeth to himself all the tithes of a great country, by a worldly plea, and by new censures; while he neither liveth as a good priest, nor teacheth as a curate, nor giveth the residue to poor men, but wasteth it in pomp, and gluttony, and other sins, and hindereth true priests from doing the office laid on them by God Almighty. Surely it seemeth that these priests are not after God’s law, but after some ordinance of sinful men, and would be masters of God, and lords over Christian people, since they never hold the law of God. And as to tithes, them they take by violence, and by strong curses, against men’s good will, and make the people out of patience and charity by their pleading, and do not well their ghostly office.”a
VIII. It will be seen from these extracts, that the work on the Office of Curates breathes a spirit of earnest piety, and that it gives prominence to the soundest Protestant principle. The piece which is next in succession, intitled, Of the Order of Priesthood,b is of the same complexion, touching vigorously on the same evils, and pointing to the same remedy. The matter of this treatise is divided into twenty-nine sections, or chapters, but, as in the preceding work, with more of the appearance of order than of the reality. It concludes with the following devout appeal:—
“But good priests, who live well, in pureness of thought and speech and deed, and in good example to the people, and who teach God’s law up to their knowledge, and who travail fast night and day to learn it better and teach it openly and constantly, are very prophets of God, and holy angels of God, and spiritual lights of the world, as God saith by his prophets, and Jesus Christ in the Gospel, and saints declare it well by authority and reason. Ye priests, think on this noble and worthy office, and do it readily according to your knowledge and power. Think also, ye lords and mighty men who support priests, how dreadful it is to maintain worldly priests in their lusts, who neither know God, nor will learn, nor live holily in this noble order. For ye may easily amend them, without cost or travail, only telling them that ye will not support them, but as they do their duty, live well, and preach the Gospel. And certainly they would then do so. And think, ye great men, were not this a thousand-fold better than to conquer all the world? Hereby there should be no great cost to you nor travail, but honour to God, and endless good to your ownselves, to priests, and to all Christendom. God, for his endless mercy and charity, bring this holy end! Amen.”
IX. The piece which concludes thus, is followed by a tract intitled, Of Good-Preaching Priests. It begins in the following terms:—“The first general point of poor priests that preach in England is this—that the law of God be well-known, taught, maintained, magnified. The second is—that great open sin that reigneth in divers states be destroyed, and also the heresy and hypocrisy of Antichrist and his followers. The third is—that true peace and prosperity, and burning charity, be increased in Christendom, and especially in the realm of England, for to bring men readily to the bliss of heaven.”a
Then follows a series of articles which expose and reprove existing abuses, and various means are dwelt upon, which, if duly applied, might, with the Divine blessing, go far towards restoring to the Christian religion its primitive simplicity, purity, and devout feeling. Thus it is urged that “the accursed heresy of simony,” so inwrought with all the usages of the clergy, should be destroyed—destroyed alike “in benefices, orders, sacraments, and pardons;” and that “the ravening and extortion of prelates and their officers, which they do under colour of jurisdiction and alms, in the maintaining of sin for an annual rent, and the like, be wisely and truly stopped, and that they be well chastised for thus robbing the king’s liege men.” It is demanded also, “that clerks should be meek and obedient to worldly lords, as Christ and his apostles were, and that they be not nourished in great sin by exemption from the clerks of Antichrist, lest Christian kingdoms be destroyed because of the suffering and maintaining of accursed sin.” The next principle of the needed reformation laid down is—“that Christian men fear more the rightful curse of God, for breaking his commandments, than the wrongful curse of sinful men, who curse men for the true preaching of the Gospel, and the fulfilling of the works of mercy; for God blesseth where they curse.”
It is argued further—“that Christian men of the realm should not be robbed by simony, of the first fruits to go to the bishop of Rome; nor by the bishops at home for the hallowing of churches, altars, and such things; that Christian men should give more heed to Christ’s Gospel and his life, than to any bulls from the sinful bishops of this world, or else they forsake Christ, and take Antichrist and Satan for their chief governor:—that no liege man of the king should be imprisoned for the wrongful cursing of the prelates, while he is ready to justify himself by Holy Writ, and while he does truly his office:—and that whosoever doth most simony, and maintaineth most sin, should be judged, known, and treated, as in the most degree a heretic, as most the adversary of Jesus Christ, and as Antichrist.” Wycliffe then adds, “If any man can prove by Holy Writ or reason that these points are false, poor priests will meekly amend them, and heartily pray all good men to help them in the true cause, for the honour of God, the health of their souls, and the salvation of Christian nations.”
But the Reformer has not concluded his intended series of innovations,—he moves further, “That the alms of lords, given to prelates and the religious upon certain conditions, namely, to feed certain poor men, and to other hospitalities, and to maintain a certain number of good priests, be wisely amended by the king and the lords, whenever those goods are turned into means of pomp, gluttony, lechery, and maintaining of sin:—That the poor commoners be not charged with taxes, while clerks, and mainly the religious, have a superfluity of gold and silver, and such vessels, and other jewels, since all these goods are poor men’s goods, and clerks are not lords of them, but merely procurators to spend them faithfully, according to poor men’s need, as God’s law and man’s law witnesseth:—That the wasted treasure hanging on stocks and stones be wisely spent in defence of the kingdom, and relieving of the poor commons, that the people of our land be not brought to theft nor lechery under the colour of pilgrimage, nor alms be drawn from poor needy men, bought with Christ’s precious blood:—That the clergy of our land be restrained from pride, glorious array, and worldly occupation, and especially that our prelates and curates be charged by the king and lords to teach well their subjects by example of good life, and open and true preaching of the Gospel, as busily and readily as they ask their tithes:—That none of the clergy be hindered from keeping truly and freely the Gospel of Christ in good living and true teaching on account of any feigned privilege or tradition, founded by sinful wretches:—That no priest or religious man in our land be imprisoned without open doom, and true cause fully known to our king, or to his true council; else worldly priests and feigned religious may stop true men from preaching of Holy Writ and magnifying of the king’s regalia, and may condemn the king’s liege men without answer:—That fairs be not allowed on holidays, never on Sundays:—That adultery and open impurity be not suffered in great places in our realm, nor maintained for an annual rent, as that is utterly against God’s bidding:—That worldly clerks, and the feigned religious, usurp not the king’s regalia, nor steal from him his holy power, granted to him of God, for no cursing or hypocrisy, since they are bound to be true to the king, and to forward his worship and the profit of his land:—and that the king and lords govern themselves in their state as God ordained it, in great wisdom, might of men, and sufficient riches, to againstand wrong and misdoers, and in their lordships to help poor men, the fatherless and motherless, and widows and aliens, and to honour and reward true men, and clerks living in meekness, willing poverty, and busy spiritual labour for the help of man’s soul, as Christ and his apostles did.”
X. The next piece, under the title of The Great Sentence of the Curse Expounded, is much more extended than the one preceding it, and throughout is in the same degree pregnant with the seeds of reformation. It begins with the words—First, all heretics againstanding the faith of Holy Writ be cursed solemnly four times in the year, and also maintainers or consenters to heresy or heretics in their errors.a The matter of this treatise is distributed into seventy-nine chapters, and extends to nearly a hundred quarto pages. The reference in the sixteenth chapter to the war then going on in Flanders “for the love of two false priests, who are open Antichrists,” and some other allusions to contemporary events, show that this piece was written by the Reformer not more than two or three years before his death.b The points in this treatise, which engage the attention of the writer, are those which came before the people from quarter to quarter as this periodical anathema was pronounced in their hearing.
The Reformer begins by defining heresy, on the authority of Augustine and other clerks, as “error maintained against Holy Writ.” But our worldly prelates, he remarks, maintain error against Holy Writ “in the matter of preaching the Gospel of Christ, and therefore they are themselves cursed heretics. For when Paul asks how men should preach but as they are sent, they understand that of such men only as are sent by the pope, and other worldly prelates.” On this plea, it is observed, they not only silence many good men, causing the servants of God to depend for liberty to preach on approval from the children of the fiend, but even an angel from heaven would not dare deliver the message of the Almighty to save men’s souls, because some worldly priest has presumed to contravene the commandment of God. But whatever may be the doctrine or practice of the rulers of the church in this respect, “sending by those worldly prelates is not enough, without a sending of God, as Paul saith.” Nevertheless, it is so, that “poor priests are slandered as heretics, accursed, and imprisoned, without answer, forasmuch as they stand up for Christ’s life and teaching, and the maintenance of the king’s regalia.”
According to the “Great Sentence,” all persons were accursed, who should “spoil, or take away any right from holy church, or defraud holy church of any endowment.” On this point, it is remarked, that “Christian men, taught in God’s law, call holy church, the congregation of just men, for whom Jesus Christ shed his blood, and they do not so call stones, and timber, and earthly rubbish, which Antichrist’s clerks magnify more than God’s righteousness, and the souls of Christian men. True teaching is most due to holy church, and is most charged of God, and most profitable to Christian souls. Insomuch therefore as God’s word, and the bliss of heaven in the souls of men, are better than earthly goods, insomuch are those worldly priests who withdraw the great debt of holy teaching worse than thíeves, and more accursedly sacrilegious than the ordinary thief who breaks into churches and steals thence chalices, and vestments, and never so much gold.” The fault, and the just doom of such men, are illustrated by an allusion to feudal relationships. They hold their office to certain ends, such as Christ and the apostles had set before them; and inasmuch as they not only fail to perform the duties of that office, but prevent others who are able and willing to perform them from so doing, they are pronounced traitors to the said lord, and their place is said to be a forfeiture.
The third chapter commences with the often-repeated complaint, that the clergy should so commonly apply the revenues of the church to the purposes of luxury, and neglect the poor. But the heaviest censure in this connexion is directed against the pontiff. “Certainly some men understand that the cruel manslayer of Rome is not Peter’s successor, but Christ’s enemy, and the emperor’s master, and poison under colour of holiness, and that he maketh most unable curates.” Again—“This evil manslayer, poisoner, and burner of Christ’s servants, is made by evil clerks to be the ground and root of all the misgovernance of the church: and yet they make blind men believe that he is head of holy church, and the most holy father, who may not sin!” Grosstetea is mentioned as having been of a different judgment concerning the papacy in his day, and as having expressed that judgment to the pontiff himself with an integrity and fearlessness ever to be admired. The fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters treat of the simony connected with admission to orders, the obtaining of benefices, and the administration of the sacraments. The ecclesiastical system is said to be so constructed in all respects as to favour the enriching of the priesthood, and the plunder of the people. But while the exercise of every priestly function carried its tax along with it, some of its acts imposed a heavier burden than others. “If men foolishly make a vow to go to Rome, or Jerusalem, or Canterbury, or on any other pilgrimage, that we deem of greater weight than the vow made at our christening to keep God’s commandments, to forsake the fiend and all his works. But though men break the highest commandments of God, the rudest parish priest shall anon absolve him. But of the vows made of our own head, though many times against God’s will, no man shall absolve but some great worldly bishop, or the most worldly priest of Rome—the master of the emperor, the fellow of God, and the deity on earth!”
On the sale of masses Wycliffe writes—“Ah Lord! how much is our king and our realm helped by the masses and the prayers of simonists and heretics, full of pride, and envy, and who so much hate poor priests for teaching Christ’s life and the Gospel.” But the following passage shows that until within a year or two of his death Wycliffe believed in the existence of an intermediate state, and that the devout intercessions of the living might be in some sense beneficial to the dead who had not passed beyond that state. “Saying of mass, with cleanness of holy life, and burning devotion, pleaseth God Almighty, and is profitable to Christian souls in purgatory, and to men living on earth that they may withstand temptations to sins.” The following passage shows also that he still thought highly of the functions of the priest as exercised in consecrating the elements of the eucharist. “Think, therefore, ye pure priests, how much ye are beholden to God who gave you power to sacreda his own precious body and blood of bread and wine, a power which he never granted to his own mother or to the angels. Therefore with all your desire, and reverence, and devotion, do your office in the sacrament!”
The eighth chapter commences with passages from St. Gregory, St. Augustine, St. Bernard, and others, concerning the duties of the pastoral office. On these passages suitable comment is made; and it is especially remarked, that the men who have filled this office with the greatest success have generally been men on whom it has been forced. It is said that no man should seek it, inasmuch as that would be to forget the admonition of Scripture—“No man taketh this honour upon himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” When bishoprics were poor, and to become a bishop was to be exposed to martyrdom, it might have been well to aspire to such distinction; but in these later times, when the office is connected with much temptation to indulge in every sort of worldliness, a devout man may with good reason avoid, rather than seek such an elevation.
Such persons are said to calumniate Christ and his disciples, as having failed to present a true pattern of life to their followers, so long as their own life presents an example so widely different from that which has been thus placed before them. “It is a great sin to witness falsely against a poor man; it is a greater sin so to witness against a holy man; but most of all to do so with the name of Christ, the Head of all saints, and the Lord of all lords. Also it is a great sin to lie, and to defraud men of their temporal goods; much more to deprive them of spiritual goods, of virtues, and good life, and most of all to deprive them of faith, and of the mirror of Christ’s life, which is the ground of all well-being hereafter.”
The following passage expresses Wycliffe’s opinion respecting the middle-age usage well known by the name of “the rights of sanctuary,” which consisted in extending the privilege of the Hebrew cities of refuge to certain ecclesiastical edifices, and that not merely in respect to manslaying, but to offences of all descriptions. The communities of such places are said to “challenge franchise and privilege, that wicked men, open thieves, and manslayers, and those who have borrowed their neighbours’ goods, and are in power to pay and make restitution, shall there dwell in sanctuary, and no man impeach them by process of law, nor oath sworn on God’s body; and they maintain stiffly that the king must confirm this privilege, and such nests of thieves and robbery in his kingdom!” In rude states of society, some usage of this nature has generally obtained; but in the age of the Reformer, its abuses had become greater than its uses. Wycliffe regarded all such obtrusions of the authority of the priest on the province of the civil magistrate with suspicion, and remarks in this treatise, that a man has better prospect of justice if cited before “the king or the emperor,” than if obliged to appear before any tribunal called “court Christian.”
Hence few things excited more indignation in the Reformer, than that the clergy, who were generally so much disposed to invade the sphere of the magistrate, should have set up a claim of exemption from his authority even in civil matters.
“Worldly clerks, and feigned religious,” he writes, “break and destroy much the king’s peace and his kingdom. For the prelates of this world, and priests, more or less, say fast, and write in their law, that the king hath no jurisdiction nor power over their persons, nor over the goods of holy church. And yet Christ and his apostles were most obedient to kings and lords, and taught all men to be subject to them, and to serve them truly and skilfully in bodily works, and to dread them and worship them before all other men. The wise king Solomon put down a high priest who was false to him and his kingdom, and exiled him, and ordained a good priest in his room, as the third book of Kings telleth.
“And Jesus Christ paid tribute to the emperor, and commanded men to pay him tribute. And St. Peter commandeth Christian men to be subject to every creaturea of men, whether unto the king as more high than others, or unto dukes as sent of him, to the vengeance of evil-doers, and the praise of good men. Also St. Paul commandeth, by authority of God, that every soul be subject to the higher powers, for there is no power but of God. Princes be not to the dread of good workers, but of evil. Wilt thou not dread the power—do good and thou shalt have praising of the same. For he is God’s minister to thee for good. Surely if thou hast done evil, dread thou, for he beareth not the sword in vain.b
“Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, suffered meekly a painful death under Pilate, not excusing himself from his jurisdiction by his clergy.c And St. Paul professed himself ready to suffer death by doom of the emperor’s justice, if he were worthy of death, as Deeds of the Apostles showeth. And Paul appealed to the heathen emperor from the priests of the Jews, for to be under his jurisdiction, and to save his life. Lord! who hath made our worldly clergy exempt from the king’s jurisdiction and chastening, for since God giveth kings this office over all misdoers, clerks, and particularly high priests, should be most meek and obedient to the lords of this world, as were Christ and his apostles, and should be a mirror before all men, teaching them to give this meekness and obedience to the king and his righteous laws. How strong thieves and traitors are they now to lords and kings, in denying this obedience, and giving an example to all men in the land to become rebels against the king and lords. For in this they teach ignorant men, and the commons of the land, both in words and laws, and open deeds, to be false and rebellious against the king and other lords. And this seemeth well by their new law of decretals,d where the proud clerks have ordained this—that our clergy shall pay no subsidy nor tax, nor keeping of our king, and our realm, without leave and assent of the worldly priest of Rome. And yet many times this proud worldly priest is an enemy of our land, and secretly maintaineth our enemies in war against us with our own gold. And thus they make an alien priest, and he the proudest of all priests, to be chief lord of the whole of those goods which clerks possess in the realm, and that is the greatest part thereof! Where, then, are there greater heretics to God or holy church, and particularly to their liege lord in this kingdom? To make an alien worldly priest, an enemy to us, the chief lord over the greater part of our country!
“And commonly the new laws which the clergy have made are contrived with much subtlety to bring down the power of lords and kings, and to make themselves lords, and to have all in their power. Certainly it seemeth that these worldly prelates are more bent to destroy the power of kings and lords, which God ordained for the government of his church, than God is to destroy even the power of the fiend:—for God setteth the fiend a term which he shall do, and no more; but he still suffereth his power to last, for the profit of Christian men, and the great punishment of misdoers; but these worldly clerks would never cease, if left alone, until they have fully destroyed kings and lords, with their regalia and power.”a
The next chapter relates to the excommunication commonly pronounced against all perjured persons: and prelates, and the beneficed clergy generally, are admonished, that to this sentence they are themselves justly exposed, by reason of the many things in their conduct which are contrary to their oaths, taken when entering upon their office. Another point against which this periodical anathema was directed, was the conduct of men who should in any way prevent the due execution of the “will of a dead man.” But our blessed Lord, in his testament, is said to “bequeath to his disciples and their successors, peace in themselves, and in the world persecution and tribulation for his law. But worldly clerks break shamefully this worthy testament of Jesus Christ, for they seek the peace and prosperity of this world—peace with the fiend, and with their flesh, and will endure no labour for keeping or teaching God’s law, but rather persecute good men who would teach it, and so make war upon Christ and his people, to obtain worldly muck, which Christ forbids to clerks. In the life of Christ, and in his Gospel, which is his testament, and in the life and teaching of his apostles, our clerks will find nothing but poverty, meekness, spiritual labour, and the despisings of worldly men, because reproved for their sins, and great reward in heaven for their good life, and true teaching, and cheerful suffering of death.—Therefore Jesus Christ was so poor in this life, that he had no house of his own by worldly title to rest his head in, as he himself saith in the Gospel. And St. Peter was so poor, that he had neither silver nor gold to give to a poor crooked man, as he witnesseth in the book of the Apostles’ Deeds. St. Paul was so poor in worldly goods, that he laboured with his hands for his livelihood, and suffered much persecution and watchfulness, and great thought for all churches in Christendom, as he himself saith, and as is said in many places of Holy Writ. And St. Bernard writeth to the pope, that in this worldly array, and plenty of gold, and silver, and lands, he is successor of Constantine the emperor, and not of Jesus Christ and his disciples. And Jesus said, on confirming this testament after rising from the dead—As my Father sent me, so I send you, that is, to labour, and persecution, and poverty, and hunger, and martyrdom!”a
Thus, in the judgment of Wycliffe, the church, and especially the clergy, should be regarded as in the place of executors to the will of Christ, that will being strictly confined to the setting forth of it in Holy Scripture; and the ecclesiastical persons of the age are charged with grossly violating their obligations in respect to that testament, both by their teaching and example. The next anathema was that pronounced on all persons who should “falsify the king’s charter, or assist thereto.” But it is alleged that the lands of the clergy were granted by the king for certain specified purposes, and that clergymen commonly apply the produce of such lands to purposes the opposite of those specified, and that in so doing they sin against the charter both of their earthly and their heavenly sovereign.
“Also they falsify the king’s charter by great treason, when they make the proud bishop of Rome, who is the chief manqueller on earth, and the chief maintainer thereof, the chief worldly lord of all the goods which clerks possess in our realm, and that is almost all the realm, of the more part thereof. For he should be the meekest and the poorest of priests, and the most busy in God’s service to save men’s souls, as were Christ and his apostles, since he calleth himself the chief vicar of Christ. Hereby these worldly clerks show themselves traitors to God, and to their liege lord the king, whose law and regalia they destroy by their treason in favour of the pope, whom they nourish in the works of Antichrist, that they may have their worldly state, and opulence, and lusts maintained by him.”
The sixteenth chapter commences with these words: “All those who falsify the pope’s bulls or a bishop’s letter, are cursed grievously in all churches four times in the year.” Here Wycliffe proceeds to ask:—
“Lord, why was not Christ’s Gospel put in this sentence by our worldly clerks? Here it seems they magnify the pope’s bull more than the Gospel; and in token of this they punish more the men who trespass against the pope’s bulls than those who trespass against Christ’s Gospel. And hereby men of this world dread more the pope’s lead,a and his commandment, than the Gospel of Christ and God’s commands; and thus wretched men in this world are brought out of belief, and hope, and charity, and become rotten in heresy and blasphemy, even worse than heathen hounds. Also a penny clerk, who can neither read nor understand a verse of his psalter, nor repeat God’s commandments, bringeth forth a bull of lead, witnessing that he is able to govern many souls, against God’s doom, and open experience of truth. And to procure this false bull they incur costs, and labour, and oftentimes fight, and give much gold out of our land to aliens and enemies, and many thereby are dead by the hand of our enemies, to their comfort, and our confusion. Also the proud priest of Rome getteth images of Peter and Paul, and maketh Christian men believe that all which his bulls speak of is done by authority of Christ; and thus, as far as he may, he maketh this bull, which is false, to be Peter’s, and Paul’s, and Christ’s, and in that maketh them false. And by this blasphemy he robbeth Christendom of faith, and good life, and worldly goods.
“And if any poor man tell the truth of Holy Writ against the hypocrisy of Antichrist and his officers, nought else follows but to curse him, to imprison, burn, and slay him, without answer. It now seemeth that John’s prophecy in the Apocalypse is fulfilled, that no man shall be hardy enough to buy or sell without the token of the cursed beast;b for now, no man shall do aught in the street without these false bulls of Antichrist; not taking rewardc to the worship of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Ghost in men’s souls, but all to these dead bulls, bought and sold for money, as men buy or sell an ox or beast!”
