Of the calumnies that have been unjustly charged upon Wicklef by the Papists.
1. WICKLEF owns but twenty-two canonical books of Scripture, excluding all the rest, which he calls apocryphal.
2. He teaches that the Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation.
“Forasmuch,” saith he, “as in Scripture all truth is contained, it is evident that all disputes that take not their rise thence are profane. We are not to admit any knowledge or conclusion, which hath not its testimony from Scripture.”
3. He affirms, that every well-disposed Christian may understand the holy Scripture.
“God hath appointed the common sensible Scripture to the comprehending of the catholic sense, whereof God can never be wanting, because he always enlighteneth some particular men, to which illumination holiness of life conduceth very much, and it is the duty of divines to continue it in our mother the Church, which ought to keep within her bounds; so that it is not lawful for divines to frame strange doctrines, besides the faith of catholic Scripture.” For which end he lays down several rules for the understanding of the Scriptures.
4. He asserts that the Scriptures ought to be translated into the vulgar tongue.
“The truth of God,” saith he, “is not more confined to one language than to another. Jesus Christ delivered the Lord’s Prayer in a known language. Why then may not the Gospel and other parts of Scripture be writ in English? The Clergy ought to rejoice that the people know the law of God.”
It was for this reason that he translated the whole Bible, whereof several copies are still to be found in the King’s library, and in several other libraries in England.
We may easily know what he thought of tradition from these words: “We have a perfect knowledge of all things necessary to salvation, from the faith of Scripture. Decrees, statutes, and rites, that are added according to human traditions, are all inseparably sinful, because they make the law of God more difficult to be kept, and hinder the course of God’s word. Traditions are hateful to God and the Church, except only so far as they are grounded on Scripture. Men’s own inventions are chiefly to get money: they all sound for the Church’s gain.”
1. See what he saith of the Pope’s authority. “In Constantine’s time the priesthood was removed; and it was not decreed, that the Bishop of that Church should necessarily have a primacy over all others, as is here supposed. Neither do I believe that any Catholic is so foolish as to believe, that when Christ’s vicar writes, Let it be done, and he who spake the word and all things were made, doth not approve of it, he hath any right to command, because of him alone it can be said with truth, So I will, and so I command; let my will stand instead of reason.”
And accordingly he was condemned by the Council of Constance for believing, that it is ridiculous to suppose the Pope to be the highest Priest; and that Christ never approved of any such dignity, neither in Peter nor in any one else.
2. Of the power which the Popes assume to themselves over the temporalities of kings, Wicklef wrote a particular treatise, entitled, De Civili Dominio, to overthrow their claims, where he speaks thus: “In civil power there cannot be two lords of equal authority; the one must be principal, and the other subordinate. We will not subject our King in this matter to him, when he, bestowing any mortmain, reserves to himself the capital dominion.”
3. He did not believe the Pope’s infallibility. “The Pope may sin as head of the Church. He may sin by nature, having a capital Lord above him. There is no doubt but that an error may be committed in the election of a Pope, and yet more in his following conversation. He may err in feeding the churches, or in articles of the faith. Many Popes have been corrupted with heretical pravity. He believed it was probable, that all the Bishops of Rome, for three hundred years and more before his time, were fully heretics”.
4. He made no difficulty of saying that the Pope was the chiefest Antichrist.
1. Wicklef informs us what his thoughts were of the Church of Rome, when he saith, “It is possible that the Lord Pope may be ignorant of the law of Scripture, and the Church of England may be far truer in her judgment of catholic truth, than the whole Church of Rome that is made up of the Pope and Cardinals”
2. He maintains that the Church of Rome may err, but that this doth not hinder, but that the purity of doctrine may be preserved in the catholic Church.
“It is necessary,” says he, “that the Catholic faith be in the whole mother Church.”
3. He did not believe that wicked men were true members of the Church; and censures those who teach, that men who shall be damned are notwithstanding members of the Church, so joining Christ and the Devil:
“They teachen together,” saith he, “that the men that shall be damned be members of holy Church, and thus they wedden Christ and the Devil together:” he saith, that unbelieving and ungodly men “are in the holy Church by body, not by thought; by name, not by deed; in number, not by merit.”
