John Wycliffe.

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

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God, especially when God is pleased to save many without their receiv-
ing this sacrament. How like Antichrist is this presumption, for a
prelate to assert, and without foundation maintain, that no one will be
saved without partaking of a sacrament of this sort !

But whether a rich man, thus anointed, is permitted subsequently to
recover, and whether the priest ought to have a certain knowledge, that
the man so anointed will not siurvive, and whether this sacrament
of extreme unction can be repeated, is a matter of doubt with many.
But I leave it to the weak, uselessly to protract difficult questions of
this nature. I merely state one thing as probable, — that a man thus
sick, and thus anointed, and afterwards convalescent, cannot again
receive the sacrament of extreme unction.




Alithia. Pray inform me, brother, concerning the various kinds of
ministers in the church, for you consume our time needlessly in deriding
the doctrine of extreme unction.

Pheonesis. Derision, I am satisfied, is a lawful weapon, and may be
laudably employed on occasion, for Christ, Elias, and the apostles, have
all availed themselves of it. And why should we not bring it into use
against heretics ? Nevertheless, as the excellence of ridicule lies in the
moderate use of it, and is of rare and difficult attainment, I will abstain
fi'om it, and speak of the kinds of ministers in the church. Now
Christ was the highest minister in the church, since, according to the
apostle, he was the minister of the circumcision, and, in my opinion, no
one of the ministers of our mother is worthy of praise, except as in his
conversation he is a follower of Christ. Hence I think it a matter of
great difficulty to establish, on stifficient authority, the institution of our
new orders.

There are three kinds of ministers acknowledged in the church, each
kind including many subordinate gradations. Of these the first and
lowest are simple labourers. The second and intermediate class is
composed of potentates, the defenders of the ordinances of Christ in the
church ; but the last and highest are the priests of Christ, who rightly
preach his Gospel. This portion should be as the soul unto the body of
oiu' mother the church. Among these, however, there is most deception,
for Antichrist hath, in the guise of clergy, twelve agents, who machinate
against Christ's church, commonly called popes, cardinals, patriarchs,
archprtesuls, bishops, archdeacons, officials, deacons, monks, canons,
false brethren lately introduced, and questors. Now all these twelve,
especially the Ctesarean prelates and the friars, thus unwarrantably
admitted, are plainly the disciples of Antichrist, because they do away
with the liberty of Christ, biu'den holy church, and hinder the Gospel
from having fiee course as of old.

As the last and greatest danger among those enumerated by Paul, is
that incurred from false brethren, something should be said concerning
these ; and as they falsely assert that they were introduced before the
incarnation of our Lord, we must see in what way they should be
generally defined. The Bishop of Lincoln, in one of his sermons, saith
of the private orders of nionks in general, but of the friar in particular,


that he is a dead body come out of the tomb, wrapped in funeral weeds,
and set in motion among men by the fiend. A dead body, he con-
tinues, because, vigorous as his bodily life may be, yet his soul is dead —
a death far more truly such than the death of our earthly man, as
1 Tim. v., " But she that hveth in pleasiu'e is dead while she liveth."
He is a putrid and stinking corpse, because the natural life of the body
should be derived from the spiritual Ufe of the sotil, by God's law ;
secondly, he cometh out of the grave, because, as he saith, his four
walls shut him in, as one dead to the world, and shut up and buried
therein. But inasmuch as the shutting up of the soul is far more
excellent than the bodily shutting up of the man, let us mark the four
cardinal virtues — -justice, fortitude, prudence, and temperance — and
mark, also, how the friars tear away, almost asunder, these four walls,
and so break out from the confinement of the soul, and treacherously
pollute believers in the church. Christ and his apostles, accordingly,
denounced them as hypocrites ; and hence, to deceive the church, they
dress themselves in funeral vestments, which the religion of Christ
requires not.

