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lesse,2 than wee mowe falle toward Hevene, fro the Erthe, where wee ben. For fro what partie of the Erthe, that men duelle, outher aboven or benethen, it semethe alweys to hem that duellen, that thei gon more righte than ony other folk. And righte as it semethe to us, that thei ben undre us, righte so it semethe hem, that wee ben undre hem. For zif a man myghte falle fro the Erthe unto the Firmament; be grettere resoun, the Erthe and the See, that ben so grete and so hevy, scholde fallen to the Firmament: but that may not be.
JOHN WICLIF. 1324—1384. JOHN WICLIF, the Morning Star of the Reformation, “ honored of God to be the first Preacher of a general Reformation to all Europe ;'3 was born in the little village of Wiclif, near Richmond, in the northern part of Yorkshire, about the year 1324. Where he received the rudiments of his education is not known, but at a suitable age he entered the University of Oxford, where he soon distinguished himself, not only in the scholastic philosophy of the times, in which he surpassed all his contemporaries, but also in the study and interpretation of the Scriptures; so that he acquired the title of Evangelical or Gospel Doctor. In 1361 he was promoted to the headship of Canterbury Hall, and soon after, from witnessing the ecclesiastical corruptions which so extensively prevailed, he began to attack, both in his sermons and other pieces, not only the whole body of Monks, but also the encroachments and tyranny of the church of Rome.
He had now fairly entered into that arena which he was to quit only with his life. To enter, however, into the particulars of his eventful life the continued and most bitter persecutions he ever experienced at the hands of ecclesiastical power-his fearless and manly defences of himself—the bulls issued against him by the Pope-his appearance before august convocations to answer for himself, touching the same—his providential escapes from the snares set for him by his enemies to enter into these and other numerous and eventful incidents of his most active life, would be quite impracticable in the limited space prescribed for these biographical sketches.
Milton, in his “Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing,” thus remarks: “Had it not been for the obstinate perverseness of our Prelates against the divine and admirable spirit of Wiclif, to suppress him as a schismatic or innovator, perhaps neither the Bohemian Husse and Terome, no, nor the name of Luther or of Calvin, had ever been known.” And Milton is undoubtedly right. Far be it from us to say any thing that would detract, in the least degree, from the merits of the great German Reformer. The name of Luther is endeared to the whole Protestant world, and will ever be cherished as long as holy zeal, and moral courage, and untiring ardor in the
3 Milton. 4 The reader may consult The Life and Opinions of John Wictif, by Robert Vaughan, 8vo: The Life of Wiclif, by Professor Charles Webb Le Bas, London, 12mo: The Life of Wiclif, with an appendix and list of his works, 12mo, Edinburgh, 1826. If none of these is accessible, there is a little work of Professor Pond, entitled “ Wiclis and his Times."
The Life of what, wier en appendis and to
best of causes, have an advocate on earth. But in some respects Wiclif claims precedence of Luther. We must ever bear in mind that he was two hundred years before him, and that he lived in a darker night of ignorance, and when the papal power was in its fullest strength. Wiclif, too, stood comparatively alone; for though countenanced by the mother of the king, and by the powerful Duke of Lancaster, yet he met with no support that deserved to be compared with that retinue of powerful patronage which gave effect to the exertions of Luther. “ Allowing, however," (says Professor Le Bas,) if we must, to Luther, the highest niche in this sacred department of the Temple of Renown, I know not who can be chosen to fill the next, if it shall be denied to Wiclif."1
Wiclif died December 30, 1384, of a stroke of the palsy, continuing to the very end of life to labor with increasing zeal in that holy cause to which he had devoted himself in his earlier years. His inveterate enemies, the papal clergy, betrayed an indecent joy at his death, and the Council of Constance, thirty years after, decreed that his remains should be disinterred and scattered. The order was obeyed, and what were supposed to be the ashes of Wiclif were cast into an adjoining brook, one of the branches of the Avon. “And thus," says old Fuller, the historian, “this brook did convey his ashes into Avon; Avon into Severn; Severn into the narrow sea; and this into the wide ocean. And so the ashes of Wiclif are the emblem of his doctrine, which is now dispersed all the world over." 3
The character of Wiclif was marked by piety, benevolence, and ardent zeal, to which was added great severity, and even austerity of manners, such as befitted the first great champion of religious liberty. In the extent and variety of his knowledge he surpassed all the learned men of his age; and the number of his writings still extant, though very many were burnt both before and after his death by order of the Pope, is truly astonishing. Most of these now exist in manuscript, in the public libraries in England and Ireland, and some in the Imperial Library at Vienna. His great work was the translation of the Scriptures, and to him belongs the high honor of having
1 “In all stages of society, those unquestionably deserve the highest praise, who outstep the rest of their contemporaries; who rise up in solitary majesty amidst a host of prejudices and errors, combating intrepidly on one side, though assailed and weakened on another. The merit consists in setting the example; in exhibiting a pattern after which others may work. It is easy to follow where there is one to lead; but to be the first to strike out into a new and untried way, in whatever state of society it may be found, marks a genius above the common order. Such men are entitled to everlasting gratitude." Read- Burnett's English Prose Writers.