In the seventeenth chapter the Reformer says:—
“The Gospel telleth that at doomsday Jesus Christ shall reckon generally with men for works of mercy, and if they have not done them, then, as Christ biddeth, they shall be damned without end. But Christ shall not then speak a word of tithes. If indeed men grant that tithes are works of mercy and alms, as feeding and clothing poor men, certainly it seemeth that all this cursing is for their own covetousness, not for the sins of the people, or any trespass against God. For then their curse should be most where there is most sin, and despite against God. But this is not done, as all knowing men see manifestly.” The law, it is alleged, teaches—that no man who is himself “rightfully cursed” may lawfully curse another; but the clergy who fail to discharge the duties of their solemn office are under the curse of the Head of the church, and are sinners “a thousandfold more” than are their people when their great fault is, that “they pay not their tithes.”
The Reformer expands this grave accusation in the following terms:—
“Christ said that the Son of man came not to lose men’s lives and souls, but to save them, as the Gospel of Luke witnesseth. Why then dare these wayward curates to curse so many men’s souls to hell, and bodies to prison, and to the loss of chattels, and sometimes to death, for a little muck, while they are themselves cursed of God for simony done at their entrance into office, and for failure in preaching, and in example of holy life, tithes being not therefore due to them, but only pain in hell? Oftentimes they are evil tormentors, and slay the soul bought with Christ’s precious blood, which is better than all the riches of this world. They are not spiritual fathers to Christian souls who would damn them to hell by their cursing for the sake of a little perishing clay. Even pagan persecutors were content to torment the body, and not the soul for evermore; but these children of Satan cast about by all means in their power to slay the soul in everlasting pain! Certainly these wayward curates of Satan seem in this thing worse than the fiends of hell; for in hell they torment no soul except for everlasting sin, while these clerks of Satan curse souls to hell for a little temporal debt, which they will pay as soon as they are able, and oftentimes when it is no debt, except by long error, and theft, and custom, brought in against God’s commandments!”
In the next chapter, the Reformer insists, that the clergy, in place of demanding tithes from the more needy of their flock, should employ their influence with the rich to procure relief for the necessities of the poor.
“Men wonder highly,” he observes, “why curates are so charrouse to the people in taking tithes, since Christ and his apostles took no tithes as men do now; and neither paid them, or even spoke of them, either in the Gospel, or the Epistles, which are the perfect law of freedom and grace. But Christ lived on the alms of Mary Magdalene, and of other holy women, as the Gospel telleth, and apostles lived, sometimes by the labour of their hands, and sometimes took a poor livelihood and clothing, given of free-will and devotion by the people, without asking or constraining. And to this end Christ said to his disciples that they should eat and drink such things as were set before them, and take neither gold nor silver for their preaching, or giving of sacraments. And Paul giving a general rule for priests, saith thus, ‘We having food and clothing to hilea us, with these things be we assayed,b as Jesus Christ.’ And Paul proved that priests preaching truly the Gospel should live by the Gospel, and said no more of tithes. Certes,c as tithes was due to priests and deacons in the old law, so bodily circumcision was then needful to all men, but it is not so now, in the law of grace; and yet Christ was circumcised. But we read not where he took tithes as we do, and we read not in all the Gospel where he paid tithes to the high-priest, or bid any other man do so. Lord, why should our worldly priests charge Christian people with tithes, offerings, and customs, more than did Christ and his apostles, and more than men were charged in the old law? For then all priests, and deacons, and officers of the temple were maintained by tithes and offerings, and had no other lordship. But now, a worldly priest, who is more unable than others, by means of a bull of Antichrist, hath all the tithes and offerings to himself! If tithes were due by God’s commandment, then everywhere in Christendom would be one mode of tithing. But it is not so.—Would God that all wise and true men would inquire whether it were not better for to finda good priests by free alms of the people, and in a reasonable and poor livelihood, to teach the Gospel in word and deed, as did Christ and his apostles, than thus to pay tithes to a worldly priest, ignorant, and negligent, as men are now constrained to do by bulls and new ordinances of priests.”b
Wycliffe then demands to know who has given this coercive power to churchmen, seeing that Christ and his disciples had it not, and adds—“If the first ordinance of Christ and his apostles come again to Christendom, then shall Christian people be free to take their tithes and offerings from wayward priests, and not maintain them in sin.” But it is at the same time said, that they must contribute “reasonable livelihood to good priests, and this were much better and easier, both for priests and commons, for this world and the other.”
In the beginning of the next chapter, there is mention of the council in London, at time of the “earth-shaking,” an allusion which farther shows that this treatise was written not more than two years at the most before the decease of the Reformer. The clergy present on that occasion are said to have introduced a “new dispensation,” declaring it to be error to say, “that secular lords may at their doom (in the exercise of their own opinion or authority) take temporal goods from the church which trespasseth by long custom.” To which it is replied, “If this be error, as they say falsely, then the king, and secular lords, may take no farthing nor farthing’s worth from a worldly clerk, though he should owe him, or his liege men, never so much, and may well pay it, but will not.” It is insisted, that on this principle, were the college of cardinals to become an organised banditti, the authority of the king should not be exercised to curb their marauding. Should such men send money out of the land to never so great an extent, the monarch must not suppose that it pertains to him to prevent such impoverishment of the realm; and were a body of monks, friars, or clerks, to conspire the poisoning of the king, the queen, and all the lords of the realm, “yet the king, with all the lords, may not punish such offenders with the loss of one farthing’s worth of their goods!” The same exemption, it is argued, might be pleaded were these persons to defile the bed of the sovereign, to devise the death of the king and queen, to attempt the extinction of all the gentle blood of the land, and to combine to make one of themselves “king of all the world.” Let it be presumed that the sovereign may not touch the property of such persons, and it must be concluded that he may not touch their persons, seeing that their persons are held to be the most sacred, and thus to concede this clerical pretension would be at once to sheathe the sword of the magistrate, and to give a license to all wickedness. But such men should know, it is observed, that holy church consists not of the clergy, “but of all men and women who shall be saved;” and that to take away the goods which worldly churchmen misapply, and to give them to men who will apply them to their scriptural uses, must be to do the good deeds proper to the vicar of God, and no king need fear the censures of the clergy in so doing.
In several of the remaining chapters, mention is made of the right of sanctuary claimed by “Westminster, Beverley, and other places;” and the abuses which had grown up in connexion with them are forcibly exposed. It is remarked that the cities of refuge, to which these places professed to be conformed, afforded shelter to the manslayer only, and to such an one when he had slain a man unawares, while these Christian sanctuaries became a hiding-place to wilful and known offenders, and to such as might make reparation for their crimes.
But it was not enough thus to prevent the course of civil justice—the magistrate was often censured because he could not be made to do unjustly. “Then these worldly clerks curse the king, and his justices, and officers, because they maintain the Gospel, and true preachers thereof, and will not punish them according to the wrongful commandment of Antichrist and his clerks. But where are fouler heretics than these worldly clerks, thus cursing true men, and stirring the king and his liege men to persecute Jesus Christ in his members, and to exile the Gospel out of our land?” In many instances, however, the attempt to make such use of the civil sword was successful, and kings and lords were constrained to “torment the body of a just man, over whom Satan has no power, as though he were a strong thief, casting him into a deep prison, to make other men afraid to stand on God’s part against their heresy.”
Some observations on legal studies occur in this part of the treatise. The civil law is said to be studied unduly, and as “our people are bound by the king’s statutes,” these are accounted as more worthy of being studied and taught by the clergy. The emperor’s law, it is said, should be studied, and its authority admitted, only in so far as “it is inclosed in God’s commandments;” and it is demanded of those who profess to study the civil law, “for the reason they find in it,” whether the volume placed in their hands by the Author of reason, is not likely better to repay their labour in that respect? The pope, says Wycliffe, has forbidden the study of civil law, and for once, he adds, “the pope’s intent is good;” but he observes further, that the canon law is more hostile to the religion of the Bible than the code of Justinian. The whole of the twenty-fourth chapter relates to this subject.
In the next chapter is the following striking observation on one of the most disgraceful usages in the history of religious intolerance. “All those who commune with accursed men, are cursed by our prelates, particularly if they do it knowingly. But by this sentence it would seem that God himself is accursed, since no accursed man may be in this life unless God shall knowingly commune with him, and give him breath and sustenance, whether he be wrongfully cursed or rightfully: and if he be ready to give such a man grace and forgiveness of his sins, if he ask it worthily, and even before he ask it, this sentence seems too large, since our God may not be accursed.” In this manner did the Reformer deal with a practice in which men have been taught to assign religious reasons for doing violence to all the deeper instincts of our moral nature. It is one of the strong forms in which we read the demoralising tendency of religious bigotry. The treatise concludes with the following earnest utterances:—
“Men wonder much why prelates and curates curse so fast, since St. Paul and St. Peter have commanded men to bless, and not to have a will to curse. And Jesus Christ blessed his enemies, and heartily prayed for them even while they nailed him to the cross. Still more men wonder why they curse so fast in their own cause, and for their own gain, and not for injury done to Christ and his majesty, since men should be patient in their own wrongs, as Christ and his disciples were, and not suffer a word to be done against God’s honour and majesty, as by false and vain swearing, ribaldry, lechery, and other filth. But most of all men wonder why worldly clerks curse so fast for breaking of their own statutes, privileges, and wayward customs, more than for the open breaking of God’s commandments, since no man is cursed of God but for so doing, whatever worldly wretches may blabber; and no man is blessed of God, and shall come to heaven, but he who keepeth God’s commandments: and particularly in the hour of death, let a man have never so many thousand bulls of indulgence, or pardon, and letters of fraternity, and thousands of masses from priests, and monks, and friars, and it shall be vain. Let prelates and curates therefore leave these particulars in their censuring, for many of them are as false as Satan, and let them teach God’s commandments, and God’s curse, and the pains of hell, as inflicted on men if they amend not in this life, and what bliss men shall have for keeping of them, as they thereby teach truly Christ’s Gospel, in word, and in example of holy life, and the mercy of God in the highness of his blessing, and so help all to that end, in right belief, and hope toward God, and full charity toward God and man! God grant us this end. Amen!”
XI. The treatise which concludes with this passage is much longer than most of Wycliffe’s English pieces. The next in order, De Stipendiis Ministrorum, with the English title, How men should find Priests, is restricted to one full quarto page. It begins, Think ye wisely, ye men that find priests, that ye do this alms for God’s love, and help of your souls, and help of Christian men, and not for pride of the world, to have them occupied in worldly office and vanity.a It exhorts the laity to support worthy priests, and such only; admonishing them, that if they furnish the means of subsistence to men of an opposite character, they will be found partakers in all the sin, mischief, and punishment attendant on the course of such unfaithful stewards. Men should be urged to the study of the Bible, and the aim of the clergy should be the scriptural edification of the people, not allowing them to suppose that religion can consist in being pleased with church singing, or in being attentive to mere ceremonies.
XII. The tract, De Precationibus Sacris, bears the English title, How prayer of good men helpeth much, and prayer of sinful men displeaseth God, and harmeth themselves and other men. It commences with these words, Our Lord Jesus Christ teacheth us to pray evermore for all needful things both to body and soul.b
It is taught in this tract, that the most effectual prayer is a holy life. To be holy without ceasing is to pray without ceasing. It was in this manner that the Reformer endeavoured to beat down the popular confidence in the efficacy of prayer proceeding, as it too commonly did, from the lips of an unworthy priesthood. Prayer with a view to our own well-being, and intercessory prayer, are of inestimable value; but everything depends on the faith and piety of the heart from which it proceeds. Hence James speaks of the fervent effectual prayer of the righteous man as availing much. The prayers of truly devout ministers in behalf of their people, giving them victory over their enemies, was betokened in the lifting up of the hands of Moses that Israel might prevail against Amalek. The lengthened life of Hezekiah; the going back of the shadow on the dial of Ahaz; the standing still of the sun in the time of Joshua; all are adverted to as showing the efficacy of prayer when proceeding from a believing and devout mind. Christians are reminded also, of the promise of Christ to be wherever two or three shall meet in his name; and of his assurance that if we being evil know how to give good gifts unto our children, much more our Father in heaven gives his Holy Spirit to them that ask it.
This description of the kind of prayer which is profitable, is followed by a description of the prayer which displeases God, and which brings with it harm rather than profit. Passages of Scripture are cited, in which the Almighty declares that he will receive no sacrifice at the hand of the wicked; that the solemn feasts of such men are hateful to him; that the worshipper regarding iniquity in his heart cannot be accepted; that not every one saying to Christ, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of God; and that even the sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord. With these passages from Scripture, others are introduced from the writings of devout men in the history of the church. St. Augustine, St. Gregory, and St. Chrysostom, are cited as teaching that the odour and efficacy of prayer come from a holy life.
The plea that praying priests, if not heard on their own account, are still heard on account of the merits of holy church, is treated as a fraud devised by Satan since his loosening. By this means the arch-enemy aims to deceive the people, and would perpetuate the corrupt character of the priesthood, by perpetuating the practice of paying for masses. This is the great point to which the argument of the piece turns—the folly of reliance on mere priestly services, where the priest is not a devout man; and the folly of relying on the prayer of a priest more than on the prayer of any other man, supposing both to be in the same degree men of piety.
Reference is made to a canon in which the pope requires that clergy and laity should separate themselves from any priest refusing to put away his concubine, or his wedded woman; and Wycliffe argues with great freedom, that if that circumstance be a just ground of separation from a priest, the guilt of such a man is not greater than the guilt of the simonist, the envious, the covetous, and the utterly worldly, and that separation in the latter case, must, in consequence, be as justifiable as in the former.
This piece extends to nine quarto pages.
XIII. The work intitled, De Episcoporum Erroribus, begins with the words, There are eight things by which simple Christian men be deceived.a
The eight points on which much delusion is said to prevail among the people are enumerated, and these points are—holy church—law—religion—obedience—cursing—the goods and rights of holy church—commandment and counsel—deadly sin and venial.
Thus, in the first place, “when men speak of holy church, they understand anon prelates and priests, monks, and canons, and friars; and all men who have crowns,b though they live never so cursedly against God’s law. And they call not seculars men of holy church, though they live never so truly after God’s law, and in perfect charity. Nevertheless, all who shall be saved in bliss of heaven are members of holy church, and no more.” But in consequence of the false manner of speaking prevalent on this subject, simple men are taught to account many as great men of holy church, who are in fact “enemies thereof, and of the synagogue of Satan.”
In respect to “law,” the complaint is, that by that term men understand human statutes and regulations, forgetting the primary application of the term to those injunctions which man has received from his Maker. God is the great lawgiver, and it is to his enactments that all others should be subordinate.
The same error happens in respect to “religion.” By that term men do not understand the system of truth and piety set forth in Holy Scripture, but “a religion made of sinful man.” Tradition has come into the place of Scripture. The authority of man has been placed before the authority of God. The teacher who may not err, has been superseded by teachers beset with every kind of infirmity. By religion, accordingly, men do not now understand what Christ and his apostles taught, but what worldly priests and prelates have substituted in the stead of such teaching. “Also when men speak against prelates and religious, alleging Christ’s poverty and meekness, and other virtues, they say that such teachings of Christ are his counsels, and not his commandments, and therefore, that the bishop of Rome—who is most contrary to Christ’s teaching and life—may dispense with them.” In this manner the authority of Scripture was displaced by the authority of Romanism, and religion underwent a corresponding change. It is observed further, that “when men speak against sin, anon they say, though this be sin it is venial, and not deadly; and venial sins are washed away with a pater noster, with holy water, with pardons, with a bishop’s blessing, and in many other light ways, as men pretend. But true men say that in this life, without a special revelation, men know not what sin is venial, and what is deadly, and that these terms, venial and deadly, are inventions of new men,a without authority of Holy Writ.”
It is repeated afterwards, that pardons, holy water, and similar observances, have been devised to sustain “the state, pride, and covetousness” of the clergy, and to “blind the people.” Every man, says Wycliffe, “should have great and lasting sorrow for his sin, and a mind intent on Christ’s righteousness and wisdom, and on Christ’s passion, death, and mercy to forgive sin on true repentance; and let each man put his full trust in God’s mercy, and in his own good life, and not in false pardons, nor in vanities, which men invent to avail after men’s death for love of money, for such things avail not any man, but destroy those who trust in them.” The fruit awaiting the good man hereafter, will be found to be exclusively the fruit of his own character, and of the Saviour’s passion.
XIV. In this series is a tract under the title, A Short Rule of Life, for each man in general, and for priests, and lords, and labourers in special, how each shall be saved in his degree. This tract commences with directions concerning the best method of cultivating a meditative and religious spirit; and these directions are followed by counsels of a moral and religious nature, addressed to the priest, the lord,b and the labourer. The tract is interesting as exhibiting the manner in which the Reformer was accustomed to employ the sanctions of religion as means of strengthening the bonds of civil society. It may be taken as a specimen of the manner in which Wycliffe had learned to address the lessons of morality and religion to the highest and the lowest, and shows the devotional temper in which such service was performed.c His instruction to the humblest class is in the following terms:—
“If thou be a labourer, live in meekness, and truly and willingly do thy labour, that if thy lord or thy master be a heathen man, he, by thy willing and true service, may not have to grudge against thee, nor slander thy God, nor Christendom (Christianity), but rather be constrained to come to Christendom. And serve not to a Christian lord with grudging, and serve him not only in his presence, but truly and willingly in his absence. Not only for worldly dread or worldly reward, but for the fear of God, and conscience, and a reward in heaven. For that God who putteth thee in each service, knoweth what state is best for thee, and will reward thee more than all other lords may, if thou doest this truly and willingly for his ordinance. And beware, in all things, of grudging against God and his visitations, in great labour, and long and great sickness, and other troubles. And beware of wrath, of cursing, and of speaking in passion against man or beast; and ever keep patience, and meekness, and charity, both to God and man.
“Thus each man in the three estates ought to live, to save himself, and to help other men: and thus should good life, rest, peace, and love, be among Christian men, and they be saved, and heathen men soon converted, and God magnified greatly in all nations and religions that now despise him and his law, for the false living of wicked Christian men.”
The preacher whose counsels were of this description, was not the man to become the agent of insurrection, after the fashion of John Ball and Wat Tyler, as some of his ingenuous opponents have insinuated. His doctrines as a Reformer, were all meant to give stability to every just form of authority, and especially to the authority of the magistrate. But it is hardly surprising, if amidst the boldest attacks upon the false, the true, with which the false is commonly blended, should sometimes seem to be in danger.
XV.Three Things destroy the World. This is the title of a tract consisting of five pages.a The three things complained of prove to be three classes of persons—false confessors, false merchants, and false men of law. The confessors intended, are principally the mendicants; the lawyers are the men engaged in chapters and consistory courts; and the merchants are those who fall under the temptations common to men intent on buying and selling to get gain. The false confessor destroys the world by using his spiritual office as a means of worldly gain, seeking to enrich himself rather than to reform such as confess to him. Concerning the second class of offenders, it is said that “jurors, for a dinner or a noble, will forswear themselves, and that so commonly, that though a man possess never so open right to a lordship, yet for a little money, against man’s law, and against God’s law, many will knowingly swear that it is not his. But among lawyers of the consistory, in their chapters, is more sin and hypocrisy to show, for they have men in their courts only to push them more aback, though their right be never so plain.”
XVI. But if the business of the world has its temptations, so has the condition of the men who endeavour to separate themselves from it after the most rigid fashion. In the piece, Impedimenta Evangelizantium, with the English title, Of Feigned Contemplative Life,a the Reformer shows that asceticism was hardly more to his taste than worldliness. His complaint is, that when a man insists on the paramount importance of preaching the Gospel, “the fiend blindeth hypocrites to excuse him, by teaching a feigned contemplative life, and to say, that since that is the best, and they may not do both together, they are needed for the charity of God, to leave the preaching of the Gospel, and to live in contemplation.” But this reasoning is denounced as hypocrisy, and as manifestly contrary, both to the example and the teaching of Christ and his apostles. Every true priest is as a prophet from the Lord, and bound, as St. Gregory has taught, to show to the people their sins.
“In this manner shall each priest be an angel of God, as Holy Writ saith. Also Christ, and John the Baptist, left the desert, and preached the Gospel to their death: and this, therefore, was most charitable, or else they were out of charity, or feigned a charity that might not be in them, and that may not be, since the one was God, and since no man after Christ has been holier than the Baptist, and he sinned nought by this preaching. Also the holy prophet Jeremiah, hallowed in his mother’s womb, might not be excused from preaching by his contemplation, but was charged of God to preach the sins of the people, and to suffer hard pain for doing so; and so was it with all the prophets of God. Ah! Lord, since Christ, and John, and all the prophets of God, were needed by charity to come out of the desert to preach to the people, and to leave their solitary prayers, how dare these feigned hypocrites say that it is better to be still, and pray over their own feigned ordinance, than to preach Christ’s Gospel? Lord! what cursed spirit of leasing stirreth priests to close themselves within stone walls for all their life, since Christ commandeth to all his apostles and priests to go into all the world, and to preach the Gospel. Certainly they are open fools, and do plainly against Christ’s Gospel; and if they maintain this error, they are accursed of God, and are perilous hypocrites and heretics also. And since men are holden heretics that do against the pope’s law,—and the best part of the pope’s law saith that every man coming to priesthood taketh the office of a beadle or crier, to go before doomsday, to cry to the people their sin, and the vengeance of God,—why are not those priests heretics who leave to preach Christ’s Gospel, and compel other true men to leave preaching of the Gospel, since this law is St. Gregory’s law, grounded openly in God’s law, and in reason and charity, and other laws of the people are contrary to Holy Writ, and reason, and charity, to maintain the pride and covetousness of Antichrist’s worldly clerks?”
The great argument in favour of a contemplative life is said to be, that it was the choice of Mary, as distinguished from her sister Martha, and that it was praised by Christ as “the better part.” Wycliffe replies that this example might serve if priests were women; and in the absence of that consideration it might have some weight, if the Saviour had not made his doctrine on this point much more clear in other scriptures. But granting the justice of the inference deduced from this passage, the Reformer maintains, that the substance of the argument thus assumed is, “that Christ chose the worse life for this world, and has obliged all his priests to leave the better, and to choose the worse.” In this manner, it is remarked, “do these feigned hypocrites put error on Jesus Christ.”
In answer to the argument urged in favour of the contemplative life from the scriptural injunctions to ceaseless prayer, the Reformer observes—“that Christ and Paul meant by prayer holy life, and not the mere babbling of the lips, which no man may do without ceasing;” and since a disobedient life renders a man incapable of praying acceptably, “those priests who preach not the Gospel, as Christ hath bidden, are not able to pray to God for mercy, but deceive both themselves and the people, and despise God, and stir him to wrath and vengeance.”