Some wear russet above, as a sign of their labours, and a white
garment under, to signify the purity of their mind. Others wear over
all, black funeral vestments, as a sign, they say, of their continual
sorrow and pain on account of sin, and wear white clothes underneath,
as the former. A third class are clad in white, both without and
within, wearing russet to denote the labour they undergo for the church.
The fourth order dress like the second, in black and white, but in the
fashion of their dress, and their form of burial, they diifer from the two
following, as do the first. The deformity of their appearance, they say,
shows the utility of their body, and the girdle they so tie round them in
a knot, that they endure a constant and distressing bodily penance. But
we see not the reality of what is thus signified, since they are no
prophets, but hypocrites who seduce the people, and give their atten-
tion more to the shutting up of the body than of the soul. They
pretend, that by thus shutting up the body, they have presented to their
view heaven and things heavenly. The plants that grow in the cloister
signify the vigour of those virtues wherein they surpass all, and the tree
in the midst of it denotes a ladder along which they mount by the steps
of virtue to things heavenly. But was there ever a more hypocritical lie ?
For they eat of the forbidden fruit in the midst of their paradise, and
make drunken to the uttermost all men Avho follow after them. As to the
Bishop of Lincoln's fourth particular, that every such corpse hath been set
in motion among men by the devil, the believer cannot doubt that men
of this sort, who break out from the cloister of the soul, are set in motion
by fiends, since the fiends, who most love hypocrisy, and such deceiving


of tlie human race, run of course to the support of such heretical fallacies ;
for the sin of hypocrisy, as it is most contrary to the first principles of
truth, and most seduces the people, is carefully promoted by the fiend.
Thus this description of the fom-fold member, set forth by that holy
bishop, is made good, and the blessed Hildegard makes the same
statement more expressly in her prophecy before these friars were



Alithia. I could wish that you would make some statement of your
opinion concerning the begging of the friars ; for many are of opinion
that Christ so begged, and certain it is that on this assumption the friars
found their system. This opinion has the more colour, from the fact
that in the Psalms it is said that Iscariot persecuted a man who was
poor and a beggar. And as the blessed Peter says, Acts i., that this
prophecy was spoken by David concerning Christ and Iscariot, it is no
suflScient reply to say that Christ begged only in the person of his
members, for certainly the psalm refers to the person of Christ, which
Iscariot persecuted.

Phronesis. I have affirmed elsewhere in many ways, that the term
mendicancy, like the term prayer, is to be understood in different
senses. For there is one kind of mendicancy innuitive, another
insinuative, and a third declamatory. One kind of begging comes of
God alone, another of man ; accordingly I have elsewhere defined
begging, as the petition of a needy man foF bodily alnis, pvu'ely on the
ground of compassion, for the rehef of liis need. In this sense Christ in
his humanity begged of tte Trinity, and consequently of himself, when
saying the Lord's prayer, whicli "he had estabhshed ; and as Augustine
often asserts, every one in repeating that prayer must necessarily beg of
the Lord. Now we may say that Christ begged in his humanity, but
only innuitively, of his brethren, since he tells them, in fact, how for
love of them he became so poor and needy, as saith the apostle in
2 Cor. \dii. Now such real begging, without insinuative petition,

• For some account of this pretended prophetess see Mosheim, iii. 83.


offered in words, is a faultless and most noble begging, for it became
Christ thus to beg, for the interests of his church. But if the friars
make a sophistical use of such begging, and beg stoutly from the people
with clamour and annoyance, who can doubt that this begging is a
diabolical and sophistical perversion of this act of Christ's, so full of
goodness, and so serviceable-to liiachurch ? Beyond this the friars defend
their falsehood, by adding, that it is not only proper, but absolutely
meritorious thus to embrace a life of voluntary poverty. I have
assailed this position by many arguments in the vulgar tongue. In the
first place, from Matt, v., that Christ, who came, " not to destroy the
law and the prophets," says in Deut. xv., " There shall be no needy
man nor beggar among you." Why then should Christ violate this
law by thus begging of his own people ? In the same manner, Prov.
XXX., Solomon saith, " Give me neither poverty nor riches." Christ,
therefore, was not compelled to do away with the virtue that is thus
said to exist in a medium between the two, since the believers sup-
plied him with aU such necessaries.

