Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION I.: BEING SOME ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST, SECOND, AND THIRD BOOKS OF THE TRIALOGUS. - Tracts and Treatises of John de Wycliffe
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SECTION I.: BEING SOME ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST, SECOND, AND THIRD BOOKS OF THE TRIALOGUS. - 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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BEING SOME ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST, SECOND, AND THIRD BOOKS OF THE TRIALOGUS.
The work of our Reformer which bears the name of the Trialogus, is so called because it consists of a series of colloquies between three speakers. The names of these speakers are Alithia, Pseudis, and Phronesis—or Truth, Falsehood, and Wisdom. The opinions and reasonings of Alithia, accordingly, are to be regarded as those of Truth; those of Pseudis as being the contrary of truth; while in the person of Phronesis, Wycliffe himself speaks; and in setting forth his judgment on the points at issue, he generally assigns such reasons for his opinions as tend to expose the sophistry of Pseudis, and to sustain the views of Alithia.
Many of the opinions discussed are not of a nature to interest a modern reader, and the debates relating to such opinions are valuable chiefly as they serve to illustrate the history of theological speculations. In many instances, also, the method of the argumentation is not more to our taste than the matter of it. It was one of the peculiarities of the scholastic process of reasoning, that in attempting to establish any doctrine, full expression should be given to every conceivable form of objection against it; and though it often happened from this cause, that the disputant raised the spirit of the doubter, without being well able to lay it again, the practice itself served to whet the faculties, and to bring them to their office with the greatest degree of circumspection and force. Thus in the Trialogus, the language of Pseudis gives expression to the captious and sceptical spirit of the middle age on the great questions relating to philosophy, morals, and theology; while the speeches of Alithia and Phronesis, embody the sounder views of those times on such subjects, and along with the opinions generally received, come those bolder utterances which distinguish the writings of Wycliffe as those of a Reformer.
But the argument is conducted, especially in the earlier part of the treatise, and as relating to its more obscure topics, in the prescribed scholastic form, the method of reasoning, and the technical expressions frequently recurring in it, being such as have no place even in the most scientific treatises in our own age.a In one respect, indeed, the works of the ancient schoolmen bear a strong resemblance to our later literature, inasmuch as there is very little in the speculations of the modern sceptic which may not be found in the writings of those middle-age churchmen. In some instances the polemic may have secretly sympathised with the freedom of thought which he affected to condemn; but in general, the atheist, the infidel, and the heretic, were imaginary foes, conjured up that the militant ecclesiastic might indulge, as in a species of tournament, in such displays of his skill as should secure to him the honours of a victory.
That there should have been men during the middle age disposed to bestow a laborious attention on such a system of dialectics, is not surprising; but Wycliffe was a man of earnest piety, of an impassioned temperament, and with a mind eminently practical, was intent through life on bringing about great practical reforms. Nevertheless, if we may credit the testimony of enemies in his favour, even that of the most bitter among them, we must believe that no man of his age was more deeply learned, or more thoroughly skilled in the science of the schoolmen. According to Knyghton, a contemporary and an adversary,—“As a theologian, he was the most eminent in his day; as a philosopher, second to none; and as a schoolman, incomparable. He made it his great aim, with learned subtlety, and by the profundity of his own genius, to surpass the genius of other men.”b Instances, indeed, are not wanting, in which the speculative and the practical, the abstract and the impassioned, have been united in strong proportions in the same men. In Pascal, that purely intellectual concentration which is so necessary to success in the exact sciences, was combined with the imagination of the poet, and with the feeling of the saint. But opposites of this nature meet in something like equal apportionments in the weak, much more frequently than in the strong: and among the reformers it is in the genius of Calvin that we see, in this respect, the nearest reflection of the mind of Wycliffe.
The first and second books of the Trialogus, are the least extended, and the least valuable. The third and fourth books embrace more than three-fourths of the whole treatise, and abound in matter more or less interesting to every sincere Protestant.
The first book is wholly occupied with arguments to prove the being of a God, and with other speculations relating to the Divine perfections, and to the mysteries of the Divine nature. The first chapter is designed to show that “God is the first cause of all things;” the second exhibits him as taking necessary precedence of all things; and in the third he is set forth as the great reality, whose nature is such, that our thoughts can never rise to the conception of any higher excellence. The fourth chapter is intended to demonstrate that “God is, whatever it is better to be than not to be;” and this conclusion being established, all the Divine perfections are deduced from it, inasmuch as it is manifestly better that the Divine nature should be just, wise, omnipotent, and the like, than that it should be devoid of such perfections. In the sixth chapter it is maintained that the reasoning which is thus satisfactory as leading to sound conclusions in regard to the Divine perfections, is no less so as serving to show “the Lord of all to be a Trinity:” and in the remaining chapters of this book, an attempt is made to demonstrate the doctrine of the Trinity from the light of nature, and to exhibit the old philosophical doctrine concerning “ideas,” as in harmony with the prevailing notions of the schoolmen in respect to the manner of the Divine existence.
In this preliminary portion of the work, we find none of the opinions peculiar to Wycliffe, as a reformer, except that in two instances he censures the conduct of some men in making an undue use of the authority of tradition; and the following passage on the sufficiency and excellence of the Scriptures, may be regarded as of the same complexion. “It is plain, that all error in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, by which weak men do so falsify and debase them, proceeds from ignorance of grammar and logic. And unless Go shall assist us in respect to the understanding of these rudiments of faith, the faith of the Scriptures will be too little estimated. The opinion, that if there be any truth, it is in the Scripture, which is often inculcated by Augustine, is manifestly just. Nothing, indeed, is to be named as subtle in grammar, in logic, or in any other science, but the same may be found in more excellence in Scripture.”a
The most curious portion of the metaphysical speculation found in this book, consists in the attempt made in some sense to explain, as well as to prove, the doctrine of the Trinity, by natural reason. Psuedis accounts it “great presumption” in any man to pretend that such articles of faith may be demonstrated by the light of nature. Phronesis maintains that the different opinion of Alithia on that subject is not liable to such a charge; and having spoken at some length on the subordination of the light of nature to the light of faith, and on the agreement of the one with the other, he reminds Psuedis of the doctrine of Plato in respect to a trinity of some kind in the Divine nature, and then endeavours to show, not only that the doctrine of Plato is according to reason, but to show also, and on strictly metaphysical grounds, why the Divine Trinity is described as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In pursuance of this argument it is said, that the “potentia” of the Divine nature, in the sense in which that term is used by the speaker, is God the Father; the “notitia,” or power of self-knowledge in the Divine nature, is God the Son; and the “quietatio”—the repose—the calm rest of the Divine essence, is God the Holy Spirit. Care is taken to explain the purely metaphysical sense in which the term person is used in relation to such a subject; but to the above properties of the Divine existence that name is applied, and these three persons are described as being co-eternal and co-equal. These refinements are pushed so far, that in the sense of “causation” or procession, but not in the sense of “divinity,” God is said to be “the cause of God;” not, however, in any such sense but that it is still true that “these three persons are one first cause, as they are one God, and not three causes, as they are not three Gods.”