The mischiefs which are not done by the delusion which teaches men to deem a contemplative life preferable to an active life, are said to be in great part accomplished by the superstitious place assigned to church psalmody. Chanting, and singing, according to the “Ordinal of Salisbury,” and other books of that nature, are described as tending to call the attention of men away from the study of the law of God; and by kindling the passions unduly, as disposing many toward the indulgence of their vices, rather than toward the devout exercise of religion. “In all the law of grace,” it is remarked, “God chargeth no such song, but devotion in the heart, and true teaching, and holy speaking in tongue and good works.” He further observes, that this practice, like other novelties which have arisen from the folly and pride of man, came in by degrees, and men are admonished that whether it be by means of “song, or mass, or matins to our lady,” that their attention to the words of God is prevented, it will behove them “to remember the sharp words of St. Augustine, who saith,—As often as the song liketh me more than doth the sentence that is sung, so often I confess that I sin grievously.”
On the argument in favour of such practices as derived from the example of the Romish church, the Reformer observes, that such examples are binding on us, only as Christ and his apostles have given them a renewed obligation. The moral belonging to the previous dispensation remains, but the ceremonial has passed away; and with regard to the fact that the angels in heaven are described as singing, it is deemed enough to reply that they have “no conflict” to sustain, and that it is not their lot to dwell in “a valley of weeping.” So much were men pleased with this part of the established worship, that in some places they were known to pay “many marks and pounds a year to proud priests and loose fellows,” who were engaged in conducting it. “But where,” it is demanded, “is more deceit than to suppose that they honour God most by such things, when there are forty or fifty in a choir, three or four proud vicious fellows shall so play the most devout service, that no man shall hear the sentence, and all others shall be dumb, and look on as fools, while strumpets and thieves praise Sir Jack or Hobb, and William the proud clerk, saying, How small they play their notes, and that they serve well God and holy church, while they despise God to his face, and hinder other Christian men of their devotion.”
Men who do not conform to services of this nature, are said to be punished more than men who fail in obedience to the commands of God. But the Reformer asks with indignation—“Was not the priest’s office ordained of God, before ‘Salisbury Use’ was made of proud and lecherous and drunken priests?” The Jews, it is remarked, were not nearly so much burdened with ceremonies as the Christian worshipers of these later ages, “though the old law must needs cease, to make room for the freedom of the Gospel.” His advice, accordingly, is, that men should “study the ordinance of God, and live in Christian freedom, without heeding those novelties of sinful men, which only hinder priests from their better occupation.” At the same time, they were not to abuse this liberty, but to discard vain ceremonies, only that they might give themselves with more devotion to the duties of their Christian calling. “Ah! Lord,” he exclaims, “if all the study and labour that men have now about ‘Salisbury Use,’ with a multitude of new and costly books, were turned into the making of Bibles, and in studying and teaching of them, how much should God’s law be furthered, and known, and kept, where now it is hindered, unstudied, and unread! Lord! how shall rich men be excused who spend so much in great chapels, and in costly books of man’s ordinance, for fame and nobility in the world, and will never spend so much about the books of God’s law, or to aid men to study them, and teach them, though this were without comparison better on all sides.”
He concludes with stating, that men who know the liberty of the Gospel, still join in the established formularies, lest they should offend “sick consciences:” devoting, however, all the time that may be prudently withdrawn from such services, to the discharge of more enlightened and more Christian duties. In so doing, they do not take council of the ruling clergy, who, for the most part, are so much given to worldly business, as to resemble “bailiffs rather than bishops.”
XVII. In the Cambridge Collection the piece On a Feigned Contemplative Life, is followed by two papers, consisting of comments on the Lord’s Prayer, and on the Ave Maria. The comments on the Lord’s Prayer extend to three pages, those on the Ave Maria to four: and they consist, for the most part, of complaint in respect to the want of sympathy on the part of the clergy with the temporal and spiritual necessities of their people.
XVIII. Then follows a paper, with a heading prefixed by a later hand, in the following terms:—How Religious Men should keep certain Articles. It begins—Christian men pray meekly and devoutly to Almighty God, that he grant the grace, for his endless mercy to our religious, both possessioners and mendicants, &c.a This piece fills six pages in the quarto volume, and presents, in the shape of forty-four articles, a kind of summary of the doctrine of Wycliffe in relation to faith, polity, worship, and religion generally.
XIX. The paper next in this collection is intitled, De Dominis et Servis; or, in English—Of Servants and Lords, how each should keep his degree. It begins—Servants should truly and gladly serve to their lords or masters, and not be false, nor idle, nor grudging.b This piece extends to something more than five-and-twenty pages, and contains many valuable illustrative passages.
The Reformer having inculcated the lessons of obedience in the language of Peter and Paul, proceeds to say—“But here the fiend moveth some men to say, that Christian men should not be servants or vassals to heathen lords, since they are false to God, and less worthy than Christian men. Neither to Christian lords, for they are brethren in kind, and Jesus Christ bought Christian men on the cross, and made them free.” But against this “heresy” Paul and Peter are again cited, and their words are expounded in a manner, which, if open to the charge of fault at all, is faulty on the side of teaching an undue submission to the will of the powerful. “Yet some men,” he observes, “who are out of charity slander poor priests with this error, that servants and tenants may lawfully withhold rents and service from their lords, when their lords are openly wicked in their living. And they invent and utter this falsehood against poor priests, to make lords to hate them, and not to maintain the truth of God’s law, which they teach openly for the honour of God, and the profit of the realm, and the establishing of the king’s power, and the destroying of sin.”
The following passage explains the origin of this “slander.” “This is a feigned saying of Antichrist’s clerks—that if subjects may lawfully withdraw tithes and offerings from curates, who openly live in lechery, or in other great sins, and do not their office, then servants and tenants may lawfully withdraw their service and rents from their lords, who live openly a cursed life.” The reply to this imputation is, that the withholding of the means of support from professed ministers of religion in the supposed case, is a course of duty prescribed alike by Holy Scripture and by human reason; while in the case of the magistrate, “Men are charged of God by Peter and Paul to be thus subject to wicked lords, and Christ and his apostles accordingly paid tribute to the heathen emperor; while we read not that he, or any apostle, paid tithes to the wicked high-priests, after the time that he began to preach.—By the Gospel, and Christ’s life, and that of the apostles, priests have no such power to constrain men to pay them tithes,” as the magistrate has to compel men to be obedient, “especially while they fulfil not the duties of their spiritual office, but harm men by false teaching and by evil example. Even though they did well their office, and men would not pay tithes, they should not curse men, but suffer meekly, as did Jesus Christ.”
But if the people owe obedience to lords, lords owe justice, protection, and kind offices to those below them: “See we now how lords should live in their state. First, they should know God’s law, and study it, and maintain it, and despise wrong doing, and maintain poor men in their right, to live in rest, and peace, and charity, and suffer not men, under colour of their authority, to do extortions, to do violence to men, or to hold poor men out of their right by strength of lordship.” Kings and great lords should not give themselves to keeping many wives, but remember the evils which have come in the train of such indulgences. They should seek wisdom from on high. They should be a terror to the wrong doer. They should be as eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame; as “fathers to the poor, and the cause which they know not, that should they search out. They should break the jaws of the wicked, and pluck the spoil out of his teeth.”a Magistracy, it is insisted, was instituted to these ends, and men who fill such offices without attending to the proper duties of them, should lay their account with meeting the displeasure of the Almighty, and with seeing their authority pass ere long to more worthy hands.
In conclusion, the clergy who slander poor priests in the manner stated, are censured on account of their simony, their insincerity, and especially on account of their hypocrisy in vending their pretended pardons. “There cometh no pardon,” says Wycliffe, “but of God, for spiritual good beginneth and endeth in charity, and this may not be bought or sold as chafferinga prelates in these days say, for whoever is in most charity is best heard of God, be he shepherd or lewd man,b in the church or in the field.” As a whole, this piece is opposed throughout to all unjust pretension on the part of priests or magistrates, pointing out the delinquencies of both with the same freedom; while obedience, both in religious matters and in civil matters, is inculcated under the guidance of scriptural authority, and enlightened reason. The piece consists of twelve quarto pages. It abounds in the seeds both of order and advancement, in the ecclesiastical and in the secular.
XX.De Diabolo et Membris. The English title of this piece is—How Satan and his priests, and his feigned religious, castencby three cursed heresies to destroy all good living, and to maintain all manner of sin. It begins thus—As Almighty God in Trinity ordaineth men to come to the bliss of heaven by three grounds, by knowing the Trinity, by sad faith, by true keeping of God’s commandments, and by perfect and endless charity: so Satan and his worldly clerks, and his feigned religious, full of subtle hypocrisy casten to destroy all virtuous life, and justice, and maintain all manner of sin, by these three cursed grounds:—the first is, that Holy Writ is false; the second is, that it is lawful and medefuldto lie; the third, that it is against charity to cry openly against prelates’ sins, and other men’s.e
We have seen that ecclesiastics, when the authority of certain passages of Scripture was alleged against them, were accustomed to reply that the literal rendering of such texts would lead to absurdity and untruth, and that by adopting a freer interpretation of such passages they generally contrived to explain away their meaning. This Wycliffe denounces as “putting falsehood on Holy Writ”—and only concedes to clerks the liberty thus to destroy the certainty and truth of Holy Writ, and all motive to religion or virtue is said to be destroyed. It is in this manner that this first heresy is said to be opposed to “all good living,” and to be favourable to the maintenance “of all manner of sin,” and its abettors are reproached as “feigning to be wiser than God.”
On the charge, that it is against charity to speak openly against the sins of prelates, and other men, the Reformer expatiates largely. It is argued, that if this charge were true, it would follow that the teaching of Christ and his apostles, and not less the teaching of the prophets under the Old Testament dispensation, must be included in it, as nothing is more conspicuous in their preaching than the denunciation of sin, and not only of sin in general, but of classes and persons. “Almighty God, full of charity, commandeth to the prophet Isaiah, to cry and cease not, and to show to the people their great sins. Sin in the commons is great, sin in mighty and wise men is more, but sin in prelates is most, and most blindeth the people. True men, therefore, are bound by God’s commandment to cry most against the sin of prelates, since it is the most, and harmeth most the people.” The language of the Almighty to the prophet Ezekiel is cited as showing that the priest who shall fail to warn sinful men of their danger, will be held responsible for the souls which perish through such want of fidelity. Concerning such of the clergy as complained that their faults were exposed in their absence, Wycliffe observes, “Antichrist maketh them so mighty, that in their presence no man dare speak against their open sins, but if he would be dead anon.” To prohibit complaint in their absence, accordingly, was to impose the most absolute silence concerning any of their evil deeds.
The following passage will indicate the notion of our Reformer in respect to the materials of which ecclesiastical councils were generally composed. On such occasions, “worldly prelates make a congregation of themselves and of clerks assenting to them; some assenting for worldly favour, some for gold and the hope of benefices, and some for fear of the curse, of losing benefices, of slander, of imprisoning and burning.” The assemblies thus constituted are described as doing their utmost to disparage the word of God, and to prevent the people from taking it as their guide; but it is maintained that everything thus alleged concerning the supposed insufficiency of Scripture, is so much imputation cast upon the wisdom or benevolence of its Author.
In this tract Wycliffe censures the manner in which the religious orders sometimes attempted to recruit their forces from among the young and unwary. “It is an accursed fraud,” he exclaims, “to draw young children that have but little discretion to these new feigned religious, by gifts, and by promises of worldly lordships, honour, and sureness of bodily welfare, more than by telling them of willing poverty, and penance, and despite, and of the forsaking of all things. All this is simony and heresy, if it be well sought. But it is a more accursed falsehood still to steal young children from their friends, and by false deceits make them to be professed, sometimes against their will, and not to suffer them to go out of their vain order though they know themselves unable thereto.”
The following sentiment also, bearing in mind when and where it was uttered, will be seen as one of great force and interest. “Christian men should know, that whosoever liveth best, prayeth best; and that the simple paternoster of a ploughman who hath charity, is better than a thousand masses of covetous prelates and vain religious!” The piece concludes thus: “Almighty God in Trinity, destroy these nests of Antichrist and his clerks, and strengthen all manner of men to maintain the truth of Holy Writ, to destroy falsehood, and openly to preach against the hypocrisy, heresy, and covetousness of all evil prelates, and priests, and feigned religious, both in word and deed, for then shall good life and truth, and peace, and charity reign among Christian men! Jesus Christ! for thine endless mercy grant us this end! Amen!”
XXI.For three Skills Lords should constrain Clerks to live in meekness, wilful poverty, and discreet penance, and ghostly travail. This is the title of another English tract. It begins thus—Open teaching of God’s law, old and new, open example of Christ’s life, and his glorious apostles, love of God, dread of pains, and God’s curse, and hope of great reward in the bliss of heaven, should stir all priests and religious to live in great meekness, willing poverty, according to the Gospel, and discreet penance and travail, to stop pride, covetousness, and fleshly lusts, and idleness of worldly men, and to run fast to heaven by the right way of God’s commandments.a
On the duty of the laity, and especially of men in authority, to be employed in endeavouring to bring both the clergy and the people generally into this better state, Wycliffe expresses himself as follows: “Kings and lords should know that they are ministers and vicars of God to avenge sin, and to punish wrong doers, and to praise good doers, as Peter and Paul teach. And hereto teacheth St. Isodore in the law of the church, that it is the office of the king and lords, by fear, and by bodily rigour, to constrain men to keep the law of God, when they would not so do by the preaching of priests. And God shall ask a reckoning of worldly lords, whether holy church be increased by their governance.” Having adverted with his usual freedom to the faults of the clergy, he adds, “These sins worldly lords are in debt to amend, for else they love not God, since they do not the execution of God’s commands, and avenge not the wrong and despite done to him.—Also Paul saith, that not only men doing sin are worthy of death, but also they who consent to it; and since lords may amend these great sins of pride, covetousness, extortions, and simony in clerks, they are damnable with the sinners themselves unless they so do.—And since adversities and wars come for sins reigning which are not amended, till those sins are amended lords should have neither respite nor peace. For lords have their lordship of God to destroy sin, and to maintain righteousness and holy life, and no man so withstanding God’s law shall have peace. If then they pay not to God this rent, well should they know that God must punish them as he teacheth in his law. And, certainly, if lords did well this office, they should surely come to the bliss of heaven.”
These observations all relate to the first “skill,” or reason, why lords should constrain clerks in the manner proposed; namely, a dread of the consequences which must follow negligence in this particular.
The second reason that should dispose them to make such use of their station and influence is—the great gain in respect to piety, and the peace proper to it, that would thus accrue to clerks, lords, and commoners. It is stated, that at present “prelates and great possessioners are so occupied in heart about worldly lordships and pleas of business, that they may not be in exercises of devotion, in prayer, in thought on heavenly things, on the sins of their own hearts, or on the sins of other men, or in study and preaching of the Gospel, and visiting and comforting poor men.” He then ridicules the idea that “rich clerks of the Chancery, of the Common Bench, of the King’s Bench, and in the Exchequer, and those who serve as justices, and sheriffs, and stewards, and bailiffs,” should be priests in a condition to reprove the worldliness of the laity. Such men, moreover, not only fail of the duty which they owe to their respective churches, but these especially are the persons who are wont to “set an idiot for vicar or parish priest, that cannot and may not do the office of a good curate, and yet the poor parish findeth him, and no tongue in this world can tell what sin and wrong cometh hereby.”
The third reason that should constrain lords to this course, is the great strengthening of the state which must follow from such a purification of the church, and the putting of such discountenance on every form of irreligion and immorality. In this manner especially “the poor commons would be discharged from heavy rents, and wicked customs brought in by covetous clerks; and of many heavy tallages and extortions by which they are now burdened and robbed. And thus by restoring of lordship to secular men, as is due by Holy Writ, and by bringing of clerks to meekness, and willing poverty, and busy spiritual labour, as lived Christ and his apostles, sin would be destroyed in each degree of holy church, and holy life brought in, and secular lords much strengthened, and the poor commons relieved, and good government, both spiritual and worldly, come again.”
With regard to the censures which may be fulminated against them, in attempting this thorough and greatly needed reformation, they are reminded that the wiser among them well know “that though all the clerks on earth should curse them, because of their labour, with a clean conscience, to bring clerks to this holy life, ensampled and commanded by Christ, and to restore secular lordships to secular men, as this would be according to God’s laws, God, and all angels, and saints, will bless them for this righteousness. The curses of these men harm no one, neither their interdicts, nor any censure which Satan may feign. Almighty God, stir our clerks, our lords, our commons to maintain the rightful ordinance of Jesus Christ made for clerks, and to dread the curse of God, and not the curse of Antichrist, and to desire speedily the honour of God and bliss of heaven, more than their own honour and worldly joy. Amen!”
XXII.Of Wedded Men and Wives, and of their Children also. This piece commences—Our Lord God Almighty speaketh in his law of two matrimonies, or wedlocks.a Matrimony in the first sense, is stated to be that which subsists between Christ and his church, which ends in bringing his redeemed children to heaven: matrimony in the second sense, is that which takes place “between man and woman by just consent, after God’s law.” Marriage in this latter sense, was approved of God in paradise, by Jesus Christ when on earth, and by his apostles, one of whom has mentioned “forbidding to marry,” as a mark of the heresy which should arise in the last days. But while this “bodily matrimony” is spoken of as a “sacrament,” it is in the following terms that Wycliffe speaks respecting the constrained celibacy of the clergy.
“Since fornication is so perilous, and men and women are so frail, God ordained priests in the old law to have wives, and never forbid it in the new, neither by Christ nor by his apostles, but rather approved it. But now by the hypocrisy of the fiend and of false men, many bind themselves to priesthood and chastity, and forsake wives according to God’s law.—Nevertheless, virginity is so high and so noble, that Christ commanded it not generally, but said, he who may should take it. And St. Paul, therefore, gave no command of virginity, but gave counsel to them that were able thereto. Thus priests who keep clean chastity, in body and soul, do best; but many, on account of these new bonds, needlessly made, take this charge upon them indiscreetly, and slander themselves foully before God and his saints.”
The Reformer censures such as marry women unsuitable in age for their wealth, as exposing themselves to great temptation, and many evils. He reproves parents also, who constrain their children to marry against their inclinations; and in the conjugal relation, while assigning government to the man, he enjoins considerateness and affection in all things, using the language of Peter and Paul.
On parental duty he writes, “Paul biddeth that the father nourish his children in the love and chastening of God. And God commandeth in the old law, that fathers should teach their children God’s commandments, and the wonders and miracles which he did in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the waters of Jordan, and in the land of promise. And much more are fathers and mothers holden to teach their children belief in the Trinity, and in Jesus Christ, how he is very God, without beginning, and was made man through most burning charity to save mankind, by strong penance, hard treatment, and a bitter death; also, all the common parts of Christian belief.—Parents who maintain their children knowingly in sin, are worse than those cruel fathers and mothers who killed their children, and offered them to stocks.”
Baptism, and repeating a paternoster, will not avail to such children. They must repent, and keep the commandments of God, if they would be saved from being “deep damned in hell.” It is added—“There are three faults seen many times in wedded men and women. The first is, that they make sorrow of their children, if they are naked or poor, but they charge it as nothing that their children are wanting in virtues; and with much labour and cost they obtain great riches, and high estates, and benefices for their children, oftentimes to their greater damnation. But they will not seek for their children the goods of grace, and a virtuous life, and will not suffer them to retain such goods freely proffered to them, but hinder them rather as much as they may, and say if the child incline himself to meekness and poverty, and flee covetousness and pride, from the dread of sin, and to please God, that he will never be a man, and shall never cost them a penny, and will curse him if he live well and teach other men God’s law, to save men’s souls; for by so doing the child getteth many enemies to his elders, and they say that he slandereth all his noble kindred, who were ever held true men and worshipful.”
XXIII.How Antichrist and his Clerks travail to destroy Holy Writ, and to make Christian Men unstable in the Faith, and to set their ground in Devils of Hell. The tract with this title begins—Asour Lord Jesus Christ ordained to make his Gospel sadly known, and maintained against heretics, and men out of belief, by the writings of the four Evangelists; so the Devil casteth by Antichrist and his worldly false clerks to destroy Holy Writ, and the belief of Christian men by four cursed ways or false reasonings.a
These four ways are—“First, that the church is of more authority and more credence than any Gospel. Secondly, that St. Augustine saith he would not believe in the Gospel, but if the church taught him so. Thirdly, that no man now alive knows which is the Gospel, but if it be by approving of the church. And, fourthly, if men say that they believe that this is the Gospel of Matthew or John, they ask, Why believest thou that this is the Gospel? since whosoever believeth this hath no cause except that the church confirmeth it and teacheth it.
“First, they say that Nicodemus, and many more, wrote the Gospel of Christ’s life, and his teaching, and the church put them away, and approved these four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then the church might as well have put out these four Gospels, and approved the other, since it was in the free-will and power of the church to approve and condemn which they would, and to approve and accept what they liked, and therefore men should believe more to the church than to any Gospel.”
Wycliffe says in reply—“First, these forecasting heretics understand by the church the pope of Rome, and his cardinals, and the multitudes of worldly clerks, assenting to his simony and worldly lordships above all kings and emperors of the world. For else it were not to their purpose thus to magnify the church. True men, then, say that the clergy which first was, knowing men, and holy of life, were stirred by the Holy Ghost to take these Gospels, and to charge not Christian people with more, since there are enough and profitable to the full, and those four witnesses were accepted of the Holy Ghost for many reasons, which we may not now tell. But certainly the church might not have put away these Gospels, and accepted the other, for then it had done against the doom of God, and against the truth of Jesus Christ, and against the charity of the Holy Ghost.”
But the Divine illumination which enabled the earlier ministers of the church thus to distinguish between the genuine records of inspiration and all spurious writings, is said to have been sadly wanting in the clergy of later times. Speaking of the contemporary priesthood, Wycliffe observes—“Jesus Christ saith his Gospel is an everlasting testament, but these would fordonb it with a stinking blast from the mouth of Antichrist. Lord! how dare Christian men maintain such heretics against God’s teaching, and the peace of Christian people? Such heretics are full unable to rule prelates, and lords, and commons, to shrift in preaching and praying, and to do other points concerning their souls’ health, for they destroy them in faith and good life, that their own pride, and covetousness, and lusts may be borne up; and draw all men to hell that are ruled by such false confessors, false preachers, and false counsellors.”
