Great Voices of the Reformation. An Anthology. By Harry Emerson Fosdick


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Great Voices of the Reformation

An Anthology


Harry Emerson Fosdick

Great Voices of the Reformation




Introduction. 10

John Wycliffe 1320-1384. 29







John Huss 1373-1415. 61




Martin Luther 1483-1546. 91







Philip Melanchthon 1497-1560. 145




Huldreich Zwingli 1484-1531. 175




John Calvin 1509-1564. 214




John Knox 1514-1572. 259




The Anabaptists. 299




From THE WRITINGS OF HANS DENCK* 1 4 9 5 – 1 5 2 7  318




From THE WRITINGS OF MENNO SIMONS 1 4 9 6 – 1 5 6 1  334

Richard Hooker 1553-1600. 346



Cotton Mather 1663-1728. 378



JEREMY TAYLOR 1613-1667 AND ROGER WILLIAMS 1604-1684  421




GEORGE FOX 1624-1691 AND JOHN WOOLMAN 1720-1772  466



John Wesley 1703-1791. 499








From John Wesley’s Journal 546


Great Voices of the Reformation 


For permission to reprint excerpts from copyrighted works, the editor and publisher are indebted to the following:

J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd. for an excerpt from The Journal of George Fox, revised by Norman Penney, Everyman’s Library.

E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., for an excerpt from The Journal of George Fox, revised by Norman Penney, Everyman’s Library.

Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., for Martin Luther’s Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, edited by Henry Wace and C. A. Buchheim.

Meador Publishing Company for an excerpt from The Loci Communes, by Philip Melanchthon, edited by Charles L. Hill.

The Mennonite Historical Society for excerpts from The Schleitheim Confession of Faith, translated by Dr. John C. Wenger; The Life and Writings of Menno Simons and Two Kinds of Obedience, by Harold S. Bender.

Philosophical Library for an excerpt from John Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland, edited by William Croft Dickinson.

G. P. Putnam’s Sons for excerpts from Balthasar Hubmaier, by Henry C. Vedder and Philip Melanchthon, The Protestant Preceptor of Germany, by James William Richard.

Henry Regnery Company for an excerpt from The Journal of John Woolman, edited by Janet Whitney. Copyright, 1950, by Henry Regnery Company.

Reverend George W. Richards for an excerpt from The Latin Works of Huldreich Zwingli, translated and edited by George W. Richards and Clarence Nevin Heller.

Charles Scribner’s Sons for an excerpt from The Church by John Huss, in the Schaff translation.

The United Lutheran Publication House for an excerpt from Preface to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, translated by Dr. Charles E. Hay.

The Westminster Press for an excerpt from Instruction in Faith by John Calvin, translated and edited by Paul T. Fuhrman. Copyright, 1949, by The Westminster Press.

PREFACEGreat Voices of the Reformation

THIS ANTHOLOGY ENDEAVORS TO PRESENT, WITHIN THE LIMITS of a single volume, the major emphases of Protestant thought from John Wyclifle to John Wesley. The term “Protestant” —for a brief discussion of which the reader may turn to the Epilogue—originated long after Wyclise, and by Wesley’s time had far outgrown its first meaning, but no other word is now available to connote the entire movement of thought and life which led up to and followed the dissevering of Christendom in the sixteenth century. The negative significance of the word in present usage, however, is unfortunate, for, as this anthology should make evident, while the Reformation certainly involved protest against Roman Catholicism, it was at heart an affirmation, a vigorous protestation of positive principles.

My endeavor has been to make this anthology an objective statement of historic fact, and to avoid partisan propaganda. To be sure, the editor is a Protestant, and the major purpose of the book is to make available to Protestants, in a condensed and accessible form, the gist of the historic documents which reveal the convictions of the early Reformers. Nevertheless, I trust that such Roman Catholics, on the one side, or agnostics, on the other, as may read this anthology, will recognize my honest attempt to present a fair appraisal of the Protestant movement, of its historic background, and of its basic ideas.

To compress within one volume the essential message of the diverse personalities involved in the Reformation forces on the anthologist a very astringent selectivity. What is included here probably none would wish left out, but things left out some may well wish included. In this difficult task of selection, my ideal has been so to put myself in the place of the Reformer, and so to let him sit in judgment on my culling of material, that he would not feel misrepresented by the quotations chosen. As for the General Introduction and the Commentaries on individual Reformers, I have tried, as briefly and objectively as I could, to sketch the historic and biographical background, in order that the quoted passages might be the more intelligible.

I am, of course, unpayably indebted to many books and to the generous assistance of many libraries in furthering the research which such an anthology as this requires. In particular, I owe more than I can express to my friend, Dr. Cyril C. Richardson, Washburn Professor of Church History at the Union Theological Seminary, for his invaluable counsel.

Harry Emerson Fosdick

Great Voices of the Reformation 

Introduction Great Voices of the Reformation

MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546) RIGHTLY CLAIMS SO CENTRAL a place in the story of the Protestant Reformation that popular thought not uncommonly pictures the Reformation as be-ginning when Luther nailed his theses on the church door at Wittenberg or stood his ground for conscience’s sake before the Emperor at Worms. Historically decisive though these events were, however, they were the climax of a long preparation, as well as the origin of a long consequence. However great an individual may be, his total influence depends upon his focusing strong social trends and drives precedent to him and now concentrate in him. Luther launched his attack on the abuses of the Roman church by assailing papal indulgences, sold for the remission of sin’s penalties in Purgatory, but in the preceding century John Wessel (1420-1489) had attacked indulgences in so similar a way that Luther himself wrote: “If I had read his books before, my enemies might have thought that Luther had borrowed everything from Wessel, so great is the agreement between our spirits.”

Great Voices of the Reformation

Rebellious discontent with the abuses of the Roman curia, with the lax morals of monks and clergy, with the financial exactions of the papacy, and even with the pope’s claim to sovereign authority in the church had long been rife and xiii often vocal. Sometimes this discontent took the form of loyal self-reformation by the church within the church. Sometimes it spilled over into outspoken revolt, as in the case of Hincmar, archbishop of Rheims (805-882) who proposed to free the church in France from the pope’s authority, and who, when threatened with excommunication, replied that if the Holy Father came into France to excommunicate, he would depart excommunicated. Repeatedly this dissatisfaction with the church was expressed in societies of unworldly Christians, frequently mystics, quietly withdrawing into their own fellowships for Bible study, prayer and holy living, so that, as a modem Roman Catholic puts it, each of these numerous groups “drew apart from their co-religionists, a hive ready to swarm.” Sometimes, rebellious discontent voiced itself, in well-thought-out, deliberate revolts, led by intellectuals and representing downright heresy based on theological conviction. This anthology begins with John Wycliffe [c. 1320-1384] and John Huss [c. 1373-1415] because they represent so clearly the pre-Lutheran revolt against the current ecclesiasticism that Luther wrote to Spalatin in 1520, “We were all Hussites without knowing it.”

When Luther protested against the sale of indulgences, he had no prevision of the consequences. No one was more surprised and at times dumbfounded than he was, as the revolt against Rome proliferated. He himself said once: “No good work comes about by our own wisdom; it begins in dire necessity. I was forced into mine; but had I known then what I know now, ten wild horses would not have drawn me into it.” All unaware, he had come in the nick of time; he set a match to an explosion long preparing.

In the sixteenth century the mediaeval world was breaking up, and nothing in the new world which was emerging could be altogether as it had been before. Luther was nine years old when Columbus discovered America. On that day when he faced the Emperor at Worms, Ponce de Leon was in Florida seeking the fountain of eternal youth, and Magellan was in the antipodes on the first circumnavigation of the globe. When Luther was fourteen Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope, sailed up the eastern coast of Africa and, crossing the Indian Ocean to Calicut, solved the major commercial problem of the time—how to get directly to the East. The resultant possibilities of worldwide commerce changed the whole economic situation. Trading companies were created to take advantage of the opened doors; massed capital made immense profits from the new opportunities; families like the Welsers and the Fuggers grew incredibly wealthy from their ever-widening network of business interests; canny investors shared the new riches, like a “certain native of Augsburg” who, from 500 gulden entrusted to a merchant company, gained 24,500 gulden in seven years. Alongside the traditional princes of state and of the church a new princedom emerged—the wealthy merchants. The mediaeval trading cities, with their guild organizations of artisans, lost their grip, and the guild system disintegrated. As for the idea which had underlain mediaeval economic life, that land was the only basic source of wealth, that and the social relationships founded on it became an anachronism.

Great Voices of the Reformation

This revolutionary upheaval increased the discontent of the peasants. Their condition had always been one of comparative penury—John Bohm, writing when Luther was a young man said, “Their lot was hard and pitiable”—but with the break-up of the mediaeval world, the realization of their needlessly forlorn estate became acute, and for a century before Luther peasant uprisings were common. The four forest cantons of Switzerland witnessed a rebellion, the news of which resounded through Europe, when the peasants, tying their scythes to their alpenstocks, defeated with these crude pikes the old-time chivalry sent against them. A new day had come. The peasants dreamed that they could win their rights. They need not submit to laws that forbade fishing in streams which ran by their doors or hunting in forests where they had been born and reared. They need not submit to the excessive exactions of secular and ecclesiastical overlords who took a killing tithe from everything their slender gardens grew. “They look so narrowly after their profits,” wrote an Englishman, “that the poor wife must be countable to them for every tenth egg, or else she getteth not her rights at Easter, and shall be taken as a heretic.” When Luther was ten years old a typical insurrection broke out in Elsass—the Bundschuh revolt—whose emblem was a poor man’s shoe and whose motto was, “Only what is just before God”; and while this and many another rebellion were ruthlessly suppressed the peasant unrest was angry and continuous.

