Front Page Titles (by Subject) A COMPLAINT OF JOHN WYCLIFFE, EXHIBITED TO THE KING AND PARLIAMENT. - Tracts and Treatises of John de Wycliffe
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A COMPLAINT OF JOHN WYCLIFFE, EXHIBITED TO THE KING AND PARLIAMENT. - 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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A COMPLAINT OF JOHN WYCLIFFE,
Please it to our most noble, and most worthy King Richard, king both of England and of France, and to the noble Duke of Lancaster, and to other great men of the realm; both to seculars and men of holy church, that be gathered in the parliament, to hear, assent, and maintain the few articles, or points that be set within this writing, and proved both by authority and reason, that Christian faith, and Christian religion, be increased, maintained, and made stable; since our Lord Jesus Christ, very God and very man, is Head and Prelate of this religion, and shed his precious heart-blood, and water, out of his side, on the cross, to make this religion perfect and stable, and clean without error.
THE FIRST ARTICLE.
The first article is this:—That all persons, of what kin, private sects, or singular religion, made of sinful men, may freely, without any letting,a or bodily pain, leave that private rule, or new religion, founded of sinful men, and stably hold the rule of Jesus Christ, taken and given by Christ to his apostles, and for more profit than any such new religion, founded of sinful men. The reason of this axingb is showed thus,—The rule of Jesus Christ, youena to his apostles, and kept of them, after Christ’s ascension, is most perfect, to be kept for state of living in this world; and each rule, of what kin, private sect, or singular religion, made of sinful men, is less perfect, than the rule youen of Christ, of his endless wisdom, and his endless charity, to mankind; therefore, it is leavefulb to each man or person of this singular religion and profession, to leave it cleave fast to the rule of Jesus Christ, as more perfect. This rule is plain to each man of wit and discretion, and namely, to clerks; since men of the pope’s law witnesseth plainly, that a man may lawfully, yea, against his sovereign’s will, go from the less perfect religion, to the more perfect. Why, then, may not a man of private religion forsake that, and take Christ’s clean religion, without error of any sinful fool, as most perfect? and that Christ’s rule, in his own cleanness and freedom, is most perfect, is showed by this skill.c For inasmuch as a patron, or a founder, is more perfect, more mighty, more witty, and more holy, and in more charity, than is another patron or founder: in so much is the first patron’s rule better and more perfect, than is the second patron’s rule. But Jesus Christ, patron of Christian religion, youena to apostles, passeth without measure, in might, wit, and good will, or charity, the perfection of every patron, of any private sect or singular; therefore, his rule is more perfect. Also, that Christ’s clean religion, without cloutingd of sinful men’s errors, is most perfect of all, is showed by this skill.c For other, Christ might youee such a rule, most perfect for this life, to be kept, and would not, and then he was envious, as Austin proveth in other matters; or else Christ would ordain such a rule, and might not, and then Christ was unmighty; but it is heresy to affirm that on Christ; or else Christ might, and couth,f and would not, and then he was unwitty; but that is heresy, and no man should suffer to hear. That, therefore, Christ both might, and could, and would, ordain such a rule, most perfect, that ought to be kept for state of this life; and so Christ, of his endless wisdom and charity, ordained such a rule; and so on each side, men be needed, upon pain of heresy and blasphemy, and of damning in hell, to believe and knowledge, that their religion of Jesus Christ to apostles, and kept of them in his own freedom, without cloutingd of sinful men’s error, is most perfect of all, and so to letg no man to forsake private religion, and keep Christ’s clean religion, without new wrong traditions of sinful men, that oft erred in their own life and teaching. Also Christ, in making the rule and order of apostles, was, in this time, and ever before, Almighty, alwitty, all full of good will and charity, to make perfect rule; therefore, he made not only a perfect rule of all, but each patron of private rule was unmighty; and letted,a both in yiftesb of kind and grace, and not alwitty; but in comparison of Christ, an idiot or fool, and not so well willing, to make so good and perfect as Christ; therefore, he made a rule less good, and less perfect, and hereof it suethc plainly, that Christ’s clean religion is most perfect of all.
Also apostles, and their followers, keeping the rule youend to them of Christ, won most merit, and thanks of God, in this keeping, before all other times; therefore, if all Christian men, both in old time and new, had kept the same rule of Christ, in his own cleanness and freedom, should have deserved most thanks of God, in degree, possible to them. Therefore, no new sect of religion, striving from Christ’s sect, should have begun; but that that was first, should have been kept in his cleanness, of such new founder; less of novelties and patrons. Also, it were now as good, and of as much merit, to keep the rule of Jesus Christ, as it was at the beginning; since Christ’s rule is enough, and able for all men on live, of whatever complexion or age they be of; but this rule was kept of Jesus Christ and his apostles; and their best suers,e by five hundred year after his ascension, without any finding of any such new planting, or religion, in which time holy church increased and profited most; for, then, almost all men disposed them to martyrdom, at ensample of Christ; therefore, it were now not only meritory,f or medeful,g but most medeful to the church, to live so in all things, and by all things.