Wycliffe then proceeds to what he describes as the “second wheel” in the machine of this adversary. “They bear upon Austin,” he writes, “that he saith he would not believe in the Gospel, but if the church saith it is true. Men answer, that Austin saith to this intent, that he would not believe thereto, unless Christ, head of holy church and saints in heaven, and the apostles of Christ that are holy church, said and approved the Gospel. And this understanding is full true, and according to the letter of Austin; but they understand it thus, that unless the cursed multitude of worldly clerks approve this for the Gospel, Austin would not believe to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” But to make the church consist in a degenerate priesthood, to the exclusion of the body of the faithful, and to reason thus on that assumption, is said to be to make everything valuable in the religion of Christ depend on approval from men who have shown themselves its enemies—“but whose heresy,” he exclaims, “might sooner destroy the belief of Christian men?—and God forbid that Austin should be found in poisonous heresy. It is accursed falsehood, therefore, to slander Austin with this accursed error, by the name of this holy doctor colouring their own false understanding and heresy. For by this cursed wheel Antichrist’s clerks condemn the faith of Christian men, and the commandments of God, and points of charity, and bring in their own wayward laws.—Therefore Christian men should stand to the death for the maintenance of Christ’s Gospel, and the true understanding thereof, obtained by holy life, and great study, and not set their faith nor trust in sinful prelates, and their accursed clerks, nor in their understanding of Holy Writ, for with their worldly life and pride they are unable to see the truth thereof.”
“See now,” the Reformer proceeds to say, “the third wheel of Satan’s chair.—They say that no man can know what is the Gospel, but by the approving and confirming of the church. But true men say that, to their understanding, this is full of falsehood. For Christian men are certain of belief by the gracious gift of Jesus Christ, that the truth taught by Christ and his apostles is the Gospel, though all the clerks of Antichrist say never so fast the contrary, and require men to believe the contrary, on pain of cursing, prisoning, and burning. And this belief is not founded on the pope and his cardinals, for then it might fail and be undone, as they fail and be sometimes destroyed; but on Jesus Christ, God and Man, and on holy Trinity, and so it may never fail, but in his default who should love God and serve him, and who faileth in these two points. For Almighty God and his truths, are the foundation of the faith of Christian men; and as St. Paul saith, other foundation may no man set, besides that which is set, that is Jesus Christ. Therefore, though Antichrist and all his accursed clerks be buried deep in hell for their accursed misery and pride, and other sins, yet the Christian’s faith faileth not, and plainly because they are not the ground thereof, but Jesus Christ is the ground thereof. For he is our God, and our best master, and ready to teach true men all things profitable, and needful for their souls.”
“The fourth wheel of Belial’s cart is this,—If Christian men say they know by belief that this is Christ’s Gospel, these malicious heretics ask, Why they believe that this is Gospel? But true men ask of them againward, why they believe that God is God, and if they tell a good sufficient cause, we tell the same cause why we believe that this is Christ’s Gospel. But they say, whatever the prelates teach, teach openly, and maintain stedfastly, were of as great authority, or more, than is Christ’s Gospel, and so they would destroy Holy Writ, and Christian faith, and maintain that whatever they do is no sin. But Christian men take their faith of God by his gracious gift, when he giveth to them knowledge and understanding of truths needful to save men’s souls by grace to assent in their heart to such truths. And this men call faith, and of this faith Christian men are more certain than any man is of mere worldly things by any bodily wit.a And therefore Christ reproveth most defect of belief, both in the Jews and his disciples, and therefore Christ’s apostles prayed most to have stableness in the faith, for it is impossible that any man please God without faith. And so Christ prayed principally that the faith of Peter, and of the other disciples, might not fail of ever. And God’s law telleth how by faith saints wrought all the great wonders and miracles that they did. And if Antichrist here say that each man may feign that he has a right faith, and a good understanding of Holy Writ, when he is in error, let a man seek in all things truly the honour of God, and live justly to God and man, and God will not fail to him in anything that is needful to him, neither in faith, nor in understanding, nor in answer against his enemies.”
This piece concludes thus: “God Almighty strengthen his little flock against Antichrist, and to seek truly the honour of Christ and the salvation of men’s souls, to despise the feigned power of Antichrist, and willingly and joyfully to suffer reproof in the world for the name of Jesus Christ and his Gospel, to give good example to others to follow and to conquer the high bliss of heaven by glorious martyrdom as other saints did before! Jesus, for thine endless might, endless wisdom, endless goodness and charity, grant to us sinful wretches this love! Amen!”
In this examination of the writings of Wycliffe, I have followed thus far the manuscripts in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, from which all my extracts are taken, except in the instance of number fifteen—the piece intitled, “Of Feigned Contemplative Life”—my extracts from that treatise being taken, for the most part, from the manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin.
XXIV.De Dominis Divino. The piece thus described, begins—Since false glosses make God’s law dark, and hinder secular men to sustain and keep it, of such false glosses should each man be aware.a The false glosses of which most complaint is made, are those resorted to with a view to sustain the present endowed state of the church. In this tract, as in many of the preceding, Wycliffe denounces the sort of endowment adverted to, as contrary both to the Jewish and the Christian law. The effect of attempting to sustain religion by such means has been, to subject the clergy generally to the influence of covetous and worldly passions; and with such examples before them in the priesthood, secular lords take license to conduct themselves oppressively towards their tenants—“and so this endowing against God’s law, doeth harm to lords, and clerks, and commons, both bodily harm, and harm in their souls.” The Reformer urges, accordingly, that men should retrace their steps in this particular, and that the church should be freed from this form of incumbrance and mischief, notwithstanding all the laws, whether of church or state, which may exist in its favour. If it be alleged against this bold counsel, that the system thus menaced has been approved by many holy men, and that its sanctity has been further established by a host of miracles, Wycliffe replies, “Here men should know, that many such figuresb come often of the fiend for man’s first sin. So as St. Paul saith, the fiend hath power for to figure himself unto an angel of light. And so he is an untrue man that trowethc to such signs as much as he troweth to the faith of God’s law. And so is it no belief that all those men are saints which are hired of the pope to be holden such. And few men know how those wonders came which we call miracles, whether of good or evil. For well we know that the fiend doth often much good. Stand we stable in our belief, for that may never fail.”
Wycliffe extends his censure from these points to the conduct of the clergy in claiming exemption from the authority of the civil magistrate. He affirms it to have been the ancient law and practice of the kingdom for the secular tribunals to take cognisance of all civil offences on the part of the clergy. In judging on all such questions, the laity, it is maintained, possess, in every respect, fully as much fitness as the priesthood.
XXV. The tract beginning, For this uncouth dissension that is betwixt these popes, seemeth to signify the perilous times that Paul said should come, is that which sometimes has the titles, De Papa Romana, and Schisma Papæ.a
The writer commences by adverting to the circumstance of this schism in the papacy as favourable to a free discussion of questions relating to the church. He speaks of the present as a fitting occasion on which to sever from the papacy, and from the clergy generally, their ill-gotten lordships and endowments. He thus concludes the first chapter: “Trust we in the help of Christ on this point, for he hath begun to help us graciously, in that he hath clove the head of Antichrist, and made the two parts fight against each other. For it is no doubt that the sin of the popes, which has been so long continued, hath brought in this division. And so if both these heads last, or one by itself, then shall the last error be worse than the first. Emperors and kings, therefore, should help in this cause, to maintain God’s law, to conquer their own heritage, and to destroy this foul sin—saving persons. And then were peace established and simony destroyed.”
In the second chapter it is stated that the advocates of this kind of change are said to be “heretics, wicked men, and few against others.” Wycliffe adds—“A comfort it is that these three reasons mean nothing.” The third chapter commences with a reference to the pretended infallibility of the pope, on which the Reformer observes—“Here should the children of the fiend learn their logic and their philosophy, that they be not heretical in a false understanding of the law of Christ.” The election of cardinals or princes is declared to be of no value if not in accordance with the law of God. The only proper appointments to priesthood or government in the church, are the appointments of virtuous, able, and holy men. Concerning the power of binding and loosing assumed by the clergy, it is said—“That there is no greater heresy than for a man to believe that he is absolved from his sins if he give money; or if a priest lay his hand on the head and say that he absolveth thee. For thou must be sorrowful in thy heart, and make asseethb to God, else God absolveth thee not.”
In the next chapter the subject is renewed. “This confession which is made to man, hath often been varied with the varying of the church. For first, men confessed to God, and to the common people, and this confession was used in the time of the apostles.” But since that kind of confession among Christians,—confession to God, and one to another,—has given place to the practice of confession to a priest, great mischiefs have followed, priests being commonly wanting in the qualifications necessary to a wise discharge of the duties which thus devolve on them. The whole argument on this subject is in the boldest and most vigorous style, tending to expose the folly of the confidence generally placed in the efficacy of priestly absolution, and the special absurdity of the popish doctrine concerning the supposed supererogatory merits of priests, and the uses to which the clergy affected to apply them. His advice accordingly is—“Shrive thee to God, in constancy and contrition, and God may not fail, he will absolve thee.”
XXVI. The tract by Wycliffe intitled, Of Perfect Life, is one of a series of short pieces known by the title of the Poor Caitif, of which some account will be given hereafter. It commences thus—Christ, not compelling, but freely counselling each man to perfect life, saith thus. The language cited is that of our Lord in the ninth chapter of Luke, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take his cross, and follow me.” On which, the Reformer thus comments:—
“Forsake we ourselves in what we have made ourselves by sin, and dwell we such as we are made by grace. If a proud man be converted to Christ, and is made meek, he hath forsaken himself. If a covetous man ceaseth to covet, and giveth his own things, he hath denied himself. If a lecherous man changeth his life to chastity, he hath denied himself; as St. Gregory saith, He denieth himself who forsaketh and withstandeth the unreasonable will of his flesh. The cross of Christ is taken when despisings for the love of truth be not forsaken, when the flesh is punished by abstinence, and when compassion and pity toward our neighbour is truly kept; when a man is crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to him, setting at nought the joy thereof. It is not enough to bear the cross of painful life, except men follow Christ in virtues, not by steps of bodily feet, but by meekness, love, and heavenly desire. Meekness maketh a good soul to Christ what Martha was. As St. Bernard says, Love maketh a soul the spouse of Christ. Heavenly desire raiseth the soul on high, and maketh it to forget the world, and all the likings thereof. He taketh the cross, and is ready to meet all peril for God, and if need is, to die rather than to forsake Christ. And whosoever taketh not thus his cross, and followeth not Christ thus, is not worthy to be his disciple, nor to possess him, as he himself saith.”
But men are cautioned against such a reliance on the mercy of God, as may dispose them to delay repentance, and to heap sins upon one another; since St. Austin saith:—
“The most merciful Lord forgiveth sin to men flying to penitence, but makes us not so sure of the Lord’s mercy that we keep sins. Neither say we, while the strength of the flesh endureth, have we now our covetings, and at the last in age, do we penance for our sins, for the Lord is merciful, he shall not mind of our sins. I beseech you, saith St. Austin, think you not so, for it is the highest folly to think such things. Therefore haste we to repentance, and the last day be ever before our eyes. Restrain we our bodies from vice, and from evil covetings, and ever let our heart think on heavenly things. Lord Jesus! turn us to thee, and then we shall be turned. Heal thou us, and we shall be verily holy, for without grace and help from thee may no man be truly turned or healed. For they are but scorners who to-day turn to God, and to-morrow turn away; to-day doing penance, and to-morrow turning again to their former evils. What is turning to God? nothing but turning from the world, from sin, and from the fiend. What is turning from God? nothing but turning to the changeable goods of this world, to works of the fiend, and to lusts of the flesh. To be turned from the world is to set at nought, and to put out of mind, all joys and mirths thereof, and to suffer meekly all bitterness, slander, and deceits thereof, for the love of Christ; and to leave all occupations unlawful, and unprofitable to the soul; and to be dead to every such thing as the world worshippeth and loveth.”
He concludes by observing that Satan frequently presents occasions of temptation before the men who are most eminent in holiness, and are the least likely to be influenced by them. “But he studieth to blow against us all manner of temptations and tribulations, by how much that he seeth that by the mercy of God we are escaped out of his power. For he seeketh no thing so much as to separate a man from the pure and everlasting love of Jesus Christ, and to make him love failing things, and the uncleanness of this world.”a
XXVII.Of the Seven Deadly Sins. The work under this title begins thus—Since belief teaches us that every evil is only sin, or comes of sin, sin should be fled as all manner of evil.b
This treatise extends to eighty quarto pages, and after the above initial sentence, proceeds thus:—“And since nothing is fled by the wisdom of man, except as the harm of that thing is known, every true man should know sin well, and so should know the fruit thereof. All manner of evil is only sin, or else the pain which comes only from sin. Pain comes from sin in five manners. Pain comes to Christ, to buy man from sin. Pain comes to the condemned, to avenge sin. Pain comes to God’s children, to purge them from sin. Pain comes to many men to keep them from sin. Pain comes to other men to show that God hates sin. And so as God is the best thing in the world, sin is the worst thing in the world. And so while all other things are God’s creatures, sin is made without God, as St. John saith.
“God may not bid man sin, for his own goodness. Sin may not serve God, although it profit. The sin of our first father might not be bought away, except by God and man, who is above the angels. If thou wouldest flee death, and pain, in any manner, then flee sin more, for pain is a good medicine which Christ himself took to heal man of sin. For the righteousness of God may not suffer sin, except he shall punish it, and this was the cause of the pain which Christ suffered for man.”
Wycliffe then states, as he has done in the “Poor Caitif,” the “Trialogus,” and several other works, that the sin never forgiven,—the sin against the Holy Ghost,—is that of the man who dies in a state of impenitence. “Sin,” he proceeds, “is called deadly, because it brings death to the body and soul, and that without end. And sin is called venial, because God’s Son forgives it. But men should be at war with all sin, because of the peril thereof, since they know not deadly sin from venial; inasmuch as they never know whether this sin shall ever have end, or whether this man shall be damned through being hardened in his sins.”
After these introductory observations, the Reformer proceeds to enumerate and describe the different “manners of sin that come to man.” The first sin mentioned is pride, which is said to arise sometimes separately, and sometimes otherwise, as from “the gifts of grace; the wit that God has given; the gifts of kind, as bodily strength, or bodily beauty; or from the goods of fortune, and the riches of the world.” All these gifts are said to be from God, and each man should possess them in humility, endeavouring “meekly to serve his God, according to the gifts he hath of him.” The craftsman should know his occupation, and the scholar be conversant with human learning, but the knowledge of Holy Scripture is a science with which all men should be acquainted. Every man must know the will of God, in order to the doing of it; and he must do the will of God, in order to be happy; “so each man here must needs con divinity—some more, some less, if he will be saved.” The more men strive to hide this “science of God,” the more it increases. The friars oppose themselves to the diffusion of this knowledge, and would fain convert these spiritual treasures into articles of merchandise; “but since this science is freely given to men, it should be freely delivered; and because the telling of God’s law would be most profitable to his church, the fiend is full busy in preventing such spiritual profit.”
In the next section, the Reformer censures the costume of the age as fanciful, costly, and often injurious to the body, as well as to the mind. If the force of custom be pleaded, his answer is, that the force of the reasonable should be stronger, and that “to conform to the world, is to conform to an enemy.” The next topic is the folly of family pride. To be related to Christ and his church is the highest dignity. “Of this kindred we should have joy, and not of earthly kindred, for they were sometimes beggars, or servants, or fools; and, therefore, Jesus Christ came only of poor kindred, and would not make them rich in the world, except in virtues. He was not ashamed of the poverty of his kindred; but hath taught us to be glad in the kinship of virtues, for joy in such kindred is the bliss of heaven.”
The pride of wealth is next adverted to, as being little more reasonable than pride of family. To hoard wealth, is to sin. To be employed in distributing it, never so wisely, as when we endeavour to abate the force of evils which would never have been known if sin had not entered into the world, and such-like service, relating to what is merely temporal, is to be in danger of withdrawing our attention injuriously from what is more immediately spiritual. Hence, it is said, that the clergy should have “food and clothing needful to them, and therewith should hold themselves paid, for more would tarry them.”
In the ninth section of this treatise, the author divides the church into three parts—preachers—defenders—and labourers. He speaks of the apostles as the “spiritual knights” of the Gospel; and of Christ as “going into all the world, not to fight with the cold arms of the body, but with the arms of charity.” He then states, that the only gradation, rank, or office known in the church of Christ, in its earlier history, was that of “priests and deacons, living clerks’ life.—By ordinance of Christ, priests and bishops were all one; but afterwards the emperor departeda them, and made bishops lords, and priests their servants, and this was the cause of envy, and quenched much charity. And so if possessioners were brought to that state which Christ ordained to his clerks, then should men have charity, both with secular clerks, and also with religious.” It has been the work of the fiend, he observes, to change this simpler state of things into one of “many colours, as secular and religious; and both have many parts, as popes, and cardinals, and bishops, and archdeacons; monks, canons, hospitallers, and friars. And each of these orders loves more his brother, than he loves a man of another strange order, and will defend his order by personal affection.” Amidst such separations of men into classes and sections, “no wonder,” says Wycliffe, “if charity be put away.”a
In the section following it is remarked, that “as virtues in priests quicken the church, sins and vices in them make the church venomous.” But the heaviest charge to be brought against the clergy is said to be, that to please some great men “they hide God’s law, and persecute priests for preaching the truth.” The parties thus opposed to religion are said to be no less opposed to humanity, combining to plunder and oppress the commonalty of the land.
The preceding observations have respect to the first of the three classes into which the church is divided, namely, the preachers,—the observations following are addressed to the two remaining classes, described as defenders and labourers; the former consisting of lords and knights, and the latter of the body of the people. They are observations pointed especially against the irreligion and inhumanity attendant on the practice of war. The war carried on in Flanders in favour of Pope Urban is adverted to, and appears to have disposed the mind of Wycliffe to the tone of expression observable in this part of the work. He complains much of the conduct of the clergy in this respect. He observes, “They should be labourers for peace, but in word and deed they favour war, taking it as law that it is right to annoy an enemy in whatever way we can. But the charity of Christ bids the contrary.—The virtue of charity should be most in clerks, but envy is most in them when they are turned to evil.”
The advocates of war made their appeal to the Old Testament. The reply of Wycliffe was—“In the old law men fought with God’s enemies, to avenge God’s injuries, and by no other cause, and neither will men now if their fighting be lawful.” Men, he contends, should war as the Israelites did, only when commissioned as they were. Attention to this rule would bring the fulfilment of the prophecy—“Men shall break their swords into ploughshares, and learn war no more.” But “yet Antichrist argues to keep men fighting, though humanity teaches that men should not fight. Their saying is—Since an adder by his nature stings a man that treads on him, why should not we fight against our enemies, for else they will destroy us? What man that hath wit cannot see this fallacy? Well I know that angels withstood fiends, and many men with right of law withstand their enemies, and yet they kill them not, neither fight with them; and wise men of the world hold it well thus to vanquish their enemies without striking; and wise men of the Gospel vanquish by patience, and come to rest and peace by suffering of death. Well I know that worldly men will scorn this sentence, but men who would be martyrs for the law of God will hold with it.”
The argument of Wycliffe seems to involve, to the full, the Quaker principle on the subject of war. He admits that God has “approved that knights should defend his law by strength,” but insists that he has not granted them permission to “kill any man.” It was said—“But the pope approves crusades;” and the answer was, that such a fact proves nothing, unless it can be proved that the pope is nearer infallibility than Peter. “Christ is a good shepherd, for he puts his own life for the saving of the sheep; but Antichrist is a wolf of ravening, for he does ever the reverse, for he puts many thousand lives in the place of his own wretched life. By forsaking things which Christ bids priests forsake, he might cease all this strife. Why is he not a fiend, though a priest, who fights in this cause, stained foul with homicide? For if manslaying in others be odious to God, much more in priests, that should be vicars of Christ. And certain I am, the pope, and all the men of his council cannot produce a spark of reason to show that he should do this.”
Wycliffe, it is plain, was not insensible to the difficulties attendant on the principle which he thus advocates, but he appears to have been prepared to abide by the worst supposable consequences of it, rather than consent to see the substitution of the war principle, in any shape, in its room. What is called the right of conquest, he treats as only so much robbery on a larger scale. If the Almighty should “bid conquest,” such a title might become valid, not otherwise. “Lord!” he exclaims, “what honour falls to a knight that he kills many men?—the hangman killeth more, and with a better title. It were better be butchers of beasts than butchers of our brethren, for this were more unnatural.” Many would, probably, complain of his strong language on this subject, especially as applied to the popish crusade: his answer was, that the men are sharers in evil deeds, who, by a “coward dumbness,” fail to oppose them. His desire was, that priests should “all give themselves to a heavenly life, as angels sent from God, to draw men from the world:” in place of being more beset with the seven deadly sins than other men.
XXVIII.Vita Sacerdotum. This piece begins—This peril of friars is the last of eight that fall to man in this way.a
In its commencement, Wycliffe makes mention of the clergy as attempting to vindicate their claims to ecclesiastical endowments by appealing to the provisions of the Jewish law in that particular. But the reply given, as on many similar occasions, is, that the Levitical priesthood were wholly destitute of endowments in the sense intended; that the provision made in their case was, that they should not be possessed of landed property in any shape, and that they should depend wholly on the current tithes and offerings of the people. Such was the arrangement made in respect to the support of the priesthood under the old law; and secular lords are reminded that they are competent to reduce the Christian priesthood to the same condition, and that it behoves them to do so.
This tract consists of eight quarto pages. It contains an allusion to the council in London, which had condemned the doctrine of Wycliffe, as opposed, in the above sense, to ecclesiastical endowments. It contains the following passage also, which is equally decisive in respect to the late date of this production: “Either God’s law is false, or the realm of England shall be punished sharply, for persecuting poor priests, only for saying that Antichrist should be ashamed of their manner of life, and that the bread of the altar is very God’s body, as the Gospel saith, and as common faith holds.” In attempting the needed reformation, “some should help by prayer, some by good speech, some by worldly power, and some by good life.”
XXIX.De Blasphemia contra Fratres. The copy of this work in the Bodleian Library has the following title, De Tribus Blasphemiis Monachorum. Its initial words are—It is said that three things stourblinbthe realm, especially heresie.c
This work is much more extended than the preceding—it numbers forty pages. Wycliffe commences by defining the word blasphemy as used in this treatise. The term is used in respect to God in the same sense with the term slander as applied to man: and the blasphemies charged upon the friars are especially three—the errors inculcated by them in regard to the eucharist; their pleading the example of Christ as giving sanction to their practice of mendicity; and their conduct in pretending to dispense pardons and indulgences to the people for money. Men are said to blaspheme “when worthiness proper only to God is put to a poor creature: when imperfection is put upon God; and when dignity is denied to God that must accord to him from his great lordship.” If blasphemy, in these senses, “is scattered among many men, this heresy is most common with the friars.”