Job saith, (c. xxix.) " Oh that it were with me as in the months past,
as in the days when God preserved me ; when his candle shined upon
my head, and when by his hght I walked throiigh darkness ; as I was in
the days of my youth." Here it is clear as noon-day that this pions man
piously prayeth that he might possess the prosperity he had in times
past, which, according to their doctrine, wotdd be a blame-worthy
petition. To the same effect speaks Paul, (Acts xx.) " I have coveted
no man's silver, or gold, or apparel : yea, ye yourselves know, that these
hands have ministered unto my necessities " — whence it appears that
bodily labour is indirectly enjoined, and mendicity forbidden. Also
2 Thess. iii., " For even when we were with you this we com-
manded you, that if any would not work neither should he eat ; for we
hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not
at aU, but are busy bodies" — whence it is shown, as clearly as before,
that the apostle forbids begging of this sort. Again, 1 Thess. iv.,
" But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more ; and
that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work
•with your own hands, as we commanded you" — which likewise shows
that the friars in begging violate the injunction of the apostle, and so of
our Lord. Also Eph. iv., " Let him that stole steal no more" — but we
may see how directly this command is disobeyed by the friars, for oftentimes
by their knavery, contrary to the will of our Lord, they delude men,
and seize the property of others by the foulest means, and neglect to
labour with their own hands. Yet the apostle (as appears fi-om Acts
xviii.) laboured as a tentmaker that the church might not be burdened.
God enjoined corporeal labour on the first sinner. Gen. iii. : " In the


sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." Are we to regard the sect of the
friars as more excellent than the first man, or as a better example than
the apostle Paul ? Likewise, 2 Cor. vi., the apostle lays down the follow-
ing injunction : " We beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of
God in vain." Do not the friars receive the grace of God in vain, who
are endowed by God with bodily strength, and have the opportunity, and
yet will not work — to the great burden of the church ? Again, when
Christ prohibits such public begging, inasmuch as he who so begs is
burthensome to the community, a course of life which Christ through
Paul repeatedly forbids, how can the new orders have the effrontery to
proclaim such open mendicancy in the case of able-bodied., men, and
found a new form of devotion on such an ordinance ? Do not Francis,
and other idiot trafficers, depart from the faith of the church, and from
the Lord Jesus Christ ? Fui'thermore, when paupers, the bUnd, the
sick, and the infirm, ought, according to God's commandment, to receive
such alms, (Luke xiv.) the robust mendicant taking the rehef away
from them, wrongs this class of men ; and Avhat robbery can be more
infamous ? Such beggary is contrary to the law of nature : what
blasphemous necessity, then, could imjiose it upon our Lord Jesus Christ,
especially when it neither became him so to beg, nor have the Gospel
commandments, wherein is involved all truth, expressed anything of the
sort ? How dare the friars, then, thus blaspheme the Lord Christ Jesus?
For Christ and his disciples, in abstaining from such medicancy, obeyed
the tenth commandment in the decalogue, the law of nature, and the
bidcUnar of the Old Testament.



Phronesis. I see clearly, from the reasons adduced, and from many
others that might be brought forward, if need were, that this mendi-
cancy of the friars is not only without scriptural authority, but a mani-
fest blasphemy. Yet it may be well to go briefly over the poor evidence
adduced by the friars in its support. In John iv. it is written that
Christ asked drink of a Samaritan woman ; wlio can refiise, they
argue, to attribute such mendicancy to Christ, when lie was thus poor ?
But in weighing this argument we should define clearly what is


meant by begging, one man of another. For, when a creditor or his
agent seeks a debt, he does not, in so doing, beg ; and mvich less
does a lord, when he claims to be served with what is his own.
Accordingly, though Christ, as Lord, received gifts of his people, it does
not thence follow that he begged of them, but rather that he required a
ministering of goods that were his own for the common benefit of those so
ministering to him. Thus some students of the Gospel are of opinion
that Christ asked the drink of faith and devotion from the woman ; for
it is not likely that Christ when hungry would have asked water to
drink, especially as it was the sixth hour of the day, and the disciples
had gone into the village to buy food. Moreover, if Christ had asked
for material water, he would probably have drunk it at once, with-
out delay ; but when the woman was ready to give him water, he
deferred drinking, and said some time after to his disciples, when they
exhorted him to eat — " I have meat which ye know not of," &c. The
friars, therefore, are herein more foolish than this woman, who mistook
the meaning of Christ through an excusable ignorance, while they
equivocate damnably by nefarious falsehoods concerning the Holy Spirit.
I wish they were doomed to beg nothing of the people but water, until
they have made satisfaction for the error of so heretical a lie against