Great Voices of the Reformation

Nor was this social unrest merely an affair of the peasants. It was not simply the serf against his master, the poor against the rich, the debtor against the creditor. It was a ferment which permeated the whole social order. The most abject dregs of the population were sometimes too whipped and prostrate to rebel but, in more favored areas, as privilege increased, the vision grew of more privilege still and, far from content, the spirit of revolt was intensified. It struck out against the old feudal overlords, against oppressive laws and galling fiscal exactions, against the luxury of the powerful, and especially against the priests. Wrote a Spaniard of the time:

I see that we can scarcely get anything from Christ’s ministers except for money; at baptism money, at bishoping money, at marriage money, for confession money—no, not extreme unction without money! They ring no bells without money, no burial in the church without money; so that it seemeth that Paradise is shut up from them that have no money. The rich is buried in the church, the poor in the churchyard. The rich man may many with his nearest kin, but the poor not so, albeit he be ready to die for love of her. The rich may eat flesh in Lent, but the poor may not, albeit fish perhaps be much dearer. The rich man may readily get large Indulgences, but the poor none, because he wanteth money to pay for them.

Great Voices of the Reformation

Alongside the economic revolution profound political changes were afoot. Feudalism was disintegrating; the power of once isolated and sovereign principalities dwindled; monarchy moved up into ascendancy over the lesser nobility. Especially in three lands, France, England and Spain, strong, coherent kingdoms emerged, and if in Germany and Italy this process of unification were less evident, nevertheless within these lands powerful states under dynastic rulers were created, and the ideas of absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings subverted the old feudal system. As the might and authority of autocratic monarchs grew, conflicts with the papacy became inevitable. During mediaeval days the pope’s power had been so extended that hardly any area of any country’s life, civil as well as ecclesiastical, was altogether outside his domain. Papal taxes drained one land after another of colossal revenues; papal courts claimed adjudication of all sorts of cases which the king’s courts jealously desired to handle; the clergy claimed exemption from prosecution under the criminal laws of the lands where they lived; the authority of Rome infringed repeatedly upon sovereign rights claimed by proud, ambitious monarchs. The stage was being set for the rebellion of kings against the supremacy of the pope.

Thus Christendom was in the throes of a momentous social revolution when Luther spoke up in Wittenberg.

Moreover, an intellectual revolution was afoot with equal, if not profounder consequences. Copernicus (1473-1543) was only ten years older than Luther, and Luther was within a decade of death before the new astronomy was widely publicized, but the awakening intellectual life that made Copernicus possible, the venturesome, audacious thinking, the unbridled curiosity and zest for fresh discovery—that was in full course long before. To be sure, the Protestant Reformers did not always welcome the new knowledge. Luther never believed in the Copemican astronomy. “People gave ear to an upstart astrologer,” he said, “who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. . . . This fool wishes to reverse the entire scheme of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.” Nevertheless, the intellectual revolution, which the Reformers often failed to understand, profoundly affected the Reformation. Men’s minds were casting off the old scholasticism and were demanding a liberty unknown for centuries. Even when new truth was long denied—Rome denounced Galileo’s astronomy as “absurd” in 1616—the new truth was still there, raising disturbing questions, casting doubt on old views, teasing men’s minds out of lethargy and apathy into curiosity, wonderment and quest. So Sir Henry Wotton, English ambassador at Venice, sending a copy of Galileo’s book to King James, wrote that it was “the strangest piece of news that he hath ever yet received from any part of the world.”

Great Voices of the Reformation

This amazing awakening of mind and spirit is the heart of the Renaissance, the beginning of which is commonly dated in 1453, when Constantinople fell into the hands of the Turks, and when, among the other consequences, learned Greeks fled west. That was thirty years before Luther’s birth. Well before that, however, the Revival of Learning had been under way; at least as early as Petrarch (1304-1374) the Humanists had been enthusiastically welcoming the discovery of the ancient literature of Greece and Rome and had inaugurated a new era of intellectual emancipation.

The discovery of classical Greek and Latin manuscripts opened up a new world to the scholars of the time. Here in the ancient authors were intellectual insight, ethical truth, spiritual grandeur and aesthetic beauty, quite outside of and antedating not only mediaeval scholasticism but the Christian church itself. The minds of men had been crying for emancipation and here it was, in a world free from the dictates of dogma and the despotism of ecclesiastical control. As John Addington Symonds says, “That rediscovery of the classic past restored the confidence in their own faculties to men striving after spiritual freedom; revealed the continuity of history and the identity of human nature in spite of diverse creeds and different customs; held up for emulation master- works of literature, philosophy and art; provoked enquiry; encouraged criticism; shattered the narrow mental harriers imposed by mediaeval orthodoxy.”

Great Voices of the Reformation

The results were far-reaching and profound. Canon law came under devastating criticism, and the substitution for it of civil law, based on the codes of Justinian and Theodosius, was one of the most radical changes in that changeful era; it went a long way toward causing the church to be regarded in time as administratively a department of the state. In literature, architecture, painting and sculpture, ancient manuscripts and works of art were objects of reverence like that given to relics of the saints, and archeological expeditions were holy crusades on which men went, crying, like Cyriac of Ancona, “I go to awake the dead.” With passionate devotion the Humanists turned to the study of ancient philosophy. For men like Pico della Mirandola, Platonism and Christianity were fused into an esoteric religion for the educated, while popular superstitions were left to the common herd, and one of the Humanists burned two candles in his home, one before the Virgin Mary and the other before a bust of Plato.

All this, at first, was not associated with any conscious disloyalty to the Christian church. Popes like Nicholas V (1447-1455) and Julius II (1503-1513) were sponsors of the new learning and its enthusiastic devotees. Nonetheless, the new movement was a radical revolution. Absorption with post-mortem salvation in a world to come, while not by any means renounced, was balanced and sometimes displaced by frank delight in this present world—the beauties of nature, art, literature, the zest of fresh discoveries and the joy of venturesome thinking.

Great Voices of the Reformation

The effect on education was momentous. Within a century and a half seventeen new universities were founded in Germany. Gutenberg died only fifteen years before Luther was born, and printing made possible a hitherto undreamed-of availability of books for the eager students. Scholars labored tirelessly at the original Hebrew and Greek texts of Scripture, and altogether the era which preceded and encompassed the period of the Reformation was one of the most intellectually exciting in all history.

Its effect upon the attitude of its devotees toward Christianity in general and the Roman church in particular can best be seen and felt in such a man as Erasmus. He was Luther’s contemporary, sympathetic with much that the Reformer taught, but remaining a faithful member of the Roman church, and before his death was offered a cardinal- ate. As the leading Humanist of his time, however, he illustrates the inevitable tension between current Romanism and the spirit of the Renaissance. He was sick of the old scholastic theology. “Theology itself I reverence,” he wrote, “and always have reverenced. I am speaking merely of the the ologastrics of our time, whose brains are the rottenest, intellects the dullest, doctrines the thorniest, manners the brutalest, life the foulest, speech the spitefulest, hearts the blackest that I have ever encountered in the world.” Again and again he returns to his attack on the ignorance and obscurantism of monks, friars and priests. “It may happen,” he writes, “it often does happen, that an abbot is a fool or a drunkard. He issues an order to the brotherhood in the name of holy obedience. And what will such an order be? An order to observe chastity? An order to be sober? An order to tell no lies? Not one of these things. It will be that a brother is not to learn Greek; he is not to seek to instruct himself. He may be a sot. He may go with prostitutes. He may be full of hatred and malice. He may never look inside the Scriptures. No matter. He has not broken any oath. He is an excellent member of the community. While if he disobeys such a command as this from an insolent superior there is stake or dungeon for him instantly.”

As for the moral profligacy of the priests and mendicant orders, Erasmus writes repeatedly with unrestrained wrath:

Other qualifications are laid down by St. Paul as required for a bishop’s office, a long list of them. But not one at present is held essential, except this one of abstinence from marriage. Homicide, parricide, incest, piracy, sodomy, sacrilege can be got over, but marriage is fatal. There are priests now in vast numbers, enormous herds of them, seculars and regulars, and it is notorious- that very few of them are chaste. The great proportion fall into lust and incest, and open profligacy. It would surely be better if those who cannot contain should be allowed lawful wives of their own, and so escape this foul and miserable pollution. In the world we live in the celibates are many and the chaste are few.

Great Voices of the Reformation

This was a loyal Roman Catholic speaking who asserted that “never will I be tempted or exasperated into deserting the true communion.” He illustrates the long overdue rebellion within the church against intolerable abuses. When Luther launched his protest, Erasmus at first did not think of him as disloyal. “He was attacking practices,” Erasmus wrote, “which every honest man condemned, and was contending with a set of harpies, under whose tyrannies Christendom was groaning.” In the end he refused to follow Luther, thought that he was going much too far, feared the consequences of a split church, and clung to the Roman communion with desperate fidelity. He longed for a reformation, however, a revival of New Testament Christianity, and with unmitigated realism he pictured the evils the sight of which left him heartsick and discouraged:

There are monasteries where there is no discipline, and which are worse than brothels. There are others where religion is nothing but ritual; and these are worse than the first, for the Spirit of God is not in them, and they are inflated with self-righteousness. There are those again, where the brethren are so sick of imposture that they keep it up only to deceive the vulgar. The houses are rare indeed where the rule is seriously observed, and even in these few, if you look to the bottom, you will find small sincerity.

It is not surprising that the saying gained currency that Erasmus laid the egg and Luther hatched it.

The testimony is unanimous that the church in Luther’s day desperately needed reformation. Adrian VI, elected Pope in 1522, was a man of piety and learning; he valued the ascetic life, was strictly virtuous himself, and saw with clear eyes the corruption of the church. He would have cleaned the Augean stables if he could, would have disciplined the monastic orders and the secular clergy, and would have banished the sordid sale of indulgences, the simony, nepotism and immorality that made Rome a scandal. He found the task too huge. The curia could not pay its way without selling indulgences; and to cancel, as he wished to do, the whole system of papal exactions—reservations, indults, exemptions, expectancies—would have left stranded a host of ecclesiastical lawyers in Rome who had spent all their substance to buy their places in the curia. He died, a defeated reformer, the year after his induction.

