The English works of Wyclif hitherto unprinted.Edited by F. D. Matthew.
Wycliffe, John, d. 1384., Matthew, Frederic David, 1838-1918.
Page  28


I DO not think this tract is by Wyclif. Its tone is not that of a man who has known the Court and been engaged in political affairs, but rather of some poor clergyman, who felt the burdens laid upon him by the bad government of the Church, and spoke from the bitterness of his personal experience. The extravagant expression, 'two or three thousand miles' (p. 30), points in the same direction. On the other hand, the text, 1 Cor. v. 5, is used here in the same way as in Prelates, No. IV. in this volume, and the warning against misusing the freedom given by God (p. 32) recalls a fine passage in the tract on Feigned Contemplative Life (No. X.).

Copied from the Corpus MS. X, and collated with the Dublin MS. AA.

CHAP. I.Prelates charge poor priests and those who believe with them that they disobey their superiors, that they make light of excommunication, and break the law. They are willing to obey as far as they may in accordance with God's commandments. But there is a hardship in men being summoned to distant places for no good purpose. It hinders men from doing the duties which God commands. Wickedness of prelates—their simony and other sins. If prelates will do their duty, poor priests will obey them.
II.As to excommunication, poor priests say that they will not incur God's curse for anything in heaven or earth, but they would rather be wrongfully cursed by man than break God's law. Excommunication often inflicted from spite. Curates ought not to execute letters of excommunication which they know to be ill-grounded.
III.As to law, true men will obey man's law so far as it agrees with God's. Laws are often made only to support the pride and pomp of prelates, and are an undue burden.

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Hou men owen obesche to prelatis drede curs & kepe lawe.

Capitulum primum.

Prelatis sclaundren pore prestis & oþere cristen men þat þei wolen not obesche to here souereynes, ne dreden curs, ne drede ne kepe þe lawe, but dispise alle þing þat is aȝenst here likynge. And herfore þei ben werse þan iewis or paynymes, and alle lordis & prelates & myȝti men schulden distroie hem, for ellis þei wolen distroie holy chirche & make eche man to lyue as hym likiþ; and no þing may more distroie cristendom.