In another place, the mind of man is viewed as consisting eminently in “memory, reason, and will;” and these are not only regarded as a kind of trinity in man, but as a species of revelation in man concerning the Trinity in the Divine nature. To the modern metaphysician, reasoning of this nature will appear as singularly open to objection, and many of the objections to which it is exposed were strongly urged against it even in those times; but such is the potency of circumstances and fashion, even in respect to such matters, that this method of treating theological subjects long retained its hold upon the learned, and is only partially superseded even in our own day.
As the discussions in the first book relate principally to the existence and perfections of the Divine nature, those in the second book extend our thoughts from the Deity to his works, and relate both to the origin of the world, and to the constitution of created things generally. In thus passing from the Creator to the created, the elements of nature, the powers of the human mind, and the relation of the human spirit to the body, and to the material world—the nature, the gradations, the fall, and the wars of the angels, and the foreknowledge and predestination of the Almighty as affecting the condition of his works, all come under review. In this book, in common with the one preceding, we find none of the distinctive doctrines of the Reformer; but there is a much greater portion of matter in this part of the treatise, which may be translated so as to be intelligible to a modern reader, and which to many such readers may not be uninteresting. This, however, is more than can be said of the contents of the first seven chapters, which consist of observations and reasonings concerning the office of the senses, the powers of the human intellect, and the history and properties of the material universe. But the following is a translation of the eighth chapter, “On the immortality of the soul as deduced from reason.”
“Alithia, Pray tell me, brother, whether the immortality of the soul, a doctrine you so often assume, may be deduced from reason.
“Phronesis. On this point, we neither of us entertain any doubt but that the soul of man is truly immortal; and consequently, since that soul is identical with the individual man, it follows that the individual in this case will ever remain immortal. And this was the reason why the apostles underwent death with such courage and boldness, well knowing, as they did, that the imprisonment and burden of the flesh was an irksome restraint and oppression to them, and rejoicing that they had met their death in a just cause.
“But philosophers assign many reasons whereby to establish this opinion. In the first place, we learn on the authority of Aristotle, and in fact from common experience, that a certain energy in the mind of man is immortal. But no energy or operation can be more permanent than that which is its subject—that is, the mind, or soul, and therefore we must grant that the soul is immortal. Aristotle gives weight to his assumption on this point, by adducing in its favour the intellect of man, which, so far from being enfeebled, is rather invigorated by the weakness of the body, for there is an increase of keenness in the speculative intellect of the old, even when every corporeal faculty has failed them. This perceptive faculty must have a foundation of some sort to rest upon, of a nature not to require such an instrument as the body, and we must therefore rank the human intellect above all the animal faculties aforesaid. For in those faculties animals surpass man, as saith the poet, who shows it from experience, ‘the boar excels us in hearing, the spider in touch, the vulture in scent, the lynx in sight, the ape in the sense of tasting.’ And thus is it with the five organic interior faculties aforesaid. For since man does not surpass animals in power of body, or in any merely animal sense, we are shut up to the conclusion that he excels them in the operation of his intellect. But what advantage would have been given him, if in the very point which constituted his felicity he had been compelled to part with that felicity at death? For in such case God would seem to cast contempt on his favoured offspring. Man has, therefore, an understanding which he takes away from the body along with himself, and which abides for ever. Furthermore, man has a feeling within himself of natural desire to exist for ever, and the wiser men are, the more do they bear testimony to this truth. Since, then, nature is not to be frustrated in a purpose of such consequence, it appears that there is in man, according to nature, a certain understanding which exists for ever, and so he is immortal.
“In respect to every man we must come to this same conclusion. For if we affirm that immortality belongs to the nature of any one individual, this same property must necessarily be inherent in every individual of a like nature; otherwise, it would not be inherent by nature, but by chance, or from some other adventitious cause, which we cannot describe, because supposing that soul might have been destroyed in the lapse of time by its contrary, or by any other cause, every one would have become liable to destruction; otherwise there would have been in it a liability to destruction, without any cause. For things which come to their termination at the end of certain periods of time, do not last for ever, because if they did, they would become possessed of an infinite power, beyond that belonging to things of a similar species, which endure only for a limited space. Since, then, man has a longing to exist together with God, as the noblest and most natural limit of his desires, no reason can be assigned, apart from his own demerit, which should hinder the accomplishment of such a purpose, especially when we remember that the destruction of the body does not annihilate that soul, but rather gladdens it.
“Hence philosophers and natural reason teach us that it is well to die for the public good, and to avoid what is disgraceful and criminal. But this preference cannot be shown to be rational, unless the man who so dies, can be made possessor of a life after this life. Hence our conclusion follows.
“Our point may be elucidated thus. A man belonging to a community altogether just, may justly consent to die for the salvation of that community, inasmuch as then, greater advantage would accrue both to the individual who died, and to the community; and inasmuch, moreover, as every man ought to desire, as an object of preference, that good which, as belonging to the community, is called the public good. For it appears that a man should, in such an emergency, so choose death, that, according to the law of nature, the possible advantage of the community may be rather chosen. Nor is it to be doubted, but that in many cases, it might be made advantageous to the community that a certain individual should die, than that the same individual should live any longer even virtuously.
