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equal ;' and his life was allowed by all to be as pure as his endowments were eminent.
The reputation which he gained at the University was proportionate to these great merits. He soon obtained a fellowship at Merton, which, after leaving Queen’s, he had made his college, and which was at that time the residence of many learned men; among others of William Ockham, called the singular or invincible doctor, and Thomas Bradwardine, the profound doctor. Wycliffe himself, having early devoted his attention in a peculiar manner to the study of the Scriptures, was termed the evangelical or gospel doctor, and he received the appointment of divinity lecturer to the University. Soon after this a controversy arose respecting the mendicant orders, and he took part against them with the majority of the Oxford men, led on by their former chancellor, Fitzrelph, now Archbishop of Armagh. About the same time Wycliffe exposed severely some other
1356. corruptions of the church, especially the simoniacal practices prevailing generally, but most of all at Rome.
In 1361 he obtained the wardenship of Baliol College, and a few years after he is commonly said to have held that of Canterbury Hall, recently founded by Archbishop Islip, who, to make way for him, sanctioned, we are told, the removal, on account of alleged misconduct, of the person first appointed. Upon that prelate's decease, however, his successor · Note II.
* Note III.
disputed the validity of the whole proceeding, and deprived Wycliffe, who appealed to the Pope ; but the sentence was affirmed in 1370, after a protracted litigation. This accident is by some thought to have given his mind a bias against the Romish church. But nothing can be more groundless than the suspicion, even if we believe that the Master of Canterbury Hall and the reformer were the same individual, of which grave doubts have been entertained. For we have seen that his attacks on Rome were begun in 1356; his hostility to the friars commenced in 1360 at the latest, and Canterbury Hall was not even founded till 1361, nor the papal decision against him pronounced till nine years later. It is much more probable that the Pope's mind was biassed against him by the regular clergy, to whom Wycliffe had extended his hostility, originally pointed at the mendicant orders alone.
The fame which he had obtained at the University appears to have recommended him first for promotion in the church, and then to the favour of Edward the Third, who made him one of his chaplains, and bestowed on him a prebend annexed to Worcester Cathedral, and the living of Lutterworth, in Leicestershire. But his zeal in the contest with the Mendicants, and his writings against Rome, further recommended him to that prince as qualified for important service, and he was accordingly appointed Note IV.
2 Notes IV. and V.
one of the commissioners to treat of ecclesiastical differences, and chiefly of the papal claims to church patronage, with the Pope's envoys at Bruges. Thither he repaired, with his colleagues; and there he enjoyed, in the course of the negotiation, an opportunity of taking a nearer view than he before had of the Holy See's mingled craft and pride.
It may well be supposed that this lesson was not thrown away. Upon his return to his chair at Oxford, his invectives were no longer confined to the friars. He commenced a general attack upon the clergy, but especially upon the higher orders in the hierarchy, with the Pope himself at its head. Then, carrying his assault from the polity of the church and the discipline of its pastors to the doctrines which they taught, he denied the conversion of the sacramental elements by the priest's consecration, holding that they retained their original nature, and were only to the eye of faith the Saviour's body and blood.
Although this opinion impugned the fundamental and distinguishing dogma of the Romish creed, yet there can be no doubt that the more practical doctrines with which he accompanied the promulgation of his dissent excited a far more serious alarm among the clergy; for he denied altogether that prayers had any special efficacy when offered up in the case of individuals, or possessed a higher virtue than general petitions, a tenet that in practice struck at the mass, which, however, he had not attacked. He held that
excommunication is only lawful of such as lie under divine displeasure, not to be levelled against any one at the will of the prelate, still less to be employed as a means of enforcing payments or service to the church. He affirmed the utter inefficacy, and even nullity, of all acts done by priests living in the commission of sin. He maintained the right of the civil governor to seize upon the possessions of a delinquent clergy; and this doctrine he extended to tithe, regarding it as a mere charity, the payment of it as a voluntary act, and the withholding it from clerks who led sinful lives as a right, if not a duty. He regarded the temporal possessions, generally, of a wealthy establishment, but chiefly those of its dignitaries, as inconsistent with the precepts of the Gospel: monastic institutions he declared to be unchristian, and the collections of mendicant friars simoniacal. He proceeded to censure indulgences and pilgrimages as expedients for enriching the clergy, and not for edifying their flocks. Ascending to the head of the Catholic church, he rejected the notion of the Pope's infallibility; confined his jurisdiction to his own bishopric; asserted that St. Peter had never given him any greater powers than other priests possess; affirmed that he might be accused and condemned like any other prelate; pronounced his only authority over foreign states to be derived from the
The passages in his work on “Clerks Possessioners,” cited usually as by Vaughan, ii. 285, to prove the opinion of Wycliffe on the evil lives of clerks disentitling them to tithe, do not prove it; but he is known to have held the doctrine.
assent of their temporal rulers; and denied altogether his right to lay down or to expound rules of faith, appealing to the Scriptures as the only canon of orthodoxy to all Christian men.
These opinions, alike remarkable for their novelty and their boldness, were promulgated both by his own preaching and by that of his “poor priests,” as they were called, converts attached to him, and who carried them all over the country, supplying, by their unwearied zeal in teaching, the want of that great instrument, the happy invention of a later period, for the rapid and universal instruction of the world.
It is not easy to conceive the impression produced by the New Doctrines, recommended, as they were, not more by the station and the character of their author than by the force with which they appealed to the feelings, the reason, and the interests of mankind. The load seemed to be removed under which the human mind had for so many ages lain prostrate. No longer compressed, it again manifested the elasticity which had never been destroyed, and, making a vigorous effort for entire relief, sprang forward to shake off the whole of its burthen. The gross and manifest absurdity of some received dogmas thus attacked by Wycliffe ; the revolting injustice of others; the grievous oppression wrought by their application; the misconduct to which they so easily lent themselves; the abuses which they manifestly engendered, so revolting to all the strongest feelings of our nature-were quite sufficient to gain a favour