¶ But here poore prestis & trewe men mekely wolen and wilfully obesche to god & holy chirche, & to eche man in erþe in as myche as he techiþ treuly goddis comaundementis & profitable treuþe for here soulis, and no more owiþ ony man to obeche to crist god & man, ne to ony apostle. and ȝif ony worldly prelat axe more obedience he his anticrist & luciferis maister, for ihū crist is god of riȝtwisnesse & treuþe & of pees & charite, and may not do aȝenst riȝtwisnesse ne treuþe ne helþe of mennus soulis ne charite, siþ he may not lye ne denye him self. hou þanne schulde or myȝtte ony synful prelat charge men and constreyne to do aȝenst ryȝtwisnesse & helþe of soulis and*. [in X.] good conscience; for*. [John v. 19.] crist seiþ in þe gospel of seynt ion þat þe sone may not do but þat þing he haþ seyn his fadir don; & þerfore crist comaundid to alle men þat þei schulde not bileue to him*. [John x. 37.] but ȝif he dide þe werkis of þe fadir of heuene. where cristen men schullen be constreyned be anticristis clerkis to don after here comaundement whanne þei don not werkis of god but werkis of þe fend? & þus crist spekiþ to þe iewis*. [John viii. [46].] & axeþ hem whi þei bileuen not to hym ȝif he seiþe trewþe; as who seiþ, ȝif he seide nouȝt*. [omitted X.] treuþe þei schulde nouȝt*. [omitted X.]Page  30 bileue to hym. and þer-for crist seiþ to þe iewis who of ȝou schal repreue me of synne, & he wold þat eche man hadde do so ȝif he myȝtt treuly. þerfore in tyme of his passion crist seide to þe bischopis seruaunt whanne he smote him in þe face: [page 23] ȝif I haue spoken euyl, bere þou witnesse of*. [John xviii. [23].] euyl. & siþ prelatis ben vikeris of crist, þei owen to suen to hym in þis obedience & axe no more of ony man. ¶ But here is þe sore in þis obedience; prelatis axen þat prestis & oþere sugetis schulden come for here souereyns whider euere hem likid, at þe ferþeste place of here diecise, þouȝ prelatis kunnyn not holy writt ne kepen it, but don opynly þer aȝenst many weies; & þis is wrong for many skillis. first, siþ crist god & man souȝte mannus soule lost þoruȝ synne bi þritti ȝeer and more wiþ grete traiuele, werynesse & many peynes, bi many þousand myles vpon his feet, in gret cold and stormes & tempestis, prelatis schulden not couche in castellis & suffre þe fende to deuoure cristene soulis, & þanne make a pore man to renne two or þre þousand myles & ȝeue hem þere ensaumple of pride & oþere synnes. siþ þei han so myche tresour & grete hors, & ben heiȝe vikeris of crist to seue his lif in mekenesse and pouerte and harde traueile to saue mennes soulis, and siþ þei ben holden to spende here catel and lese here bodily lif for sauynge of cristen soulis as did crist & his apostelis, myche more owe þei to spende a litil traueile and money to seke & visyte synful men & esen hem*. [omitted X.] in body & soule. And not maken hem nedlis to spende here litel catel and be inpacient & grucchynge aȝenst god & man & out of charite. for we reden not in al þe lawe of grace þat crist or ony of his disciplis vsede þis symonynge or axid þis obedience of ony synful man riche or pore. lord whi schulde a synful ydiot axe more obedience þan*. [þat X.] diden crist & his apostelis? & we rede not in þe lawe of grace þat crist apperid comunly bifore þe heiȝe prestis and pharisees fore here symonynge ne his apostelis after sendynge of þe holy goste, But ȝif þei weren constreyned Page  31 bi violence or ellis ȝif þei weren in place where criste tauȝte in þe temple. ¶ Also crist techiþ in the gospel þat a man owiþ to leue þe lasse good & do þe more; siþ he comaundid a man to leue þe beriynge of his fadir and go preche þe*. [Matthew viii. 21.] gospel. þanne a prest schulde not leue prechynge of the gospel & renne to vncerteyn placis for biddynge of worldly prelatis, enemyes to god & his seruauntis, siþ prechynge of þe gospel is betere þan bodely rennynge so to ferre placis, for peril of enemyes, for wastynge of pore mennus goodis, and for drede of rebelte aȝenst god. for seynt ierom seiþ in þe popis lawe þat he þat leueþ þe more good or putteþ it behynde þe lesse good synneþ not menely but greuously. siþ siche [page 24] somonynge of prelatis is not groundid in cristis lif ne his apostelis ne reson, but in anticristis power bi dowynge of clerkis wiþ seculer lordischipe aȝenst holy writt. and þus instede of cristis mekenesse & pouert and charite and trewe techynge of þe gospel is brouȝt in worldly pride of prestis and coueitise & enuye and discencion in cristis peple, & bodily turmentynge bi prestis, as þouȝ þei weren worldly lordis of þe kyngis lege men boþe of bodi & of catel, & chargynge of soulis with grete chargis aȝenst þe fredom of goddis lawe and the helþe of soulis her-bi brouȝt in; for þes worldly prelatis chargen men to speke not aȝenst here pride and coueitise ne brynge hem to þe ordynaunce of crist, but raþer to lyue hem self in pride and falsnesse of þis world þan to turne to þe mekenesse and trewe lif and to þenke on here deþ day, for bi þis goode lif of seculeris þe lif of worldly prelatis schulde be knowen for ypocrisie and cursed|nesse. and þus bi þis feyned power of somonynge and cursynge worldly prelatis ben maad cruel turmentours of cristis seruauntis, and schewen hem self & make, but falsly, lordis of mennus bodies & catel & soulis also, to stoppe & lette good lif of cristene men, þat