“The same reasoning applies to a man who is put to choose between committing a crime, and following the dictates of virtue, and undergoing temporal death. Suppose, then, it were determined, as by a conscience within the man, that it would be virtuous, and more expedient for him so to die, it might be asked, when the advantage, supposed to arise out of death, would accrue to him—whether before death, or after? Now it cannot be before death, for death brings no advantage before it comes; and if it be after death, then it must be the spirit which will, after death, reap that advantage; and it thus follows that the spirit will remain, for that is not dependent on the body.
“Of this sort are the many reasons, amounting almost to demonstration, which have induced the wisest and best-informed to die in this way. In such a cause they have not died in vain, for then would they have been the most wretched and senseless of all men, in common with many beside who persevere in virtue to the end of their days. Another kind of reward, then, must, in the end, be assigned them by an all-bountiful Deity, not in this life, inasmuch as God has determined they should die in the course of virtue, and we are thus obliged to conclude that it will be in a life to come, and, in consequence, that the soul of man will survive the death of the body. For God justly distributes rewards to the virtuous, without respect of persons, as in the case of the two men before mentioned,—one of whom lives virtuously, and the other lives out the full period of his life-time in vice. It is proper, that according to some admeasurement of time, a reward should, in justice, be allotted to each according to his deserts,—not in this life, as is manifest from the fact of the case, and, therefore, necessarily after death.
“And inasmuch as Scripture is full of testimony to this truth, it is most necessary that man should embrace it. It is just as imperative that the Christian should believe that the soul will exist after this life, as that he should believe that God is, and that he is the rewarder of the good.”a
The next four chapters consist of observations, partly scriptural, and partly conjectural, regarding the nature of angels, their different ranks and offices, and their fall, punishment, and conflicts. The fourteenth chapter treats of prescience and predestination, in which an attempt is made to reconcile strong opinions on that subject, with sound doctrine concerning human responsibility. The last chapter in this book consists of some discoursing with respect to the heavens, including observations on the seven planets, the stars, the four elements, and the moon, and her influence on the humid properties of the earth. This chapter, while presenting an outline of the defective philosophy of the age, is chiefly remarkable from the intelligent scepticism with which it touches on the dreams of the astrologer and alchemist; alleging that fancies of that nature had done much to injure the science of medicine, and hardly less to detract from the certainty of the necessary truths proper to the “venerable science of theology.”
The first chapter in this book is “On the Virtues.” Phronesis intimates his intention of stating his views on this subject, both practically and speculatively, and accordingly commences by enumerating the various classes of virtues. He divides them into the created and uncreated. The former are separated into natural and moral. The natural virtues are described as the divisible and indivisible. The moral virtues consist of such as belong to man naturally, and of such as are termed theological,—as faith, hope, and charity. Virtue of the former description is defined by Aristotle as consisting in that disposition, or habit of mind, which chooses the medium most suitable to the individual, according to the dictates of reason. The cardinal virtues are four,—justice, fortitude, prudence, and temperance. The intellectual virtues of which man is capable are five, each of them regulating, according to reason, the moral virtue which corresponds to it. These five virtues, or powers, are—wisdom, intellect, science, art, and prudence. In this class of virtues wisdom holds the highest rank. Intellect is defined as that faculty by which we gain our knowledge of the fundamental principles of science, such as that the same thing cannot be, and not be, at the same time, and that the whole must be greater than its parts. By science, we arrive at the results of scientific investigation. Art consists, not so much in the manual dexterity which enables us to create works of art, as in a theoretic knowledge of the principles on which all such works should be modelled. Lastly, the office of prudence is direct and practical, and is most closely connected with the moral virtues, each one of which may be said to have its special kind of prudence belonging to it.
Aristotle connects the moral virtues with the irrational part of our nature, and calls them elective, because they lead one to choose and delight in the natural end of their being, making it the great object of pursuit; and because these virtuous dispositions maintain a medium between two extremes, which are alike vicious, he defines this kind of virtue as a disposition which makes choice of the mean course. Still we are to guard against considering virtue and vice, and the actions consequent upon them, as things having any independent existence. For the medium, as Aristotle reminds us, must not be confounded with an absolute and invariable, or with an arithmetical mean, but must be regarded as one solely relative to ourselves. The medium, then, must be adapted to the circumstances of the follower of virtue, because various means suit various individuals. Every virtue, accordingly, must be accompanied by an appropriate exercise of prudence, and, in consequence, Aristotle completes his definition by saying, that the choice of this mean is determined by the dictate of reason.
If the reader does not perceive the meaning of this moral analysis, the fault is not so much with the Reformer, as with the distinguished philosopher whose system he is endeavouring to expound. The rest of the chapter is occupied with observations on the conduct of a man who squanders away his property by a profuse generosity; and Phronesis shows that it is not true, as may at first appear, that a virtuous habit has become a vicious one merely by a change of circumstances, but that the man continues to give beyond his means, not from a principle of virtue, but from the force of habit; and that this habit of profusion, while thus unregulated by prudence, is anything but a virtue.
In the second chapter, Phronesis defends his departure from Aristotle, and shows that the cardinal virtues should be assigned to the will, or to the intellect of man, and should thus occupy a higher place than has been assigned to them by that philosopher. “Neither these,” he observes, “nor any of the moral virtues, can dwell in man without the assistance of God’s grace. How, I ask, can man merit happiness by living and acting according to the good pleasure of God, unless God shall, of his abundant grace, accept such service? So whatever man does, or may, as it were, beget in himself by nature, is not called a moral virtue worthy of reward and everlasting praise, unless it shall have come to him from another, and consequently from the grace of God himself: and no man can ascertain whether he be virtuous in this sense or not except by aid of a revelation from God.”
Aristotle, he proceeds to say, maintains that the fact of a man’s finding pleasure in pursuing the dictates of reason, is a sign to him of his having been in the practice of virtue. But this is a sign by no means sufficient to prove the point intended, inasmuch as a man without grace, may feel at times a sincere pleasure in the performance of a virtuous action, and the disbelief of this great fact has been the source of much delusion, disposing many to think “that a man may be absolved from his sins, by the mere form of words, or the laying on of hands in the sacrament.”
