« AnteriorContinuar »
We have only some scanty fragments as to his appearance and influence. We learn that he had a spare, frail, and emaciated frame, and a conversation “most innocent,” the charm of every rank. His personal character was unimpeachable. As a man of learning, he towered head and shoulders above his contemporaries. We observe too in his works, and especially in the Latin works among the Vienna manuscripts, an earnestness and an intellectual energy which carry him fearlessly onward in the investigation of truth. He speaks as if not to expose abuses would be an act of treason against God.
We must now consider the opinions of Wiclif which connect him with the Reformation. We must also describe his development in order to form a just estimate of him as a thinker and writer. His changes of opinion are brought before us especially in his unpublished writings at Vienna. Thus he says, * Other statements, which at one time appeared strange to me, now appear to be sound and true, and I defend them.' But this is a matter to which his biographers have not paid proper attention.* The common idea has been that, as Minerva issued forth armed from the head of Jupiter, so Wiclif stands before us, throughout his public lise, a finished man, armed at all points for his contlict with the Papacy. This seems to have been the idea of his earliest biographer, John Lewis. We may add to him Mr. Milner, the author of the History of the Church ;' who accuses Wiclif of having kept his opinions in concealment, from fear of persecution, because he does not, as on other occasions, call the Pope the proud priest of Rome, or Antichrist, in the document presented at Lambeth to the Papal Commissioners. Mr. Milner does not seem to have been aware of his development, or of the dates of some of his works. Dr. Shirley and others prove to us that the Trialogus,' the Sentence of Curse Expounded,' and other works, in which he made a fierce onslaught on the Papacy, were written during the last two or three
years of his life; whereas Mr. Milner and some besides him supposed them to have been written previous to his appearance at Lambeth. The fact was that he did not express himself before 1378 as after 1381, and that he had not, in the former year, arrived at that stage of development in which he could show, by his language, his great indignation against the Papacy.
Dr. Shirley and other learned men have, by settling the works written by him with their dates, rendered a very great. service to the memory of Wiclif. We are thus able, to some
* Lechler's Life,' pp. 222-225.
extent, to trace his progress. Take, for instance, the dogma of Transubstantiation. When we have before us all the Vienna manuscripts, many of which were written before 1370, we may, if we consider the assistance which they have already given to us, find in them the germ of his opposition to this dogma and the other dogmas of Romanism. The De Benedicta Incar
. · natione,' written about 1365, shows us that he was advancing towards his final views on the Eucharist. During the last four years of his life he was applying the whole force of his mind to the solution of an important and difficult question, and he never desisted till he had obtained a firm hold on the truth. When we compare one work with another, in that period, including the Vienna manuscripts, the only correct way of ascertaining Wiclif's opinions, we find that he gradually learnt to oppose the dogma of Transubstantiation, and to accept the real spiritual presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
We shall see that Wiclif was on other points in agreement with the Church of England.* He anticipated Luther in his opposition to Indulgences, for he writes in his treatise of Prelates,' that • Prelates foully deceive Christian men by feigned indulgences, and rob them of their money. Of works of supererogation, condemned in the fourteenth Article of the Church of England, he writes in the same treatise, ' As to the holy merits of saints, that they did more than was needful for their own salvation, Christ never taught this in His Gospel, nor Peter, nor Paul, nor any other apostle.' So also he opposes the worship of the Virgin in a tract on the Ave Maria, and the Invocation of Saints in the Trialogus. He brought forward too, but not so prominently as Luther, the doctrine of justification by faith. He was also in exact agreement with the Church of England as to baptism, penance, absolution, and confession.
We find, in fact, that Wiclif held all the truths stated, and that he was opposed to all the Romish doctrines condemned in the articles of the Church of England, with the exception of Purgatory, on which he speaks with a very hesitating utterance. The wonder is, when we consider the short time, six years, during which he was engaged in this work, that he should have made so much progress in the investigation of truth. The probability is, when we consider that progress, that, if his life had been spared, he would have been altogether emancipated from his bondage to Romanism.
The Vienna manuscripts are of very great importance.
* Canon Pennington's 'Life of Wiclif, pp. 250-262.
"Scientifically considered, it is only the Latin works which are of value. Wiclif's philosophical and theological position can only be learned from them with certainty and thoroughness.' * Without them, we should now have traced imperfectly Wiclif's views and their development, and should have been unable to show fully that he had followed that law of slow, orderly, and healthy progress, which is one of the best tests of the reality of our Christianity.