þe holy trynyte may not do for his riȝtwisnesse & charite; but where ben falsere anticristis, perilousere heretikis, & cursedher blasphe|meres. ¶ Also no man owiþ to putte by-hynde goddis Page  32 biddynge and þe byddynge of a synful man bifore; & god biddiþ eche man vp peyne of dampnacion þat haþ wif & children & meyne to gouerne hem wel in goddis lawe. þanne no weddid man owiþ to leue his wife & children & meyne vngouerned, & goo many hundred myles in drede of þeues & enemyes, & wast his goodis & suffre his folk to perische in soule or in body. and myche more no curat owiþ to leue his schepe vnkept among þe wolues of helle, & ride with grete coost to ferre placis for pride, enuye or coueitise of worldly clerkis. & þis reson makiþ sikernesse for prestis to dewelle with goddis peple & profite to hem, & for children to take cure of here heldris, & not ride ne renne aboute & leue þis heste of god vndon for somonynge of worldly prelatis. Also crist seiþ in þe gospel þat ȝif*. [Luke vi. 39.] þe blynde lede þe blynde þei fallen boþe into þe lake. þanne siþ worldly prelatis ben blynde in goddis lawe, boþe in kunnynge þer-of & lif þer-after, no man schulde be led bi hem in kepynge of his soule, for drede lest þei falle boþ in-to 1helle. For siþþe þei ledyn hemself to 1*. [1_1 omitted X.] helle-ward for ignoraunce of holy writt or coueitise of worldeli worschipe, heiȝe states & worldly muk, þei wolen lede oþere men þe same weie. & þus þei ben cursed of god, for þat þat is good & goddis lawe þei dampnen for euyl & erroure, [page 25] & 2 þat þat is errour & 2*. [2_2 omitted X.] euyl aȝenst goddis lawe þei chesen & techen for good and profytable; & þus þei dampnen hemself & alle þat ben led bi hem. Also bi reson & mannus lawe ȝif a man be somonyd to-gidre to þe heiȝere iuge & a lasse he schal be excused fro þe lasse bi þe vertue of þe heiȝere iuge; but eche man is somoned first of god to worschipe hym in*. [& X.] alle his witt & alle his myȝt, bifor þat a worldly prelat somone hym to renne aboute, in whiche rennynge his witt & his myȝt schullen be perid; þanne bi vertue of þis cheef domesman he owiþ to be excused fro þis somonynge of worldly prelat. but be*. [omitted X.] þe suget ware of feynynge here, þat he waste not ne mysvsse þe ȝiftis of god vnder colour Page  33 of þis fredom; for god wole haue rekennynge of eche dede, of eche word, & of eche þouȝt, & of eche ȝifte, & eche tyme, & moment. And be þe worldly prelat ward of blasphemye here, þat he compelle not for his pride þis suget to putte bihynde þe betre worschipynge of god and vnder colour of obedience make hym to myspende þe tyme & goddis ȝiftis. ¶ Also men of lawe & resoun seyn it is worst of alle to take*. [make AA.] dom vndir a suspect domesman; but þes worldly prelatis ben suspect domesmen anemtis goddis seruauntis, for þei been enemys to þe persone of cristis seruauntis & also to þe cause of god. for comunly þei comen to here statis bi symonye & so ben heretikis, as þe popis lawe seiþ, & contynen*. [conteynen X.] in pride, coueitise, extorciouns,*. [omitted X.] & meyntenynge of here synne & oþere mennys for annuel rente, & haten & pursuen boþe cristis lawe & his seruauntis þat speken aȝenst here synne, to amende hem þer-of & alle þat ben vnkunnynge in goddis lawe; how schulde a treue man be demyd bi suspect iuges. & siche vnkunnynge & euyl leuynge prelatis ben most hardy to dampne trewe 4treuthis of holi writ & pursue trewe 4*. [4_4 omitted X.] men to prison & deþ þat meyntenen holy writt & trewþe aȝenst here coueitise, pride, symonye & lustis. ¶ And newe religious assessours of þes vnkunnynge worldely prelatis ben more suspect þan ony oþer; for þei grounden hem in þis, þat holy writt is fals but here owen doctours and gloses ben trewe. And so þei putten falsnesse & defaute of witt in god, & seyn þat a synful ydiot & in caas a deuyl of helle is trewere, wittiere & more ful of charite & myȝt to teche men treuþe þanne is þe trinyte & ihū crist god & man. & þei haten more cristis seruauntis þat stonden for þe trewþe of holy writt & ihū cristis leuynge & reprouen here ypocrisie & schewen here falsnesse to þe peple; and þey*. [omitted X.] ben more sotil in malice, & dysceyuen more lordis & ladies & þe comunes in feiþ & charite, & maken hem to triste þat it*. [omitted X.] is almes Page  34 to distroye trewe men þat stonden [page 26] for goddis lawe & trewe lyuynge. & þus þe dampnable ignoraunce of goddis lawe & cursed lif of þes worldly prelatis & stronge meyntenynge of here owen synne & oþere mennus ben cause whi pore prestis & cristen men han hem suspect of heresie & enemyte boþe of goddis cause & his seruauntis; & þer-fore þe flen fro hem as-anticrist and heretykes, as ioon þe euaungelist*. [2 John, 10.] techiþ in his epistilis. ¶ But lete prelatis studie bisili & treuly holy*. [omitted X.] writt & lyuen opyn wel þer-aftir, and distroie opyn synne of oþere men be here witt and myȝt, & pore prestis & cristene men wiþ-outen ony somonynge wolen wiþ gret traueile and cost and wille, ȝee bi londe & bi water, mekely come to hem & don hem obedience & reuerence, as þei wolden to petir & poul & cristis apostlis. deme þe world wheþer þis dyuysion belong on worldely prelatis vnkunnynge and cursed of lif, or on pore prestis and trewe men þat fayn desiren nyȝt & day to knowe goddis wille & worschipe & do it bifore alle oþere þingis.