As to the doctrine of justification, it is very plain, that he was not of the opinion of the Church of Rome, as these words shew:
“The merit of Christ is of itself sufficient to redeem every man from hell: it is to be understood of a sufficiency of itself, without any other concurring cause. All that follow Christ, being justified by his rightousness, shall be saved as his offspring.” He rejects the doctrine of the merit of works, and falls upon those which say, “that God did not all for them, but think that their merits help. Heal us Lord for nought, that is, no merit of ours, but for thy mercy: Lord, not to us, but to thy mercy give thy joy.”
As for what concerns the Lord’s Supper, we find that this great man did not believe transubstantiation. See how he expresses himself; “This bread is fairly, truly, and really, spiritually, virtually, and sacramentally, the body of Christ; as St. John the Baptist was figuratively Elias, and not personally. As Christ is both God and man at once, so the consecrated host is the body of Christ and true bread at the same time, because it is the body of Christ at least in a figure, and true bread in its nature; or, which signifies the same thing, it is true bread naturally, and the body of Christ figuratively. He constantly affirmed that this doctrine lasted in the Church for a thousand years, till Sathanas was unbound, and the people blinded by Friars, with the heresy of accidents without subjects.”
1. He owned but two sacraments, as appears by the 45th, 46th, 47th, and 48th articles, condemned at Oxford, and in the Council of Constance.
2. He was against the use of chrism in Baptism.
3. He maintained that Extreme Unction was not a sacrament. “If corporal unction were a sacrament, as now is pretended, Christ and his Apostles would not have been wanting to declare it to the world.”
4. His opinion concerning confirmation, as it is practiced amongst the Papists, he expresseth thus: “As for the oil wherewith the Bishops anoint children, and the linen coif that covers the head, it seems to be a vain ceremony, that can have no foundation in Scripture, and that this confirmation, being introduced without any apostolical authority, is blasphemy against God.”
1. He declaimed against the use of images with great earnestness. “We ought to preach,” saith he, “against the costliness, beautifulness, and other arts of cheating, wherewith we impose upon strangers, rather to pick their pockets, than for the propagation of Christ’s religion. The Devil by his falsehood deludes many, who sometimes suppose a miracle to have been wrought, when indeed it was nothing but a cheat. The poison of idolatry lies hid in continued imagination.”
2. One may see how he distinguisheth sins: “Some sins are called little sins in comparison of greater, and venial, because God’s Son forgives them.”
3. He did not own the necessity of auricular confession: “Vocal confession made to the Priest, introduced by Innocent, is not so necessary. If a man be truly contrite, all outward confession is superfluous and unprofitable to him.”
4. He wrote against the doctrine of satisfaction: “The present Pope has reason to blush for the modern penance, established by him without any ground, since it is not lawful for any mortals, no, not for the Apostles themselves, to make the law of God difficult beyond what he himself hath limited.”
5. His judgment concerning pardons and indulgences he expresseth in these words: “It is a foolish thing to rely upon the indulgences of the Pope and the Bishops.”
6. He gives this rule concerning fasting: “In works of humanity we must follow Christ, by doing such works as bear some proportion with his. — We must fast forty days from sin, and, as far as is possible to nature, from superfluous corporal food.”
7. Concerning Monks and their vows, he speaks thus: “Friars studien to be rich: they rob men by begging — Touch a great cup of gold or silver, but not a penny or farthing. They magnify more obedience to sinful men than to Christ.”
8. He approved the marriage of Priests.
9. He disapproved the practice of the Church of Rome in the matter of divorces.
“To make divorce common, innumerable subterfuges are invented.”
10. He blamed the custom of the Church of Rome, in granting dispensations for marrying in case of propinquity of blood. “Such dispensations as these bring confusion into the Church.”