Great Voices of the Reformation

When Luther was seven years old Savonarola began his prophetic ministry in Florence. He was a mediaeval scholastic and a loyal son of Rome; the reformation for which he toiled and died was not theological but moral. He was a Puritan before the Puritans, and he set himself to cleanse Florence, Italy and the church of their scandalous corruption. He faced, however, in Alexander VI, the reigning pope, probably the most degenerate character who ever disgraced the papacy. Guicciardini (1483-1540), the famous Italian historian who from intimate personal experience knew the inside of the Roman curia, called Alexander after his death, “the extinct serpent who by his immoderate ambition, pestiferous perfidy, monstrous lust, and every sort of horrible cruelty and unexampled avarice—selling without distinction property sacred and profane—has compassed the destruction of so many by poison, and was now become its victim.” It was this pope by whose order Savonarola was burned at the stake, when Luther was a lad of fifteen. “Luther himself,” writes Villari, “could scarcely have been so successful in inaugurating his Reform, had not the sacrifice of Savonarola given a final proof that it was hopeless to hope in the purification of Rome.”

Great Voices of the Reformation

This familiar picture, however, of a decadent church against whose corruptions the Protestant Reformers rose in wrath is far from being the full explanation of the Protestant Reformation. There was just as genuine wrath among loyal Roman Catholics themselves against these flagrant evils as there was in Luther and Calvin, Zwingli and John Knox. It was Dante (1265-1321) who freely consigned popes to hell, deploring those

“whose avarice

O’ercasts the world with mourning, under foot

Treading the good, and, raising bad men up.”

It was Chaucer (1340-1400), who scoffed at the traveling Pardoner with his wallet “brimful of pardons come from Rome, all hot.” It was not a Protestant but an orthodox Roman Catholic bishop who closed a nunnery in England because of “the negligence and improvidence and dissolute disposition and incontinence of the religious women.” It was a conscientious Catholic clergy and an increasingly able and aroused Catholic laity who attacked the plural holding of benefices, the non-residence of the clergy in their parishes, the commuting of penance for money, the false accusing of individuals in order to get blackmail from indulgences, and the papal court’s immorality and arrogant abuse of power. A reformation was inevitable, and the only question was whether it would be achieved by the church itself without disruption or would cause a split, rending Christendom asunder. The Counter-Reformation, which went far toward cleansing the ancient church of its most shocking immoralities and inaugurating higher standards and stricter discipline, from pope to lowliest monk, was in process while the great Protestant Reformers were still alive. Ignatius Loyola, one of the Counter-Reformation’s most influential pioneers, was only eight years younger than Luther. But the Counter-Reformation was too little and too late. A drive had started —not simply a protest against universally recognized ecclesiastical evils, but a deep and moving demand for regenerating personal faith and a genuinely vital Christian way of life—which called for more radical revolution in the church than any Counter-Reformation could produce.

Great Voices of the Reformation

Luther himself illustrates this drive. He came from a plain miner’s family and was reared in a pious home. The appeal to fear, powerfully used in the church, struck terror into his youthful conscience, and he never forgot the stained-glass window in the parish church of Mansfeld where Jesus, with frowning face, seated on a rainbow with sword in hand, threatened judgment to come. How could he save his soul? — that question obsessed him. He studied at the village school, at St. George’s School in Eisenach, at the University of Erfurt; he secured his degrees as Bachelor and Master, and then, prepared for a successful career in law, he suddenly entered the Erfurt Convent of the Augustinian Eremites, where later he became a monk. He himself has told us why: he did not trust himself to save his soul amid the temptations of the outer world; he saw no way to do it except by the austerities of a monastery.

Great Voices of the Reformation

He became the embodiment of monastic piety. He fasted, scourged himself, piled penance on penance, confessed and sought absolution for every slightest peccadillo he could accuse himself of, until he was ordered to stop confession until he had done something wrong enough to be worth confessing. Luther wrote later (1518) that no pen could describe his mental torture. He was struggling to achieve his soul’s salvation by “good works,” and he was getting nowhere. Then the light began to dawn, and one day, as he read the Epistle to the Romans in his cell, it came full flood upon him. “The just shall live by faith”—through that window the sun poured in. Salvation was a gift, a largess of God’s grace, not to be bought by good works but received into a trustful and hospitable heart. Good works were not the operative cause of a transformed life but its consequence. God himself, revealed in Christ, could come into a man, forgiving his past sins, regenerating his spirit, making of him a new creature. This experience was Luther’s Damascus Road and, so far as he was concerned, it was the beginning of the Reformation.

The revolutionary implications of this experience were not at first apparent, but they were nonetheless there. The elaborate apparatus of current ecclesiasticism with its pilgrimages, its adoration of saints and relics, its auricular confession to a priest, its penances and indulgences had no relevance to this experience of God’s saving grace, immediately available to the believing and trustful soul. Salvation was not conferred by the church, and by the church it could not be withheld. Such implications Luther was unaware of in the first flush of his deliverance from doubt, despair and defeat. Only gradually did they come to light. But it was this experience, nonetheless, which launched the Reformation.

Great Voices of the Reformation

There is no understanding of the Reformation without in-sight into this spiritual hunger for a vital, inward religion and this experience of God’s grace immediately available to the individual person, which Luther illustrates. From the twelfth century on a long series of fellowships, brotherhoods, sects had arisen, widely differing in endless ways, but sharing a common search for a direct, redeeming relationship between the soul and God. In one degree or another they were all in revolt against what they regarded as abuses in the contemporary church, but deeper than revolt and denial was their positive affirmation—God in Christ was immediately available to the hospitable soul. By one route or another all these groups—Albigenses, Waldenses, Paulicians, Bogomiles, Beguines, Paterini, Humiliati, Brethren of the Free Spirit, Lollards, Beghards, Picards, Fraticelli, and many more—came through to certain common consequences: the individual stood up in his own right decisively confronting God; the layman emerged as, no less than the priest, having direct access to God’s grace; the priesthood of all believers displaced the old monopoly of a sacerdotal clergy; the idea of an invisible, spiritual church, made up of true believers redeemed by their personal experience of regeneration, became primary, and the visible church became secondary. The revolutionary result followed that a redeemed layman could be God’s minister and could even officiate at the sacraments, while at the hands of a priest of evil life a sacrament was no sacrament at all.

Some of these brotherhoods put their major stress on a pure ethical life; as a modem Roman Catholic writes, “The Middle Ages suffered from a growing nostalgia for the Sermon on the Mount.” Others were definitely mystical; joining themselves to the great tradition of Catholic mysticism, they found their God within themselves in transforming and sometimes ecstatic personal experience. Some of the sects were definitely heretical in theology, like the Albigenses infected with Manichaeanism imported from the East. Others made little of theology, centering their attention on withdrawal from worldly living, often defined in terms of moralistic legalism. Some were quietist, content with individual regeneration. Others were social reformers, sponsors and leaders of sometimes desperate revolts. Some were sober, intelligent, well-considered expressions of New Testament Christianity, seriously endeavoring to reproduce the character and spirit of the early church. Others were fanatical, going to wild, emotional extremes, until they made the very word “enthusiasm,” an opprobrious term. Some, like the Albigenses, repudiated the Roman church. Others, like the Waldenses, regarded themselves as a movement of reform within the church. All of them, however, contributed to certain common results: the emancipation of the individual from ecclesiastical control, the self-assertion of the laity against the priesthood, and the conception of the true church as a fellowship of saved souls rather than an ecclesiastical establishment.

Great Voices of the Reformation

The presence and popular influence of these pre- Reformation sects are made evident by the Inquisition which from the thirteenth century on was devoted to their extirpation. “The cities,” so one bishop said in 1190, “are filled with these false prophets”; and Berthold of Regensburg estimated, in the thirteenth century, that there were 150 of these heretical sects. The savage story of the Inquisition’s brutality need not be rehearsed here. That whole era, in civil as well as ecclesiastical domains, was from our standpoint cruel and bloodthirsty and, when in possession of power, Protestants and Catholics alike could be barbarous. The records of the Inquisition do make clear, however, that these various sects were threateningly large in numbers and dangerous to Rome in their popular impact. They had to be put down if the Roman church’s unity was to be preserved, and the motive power which sustained them was more than negative revolt— it was positive spiritual hunger for a vital personal religion, with God’s grace immediately available to any man who would accept it.

Luther’s experience, therefore, in the monastery at Erfurt was not untypical. He had detoured around the paraphernalia of ecclesiasticism and had been found by God directly in his own heart. It is significant that concerning Theologia Germanica, one of the outstanding mystical writings of the Middle Ages, Luther said that, next to the Bible and the works of St. Augustine, it had influenced him more deeply than any book he ever read.

The open break between Luther and Rome was the direct result of his personal experience. The sale of indulgences had become one of the main financial resources of the papacy. It was part of a vast apparatus—auricular confession, priestly absolution, penance—developed with the merciful intent of constructing official channels through which divine forgiveness could be brought to sinful men. Christ and the saints, so the theory ran, had accumulated a vast treasury of merit, and this treasure was at the disposal of the Holy Father for the saving of his people. He could mediate the rich store of merit, gathered by the Savior and the saints, to those who lacked merit of their own, and so could reduce the penalties of purgatory for those who else must expiate their sins by ages of torment there. All this was mercifully intended, but the next step was fatal: when the pope needed money, he could and did sell the indulgence which he was by theory empowered to give. So the sale of indulgences began and while the profits were sometimes used for benign purposes, such as building cathedrals and hospitals, it went to such lengths of organized plunder at last that it became a major scandal. As Erasmus exclaimed, “The Court of Rome clearly has lost all sense of shame; for what could be more shameless than these continued indulgences.”

