« PreviousContinue »
ALTHOUGH we believe, that some years since we gave our readers some account of the renowned religious reformer John Wickliffe, we do not deem it improper now to introduce him to the notice of our present readersmany of whom have learned to read, since the time to which we have referred.
This excellent man, it is believed, was born at Wickliffe, a village about six miles from Richmond, in the county of York. It is probable that he took his name from that of the place in which he was born. By some old writers he is described as John de Wickliffe, which means John of Wickliffe. During the life-time of the celebrated reformer, there were two rectors of the parish who bore the name of Wickliffe. But we do not know whether they were relatives of the reformer. He was born in the year 1324, and was educated to become a Romish priest.
Of his conduct in his early boyish days we do not possess any information ; but when he was about seventeen years old he went to the University of Oxford, and entered as a student. At that time Dr. Thomas Brad
wardine lectured, on the doctrines of, the atonement by Christ, and justification by faith, in opposition to those who taught that salvation could be obtained by human merit; Wickliffe listened to the lectures, and thus probably obtained important knowledge of the way of salvation.
In the year 1345, a most awful pestilence ravaged part of Asia and Europe. It is said, that it destroyed onehalf of the people in England. At this time wickedness awfully prevailed. The sick were deserted by the doctors, by their priests, and in many cases even by their relatives, and robbery was common. These evils depressed the mind of Wicklife, and caused him to expect that the nation would be subjected to greater punishment; but most of all he appears to have deplored the wickedness of the Romish priests; and he supposed that God would soon destroy the world. * Wickliffe paid more attention to the teachings of the Bible, than the Romish priests were accustomed to give; and he resolved to oppose the heresies and wickedness which then prevailed.
In the beginning of the thirteenth century, the pope gave his sanction to the establishment of a new order of monks, who were called the mendicant, or begging friars. At first they professed to despise power and wealth, and to be only intent upon the duties of religion, and doing good to their fellowmen ; but in a short time by their craftiness they acquired great influence and riches. They became over-bearing and insulting towards the other clergy ; and were guilty of great wickedness. Wickliffe was a great opponent to the friars; he publicly exposed and opposed them; and thereby pleased those who had become disgusted with the pride and other bad conduct of the friars.
Pope Urban demanded, of Edward the Third, the pay- ! ment of a yearly tribute, as an acknowledgment that King Edward held the office of King under the authority of the pope. About one hundred and fifty years before this time, King John,'to obtain the favour of the pope;
had consented to pay tribute-money-but now for many years the tribute had not been paid ; and the pope demanded that the arrears should be paid. King Edward requested the advice of Parliament, as to what answer should be sent to the pope's demand. The parliament resolved that the tribute should not be paid ! and that if the pope took measures to compel the King to pay the tribute, all possible aid should be given the king to enable him to resist the efforts of the pope to compel the submission of the king.
The monks advocated the claim of the pope. In a work which they published, it was asserted, that the king by not paying tribute, had forfeited his crown, and that the clergy were not under any obligation to recognize his authority. Wickliffe published his Trialogus, a work, in the form of a discussion between three persons, in which he ably exposed the injustice of the claim for tribute, made by the pope.
Wickliffe was appointed chaplain to the king, master of Baliol College, professor of theology in the University of Oxford, and, in the year 1375, was made rector of the parish of Lutterworth. He was a powerful preacher, a diligent student of the Scriptures; and he translated the Bible from the Latin into the English language. He was not able to translate from the original Hebrew and Greek, as he was not sufficiently acquainted with those languages.
In the year 1374, Wickliffe was appointed one of the king's commissioners to arrange some matters of importance with the pope. This was the meats of bringing Wickliffe to know more about the evil deeds of the pope and the cardinals, and rendered him more active. in exposing the evils which existed in the Romish Church. He had the favour of the king, and of other men of great power in state affairs—but although this was the case, he was called upon by Bishop Courtney to appear before a convocation, to be held in St. Paul's Cathedral, to answer charges of having published erroneous and heretical opinions. Wickliffe appeared, attended by the Duke of Lancaster, Lord Percy, the Earl Marshall of England, and a crowd of persons, who filled the Cathedral. At this time king Edward was very old and feeble. The bishop was surprised and displeased at the support which was thus given to Wickliffe ; and as a quarrel occurred in the Cathedral between the bishop and the noblemen before named, the meeting was soon broke up in a state of confusion. Four months after king Edward died.
In the same month in which king Edward died the pope sent three letters, one to the king, one to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and another to the University of Oxford, directing that Wickliffe should be put upon his trial. About six months after this, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to the Chancellor of Oxford, urging him to comply with the pope's directions, and to send the Archbishop a statement of the heresies propagated by Wickliffe, and to require him to appear to answer the charges.
Early in the year 1378, Wickliffe appeared before a synod held at the Archbishop's palace at Lambeth. Many of the citizens of London forced their way into the chapel, and manifested their attachment to Wickliffe. Sir Lewis Clifford also appeared, and in the name of the queen-mother forbade the bishops from pronouncing any sentence. The king was then only eleven years old. His mother, therefore, had great power, as also had his uncles. Wickliffe, however, was commanded by the bishops to abstain from teaching the doctrines which were then designated heretical.
At Oxford, Wickliffe courageously denounced the wicked and absurd papal doctrine of transubstantiation, which declares that the bread and wine used at the sacrament of the Lord's supper, are changed into the very body and blood of Christ. The authorities of the University condemned the opinions on this subject which Wickliffe had published, and threatened him with the severest church censure and imprisonment. His oppo nents, after repeated efforts, succeeded in getting him silenced in the University. He was no longer permitted to teach or preach there ; and he therefore afterwards
devoted himself more to the work of the ministry in his own parish at Lutterworth, in Leicestershire, and in writing exposures of the papistical errors that then prevailed.
When Wickliffe was in his old age, and in a declining state of health, the pope ordered him to repair to Rome, to answer the charges of heresies which had been made. Wickliffe wrote a long and courteous letter to the pope, excusing himself from appearing at Rome on account of his infirmities. Soon after he was seized with paralysis ; this was on the 29th of December, 1384. and two days after he died, aged sixty-one years.
Wickliffe by his faithful preaching and writingsespecially by his translation of the Bible into Englishconferred great advantages upon our country, and prepared the way for the glorious reformation from popery which was long after effected. He has been, with propriety, designated, “the Morning Star of the Reformation.” When he lived, copies of the Scriptures could not be made by printing, but had to be written out; consequently copies were very expensive and scarce. We have much reason to be thankful that we are not exposed to persecution from the Romish Church, as Wickliffe was; and that now the Bible is sold so cheaply that every man, woman, and young person may have a copy.
At Lutterworth, Wickliffe died, and was buried. Thirty years after his death the popish council of Constance condemned his writings as heretical, and ordered his remains to be taken out of the grave, and to be thrown out of the churchyard. Thirteen years after this barbarous sentenence was pronounced, his grave was opened, his remains taken out and burned, and the ashes that remained were cast into the river Swift. The malice of Popery, however, could not prevent the spread of the truths which Wickliffe preached, nor has the pope been able to deprive us of the Holy Scriptures, which Wickliffe loved, and which he laboured to make