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orders, especially the peasants and villeins, and with that class the Reformers and their opinions had not found favour.
But though there can be no doubt that the Reformers were wholly without any share in the insurrection, yet that event proved unfavourable to their doctrines. Men were so much alarmed at the scenes which for some weeks had been enacted of insubordination and bloodshed, followed by military execution, and then by judicial vengeance,1 that they were easily disposed to regard with aversion any invectives against the Establishment, and to distrust assemblages of people brought together without the sanction, if not against the will, of the constituted authorities. Certain it is that the Duke of Lancaster, moved probably by such considerations, no longer proved so warm a partisan of Wycliffe. For when, upon the Primate's murder in the late tumults, Courtney succeeded, he summoned a synod of prelates and doctors, which pronounced the new doctrines partly heretical, partly erroneous, but all execrable:2 and when the King issued a royal mandate to the University of Oxford, commanding the expulsion of all who harboured the persons or partook of the opinions of Wycliffe and his followers,3 Nicolas of Hertford, Rypingham, and John Aston, as well as directing search for their books, those individuals made their appeal from the University to Lancaster, who rejected it, and recommended their submitting to the decrees which had been pronounced. Wycliffe had appealed to the parliament against the synod's sentence, and had prayed for various reforms in ecclesiastical discipline, suggesting also, that to supply the wants of the nation and of the poor, the superfluous revenues of the church might be appropriated, by which he was well known to mean the revenues of the dignitaries and of the monasteries; but he only obtained a partial success. An act had recently passed, enabling the crown to command by writ the seizure of all persons convicted before the bishops of preaching the heretical doctrines, in order to their being dealt with by the spiritual power; and the episcopal certificate was to be the warrant for the writ. It was now represented by the Commons, as is believed, at Wycliffe s suggestion, that this act had never received their assent, and they desired that it might be repealed, as subjecting the laity to a jurisdiction from which they had always been exempt . The King and the Lords concurring, the act was repealed.1
1 1500 executions took place.
• T. Wals., 305. He omits the royal mandate, and only says Courtney published his conclusions. • Note XII.
The defence which the Reformers, and especially their great leader, made for themselves when called upon to answer for their opinions in the course of these proceedings, has been the subject of much comment and some triumph, both among the writers of the Romish party and among writers who, like Mr. Hume, holding all religion cheap, regard the con 1 Note XIII.
scientious believer with contempt for his anxiety to clear his own faith from error, and to protect the practice of his fellow Christians from abuse. If the accounts which have reached us of the statements made by these honest men, when severely questioned and loudly threatened, be considered with attention and with candour, I do not think that they will be found to justify the censures somewhat exultingly pronounced upon them by their adversaries of both descriptions. Two documents, supposed to contain the substance of what Wycliffe said or read when examined before the Bishop of London and the Lambeth synod, and two others, containing Nicolas of Hertford and John Aston's statements, set forth their defences, as given in English by H. Knighton. T. Walsingham has given a more full and articulate statement, in which Wycliffe goes through all the positions condemned, and justifies or explains his belief. But although he certainly takes advantage of whatever had been left doubtful or equivocal in his opinions to soften them, and so gain favour with the judges; although it is very likely that his doctrines, when preached without any explanation, might appear more unqualified and more widely departing from the orthodox standard; and although the expressions ascribed to his two disciples import a large admission of error; yet are there several very obvious considerations, which suffice to remove from those eminent persons the suspicion of having, through faintheartedness, abjured their tenets when pressed by persecution. The main reliance of their adversaries is upon the explanations given touching the denial of transubstantiation. Now, though Wycliffe expressly says, in one of his defences, that the "bread is very God's body," yet he adds that "it is in the form of bread, and in another manner God's body than it is in heaven:" and he compares the believer, or communicant, to a person looking at a statue, or picture (image), and "never thinking whether it be of oak or of ash, but only thinking of him whom it represents."1 In the other defence, he expresses himself with more leaning towards the real presence, comparing the twofold nature of the elements to the twofold nature of Christ; but then, to show that there is no quailing before the tribunal he boldly charges the synod that condemned his opinions with having declared Christ and the saints heretics, adding, that the earthquake which happened at the time was a manifestation of the divine displeasure, like that which was shown at the Saviour's passion.2
It is very true that Nicolas of Hertford and John Aston do, according to the account of H. Knighton,3 declare their belief of the consecration changing the elements into the very body of Christ, as he was born of Mary, suffered, and rose again; and they avow that they believe according to the Scriptures, but also as the Holy Church believes, to which they submit themselves. But it is material to observe, that John Aston affirms the subject to be one which passes his comprehension; and it is quite impossible that Nicolas of Hertford can have made the abjuration set down for him, because he immediately, according to the same author, hastened to Rome and laid his tenets before the Pope, who, with the advice of the conclave, condemned them as heretical, and declared him deserving of death, but only cast him into prison because he was an English subject, and his country had taken Urban's part against Clement. In that confinement Nicolas lingered, till, in the course of a popular tumult, his prison was broken open, and he made his escape; but, returning to England, he was condemned by the Primate to perpetual imprisonment.1 So that nothing can be more clear than the total impossibility of the account being true which Knighton gives of his abjuration. We may further bear in mind that Wycliffe himself did not escape punishment by his explanations; for he was expelled from Oxford, and never more suffered to lecture nor even reside there.
1 H. Knighton, 2674. • Ibid., 2650.
The charge, then, of having abjured their opinions, appears in no sense to be justly made against those pious men: and when Knighton taunts them with escaping death by their recantation, he forgets that up to the period in question no one had ever suffered capitally for heresy, nor was there, until the beginning of the following reign, any law passed to punish it capitally.
1 H. Knighton, 2657.