The crux of the matter lay in the fact that if the pope had power thus to grant relief from the penalties of purgatory, he could also withhold it. It was not simply true, as a contemporary jingle put it, that

As in the box the money rings,

The soul from purgatory springs.[i]

The logical conclusion was that if in the box the money did not ring, the soul in purgatory remained doomed. Under such pressure the sale of indulgences was pushed by every ingenuity of propaganda, and when Tetzel came to Saxony to exercise his salesmanship in Luther’s bailiwick, Martin rebelled. He had experienced God’s grace “without money and without price.” Whatever else might be true or untrue in the complicated apparatus of salvation by papal mediation, he knew that this was false and scandalous.

In this anthology we shall try to trace, in the words of the participants, the major trends of the Reformation which followed. Philip Melanchthon entered the lists, Luther’s warm friend and loyal backer, to whom he said as he started for Worms, “My dear brother, if I do not come back, if my enemies put me to death, you will go on teaching and standing fast in the truth; if you live, my death will matter little.” Huldreich Zwingli, only a year younger than Luther, led his Swiss canton, Zurich, in its revolt against Rome, with widespread consequences. John Calvin, twenty-five years younger than Luther, made Geneva one of the most powerful centers of the Reformation. John Knox, thirty-two years younger than Luther, decisively influenced by Calvin, became leader of the new movement in Scotland. “John Knox thundereth out of the pulpit,” wrote a contemporary, “so that I fear nothing so much as that one day he will mar all. He ruleth the roost, and of him all men stand in fear.” England, under Henry VIII, broke with Rome, not on the issue of theology or the sacraments, but on the issue of papal supremacy, making the king head of the church as well as of the state. “This is our doctrine,” said Bishop Jewel, when Queen Elizabeth was consolidating the reformed English church, “that every soul, of what calling soever be he—be he monk, be he preacher, be he prophet, be he apostle—ought to be subject to king and magistrates.”

Great Voices of the Reformation

Not alone in such outstanding personalities and revolts, however, is the meaning of the Reformation to be seen. The Luthers and Calvins and kings could have done nothing, had there not been widespread among the people both indignant rebellion against the abuses of the Roman church and zealous piety, seeking a religion of personal experience, vital power and intelligent credibility. If one forgets the Huguenots and Mennonites, the Moravians, the Socinians, the Quakers, the Baptists, the Seekers, the Wesleyans, one misses major trends in the movement of reformation. They were not uncommonly crowded underground, assailed alike by Catholics and Protestants. They were sharply at odds with one another and sometimes with the ruling powers in church and state. Some of the most important of them fairly got their heads up and had their say only when the Reformation had run its course for nearly two centuries. But they represent ideas and motives which from the beginning lay deep in the popular revolt against Rome.

No anthology, within the limits of such a book as this, can possibly do justice to these major trends in Protestantism. The historical background which binds the whole story together must be barely sketched. Let the reader turn to some such volumes as A History of the Reformation, by Thomas M. Lindsay, and The Crisis of the Reformation, by Norman Sykes, for a fuller account. Nor can justice be done to any of the early Protestant writers who are quoted. Only a taste can be given of their thought and quality. That taste, however, can be revealing, and if it leads the reader to eat more heartily, devouring the biographies of the Reformers and the books in which they took their dangerous stand, because for conscience’s sake they could “not do otherwise,” this anthology will be amply justified.

Great Voices of the Reformation


New York January, 1952

Great Voices of the Reformation

John Wycliffe 1320-1384


IN 1572 A PICTURE WAS PUBLISHED IN A BOHEMIAN PSALTER representing Wycliffe striking the spark, Huss kindling the coals, and Luther brandishing the flaming torch. In the heyday of his power, Wycliffe was the pride of Oxford University, the foremost schoolman of his day, and the most influential preacher in England. He could not, however, stay in any ivory tower; he was too stirred with sympathy for common folk and with horror at the corruption of the church. He did strike the spark of the Reformation, so that two centuries afterwards the Bishop of London, in a letter to Erasmus, said concerning Lutheranism: “It is no question of some pernicious novelty: it is only that new arms are being added to the great band of Wycliffite heretics.”

Wycliffe’s protest began against the wealth of the ecclesiastics. For generations the church’s monopoly of the means of salvation had been put to monetary use. Redemption from purgatory and hell was worth paying for and the English people, rich and poor, had paid well. Especially the wealthy had poured vast bequests into churches and monasteries for the repetition of masses for the donors’ souls, until a large part of the land and wealth of England was in ecclesiastical hands. To this Wycliffe attributed the corruption of the church. It was being ruined by Mammon, he said; it should be disendowed and stripped of its wealth for its own soul’s sake. There was a strong ascetic strain in Wycliffe’s thinking.

Great Voices of the Reformation

He had given up hope that the church would reform itself. The only power which could accomplish reformation lay in the hands of the nobility. Generations of lords had bequeathed to the ecclesiastics the riches which were corrupting them, and now, in view of the abuses, the lords should take back what their fathers had given. What “Piers Plowman” was saying, Wycliffe echoed: “Take their lands, ye lords!”

At the beginning, therefore, Wycliffe lined up with the nobility against the clergy. He was out to reform the church, to humble its arrogance, to strip the prelates of their luxury, to turn them out of their high offices in the state and put them to their proper spiritual ministries, to restore Christian simplicity and voluntary poverty to the monasteries, and to secure for local parishes the service of devout, disciplined, and educated priests. To achieve this end he turned to the nobility; they alone had power to accomplish his purposes. To be sure, the lords, too, were corrupt. “They destroy their poor neighbours,” he said, “and make their house a den of thieves”; “Now cometh example of pride, gluttony and harlotry from lords’ courts to the commons.” His major aim, however, was to reform the church, and who had authority to do that except the king and the nobles? The king, therefore, should undertake the work of reformation, should seize and distribute to the lords for the sake of the people the vast endowments of churches and monasteries, should compel bishops to discipline their clergy, to remove immoral and inefficient priests, to end the evils of non-residence and see to it that local parishes were served by worthy pastors.

Far beyond Wycliffe’s power to see, this appeal from the church to the state involved momentous consequences; it even helped to pave the way for the doctrine of the divine right of kings; but Wycliffe was too intelligent not to perceive some major implications of his position, and he was too courageous to shrink from facing them. Behind the worldliness, luxury and Mammon-worship which he thought were ruining the church stood the basic evil—the church’s supposed monopolistic control of the means of salvation. It was this sole possession of the keys of heaven and hell, used for financial gain, which was debauching Christendom—so Wycliffe thought—and he attacked the whole system: the necessity of auricular confession to a priest, corporal penance, pilgrimages and relic worship, financial substitutes for penance, special masses for the dead, the idea of a treasury of merit in the pope’s control, and the sale of indulgences.

Great Voices of the Reformation

This radical revolt against the papal system was encouraged by the lamentable estate of the papacy in Wycliffe’s time. During the greater part of Wycliffe’s life, the pope was throned in Avignon, France, where for seventy years the Holy Fathers were in exile from Rome. Not the pope but the king of France was supreme and during the whole period of the exile only Frenchmen were popes, and the supposed spiritual head of Christendom was little more than a court bishop of the French king. Then in 1377—seven years before Wycliffe’s death—the great schism began, one pope in Avignon, the other in Rome, each with his college of cardinals, and each hurling bulls and excommunications at the other’s head. This schism, which was to last for forty years, broke down the last shred of Wycliffe’s confidence in the papacy. He repudiated the pope’s supremacy over the church and his power to bind and loose. “Antichrist,” he said, “hath cast his cast to make all men subject to the pope and lead them after that him liketh. Lord, where is freedom of Christ, when men are casten into such bondage? Christ made his servants free, but Antichrist hath made them bond again.”

Great Voices of the Reformation

Schoolman that he was, Wycliffe had to have a basic theory to support his revolt and, to that end, he developed his doctrine of “Dominion,” which had momentous implications. All dominion, he taught, is from God, and those on earth who hold dominion possess it only as God’s henchmen. This theory of derived power had an obvious feudal background, but Wycliffe introduced into it a radical new factor—no intermediary lords could stand between each man’s soul and God; every man who exercised dominion had his commission directly from on high. God’s dominion, however, can reside only in those who stand in his grace, are regenerate men, willing what God wills; all others possess no true dominion, and, whether kings or popes, their sovereignty is false and may be denied and repudiated. Written in Latin, with all the recondite subtlety of scholastic argument, this theory made its stormy way into the minds of the schoolmen. Wycliffe himself was chary of its application to kings —he did not favor violent revolution—but as to the pope’s spiritual dominion he applied it fearlessly, until he desired the end of the papacy, of the whole hierarchy and of the monastic establishments, and would have left parish priests as little hampered by ecclesiastical superiors as they are in Presbyterianism today. In the last year of his life he crowned his heretical career by denying Transubstantiation. He asserted the spiritual presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the sacrament, but repudiated the transformation of the substance of the elements, which the orthodox dogma affirmed.

Great Voices of the Reformation

Scholar and schoolman though he was, throughout his writings one feels his kinship with the common people. It is of them he constantly is thinking, of their spiritual destitution, their economic ills, their neglected estate in their poorly served parishes. He exalted the laymen, and among the Lollards, who carried on his work after him, laymen were the preachers. Wat Tyler’s Rebellion, a furious revolt of the underprivileged which during Wycliffe’s later years shook England to the very center, was blamed by his enemies on Wycliffe’s teaching. In the first edition of his English translation of the Scriptures, Wycliffe said: “This Bible is translated and shall make possible Government of people, by people, for people.”

