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48

WYCLIFFE AT OLD ST. PAUL's.

A.D.

envoy to Bruges, to protest against certain encroachments of the papal power. A momentous journey it was to Wycliffe, for at Bruges he seems to have become acquainted with John of Ghent, Duke of Lancaster, who shielded the daring reformer in many a perilous hour. Already there was thunder in the air, gathering and blackening

round Wycliffe's path. A charge of heresy was laid 1377 against him, and he was summoned before the Houses of

Convocation. On the 19th of February, 1377, a vener

able man, his face “sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,” stood within old St. Paul's, a grey beard sweeping his breasts a dark belted robe flowing to his feet, and a tall white staff held firmly in his thin hand. But he did not stand alone. The eldest living son of the King, and the Earl Marshal of England stood by his side; for Lancaster and Percy loved and honoured the brave Oxford Doctor. The storm passed harmless by. A dispute which rose between Lancaster and Bishop Courtney as to whether the accused should sit or stand, Courtney insisting on the latter, excited so fierce a tumult that the meeting was dissolved. During all the evening shouting mobs ran riot through the streets of London.

Then King Edward died, and his grandson Richard reigned. So marked a man had Wycliffe become in this Reformation struggle, that the first Parliament of Richard II. submitted to him a question, "Was it lawful to keep back the treasure of the kingdom for its own defence, instead of sending it away to the Pope ?” Who can need to be told the reply?

This could not go on without drawing forth thunder from the banks of Tiber. Five bulls, couched in the fiercest words, were launched against that “master in error,” John Wycliffe, who was forthwith to be committed to jail. Summoned before a synod at Lambeth in April 1378, he replied to all charges manfully, and to honest minds most convincingly. And yet, in spite of this increased boldness, he was not seized and martyred; because nearly all English laymen were on his side—some from political motives, others on religious grounds. The pope and his creatures,

THE 3EIUTTING OF HIS DIVINITY CLASS. 49

though their hearts burned to Smite him down, dared not do so, for they feared the people. It was then that a wasting sickness seized him at Oxford. His health, worn out with study, gave way under the mental wear of these troubled years. He lay, as it seemed, on the point of death, when eight men—four doctors to represent the mendicant friars, and four aldermen of the town—entered his chamber. They came to talk the old man into an undoing of his life's work—into a penitent recantation of what they called his errors. He listened until they had done, then “holding them with his glittering eye,” he signed to his servant to raise him in the bed, and in strong, defiant tone he cried, “I shall not die, but live; and again declare the evil deeds of the friars I” What could they do but grow pale and go? As he lay panting on the pillow, new life shot through histingling nerves; and in no long time he rose again from that bed to do glorious battle in the cause of truth. His attack upon transubstantiation drew upon him the wrath of his University. One day in 1381 the Chancellor entered his class-room, and in the hearing of his scholars condemned his teaching as heretical. This finally led to the shutting of his class, But it was not in the power of Chancellors or Primates to stop the spread of light in the land. Though proceedings were taken against the disciples of Wycliffe—and all the more bitterly when that fiery adherent of the pope, Courtney, became Archbishop of Canterbury—yet their number constantly increased. Not one voice, but many were now heard in the land. “Poor priests,” as they were called, trudged barefoot even into the remotest hamlets, preaching, in defiance of the clergy, wherever they could gather a crowd to hear them, in church, church-yard, market-place, or fair. So the good seed was sown broad-cast over England; and, though often trampled fiercely down by the infuriated priesthood of a later day, especially in London and the great towns, in many a green far-off country nook it sprang and ripened and safely bore its golden fruit. Nearly five years before he was silenced at Oxford, Wycliffe had become Rector of Lutterworth, a Leicestershire parish, watered

