John Wycliffe.

Tracts and treatises of John de Wycliffe : with selections and translations from his manuscripts, and Latin works online

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the emperor and others who endowed the church, thought that by a
devotion of this nature they should secure to themselves a manifold
merit, because the apostle, from a less culpable blindness, iinder the
same persuasion, persecuted the chui'ch ; and when this ignorance was
no longer in his way, and he had drawn evidence from the Old
Testament, he sincerely confesses that he was herein guilty of blas-
phemy, and sinned grievously against Christ : how then should it be


that the emperor and other lords, in their grosser ignorance, coiild be
anything but sinners against Christ, after such a showing of goodness
on his part? Wherefore I warn them, that it is too hard for them to
kick against the pricks.

Accordingly, if they would have their dominion kept entire, and not
fiendishly torn piecemeal, and the peace of the church restored, and
their tenants, according to the law of the Lord, powerful but not rebel-
lious. Jet thenLiiaxa a pxQpec„z.eal for tlifi ordinance of Christ, to_tlie end •
that they, jnay reform the chiu'ch, as much as may be, seeing~tliat biif
faith givesliFT'eason to"beIieve that it would be ruled most prosperously
under that ordinance. For then would be done away the simoniacal
entanglement of the clergy in things temporal, the most scandalous
ignorance, and the sloth and heresy which now disgrace the heritage of
Christ. And by reason of this also, wars would come to an end, and
the changing of kingdoms by conquests, and the iniquitous spoiling of
the poor dwellers therein, since the lordship of the world would then be
wholly in the power of the secular arm. And what is best of all, as
Christ's word would run to and fro freely everjnvhere, many more
would wing their way to heaven. For then too would come to an end
those blasphemies about the spiritual power of popes, in respect to abso-
lution from sin and punishment, and the unwarranted granting of indul-
gences, — things which Christ and his apostles never granted, — with an
infinite number of other blasphemies. Nor can Pseudis, or any other
disciple of Antichrist, adduce perfunctory evidence to show that temporal
lords have no license to correct these abuses, inasmuch as that would be
the same thing as to say that, seeing they have no power to repair the
mischief they have done, they must of necessity perish under the guilt
of it. We,-Jiowever-,- tell them, th«,t-not only have they the power to
deprive a church habitually delinquent of its temporalities, but that they
are bound, on pain of the condemnation of hell, so to do, since they
ought to repent of their foUy, and make satisfaction for their sin in
having thus defiled the church of Christ.

Alithia. You have said enough, brother, on this doctrine concerning
the clergy, a doctrine especially hateful to our superiors ; and the more,
inasmuch as you do not show how your doctrine may be acted upon,
without making too great a disturbance in the church. Pass on, I pray
you, to the subject of the sacrament of matrimony, observing the same

Phkonesis. No scholastic matter have I ever had more at heart than
that on which I have now dwelt, forasmiich as it appears to me that it
would tend above all things to the honotir of God and the advantages of
the universal church. Wherefore, it seems to me, that he is notably
deficient in respect to perfect charity, and the love of his king and


kingdom, who, from fear of losing temporal things, and the friendship of
great men, naj, who even to save his life, neglects this duty. I doubt
not that the apostles, and other discreet disciples of Christ, would have
defended this doctrine, even to the death. But the king and kingdom
are worthy of condemnation on accomit of this sin, to which they have
given their consent. What faithful servant of the king, therefore, may
remain silent with regard to this great crime ? For the sovereign
authorises, by such conduct, the greatest transgression on the part of
his clergy, and gives his sanction to the root of that evil by which the
kingdom under him is cut to pieces. And since it is necessary to true
secular dominion, that the holder of it should rule justly, and so be
opposed to this crime, it appears that the king, and the nobles of his
kingdom, in this case, govern without the care proper to their office.
For according to the law of England, if a tenant shall withhold his
service from his chief lord during two years, the said chief lord, by the
authority of the king of England, may seize, in his own behoof, the land
which his subject had unworthily occupied to his own purposes. How
much more, then, should the ICing of kings confiscate the property of
kingdoms, if the service they owe has been neglected for many times
two years, it being plain that they ought to serve Christ, by refusing all
treacherous consent to the claims of Antichrist, and by opposing his
works as contrary to Christ, to the extent of their power ! We see
clearly how long has been the time through which the service so due to
God has been neglected. And as it seems to me, that liege man of the
king, who should fail to expose such misdoing, would be a slothful
traitor to his king, his country, and his God.