The popular extension of Wycliffe’s ideas in England flowed in two main channels—the translation of the Bible into English and the widespread preaching of the Wycliffe “Poor Priests.” The varying fortunes of Wycliffe himself and of his ideas, and especially the persistent continuance of his aftermath, the Lollards, who survived till Luther’s time, cannot be recounted here. England in the Age of Wycliffe, by G. M. Trevelyan, is an excellent history of the times, and John Wycliffe, by Lewis Sergeant, The Life of Wycliffe, by H. B. Workman, The People’s Faith in the Time of Wycliffe, by B. L. Manning, and Wycliffe and Movements of Reform, by R. L. Poole, are valuable treatises. The surprising denouement, so far as Wycliffe himself is concerned, is that while he was condemned by the pope and driven from Oxford, he died a natural death in his parish at Lutterworth.

The anthologist faces grave difficulties in culling representative abstracts from his writings for the modem English reader. Many of his most important Latin works have not been translated, and his English works are couched in the archaic verbiage and style of his period. We present two brief passages from his translation of the Bible, one of the major achievements of his life. “The worthy realm of France,” he wrote, “notwithstanding all lettings, both translated the Bible and the Gospels with other true sentences of doctors out of Latin into French. Why shoulden not Englishmen do so? As lords in England have the Bible in French, so it were not against reason, that they hadden the same sentence in English.” In the other excerpts, which we present, the ancient English has been modernized to make it readable.

Great Voices of the Reformation

Thirty years after Wycliffe’s death, the Council of Constance, which sent John Huss to the stake, condemned Wycliffe also and ordered that his bones be exhumed and burnt.

This was done and the ashes were cast into the River Avon. His enemies, who thought they had now finished him, did not foresee histoiy’s verdict:

“The Avon to the Severn runs,

And Severn to the sea;

And Wycliffe’s dust shall spread abroad

Wide as the waters be.’’

 Great Voices of the Reformation


Luke 15:11-32

AND HE SEIDE, A MAN HADDE TWEI SONESJ AND THE YONGER of hem seide to the fadir, Fadir, gyue me the porcioun of catel, that fallith to me. And he departide to hem the catel. And not aftir many daies, whanne alle thingis weren gederid togider, the yonger sone wente forth in pilgrymage in to a fer cuntre; and there he wastide hise goodis in lyuynge lecherously. And aftir that he hadde endid alle thingis a strong hungre was maad in that cuntre, and he bigan to haue nede. And he wente and drough hym to oon of the citeseyns of that cuntre. And he sente hym in to his toun, to fede swyn. And he coueitide to fille his wombe of the coddis that the hoggies eeten, and no man gaf hym. And he tumede agen to hym silf, and seide, Hou many hirid men in my fadir hous han plente of looues; and Y perische here thorough hungir. Y schal rise vp, and go to my fadir, and Y schal seie to hym, Fadir, Y haue synned in to heuene, and bifor thee; and now Y am not worthi to be clepid thi sone, make me as oon of thin hirid men. And he roos vp, and cam to his fadir. And whanne he was yit afer, his fadir saigh hym, and was stirrid bi mercy. And he ran, and fel on his necke, and kisside hym. And the sone seide to hym, Fadir, Y haue synned in to heuene, and bifor thee; and now Y am not worthi to be clepid thi sone. And the father seide to his semauntis, Swithe biynge ye forth the firste stoole, and clothe ye hym, and gyue ye a iyng in his hoond, and schoon on hise feet; and brynge ye a fat calf, and sle ye, and ete we, and make we feeste. For this my sone was deed, and hath lyued agen; he perischid, and is foundun. And alle men bigunnen to ete. But his eldere sone was in the feeld; and whanne he cam, and neighede to the hous, he herde a symfonye and a croude. And he clepide oon of the seruauntis, and axide, what these thingis weren. And he seide to hym, Thi brother is comun, and thi fadir slewe a fat calf, for he resseyuede hym saaf. And he was wrooth, and wolde not come in. Therfor his fadir wente out, and bigan to preye hym. And he answerde to his fadir, and seide, Lo! so many yeeris Y serue thee, and Y neuer brak thi comaundement; and thou neuer gaf to me a kidde, that Y with my freendis schulde haue ete. But aftir that this thi sone, that hath deuourid his substaunce with horis, cam, thou hast slayn to hym a fat calf. And he seide to hym, Sone, thou art euer more with me, and alle my thingis ben thine. But it bihofte for to make feeste, and to haue ioye; for this thi brother was deed, and lyuede agen; he perischide, and is founden.


If I speak with tongues of men and of angels, and I have not charity, I am made as brass sounding, or a cymbal tinkling. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all cunning, and if I have all faith, so that I move hills from their place, and I have not charity, I am naught. And if I depart all my goods in to the meats of poor men, and if I betake my body, so that I bum, and if I have not charity, it profiteth to me no thing. Charity is patient, it is benign; charity envieth not, it doeth not wickedly, it is not upblown, it is not covetous, it seekest not the things that be its own, it is not stirred to wrath, it thinketh not evil, it enjoyeth not on wickedness, but it joyeth together to tmth; it suffereth all things, it believeth all things, it hopeth all things; it sustaineth all things. Charity falleth never down, whether prophecies shall be void, or languages shall cease, or science shall be destroyed. For a part we know, and a part we prophesy; but when that shall come that is perfect, that thing that is of part shall be avoided. When I was a little child, I spake as a little child, I understood as a little child; but when I was made a man, I avoided the things that were of a little child. And we see now by a mirror in darkness, but then face to face; now I know of part, but then I shall know, as I am known. And now dwell faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the most of these is charity.

Library of the World’s Best Literature, Vol. XXXIX Charles Dudley Warner, Editor New York, J. A. Hill & Company.

Great Voices of the Reformation


THE OFFICE OF CURATE* IS ORDAINED OF GOD; FEW DO IT WELL and many full evil, therefore test we their defaults, with God’s help.

* By curate was meant any minister who has the care of souls.

I. They are more busy about worldly goods than virtues and good keeping of men’s souls. For he that can best get riches of this world together, and have a great household, and worldly array, is held to be a worthy man of holy church, though he know not the best point of the gospel. Such a one is praised and borne up by the bishops and their offices. But the curate that gives himself to study holy writ and teach his parishioners to save their souls, and live in meekness, penance, and busy labour about spiritual things, and cares not about worldly respect and riches, is held to be a fool, and destroyer of holy church. He is despised and persecuted by high priests and prelates and their offices, and is hated by other curates. This makes many to be negligent in their spiritual cures, and to give themselves to occupations and business about worldly goods. These negligent curates think but little, how dearly Christ bought man’s soul with his precious blood and death, and how hard a reckoning he shall make at doomsday for those souls. They would seem to be out of Christian faith—for they make not themselves ready to come thither, and to answer how they came into their benefices, and how they lived and taught, and spent poor men’s goods. For if they had such a faith in their minds, they would begin a better life, and continue therein.

Great Voices of the Reformation

II. The second default is, that they run fast, by land and by water, in great peril of body and soul, to get rich benefices; but they will not knowingly go a mile to preach the gospel, though christened men are running to hell for want of knowing and keeping of God’s law; and certainly here they show, indeed, that they are foully blind with covetousness, and worship false gods, as St. Paul saith.

Since they so much love worldly riches, and labour for them night and day, in thought and deed, and labour so little for God’s worship and the saving of Christian souls, who can excuse these covetous clerks from simony and heresy? Neither God’s law, nor man’s law, nor reason, nor good conscience. And let the king and his council inquire how much gold goes out of our land, for purchase of benefices, into aliens’ hands, and how much is given privately to men in the land. They shall find many thousand pounds.

III. The third default of evil curates is, that they are angels of Satan to lead men to hell; for, instead of truly teaching Christ’s gospel, they are dumb, or else tell men’s traditions. Instead of example of good life, they hurt their parishioners in many ways—by example of pride, envy, covetousness, and unreasonable vengeance—cruelly cursing for tithes, and evil customs. And for example of holy devotion, devout prayer, and works of mercy, they teach idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, and lechery, and maintaining of these sins, and many more. For since priests are called angels (messengers) in holy writ, and these curates bring not the message of God, but of the fiend, as their wicked life show- eth, they are not angels of God, but of the fiend. St. Peter was called Satan by Christ, as the gospel telleth, because he was contrary to God’s will, and savoured not of heavenly things; well then are these evil curates so called, since they are more contrary to God’s will, and savour less of spiritual things, and the saving of Christian souls.

IV. The fourth error is, that they think more of statutes of sinful men than the most reasonable law of Almighty God. For they dread the pope’s law, and statutes made by bishops, and other officers, more than the noble law of the gospel. Therefore they have many great and costly books of man’s law, and study them much, but few curates have the Bible and expositions of the gospel, they study them but little and do them less. But would to God that every parish church in this land had a good Bible and good expositions on the gospel, and that the priests studied them well, and taught truly the gospel and God’s commands to the people! Then should good life prevail, and rest, and peace, and charity; sin and falseness should be put back—God bring this end to his people!

Great Voices of the Reformation

V. The fifth default is, that they practise strife and plea, (law) and gather envy and hate from laymen for tythes. They leave preaching of the gospel, and cry fast after tythes, and summon men to account, and by force take their goods, or else curse them seven foot above the earth, and seven foot under the earth, and seven foot on each side, and afterwards draw men to prison as though they were kings and emperors of men’s bodies and goods; forgetting wholly the meekness and patience of Christ and his apostles, how they cursed not when men would neither give them meat, nor drink, nor harbour; but Christ blamed his apostles when they would have asked such vengeance, as the gospel of St. Luke teaches. And St. Peter biddeth to bless other men, even enemies, and not to have will to curse. Paul also teacheth that we should not do evil for evil, but overcome an evil deed by good doing.