Phronesis then discusses the subject of Faith. He remarks, that the term is sometimes used to denote the act of believing, sometimes a believing habit of mind, and sometimes the truth which is believed. There is, according to the schoolmen, a faith which is incomplete, as that of devils who believe and tremble; and another kind of faith which becomes perfect, as being inwrought by charity. This charity belongs necessarily to all who are true believers, and all men destitute of it are in a sense unbelievers. There are three properties belonging to faith. First, that it relates wholly to truth, to the exclusion of all error—truth which the believer should defend, even to the death. Secondly, it is proper to faith, that the object of it should not admit of demonstration, that it should be obscure to the eye of sense, inasmuch as we cannot be said to believe in that which we see. Thirdly, faith is the foundation or substance giving to the pilgrim rest in the objects of his belief—the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.a
The believer is further described as a man who has bestowed upon him by God, a faith which is unmixed with hesitation.a It is added, that every man committing sin must so do as an unbeliever; for had he been mindful of the punishment to be inflicted on the sinner, of the inspection of God as constantly over him, and of the other objects of faith always present to a believer, he would not have so done.
The third chapter treats of Hope and Charity. Hope is said to be distinguished from faith in three respects. First, hope has regard only to the realising of some future good, but faith has respect to truth universally, and simply as such. Secondly, hope falls short of that evidence and knowledge concerning its object which belong to faith, but rests in the medium between doubt and credulity; and so logicians say concerning the objects of hope, that they neither deny, know, nor doubt respecting them, but simply suppose them. Thirdly, hope has reference only to a good which is possible to the person hoping. Faith, on the contrary, has respect to things which may be advantageous or disadvantageous to the person who believes, as well as to things with which he has no concern.
But the virtue especially necessary to the Christian pilgrim is charity. Without charity no man can enter heaven. It is the wedding-garment, the want of which must bring condemnation in the last judgment. True charity consists in loving God with all the heart, and soul, and mind—and these three terms have reference to the love due to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit respectively. This command, though the first and the greatest, is but poorly observed by our fallen and unhappy race. The second command is like the first—that we love all the works of God, and especially that we love our neighbour as ourselves. We all profess to be observant of this mutual charity, but our actions proclaim the contrary, and our actions are intitled to more credence than our words. To love God is the same thing as to love his law. This is plain from the Gospel, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”b
We may test our love to the law of God by three things—by our attention to it, our observance of it, and our readiness to defend it. “Do not the laws of men,” it is observed, “and other created objects, convict us of ignorance and contempt with regard to the law of God? Do we not love other things more, to which we give more attention? Who is there, I ask, who doth not reckon of more importance his own advantage in the pursuit of some branch of knowledge that may bring him money, than his attention to, and sedulous observance of the law of God?—a course of conduct most manifestly repugnant to the spirit of charity, for the apostle tells us that ‘charity seeketh not her own.’—Chap. i. 7.
“Let us see, then, whether the Christian pilgrim is more anxiously concerned about his own private advantage, than about the observance of this law of Christ. Since the opposite is the fact, with the greater portion of mankind, it is plain that they are devoid of charity, being wanting in observance of the first and greatest commandment. But if a man be so rooted in this habit of perversity, who can entertain any doubt about his being a heretic, by reason of his continued failure in attention to, and observance of this law? Again, if we look to the way in which this law is defended among individuals of the higher orders, who can hesitate in saying that not only the laity, but still more the prelates, have a greater regard for the protection of their private interests than for the public defence of the law of Christ? If this were not so, they must have destroyed, as far as they possibly could, all that takes away from or is opposed to that law, and yet in both prelates and civil dignitaries exalting and defending the laws and interests of men, placing them before the law of God. For I see not otherwise how it should happen that the civil law should be executed with such scrupulous accuracy, a trifling amount of evidence being sufficient in respect to whatever violates such enactments, or shall infringe on the good of society. It is plain, therefore, from the far greater pains men take in putting human laws into execution, how great a preponderance they carry with them in general estimation, and how false is the assertion of such men that they love God with all the heart, soul, and mind.
“In fact, all, or the greater number, among our religious orders, will be among the first to be inexcusably condemned in the day of the Son of God, for disobedience of this nature, since they all seek that which is their own, and labour for the interests of their own order, and overlook the defence of the Divine law.
“Thus, then, private sects deprived their members of charity. But Christ, who wished his law to be observed in freedom, that its observance might earn a more happy reward, appointed no infliction of sensible punishment on its transgressors, but has abandoned the person neglecting it to a suffering more severe after the day of judgment. Are these three virtues, then, faith, hope, charity, anything less than banished now-a-days? The fear of the sensible penalty immediately to be inflicted on the violator of human law, makes those laws to be carefully observed; and accordingly, faith, hope, and charity, in obedience to the law of the Lord, are things that slumber. No one can convince us by reason, that when two objects of choice are set before a man, and he pursues the one, letting go, or taking no notice of the other, that he does so from any other motive than from an utter want, or at least an inferior degree of love, for that which he neglects. And thus should we judge of the lovers of the world or the flesh. And in this manner these three theological virtues grow cold.
“Who would not willingly suffer in Scotland in behalf of the law and the privileges of the king of England, if certain of returning alive and unhurt to England, to be rewarded by the king in proportion to what he had undergone? Such a man, I say, would willingly undergo trouble in Scotland, in the hope of obtaining a reward in England. Much more then should a man in trouble in this vale of misery, manfully strive in faith, in hope, and in charity, after the reward of blessedness to be obtained on being translated to his own country.”
The fourth and fifth chapters relate to the nature of sin, viewed generally, and to the distinction commonly made between venial and mortal sins. The terms of this distinction are said to be commonly in the mouth, not of the people only, but of prelates also, men “who know better how to extort money for sins, than how to cleanse any man from his transgressions, or to distinguish between the mortal and the venial, concerning which they babble so much.” It is further stated, that these terms have no express sanction from Scripture, and Phronesis claims a right to limit the signification of them to the sense of Scripture.