And with regard to your objection, touching the fear of distiu'bance
to the kingdom that would ensvie on the carrying out of this doctrine,
consider well how Antichrist has herein blinded our military men by
his chief agents. For they are bold to invade other kingdoms, either
on just gromids, or on such as are doubtftil, but they are slothful in
respect to the discharge of a small duty, and in charitably assisting the
inhabitants of their own country, whom they ought to love in a high
degree, for the sake of their Lord. Nor do we hesitate to say, that
Antichrist, with his principal agents, has introduced this slothfidness.
That there is a facility for performing this duty, may be thus shown.
It is well knoAvn that the king of England, by virtue of his regaHa, on
the death of a bishop or abbot, or any one possessing large endowments,
takes possession of those endowments, as the sovereign ; and that a new
election is not entered upon without the royal assent, nor will the
temporalities, in such case, pass from their last occupant to his successor,
without that assent. Let the king, therefore, refuse to continue the
innovation which has been the great delinquency of his predecessors,


and in a short time the whole kingdom will be freed from the mischiefs
which have flowed from this source. Who, I ask, would dare to seize
on such temporalities, without license obtained from the king ? Nor need
the king, or his kingdom, to do themselves justice in this matter, smite
with the sword, kill any man, or exercise their authority presumptuously.
But as nature abhors sudden changes, and as this great transgression
made progress by httle and Uttle, so if it were made to decrease by
successive steps, as the death of the occupants succeed each other, with
a small amount of prudence, the result would be anything but hurtful,
either to king or people. But those who among the clergy or elsewhere
oppose this doctrine, are falsifiers of the law of Scripture, and thus
traitors in the worst sense to God and the king.

From all that has been said, we conclude that the king and his
kingdom ought to protect poor priests who promulgate this doctrine,
against their own brethren, and all enemies Avhomsoever, for otherwise
they are born of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man,
and not of God, and so are not by birth sons of God, or of the kingdom
of heaven, but children of the king of hell, forasmuch as they are lovers
of the sons of the father of lies. It may be that false brethren, and
other potentates among the clergy of the kingdom, will conspire against
those who spread this opinion, contriving their death by the most
unfounded falsehoods. But where is the behever who woiild apprehend
the destruction of this veritable doctrine ? Whence came the daring to
proclaim these Gospel truths, if not from the hope in Christ's defending
and God's protecting? For whoever opposes these views of things,
must be ranked, without a doubt, as Antichrist, — as one contrary to
the words of Christ. Woe, then, unto those who impugn this catholic
doctrine, so salutary to the whole body of true believers."

" Chapters xx. xxi. xxiii. contain some remarks on the subject of matrimony. Phronesis adduces
the authority for this "venerable sacrament" from Matt. xix. He inveighs against the encourage-
ment given by the clergy to frequent divorces. " I am anything but pleased," he says, "with such a
multitude of causes for divorce, founded as they are on merely human ordinances, as is especially
the case with that of consanguinity." He objects to the present form, " I take thee as my wife,"
(capio te in uxorem,) because it is not true that the rite of matrimony is performed by, or consists in
these words. The consent of the parties, and the approval of God, would be sufficient to make this
contract regular in the absence of all sensible signs whatsoever. He then passes on to the mystic
union of Christ with the church, in its three parts,— " militant, sleeping, and triumphant: —
the militant, is the believers on their way to heaven; the sleeping, those destined to salvation,
but sufFeruig * for a while in purgatory ; the triumphant, the blessed at rest in heaven. Of these,
one vast church will be made in the day of judgment."

* Patientes. — This word seems to be used in this connexion more in a negative than a positive




Alithia. You would oblige me now by stating your views of the
sacrament of penance. To define it seems difficult, for it is said that
penitence hath three parts, like a harp, namely, contrition of heart,
confession with the mouth, and satisfaction by deeds, — and its genus,
accordingly, is not easily specified, — these three things being diverse
in genus.