VI. The sixth default is, that they teach their parishioners, by their deeds and life, which are as a book to them, to love and seek worldly glory, and to be careless of heavenly things. For they make themselves busy, night and day, to get worldly advancement, and their own worship and dignity in this world, by pleading and striving therefore, considering it great righteousness to hold forth and maintain points of worldly privilege, and dignity; but about spiritual dignity, and high degree of heavenly bliss, they will not strive against spiritual enemies; for they strive not who shall be most meek and willingly poor, and most busy in open preaching and private counselling how men shall obtain heaven, as Christ and his apostles did. But they, like moles, remain rooting after worldly worship, and earthly goods, as though there were no life but only in this wretched world.

Great Voices of the Reformation

VII. The seventh error is, that they teach sinful men to buy hell full dear, and not to come to heaven which is proffered them for little cost. For they teach Christian men to suffer much cold, hunger, and thirst, and much waking, and despisirig, to get worldly honour; and a little dirt by false waning, out of charity; if they bring them much gold they absolve them lightly and to think themselves secure by their prayers, and grant them a blessing. But they teach not how their parishioners should dispose themselves to receive gifts of the Holy Ghost, and keep conditions of charity, doing truth and good conscience to each man, both poor and rich. And if they are poor by the chances of the world, or willingly, by dread of sin, they set them at nought, and say they are cursed, because they have not much muck; and if they have much worldly goods, got with false oaths, false weights, and other deceits, they praise them, and bless them, and say that God is with them and blesseth them.

VIII. The eighth default. They shut the kingdom of heaven before men, and neither go in themselves, nor suffer other men to enter, for they shut up holy writ—as the gospel, and commandments, and conditions of charity, which are called the kingdom of heaven—by false new laws, and evil glossing, and evil teaching. For they will neither learn themselves, nor teach holy writ, nor suffer other man to do it, lest their own sin and hypocrisy be known, and their pleasurable life withdrawn. Thus they close Christ’s life and his apostles’ from the common people, by the keys of antichrist’s judgment and censures; and they make them not so hardy as to say a truth of holy writ against their accursed life, for that shall be held to be detraction and envy, and against charity! Therefore they make the people follow their teaching, their statutes, and their customs, and to leave God’s teaching; and thereby lead them blindly to hell, and thus close the kingdom of heaven from them.

Great Voices of the Reformation

IX. The ninth error is, that they waste poor men’s goods on rich furs and costly clothes, and wordly array, feasts of rich men, and in gluttony, drunkenness, and lechery. For they sometimes pass great men in their gay furs and precious clothes—they have fat horses with gay saddles and bridles. St. Bernard crieth, Whatever curates hold of the altar more than a simple livelihood and clothing, is not theirs, but other men’s.

X. The tenth default is, that they haunt lords’ courts, and are occupied in worldly offices, and do not take care of their parishes, although they take more worldly goods from them than Christ and his apostles. Certainly it is great treachery; for what man durst undertake to keep men who are besieged in a feeble castle by many strong enemies, and then flee into a swineherd’s office, and let enemies take the castle and destroy it? Were not this open treason? And would not this keeper be guilty of the loss of the castle, and all men therein? So it is of the curates and Christian souls of which they take care, who are besieged by fiends, when they leave them unkept, and busy themselves in worldly offices and lords’ courts. Are not these lords, who thus hold curates in their courts and worldly offices, traitors to God Almighty, since they draw away his chief knights from their spiritual battle, when and where they were most needful for this service?

XI. The eleventh error is, that they attend more to wrongful commandments of sinful men, than to the most rightful commandments of God. For if the pope or bishop send a letter to receive a pardoner to deceive the people, by grants of many thousand years of pardon, he shall be despatched; although if there come a true man, to preach the gospel freely and truly, he shall be hindered for wrongful command of a sinful man. And thus they put God’s commandment and his rightful will behind, and put sinful man’s will and wrong commandments before; and thus for their own worldly profit and bodily ease they stop their parishioners from hearing of God’s law, which is food for the soul, and lead them blindly to hell. These are evil fathers who thus cruelly starve their subjects’ souls, and drive them to damnation, for love of worldly muck, or bodily ease, or for dread of wretched antichrists, who are traitors to God and his people. . . .

Great Voices of the Reformation

Ye curates, see these heresies and blasphemies, and many more, which follow from your wicked life and wayward teachings. Forsake them for dread of hell, and turn to good life and true teaching of the gospel and ordinances of God, as Christ and his apostles did, for reward of heavenly bliss. And in confessions, and in other speeches, reprove more the breaking of God’s commands, than the breaking of commands of new pilgrimages and offerings; and teach Christian men to turn such vows already made, into better alms, as Christ teaches in the gospel.

O Almighty God, bring curates into holy life, and true teaching after Christ and his apostles. Amen.

Writings of the Reverend and Learned John Wycliff, D.D.

Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1842.

Great Voices of the Reformation


AS OUR LORO JESUS CHRIST ORDAINED BY THE WRITING OF the four evangelists, to make his gospel surely known, and maintained against heretics, and men out of the faith; so the devil, even Satan, devises by antichrist and his worldly false clerks, to destroy holy writ and Christian men’s belief, by four accursed ways or false reasons. 1. The church is of more authority, and more to be believed than any gospel.

2. That Augustine said he would not believe the gospel if the church had not taught him so. 3. That no man alive knows which is the gospel, but by the approving of the church. 4. If men say that they believe this is the gospel of Matthew or John, they ask, Why believest thou that this is the gospel? as though they would say, There is no cause but that the church confirmeth and teacheth it.

These four evidences, and many more, the fiend makes, to blind men in their belief, that they should not know what is sin, or what is virtue; which is truth, which is falsehood; which is good, which is evil; which are God’s commands, and which are the fiend’s lies; thus to bring all men blindly to hell and their new religion. And principally friars preach these evidences, and sow them among ignorant men in the country, to stop poor priests and ignorant men, that they be not hardy to speak of the gospel, holy writ, God’s commandments, joys of heaven, of sins, and of the pains of hell, lest 18 they stir men to rise out of their sins for dread of pains, and to live in virtuous life, to have the bliss of heaven…

Let us now see this bringing in the first accursed ground that the church is of more authority and credence than the gospel. They say that Nicodemus, and many more, wrote the gospels of Christ’s life and his teaching, but the church put them away, and approved the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—then the church might as well have put out the four, and approved the other gospels; since it was in full power of the church to reprove and condemn which they would, and to approve and to accept which they liked, and therefore men, say they, should believe the church more than any gospel.

First, These crafty heretics understand by the church, the pope of Rome and his cardinals, and the multitude of worldly clerks assenting to his simony, and worldly lordship, above all kings and emperors of this world. For else it were not to their purpose to magnify the church as they now do. True men say that the clergy who first were wise, and holy of life, were stirred up by the Holy Ghost to take these four gospels, and they charge not Christian people with more, since these are enough and profitable at the full, and are figured in many prophecies of God’s law. And these four witnesses were accepted of the Holy Ghost, to write these things for man’s instruction, which we may not stay to tell now. But certainly the church might not have put away the gospels, and have accepted the others; for then it had done against the will of God, and against the truth of Jesus Christ, and against the charity of the Holy Ghost, to put away these witnesses that knew more of God’s purity, and were holier of life, and to take witnesses not so skilled in God’s will, nor so holy of life, nor so meek, nor so stable in faith and love of Jesus Christ. . . .

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See now the second wheel in this devil’s wain [wagon]. They bear upon Augustine that he saith thus; That he would not believe the gospel unless the church said it. True men, being answered thus, suppose that Augustine said this word. But he said to this intent, That unless Christ, head of holy church and saints in heaven, and the apostles of Christ that are holy church, said and approved this gospel, he would not believe thereto. And this understanding is full true, and reasonable, and according to the words of Augustine; but they understand them, that unless the multitude of accursed worldly clerks approve this for the gospel, Augustine would not believe the gospel- of Jesus Christ; and since Augustine was, and is, so great a doctor of holy church, no man should believe the gospel, unless the church of these prelates confirm that this is the gospel of Christ; and unless the multitude of antichrist’s clerks approve the gospel or truth of holy writ, no man should hold the gospel, or any command of God, or maintain any truth against antichrist, and his worldly prelates. But what heresy might sooner destroy Christian man’s belief? and God forbid that Augustine were in perilous heresy, or any Christian man, therefore it is leasing [falsehood] to slander St. Augustine with this accursed error, to colour their own false understanding and heresy by this holy doctor.

For by this accursed wheel, antichrist’s clerks condemn Christian men’s faith, the commands of God, and points erf charity, and bring in their own crooked laws, to hold up their pride and covetousness, and to curse men for doing works of charity. Men must upon pain of damnation receive their wicked deeds as belief, and forsake the gospel of Christ, and take fiends’ leasings instead of God’s lore! And more cursedness to destroy Christian men’s faith, than will ensue from this understanding, no man or fiend can imagine till the day of doom. Therefore, Christians should stand to the death for maintaining Christ’s gospel and true understanding thereof, gotten by holy life and great study, and not set their faith or trust in sinful prelates and their clerks, nor in their understanding of holy writ…

See now the third wheel of Satan’s car; these deceitful clerks and religious of Lucifer say, that no man knows which is the gospel, but by the approving and confirming of the church; but true men say that to their understanding this is full of falsehood. For Christian men are certain of belief by the gracious gift of Jesus Christ, and that this truth, taught by Christ and his apostles, is the gospel, though all antichrist’s clerks cry ever so fast the contrary, upon pain of curse, imprisonment, and burning. And this belief is not grounded on the pope and his cardinals, for then it must fail and be undone, as they fail and sometime are destroyed; but it is grounded on Jesus Christ, God and man, and on the Holy Trinity. So it may never fail but in default of him that should love God and serve him, and faileth on these two points. For almighty God, and his truths, are the foundation of Christian men’s faith. And as Paul saith, other foundation may no man set besides that which is set, that is, Jesus Christ. Therefore, though antichrist and all his worldly clerks are buried deep in hell, for their simony, pride, and covetousness, and other sins, yet Christian faith faileth not, for they are not grounded thereon. But Jesus Christ is the ground thereof, for he is our God and our best Master, ever ready to teach true men all things that are profitable, and needful to their souls, and this teaching may not fail, but for inability of him that should receive this blessing.