We learn from Bishop Pecock's Repressor,' written about 1449, that Wiclif's followers, after his death, were divided into two parties—the precursors of the Puritans, and those of the Reformed Church of the reign of Elizabeth. Most of those who have examined carefully all his works have agreed to dissociate him from the former party. He was, however, undoubtedly the spiritual ancestor of the latter section. The • Repressor' thus becomes a link in the chain of evidence by which we prove the continuance of Wiclif's work during the fifteenth century. We have a series of cogent proofs that his influence was permanent, and that he prepared the way for the Reformation, not only in England, but in Germany.t We can trace only indistinctly the education of the people of England in the great truths which have come before us, because, from fear of persecution, it was conducted in the secret chamber, or in the lonely valley among the hills, or around the pale watchfire in the bosom of some large forest.' Wiclif's influence is, however, made manifest by the continued circulation of his Bible, of which we may form some idea when we are informed that 150 manuscripts were found at the time of the preparation of the Oxford edition in 1850, and remember the search instituted for Wiclif's writings, the burning of them when they were discovered, as well as the great destruction of ancient manuscripts. We may learn the continuance of his influence also from the persecutions in the first half of the fifteenth century, during which we see the funeral pyres blazing up amid the surrounding darkness ; from the reading of his books at Oxford; from a statement of Leland as to the circulation of his books, and the known circulation of his sermons in England during the fifteenth century; and from extracts given by Foxe, in his . Acts and Monuments,' found in episcopal registers, as to persecutions for holding his opinions in the early part of the sixteenth century.
We can trace also the influence of Wiclif on the Reformation in Germany. John Huss, the Bohemian martyr, derived
* Lechler's Life,' p. 483. + Canon Pennington's "Life of Wiclif, pp. 280-304. • Wiclif's Place in History, pp. 22-23, 123-128.
his opinions from Wiclif's works, which, as we have stated, after the death of Wiclif, were circulated in Bohemia. After a sanguinary war, the object of which was to avenge the death of Huss, the Taborites, the extreme section of his followers, founded in 1457 a Church, called the Church of the United Brethren. We learn that they zealously opposed Indulgences at the beginning of the sixteenth century; and that in a confession of faith sent to King Wladislaus in 1504, advancing further than John Huss, but agreeing with their other spiritual progenitor, John Wiclif, they declared themselves against the worship of the saints, prayers for the dead, and purgatory, and that they held the doctrine of the real spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist. * We have evidence that, during the fifteenth century, their emissaries and adherents were in all parts of Germany, especially in Franconia ; and that, about the middle of that century, their doctrines were preached with great success in Taubergunde and Würtemberg, Basle and Strasburg.t When Luther came forward to do battle with the Church of Rome he was welcomed by a numerous body of Hussites, who had thus prepared the way for him, and who now completed their emancipation by casting in their lot with him.
We see, then, that Luther was largely indebted to Wiclif for the preparation which contributed to the success of his work. He unconsciously acknowledges his obligations to him when he says that he had studied the writings of John of Wesel, for the latter was, through the Hussites, one of Wiclif's spiritual children. While, therefore, we cherish the memory of those who burst the bands of spiritual despotism, we should never forget our debt of gratitude to Wiclif and his successors, without whose previous work, carried on partly on the world's high stage, partly in silence and obscurity, no yearning for a truer and purer service to God would have existed in the minds of many, and no way of escape might have been found, for those conscious of their slavery, from the yoke of an intolerable bondage.
* Gieseler's . Ecclesiastical History,' vol. v. pp. 90, 153, 163.
† Ullmann's “Reformers before the Reformation, vol. i. pp. 334, 337. A reference is given to Gieseler,
ART. X.-1. Frau von Staël, ihre Freunde und ihre Bedeutung
in Politik und Literatur. Von Lady Blennerhassett, geb.
Gräfin Leyden. 3 vols. Berlin, 1888. 2. Madame de Staël, her Friends, and her Influence in Politics
and Literature. By Lady Blennerhassett. 3 vols. London, 1889.* N the 14th of July, the French nation, or rather that
represents, will solemnly celebrate the centenary of the taking of the Bastille. The event to be thus commemorated hardly seems in itself a very heroic achievement. It was, in fact, a gigantic street insurrection, in which the scoundreldom of a great city possessed themselves of an unprovisioned fortress, murdering the commanding officer, and some half-dozen of his little garrison. In ethical dignity and worth, it appears to be upon a level with the Gordon riots. It differs from them in the capital fact, that it was successful. It was the first decisive victory of the Parisian mob over public authority. It meant the downfall of the political and social order in France. • It is a revolt,' poor Louis XVI. exclaimed in consternation, when the Duke of Liancourt brought him the dismal tidings. • Sire,' replied the Duke, it is a Revolution.' A Revolution, indeed ; or rather the Revolution, the most momentous which the world has ever witnessed, and which therefore we are accustomed to speak of, not inappropriately, without qualifying date or national epithet; a Revolution which is even now in progress, and of which our own century can hardly expect to see the last act. The human race was confidently assured, when it broke out, that the golden year had at last dawned for mankind in general and France in particular. The bewildered monarch of that country received through Mayor Bailly the compliments of a people who had conquered their king, -'a people who were to murder their eloquent spokesman himself a year after, with circumstances of revolting crueltyand the promise of a statue in the character of The Restorer of French Liberty,' on the site of his demolished castle. The Place de la Révolution has not, however, as yet been adorned
* We quote this title-page as we find it; but we feel bound to point out that it is misleading. The work to wbich it is prefixed is an abridged translation from the German. That is, indeed, acknowledged in a note on the next page, which, however, does not mention that this defective English version is wholly unauthorized by Lady Blennerhassett, who has not seen one line of it. We do not propose to notice it further. In the following article we have made use of Lady Blennerbassett's own work only.