Phronesis. It appears to me that penitence consists in the condition
of the mind, and that these other things, which are called the parts
of penitence, are its accidents, whfcTi go together to form its complete-
ness. Contrition belongs to the mind alone, and is not an object of
sense, inasmuch as the contrite confess to the Lord. And this depart-
ment of penitence, though little esteemed, is yet of the greatest virtue,
so that without it the rest avail nothing. Confession is made up of this
feeUng, and of oral utterance made to God alone. AndthTis the fathers
under the old law, in common with Woge"of~the New Testament, were
accustomed to confess. Penitence, in the sense of satisfaction by works,
is made up of the tAvo former, together with a confession made to the
priest in private.

Now from a regard to gain, it is to this last view of penitence that
we give most attention. But whether this third kind is necessary to
salvation, or on what authority it was introduced, is with many a matter
of dispute. But we must confide on this point in John, who, in
^his gloss on the decrees, says, after stating many opinions which he
censures, that Innocent III. invented it, and to confirm it, established
the law " Omnis utrusque sexus," which is set forth in the fifth decretal.
But in my opinion, as I have explained more at length, it would be
better for the church did she content herself with the first and second
kinds of penitence as above mentioned. But though the third form
(confession to a priest) is injurious to many, and is the cause of many
evils to both parties, (the priest and the confessing,) nevertheless it brings
many good results to the church, and since it might possibly be well
conducted, it appears to me that it may be, by supposition, necessary,
and so really necessaiy, forasmuch as many, through shame of being
obliged to confess the sin, and of submitting to the penance enjoined,
and from the fear of being obliged to make confession of what they have
done elsewhere, are deterred from repeating their sin.


No one can believe tliat a man may not be saved without confession
of this kind, for, otherwise, all the dead from Christ's ascension to the
time of Innocent III. are lost — a horrible thing to believe. Eather do
we think, that a much greater number are lost under the law of
that pope on this subject, than would ever have been lost for the
want of it. Besides, it generally happens, that he who absolves, is
not acquainted with the magnitude of the sin confessed, just as he
knows not if the man who is confessing be contrite ; though he is
well aware that unless he be so, his sin is not removed. How, then,
can he utter falsehoods in the name of Christ, and so impudently
absolve sin, and enjoin a penance which he cannot know as being
proportioned to the transgression ? Neither is it lawful to burden the
church with new traditions, especially such as are of a suspicious
character, for what we have is already sufficient. And the laws about
confession in the Scripture, have served us Avell enough for more than a
thousand years. On what ground, then, is it that without a law, a third
kind of penitence has "been introduced in a manner so unlikely ? It
appears to me, that this papal law is to be admitted as far as the dis-
cretion of the person who confesses may deem profitable.

Alithia. I see, brother, that you. allow but little weight to this
papal law ; and it seems to me, that for the same reason, you would
make light of the absolution from penalty and guilt, and the full
remission of sin granted by the pope, and of that burden of sin which
the prelate often aggravates by fulminating his horrible excommimica-
tions, and so the decision of the court of Rome, on such matters, would
fall to the ground.

Phronesis. The observations you make seem to involve much truth,
inasmuch as in the Scriptvu-es, without any additions on the part of
the Roman court, it is sufficiently set forth how every man should
regulate his life. And if the injunctions of Scripture are attended to,
it follows that the man who lives to the end the Hfe so prescribed, will be
saved. Hence all these fictitious dogmas are generally promulgated
to keep the people in subjection, and to detain them in a fallacious
obedience ; and a blasphemous covetoiisness is the damnable root of
the whole of them.