“A sin may be called mortal,” says Phronesis, “when, according to the judgment of God, it is worthy of death; and thus it is the sin of final impenitence only, that is, the sin against the Holy Ghost, which is properly mortal. But any other sin, since it is such as may be pardoned, may reasonably be called venial. But inasmuch as those actual sins which quench Divine grace, are not distinguishable by our limited knowledge, and we are thus left in ignorance as to what sin committed in our pilgrimage may be venial, and what mortal, we are bound to fly from all sin whatsoever, since we are aware in a general way of its danger, but are ignorant of its real enormity. Whatever sin men commit, may be traced to the ingratitude of the sinner viewed in respect to the gratitude due to God, against whom all sin is committed; for it is not possible to sin against any other being, without sinning principally against him.
“The believer may judge in respect to the grievous nature of sin, from the fact that he owes to God a debt of infinite gratitude; and the greater the gratitude due, the greater must be the evil of a failure in that respect. So that every sin is infinite in its evil. Just as, the higher the lord against whom a crime is committed, the heavier the penalty inflicted on the criminal. So sin, committed against God, a Lord infinitely great, is infinitely enormous in its evil. In the same manner, the more detestable an evil may be, the more proportionably must it be an evil. But sin is infinitely detestable. It is therefore an infinite evil. The measure in which God should be sought, is the measure in which sin should be avoided; but God is infinitely worthy of being sought, therefore sin is infinitely fit to be avoided, and so must be infinitely evil.”
The speaker proceeds so far as to assert, that “for the sake of no good whatever, not even for the sake of God, should any sin, however small, be committed. God can never enjoin sin on any of his creatures; but were he so to do, a man would not be bound, in such case, even to obey God, for even then he would be acting in a praiseworthy manner, in endeavouring to keep his life free from the stain of guilt.” The metaphysical reader will not be startled by the impossible case thus supposed. Our duties arise out of our relations, and have their fitness or goodness, not so much from the mere will of the Divine Being, as from his whole nature, of which that will is the result.
The sixth chapter is on “The penalty attendant on the evil of sin.” It having been shown that sin is infinite in its evil, it is maintained that the remission of it must be the work of infinite power, and accordingly, that it is God only who can forgive sin. The next chapter is “On Grace;” and Phronesis, speaking of indulgences, says, “It is plain that prelates in granting indulgences, commonly blaspheme the wisdom of God, pretending, in their folly and avarice, that they understand what they know not.” On the subject of grace, the same speaker observes—“It appears to me, that grace, which is called the grace of predestination, or of final perseverance, cannot fall away from any one; for if so, it could not be that grace.” He complains also of some “sensual simonists,” who chatter on this subject, “as though grace were to be bought or sold like an ox or an ass, and thus make merchandise in the buying of pardons, and the taking away sins, the devil having availed himself of an error in the schools to introduce these heresies in morals.”
In the chapter “On Pride,” the hypocrisy imputed to the mendicant orders, is described as the worst form of that evil, particularly as evinced in the value which they attached to their vain traditions, asserting “their private rule of life to be superior to the rule of Christ.” In the following chapter, “On Humility,” this subject is resumed, and the same tone of remark is extended from the religious orders to the regular clergy.
“God chooses no prelate,” says Wycliffe, “except as he shall be more humble than those set under him, for God calls no one to such a station, except as being more skilled than others in the practice of virtue, and in consequence, more humble. The more humble a man is, the more is he like Christ. Thus humility and the other virtues follow each other, and are praiseworthy, not only in their species, but according to their gradation. And this is the reason why before the endowment of the church by the emperors, the rule of the apostle—‘no man should take this honour upon himself,’ was observed. For those who aspire to primacy in the church, or any member of a religious order who is wanting in humility, and consequently in virtue, regard themselves as more worthy than those beneath them, or otherwise are absolutely senseless. Now if it be from the desirableness of honour from man, or for the sake of temporal gain, that men covet such offices, then beyond doubt they are to be blamed, since in such case the love of God and humility are set aside, and worldly good is made of too much weight. It is plain, accordingly, that the choice made by men is in most cases unjust, since if the man chosen be not the more humble, he is chosen unjustly. And this is not the choice made for the greater part, inasmuch as now-a-days, the more humble are accounted the less worthy. Hence in such elections, and in their practice as private religionists, men place themselves in opposition to their Maker; for what he deems fit to be done is set aside as unworthy, and is disposed of by the judgment of men, which God contemns. This is one reason why these religious orders are in such confusion.
“With regard to the objection that the most sagacious man must be the best adapted to rule, and that the man of good presence and great resolution must be most likely to gain possessions for his order from the world, your reasoning is a reproach to such orders, and only shows that the better order of Christ ought to be observed. Moreover, if knowledge, a thing so good in itself, puffeth up, how much more this fox-like cunning! Such men fall, without doubt, under the prophetic woe, uttered by Isaiah—‘Woe unto them who call evil good, and good evil.’ And since the judgment and feeling of the world are opposed to these orders, it would be well for them no longer to exist, and that things should be regulated according to the pure order of Christ.”
The thirteenth chapter is “On Charity,” and contains the following passage concerning the manner in which the law of Christ should be defended:
“To be more particular as to the way in which we ought to do whatever we do to the honour of God. We should look to the law of God, especially to the decalogue and the Gospel, and be observant of them through life, in word and deed. We should defend the Gospel against the disciples of Antichrist, by persuasive exhortations, by words of humility, and by praiseworthy deeds, even to the death. Every Christian is bound to a charity of this nature. But what the Evangelist refers to when he says, ‘The love of many waxeth cold,’ hath appeared in these last days, in which many assail the commandments of the Lord, and few duly defend them, the bulls of the pope, and the pretensions of the religious orders, being deemed of far more weight than they. But since charity is patient and benign, let us, according to the apostle, (1 Cor. xiii.) dispose ourselves to patience even unto death, and ever keep inviolate the kindliness of charity, if haply God shall be found willing to pity the sinner, and turn such from that madness of which they are so full. Let us, also, ever call to mind how the prophets under the old law, and how Christ, and his beloved disciples, under the law of grace, were in that very cause slain, and ask ourselves whether we are better than they, or whether the good which God has provided for his servants is exhausted. Our faith teaches us the reverse of this. And, in short, I see not how any man should die more happily or triumphantly. Since, then, we are sure to die, and if negligent are sure to suffer the penalty of negligence, let us cultivate faith, hope, and charity, while we have the time.”