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The fourth wheel of Belial’s cart is this; when Christian men say they know by belief that this is Christ’s gospel, these malicious heretics ask, Why they believe that this is gospel? But true men ask of them again, Why they believe that God is God? And if they tell a good sufficient cause, we tell the same cause why we believe that this is Christ’s gospel. But these heretics would have this cause to be, that it is for that their prelates teach that theirs is Christ’s gospel; and they would have all their false purposes as of this cause; that whatever the prelates teach openly, and maintain steadfastly, were of as great authority or more than Christ’s gospel. And so they would destroy holy writ and Christian faith, and maintain that whatever they do were no sin! But Christian men take their faith of God, by his gracious gift, when he giveth it to them; knowing and understanding truths needful to save men’s souls, by grace to assent in their hearts to such truths. This men call faith, and of this faith Christian men are more certain than any man is of worldly things, by any bodily knowledge…

Hereby, and by many more deceits, Christian men should know how the new religionists are false prophets, and accursed sects, of which Christ and his apostles prophesied before, and taught men to know them by their works, which are hypocrisy, covetousness, and maintaining of sin, by false preaching, flattering false counselling and slandering of true men; and making men secure of spiritual help by false letters of fraternity, and many other novelties brought up by hypocrisy and covetousness. . . ! And may God Almighty strengthen his little flock against these four wheels of Satan’s car, against antichrist’s clerks and helpers, and make them strong in rightful faith, hope, and charity, to seek truly the worship of Jesus Christ, and the saving of men’s souls, to despise antichrist’s boast and feigned power, and willingly and joyfully to suffer pain and reproof in the world, for the name of Jesus and his gospel, to give firm example to others, to follow and attain the high bliss of heaven by glorious martyrdom as other saints did before. May Jesus of his endless might, endless wisdom, endless goodness, and charity, grant to us sinful wretches this boon! Amen.

Writings of the Reverend and Learned John Wycliff, D.D. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1842.

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ALITHIA. We have here touched on the subject of indulgences; and as the granting of these appears to me quite in accordance with this blasphemous presumption of the friars, I could wish that you would say something on this topic.

PHRONESIS. As the pride of those who hate God ever tends upward, so although the fountain head of heresy and sin takes its rise in the very beginning of darkness, the rivulet of the friars strives unnaturally to raise itself above its source. I confess that the indulgences of the pope, if they are what they are said to be, are a manifest blasphemy, inasmuch as he claims a power to save men almost without limit, and not only to mitigate the penalties of those who have sinned, by granting them the aid of absolution and indulgences, that they may never come to purgatory, but to give command to the holy angels, that when the soul is separated from the body, they may carry it without delay to its everlasting rest.

The friars give a colour to this blasphemy, by saying that Christ is omnipotent, and excels all his good angels, and that the pope is his plenary vicar on earth, and so possesses in everything the same power as Christ in his humanity. It is here that lawyers, in common with the friars, cry as wolves, and, contradicting themselves, say, that when they consider the power of this God upon earth they cannot lift up their face to heaven. Whence, to declare the power of the pope, the false brethren, according to the secrets of their faith, proceed as follows:

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They suppose, in the first place, that there is an infinite number of supererogatory merits, belonging to the saints, laid up in heaven, and above all, the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ, which would be sufficient to save an infinite number of other worlds, and that, over all this treasure, Christ hath set the pope. Secondly, that it is his pleasure to distribute it, and, accordingly, he may distribute therefrom to an infinite extent, since the remainder will still be infinite. Against this rude blasphemy I have elsewhere inveighed. Neither the pope, nor the Lord Jesus Christ, can grant dispensations, or give indulgences to any man, except as the Deity has eternally determined by his just counsel. But we are not taught to believe that the pope, or any other man, can have any colour of justice to adduce for so doing; therefore, we are not taught that the pope has any such power…

This doctrine is a manifold blasphemy against Christ, inasmuch as the pope is extolled above his humanity and deity, and so above all that is called God—pretensions which, according to the declarations of the apostle, agree with the character of Antichrist; for he possesses Caesarean power above Christ, who had not where to lay his head. In regard to spiritual power, so far as the humanity of Christ is concerned, it would seem that the pope is superior to our Lord Jesus Christ; for it behoved Christ to suffer the most bitter passion for the salvation of man; and we believe, that on the ground of the Divine justice, men attain to whatever happiness may be theirs, by virtue of Christ’s passion. But this renegade says, that it is allowable that he should live as luxuriously as he may choose, and that, by the bare writing of one of his scribes, he can introduce wonders, without limit, into the church militant! Who, then, can deny his being extolled above the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose life we read not that Christ, or any one of his apostles, granted such absolutions or indulgences? Yet, had such power been at their command, it is on many grounds probable that they would not have been absolutely idle in the use of it, especially when Christ condemns the slothful servant, for not trafficking with the talent entrusted to him; and he requires at the hand of the prelate the souls committed to his care, and lost through his negligence, as appears from the third chapter of Ezekiel. Which alternative, then, should we maintain—that Christ and his apostles possessed no such power, or that they were culpable in hoarding such treasure, in place of bringing it forth for the good of the church? But what greater insanity than to adopt such a conclusion!

Similar in its folly is the doctrine which teaches, that the pope dispenses those same merits of the saints, for the service of men, to any extent, according to his pleasure. For it behoves Christ to do more, both on his own part, to fulfil the claims of justice; and on that of the sinner, whom it becomes him to affect, imparting grace to him, that he may prove worthy of the Divine assistance.

The same may be said concerning the fiction of the keys of Antichrist, for it is not necessary that the believer should insist on the foundation of this pretension, since the argument will be found to be one without sequence. Christ, they say, granted to Peter, the apostle in the nearest degree following his own example, such power over the keys, and therefore we ought, in the same manner, to concede to Antichrist, who, in word and deed, is still more pre-eminently his opposite, as great, or even greater, power in the church! Christ gave to Peter, and to others possessing a knowledge of the law of Cod, power of judging according to the law of that knowledge, both in binding and loosing, agreeably to the church triumphant. But, now, this renegade will not be regulated by the mind of the church above, nor by any authority; but, as might be expected from Antichrist, he sets forth new laws, and insists, under pain of the heaviest censure, that the whole church militant shall believe in them; so that anything determined therein, shall stand as though it were a part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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In such infinite blasphemies is the infatuated church involved, especially by the means of the tail of this dragon— that is, the sects of the friars—who labour in the cause of this illusion, and of other Luciferian seductions of the church. But arise, O soldiers of Christ! be wise to fling away these things, along with the other fictions of the prince of darkness, and put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and confide, undoubtedly, in your own weapons, and sever from the church such frauds of Antichrist, and teach the people that in Christ alone, and in his law, and in his members, they should trust; that in so doing, they may be saved through his goodness, and leam above all things honestly to detect the devices of Antichrist!


ALITHIA. You would oblige me now by stating your views of the sacrament of penance. To define it seems difficult, for it is said that penitence hath three parts, like a harp, namely, contrition of heart, confession with the mouth, and satisfaction by deeds—and its genus, accordingly, is not easily specified, these three things being diverse in genus.

PHRONESIS. It appears to me that penitence consists in the condition of the mind, and that these other things, which are called the parts of penitence, are its accidents, which go together to form its completeness. Contrition belongs to the mind alone, and is not an object of sense, inasmuch as the contrite confess to the Lord. And this department of penitence, though little esteemed, is yet of the greatest virtue, so that without it the rest avail nothing. Confession is made up of this feeling, and of oral utterance made to God alone. And thus the fathers under the old law, in common with those of the New Testament, were accustomed to confess. Penitence, in the sense of satisfaction by works, is made up of the two former, together with a confession made to the priest in private.

Now from a regard to gain, it is to this last view of penitence that we give most attention. But whether this third kind is necessary to salvation, or on what authority it was introduced, is with many a matter of dispute. But we must confide on this point in John, who, in his gloss on the decrees, says, after stating many opinions which he censures, that Innocent III invented it, and to confirm it, established the law “Omnis utrusque sexus,” which is set forth in the fifth decretal. But in my opinion, as I have explained at length, it would be better for the church did she content herself with the first and second kinds of penitence as above mentioned. But though the third form (confession to a priest) is injurious to many, and is the cause of many evils to both parties (the priest and the confessing), nevertheless it brings many good results to the church, arid since it might possibly be well conducted, it appears to me that it may be, by supposition, necessary, and so really necessary, forasmuch as many, through shame of being obliged to confess the sin, and of submitting to the penance enjoined, and from the fear of being obliged to make confession of what they have done elsewhere, are deterred from repeating their sin.

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No one can believe that a man may not be saved without confession of this kind, for, otherwise, all the dead from Christ’s ascension to the time of Innocent III are lost—a horrible thing to believe. Rather do we think, that a much greater number are lost under the law of that pope on this subject, than would ever have been lost for the want of it. Besides, it generally happens, that he who absolves, is not acquainted with the magnitude of the sin confessed, just as he knows not if the man who is confessing be contrite; though he is well aware that unless he be so, his sin is not removed. How, then, can he utter falsehoods in the name of Christ, and so impudently absolve sin, and enjoin a penance which he cannot know as being proportioned to the transgression? Neither is it lawful to burden the church with new- traditions, especially such as are of a suspicious character, for what we have is already sufficient. And the laws about confession in the Scripture have served us well enough for more than a thousand years. On what ground, then, is it that without a law, a third kind of penitence has been introduced in a manner so unlikely? It appears to me, that this papal law is to be admitted as far as the discretion of the person who confesses may deem profitable.