Let us look, then, and see what is enjoined and commanded by
the Lord, in the law of perfect liberty, and observe it, and abstain from
what is forbidden, and from giving attention to laws newly ordained, and
this will be enough. Accordingly, what is over and above, is not only
evil in its origin, but is itself evil, and blinds numbers. Concerning all
vows, promises, and other private observances, let the believer look up
to the almighty power of Jesus Christ ; let him bend all the strength of
his sold to living henceforth in more perfcctness, so as to be serviceable



to the chixrch ; let him repent of his past evil life, strengthen within
him the purpose of so sinning no more ; and this, in my opinion, suf-
ficeth to destroy his guilt, and to save him, whatever our superiors may
say to the contrary. But in all this, let the believer beware of any
insincerity toward God. With regard to the words in Matthew xvi.,
" Whatsoever ye bind," &c., let the believer demand from the false
bishop when he alleges this saying of our Lord's, if his own life of holi-
ness, by its resemblance to the life of Peter, is such as to make him
a true vicar of Peter. If the presumptuous hypocrite shall impudently
affirm that it is so, ask him to show the similarity of his life to that
of Peter, more especially in the grace given him to work miracles, and
in the lowliness of his poverty. Peter presumed not on the possession
of such power, how then can this hypocrite claim it? And since
he cannot prove himself a true vicar of Christ, or a member of
the church of Christ, what is it to him that Christ promised this power
to the blessed Peter, seeing he is neither Peter, nor by the lowness and
holiness of his life the vicar of Peter ?


Alithia. Tell me, I pray you, brother Phronesis, what the signs are
which denote true contrition, inasmuch as you have exposed the craft
of Antichrist, acutely though obscurely, and say, do the Csesarean sects,
and new orders, which set aside the rules of Christ, and observe and
value the new regulations they have devised, sin herein ; or is there
true penitence in their earnest and bold observance of such rules ?

Phronesis. Not only the true believers among us, but the disciples of
Antichrist, unite in confessing, that to remove sin, men must experience
true contrition of heart. Accordingly, the first tendency to sorrow,
what is not sufficient to remove sin, they call attrition ; and the grief
which follows, and is adequate, they call contrition. But stiU they
are not able to distinguish between them, or to say where contrition
really exists. But I have spoken of contrition in the thii'd part of my
sixty-four sermons." I have there said, that sorrow is sufficient to take

» This reference shows that the above number of the Reformer's sermons were published at this


away sin, but that it must be more on account of the loss of grace, than
on account of any temporal good whatsoever. And so long as sorrow
of this nature shall be wanting to the sinner, he does not grieve in
contrition for the loss of the husband of the church. Nor is the quan-
tity of grief to be looked to as regards its intensity, or its duration
merely ; but as regards both taken together. Wherefore it appears,
that so long as we are in this life, we ought to be the subjects of grief
for sin, in act or habits, since we protract our grief for temporal calami-
ties to a great length. From all this, it farther appears, that the
true penitent does not return to his past sin ; so that the doctors
say, with truth, that to be penitent, is to movirn over past sins, and
not to commit again the sins so regarded. Hence it further appears,
that it is only the man who is contrite, that will be saved from his sin ;
the reprobate, by the sudden termination of his sorrow, shows that
there is in him no contrition. Hence it follows further, that as the
pope and others who administer confession, know not who wiU be
saved, and who is reprobate, so they know not who is contrite. Hence
it is a Satanic presumption for men falsely to pretend that they will
absolutely absolve this man or that from sin by laying their hands
on his head. What avails, I ask, this sensible sign, the leaden seal, or
the giving of money, to awaken contrition in the heart of the sinner ?
Verily nothing ; and such administrators of confession deceive with their
falsehoods, both themselves and those whom they confess. *

But it is manifest that the Christian, by his trust in the compassion
of Jesus Christ, and in his pain and holy purpose, may know from
within himself that his sin is removed, and that he is contrite in spirit.
Again, as to further conclusions, be firmly convinced that these new
sects sin grievously against Christ, in thus contemning his ordinance,
and delighting rather in their own frivolous observances.

Our possessioners ought to know, both from the life of Christ
and his apostles, and from the commandments of Scriptiire, that
such endowments as they thus obtain, are repugnant to that state
which, in name at least, though falsely, and with a fraudulent intention,
they profess. Yet along with these deceitful professions, they are ever
plotting to increase their possessions, to defend them, and to destroy
those who would impair them. It is repugnant to the Divine jtistice that
such men should go unpunished. The same is true, also, of the friars,
who blaspheme God, and defend most anxiously what is in their posses-
sion, and bitterly prosecute those who, in the name of the Lord, expose
their fraud. The same is true, also, concerning their love of state, or of
the Caesarean or papal law, neglecting the state or law of the land.