In regard to the first point, the eucharist, he writes, “We say surely, of our faith, that the white thing and round, which the priest consecrates, like to the unconsecrated host, and which is broken and eaten, is verily God’s body in the form of bread.” He cites St. Augustine as teaching, that the bread remains after consecration; and as opposed, accordingly, to the received doctrine of transubstantiation, which teaches that after the words of consecration the bread does not remain, but is transubstantiated into the body of Christ. Such is truly the doctrine of transubstantiation, the bread ceasing to be, by becoming the body, soul, and divinity of the Saviour. The friars, as the advocates of this doctrine, are described as precluding men from exercising their senses in respect to religion, as well as from the just use of their higher faculties. The strongest of the senses, according to philosophers, are touch and taste; but if friars are to be credited, men should not allow any place to the office of these senses in the matter of the sacrament. Against the absurdity of this doctrine Wycliffe pours forth his strongest invective. The men who hold it are said to be more stupid than “Jews or Pagans;” and no more capable of explaining what they mean than the brute. “Would God that the clerks of Antichrist who teach our belief, and charge more the words of Ambrose than those of the Gospel, would give us leave truly so glossa St. Ambrose. When he says that after the sacreding the sacrament should not be holden bread, the saint means, as he often does, that this should not be known afterwards as principally bread. For thus (in this sense) St. Ambrose says the thing that was bread is now God’s body—and well may we know that Ambrose says not that the bread goes to nought, as Antichrist says.” The sacrament, he repeats emphatically, “is Christ’s body, and bread also;” and then adds, “so thus it is that this bread turns into Christ’s body, and so the substance of the bread offered upon the altar shall be turned into the substance of Christ’s own body, as St. Ambrose says, and neither shall be brought to nought, for these are not contrary.” On this subject we should confide in the law of Scripture and reason more than in any law from popes and cardinals—“so that if we had a hundred popes, and all the friars were cardinals, yet should we trust more to the law of the Gospel than to all this multitude.” The following passage is an instance of the manner in which Wycliffe opposed the experience of the plain man to the subtleties of this church doctrine. “Since bodily eating was bidden of Christ, and this bodily eating might not be unless there were bread, then this bread lasts after the sacreding.”a
The second article sets forth, as we have seen, that the practices of the begging friars are according to the example of the Saviour. One instance adduced by the mendicants, in support of this conclusion, was, that Christ solicited water from the woman of Samaria. In answer, it is observed, that the persons who make such use of this passage, should look to the context, where it appears that our Lord had sent his disciples into the city, not to beg bread, but to purchase it. It was usual to allege the language of the Saviour to Zaccheus for the same purpose. But it is replied that our Lord spoke to Zaccheus as a superior, and not as a supplicant; and that Christ, moreover, came to the earth in the exercise of a peculiar lordship—the lordship which pertained to human nature in innocence. It was one thing to receive temporal alms, another to become petitioners for them.
But the error under the third article is deplored as especially pernicious. This vending of pardons, “without condition,” is denounced as in the last degree presumptuous and cruel; and as a course of proceeding in which mendicants do not scruple to enrich themselves at the cost of deceiving the souls of men, so as to sink them to perdition. But friars do not blush to allege that these spiritual treasures are to the priesthood what worldly treasures are to secular lords, goods entrusted to them, to be expended at their pleasure, and for their behoof. But the “idiots who argue by way of such likeness, do more harm to men than if they cut their throats.” Do not these deceivers know, that men who have the disposal of temporal goods, have their superiors, and known laws, to which they are responsible, while the dealers in these supposed “merits of men,” dispense their wares “after their own will?” Even the letters of pardon granted by the pope, make some mention of the signs of penitence, “but these friars, in their letters, speak of no contrition.” What more natural than that the people should be negligent of their own works, “seeing they may purchase after this manner in lieu of them?”
Wycliffe’s conclusions are—that by the first of these errors, that relating to the eucharist, the friars impeach the wisdom of God, setting him forth as the patron of contradictions and impossibilities—that by the second error, they charge him with inconsistency, representing him as an abettor of the kind of indolence and poverty which he has so decidedly condemned throughout the Old and New Testaments—and that in the third error, they slander his purity, in describing him as authorising priests to dispense pardons after a manner which could only conduce to their own corrupt aggrandisement, and to the grossest irreligion and depravity among the people.
XXX.De Ecclesiæ Dominio. This work consists of about fourteen closely-written folio pages. Its English title is, Of the Church of Christ, of her Members, and of her Governance; and it begins, Christ’s church is his spouse that hath three parts.a
It then immediately proceeds as follows—“The first part is in bliss with Christ, head of the church, and containeth angels and blessed men that now be in heaven. The second part of the church be saints in purgatory, and these sin not anew, but purge their old sins. And many errors fallenb in praying for these saints, and since they all are dead in body, Christ’s words may be taken of them: suec we Christ as our life, and let the dead bury the dead. The third part of the church are true men that here live, that shall be afterwards saved in heaven, and who live here the life of Christian men. The first part is called the overcoming part, the middle is called the sleeping, the third is called the fighting. And all these make one church, and the head of this church is Jesus Christ, both God and man. This church is mother to every man who shall be saved, and containeth no other.”
He then derides the folly of regarding the church as the spouse of Christ, and of supposing that the offspring of Belial can be among its members. In the present world, no man can possibly know himself to be a member of the church of Christ except as he is enabled to live a holy life; few, if any, being so taught of God as to know their ordination to the bliss of heaven. In allusion to the Urban crusade, he censures the folly of men who “fight for the pope more than for belief,” and who in so doing probably “fight for the fiend.”
In the next section he proposes to trace the rise of secular power in the church, founding his statements, partly, in “belief,” or Holy Scripture, and partly on “common chronicles,” but proceeding always, as he hopes, under the guidance of charity. The church militant is described as consisting of persons who conform themselves to “the example of Christ, to come to heaven as he came:” and then follows a sketch of the history of the Saviour, and mention of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, and earnest praise of their labours among Jews and Gentiles. “And thus the apostles of Christ filled the world with God’s grace. But long after, as chronicles say, the fiend had envy thereat, and by Silvester, priest of Rome, he brought in a new guile, and moved the emperor of Rome to endow his church. When the life of the priest was thus changed, his name was changed. He was not called the apostle, or the disciple of Christ, but he was called the pope, and head of all holy church: and afterwards came other names, by the feigning of hypocrites, so that some say he is even with the manhead of Christ, and highest vicar of Christ, to do on earth whatever he liketh; and some flourish other names and say that he is most blessed father,—because hereof cometh benefices which the priest giveth to men, for Simon Magus never more laboured in simony than do these priests. And so God would suffer the fiend no longer to reign in one such priest only, but for the sins which they had done, made division among two, so that men might the more lightly in Christ’s name overcome both. For as a virtue is stronger when it is gathered, than if it be scattered; so malice is stronger when it is gathered in one person, and it is of less strength when it is dispersed among many. And this moveth poor priests to speak now heartily in this matter, for when God will help his church, and men are slothful and will not work, their sloth is to be condemned for many causes.”
In several of his works, the Reformer speaks in this manner of the schism in the papacy, as having greatly encouraged himself and others in their endeavours to direct the attention of men to the corruptions of the church. In the claim of the pope to be regarded as the successor of St. Peter, two things are to be supposed—that he is the vicar of Christ, and a follower of Christ. But in respect to the first, “Christ biddeth the Jews, that they should trust to his works; and thus by Christ’s vicar, should bea the poorest man of all other men, and the meekest of all others, and of most labour in Christ’s church. But this choosing of cardinals, and procuring of benefices, and taking of new names, be full far from that state. Thus Peter lived after Christ, and challenged no such names, nor to be head of holy church, but studied hard rather meekly to serve it. Each apostle also in his country wrought according to Christ’s law, and none of them had need afterwards to come to Peter to be confirmed.” We do not learn, he observes, that Christ ever left preaching to sell offices in the church:—“all these things that popes do, teach that they are Antichrists. If they say that Christ’s church must have a head here on earth, true it is, for Christ is the head which must be here with his church until the day of doom.” To say there is need of another head, is to impeach the power and the grace of Christ. Some men, however, have invented “a false tale” on this subject, saying, “when Christ went to heaven, his manhood went on pilgrimage, and that he made Peter, with all these popes, his stewards to rule his house, and gave them full power thereto, before all other priests alive. Here this dream proceeds amiss, turning the church upside down, for Peter was a true helper, with Paul, and John, and the other apostles; but none of these servants dreamed that he was head of holy church, or that he loved Christ more than any of his brethren did. It seems likely, to many men, that Peter loved Christ more, in a manner, than any of these other apostles; but he was not taught to strive on that account, for other apostles, in other manner, loved Christ more than did Peter, as John loved him more heavenly, and Paul laboured more in the church.”
“We do not affirm as belief,” he adds, “that if a man be chosen as pope, then he is chosen to bliss, though here he is called blessed father. Many know by their works, that these be deepest damned in hell, for they charge themselves as hypocrites, both in office and in name, and so they sit in the first place here, and at the last day of doom they shall be in the last place, that is, the deepest place of hell. Here let us hold ourselves in bonds of belief, that stand in general and conditional words, and let us not judge foolishly, but we may say by supposal, that we guess it to be so: and his part should soonest be supposed, who bringeth most evidence.”
The Reformer then proceeds to complain of three heresies which deceive men. The first is involved in the practice of calling the pope “most blessed father.” This is said to be done in flattery, and for gain; and it includes heresy, inasmuch as it supposes, that where there is the highest office, there is the highest sanctity, all true blessedness being attendant on character and not on office. If the principle on which this practice proceeds were just, then it might be just to give the title “most blessed father,” to Judas, and to multitudes resembling him.
Another heresy is, “that if the pope determine aught, that so determined is truth, and to be believed.” This pretension is denied, and censured as most sinful and pernicious. Appeal is made to the infirmities of Peter, as fatal to the doctrine of infallibility as thus assumed by his successors. Some men say, that on such dignities the church rests, as on her proper foundation. Wycliffe answers, that from that source, rather, the church has to trace her greatest mischiefs, especially as evinced in the matter of indulgences, and in the manner of administering absolution.
He proceeds to show still further how these supposed infallible “stewards may err in regard to the ordinance of Christ.” The monks are said to have come in because of the laxity and degeneracy of the regular clergy. Canons and friars came in from the same cause in the place of monks. All these in their turn have degenerated, so that were Christ to come again to the earth, he would judge them as so many clerks of Antichrist. The laws of these several institutes are dwelt upon as unscriptural, their history is shown to have been unfavourable to the purity of religion, and it is demanded whether the popes, the great patrons of these orders, can be regarded, in the face of such palpable blunders, as infallible? “The apostles of Christ, and other disciples long after them, were not busy about tithes, but held themselves paid in the little that the people readily gave them; and so housing and clothing, as Paul saith, should be enough.” But this Roman “steward so chafferetha in appropriating churches, that the people dwell untaught, and unserved in spiritual help. Who should be blind, therefore, if not this steward, that doeth this without leave of the Lord, and openly against his bidding? If any man should be damned, this steward should be deepest damned: and alyatesb for he feigneth power, and new laws, which God made never. And yet he gabbethc upon God, that all this is God’s work: but in the time of the Old Testament, such a blasphemer would have been stoned to death.”
In the fifth section the friars are censured as the advocates of war, and especially as having favoured “this last journey that the English made into Flanders,” an enterprise by which the realm was not a little despoiled “of men and money.” In the next section it is argued that the converts made by these men, degenerate as the effect of such conversions; and that the rival popes have in fact no greater enemies than these zealous allies. But the time has come in which all men should apply themselves to the work of purifying the church, some by scriptural learning, some by secular power and influence, some by a Christian example, and all by earnest prayer to God—“for in him lieth the help here against the cautelsd of the fiend.”
The Reformer then proceeds to counsel his reader in respect to the best method of reasoning with the friars on the doctrine of the eucharist. “The people trust commonly, that this host is God’s body. Here friars should begin, and tell man if this be true. If they say that this host is in no manner God’s body, then flee them as heretics, for Christ and his church say the contrary. If they say that this host is an accident, as colour and figure, without a subject, and so is not God’s body, well we know that old belief, grounded in the words of Christ, saith that it is God’s body. And if they say that this sacrament is God’s body, as it is in heaven, then these friars speak as idiots.” They were thus to insist, that the accidents of whiteness and roundness pertained to real bread, after the words of consecration; and they were to maintain equally, that the bread is God’s body, in a figurative and sacramental sense. In the remaining part of the treatise, Wycliffe resumes his strictures on the pretensions of the papacy. “After this, should men know concerning the pope’s power in absolving, granting indulgences, and other vain privileges, with cursing. For just as the popes feign that they do miracles, when theya . . . more wonderfully than ever did Christ or his apostles; so in absolving and cursing, they feign to themselves an unknown power, and blaspheme and harm the church. Christian men believe, that Peter and Paul, and other apostles, took power of Christ, but only that they might edify the church. And thus all priests, that are Christ’s knights, have power of him to that end; and which of them has the greatest power, it is vain for us to treat. But concerning the deeds of priests we suppose, that he who profiteth the church most, hath most power of Christ. And thus by the (kind of) power which Christ gave to Peter, no man may prove that this priest, the bishop of Rome, hath more power than other priests.” In fact, where the test of spiritual utility is especially needed, it is found, as before shown, to be especially wanting.
It does not follow in a papal election, “that God must sign, when these cardinals have chosen.” Nor should the promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world,” be understood as relating exclusively to an order of priesthood, but as relating to the whole church, and as a declaration, “that Christ shall thus be with his members that he hath ordained to bless.” Adverting to the Romanist interpretation given to the words of our Lord addressed to Peter,—Whatever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosened in heaven,b —the Reformer observes, that this reasoning is “full of folly from many causes.” Truly, Christ said thus to Peter, but so he said to the other apostles. Why should Peter have power by this, more than other apostles of Christ? Also, men should know, that these words, which Christ said to Peter, are of no avail to this pope, but as he shall follow Christ and Peter in life. And suppose that all this be truth; “the power intended by Christ cannot have been such as is now dreamt of, since in that case Peter must have sinned in many ways, inasmuch as he did not use this power;” and it is demanded, “Who shall excuse him of this sin?”
“Men should understand what is to bind man abovec earth. And men must needs see here, that their priest bindeth man above earth, when he bindeth man after God, and not for the flesh, nor for covetousness. And so this pope should teach men that he bindeth thus above earth, and neither in the earth, nor under the earth, but according to the keys above. But this will he never teach, before that Gabriel blows his horn. And if he teach that the church above bindeth thus, or absolveth thus, at his instance, yet he proveth not this great power, and thus grounding (or authority) from God’s law, faileth here shamefully. But if Christ said to Peter, ‘Whatsoever he bound above the earth, is bounden in heaven,’ then it followeth of this pope now living, that whatever thing he feigneth him to bind, is bound of God. But certainly the most ignorant man in this world might shame of such a reason. Furthermore, if we give this pope such power as he feigneth, and if we take heed to his deeds, he shall shame (be ashamed) of such power; for the law of charity would teach, that if he had such power, he should absolve all his subjects from pain, and from trespass, for then he would bring all men to heaven, and suffer no man to go to hell; and since charity standeth in using the gifts of God to this end, he were too slow in God’s service, denying to men the gifts of God; for as he took freely his power, Christ biddeth that he should freely give.” Christ, alone, it is maintained, could be equal to the just exercise of such authority, as that claimed in this instance by the popes; and the pontiffs, in claiming the power to do such miracles, in relation to the soul, are shrewdly challenged to furnish evidence of their claim, by doing similar wonders in relation to the body, as in expelling diseases—“Prove ye this greater power,” says Wycliffe, “by this less.”
The cupidity and extortions of the popes in other respects are then dwelt upon, as in their encouragement of appeals to their authority; in their practices with respect to provisions and commendams; and in their demand of the first-fruits from vacant benefices. By some flatterers of the papacy, it was alleged that “the pope could do no simony, because all benefices are his.” Wycliffe replies, that had the pope ever been in possession of such a title, it has been long since forfeited by abuse; “for it often falleth, according to their law, that a tyrant, and a member of the fiend, is put before a member of Christ.” hence it has come to pass, that “a man’s doing according to the school of Christ, without any other sin,” shall be sufficient to bring him to ruin.
XXXI. The only remaining portion of the writings of Wycliffe still in manuscript, to which I shall invite the attention of the reader, in this section, will be his sermons. We have seen in many of the preceding extracts from his various works, that preaching, in the judgment of Wycliffe, was the great agency by which men were to be brought under the influence of religion, and by which they were to be continually edified when they had become religious. The sacraments, and the other services of the church, might have their value; but not such as to supersede, in the slightest degree, the office of preaching—the great office relating to instruction. Wycliffe is never weary of reiterating, that men can never be religious, except as they are enlightened; and that if they were to make advances in devout feeling, and in Christian conduct, it must be as the result of their increasing knowledge of Divine truth. In the esteem of the Reformer, accordingly, the priest or prelate who did not labour assiduously as a preacher, was a man negligent of his great duty, and justly exposed to the severest judgments both from God and man. As holding such doctrine, and as labouring with the greatest earnestness to give to it the utmost publicity, we of course expect to find in Wycliffe a man who will be eminent in the labours of the pulpit. His reputation as a scholar may render it expedient that he should sometimes address himself to the solution of questions which perplexed the less learned intelligence of senators and kings; and his celebrity as a schoolman, and the novelties broached by him in that character, may impose on him the duty of entering the arena of controversy with the most cultivated intellects of his age: but if Wycliffe, in the rector of Lutterworth, is to be judged according to his own doctrine, he must be known within that narrow space as the diligent pastor, and as the laborious preacher. He must not be so occupied with the great and the distant, as to overlook the less, and the more immediate. He may be zealous as a Reformer of the church, but he must be considerate, condescending, exemplary, as the minister of his particular cure. It is sufficient to say, that the Reformer appears to have been, in this respect, all that consistency demanded. We know not the number of sermons composed by Wycliffe, but that copies of nearly three hundred should have been preserved, notwithstanding all the effort made to destroy whatever had proceeded from his pen, is proof that his labours as a preacher must have been abundant.
Until about the beginning of the thirteenth century two methods of preaching had prevailed: these were technically called “declaring” and “postillating.” According to the former, the preacher commenced by announcing the subject on which he meant to discourse, and proceeded to deliver on the topic thus introduced something more like an oration or essay than a sermon. To postillate was to commence with reading a portion of Scripture, and then taking its parts in the order of the writer, to offer such remarks upon them as tended to explain their meaning, and to secure their application. To the latter method, which was the same with our own custom of “expounding,” another was added about this time, and one by which the ancient practice of declaring was soon almost superseded, and the far better practice of postillating became much less frequent. The sacred text had been recently divided into its present order of chapters, and the dialectic art, to which the schoolmen were so much devoted, suggested the selecting of some brief portion of Scripture as the basis of a sermon, and that the matters introduced to illustrate and establish the doctrine or duty of the passage, should be divided and subdivided in the manner still so generally retained among preachers. This scholastic method of preaching was for some time much opposed, and its follies and mischiefs appear to have been many and considerable. Anthony Wood introduces Roger Bacon as censuring this new custom, and as accounting for its prevalence in the church in a manner which shows that the good friar’s estimate of the mind of the clergy in his time, even of such as rose to the dignity of prelacy, was not much more favourable than that so often expressed by Wycliffe. “The greater part of our prelates,” he writes, “having but little knowledge in divinity, and having been little used to preaching in their youth, when they become bishops, and are sometimes obliged to preach, are under a necessity of begging and borrowing the sermons of certain novices, who have invented a new way of preaching, by endless divisions and quibblings; in which there is neither sublimity of style, nor depth of wisdom, but much childish trifling and folly, unsuitable to the dignity of the pulpit. May God banish this conceited and artificial way of preaching out of his church, for it will never do any good, nor elevate the hearts of the hearers to anything that is great or excellent.”a
Wycliffe adhered as a preacher to the postillating or expository method. His “postils” appear to have been produced at different times through the interval from 1376, when he became rector of Lutterworth, to the close of 1384, the time of his decease. In some instances, these discourses consist of little more than a few brief notes, attached to an English translation of the lesson for the day; in others, they approach nearer to the length of modern sermons. But when filling several closely-written folio pages, we know not how far to regard them as exhibiting anything more than the general manner of the Reformer’s efforts as a preacher. In many instances they resemble mere outline preparations for the pulpit, topics being briefly indicated rather than fully expounded or discussed. Nor have we any reason to suppose that their being made public was at all the act of the Reformer. Purvey, his curate at Lutterworth, was a man who would not fail to attach great value to such documents, if we suppose them to have fallen into his hands after the decease of their author. But through whatever channel the copies of these discourses now extant have been transmitted, we may safely conclude that they contain the very matters which were delivered to the people of Lutterworth by their rector. And there is hardly a peculiarity of opinion promulgated by Wycliffe the nature or the progress of which might not be illustrated from these discourses. It should be stated, also, that these compositions are strictly popular in their character. References to abstruse and speculative questions frequently arise, either from the import of the text, or from the reasonings suggested by it; but these are soon dismissed that the attention of the people might be directed to “things more profiting.” Through the whole, the manifold corruptions of the hierarchy are vigorously assailed, as forming the great barrier to all religious improvement. The duties of men, in all relations, are frequently discussed, and always with a careful, and mostly with a judicious reference to the authority of Scripture: while the doctrines of the Gospel are uniformly exhibited, as declaring the guilt and the spiritual infirmities of men to be such, as to show the atonement of Christ to be their only way of pardon, and the grace of the Divine Spirit to be their only hope of purity. We sometimes feel the want of more clearness in the statement of these truths, and we often wish to see them more fully developed, but no room is left to doubt as to their being there, and there as the full substance of the doctrine taught.