The fifteenth chapter is “On Patience and Meekness,” and teaches in the following terms that all Christians should be soldiers:
“All Christians, then, should be the soldiers of Christ, and it is plain how many are chargeable with insensibility to this duty, inasmuch as the fear of losing temporal goods, and worldly friendships, and apprehensions of the insecurity of life and fortune, prevent so great a number from being faithful either in setting forth the cause of God, in standing manfully for its defence, or, if need be, suffering death in its behalf. From such a source, also, comes that subterfuge of Lucifer urged by our modern hypocrites, who say, that to suffer martyrdom cannot be a duty now as it was in the primitive church, since in our time all men, or at least the great majority are believers—so that the tyrant is no more who may persecute Christ and his members to the death, and this is the cause why there are not martyrs now, as formerly. But it is certain that this excuse has been devised by Satan, to shield sin; for the believer in maintaining the law of Christ should be prepared, as his soldier, to endure all things at the hands of the proud rulers of this world,a so as to declare boldly to the pope and cardinals, to bishops and prelates, how unjustly, according to the testimony of the Gospel, they serve God in their offices, inflicting perilous injury on those committed to their care, such as must bring on them a speedy destruction, one way or another. All this applies to temporal lords, but not in so great a degree as to the clergy; for as the abomination of desolation begins with a perverted clergy, so the consolation begins with a converted clergy. Hence we Christians need not visit pagans to convert them by enduring martyrdom in their behalf, but have only to declare with constancy the law of Christ even before Cesarean prelates, and straightway the flower of martyrdom will be at hand.”
In the seventeenth chapter, this subject is touched upon in still stronger terms, the pontiff being described as “the great Antichrist.”
“It is supposed, and with much probability, that the Roman pontiff is the great Antichrist, for he falsely asserts that he is in a direct sense the vicar of Christ, most conformed to him in his life, and by consequence the most humble of Christians, the poorest of men, and one separated more than any man beside from the thraldom of secular things. But the falsehood and blasphemy of such assertions are manifest in the fact that his life is the reverse of all this, that he is the most powerful and the most wealthy man in the whole world; and what can be more contrary to the poverty of Him who had nowhere to lay his head? How can such an Antichrist be described as a vicar bearing resemblance to Christ? From the fact of what we see in him, it is clear, that so far from being the most humble of men, he is vicar to the king of pride, set up over us all. The great mart in respect to worldly possessions lies in the hands of the pope, and yet Christ declared that he was not a ruler or divider in a case between two brethren, when the worldly matter in dispute was comparatively small.
“And since the church is so much harmed from this cause, Christ hath said—‘Whosoever readeth let him understand;’ and without doubt, when a man does see this danger he ought in charity to labour in making it known even unto the death, for otherwise he would be guilty of hiding his Lord’s talent, and God would have given him knowledge in vain. After this great Antichrist, come the lesser Antichrists—the prelates, who desert the office which Christ has assigned to them, and take up another office according to another law. The injunction of Christ to Peter was—‘feed my sheep;’ but if you wish to bring this point to a test, look well to the life of Christ and of his apostles, and see how ill they are followed by our spiritual leaders. The duty of preaching is set aside, and the practice of fleecing those committed to their care is introduced in its place. Let a man bestow only slight attention on what is doing in modern times, and on the laws of Antichrist, and he will see that they are contrary in every respect to the laws and the office of Christ.”
The next chapter is on avarice, which Phronesis describes as consisting in an inordinate love of things temporal.
“Learned men teach us that the soul is more pure and sublime in its nature than the heavens we behold above us; and as the heavens are exalted by their position above the earth, so the soul should be exalted in its affections above worldly things. The avaricious man, accordingly, should beware of doing a thing so monstrous as that of making this heaven within him, fashioned after the likeness of God, to adhere unnaturally to the earth, inasmuch as the pure soul is the habitation of God, and by so doing he would wickedly cut himself off from God, and aim to subvert the laws of nature.”
The chapter next in order relates to the virtue opposed to avarice; and Alithia having asked what that virtue is, Phronesis replies—“As avarice is the immoderate desire of possessing temporal things, the virtue opposed to it is the subordinate love of such things, consisting in an observance of the rule that every one should desire that measure of temporal good which may most conduce to his spiritual well-being.” Phronesis then cites 1 Tim. vi. 7, 8: “For we brought nothing into the world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content;” and proceeds to say—“Nor can I see why all the clergy should not account themselves as strictly bound by that rule, because whatever is beyond such things must be evil, be tainted with avarice, and expose the man who covets it to great spiritual peril.” Psuedis replies, by describing this doctrine as corrupt and false, since we bring our mental faculties into the world, and carry them with us when we leave it; and inasmuch as it is so ordained that food and clothing should not be our final reward, we ought not to rest content with them before those final rewards have been realised. To which Phronesis answers, by saying, that the apostle refers in the passage quoted to temporal things exclusively, and asks Psuedis if he can affirm that he existed the same wealthy heretic before he was born as he is known to be now; or if he can say what part of his riches it is he means to take hence with him; and adds further, that when the apostle gave this injunction with regard to a moderate apportionment of temporal goods, so far was he from denying, that he in fact implied that we should receive with the liveliest gratitude and joy the gifts of grace and virtue. But the apostles were men who wore their one garment apiece, men who built no sumptuous edifices, while the friars have run into every excess of luxury, making no due return for their possessions either in the way of bodily service, or as ministering to the spiritual edification of the people.