Also both monks and canons forsake the rules of Benet and Austin, and take, without any dispensation, the rule of friars, as most perfect; but the rule of apostles is utterly, and algates,h most perfect; therefore, men may forsake private rules in religion, made of sinful men, and take the clean religion of apostles, that is preached with freedom of the Gospel, without dispensation of worldly clerks, that in case quekei devils, as Christ, Judas Iscariot.
Also the pope may dispense with the rule of each private sect or religion, and hath dispensed, and yet doth, but he may not dispense with Christ’s rule, youend to apostles; therefore, the rule of Christ, ordained to apostles, is more perfect than any rule of private religion, and most perfect of all; and hereof it suethc openly, that men may lawfully forsake private religion, and keep Christ’s religion in his cleanness, since it is most perfect, most easy, and light, for to keep, and most sikerj to bring men to heaven, and to highest degree of bliss.
And if our adversaries of this private religion strive algatsa that the rules be more perfect than the rule of apostles, why then so many persons, as whoso saith without number, of each such private sect, by licence of the Pope been made, some chaplains of households, some chaplains of honour, some bishops dowiedb with secular lordships, some bishops among heathen men, and dare not come to their children; but what profession a friar be of anon, if he be chosen thereto, he accepteth the office of the Pope or Cardinal, of Patriarch, of Archbishop, of Bishop; and forsaketh his own state, since Christ saith in the Gospel, that no man putteth his hand to the plough, and looking backward, is worthy to have the kingdom of God; that is, no man taking perfect state of poverty, meekness, and penance, is able to be saved, if he turned again to worldly life, pomp, and pride, and covetousness, and ease of body, and sloth, and riot, and gay clothing and costly. Therefore they change not the more perfect for the less perfect, for then they were apostates; but they purchase the more perfect for the less perfect; therefore the clean religion and rule of priesthood by form of the Gospel, is more perfect than any rule or religion made of sinful men. Also, nothing that is abominable and reproved of saints, should be brought in of other, by any colour or cauteel;c but those new sects be such, that be of flesh, as St. Paul saith in his Epistles: therefore such sects should not be brought into charging of the church; but all Christian men should cast away, and hold fast the unity, freedom, and cleanness of the rule of Jesus Christ. Peradventure these hypocrites say, to exclude all these reasons, and many more, that the rule to which they make profession, is not strange nor diverse from the rule of apostles, that Christ ordained, but it is utterly the same and none other: but the contrary of this excusing is openly showed by four the last reasons before said. For if these new rules were alone with Christ’s rule youend to apostles, Christ should have taught them both, and ensampled them both in his life and speaking and writing with ceremonies, and rites, and customs thereof; but did not this never in his death, nor after his resurrection, nor to his ascension. And if this excusing were soth,e the sects of friars should not have begotten about a thousand and tweynf hundred years of Christ. But the contrary is open in Chronicles: it suethg also of the same, that Christ’s apostles had both monks, canons, and friars, if men take monks, canons, and friars, for men that profess such private sects; but this is openly false. Also Christ’s rule given to apostles is like and of oh form to all men that make profession thereto, to speak of substance of the rule; but rules of these private sects be full diverse and contrary, as to substance of these rules, since some of them receive dymesa and donations, as do these possessioners; but some forsake all such tithes and possessions, as friars mendicants. But to descend down in speciality, full many articles of rules of such sects be openly contrary to the apostles’ rule; since it is lawful to each true man of Christian religion, to convert a man of wrong faith to Christianity; but this is forbodenb in the rule of friars minors, since only to ministers, and none other, is licence granted to restrain friars, to hear private sects, notwithstanding that evermore friars do the contrary; and Christ received pennies, but they should not by their own rule receive pennies, neither by themselves, nor by menec persons. Also Christ preaching the Gospel, entered into places both of women and men, as the Gospel of Luke telleth; but is forbodend to friars to enter into the abbeys of women, but friars glosse these rules to the contrary; but Francis, their founder, commanded them in article of his death, that they should not receive glossesf upon his rule. Also if Christ’s rule youeng to apostles, and the rule of private sects, were all one without reason, men leave the first, and profess the other, but if it were to show their hypocrisy. Also if this feigning be soth,h it seemeth that it is as perfect and needful to keep Christ’s rule of Francis and Dominic, or any other such man. Also if these rules be all one, and in nothing diverse, then such a rule should not be cleapedi “rule of Francis,” or Dominic, or any such other, but “rule of Christ;” for so it should be of more authority, and more commended. And so the Gospel ought to be kept, without any fouling of all Christian men, without such novelries,k and put nothing thereto, and draw nothing therefrom; and if this thing were done, such private sects should be superfluous and waste, as flies living in the air; and it was no need of Francis, Dominic, or any such other new man beside him, about making of this rule of apostles, that friars feign to be theirs. For that rule was made of Christ, God and man, and kept of apostles, and confirmed by the Holy Ghost, and at the full declared by a thousand years and two hundred, before Francis, Dominic, or any such friar of such private sect, were into this world.