In an exposition on the passage from Isaiah, in which the promised Messiah is said to preach the Gospel to the poor, and which our Lord applied to himself in the synagogue of Galilee, Wycliffe has the following observations on reading sermons, and on preaching generally. “From this deed of Christ, men say that it is lawful to write, and afterwards to read a sermon, for thus did Christ, our all-perfect Master. For if men may thus improve the people, what should hinder them to have this manner? Certainly the labour of the preacher, or the fame of having a good wit, should not be the end of preaching, but profit to the souls of the people; and however this end cometh best, that is most pleasing to God. But curious preaching of Latin is full far from this end, for many men thus preach themselves, and leave to preach Christ.”a
On the text, “Let a man so guess of us as of the ministers of God and dispensers of his services”b —the preacher remarks: “If each Christian man should be found true in this respect, priests, both high and low, should be more true. And the sin of failure in this respect among priests is most foul. As if the pope and his bishops were ashamed to be Christ’s servants, in their manner of living they show an emperor’s life, and are lordly in the world. Since Christ hated this kind of life, they give no ground to guess them to be ministers of Christ. And so in the first word of this belief which Paul teacheth, they fail. Lord, what good doth this prating that the pope will here be called most blessed father, and bishops most reverend men, since their life discardeth from Christ? They show in the taking of this name that they are on the fiend’s side, children of the father of leasings. For if he say, after Gregory, that he is the servant of servants, his life reverseth his name. He faileth to follow Christ, since he is not the dispenser of services which God hath bidden, but he departeth to the lordship which the emperor hath given. And so all the services of the church which Christ hath limited to his priests, are turned to the contrary side, and so to the service of the fiend. So that if men take heed to the service of the church as Christ hath limited it, it is all turned upside down, and hypocrites are become rulers.” Thus the signs of a true priestly character are said to be often wanting where the office of priesthood is assumed, and in such cases the people owe not the reverence due to priesthood.
The apostle proceeds to say, “To me it is for the least thing that I be judged of you, or else of man’s judgment, but I judge not myself.” On this passage the preacher observes—“And thus men shall not be harmed because of the blind judgment of man, for God himself will judge all men, either to good or evil. Therefore Paul taketh little heed to the judgment that man judgeth, for he knew well from Scripture, that if God judgeth thus, then the judgment must stand, and that nothing else will stand but God’s judgment. Thus there are two days—the day of the Lord, and man’s day. The day of the Lord is the day of doom, when he shall judge all manner of men. The day of man is now present, in which man judgeth, according to man’s law; and this judgment will be reversed if it aught reverse reason. But at the last day of doom all shall stand to God’s judgment. So that will be the day of the Lord, for all shall then be as he wills, and his judgment shall not be contravened, for nothing may reverse it. Therefore Paul saith, Judge nothing before the time: until the time of the Lord come, the which shall light the hidden things of darkness, and shall make known the counsels of the hearts. This moveth many men to think upon God’s law day and night, for that disposeth to know what is God’s will; and without knowing this should a man do nothing, and this moveth many men to flee man’s judgment. Paul chargeth not the judgment of men, whether priests or lords, but the truth of Holy Writ, which is the will of the first Judge, was enough for him until doomsday. And thus stewards of the church should not judge wickedly by their own will, but merely after God’s law, in things of which they are certain. But the laws and judgments which Antichrist hath brought in, putting God’s law behind, mar too much the church of Christ. For to the stewards of the church, the laws of Antichrist are rules to make officers therein, and to condemn the laity. Antichrist challengeth here to be fully God’s fellow, for he saith that if he judgeth thus, his will should be taken for reason, and this is the highest point that falleth to God in respect of his Godhead. Popes and kings, therefore, should seek a reason above their own will, for such blasphemy often bringeth to men more than the pride of Lucifer. For he said, he should fly up and be like the highest lord, but he challenged not to be God’s fellow, even with him, or passing him. God bring down this pride, and help that his word reverse the word of the fiend! Well, indeed, I know, that this smoke shall disappear when it is at the highest.”
The attentive reader will be sensible that in these passages the thoughts and language of Wycliffe come strongly before him, and will require no further evidence in respect to the authorship of these discourses.
In the exposition of the gospel for Christmas day, Wycliffe proceeds thus:—“On Christmas day we may say a little child is born to us, for Jesus by our belief is born.—We take it as our belief, that as our first parents had sinned, satisfaction must be made for sins to the righteousness of God. For as God is merciful, so he is full of righteousness. But how shall he judge all the world, but if he keep his righteousness here. For the Lord against whom this sin is done, is the Lord all-mighty, and all-righteous, since no sin may be done, but it is done against God. And ever, the higher the lord is against whom the sin is done, ever the greater is the sin—as it were a great sin to do against the king’s bidding. But the sin is more without measure to do against God’s bidding. But God, according to our belief, bid Adam not to eat the apple. Yet he broke God’s commandment, and was not held excused therein; neither by his own folly, nor by Eve, nor by the serpent; and thus by the righteousness of God, this sin must always be punished.
“And it is a light word to say, that God might of his power forgive this sin without the aseetha which was made for it, for God might do so if he would; but his justice would not suffer it, but requires that each trespass be punished, either in earth or in hell. And God may not accept a person to forgive him his sin without satisfaction, for in so doing he would give free leave to man and angel to sin; and then, sin were no sin, and our God were no God.
“We conclude also that the man who should make satisfaction for the sin of our first father must needs be God and man. For as man’s nature trespassed, so man’s nature must make satisfaction. And therefore it was not possible that an angel should make satisfaction for man, for he has not the might, nor was it a nature like his which in this case had sinned. But since all men are one person, if any member of this person maketh satisfaction, he maketh satisfaction for all this person. By this we may see that if God had made a man of nought, and anew, after the manner of Adam, yet he were holden to God as much as he might for himself, and so he might not make satisfaction for himself, and for Adam’s sin. And so, since satisfaction must be made for Adam’s sin, as it is said, the person making satisfaction must be both God and man; for then the worthiness of the person’s deed were even with the worthiness of the sin.”
The third point, which must needs follow from the two before, is said to be—“that a child is born to man to make atonement for man’s sin, and this child must needs be God and man, given to man. And he must needs bear his empire on his shoulders, and suffer for man; and this child is Jesus, whom we suppose was born to-day. And we suppose that this child was born to those only who follow him in his manner of living, for he was born against others. The men who are unjust, and proud, and rebel against God, have this judgment in Christ, that they must needs be condemned of him, and most certainly if they are grievous to their death towards his Spirit. And thus, if we covet well that this child is born to us, have we joy of this child, and follow we him in these three virtues; in righteousness, meekness, and patience for our God. For whoever is opposed to Christ and his Spirit in these virtues unto his death, must needs be condemned of this child, even as all others must be saved. And thus, the joy of this child, who was all meekness, and full of virtues, should make men to be little in malice, and then they should hold well this feast. Study we how Christ came in the fulness of time, when he should; how he came in meekness at his birth; how he came in patience from his birth unto his death; and follow we him in these three, for joy that we have of him, for this joy in this patience bringeth to joy that ever shall last.”
The extract following was meant, no doubt, to show to the people of Lutterworth, that the itinerant labours of the Reformer’s “poor priests,” were in imitation of the highest possible example. “This Gospel telleth of the office that should fall to Christ’s disciples, and so it telleth how priests should now, both greater and less, occupy themselves in the church in serving God. And first, Jesus showeth truly the love that he taught. The Gospel saith how Jesus went about in the country, both in great places and less, as cities and castles, to teach, and to profit men generally, and not to forbear to preach to a people because they be few, and our fame may be little. For we should labour for God, and from him hope for our thanks. By castles, we understand little towns, and no doubt Christ went to small uplandish towns, as to Bethphage, and Cana in Galilee. For Christ went to those places where he wished to do good, and he travelled not for money, for he was not smitten either with pride, or with covetousness.”a It is then deplored, that the jurisdiction set up by the prelates prevented good men from following the example of Christ in this particular. He was freely admitted to synagogues, which, Wycliffe remarks, “were then, what churches are among us.” In another of his discourses, he observes on this subject, “Jesus ever had this manner,—to speak God’s words where he knew that they might profit the people who heard them. And so Christ preached often, now at meat, and now at supper, and at whatever time it was convenient for others to hear him.”b
The following passage may be taken as a specimen of the Reformer’s more practical and familiar method of teaching. “As men in fevers desire not that which is best for them, so men in sin covet not that which is best for them in this world. The world said that the apostles were fools, and forsaken of God; and so it would say to-day of all who live like them, for worldly joy and worldly good pleaseth them, and they savour not of heavenly things, nor of a right following after Christ. And this judgment by the world is a manifest witness against men, that they are not holy, but turned aside to worldly things: for as the palate of a sick man, distempered from good meat, moveth him to covet things contrary to his health, so it is of man’s soul that savoureth not of God’s law. And as the want of natural appetite is a sign deadly to man; so this want in respect to the knowledge of God is a sign of his second death.” Some men, the preacher observes, have learned to interpret the success of their worldly enterprises as a mark of the Divine approval; but it is added—“We should leave these sensible appearances, and take the examples of holy men, as of Christ and his apostles, how they had not here their bliss; but that here Christ ordained the pain, and the hatred of the world, much suffering to the men whom he most loved, that we might be taught to follow after him. And thus patient suffering in this earth should be taken as the sign of God’s love.”c
In the following terms Wycliffe speaks concerning the sufferings of Christ—“Men mark the passion of Christ, and print it in their hearts, somewhat to follow it. It was the most willing passion that ever was, and the hardest passion ever man suffered. It was thus willing, and so most meritorious; and therefore Christ foretold the form of his passion to his twelve disciples, when he went to Jerusalem. And therefore Christ, who before had concealed himself to come to the city, came now to suffer, in a way to show his free will. Therefore he saith at the supper, With desire have I coveted to eat of this passover with you. The desire of his Godhead, and the desire of his manhood, moved him to eat thereof, and to suffer after. But all this was significant, and in figure of his last supper which he eateth in heaven, with the men whom he hath chosen. And since Christ suffered thus cheerfully for the sin of his brethren, they should suffer thankfully for their own sin, and purpose to forsake it. And this is the cause why God would have the passion of Christ rehearsed, for the profit of his brethren, and not for his own. This pain of Christ’s passion passed all other. For he was a most tender man, and in middle age, and God by miracle allowed his mind to suffer, else by reason of joy he might not have known sorrow. But in Christ’s passion were all things that could make pain hard, and to make it the more meritorious. The place was most solemn, and the day also, and the hour the most solemn to Jews or heathens. And the despite was most, for men who should most have loved Christ ordained this most foul death against his surpassing kindness. We should believe also that Christ suffered not in any manner except for some certain reason, for he is both God and man, who made all things in their number, and so would shape his passion to answer to the greatness of man’s sin. So follow we after Christ in his blessed passion, and gather we our devout mind from him.”a
Our next extract touches on some points of theological doctrine. It occurs in an exposition of the narrative concerning the healing of the centurion’s servant. “We should know that faith is the gift of God, and so God may not give it to man except he give it graciously. And thus all the goods which men have are gifts of God. And thus when God rewardeth a good work of man, he crowneth his own gift. And this is of grace, for all things which men have from the will of God, are of grace. God’s goodness is the first cause why he giveth men these goods, and so it may not be that God doeth good to men, except he confer these goods freely by his own grace, and with this we shall grant that men deserve of God. Learn we of this knight to be meek in heart, and in word, and in deed; for he granted first, that he was under man’s power, and yet by power of man he might do many things. Much more should we know that we are under God’s power, and that we may do nothing but by the power of God. And if we disuse this power, woe shall be to us. But this root of meekness shall beget other virtues in us, and grace of God to deserve meed in heaven, as it was in this gentle knight.” It will be seen, that though the expressions here employed by the Reformer are to us somewhat strange, his real doctrine is, that the graces which fit men for rising to the enjoyment of rewards, and the rewards themselves, are alike from the grace of God—it is God crowning his own work, according to a principle of moral congruity or fitness.a In another of these discourses the Reformer adverts, with his characteristic force and boldness, to the intolerance of hierarchy. “Freedom is much coveted, as men know naturally, but much should Christian men covet the better freedom of Christ. But it is known that Antichrist hath now more enthralled the church than it was under the old law, while men might not bear that service. And Antichrist maketh new laws now, and groundeth them not on God and man; for more ceremonies are now brought in than were in the old law; and more do they tarry men to come to heaven than did the scribes and Pharisees by their traditions. And the root of this thraldom is the lordship which Antichrist hath, for he challengeth to be full lord, both of spiritual and temporal. He so preventeth Christian men from serving Christ in freedom, that they may say, as the poet saith in his proverb the frog said to the arrow—Cursed be so many masters! For now Christian men are oppressed, now with popes, and now with bishops, now with cardinals under popes, and now with prelates under bishops, as one would buffet a football. But surely if the Baptist were not worthy to loose the latchet of Christ’s shoe, Antichrist hath no power thus to hinder the freedom which Christ hath bought. Christ gave this freedom to man to come lightly to the bliss of heaven, but Antichrist wearieth man to give him money. Ever do these hypocrites fear, lest God’s law should be shown, and they be thus convicted of their falsehood. For God and his law are stronger than they, and these hypocrites may only hold man for a time in this fiend’s thraldom.”b
In a subsequent discourse, Wycliffe speaks thus on the connexion between suffering in the cause of God, and the enjoyment of his favour. “Whosoever suffereth here, never so much, for God’s sake, his suffering must have reward that shall pass all his travail. But since this is certain, who would grudge against God for this travail? and since God sustaineth man, and moveth him, and helpeth him, for to travail such travail, how should it not be of grace? And thus reward for this travail must needs all come of grace. If a man suffer to the death, in a good manner, in God’s cause, he hath everlasting life, which is better. Man was made in a state that he might ever live in, and, without death and other mischiefs, be translated into the bliss of heaven. But by sin he is needed to suffer pain and death. But Christ has bought him again to the state he should first have had. And thus these reasonings of the apostle move men gladly to suffer for Christ; and as God rewardeth man by grace, over that he deserveth, so the state which man hath now in heaven, is better than was the state of innocence. And this fact should move men to become martyrs for the love of Christ.”a
We give, in conclusion, a few shorter passages, such as abound in these discourses, and such as, compared with the other works of the Reformer, contribute to establish the identity of authorship. “As no word of God’s law hath any strength but as Christ speaketh it; so no word of man’s law should be loved but if Christ speak it. Christ is truth, and no word should be loved but for its truth—since he is God his words may not be amended.”b The third homily speaks of baptism in threefold, by blood, by water, and by the Holy Ghost, of which the last is the best, and that must be from God. In the seventh he says, “John is not Elias personally, as he himself confesseth, but he is Elias figuratively—and just so the sacred host is very bread in kind,c and God’s body in figure.” In an early part of this volume allusion is made to King Richard as then reigning. This passage, and others containing similar references to contemporary circumstances, help, as elsewhere observed, to determine the date of these productions. Thus, when the Reformer says, in a subsequent page, that the “two bishops,” Annas and Caiaphas, did not prevent the preaching of John the Baptist, and that from this fact “it seemeth to many men that prelates who hinder true priests from preaching freely the Gospel are worse than these two bishops,” the reference to the labours and difficulties of the “poor priests” is sufficiently plain.d In the same connexion the preacher speaks of “fleeing the sour dow of the Pharisees:” and censuring the secular lordship of the clergy, ascribes it to the evil of ecclesiastical endowments. “Therefore say many prelates that no man who hath a cure should live but on God’s part, that is on tithes and offerings, and so by clear title of alms should they have goods; for thus lived Christ, the highest pope: and who art thou that thou wilt not live thus,—wouldst thou be greater than Christ, who is Lord of all this world?” But while the people are said to owe such contributions to true priests, as much as they owe any debt to any man, it is asked—“By what reason should he have tithes and offerings from the people, that liveth in lust and idleness, and profiteth not to his people? Certainly this were a fiend’s law to give God’s part to such men.”a On the papal supremacy he did not scruple to speak thus—“We suppose that Antichrist, the head of all these evil men, is the pope of Rome.”b
ON THE REMAINING WRITINGS OF WYCLIFFE STILL IN MANUSCRIPT, AND INCLUDING SUCH WORKS AS ARE KNOWN ONLY BY THEIR TITLES.
XXXII.Contra Mendicitatem Validam. In English, and beginning—Most Worshipful and Gentlest Lord Duke of Glocester. It sets forth the substance of a discussion before the duke on questions at issue between a clergyman and a friar. The former half of it is occupied in giving a summary of the debate as it respected certain theological opinions; the latter presents some of the most plausible things to be said in favour of the begging practices of the friars, with the common arguments opposed to that usage. In the preliminary discussion Wycliffe states, “God is so good, that in each goodness he is before, and in each evil he cometh after the effect.” This is one of a collection of MSS. in Trinity College, Dublin. Class C. Tab. iii. No. 12. The volume containing it is thus described in the “Catalogus Librorum Manuscriptorum Angliæ et Hiberniæ,” published in Oxford in 1697, as “Jo. Wicliffe’s Works to the Duke of Lancaster in 1368.” But this description is by a modern hand, and is erroneous. Most of the pieces in that volume are manifestly of a much later date. There is no ground to suppose that any of them should be ascribed to a period so early as 1368, except the piece intitled, De Ultima Ætate Ecclesiæ, of which mention will be made in the section relating to works of the Reformer which have been printed. The mention of the year 1356 in that tract, has probably led to the error in respect to the date of the other pieces. We have no means of fixing the date of this piece addressed to the Duke of Glocester. It should not, I think, be placed among his earlier or his latest productions.
XXXIII.De Sathanæ astu contra Fidem. This tract begins, The fiend seeketh many ways to mar men in belief. It consists of two pages only, and is in the same volume with the preceding piece, in Trin. Coll. Dub.
XXXIV.In Regulam Minoritarum. In English, in C.C.C. Cambridge. Sometimes described as the Rule of St. Francis—the Testament of St. Francis.
XXXV.Determinationes Eucharistiæ:—Ad rationis Kyningham:—and, Determinationes Magistri J. Wicklyff contra Carmelitam Kyningham, appear to be different descriptions of the same treatise, which was an answer to a Carmelite friar concerning a pretended miracle urged in support of the doctrine of transubstantiation. C.C.C. College, Cambridge. Lambeth Library. Knighton de Event. Angliæ, p. 2650.
XXXVI.De Questionibus variis contra Clerum. In English, in Lambeth Palace Library. Cat. MS. 151. Another copy in the same library, No. 30, called Questiones XXVI. It begins, Almighty God in Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, both in the old law and the new.
XXXVII.De Modo Orandi. In English, in the Bodleian Library, Laud, C. 3, and in the British Museum, Cotton MSS. Titus D. xix. It is also intitled, De Duodecim Impedimentis Precationum, or, The Twelve Lettings of Prayer. In the prologue of the MS. in the British Museum, the twelve hinderances of prayer are enumerated—“sin, doubting, asking things we ought not,” &c.
XXXVIII.De Anima. A part of this treatise, under the title, De Incarnatione Verbi, is in the British Museum. Bib. Reg. 7, B. iii.
XXXIX.De Virtutibus et Vitiis. In the British Museum, is a short tract under this title. Titus, D. xix. It treats on the following matters: The seven works of mercy, bodily and ghostly; five bodily wits; five wits ghostly; the cardinal virtues; septem mortalia peccata. “In Bib. Reg. 7, A. xxvi. is another copy of this tract which varies considerably from the former: in some instances the chapters are abridged, in others the chapters considerably altered,—a liberty very common with the transcribers of those times. This MS. varies from the preceding in another respect, as it treats of the Seven Sacraments; Six Manners of consenting to Sin; Four Things that needen to man.” Baber, 47.
XL.Pauper Rusticus; Confessio derelicti Pauperis; and the Pore Caitif—different titles of the same treatise. It consists of a series of tracts in English, intended to present the elements of religious instruction in a form adapted to the humblest of the people capable of reading. It is described by its author, as “sufficient to teach simple men and women, of good-will, the right way to heaven.” There are copies of this work in the Lambeth Palace Library; in Trinity College, Dublin; and in the British Museum. These collections vary a little from each other. The pieces included in the Dublin MS. are as follows: Of the Creed.—The ground of all goodness is stedfast faith, &c. Of the Commandments,—A man asked of Christ what he should do, &c. Of the Paternoster,—Christ saith, Who that loveth me shall keep my commandments, &c. Of Perfect Life,—Christ, not compelling, but freely counselling each man, &c. Of Temptation,—But he that is verily fed with this bread that came down, &c. Of the Charter of our Heavenly Heritage,—Every wise man that claimeth his heritage, &c. Of Ghostly Battle,—The Almighty saith by holy Job, &c. Of the Love of Jesus,Whoever you be that araiest thee to love God, &c. Of Man’s will,—Every deed punishable, either reproveable of man’s will, &c. Of Contemplative Life,—Christ loved much Mary, and Martha her sister, &c. Of Chastity,—I write this treatise in five short chapters, &c. The substance of this work has been printed in the British Reformers, from the copy in the British Museum.
XLI.Expositio Orationis Dominicæ. This is a different comment on the Lord’s Prayer from that which forms part of the “Pore Catif.” It enters more on the subject of ecclesiastical abuses. “In Lambeth Library, Cott. MSS. 594, is a transcript of the ‘Prologus in Expositionem Orationis Dominicæ.’ Herein are condemned the lucrative catholic tenets of works of supererogation, indulgences, and auricular confession, and the Romish hierarchy are reproved for withholding from the people the scriptures in the vernacular tongue.” Baber, 48. Lewis, No. 89.
XLII.In Apocalypsin. This is an exposition of parts of the Apocalypse. It begins thus—Saint Paul the apostle saith that all those who would live meekly in Christ Jesus, &c. It is in the British Museum, Bib. Reg. E. 67.
XLIII.Sermo in festo Animarum; de Sermone Domini in Monte; and Octe Beatitudines, appear to be different titles of the same work. It is in English in the British Museum, Cott. MSS. Titus, D. xix. It is in Latin in Trinity College, Cambridge, MS. 362. S.C. 5. 8. No. 13. The English discourse begins—Friends, St. John Chrysostom on the homily upon this Gospel saith, &c. Wycliffe was charged with having published seventy-four erroneous opinions in this discourse.
XLIV.In XVII. caput Joannis.Publevatis oculis in cælum Jesus. This is a homily in English, beginning—This Gospel of John telleth what loves, &c. It is among the Wycliffe MSS. in C.C.C. Cambridge.
XLV.De Surdo et Muto apud Marcum.Iterum exiens de finibus Tyri. This is another homily in English. It begins—This Gospel telleth a miracle, &c. It is in Trinity College, Cambridge, MS. 349. Class 4.
XLVI.De Pharisæo et Publicano. This is a detached homily also, attributed to Wycliffe. Lewis, No. 97. It begins—This Gospel telleth in a parable, &c.
XLVII.Speculum Peccatoris.Quoniam in via sumus vitæ labentis. This tract has the English title—Visitation of sick men, and begins thus—My dear son or daughter, it seemeth that thou lightest fast, &c. &c. It is attributed to Wycliffe, and is in the British Museum. Bib. Reg. E. 1732.
XLVIII.Augustinus arguam te quando nescis. It begins—The holy Doctor St. Austin, speaking in the person of Christ. It is in the collection, C.C.C. Cambridge.