11. He condemned all equivocation, which so many casuists of the Church of Rome pretend to justify.
12. He maintains that the king ought not to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction; “for otherwise,” saith he, “kings would not be able fully to keep the peace in their own kingdoms.”
13. He blamed the too frequent use of excommunication.
14. He maintained, “that a true Christian ought not to believe implicitly, but with an explicit faith, that expresses the particulars, more or less, according as they are more or less obliged by God and his gifts, and the opportunity of time.”
15. He had no great veneration for the doctrine of Purgatory, when he saith, “Whatsoever is said of purgatory is only spoke threateningly, as so many pious lies.”
Thus we see what was Wicklef’s faith, and what his judgment was concerning the superstitious and corruptions of the Church of Rome; from whence we may gather that he came very near to the belief of the Protestant Churches.
It was no difficult matter therefore for Dr. James to justify him against the horrid calumnies of Walden, by consulting his manuscript works, which are to be found in several libraries in England.
1. They objected against him, that he taught, that if a Priest or a Bishop ordains or consecrates the Sacrament of the Altar, or administers Baptism whilst he is in mortal sin, it can do him no service.
But the falsehood of this objection appears from Wicklef’s own words, which assure us of the contrary:
“Except a Christian,” saith he, “be united to Christ by grace, he hath not Christ the Savior; nor without falsehood can he pronounce the sacramental words, though they may do good to those who are capable of them: for it behoves the Priest that consecrates, to be a member of Christ; and, as some holy men express it, to be in some sort Christ himself.”
They objected against him, that he had asserted, that it was not lawful for any ecclesiastical person to have any temporal revenue.
But nothing is more false, for Wicklef only saith, that the goods of the Clergy are temporal things, what way soever they come by them; and that the possession of them is to be regulated by the laws, as well as the estates of laymen;
“The goods of spiritual men, saith he, be temporal, in what manner soever they come to them, and must be ordered after the temporal law, as the goods of temporal men must be.”
They said that it was his opinion, that no Prelate ought to excommunicate any person whatsoever, unless he knew that God himself had excommunicated him.
But Wicklef only speaks of those rash and precipitate excommunications, which never fail to produce bad effects, and which are only discharged from carnal respects.
“They, like the High Priests, Scribes, and Pharisees, do not only eat the flesh, but the very bones too; they do not water what is dry with the word of God, but endeavor to cut and break what is fat and full of marrow.” He saith also, “that excommunications are the fruit of pride, to terrify poor laymen.”
They accused him of teaching, that a man could not be either a Bishop or Priest, as long as he continued in mortal sin. But no such thing can be inferred from Wicklef’s words; for he, still aiming at the reformation of the Clergy, which was very corrupt in his time, did not carry it too far when he said, “that it is not the name that makes a Bishop, but the life. Whosoever has only the name of a Priest or Bishop, and does not endeavor to add to that name the reason of it, he is in truth neither Bishop nor Priest.”
They affirmed, that he had taught that sovereigns might deprive the Clergy of their possessions, if they thought good, as often as they committed any fault.
But Wicklef never pretended, that the Clergy ought to be deprived of the goods they possessed for slight faults. True it is, he did not think the government was obliged to maintain so many useless Monks: but as to the Bishops and Priests, he never taught that they ought to be deprived of their benefices, except they made themselves unworthy of them by a perfectly scandalous life.
He taught, say they, that tithes were only alms, and that the parishioners might keep them back, and put them to what other uses they pleased. I own that Wicklef often said, that tithes were nothing else but mere alms; but it is false that ever he asserted, that the parishioners might keep them back: on the contrary, he saith, “It belongs to parishioners, for the good of their souls, to minister tithes and oblations to whom they are due. The Priests of Christ ought to withdraw the word of God from those who are not rightly disposed for it; that is, if the people should be so obstinate and disobedient to holy mother the Church, as either to forbid or not to minister the necessaries of life to him who preaches the Gospel to them.”
They object against him, that he despised temporal things too much, for the love which he had for those that are eternal; and that he joined himself to the Mendicant Friars, approving their poverty, and commending their perfection. A strange crime indeed!