Capitulum 2m.

As to cursynge, cristen men seyn trewely þat þei dreden it so moche þat þei wollen not wilfully & wityngly disserue goddis curse, neiþer for good in erþe ne in heuene; ne mannus curse in as myche as it acordiþ wiþ þe riȝtful curs of god; but þei wolle wiþ grete ioie of soule raþere suffre mannus wrongful curs þan wityngly & wilfully breke ony comaundement of god for to wynne þer-bi alle worschipis of þis world, and to kepe here body in alle likyngis neuere so longe; & raþere to suffre sclaundryng & bacbityng and prisonyng and exilid, hangyng, drawyng, quarterynge and brennynge wiþ helpe and grace of god þan to forsake þe treuþe of holy writt & lif of crist, for ellis þei weren not in charite ne in weie of saluacion. but anticristis clerkis magnyfien so myche mannus curs þat þei taken noon hede to þe dredeful curs of god; as ȝif Page  35 men were more myȝtti & riȝtful þan is almyȝtti god in trynyte. for þouȝ men breken opynly alle þe comaunde|mentis of god & lyuen in pride, coueityse, enuye, glotonye and oþer synnes, but ȝif it be lecherie, þere renneþ no mannus curs; ne for lecherie ȝif men wolen paie rente bi ȝeere & dwelle stil þer-inne als longe as hym liste; so al þe drede is turned to mannus curs and no þing to goddis curs.