XLIX.Speculum Secularium Dominorum.Cum veritas fidei eo plus rutilet. “Archbishop Usher tells us that a copy of this tract is in MS. in the King’s Library, in Latin. By what his grace has transcribed from it, it appears that Dr. Wiclif had written before, Prospeculum Secularum Dominorum, in English.” Lewis, No. 137.
L.De Blasphemia. “Archbishop Usher quotes this tract in his book De Christianarum Ecclesiarum Successione, and tells us that in it Wiclif observes that the true doctrine of the sacrament of the eucharist was retained in the church a thousand years, ‘even till the loosing of Satan.’ ” Lewis, No. 199.
LI.Five Bodily Witts. There is a tract under this title in Trinity College, Cambridge, B. 8. 37. It begins—Thus should a man rule his five bodily witts.
LII.Seven Works of Bodily Mercy, and Seven Deeds of Ghostly Mercy. Works with these titles are in the Public Library of Cambridge, 120. No. 467.
LIII.Of Pride. It begins—Pride is too much love that a man hath to himself, &c. Bib. Reg. Titus, D. xix.
LIV.De Actubus Animæ. There is a Latin treatise under this title in C.C.C. Cambridge, attributed to Wycliffe. It begins—Gratia dicendarum restat tractatus de actubus.
LV.Here beginneth the Nine Virtues, &c. There is a tract in the British Museum under this title, attributed to Wycliffe. Bib. Reg. E. 1732. It begins—All manner of men should hold God’s biddings, &c.
LVI.A Discourse in old English against the Vices of the Clergy, and the Usurpations of the Bishop of Rome in the Affairs of the Church of England, drawn up in Thirty-seven Articles. Trinity College, Dublin, Class C. Tab. i. No. 14. This work is also in the British Museum, Bib. Reg. Titus, D., and is attributed to Wycliffe by Wanley. It is throughout expressive of Wycliffe’s opinions, and many passages are transcripts from his different works: it may be the work of the Reformer, or it may have been an attempt on the part of some disciple to bring the sum of his doctrines together, in the shape of so many distinct articles.
LVII.Of Temptation of the Fiend. There is an imperfect work under this title in Trinity College, Dublin, Class C. Tab. iii. No. 12.
LVIII.How Men of private Religion should love more the Gospel of God’s Hests, and his Ordinance, than any new Laws, new Rules, and Customs of sinful Men. This is a piece which immediately follows the preceding in the same collection, pp. 152—156.
LIX.Tractatus Evangelii de Sermone Domini in Monte, cum Expositorio Orationis Dominicæ. This is the title given to the first section of a manuscript volume in Trinity College, Dublin, Class C. Tab. i. No. 23. These expositions, with a further exposition of the sixth and seventh chapters of Matthew, extend, if my notes may be trusted on this point, to page 195 of the volume.
Tractatus de Antichristo, cum expositorio in xxiii. xxiv. xxv. cap. St. Matthew. This work closes with page 313.
Tractatus in Sermonem Domini, quem fecerat valedicendo discipulis suis. pp. 313—333.
These three pieces, as bearing three distinct titles, have been not unnaturally described separately, in the catalogue of the Trinity College MSS., and by Bale, Lewis, and other writers. It is plain, however, from certain passages, that they have a connexion with each other, though they appear to have been written as separate treatises, and to have been first known as such to the Reformer’s disciples.
LX.Tractatus de statu Innocentiæ. This work is in the same volume. It extends to about seventeen pages, and begins—Ut supradicta magis appareant oportet parumper disgredi. To what this “supradicta” refers, does not appear; and it is not uncommon in the writings of Wycliffe to find parts of treatises thus detached, and known by separate titles,—a circumstance which has added much to the difficulty of presenting a complete and accurate account of his productions.
LXI.Tractatus de Tempore. This work is detached from its original connexion. It is the treatise described by the same title in Trinity College Library, Cambridge, and numbers thirty-seven pages in the Dublin volume, but not more than ten of the large folio volume in Cambridge.
The remaining part of this volume is occupied with pieces expository of different passages of Scripture, and with one document under the following title:—
LXII.De Captivo Hispanensi—filia comitis de Dene incarcerato infra septa Westmonast. It relates to a question concerning the rights of sanctuary. I am not aware of the ground on which it has been attributed to Wycliffe. Wycliffe’s connexion with John of Gaunt may have led to his giving publicity to such a paper. Mention is made of the case to which it refers by several historians, and a number of papers relating to it may be seen in Rymer’s Fœdera.
LXIII.De Veritate Scripturæ. A large work under this title is preserved in the Bodleian Library, and in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. The copy in the Bodleian is imperfect at the beginning, the first page commencing in a part of the first chapter. The copy in Dublin, which is perfect, commences with these words,—Restat parumper discutere errores et concordias circa sensus Scripturæ hodie plus solito seminatos, tum quia in ea consistit salus fidelium. The treatise ends thus,—Istud itaque dixerim pro nunc in communi de heresi, ut sciatur ex fructu veritatis Scripturæ notare et cavare hereticos, et ut planius intelligatur tractatus de simonia, quem si Deus voluerit diffusius pertractare. The close of the Bodleian MS. agrees with that of the MS. in Dublin, but the first page is without any initial letter or heading, and begins in the middle of a sentence.
In both manuscripts the chapters are thirty-one in number, but the chapters six and seven are not duly marked in the Bodleian copy. This copy closes on the middle of the last page, and the scribe has indicated the completeness of the work by placing its title in the space below.
The volume in the Bodleian is a small folio; it numbers 621 pages, and each page consists of about twenty-six lines. The Dublin copy does not exceed 244 pages, but the pages are larger, and double-columned, with nearly a thousand words in each. The volume in the Bodleian includes no other treatise; in the Dublin volume the De Veritate Scripturæ is followed by three other treatises, bearing the following titles:—De Simonia—De Apostasia—De Blasphemia. The treatise De Simonia begins thus,—Post generalem sermonem de heresi, restat de ejus partibus pertractandum. It consists of eight chapters, and extends to about forty pages. The treatise De Apostasia commences—Restat ulterius ponere aliud principium pro ambitu heresis simoniacæ perscrutando; quamvis enim simonia, blasfemia, et apostasia committuntur ad subsistendi, &c. It extends to nearly twenty pages, and is divided into two chapters. The remaining part of the volume is occupied with the treatise De Blasphemia, which begins—Restat succincte de blasfemia pertractandum. Est autem blasfemia insipiens detractio honoris domini.
It has been supposed, partly from the order in which these pieces succeed each other, and partly from the references made in them from one to the other, that they were all portions of a large theological work. This notion derives some support also from the manner in which the names of these pieces occur in a work bearing the title Summa Theologica. “This title appears in a very ancient manuscript catalogue of Wycliffe’s writings, which is in the imperial library at Vienna. The work is described as consisting of twelve chapters, the titles of which are as follows:—1. De Mandatis. 2. De Statu Innocentiæ. 3, 4, 5. De Dominio. 6. De Veritate Scripturæ. 7. De Ecclesia. 8. De Officio Regis. 9. De Postate Papæ. 10. De Simonia. 11. De Apostasia. 12. De Blasphemia.”—Baber, xlvi. Here it will be seen that three pieces intervene between the De Veritate Scripturæ, and the three treatises which immediately succeed it in the Dublin MS. On what authority the title Summa Theologica is given to the whole collection we do not know. That title is possibly of a later date than the works themselves. Indeed, few things were more common among the transcribers of the fourteenth century, than to place a number of treatises together, all having completeness in themselves, and all, it may be, published separately, while certain of them contain allusions, and have, probably, some relation to each other. In the writings of Wycliffe, references in one treatise, to the contents of another, are very common, without being meant to indicate more than that it was not necessary to discuss a topic again which had been discussed elsewhere.
It is important to remark, that in the tenth chapter of the Bodleian copy of the De Veritate Scripturæ, there is a reference to the vigil of the annunciation in 1378, which determines the date of this production. This work, in both the existing copies, is exceedingly difficult to read, consisting as it does, in great part, of obscure discussions, which have been rendered still more unintelligible by the barbarous and technical Latin in which they are clothed, and by the abbreviated, and almost illegible, character of the writing. Dr. James, the author of the work intitled “An Apology for John Wicliffe,” was the librarian of the Bodleian, in the time of James I. In that work he has given many passages from the De Veritate Scripturæ, but in the manuscript volume of extracts from the writings of Wycliffe, preserved in the Bodleian, in the hand-writing of Dr. James, there are characteristic passages transcribed from the De Veritate Scripturæ, extending to nearly a hundred pages. These passages, and such parts of the work itself as may be deciphered with an approach to certainty, warrant the description which I have given of his treatise in the “Life and Opinions of Wycliffe.”
LXIV. In a volume in Trinity College, Dublin, are the following works attributed to Wycliffe. Class C. Tab. 5. No. 6.
i. Three pieces, on the Creed, the Paternoster, and the Ave Maria, two pages each. The first begins—It is sooth that belief is grounded, &c. The second—We shall believe that this Paternoster, &c. The third—Men greet commonly our Lady, God’s moder, &c.
ii.Of the Seven Heresies. It begins—For false men multiply books of the church, &c. The seven heresies are divided into seven chapters. The contents of this piece show it to be from the pen of Wycliffe, the whole being directed after his manner against the friars; and the fourth heresy, which is said to consist in saying, “that the sacred host is in no manner bread, but either nought, or an accident without a subject,” shows that this is one of the Reformer’s later productions. Fol. 4—9.
iii.Of the Decalogue. This begins—All manner of men should hold God’s biddings. The part of the decalogue relating to God, is treated in twelve chapters; that relating to man in twenty-eight. Fol. 9—27.
iv.On Faith, Hope, and Charity. It begins—For it is said in holding of our holiday. This is a work in six chapters, but does not exceed six pages. Fol. 27—30.
v.Of the Seven Works of Bodily Mercy. It begins—If a man were sure that to-morrow he should come before a judge. Fol. 30—35.
vi.Opera Caritatis. Beginning—Sith we should serve our parishioners in spiritual alms. Fol. 35—38. This piece, and the two preceding, are in the library of New College, Oxford.
vii.Septem Peccata Capitalia. Beginning—Since belief teacheth us that every evil is either sin or cometh of sin. This is the work of which an account is given from the copy in the Bodleian in the preceding pages. See pp. 66—71. It extends, in the MS. from page 38 to 63.
viii.De Ecclesia et Membris ejus. This work is also in the British Museum, and for an account of it see pp. 74—79 of this volume. Fol. 63 to 75.
ix.De Apostasia et Dotatione Ecclesiæ. It begins—Since each Christian man is holden. It exhibits, as the title suggests, the doctrine of Wycliffe concerning the evils of ecclesiastical endowments. Fol. 76—80.
x.Tractatus de pseudo Freris. It begins—For many beren heavy that friars be called pseudo, or hypocrites. It consists of arguments against the peculiarities of the religious orders. Fol. 81—95.
xi.Of the Eight Woes that God wished to Friars. Beginning—“Christ biddeth us beware with these false prophets.” This piece relates to the same subject with the preceding, but consists of a parallel between the Pharisees and the mendicants. Fol. 95—101.
xii.Egressus Jesus de templo. It begins—This Gospel telleth much wisdom that is hid to many men. Homily on Matt. xxiv. Also, in Trinity College, and C. C. C. Cambridge. This is a detached homily. In the volume of homilies in the British Museum, Bib. Reg. 18 B. ix. p. 175, is the following passage—“All our west land is with one pope or the other, and he that is with the one hateth the other and all his. And yet hypocrites feign that all this is for charity, but this hypocrisy is worse than the sin before.” The first part of this sentence, it seems, is in the Dublin MS., and comparison would probably show that it is merely a strayed postil. Fol. 101—116.
xiii.Of Antichrist and his Meynee, or train—followers. This begins—Davidsaith, Lord, set thou a law-maker upon me. This is probably the tract mentioned under the title De Antichristo et Membris. But the latter piece, according to Bale, begins—Quemadmodum Dominus Jesus ordinavit. Fol. 116—124.
xiv.Of Antichrist’s Song in the Church. It begins—Also prelates, priests, and friars, put on simple men, that they say that God’s office or service be not to be sung with note. Fol. 124—126.
xv.Of Prayer, a Treatise. Beginning—Also bishops and friars putten to poor men that they say, &c. This piece ends on the next fol., 127.
xvi.Nota de Confessione. This work extends to eleven pages, and begins—Two virtues be in man’s soul, by which a man should be ruled. Fol. 127—138.
xvii.Christ, forsooth, did all that he could to obey Lords. This is the beginning of a tract without title, ending on the same page.
xviii.Nota de Sacramento Altaris. It begins—Christian men’s belief, taught of Jesus Christ, God and man.—Fol. 138—145.
xix.Chrysostom saith, that fishers and buystouse men, making each day nets. This is the beginning of a piece without a title. It does not exceed two pages. Fol. 146.
xx.St. Bernard speaketh thus to the Pope. This is the beginning of another piece without title. Fol. 146—152.
xxi.God moveth Holy Church by many manner of speeches to know. This also is the beginning of a piece without title. It consists of a dialogue between Christ and Satan. Fol. 152—154.
xxii.Neither man nor woman may perfectly do the seven works of mercy—Clerks know that a man hath five wits outward. These are the beginnings of pieces without title. They extend to little more than a page each. They appear to be shorter tracts on subjects which the Reformer had discussed more largely in other works, if indeed they are to be regarded as from his pen.
xxiii.Here are questions and answers put that are written hereafter. The work which thus begins is without title. It extends over more than forty leaves—from page 164 to 218 of the volume: and I had taken this note of its extent at the time of examining it, but from some subsequent oversight I failed to describe it correctly in my former catalogue of the Wycliffe MSS. This is the piece which has been recently published by the Camden Society, under the editorship of Dr. Todd, librarian of Trinity College, Dublin. It is published under the title of “Wycliffe’s Apology,” but I have shown elsewhere that it is not a work of the Reformer’s.a
xxiv. The following are the beginnings of three other short pieces, forming the conclusion of this volume. It is written in the first book of Holy Writ, that there were three patriarchs. These be the nine points that the Lord Jesus answered a holy man. Of the deeds of mercy God will speak at the dreadful day. Fol. 218, 219.
LXV. In the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge, is a folio volume with the following works attributed to Wycliffe. MS. 326. c. 5, 8. They consist of scholastic treatises on philosophical and theological topics, and the uninitiated reader will be able to form a sufficient notion of their character from the account of the first three books of the Trialogus in the present volume.
i.De ente Communi.In primis supponitur ens esse, hoc enim non probari potest nec ignorari ab aliquo. Fol. 1—5.
ii.De ente Primo.Extenso ente secundum ejus marimam ampliationem, possibile est venari in tanto ambitu ens primum. Fol. 5—9.
iii.De Purgando Errores et Veritate in Communi.Consequens est purgare errores. Fol. 15—23.
iv.De Purgando Errores et Universalibus in Communi.Tractatu continentur dicta de universalibus.
v.De Universalibus.Tractatus de universalibus continet xvi. capitula cujus primum. Fol. 23—37.
vi.De Tempore.In tractando de tempore sunt aliqua ex dictis superius capienda. Fol. 37—47.
vii.De Intellectione Dei.Illorum quæ insunt Deo communiter quædam insunt sibi soli. Fol. 47—53.
viii.De Scientia Dei.Ex dictis superius satis liquet quod scientiam quam Deus. Fol. 53—70.
ix.De Volitione Dei.Tractando de volitione Dei quam oportet ex dictis supponere. Fol. 70—91.
x.De Personarum Distinctione.Superest investigare de distinctione et convenientia personarum quas credimus plena fide. Fol. 91—115.
xi.De Ydeis.Tractando de ydeis primo oportet quærere si sunt. Fol. 115—122.
xii.De Potentia productiva Dei.Veritatum quas Deus non potest renovare. Fol. 122—134.
xiii.De Sermone Domini in iii. part.Licet totum Evangelium. Fol. 134—141.
LXVI.De Universalibus. Eccl. Cathed. Lincoln. A. 9.
LXVII.De ente Universali et Attributis Divinis. Trin. Coll. Dub.
LXVIII.De Temporis Quidditate. In the library of the cathedral church at Lincoln (A. 9.) is a part of this treatise under the title De Tempore.
The manuscripts which follow are in the Imperial Library of Vienna: they are mentioned in Mr. Baber’s catalogue of the writings of Wycliffe prefixed to his edition of the Reformer’s New Testament, and are copied from Denis’s Cat. of the Latin Theol. MSS. in the Imperial Library.
LXIX. i.De Minoribus Fratribus se Extollentibus. This and the piece intitled De Perfectione Statuum, are the same tract.
ii.De Sectis Monachorum. It exists in the same collection, intitled De concordatione Fratrum cum sectâ simplici Christi.
iii.De Quatuor Sectis Novellis. This tract is also intitled, De Prævaricatione Præceptorum.
iv.De fundatione Sectarum.
v.De solutione Sathanæ.
vi.Responsiones ad xiv. Argumenta Radulphi Strodi.a
vii.Litera parva ad quendam Socium.
viii.Speculum Militantis Ecclesiæ.
ix.De Oratione et Ecclesiæ Purgatione.
x.De gradibus Cleri.
xii.De duobus geniribus Hereticorum. The persons here denominated heretics, are those who have contracted the guilt of either simony or apostacy.
xiii.De quatuor Interpretationibus.
xiv.Super impositis Articulis, and Socii argumentum contra veritatem, are different titles given to the same tract.
xv.De citationibus Frivolis et aliis Versutiis Antichristi.
xvi.De juramento Arnoldi (de Grannario) collectoris Papæ.
xvii.De sex jugis. A treatise upon the relative duties.
xviii.De Exhortatione novi Doctoris. This is conjectured to be an exercise performed for the degree of Doctor in Divinity.
xix.De ordine Christiano. Twelve opinions subversive of the power of the pope were extracted from this book. MSS. Twini, A. 218.
xxi.Dialogus inter Veritatem et Mendacium.
xxii.Epistola, de peccato in Spiritum Sanctum.
xxiii.Litera parva ad quendam Socium.
xxiv.Epistola ad Archiepiscopum Cantuar.
xxv.Litera ad Episcopum Lincoln. de amore, sive de quintuplici quæstione.
xxvi.De Eucharistiâ et Pœnitentia. In this treatise Wycliffe opposes the doctrine of transubstantiation, and questions the use of auricular confession.
xxvii.De octo quæstionibus Propositis Discipulo. It is a letter upon the subject of tithes.
xxviii.De triplici Vinculo Amoris.
xxix.De origine sectarum, and De novis ordinibus, are the same tract under different titles. A part of this tract is in the Imperial Library at Vienna, intitled De sectarum perfidiâ.
xxx.Summa Theologica. This title appears in a very ancient manuscript catalogue of Wycliffe’s writings, which is in the Imperial Library at Vienna. The work here called Summa Theologica, is described as consisting of twelve chapters, the titles of which are as follows:—i. De Mandatis. ii. De Statu Innocentiæ.aiii. iv. v. De Dominio.bvi. De Veritate Scripturæ.cvii. De Ecclesiâ. viii. De Officio Regis. ix. De Postate Papæ. x. De Simonia.dxi. De Apostasiâ. xii. De Blasphemiâ.
The following are the titles of extinct works, or different names given to some of the preceding treatises. They are found in the lists published by Bale, Tanner, and subsequent writers, with no other description than is here given: and they appear to have been, for the most part, treatises or tracts on grammar, philosophy, and a variety of scholastic questions.
LXX. i.Questiones logicales.
ii.Logica de singulis.
iii.Logica de aggregatis.
iv.De propositionibus temporalibus.Sequitur jam ultimo de proposit.
vi.De exclusivis exceptivis.Secundarie superius est promissum.
vii.De causalibus.Pertractandum venit de causalibus.
viii.De comparativis.Consequens est ad dicta superad.
ix.De conditionalibus.Primo supponitur omnem hypotheti.
x.De disjunctivis.Tertio sequitur de disjunctivis.
xi.De copulativis et relativis.Sequitur de copulativis pertract.
xiv.De universo reali.
xvi.De summâ intellectualium.
xvii.De formis idealibus.
xviii.De spiritu quolibet.
xix.De speciebus hypotheticis.
xx.De esse intelligibili creaturæ.
xxi.De esse suo prolixco.
xxii.De arte sophistica.
xxiii.De una communis generis essentia.
xxiv.De essentiâ accidentium.
xxv.De temporis ampliatione.
xxvi.De physica naturali.
xxvii.De intentio physicâ.
xxviii.De materia et formâ.Cum materia et forma sint uni.
xxix.De materiâ celestium.
xxx.De raritate et densitate.Videtur ex tertio sequi quod nihil.
xxxi.De mota locali.Sequitur de localibus pertract.
xxxii.De velocitate motus localis.Tam ultimo restat videre quid.
xxxiii.De centro infiniti.