THE SECOND ARTICLE.
The second point or article is this, that though men that unreasonably and wrongfully had damned, and all this counsel be amended of so great an error; and that their error may be published to men dwelling in the realm; the reason of this axinga is showed thus. Nothing ought to be damned as error and false, but if it savour error or unrighteousness against God’s law; but neither the king nor his counsel did unrightfully, forasmuch as he took away the possessions of some prelates that trespassed, whose contrary friars had determined openly; therefore reasonably men should assent to this axing.a For some friars write thus in Coventry, among articles that they damned as heresy and error, that secular lords may lawfully and medefullyb take away temporal goods youenc to men of the church; but since our king hath done so, and other kings, his predecessors, have done so many times, by lawful cause, as pertaining to their regalie,d and of common law, by counsel of peers of the realm, it suethe that not only our king now present, hath erred, but also his predecessors, and generally all his counsellors, as lords, and prelates, and all men of the parliament counselling thereto.
Also if this be error touching the health of man’s soul, then it is against Holy Writ; and then if a man sustain or maintain this error, he is a heretic: but full many kings, lords, and prelates, and other wise men have sustained this, and maintained, and yet done as pertaining to the king’s regalied and of common law; then be these friars, all kings, lords, and prelates, and all wise men of our realm, be heretics. Also since this is an old custom, the which our kings, lords, and prelates, be sworn to sustain and maintain, if this be error, (as friars say openly) it suethf by friars, that all these be foresworn and heretics. Also if this be error, as friars feign, that though an abbot and all his convent be open traitors, conspiring unto the death of the king and queen, and of other lords, and enforce them to destroy all the realm, the king may not take from them a half-penny, nor farthing worth, since all these be temporal goods. Also though other clerks send unto our enemies all the rents that they have in our land, and whatever they may rob or steal of the king’s liege men, yet may not our king punish by og farthing nor farthing worth. Also by this ground of friars, though monks or friars, or other clerks, whatever they be, slay lords’ tenants, the king’s liege men, and defile lords’ wives, yea the queen (that God forbid) or the empress; yet the king may not punish them by one farthing. Also it suetha plainly, that men clepedb men of holy church, may dwell in this land at their liking, and do what kind sin, what kind treason liketh them, and nathelessc the king may not punish, nor in temporal goods, nor in their body: since if he may not punish them in the less, he may not in the more; and also they make one of themselves king, and so no secular lord may letd him to conquer all secular lordship in this earth, and so they may slay all lords and ladies, and their blood and affinity, with any pain in this life, or in body, or in cattle. Ye lords see and understand with what punishing they deserve to be chastised, that thus unwarily and wrongfully have damned you for heretics, forasmuch as you do execution and righteousness by God’s law and man’s, and namely of the king’s regalie.e For the chief lordship in this land of all temporalities, both of secular men and religious, pertain to the king of his general governing; for else he were not king of England, but of a little part thereof. Therefore the men that busienf them to take away this lordship from the king, as do friars, and their fautors,g in this point be sharper enemies and traitors than Frenchmen and all other nations. Also it pertaineth to the king, the while any bishop or abbot’s see is void, to have in his hand all temporalities, and at his own will to youeh them to prelates; therefore the king may take away these temporalities from prelates, when lawful cause exciteth. Also the king ought grant no man freedom to do sin or trespass, but to take away the freedom; but men of the church had free license to trespass, if the king might not bereavei their temporalities, when they sinned grievously. And so Saint Paul teacheth that each man be subject to their potestates,j for there is no power but of God; and though things that be of God be ordained, and so they that withstandeth power withstandeth God’s ordinance. For why? Princes be not a dread of good works, but of evil. But wilt thou not dread a power? do good, and thou shalt have praising thereof, that is of him that is ordained in the high estate, for he is God’s minister or servant to thee in good; but if thou have done evil, then dread, for he beareth the sword not without cause, for he is God’s servant avenger in wrath to him that doth evil, and therefore by need, or of need, be ye subject or underloutk not only for wrath, but also of consciences. All this saith St. Paul, of which authority it is, to know to all men, that clerks owenl to be subject of need to the king’s power. For St. Paul, that putteth all men in subjection to kings, out taketh never ene,a and so secular power oweth, and is bound to punish by just pain of his sword, that is worldly power, tyrants rebelling against God, and trespassing against man, by what kind trespass, and that is more to chastise his subjects by pain and torment of their body, and no dread, much more he may punish them by taken away of their temporalities, that is less than bodily pain; therefore secular lords do this rightfully, since this is done by commandment of the apostle, and by ordinance of God, and therefore it is plain of these reasons and authorities, and secular lords may levefullyb and medefully,c in many cases taken away temporal goods given to men of the church.