It is a surprising thing to see them accuse Wicklef upon this account; but it is no less astonishing to hear them assert, that he had great inclination for the Begging Friars: to be convinced of the falsity whereof, we need only read the complaint he made to the Parliament, and his treatise against the order of Begging Friars.
He held, say they, that Churchmen ought to beg. Whereas, on the contrary, he maintained, that God had condemned beggary, in the Old and New Testament. See the fifth chapter of his book against the order of Friars Mendic.
They accuse him for condemning lawful oaths. But this is for want of having read his works; for it appears by his Latin Exposition of the Third Commandment, and by his book Of the Truth of Scripture, that he condemns all manner of equivocations and ambiguous expressions, whether with oaths or without. He will not have any one to lie for a world, or to save an infinite number of souls, and much less to swear falsely.
He taught, say they, that all things come to pass by an absolute necessity. We may easily see what Wicklef believed concerning this matter. “God promiseth no man either reward or punishment, but under either a tacit or express condition. Though all future things do happen necessarily; yet God wills that good things happen to his servants through the efficacy of prayer.”
He taught, said they, doctrines tending to sedition; as, that the magistrate ceaseth to be a magistrate whilst he is under mortal sin; and that it is lawful for the people to chastise their princes whenever they commit any fault. This accusation is only founded upon this, that Wicklef put the king and all other inferior magistrates in mind, that they did not bear the sword in vain. He saith,
“If a king fails to do his duty, and despiseth the engagements that lie upon him to govern his subjects well, that he is not properly nor truly king, that is to say, he doth not perform the duty of a king;” perdens nomen officii et ordinis in effectu; “losing in effect the name of his office and order:” which are the very terms of Bracton, the most renowned lawyer of England, who was never accused of endeavoring to incline the people to rebellion.
They accused him of not having the modesty that a Divine ought to have, and that he was too much given to raillery.
I grant that when he was a young man he was blamed for this fault, which he returned in a very edifying manner.
“I take God to witness,” saith he, “that I principally intend the glory of God, and the good of the Church, out of a veneration for the Scripture, and observance of the law of Christ; but if with this intention there may have crept in any sinister aim of vain-glory, worldly profit, and desire of revenge, I am sorry for it, and by the grace of God shall endeavor to avoid it for the time to come.”
They accused Wicklef that he was wont to dissemble his opinions, to avoid the danger which he might otherwise have drawn upon himself. But we may with truth give him this testimony, that he was so little acquainted with dissembling in matters of religion, that he was ready to suffer death for most of the opinions that he maintained against his enemies.
“I am not suspected,” saith he, “of being afraid to own these conclusions; it shall appear, by the grace of God, that I am not afraid to answer him and his complices, either to his face or in the Schools. If God will give me a teachable heart, a persevering constancy, and charity towards Christ, towards his Church, and towards the members of the Devil, who tear the Church of Christ, that so I may rebuke them out of pure charity, how glorious a cause should I have to die for!”
They say that his rage against the Church of Rome was because the Archbishop of Canterbury had deprived him of a benefice.
But besides that we cannot build much upon the testimony of Monks, who invented this fable; Wicklef himself protests all along, that he had no particular aim in all his writings, and that he only disputes for the honor of God and the edification of the Church.
Lastly, they objected against him, that he maintained that every creature was God; and that God could not hinder himself from obeying the Devil. But the first part of this objection is ridiculous, and raised by men in a rage, who put a perverse sense upon the following words:
“The word [God] is to be taken in a twofold manner, absolutely, Lord of lords; but when it is contracted, or specified by a mark of diminution, so it signifies any good that a man loves most.”
And the second part of it is wholly grounded upon his manner of explaining the doctrine of providence in the case of sin; which is a subject wherein it would be an easy matter to prove against the Papists, that they have maintained propositions that sound as ill as any thing of his; and nothing but the spirit of slander can impute it as a crime to Divines, that they make use of some improper expressions in a matter which is so difficult to be handled, without seeming to contradict the ideas which we have of the holiness of God, and his hatred of sin.