In the second place, the friars endeavour to establish their falsehood
by that passage in Luke xix. where Christ saith — " Zaccheus, make
haste, and come down, for to-day I must abide at thy house." From
which words these ignorant men conclude that Christ begged food and
lodging of Zaccheus. Let these untaught grammarians acquire some
knowledge of the use of terms, before they utter such blasphemies, and
neither lie, nor avail themselves of hes, to defend their begging, — ^for
Christ perceiving the piety of Zaccheus, spake these words, on account
of the charity that was in him, and not from being himself in misery
or destitution. So let friars mark these terms, and blush to ascribe
beggary thus falsely to Christ, when they should rather regard him
in the light of a supreme and most generous Physician, who is pleased
of his surpassing charity to abide with men.

In the third place, these blasphemers argue from Matt, xxi., where
Christ sent two disciples to Jerusalem for an ass and her colt, whereon he
might go up thither, — Did he not then beg from the city of Jerusalem ?
Now let these heretics blush to say, that it is after the example of the
Lord that they beg of men without leave soiight or obtained ; for Christ
the Lord of all needed not thus to mount a colt and an ass, save to fulfil
the Scriptui'e, (Zech. ix.) and to prefigure how he should ride over the
Gentiles as colts, and the Jcavs (stupidly continuing under the burdens
of the law) as asses, and still more when his disciples laid their garments


on those beasts, that is to say, while the apostles taught the virtues,
and principally the virtue of humility, by the efficacy of their example.
Nay, I repeat, Christ mounted these animals to condemn the riding of
pope and cardinals, and of the inferior bishops too, who are wont to
ride in superfluous pomp on war-horses decked out with gold and silk.

In the fourth place, these blind heretics argue, that Christ begged
lodging and bread for his last supper in Jerusalem, which they rest on
Matthew xxvi. But let these shameless heretics know that the words
of the Gospel plainly condemn their heresy. For the words of Christ
are — " Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master
saith. My time is at hand ; I wiU keep the passover at thy house
with my disciples." Where it appears clearer than light that Christ
speaks as Lord, and not as a mendicant. For as in [Matthew xxi. this
Lord taught his disciples, saying, " If any man say ought unto you, ye
shall say, The Lord hath need of them ; and straightway he will send
them," so he speaks in this instance as Loi'd and Master. — Let the
heretic mark this consequence — " The Lord hath need of them," — and
it follows, " straightway they will let them go :" — therefore the Truth,
uttering those words, begged the animals referred to ; for in both these
cases they attribute to Christ robbery of the poor. Christ, therefore, in
addressing these words to his disciples, " Go into the city," &c., and espe-
cially in giving fulfilment to those words in a manner consistent with
justice, shows the extent of his dominion, because John, in the twelfth
chapter, says, " Ye caU me Master and Lord," &c. Hence, according to
the evangelical doctrine, Christ's disciples dare not call themselves
masters and lords, but servants of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let heretics,
then, compare these three sayings of Christ ; in the first place, how he
enjoined upon his disciples, in general terms, that they were to go into a
certain city, as if he had said, — By reason of the universaUty of my domi-
nion, whatever I shall ask of any one in my name is provided by him.
In the second place, they should mark the expression — " The Master
saith ;" for Christ who speaks is greater in station than any other man
that can be named. Whence to denote the certainty of what he says,
and to denote that teachers are worthy of their maintenance, he subjoins
distinctly these words, " The Master saith," &c. But let the same men
mark the third expression also—" My time is at hand;" for other men
whom Christ does not ilhmiinate in so high a degree, withdraw their
help even when they suppose their dearest friends are near death ; so
when Christ speaks with such certainty and authority, he shows that he
makes it imperative on the part of that citizen to do as required. There-
fore, to conclude, it is manifest to believers, that the Gospel, so far from
teaching that Christ practised such mendicancy, condemns the custom
as the height of heresy.