THE THIRD ARTICLE.
The third article is this, that both tithes and offerings be youend and paid, and received by that intent, to which intent both God’s law and the pope’s law ordained them to be paid and received; and that they be taken away by the same intent and reason, that both God’s law and the pope’s law ordain that they should be withdrawn. This axinge is reasonable, for many skills:f for the intent of the maker in every law should be kept, and most the intent of God that may not err. Sothlyg thus saith God’s law in the first book of Kings, that the sin of Eli’s children was full great before God, for they withdraw men from sacrifice of God, taking by strength or violence that part of the sacrifice that pertained to the priest; and God saith afterwards, “I speaking have spoken, that thine house and thy father’s house should minister, and serve in my sight evermore; but now,” God saith, “be that thing far from me, but whoever shall worship me, I shall glorify them; but they that despise me,” saith God, “shall be unable, or without honour:” of which authority it is plain and open, that the things that be due to priests, should not be axedh by strength, by violence or cursing, but be youend freely without exaction or constraining: and if the priest be reproved of God for his sins, he should be put out of his office, and the sacrifices should not be youend to him, but taken from him, as God commandeth from the high-priest Eli; and another true man, walking in God’s ways, as did Samuel, should be ordained to receive such sacrifices. Also in beginning of Tobit, men find thus, when priests of the temple went to calves of gold, to honour them for gods of Jeroboam king of Israel made, Tobit offered truly all his first-fruits and tithes. So that in the third year Tobit ministered all his tithes to proselytes, and comelingsa or guests, and withdrew them wholly from the wicked priests, and the book saith that the little child kept these things, and other such after the law of God. Therefore if our prelates or other priests, whatever they be, openly bleckedb by sacrifice of maumetry,c as with covetousness, that is, openly sacrifice of false gods, and other great sins, as pride, simony, and manquelling,d gluttony, drunkenness, and lechery, by the same skille tithes and offerings should be withdrawn from them by God’s law, and be youenf to poor needy men, at ensample of rightful Tobit.
Also St. Paul speaking to Timothy bishop, saith thus; Be we pay with these things, if we have lifelode,g and to be hiledh with. And St. Bernard speaketh thus in this matter; Whatever thou takest to thee of thine entraje, that is, dymesi and offerings beside simple lifelode and straitclothing, it is not thine, it is theft, ravine, and sacrilege. Whereof it suethk plainly, that not only simple priests and curates, but also sovereign curates, as bishops, should not ask their subjects by constraining more than lifelodeg and hiling,l when they do away all manner waste both of money, and worldly array. Also Christ and his apostles lived most poor life, as it is known by all the process of the Gospel, nothing challenging by exactions nor constraining, but lived simply and scarcely enough of alms freely, and wilfully youen;f therefore they that pretend them to be principal followers of Christ’s steps, should walk as Christ did, and so lead full poor life taking of things freely youen as much as need is, for their ghostly office and no more, and therewith be apaid.m Also the pope’s law commandeth in the best part thereof that priests, open lechers,n take no part of portion of goods of the church, therefore it is lawfully to parishioners to withhold their tithes for open fornication of their curates, and turn them into better use, and much more they may and oweno to withdraw their tithes for great sins and open; as for simony, that is heresy, as the pope’s law saith; and for covetousness, that is worshipping of gods, as Holy Writ saith; and for pride, envy, gluttony, and drunkenness, since both by God’s law and man’s law God curseth such men’s blessings and prayings, as St. Austin and St. Gregory teach this in many books by Holy Writ and reason.