This weightiest of sins is not to be taken away by flourishing pom-
pous words, or displaying sensible signs,, or by absolutions, or by-


the invention of indulgences — more especially wlien tlie power and
opportunity of making satisfaction are within reach, and the sinner
remains obstinate in his sin. God discerneth the hearts and intents
of men, the condition and circumstances of their passions. It is ill,
then, for a man to blaspheme Him, and say that he himself, by a
sensible sign he has invented, can absolutely blot out the pollutions
of such as are reprobate. Could there be a more presumptuous blas-
phemy, than for God's enemy falsely to profess that he can so reconcile
God, though God's everlasting law and clear justice contradict him?
Satan has suggested to these possessioners, that should they have such
lordship in worldly things, it would be well, for the estabhshing of their
false dominion, to invest themselves, by means of such blasphemies,
with an imaginary spu'itual power, a power which cannot be assailed,
because not palpable to the senses, and thus procure to themselves
authority from kings to burn all their opponents as heretics. Thus
was the pretended power of Antichrist artfully introduced.



ALiTfflA. You have said quite enough on this subject, brother
Phronesis ; but inform me, I pray you, somewhat concerning the last
sacrament, which is called extreme unction. It has its foundation
in the passage, James v., "Is any sick among you? let him call
for the elders of the church ; and let them pray over him, anointing
him with oil in the name of the Lord : and the prayer of faith shall
save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up ; and if he have com-
mitted sins, they shaU be forgiven him."

Phronesis. This foundation for that sacrament does not appear to be
adequate. For the faithful might urge \A'ith sufficient reason, that this
holy apostle does not specify the last sickness, but merely says that con-
solation should be administered by the presbyter Avhen any one is sick ;
and as it is in the nature of oil, in those parts of the world, to promote
the health of the body, so he mentions this anointing ; not that the oil
aflfects the soul, but the prayer of a devout priest poured forth, hath


a healing effect, so that God helps the sickness of the soul. If that
bodily anointing had been a sacrament in the sense in which it is
now represented, Christ and his apostles would not have been silent
respecting its promulgation and due administration. Nevertheless, I grant
you that this corporal anointing is to some a sacrament, other things
being equal ; but it is then necessary that the presbyters should heal the
sick with their own devout prayers. Still, beware, lest through too hght
a temper, you understand the words of the apostle imperfectly.

You may possibly err so far as to believe, that the mere fact that a
priest has prayed for a sick man will be sufficient to remit any guilt
that may attach to the latter. But many have been sick, and been
anointed, who have, nevertheless, been doomed to everlasting condem-
nation. For it is not to be believed, that, insomuch as a priest so
doth, his prayer of faith will save the sick, for then it would be a part
of the faith of the chiu'ch to believe, that whoever in his last moments
should receive the sacrament, would be saved by faith in Christ,
and this sacrament would then be the most necessary of all, for the
recipient of the others may be finally impenitent, and be lost, — but
so, without a doubt, may he be who receives this sacrament.

Thus in the sacrament of baptism, in that of confirmation, and. in all
the rest, hath Antichrist invented unauthorised ceremonies ; and to the
burden of the church, without warrant from Scriptui'e, hath heaped
them on subjected believers. But other necessary sacraments he has
overlooked, as is seen in respect to the seven works of spiritual mercy,
which ought to be a sacrament in the esteem of believers, and especially
of priests. But this sacrament, though very necessary, inasmuch as
it has no temporal gain going along with it, and is irksome to those in
high places, is faithlessly neglected.

Whence it appears to me, that those who institute such private orders,
and send forth such general rules, to cause sacraments of this nature to
be universally received by those who are subject to them, blaspheme

Online LibraryJohn WycliffeTracts and treatises of John de Wycliffe : with selections and translations from his manuscripts, and Latin works → online text (page 31 of 45)