50 THE PARSON OF LUTTERWORTH.

by the little river Swift. Until 1381 his time was about equally

divided between his cottagers in Leicestershire and his students at Oxford. But after that date, he devoted himself with earnest heart to the work of a country parson; and never does the great Dr. Wycliffe, first scholar of his day and keenest logician of the Oxford halls, seem so truly great as when we trace his footsteps among the hovels of Lutterworth. A sorry place it would have seemed to a townsman of smart modern Lutterworth, glowing with red brick and gaslight. Two or three rows of thatched cabins, built chiefly of lath and plaster, straggled along the sloping oanks of the Swift. From the uneven street one stepped in upon a foul earthen floor. The rafters above hung thick with black soot, for there were no chimneys, and the smoke found its way out of door or window as it best could. There, in the meanest hut, might the good rector be often seen, cheering with kind words the sick peasant, who had then no better bed than a heap of straw, and no softer pillow than a log of wood. The morning he spent among his books, revising a Latin treatise, or adding some sentences to the English Bible that was fast growing beneath his patient pen. In the afternoon he girt his long dark robe about him, took his white staff, and went out among his flock. And on Sundays, clad in a gorgeous vestment, adorned with golden cherubs, of which some tarnished fragments are still shown, he preached the truth in homely, nervous English words, from that pulpit of carved oak which stands in Lutterworth Church—a sacred memorial of one who has worthily been called “The morning star of our English Reformation.” So passed the last years of this great life. In his sixtieth year, while he was engaged in sacred service within the chance of Lutterworth Church, paralysis, which had already Dec. 31, shaken his frame severely, struck him down to die. A 1384 day or two later, in the last hours of the dying year, his A.D. great intrepid spirit passed away from the clouds and toils of earth. " More than forty years had swept by, when the pent-up vengeance of his enemies, from which the living man had been mercifully

THE WORKS OF JOHN WYCLIFFE. 51

shielded, burst in impotent fury upon his mouldered corpse. The coffin was torn up, and carried to the little bridge over the Swift, where his bones were burned to ashes and scattered on the waters of the brook, “Thus,” says worthy Thomas Fuller, “the brook conveyed his ashes to Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the narrow seas, they into the main ocean; and thus the ashes of Wycliffe are the emblem of his doctrine, which now is dispersed all the world over.” As a writer, Wycliffe's great merit lies in his having given to England the first English version of the whole Bible. There were already existing a few English fragments, such as many of the Psalms, certain portions of Mark and Luke, and some of the Epistles. But to the mass of the people the Bible was a sealed book, locked up in a dead and foreign tongue. Wycliffe soon saw the incalculable value of an English Bible in the work of the English Reformation, and set himself to the noble task of giving a boon so precious to his native land. No doubt he sought the aid of other pens, but to what extent we cannot now determine, The greater part of the work—perhaps the whole—was done during those quiet years at Lutterworth, between 1381 and his death. It is nearly certain that he saw the work finished before he died. A complete edition of Wycliffe's Bible, in five volumes, was issued in 1850 from the Oxford Press. His Latin works are very numerous. One of the principal was called Trialogus, which embodies his opinions in a series of conversations carried on by Truth, Wisdom, and Falsehood. It contains, no doubt, the essence of his class lectures. From his country parsonage by the Swift he poured forth an incredible number of English tracts and treatises, addressed to the people, and thoroughly leavened with his earnest love of truth. The characteristic feature of his English is a manly ruggedness. Content to know that his meaning is strongly and clearly put, he often disdains all elegance of style, and sometimes lapses into lame and slovenly language. We may compare him, as an opponent of error, not to a gallant master of fence, glistening in well-cut taffeta, who with keen glittering rapier lunges home to the heart,

52

SPECIMEN OF WYCLIFFE'S PROSE.

while he never loses the elegance of posture and movement, the poise of body and of blade, which his graceful art has taught him; but rather to the sturdy leather-clad rustic, who wields his oaken quarter-staff with such sweeping vigour, that in a twinkling he beats down his opponett's guard, and with a rattling shower of heavy blows lays the luckless fellow bleeding and senseless on the earth.

SPECIMEN OF WYCLIFFE'S PROSE,

PART OF LUKE XXIV.

But in o day of the woke ful eerli thei camen to the graue, and broughten swete smelling spices that thei hadden arayed. And thei founden the stoon turnyd awey fro the graue. And thei geden in and foundun not the bodi of the Lord Jhesus. And it was don, the while thei weren astonyed in thought of this thing, lo twey men stodun bisidis hem in schynyng cloth. And whanne thei dredden and bowiden her semblaunt into erthe, thei seiden to hem, what seeken ye him that lyueth with deede men? He is not here; but he is risun: haue ye minde how he spak to you whanne he was yit in Golilee, and seide, for it behoueth mannes sone to be bitakun into the hondis of synful men: and to be crucifyed : and the thridde day to rise agen? And thei bithoughten on hise wordis, and thei geden agen fro the graue: and teelden alle these thingis to the ellevene and to alle othere. And there was Marye Maudeleyn and Jone and Marye of James, and othere wymmen that weren with hem, that seiden to Apostlis these thingis.

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