This chapter is followed by one intitled “On Gluttony,” in which Alithia expresses surprise that Phronesis should so unhesitatingly declare the church to have been guilty of a fault in accepting an endowment, and deserting, in this particular, the rule of Christ, seeing that it is possible for a man to possess dominion of the most extended description, and still live devoutly, using all temporal things with moderation. Phronesis answers, That his expressions have been taken up somewhat too loosely by Alithia, but that Sylvester, or whoever it was that first accepted the perpetual imperial endowment, was by no means free from blame: his sin, as an individual, might be light, but he gave occasion to his weak successors to sin in a far greater degree; for before the time of that endowment, when apostolic men were more humble, men were regarded as deserving in proportion as they were found useful to the church.a “But now, by reason of endowments, while they are bound to be more humble, they are less so; foolishly undertaking to serve the church beyond their powers of service, and in this very way they incapacitate themselves for being useful to the church, and become negligent of the counsel and command of Christ in respect to temporal things, and dominion over them.” In the remaining part of the chapter, the degrading nature of the vice to which it relates, is strongly set forth; and the saying of Constantine, “That gluttony destroys more men than the sword,” is cited against it. Wycliffe concludes by advising the practice of moderate fasting as alike beneficial to mind and body.
The twenty-fourth chapter, “On the Proneness of Man to Sin,” contains some curious thoughts in respect to the connexion which is supposed to subsist between sin as pertaining to the soul, and mortality as affecting the body. Alithia, speaking of the condition of man in paradise, says, it was, as relating to the body, a state of mortality; but as the well-being of the body is dependent on the influence of the mind, man, through the innocence of his spiritual nature, was immortal. Hence, of necessity, when the soul drew back from God, through sin, and man became wanting in the full influence of God, so far as the soul was concerned, his body, from that cause, became subject to suffering, and being in the lowest grade of the existences endowed with immortality, man sunk necessarily below that grade, and became subject to death, and corporeal suffering.
In concluding, Phronesis expresses his conviction, that through the infinite compassion of God, the fall of man from a state of innocence, has been made to subserve the introduction of a greater amount of good than would have resulted from his continuance in that state.
The next chapter is on the question, “Why the Sin of Satan is not to be forgiven?” and contains some speculations still further removed from the range of the comprehensible. “In order to the forgiveness of sin,” it is said, “there must be an active virtue in the agent, and some disposition toward penitence. But this is not the case with Satan, and so his sins are not forgiven. Again, the sin of Satan is the sin against the Holy Ghost, the sin of final impenitence; and as Adam committed sin against the wisdom of God the Father, whose wisdom became on that account incarnate, so for the salvation of Satan, it would be necessary that the third person in the Trinity should become incarnate; and as that cannot be, the sin of Satan cannot be forgiven.” In this manner did the greatest geniuses of the middle age meddle with questions which were “too high” for them.
On “the Incarnation,” the Reformer discourses as follows:—
“As we discern the uncreated Trinity, by reasoning à posteriori from the trinity of the soul, so from the union of the soul and body we become acquainted with the incarnation of our Lord. For as the created spirit, united to the animated body, makes one human person, the same as to the spirit, however the corporeal nature may vary, so we must, in great part, form our conception in regard to the person of the Word; because he assumed in the unity of his person, a complete humanity, becoming that human person which had an eternal pre-existence, inasmuch as according to his nature, as the Word, he had existed from eternity. We are not to understand, that the created spirit in man has any perception which it does not communicate to the compound person of man, but whatever the human spirit perceives, that the compound person perceives, and vice versâ. We must consider in the same light the person of the Word, and the manhood assumed, so that the compound divine person perceives whatever the person of the Word perceives. And whatever the assumed humanity suffers, that compound person suffers. We are not to understand that the person of the Word, or the Deity, is part of that man, just as the aforesaid spirit is not an integral part of man, but in reality the whole man. Hence we see, that as in the matter of the Trinity, three persons are the same divine nature, so in the matter of the incarnation, three natures, namely,—body, soul, and the Divine nature, are each the same person of the Word.”
The twenty-eighth chapter is “On the Number of the Saved.” Phronesis thinks, that as many of the human race will be finally saved, as there were angels that fell, or as many as would have been created, supposing our race to have remained in innocence; so that by the grace of God, the fall of angels, and the fall of man, have been made productive of good.
The next chapter touches on one of the most conspicuous elements in the false religion of the times—the worship offered to saints. Phronesis states, that the Divine perfection of Christ is far beyond the reach of any human attainment, and absolutely necessary to the salvation of mankind; and proceeds to observe, that in consequence of this acknowledged principle, holy men are to be praised only in so far as they have been followers of Christ.
“This custom is, with reason, observed by our church, that whosoever entreats a saint, should direct his prayer to Christ as God, not to the saint especially, but to Christ. Nor doth the celebration or festival of such a saint avail anything, except so far as it tends to the magnifying of Christ, inciting us to honour him, and provoking and inflaming our love to him. And, accordingly, if there be any celebration of the saints, which is not retained within these limits, it is not to be doubted that cupidity, or some other evil, is the cause of such services. Hence many think it would be profitable to the church, were all festivals of that nature to be abolished, and those which have relation to Christ alone retained; because, say they, the memory of Christ would be kept more freshly in the mind, and the devotion of the common people would not be unduly distributed among the members of Christ. But however this may be, it is certain that the solemn services, and the devotion paid to any such saint, is of no use, except in so far as it incites to love of Christ, and is such as may tend to procure his advocacy. For our faith assures us, that Christ is the mediator between God and man. Hence many are of opinion, that when prayer was directed only to that middle person of the Trinity for spiritual help, the church was more flourishing, and made greater advances than it does now, when many new intercessors have been found out and introduced.”
The closing chapter of this book is meant to show, “How the Law of Christ is infinitely superior to all other Laws.” Alithia opens the dialogue on this subject by expressing apprehension that Phronesis will obtain small thanks from the “Satraps” of the age, for the opinions broached in the last chapter; adding, that so many are the assailants of the authority of Scripture on such subjects, that few seem to be capable of estimating it at its just value. “I have learnt from experience,” replies Phronesis, “the truth of your observation, and the chief cause of this state of things is, I doubt not, our unbelief. We do not sincerely believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, or we should hold the authority of the Scripture, and especially that of the evangelists, as of infinitely greater weight than any other.