2 A town in Switzerland on the west of the lake of the same name. This papal Council, which met
- Wiclif is disinhumed;
As thou these ashes, little brook, wilt bear
given to the English nation the first translation of the entire Scriptures in their mother tongue, which he made, however, not from the original languages, but from the Latin Vulgate. The following are his reasons for this great undertaking:
WICLIF'S APOLOGY. Oh Lord God! sithin” at the beginning of faith, so many men translated into Latin, and to great profit of Latin men; let one simple creature of God translate into English, for profit of Englishmen. For, if worldly clerks look well their chronicles and books, they shoulden find, that Bede translated the Bible, and expounded much in Saxon, that was English, either common language of this land, in his time. And not only Bede, but king Alfred, that founded Oxenford, translated in his last days, the beginning of the Psalter into Saxon, and would more, if he had lived longer. Also Frenchmen, Bemers, and Britons hans the Bible and other books of devotion and exposition translated into their mother language. Why shoulden not Englishmen have the same in their mother language? I cannot wit. No, but for falseness and negligence of clerks, either for our people is not worthy to have so great grace and gift of God, in pain of their old sins.
THE ALL-SUFFICIENCY OF THE SCRIPTURES. Christian men and women, old and young, shoulden study fast in the New Testament, and that no simple man of wit should be aferde unmeasurably to study in the text of holy writ; that pride and covetisse of clerks,” is cause of their blindness and heresy, and priveth them fro very understanding of holy writ. That the New Testament is of full autority, and open to understanding of simple men, as to the points that ben most needful to salvation ; that the text of holy writ ben word of everlasting life, and that he that keepeth meekness and charity, hath the true understanding and perfection of all holy writ; that it seemeth open heresy to say that the Gospel with his truth and freedom sufficeth not to salvation of Christian men, without keeping of ceremonies and statutes of sinful men and uncunning, that ben made in the time of Satanas and of Anti-Christ ; that men ought to desire only the truth and freedom of the holy Gospel, and to accept man's law and ordinances only in as much as they ben grounded in holy scripture, either good reason and common profit of Christian people. That if any man in earth either angel of heaven teacheth us the contrary of holy writ, or any thing against reason and charity, we should flee from him in that, as fro the foul fiend of hell, and hold us stedfastly to life and death, to the truth and freedom of the holy Gospel of Jesus Christ ; and take us meekly men's sayings and laws, only in as much as they accorden with holy writ and good consciences; no further, for life, neither for death.
1 For this noble labor, which he completed in 1380, he received abuse without measure from the priests. The following is but a mild specimen of papal rage. It is from one Henry Knyghton, a contemporary priest. “This master John Wiclif translated out of Latin into English, the Gospel which Christ had intrusted with the clergy and doctors of the church, that they might minister it to the laity and weaker sort, according to the exigency of times and their several occasions. So that by this means the Gospel is made vulgar, and laid more open to the laity, and even to women who could read, than it used to be to the most learned of the clergy, and those of the best understanding. And so the Gospel jewel, or evangelical pearl, is thrown about and trodden under foot of swine." -Even in the third year of Henry V., (1415,) it was enacted by a Parliament held in Leicester, "that whosoever they were that should read the Scriptures in their mother tongue," (which was then called Wiclif's learning) "they should forfeit land, cattle, body, life, and goods, from their heirs forever, and be condemned for heretics to God, enemies to the crown, and most arrant traitors to the land."