AITTHIA. I see, brother, that you allow but little weight to this papal law; and it seems to me, that for the same reason, you would make light of the absolution from penalty and guilt, and the full remission of sin granted by the pope, and of that burden of sin which the prelate often aggravates by fulminating his horrible excommunications, and so the decision of the court of Rome, on such matters, would fall to the ground.

PHRONESIS. The observations you make seem to involve much truth, inasmuch as in the Scriptures, without any additions on the part of the Roman court, it is sufficiently set forth how every man should regulate his life. And if the injunctions of Scripture are attended to, it follows that the man who lives to the end the life so prescribed, will be saved. Hence all these fictitious dogmas are generally promulgated to keep the people in subjection, and to detain them in a fallacious obedience; and a blasphemous covetousness is the damnable root of the whole of them.

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Let us look, then, and see what is enjoined and commanded by the Lord, in the law of perfect liberty, and observe it, and abstain from what is forbidden, and from giving attention to laws newly ordained, and this will be enough. Accordingly, what is over and above, is not only evil in its origin, but is itself evil, and blinds many. Concerning all vows, promises, and other private observances, let the believer look up to the almighty power of Jesus Christ; let him bend all the strength of his soul to living henceforth in more perfectness, so as to be serviceable to the church; let him repent of his past evil life, strengthen within him the purpose of sinning no more; and this, in my opinion, sufficeth to destroy his guilt, and to save him, whatever our superiors may say to the contrary. But in all this, let the believer beware of any insincerity toward God. With regard to the words in Matthew xvi., “Whatsoever ye bind,” &c., let the believer demand from the false bishop when he alleges this saying of our Lord’s, if his own life of holiness, by its resemblance to the life of Peter, is such as to make him a true vicar of Peter. If the presumptuous hypocrite shall impudently affirm that it is so, ask him to show the similarity of his life to that of Peter, more especially in the grace given him to work miracles, and in the lowliness of his poverty. Peter presumed not on the possession of such power, how then can this hypocrite claim it? And since he cannot prove himself a true vicar of Christ, or a member of the church of Christ, what is it to him that Christ promised this power to the blessed Peter, seeing he is neither Peter, nor by the lowness and holiness of his life the vicar of Peter?

Tracts and Treatises of John de Wycliffe, D. D.,

Edited by the Rev. Robert Vaughan, D. D.

London: Blackburn & Pardon, 1845.

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OF PERFECT LIFE or, The Counsel of Christ

CHRIST, NOT COMPELLING, BUT FREELY COUNSELLING EACH man to perfect life, saith thus, If any man will come after me let him deny himself, and take his cross and follow me,

Luke ix. Then let us forsake ourselves, such as we have made us in doing sin, and dwell we such as we are made by grace.

If a proud man be converted to Christ, and is made meek, he hath foisaken himself. If a covetous man ceaseth to covet, and giveth his own things, he hath denied himself. If an evil liver changeth his life, he hath denied himself. The cross of Christ is taken when despisings for the love of truth are not forsaken, but taken; when the flesh is punished by abstinence, and when compassion and pity towards our neighbour is truly kept; when man is crucified to the world, and the world crucified to him, setting the joy thereof at nought…

But let us not make so sure of the Lord’s mercy, that we heap sins upon sins; neither say we while youth endureth, Let us follow our desires, and at the last, in age do penance for our sins, for the Lord is merciful, he shall not have mind of our sins. Lord Jesus, turn us to thee, and then we shall be turned. Heal thou us, and we shall be truly whole. For with- 1 out thy grace and help no man may be truly turned or healed. For they are but scorners who today turn to God, and tomorrow turn away. What is turning to God? None but turning from the world, from sin, and from the fiend. What is turning from God? None but turning to the changeable goods of this world, to pleasing likeness of creatures, to works of the fiend, and to lusts of the flesh. To be turned from the world, is to set at nought, and to put out of mind all likings, joys, and mirths thereof, and to suffer meekly all bitterness, slanders and troubles thereof, for the love of Christ; and to leave all occupations unlawful and unprofitable to the soul, so that man’s will and thought be dead to seek any thing that the world seeketh and loveth.

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Therefore the prophet speaketh in the person of souls perfectly turning to God, saying, Mine eyes, that is, my thought and intent shall ever be to God. For he shall draw my feet, that is my soul and my affections, out of the snare, and the net of the love of this world. He that is truly turned to God, fleeth from vices, beholdeth not the solaces or comforts of this world; but setteth his mind so steadfastly on God, that he well-nigh forgetteth all outward things; he gathereth himself all within; he is reared up wholly into Christ.

Those that will turn truly to Christ must flee occasions, words, sights, and deeds, exciting to sin. For when the fiend seeth one among a hundred who withstandeth his enticings, and tumeth to God, and followeth the steps of Christ, by virtues, despising the joys of this present life, and seeking to love everlasting heavenly things, he findeth a thousand frauds to beguile and trouble, and a thousand manner of temptations to cast him down from God’s love to the love of the world. And he beginneth at the least, that by foul thoughts he make him to be foul towards God. He bringeth to man’s mind the lusts which he hath used before, and telleth to his thought that he may not leave all his worldly and fleshly likings; and saith, It is too hard for a man to put himself from all present mirth. He stirreth up fantasies, and vain thoughts innumerable, and unprofitable affections which before were asleep.

The fiend reareth against such a soul, slanders, backbitings, persecutions, tribulations, false challenges, false accusing of divers sins, and divers manner of hates. One time he tempteth by sharp outward diseases; another time by false glosings and likings, and so forth. He calleth again to mind delight in things loved before. He enflameth the heart and the flesh with foul burnings. He beginneth by small enticings, and pursues to the greatest flame of wickedness. And be studieth thus busily to blow against us all manner of temptations and tribulations, by how much he seeth that by the mercy of Cod we are escaped out of his power. For he seeketh nothing so much as to separate a man from the holy and everlasting love of Jesus Christ, and to make him love foiling things and uncleanness of this world.



Of Virtuous Patience

HE THAT IS TRULY FED WITH THE BREAD THAT CAME DOWN from heaven, boweth not his love to those things to which the fiend enticeth. Temptations are overcome by patience and meek suffering. What is patience?—a glad and willing suffering of troubles. He that is patient mumurs not at adversity, but rather, at all times, praises God with the prophet.

Evil men always grudge in adversities, and flee them as much as they may. For while they are immeasurably given to visible things, they are deprived from true hope of everlasting things. They find solace or comfort only in earthly goods, for they have lost the savour of heavenly things. There is no soul of man in this world which cleaveth not either to the Creator or the creature. If he love the creature he loseth God, and goeth to death with that which he loveth. Such love is the beginning of travail and folly, in the middle it is languor and wretchedness, and in the end it is hate and pain. He that tnily loveth his Maker refuses in will and liking all things that are in the world. He hath sweetness to speak of him and with him; to think upon his Maker is refreshing to him. He closes his outer senses lest death enter in by the windows, lest he be occupied unprofitably with any vanity. Sometimes there are reared against him despisings, reproofs, scorns, and slanders. Therefore it is needful that he take the shield of patience, and be ready to forget and to forgive all wrongs, and to pray for the turning to good of them that hate him and hurt him. No man is showed to himself whether he be strong or feeble, unless he be tempted when he is at peace. Many men seem to be patient when they are not impugned, but when a light blast, I say not of injustice, but of correction, touches them, their mind presently turns into bitterness and wrath, and if they hear one word against their will, they yield two more sternly again. Into their council come not, O my soul! The darts of the enemy are to be quenched with the meekness and sweetness of the love of Christ. Give not way to temptation, be it ever so grievous. For the greater the battle the more glorious the victory, and the higher the crown. Blessed is the man that suffereth temptation, for when he is proved to be true, he shall take a crown of life. Flee as much as thou canst the praising of men. Despise favour, worship, and all vain glory, and gladly sustain or suffer enmities, hates, backbitings, or reproofs. And so by evil fame, and by good praise; by tribulations and gladnesses, cease thou not to press forward to heavenly kingdoms.

When thou art tempted or troubled, think upon the remedy that our Saviour saith in his gospel. Watch ye and pray ye, that ye enter not into temptation. He saith not, Pray ye that ye be not tempted. For it is good and profitable to good men to be tempted and troubled, as is shown by what the prophet saith, To him that is tempted and troubled, God saith, I am with him in tribulation; I shall deliver him, and shall glorify him. Let no man think himself to be holy because he is not tempted, for the holiest and highest in life have the most temptations. How much the higher a hill is,  so much is the wind there greater; so, how much higher the life is, so much stronger is the temptation of the enemy. God playeth with his child when he suffereth him to be tempted, as a mother rises from her much beloved child, and hides herself, and leaves him alone, and suffers him to cry, Mother, mother, so that he looks about, cries and weeps for a time, and at last when the child is ready to be overset with troubles and weeping, she comes again, clasps him in her arms, and kisses him, and wipes away the tears. So our Lord suffereth his loved child to be tempted and troubled for a time, and withdraweth some of his solace and full protection, to see what his child will do; and when he is about to be overcome by temptations, then he defendeth him, and comforteth him with his grace. And therefore, when we are tempted, let us cry for the help of our Father, as a child cries after the comfort of its mother. For whoso prayeth devoutly, shall have help oft to pray, and profits much to establish the heart in God, and suffers it not to bow about, now into this, and now into that. The fiend is overcome by busy and devout prayer, and becomes as feeble and without strength to them that are strong and persevering in devout prayers. Devout prayer of a holy soul is as sweet incense which driveth away all evil savours, and enters up by odour of sweetness into the presence of God.

Writings of the Reverend and Learned John Wycliff, D. D. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publishers, 1842.


[i] So wie das Geld im Kasten klingt,

Die Seele aus dem Fegfeuer springt.

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