Also commonly when parish churches be appropredp to men of singular religion, since appropriation is made by false suggestion that such religious men have not enough for lifelodea and hiling;b but in truth they have overmuch. Also commonly such churches be appropredc by simony, as they know better themselves, paying a great sum of money for such appropriation, if the benefice be fat. But what man led by reason and good conscience should pay to such religious men tithes and offerings gotten by falseness, leasings,d and simony? But suppose that such parish churches were lawfully gotten, yet since they be superfluous to such men, the tithes and offerings should be youene to poor needy men, as St. Jerome and the pope’s law teach; and therefore the true great clerk, Robert Grosted, bishop of Lincoln, writeth to the pope, that when appropriation of parish churches is made to men of religion, of fourteen great sins and defects that come of evil curates, is made a perpetuation, that is endless confirmation; also by God and his laws curates be michelf more bound to teach their subjects charitably the Gospel and God’s hests,g both by open preaching and ensample of good life for to save their souls, than their subjects be holden to pay them tithes and offerings: and of these sueh two things. The first, if curates do not their office in word and in example, that God commandeth that their subjects be not bound to pay them tithes and offerings, since the principal cause for which tithes and offerings should be paid is away, the paying of tithes should cease. Also curates be more cursed in withdrawing this teaching in word and ensample, than be parishioners withdrawing tithes and offerings, though curates duddeni well their office.
A!j Lord God, where this be reason to constrain the poor people to find a worldly priest, sometimes unable both of life, and cunning in pomp and pride, covetousness, and envy, gluttony, drunkenness, and lechery, in simony and heresy, with fat horse, and jolly and gay saddles and bridles ringing by the way, and himself in costly clothes and pelure,k and to suffer their wives and children, and their poor neighbours perish for hunger, thirst, and cold, and other mischiefs of the world. A! Lord Jesus Christ, since within few years men paid their tithes and offerings at their own free will to good men, and able to great worship of God to profit and fairness of holy church fighting in earth. Where it were lawful and needful that a worldly priest should destroy this holy and approved custom, constraining men to leave this freedom, turning tithes and offerings into wicked uses, or not so good as they were done before times?
THE FOURTH ARTICLE.
The fourth article is this, that Christ’s teaching and belief of the sacrament of his own body, that is plainly taught by Christ and his apostles, in Gospels and Epistles, may be taught openly in churches of Christian people; and the contrary teaching and false belief is brought up by cursed hypocrites, and heretics, and worldly priests uncunninga in God’s law, which seem that they are apostles of Christ, but are fools. Also Christ would not take the kingdom when the people would have made him king, as John’s Gospel telleth, but if it had been a priest’s office, to deal about thus bodily alms, Christ, that could best have done this office, would have taken these temporal goods to deal them among poor men; but he would not do thus, but fly and took no man of the apostles with him, so fast he hied. Lord, where then worldly priests cunning better do this parting of worldly goods of Jesus Christ; and if they say that Christ fed the people in desert with bodily alms, many thousand, as the Gospel saith, that did Christ by miracle, to show his Godhead and to teach priests how they feed ghostly Christian men by God’s word, for so did Christ’s apostles, and had not whereof to do bodily alms, when they might have treasure and meals enough of kings and lords. Also Peter saith, in Deeds of Apostles, to a poor man, that to him neither was gold, nor silver, yet he performeth well the office of a true priest. But our priests be so busy about worldly occupation, that they seem better bailiffs, or reves,b than ghostly priests of Jesus Christ. For what man is so busy about merchandise and other worldly doings, as be priests that should be light of heavenly life to all men about them? but certesc they should be as busy about studying of God’s law and holy prayer; not of famulorum but of holy desire and clean meditation of God, and true teaching of the Gospel, as be labourers about worldly labour for their sustenance; and much more busy if they might. For they be more holden for to live well and ensample of holy life to the people, and true teaching of Holy Writ, than the people is holden to give the dymesd or offerings, or any bodily alms; and therefore priests should not leave ensamples of good life and studying of Holy Writ, and true teaching thereof, nor for bodily alms, nor for worldly goods, nor for saving of their bodily life. And as Christ saved the world by writing and teaching of four evangelists, so the fiend casteth to damn the world and priests; for lettinga to preach the Gospel by these four; by feigned contemplation, by songs, by Salisbury use, and by worldly business of priests!
God, for his mercy, stir these priests to preach the Gospel in word, in life, and beware of Satan’s deceits. Amen.
[j]true, or secure.
[c]low, or unofficial.
[f]interpretation, or addition.
[d]the king’s right.
[e]the king’s right.
[f]busy or labour.
[j]powers or rulers.
[k]submissive or obedient.
[b]spotted or defiled.
[c]Mahometry or idolatry.
[g]livelihood or living.
[a]livelihood or living.