2 Since. 3 Or. Bohemians. 5 Have. 6 Know, or tell. 7 Scholars. 8 Or because.
And so (says Wiclif) they would condemn the Holy Ghost, that gave it in tongues to the apostles of Christ, as it is written, to speak the word of God in all languages that were ordained of God under heaven, as it is written.
MATTHEW, CHAP. v. And Jhesus seynge the peple, went up into an hil; and whanne he was sett, his disciplis camen to him. And he openyde his mouthe, and taughte hem; and seide, Blessid be pore men in spirit; for the kyngdom of hevenes is herun.Blessid ben mylde men: for thei schulenweelde the erthe. Blessid ben thei that mournen ; for thei schal be coumfortid. Blessid be thei that hungren and thirsten rightwisnesse :3 for thei schal be fulfilled. Blessed ben merciful men: for thei schul gete mercy. Blessed ben thei that ben of clene herte : for thei schulen se God. Blessid ben pesible men: for thei schulen be clepid goddis children. Blessid ben thei that suffren persecucioun for rightwisnesse : for the kyngdom of hevenes is hern. Ye schul be blessid whanne men schul curse you, and schul pursue you : and schul seye al yvel agens you liynge for me. Joie ye and be ye glade: for your meede is plenteous in hevenes : for so thei han pursued also prophetis that weren bifore you. Ye ben salt of the erthe, that if the salt vanishe awey wherynne schal it be salted ? to nothing it is worth over, no but it be cast out, and be defoulid of men. Ye ben light of the world, a citee set on an hill may not be hid. Ne men teendith not a lanterne and puttith it undir a bushel : but on a candilstik that it give light to alle that ben in the hous. So, schyne your light bifore men, that thei see youre gode workis, and glorifie your fadir that is in hevenes. Nyle ghe deme that I cam to undo the Lawe or the prophetis, I cam not to undo the lawe but to fulfille. Forsothe I sey to you till hevene and erthe passe, oon lettre, or oon title, schal not passe fro the Lawe til alle thingis be don. Therefore he that brekith oon of these leeste maundementis, and techith thus men, schal be clepid the Leest in the rewme of hevenes : but he that doth, and techith, schal be clepid greet in the kyngdom of hevenes.
1 The original spelling is preserved in this extract from Wiclif's Bible as a curiosity 2 Theirs.
& Rightfulnesse, in many manuscripts.
JOHN BARBOUR. 1326—1396. Among the very earliest of the poets of Scotland was John Barbour, Archdeacon of Aberdeen. But very little is known of his personal history. The only work of consequence which he has left, is entitled « Bruce.” It is a metrical history of Robert the First (1306—1329)-of his exertions and achievements for the recovery of the independence of Scotland, including the principal transactions of his reign. Barbour, therefore, is to be considered in the double character of historian and poet. As he flourished in the age im. mediately following that of his hero, he enjoyed the advantage of hearing, from eye-witnesses themselves, narratives of the war for liberty. As a his. tory, his work is good authority. He himself boasts of its “soothfastness ;" and the lofty sentiments and vivid descriptions with which it abounds, prove the author to have been fitted by feeling and principle, as well as by situation, for the task which he undertook.
As many of the words in Barbour are now obsolete, we will give but one quotation from his heroic poem. After the painful description of the slavery to which Scotland was reduced by Edward I., he breaks out in the following noble Apostrophe to Freedom. It is in a style of poetical feeling uncommon not only in that but many subsequent ages, and has been quoted with high praise by the most distinguished Scottish historians and critics.
“A! fredome is a nobill thing!
1 The following paraphrase of the above lines is taken from Chambers's Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen:
Ahfreedom to a noble thing,