The pieces thus described appear to have been treatises, or, more probably, short tracts, or detached parts of treatises, on grammar, logic, and philosophy, embracing, as before intimated, such topics as are found in the first and second books of the Trialogus. The titles which follow denote works more strictly theological, and some of them no doubt exhibited many of the distinctive opinions of the Reformer.
xxxiv.Dialogus de fratribus.
xxxv.Johannes a rure contra fratres.Ego Johannes a rure Deum verum precor.
xxxvi.De charitate fraternâ.Premum cum quolibet homine qui.
xxxvii.Dæmonum æstus in subvertandâ religione.Ut omnipotens Deus homines disponit.
xxxviii.De Diabolo millenario.Cum consummati fuerint mille anni.
xxxix.De perverso Antichristi dogmate.Cum puri concionatores doceant Dei verbum.
xl.Defensio contra impios.Evangelii predicationem lites suscipere.
xli.Contra P. Stokes.a
xlii.Responsio ad Argumenta Monachi de Salley.
xliii.Contra Monachum Dunelmensem.b
xliv.De imitate Christi.
xlv.De unico salutis Agno.
xlvi.Christus alius non expectandus.
xlvii.De humanitate Christi.
xlviii.De defectione a Christo.
xlix.De fide et perfidiâ.
l.De fide sacramentorum.
li.De fide evangelii.
liii.De censuris ecclesiæ.Quantum ad excommunicationem attigit.
liv.De sacerdotio Levitico.
lv.De sacerdotio Christi.
lvi.De statuendis pastoribus ad plebem.
lvii.Speculum cleri per dialogum.Sed adhuc arquitur si querus sic.
lviii.De non saginandis sacerdotibus.Cavete qui sacerdotes ad honestatem.
lix.De ministrorum conjugio.Fuit in diebus Herodes sacerdos.
lx.Cogendi sacerdotes ad honestatem.Apertam eruditionem in Dei lege.
lxi.De ritibus sacramentorum.
lxii.De quiddite hostiæ consecratiæ.
lxiii.De quintuplici Evangelio.
lxv.De Trinitate.Superest investigare de distinctione.
lxvi.De excommunicatis absolvendis.Quoniam sub pœna excommunicationis.
lxvii.Distinctiones rerum theologicarum.
lxviii.De fonte errorem.
lxix.De falsatoribus legæ divinæ.Postquam interpretes subdoli legem.
lxx.De immortalitate animæ.
lxxii.De cessatione legalium.Redeundo autem ad propositum de.
lxxiii.De dilectione.In quelibet homine peccatore.
lxxv.De contrarietate duorum dominorum.Sicut est unus, verus et summus.
lxxvi.De lege divinâ.Ut de legibus loquar Christianorum.
lxxvii.De necessitate futurorum.
lxxviii.De operibus spiritualibus.Quia paræcianos spiritualibus.
lxxix.De operibus corporalibus.Si certus esset homo quod in.
lxxx.De ordine Christiano.
lxxxi.De ordinaria laicorum.
lxxxii.De ordine sacerdotali.Quia presbyterorum ordo instituitur.
lxxxiii.De purgatorio piorum.Dona eis, Domine requiem semper.
lxxxv.Replicationes et positiones.
lxxxvi.De præscito ad beatitudinem.
lxxxvii.De quaternario doctorum.
lxxxviii.De religiosis privatis.Omnes Christiani in spiritus fervore.
lxxxix.De studio lectionis.Malum est in eis perseverare ea.
xc.De servitute civili.Cum secundum philosophos sit relativorum.
xcii.De virtute orandi.Ut sabbatizatio nostra sit Deo acceptabilis.
xciii.Contra monachum de S. Albano.
xciv.De compositione hominis.Tria enovent me ad tractandum.
xcv.De homine misero.
ci.Commentarii vulgares.aStabat Johannes, et ex discipulis.
cii.Lectiones in Danialem.
ciii.De dotatione eccleslæ, and De dotatione Cæsareâ, are different titles of the same work, beginning—Utrum clerus debuerit dotationem.
civ.De Antichristo et membris.Quemadmodum Dominus Jesus ordinavit.
cv.Iterum de Antichristo.Nota quod Antichristus 4 com.
cvi.Speculum militantis Ecclesiæ.Cum identitas mater sit fastidii.
cvii.De perfectione evangelica.Primo fratres dicunt suam religionem.
cviii.De officio pastorali.Cum duplex debeat esse officium.
cix.De Simonia sacerdotum.Heu magni sacerdotes in tenebris.a
cx.Super penitentius injungendis.Pro eo quod curatorum officium sit.
cxi.De divite apud Marcum.Cum egressus esset in viam salvator.
cxii.De remissione fraternâ.Si autem peccaverit in te frater.
cxiii.De tribus sagittis.Quisquis mente tenere cupit quid.
cxiv.De ecclesia catholica.Sunt sacerdotes qui certis rationibus.
cxv.De mandatis Divinis.Præmissa sententia de Domino.
cxvi.Conciones de morte.Beati qui in Domino moriuntur.
cxvii.De peccatis fugiendis.Dum fides nos doceat malum quodlibet.
cxviii.De ablatis restituendis.Quæritur 1° utrum omnium errum.
cxix.De seductione simplicium.Septem sunt quibus decipiuntur simplices.
cxx.De ocio et mendacitate.A manuum labore excusantur fratres.
cxxi.In symbolum fidei.Certum est fidem esse omnium virtutum.
cxxii.Super salutatione angelica.Solent homines Christissaram salutare.
cxxiii.Ad simplices sacerdotes.Videtur meritorium bonos colore.
cxxiv.Ad quinque questiones.Quidam fidelis in Domino quærit.
cxxvi.De trino amoris vinculo.
cxxvii.Contra concilium terræ motus.
cxxviii.De solutione Satanæ.
cxxix.De spiritu quolibet.
cxxxi.Si quis sitit.
cxxxii.De confessione Latinorum.
cxxxiii.De Christianorum Baptismo.
cxxxiv.De clavis regni Dei.
cxxxv.De clavium potestate.
cxxxvi.De homine misero.
cxxxvii.Contra cruciatum Papæ.
cxxxviii.De legibus et veneno.
cxxxix.Collectiones contra Dominicanos.
cxli.Ad rationes Kyningham.
cxlii.Contra Bynhamum monachum.
cxliii.Replicationes et positiones.
cxliv.De bullis papalibus.
cxlv.De veritate et mendacio.
cxlvi.De prevaricatione preceptorum.
cxlviii.De vera innocentia.
cxlix.De vii. donis Spiritus Sancti.
cl.De versatiis pseudo cleri.
clii.The Life of the Virgin Mary.
[a]British Museum. MSS. Titus D. xix. In the Bodleian is a tract with the following title:—Compendium X. Mandatorum editum a Majestro Jo. Wicliffe, Doctore Evangelicæ veritatis. It is much used by Dr. James, in his “Apology for John Wickliffe.”
[a]The passage following, on the precept, Thou shalt not kill, resembles the extracts on the same subject, given in a subsequent page, from the work under the title of the Seven Deadly Sins. “Therefore, each man beware that he do no manslaughter, for we are all brethren, and the sons of God. But how shall he be hardy to stand before God, who has slain the son of God? It is a wonder how any man dare destroy that creature which God made in his own likeness. Ifa man of craft hath so great love to his work, that he may not suffer it to be harmed, how much guess you that God loveth that creature he made to his likeness?” The deed is further described as a “despising and scorning of the passion and the painful death of Jesus Christ, who died to save men’s lives unto the bliss of heaven.” The following glance at the common life of the fourteenth century, is perhaps worth transcribing. “But, alas for sorrow, if a man sit among men or women now-a-days, and speak of such things, or warn them of their oaths, many and fell, of their cursing and swearing, and of their false leasings that they make of their neighbours, and so of other sins, anon they will begin to wax heavy, and sorry, and evil essayed if they might for shame, and be full weary of his fellowship.”
[b]MS. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, pp. 1—22. Trinity College, Dublin. Class C. Tab. iii. No. 12. pp. 1—17.
[a]On the death of Gregory the Eleventh in 1378, commenced a memorable schism in the papacy, the church having during the next half century two or three heads at the same time, each of the contending popes forming plots, and thundering out anathemas against his rival. See Mosheim, iii. 125—128. This it will be remembered was about six years before the death of Wycliffe, and from the reference to this event in the MS., as well as from its allusions to the disputes concerning the eucharist, the date of this production, as written sometime during the above interval, is determined.
[a]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge. Trin. Coll. Dub. Class. C. Tab. iii. No. 12. pp. 17—23. It does not appear that the itinerant labours of the persons so often mentioned in the writings of Wycliffe under the title of “poor priests,” had become such as to attract much attention from the ruling clergy until within some five or six years of the Reformer’s death: and throughout this work, “On Obedience,” there is so much said concerning the manner in which the bishops employed their authority to silence this new and irregular class of teachers, as to place it beyond doubt that this piece was written by the Reformer sometime within the space above-mentioned.
[a]This term is commonly used by Wycliffe to denote church censures.
[b]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge. Trin. Coll. Dub. Class C. Tab. iii. No. 12. pp. 32—54. This work contains repeated allusions, in common with the preceding, to the conduct of the prelates, in persecuting the “poor priests” who went about preaching to the people. (Chap. vi., xvi., xxiii., xxvii.) In the thirteenth chapter there is a reference to the crusade carried on in Flanders under the command of Spencer, bishop of Norwich, in favour of Pope Urban. The bishop embarked on that enterprise in April, 1383, having raised a force for the purpose chiefly by means of papal pardons and indulgences. “All who should die at this time,” says Froissart, “and who had given their money, were absolved from every fault, and by the tenure of the bull, happy were they who could now die, in order to obtain so noble an absolution.” Hist. ubi supra. Wycliffe maintains indignantly that the spiritual weapons of religion should be used “to make peace,” and not, after this manner, “to make dissensions and war.”
[a]A layman, or an ignorant man.
[a]See pages 2, 3.
[a]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge. Trin Coll. Dub. Class C. Tab iii. No. 12. Our only evidence in respect to the date of this piece, is from its general contents. It greatly magnifies the office of preaching, charges the friars with doing their utmost to deceive the people, and to “stop poor priests” from endeavouring to bring them out of their ignorance and irreligion; and it is altogether marked by the opinions, feeling, and language observable in such of the Reformer’s works as are known to be the production of his later years. We know of no work strictly of this complexion, that can be shown to have been written by Wycliffe in the early period of his history; but everything known to be from his pen during the last five or seven years of his life carries this impress.
[a]Nature—they discharge many natural duties without being religious.
[a]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge. Trin. Coll. Dub. Class C. Tab. iii. No. 12. This treatise speaks of priests as “living poorly and justly, and going about teaching freely God’s law,” (chap. xvi.) and abounds in complaint that men should be persecuted for so doing. Its condemnation of all kinds of endowment, excepting the form of tithes and offerings, and its doctrine even concerning such revenues in the case of ecclesiastics who “trespass by long custom,” leave no room to doubt as to the late date of this remarkable production.
[a]By secular clerks, the regular clergy are meant, as distinguished from the religious orders.
[a]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge. Trin. Coll. Dub. Class C. Tab. iii. No. 12. pp. 103—116. The reference in the twenty-sixth chapter of this work to the objections made against the reading of the Scriptures by the laity in the mother tongue, fixes the date of the tract as written by the Reformer not more than two or three years before his death. The passage will be found in the text. The greater part of this work has been printed in the work intitled, The British Reformers, i. 123—141, published by the Religious Tract Society.
[b]The word “penance” is used by Wycliffe in the sense of contrition, penitence, or humility.
[a]Strong natural discernment.
[b]“The fourth error is, that they think more of statutes of sinful men, than of the most reasonable law of Almighty God. For they dread the pope’s law, and statutes made by bishops, and other officers, more than the noble law of the Gospel. Therefore they have many great and costly books of man’s law, and study them much; but few curates have the Bible and good expositions on the Gospel: they study them but little, and do them less. But would to God that every parish church in this land had a good Bible, and good expositions on the Gospel, and that the priests studied them well, and taught truly the Gospel and God’s commandments to the people! Then should good life prevail, and rest, and peace, and charity; sin and falseness should be put back—God bring this end to his people!”—British Reformers, i. 125.
[a]This subject has been touched upon in a preceding section of the treatise. “The ninth error is, that they waste poor men’s goods on rich furs and costly clothes, and worldly array, and feasts of rich men, and in gluttony, drunkenness, and lechery. For they sometimes pass great men in their gay furs, and precious clothes, fat horses, with gay saddles and bridles. St. Bernard crieth, Whatever curates hold of the altar more than simple livelihood and clothing, is not theirs, but other men’s.”—Ibid. i. 127.
[b]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge. Trin. Coll. Dub. Class C. Tab. iii. No. 12. pp. 116—125. The doctrine of this work, concerning the duty of lords in regard to the wealth of the delinquent or indolent among the clergy, and the manner in which it sets forth preaching as compared with other priestly services, seem to determine its date as contemporaneous with the works immediately preceding.
[a]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge. The first sentence of this work shows that it was written in behalf of a class of men, who, as we have before observed, do not become known to us until near the close of the life of the Reformer. Its doctrine throughout is that of Wycliffe when his views were most matured. If this and similar pieces be compared with the “Pore Caitif,” or the “Last Age of the Church,” the reader will be sensible to the force of this kind of evidence.
[a]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge.
[b]The further evidence in respect to date is in chapters iii. xv. xvi. xix. xxvi.
[a]The celebrated Bishop of Lincoln.
[a]Ordinance of man.
[b]I Peter ii. 13, 14. Rom. xiii. 1—4.
[c]By any ecclesiastical pretext, or plea of priesthood.
[d]Forged decrees, meant to sustain the more extravagant pretensions of the papacy.
[a]The seal attached to papal documents.
[b]Rev. xiii. 17.
[c]Not having regard, &c.
[a]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge.
[b]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge. Trin. Coll. Dublin. Class C. Tab. iii. No. 12. pp. 125—131; and another copy, Class C. Tab. i. No. 14.
[a]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge. Trin. Coll. Dublin. Class C. Tab, iii. No. 12. pp. 131—136; and another copy, Class C. Tab. i. No. 14. The contents generally of this work, in common with Nos. X. and XI., forbid, and on the same grounds, our ascribing it to an early period in the career of the Reformer.
[b]Referring to the manner of wearing the hair peculiar to ecclesiastical persons.
[a]Men of later times—modern.
[b]The term is used to denote master, superior, any person in authority.
[c]The following extract contains the devotional introduction of this tract, and the counsels addressed to the priest, and the lord, as printed in the work intitled British Reformers, published by the Religious Tract Society. The passages given in the text in this instance, as in all instances, are from my own papers. But as the gentlemen who made the collection adverted to, were pleased to consult me on the subject, I feel the less scruple in availing myself of a few passages from their publication in the way of notes.
[a]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge. MSS. Jamesii, Bodleian Library.
[a]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge. Trin. Coll. Dub. Class C. Tab. iii. No. 12. pp. 136—141. The piece under this title in the collection of treatises called the “Poor Caitif,” is an earlier and shorter work than that from which the above extracts are taken. British Reformers, i. 121—123.
[a]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge.
[b]MS. ibid. and Trin. Coll. Dub. pp. 156—167. This piece, it is plain, did not appear until the doctrine of the Reformer, by means of his other writings, and of the preaching of his “poor priests,” had become so prevalent as to be much misunderstood or misrepresented. I should account it quite one of his latest works, called forth, probably, in great part; by the Wat Tyler insurrection.
[a]Job xxix. 15—17.
[b]An untaught man—a layman.
[e]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge. Trin. Coll. Dub. Class C. Tab. iii. No. 12. pp. 177—184.
[a]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge. Trin. Coll. Dub. Class C. Tab. iii. No. 12. pp. 184—193. This treatise and the preceding bear all the marks of belonging to a late period in the life of the Reformer, but we have no means of determining their date with precision.
[a]MS. C.C.C. Cambridge.
[a]M.S. C.C.C. Cambridge. Trin. Coll. Dub. Class C. Tab. iii. No. 12. pp. 173—177.
[a]Knowledge by the senses.
[a]MS. Trin. Coll. Dub. Class. C. Tab. iii. No. 12. pp. 188—193.
[a]MS. Trin. Coll. Dub. Class C. Tab. iii. No. 12. pp. 193—208. The first sentence of this work fixes its date as subsequent to 1378, and No. xxiii. manifestly belongs to the same period.
[a]These extracts are from the MS. Class C. Tab. v. No. 24. in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. The substance of the piece has been printed in The British Reformers, from a copy in the British Museum.
[b]MS. Bodleian Library. Archiv. A. 83. There is a short tract under this title among the Wycliffe MSS., in Trinity College, Dublin. Class C. Tab. v. No. 6. pp. 35—38. The allusion toward the close of this extended treatise to the popes, as encouraging all mischiefs and bloodshed of a crusade, in support of their worldly pretensions, settles the date of this work as being not earlier than 1383.
[a]Separated—distinguished between them.
[a]“Touching holy orders, he held that there were but two—viz. of deacons and priests, so do we.”—“James’s Apology for John Wickliffe, showing his nonconformity to the now Church of England,” Oxford, 1608.
[a]MS. Bebl. Bodl. Archiv. A. 3072.
[c]Archiv. A. 83. The discussion in this work opposed to the doctrine of transubstantiation is evidence of its late date. It is not probable that it appeared earlier than in 1380, or at furthest in the year preceding. See Life and Opinions of Wycliffe, vol. ii. chap. iii.
[a]“Here may we see how falsely the fiend beguiles the church by this false principle, that if the more part of such men (men forming church councils) assent to a sentence, then all holy church shall know that as gospel.”—Ibid. Wycliffe then remarks that the faith which served the church a thousand years while Satan was bound, has not suffered since he has been loosed—hence these councils. “We ought to know that Christ may not fail in any ordinance or law sufficient for his church; and whosoever reverses this sentence blasphemes against Christ.”—Ibid.
[a]MS. British Museum. Bib. Reg. 18. B. ix. Trin. Coll. Dub. Class C. Tab. 5. No. vi. pp. 38—63. My extracts are taken from the MS. in the British Museum, sometimes described by the titles, De Ecclesiâ Catholicâ, and De Ecclesiâ Dominio. Baber, 42. The marked allusion of this work to the papal schism, and the crusade, fix its dateas among the works written by the Reformer during the last year of his life, or, at the furthest, in the year preceding, the year 1383.
[a]We should understand.
[b]By all means—every way.
[c]Prates fiction, or falsehood.
[b]Matthew xvi. 19.
[a]Wood’s Hist. Oxon. 58, 59. Henry’s History of England, viii. 182—185.
[a]Postils, p. 21.
[b]1 Cor. iv. 1, et seq.
[a]Postils, p. 134.
[b]Ibid. p. 169.
[c]Ibid. p. 78.
[a]Postils, p. 61.
[a]“Paul saith that God doeth by his grace all things that he doeth, and withdraweth never his grace except as man shall disable himself, and then the righteousness of God needeth that this sinner should be punished. We suppose from Scripture, that each good thing we have, be it state, be it knowledge, each such thing is God’s grace, for God giveth it graciously, that man should serve to him by it. And thus he taketh God’s grace in vain, who taketh his grace and leaveth his service. And, therefore, beginneth Paul thus, ‘We admonish you, that ye take not thus the grace of God in vain.’ These words might be said to each man in this life. Default is not in God, but all the default is in his servants.”—Ibid. p. 17. “Since among the works of man, thinking seemeth most in his power, and yet his thought must come of God, much more each other work of man. It is a known thing to clerks, that no creature may do aught, but as God shall do first that same thing, and help his creature to do it. And since we have a better procurator (mediator) in time of grace, to pray to God, than men had under the old law, no wonder if this be a better time. Thus we should put off pride, and wholly trust in Jesus Christ, for he that may nought think of himself, may nought do of himself, but all our sufficiency is of God, through Jesus Christ.”
[b]Postils, p. 52.
[a]Postils, p. 93.
[d]In pages 141, 142, 146, 176, 182, the papal schism, and in several places the papal crusades, are distinctly mentioned. In page 163 is a farther allusion to Richard as reigning.
[a]Postils. In pages 10, 122, 126, 134, 151, 152, 159, are similar passages.
[b]Ibid. p. 176. “True men say, that so long as Christ is in heaven, the church has in him the best pope, who is head of all saints, and distance either more or less hindereth not Christ to do his deeds as he promiseth, and he saith he is with his own always to the end of the world. It is granted that the church beneath hath a head, that is Christ, head of angels and of men, all that are or shall be saved, and we dare not put two heads lest the church be monstrous. Peter was not head of the church, but captain of the church; and surely warriors would scorn the reasoning which saith that if a man is captain he is head. Peter was captain for a time, and afterwards Paul was captain. But these blind buzzards should first know what Christ’s church truly is. There are three churches of Christ. One that hath vanquished and is above; another that sleepeth in purgatory; and neither of these requireth such a pope. But the third is fighting here; and this, with the others, require Christ as their head. And the man who is most meek, most poor, and most serviceable to the church, is its captain, by the judgment of the Head above. If men seek well they shall find that it may not be proved that it is reasonable to have such a pope, for nothing should prove it except of these three—a right understanding of the words of Christ; evidence of man’s law; or custom, with the opinion of much people. But none of these may prove anything in this case.”—Postils, p. 181. Two pages further on the preacher states, that the only authorised and requisite orders in the church are priests and deacons.
[a]The reader will find this question discussed, and some other points at issue between Dr. Todd and myself, in the Eclectic Review for January, 1843. Soon after that article appeared, a paper was inserted in the British Magazine, purporting to show, that Mr. Lewis, the biographer of Wycliffe, has left evidence among his private papers of being acquainted with the series of Dublin MSS, which I had ventured to describe as unknown to him. But strange enough, the proof furnished by these papers is, that Mr. Lewis did certainly possess some second-hand knowledge of the Dublin MSS. he does mention, but that he possessed no knowledge whatever of those he does not mention! This was precisely my impression of the matter, and this led me to describe my catalogue of the writings of Wycliffe as containing mention of nearly forty MSS. unknown to the Reformer’s biographers.
[a]Radulphus Strodes, non Anglus sed Scotus, in Monasterio Dryburgh, provinciæ Teviotdale, educatus, Ord. Fratrum Prædicatorum, poeta-laureatus, Oxonii diu studuit, socios collegii Mertonensis, Galliam peragravit et Italiam, Syriam item Terram Sanctam, contra Wiclefi dogmata acriter disputans circa a.c. 1370. Musices quoque fuit studiosus. Scripsit fabulas, panegyricos, consequentiarum formulas, (Ven. 1517. 4to. impressas) summulas logicales, sophismatum strophas, phantasma carmen elegiacum, itinerarium Terræ Sanctæ, positiones et xiv. argumenta contra Wiclefum opuscula. Fabricius. Bib. Med. Lat. lib. xviii. Baber. 41.
[a]Biographia Wiclefiania, sive elenchus multorum ejus operum cum eorum initiis, unde Catalogi Balei et Tanneri non parum supplevi et perfice possint. Inter alia disco, tractatus varios, qui nunc separatim feruntur, partes esse Summæ Theologicæ nostri.—Verum id esse, vel horum librorum initia comprobant Cod. Sæc. XV. Denis, Cat. Lat. Theol. MSS. in Bib. Pal. Vind. 391. xii. In C. C. College, Oxford, is a manuscript intitled—Quædam abstracta ex Summâ, doctoris Anglici, Wiclefi. MS. 116. Baber. 46. See XXXII. in this series.
[b]See No. XXX. of this series. There are two copies of the De Dominio in the Imperial Library. Forty-four opinions in the part of this treatise intitled De Dominio Civili, were condemned. MS. Twini, A. 220.
[c]See No. LXIII. of the preceding series.
[d]Thirty-four opinions in this tract were censured. MS. Twini, A. 217.
[a]Stokes was a Carmelite friar. He was commanded by the Archbishop of Canterbury to publish at Oxford the condemnation which had been pronounced against the opinions of Wycliffe and his disciples by the court assembled in the Preaching Friars.
[b]This monk was named Ughtred Bolton, and had written several tracts against Wycliffe.
[a]“It is probable that the six preceding titles are various descriptions of the same work.”—Baber. 48.
[a]These words are the commencement of the piece entitled “The Last Age of the Church,” of which mention will be made elsewhere.