Of the doctrine of Wicklef and his disciples in England.
BUT whether the Lollards maintained the doctrine of the Albigenses in England or no, certain it is, that it received new lustre from the learning of Wicklef, and those who joined with him in the defense of the truth, against the Friars and Court of Rome. My design is not to examine the whole history of Wicklef and of his disciples to the bottom: the Bishop of Meaux hath done his endeavours to blacken them, and to load them with the foulest calumnies: I only say in short, that the Bishop did not take the pains to consult what Mr. Wood hath writ on this subject, in his History of the University of Oxford; where he cites the registers of the University, which refute the greatest part of those slanders that the Romish party have published against Wicklef.
However, thus much is evident, that John Wicklef was the most renowned man of that age, both for learning and piety. He had been educated at the University of Oxford, where scholastical divinity had established its empire, by the care of Robert Grosthead, John Duns, Occam, Richard of Armagh, and divers others. He there publicly professed divinity, and was at last made Rector of Lutterworth in Leicestershire, where he died peaceably, after great and long troubles, which he suffered for the defense of the truth.
The Pope had at this time usurped almost the whole royal authority, and more especially in England, where, after King John had made himself a vassal of the Church of Rome, under Innocent III. the Popes commanded the Kings of England at pleasure. We see by the writings of Herveus Brito, who wrote at Paris about the beginning of this century, where he was Professor, that the temporal power over all the world was directly attributed to the Pope, neither did any kings oppose themselves against it.
It is well known that the canonists, who had then the reputation, had no other song in their mouths but that of the Pope’s divinity, his succession to the rights of Jesus Christ, and consequently his absolute empire over all the world. This we meet with in all their writings, and more especially in those who writ in defense of the Popes, against the Emperor Lewis of Bavaria.
The Friars Mendicants, whom Cardinal Albizi did very truly call the Pope’s soldiers, had usurped all the rights of the secular Clergy, and advanced their conquests for the Pope to that degree, that the authority of the Princes and Bishops signified nothing any longer in England, except only when they acted in favor of the Monks. From the time of Matthew Paris, who gives us so strange a description of their insolence, and of their attempts against the authority of the Clergy, things were carried to that height, that nothing was any longer able to oppose them.
Without doubt there was great need of courage, as great as Wicklef’s was, and learning too as vast as his, to stop so impetuous a torrent. This great man set himself against it, and carried on his design after such a manner, that the effects and consequences of it continued to the very Reformation. It would take up a volume to give a particular account of what he wrote in the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II. I shall content myself to take notice only of some few particulars, and I shall afterwards treat of his doctrine, which diffused itself through Germany, and brought about a great reformation there.
1. He publicly opposed, in his Professor’s chair, several errors of the Church of Rome, which the Monks and Popes by their authority endeavored to maintain and countenance; in which undertaking, he was always backed by the body of that University where he had taught so long time.
2. He maintained his doctrine by the favor of the Court, and the most illustrious and learned members thereof, and with so great a satisfaction of the people, that Knighton is obliged to acknowledge, that one half, yea, the greater part of the people owned his doctrine.
3. He had made so great progress amongst the Clergy, that he writes himself, that above a third part of the Clergy were ready to defend his doctrine with the hazard of their lives: accordingly he appeared boldly at the synod of the Archbishop of Canterbury, in February 1377, to give an account of his doctrine; where he defended himself with that vigour, that none durst gainsay him. He appeared there again the same year in May, neither durst the Archbishop, then decide any thing against him. And when in the year 1382, they in his absence condemned some articles which he maintained, yet he was there defended by the deputies of the University of Oxford, who gave a public and authentic testimony of his piety, and his purity in the faith.
4. The University of Oxford had espoused his quarrel with the Church of Rome so far, that after his having been attacked by a council at London, in 1382, and after having maintained his doctrine from the year 1367 with public applause, his writings continued recommended by a decree of the University, to all the students, both in the public schools and colleges, and were not forced from them till after his condemnation, which happened at the Council of Constance, twentyeight years after his death. We see the esteem Wicklef had in that University, by the testimony they gave in 1406, against those that endeavored to blemish the memory of this great man: for after they had spoken of his piety and probity, as of a thing known to all men, after they had declared that he was a courageous defender of the faith, they add, qui singulos mendicitate spontanea Christi religionem blasphemantes, sacrae Scripturae sententiis catholice expugnavit: “that he had in a Catholic way, by texts of Scripture, overthrown all those, who by a voluntary poverty blasphemed the religion of Christ.”
And since the Romish party had not at that time a more formidable enemy than Wicklef, they were not wanting to muster all their forces in order to suppress his doctrine. In the year 1396, William Woodeford, a Cordelier, was chosen by Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, to write against Wicklef’s Trialogue, which he did accordingly, refuting eighteen articles of his doctrine. This book is printed in the Fasciculus. In the year 1411, Thomas Walden, an Englishman, deputed to the Council of Constance, dedicated his Doctrinal to Pope Martin V. against Wicklef, where he accuseth him of above eight hundred errors. This Monk, as able as he was, was really one of the most passionate disputers that ever writ: but withal it is true also, that to follow his measures, we can scarcely imagine a more particular discussion of the errors, superstitions, and false suppositions, which the Church of Rome makes use of to maintain her errors and false worship, than that which Wicklef made use of. In the account that Walden gives of it, we meet with a great knowledge of holy Scripture, and great skill in antiquity, whose authority he makes use of to confound the Romish novelties: we discover there a great strength in his way of reasoning, and an extraordinary method in his consequences; so that he seems to have fully penetrated the weakness of the Romish cause, and overthrown its whole foundations.
One may plainly discover this, by running over the titles of the Doctrinal of Thomas Walden, upon matters of faith, upon the sacraments, upon those which he calls sacramental things, or that belong to sacraments; for we scarcely meet with any articles controverted between the Church of Rome and the Protestants, which Wicklef hath not touched and handled, and that with sufficient exactness too. This hath obliged the Papists with so much care to reprint Walden’s works against Wicklef, as containing a body of their controversies against the Protestants.
I am not ignorant that Walden objects some very harsh and impious opinions to him, and that the Council of Constance has mingled several of that nature amongst the forty-five articles of Wicklef, which are there condemned. But here I must desire my reader to call to mind four things: First, that Woodeford hath objected no such thing to Wicklef, which shews that he never taught any like doctrine, but that they are only consequences drawn by a scholastical Divine, who was used to carry things too far. Secondly, that Walden wrote at a time when the Popish party had the upper hand in the Court of Henry V. who had condemned the Wicklefites as guilty of high treason, which Walden takes notice of in his dedication to Martin V. Thirdly, that it is very probable that this catalogue of forty-five articles was drawn up by Walden himself, who was present at the Council of Constance on purpose to promote Wicklef’s condemnation. Fourthly, that the Council of Constance was the first, where by public consent that maxim, that faith is not to be kept with heretics, was ever put in practice. Now let any one judge what equity or truth can be expected from villains of such profligate principles, who think it an honor to act in every thing according to them?
After all this I might well excuse myself from setting down the opinions of Wicklef, or from saying any thing for his justification; but I am willing to do both the one and the other, for the honor of this great man, and for the reader’s satisfaction. The opinions of Wicklef, with relation to the doctrine of Protestants, are these.