Alithia. Yoli have argiied with sufficient shrewdness in regard to
this second blasphemy of the friars. But touch, I pray you, a little on
a third — that relating to their letters of fraternity, for by that means the
church is too commonly deceived.

Phronesis. I am willing to say of them in Latin what I have formerly
expressed in English, but I am apprehensive that Pseudis Avill charge me
with losing my labour in so doing, both because 1 often repeat the same
doctrine, and also, since the malevolence of the friars increases, I am
imprudent enough to speak of their last doings as worse than the former.
Nevertheless, this is not the end, God willing, at which I aim. I sup-
pose, on the contrary, that some friars, whom God shaU see fit to teach,
will be converted, and devoutly embrace the religion of Christ in its
primitive purity ; and abandoning their perfidy, shall seek or obtain
freedom from Antichrist, and return of their own accord to the primeval
reUgion of our Lord. And then, like Paul, they wiU build up the

But in proceeding to deal with these false letters of the friars, it is im-
portant to know something of their history ; and this being understood,
their simoniacal heresy will be immediately manifest, for they do not
issue siich rides except with the expectation of realising gain, and of
giving strength to their unlawful confederacy. How then, I ask, can they
be other in character than simoniacal heretics ? In confirmation of this
showing, when help is denied them as regards temporal things, or the
defence of them, straightway they murmur. Beyond doubt, there is
impUed in this practice a fraudulent buying and selling ; and it is
equally certain that God must hate this hypocritical traffic.

The friars must also beware not to give occasion to the faithful to
discover their fallacies, or to introduce unauthorised novelties, since they
ought to know that Christ meant his church shoidd be free from such
things ; and inasmuch as the friars do not thus act, they fraudulently
diminish the liberty of the chvirch of Christ. On many grounds it
appears that the friars have fallen into a radical heresy, for they pre-
tend expressly in these letters, that the individuals to whom they grant
them, shall be made partakers of merits from themselves after death.


But where can yon find a more presumptuous blasphemy? For neither
they themselves, nor the men with whom they carry on this traffic, can
know, whether they may not be condemned in hell. How blind is their
folly, then, in nmking assertions on a subject of which they know so
little ! But they have, it seems, such an innate tendency to falsehood,
that they hesitate not to assert, contrary to eternal judgment, that they
can do the things they cannot do.

Again, no man should be, by withdrawing his help, the means of
another man's damnation. But as the friars give us to understand in
this matter, it is in their power to save both themselves and others from
condemnation ; so that supposing any man to be lost, they are to
be blamed for withholding their assistance. For if they promise to
another that after death he shall be a partaker of their merits, then they
manifestly imply next, both that the man himself will after death be
worthy of such participation, and that they themselves at present merit
fature happiness ; because, if each party should be a foredoomed member
of Satan, then such a granting must be beyond the power of these friars.

Moreover, the friars, by following the manner of the hypocrites, flatly
condemn themselves herein ; for according to the evangelical doctrine in
Matt, vi., such alms should be given secretly, so that their right hand
should not know what the left hand doth. But the friars, by the letters
which they so assiduously display to the people, give plain indication
that they say unto my people that they themselves are holy and grave
men in the church, and, what is more than the sounding of a trumpet
before them, they send forth letters to confirm the impression of their
sanctity, which men are to preserve constantly in their chests.

Inasmuch, also, as it is among the provisions of all law, that no man
should deceive his neighbour in any worldly matter, much more should
he not so do in respect to spiritual things, concerning a man's everlasting
heritage. Since, therefore, those who trade in temporal goods require
some security for their merchandise, much more is this requisite in so
precious a commerce as that relating to the salvation of souls. But
since the friars have no certainty in regard to themselves, of the blessings
hoped for, they have spread on all sides childish fraud. Ai^e we to believe

Online LibraryJohn WycliffeTracts and treatises of John de Wycliffe : with selections and translations from his manuscripts, and Latin works → online text (page 32 of 45)