“Inasmuch as it is the desire of the Holy Spirit,” he proceeds to say, “that our attention should not be dispersed over a large number of objects, but be concentrated on one necessary matter, it is his will that the books of the old and new law should be read and studied; and that men should not be taken up with other books, which, true as they may be, and containing Scripture truth as they may by implication, are not to be confided in explicitly. Hence Augustine (Book II. De Ordine Rerum) often enjoins it on his readers, that none should give credit to his writings or his words, except in so far as they have their foundation in Scripture, wherein, as he often saith, is contained all truth, either explicitly or implicitly. Of course, we should judge in the same manner concerning the writings of other holy doctors; and much more so concerning the writings of the Romish church, and doctors of a later date.
“Accordingly, that the Holy Scriptures may be more duly estimated, every truth which is not manifest to the Christian from the simple evidence of his senses, should be deduced from Scripture, at least if the faithful are to place credence in it. And then the Scriptures would be held in reverence, and the papal bulls superseded, as they ought to be, and the veneration of men for the laws of the papacy, as well as for the doctrines of our modern doctors, promulgated since the loosing of Satan, would be kept within due bounds. How do writings of this sort concern the faithful, save as they are honestly deduced from the fountain of Scripture? By such a course, we should not only reduce the mandates of the popes, and of other prelates, to their just place, but the errors of the new orders would be corrected, and the worship of Christ would be purified and elevated. In this view, those upstart doctors are to be accounted as especially worthy of all detestation, who endeavour to maintain, that Holy Writ, of all writings or sayings, is the most false, and especially the words of Christ in the Gospel of John, which they think they can clearly demonstrate by their logic. In truth, of all heretical doctrines, I know of none more damnable than this, of none more fit for the purposes of Antichrist, none more hurtful to the faith of Christ. All the sophistries of Antichrist on this subject, lie concealed under this foul covering—‘I understand Holy Writ in this way, and according to my logic it ought so to be understood; but the sense which I attach to it amounts to an impossibility; therefore Scripture, if logically interpreted, and by consequence the Author of Scripture, must be accounted false, and most unworthy of credit.’ ”
It is by reasoning, which, pushed to its results, must lead to impiety of this complexion, that the anti-scripturalists have generally endeavoured to vindicate their conduct, when substituting some other authority in place of the immediate authority of the Divine word. Phronesis meets this argument by saying—
“It is no fault of the Scripture, if the heretic be found understanding it in a wrong sense. It is not subject to his judgment. On the contrary, it condemns him. The error of his understanding lies mainly in his pride, in his foolish confidence in his own logic; whereas the logic of Scripture itself is the most correct, the most subtle, and to be most followed.”
It is expedient, he adds, to the obtaining of such a complete acquaintance with the Scriptures, that the believer should be instructed in sound logic, and by a philosophy chastened from the Lord. Then follows a reference to the “manifold armour” with which the disciple of truth should be provided, when opposed to “the disciples of Antichrist.” The modern reader will probably smile, when he finds among the requisites enumerated, such matters as the following—just views in respect to “universals;” such an acquaintance with “the metaphysics of the schools” as may include a knowledge of “the quiddity of time, and other accidents, and how it is that accidents are nothing but dispositions formally inherent in their subjects;” such an acquaintance, moreover, with the nature of the Creator and the created, and the relations between them, as to see that God is an “everlasting ideal,” an “eternal existence in his own genus, and a necessary antecedent;” and to see that “the essence of matter is everlasting, and material forms only so many arrangements of it, though they are quiddities of species and genera!” But we must concede much in this form to the tastes of a man who—“In philosophia nulli reputabatur secundus: in scholasticis disciplinis incomparabilis.”
[a]The following passage is the first in the treatise, and may be taken as a specimen of the obscurity which attaches very generally to the metaphysical portion of the work—an obscurity which renders it impossible that a literal translation should convey to a modern reader any intelligible meaning.
[b]“Doctor in theologia eminentissimus in diebus illis. In philosophia nulli reputabatur secundus: in scholasticis disciplinis incomparabilis. Hic maxime nitebatur aliorum ingenia subtilitate scientiæ et profunditate ingenii sui transcendere.”—Knyghton, p. 2644.
[a]Chap. viii. 23.
[a]“Quamvis autem fidelis noscat confuse omnes articulos fidei, et habeat evidentiam, etiam demonstrationem, ad aliquos articulos fidei cognoscendum, non tamen oportet ipsam ex hinc, a merito suo excidere. Licet viator non ut sic habeat rationem meriti, et crediderit veritatem sensibilem. Et sic intelligi potest Grego. in Omilia de octava paschæ, quod fides non habet meritum et cet. Nec video quomodo viator posset in statu isto peregrinando proficere ad beatitudinem promerendam, nisi primo omnium sit fidelis.”—pp. 84, 85.
[a]“Fidelis autem est, qui habet fidem a Deo infusam sine aliqua trepidatione fidei contraria, quæ suæ fidei sit commixta.”—Ibid.
[b]John xiv. 15.
[a]Dante, who appeared about half a century earlier than Wycliffe, makes repeated mention of this supposed endowment of the church by Constantine, in the time of Sylvester, bishop of Rome.
The following is a further reference to the same fact:—
In his treatise De Monarchiâ, Dante thus expresses himself.—Dicunt quidam adhuc, quod Constantinus Imperator, mundatus a leprâ intercessione Sylvestri, tunc summi pontificis, imperii sedem, silicet Romam, donavit ecclesiæ, cum multis aliis, imperii dignitatibus. “There are those who still say that the Emperor Constantine, having been healed of a leprosy, through the intercession of Sylvester, then supreme pontiff, gave Rome, the seat of the empire, to the church, along with many other imperial dignities.”—Lib. iii. In the same book Dante further touches on this subject.—Ergo scindere imperium, imperatori non licet. Si ergo aliquæ dignitates per Constantinum essent alienata (ut dicunt) ab imperio, &c.—“Therefore to make a rent in the empire, exceeds the lawful power of the emperor himself. If then some dignities were alienated by Constantine (as they say) from the empire,” &c.