¶ But ȝif a man trespas litel or nouȝt aȝenst a prelat or aȝenst þe wynnynge of clerkis, he schal be cursed & pursued þat al þe ende of his kyn may haue sorowe þerfore; ȝee, þouȝ a treuþe of holy writt & reson be seid [page 27] bi charite aȝenst þe pride, coueitise & open wrong þat prelatis don to here neiȝboris, boþe in here gostly offis & also worldly wrongis; and here-bi þei ponyschen more for here owen dispit or wrong þan for dispit of god almyȝtty. ¶ But here men musen*. [mowe sen X.] whi prelatis ben so redy to curse in here owne cause, siþ petir techiþ cristen men to blisse & not no werie*. [1 Peter ii. [23?]] ne curse; & god biddiþ vs loue oure enemyes & don good*. [Matt. v. [44.]] to hem þat haten vs, and to preie for men þat falsly pursuen vs. siþ he þat cu[r]seþ anoþer man for his owne vengaunce or worldly catel more þanne for to venge synne don aȝenst god & for þe helþe of þe cursed mannus soule cursiþ him-self, for he doiþ aȝenst charite, as gregori techiþ in þe popis lawe. certes men dreden þat þes prelatis ben ful of goddis curse for here symonye in*. [& X.] here entre, & sillynge of sacramentis & gostly officis, as ordres ȝeuynge for money, & halwynge of chirchis & auteris, & for extorcions of pore men, & meyntenynge of synful men in here synne for money, þat þei han no part of goddis blissyng and þerfore cursed fruyt spryngiþ out of a cursed tree.

¶ Lord, whi schulde curatis pronounsen here breþeren a cursed for nakid lettris of syche coueitous prelatis, enemyes of crist & his seruauntis, when þei knowe no cause bi-for god where-for þei be cursed of hym but han euydence bi spekynge & open lif of here neieȝboris þat þei ben in good Page  36 lif & in charite. Siþ crist seiþ in þe gospel þat he þat seiþ to his broþer: þou fool! wiþ-out sufficiente cause, &*. [Matt. v. 22.] he þat seiþ to his broþer þat haþ þe holi gost wiþ good lif & charite þat he is voide & wiþ-oute kunnynge, schal be gilti of helle, wheþer þis be charite to curse a man for sexe pans whan he may vnneþis lyue be al his traueile, & for he traueliþ not at here som[on]ynge an hundrid myle or moo or lesse & leueþ not his wif & children vngouerned. for ȝif a preste pronounse siche a man a cursed þat is blissed of god he liȝeþ vpon his broþer & beriþ fals witenesse aȝenst goddis dom. for þouȝ he apere not at here somonynge to ȝeuen hem mony at here wille, he may ben excused aȝenst god & man for many skillis. þerfor þis nakid lettre of coueitouse prelatis is no sykirnesse anemtis god to pro|nounse a cristen man for cursed, & noon obedience schulde constreyne a prest to wittenesse a falshede aȝenst his broþer and aȝenst his conscience but ȝif it be anticristis obedience, for certis god wole not constreyne a man to þis false obedyence. Lord, where anticrist & his clerkis schullen. Ȝif prelatis knowen þat þis man were cursed of god for brekyng of his hestis þei myȝten pronounse þis to þe peple to make oþere men to flee his companye as an heþene mannys. But comunly þei knowe not þis so wel as oþere pore men, [page 28] for þei taken no reward to þe hestis of god, but al to here owen lawes & customes. þe apostelis hadden*. [1 Cor. v. 5.] þis power when a synful man was rebel aȝenst goddis lawe to ȝeue þe fend power of his body to traueilen it, so þat þe soule were saaf. But owre prelatis han not þis power, þerfore þei feynen þat þei sleen þe soule bi þer cursyng wanne þe bodi is neuere þe werse, & þanne þei techen lordis to enprisone þe bodi aftir fourti daies a cursyng, þouȝ þe man be cursed*. [blessed AA.] for holdyng goddis hestis; & maken lordis to ben turmentouris of cristene men, whanne þe fendis doren not touche hem for drede of god. þis cursynge schulde be suspendid for peril on alle sidis, and trewe techynge of Page  37 cristis gospel & holy ensaumplis of prelatis lif & manasynge of purgatorie & helle and confortynge of þe blisse of heuene schulde be schewed & regne among cristene peple; and þes foure schulden maken men to flee synne & lyue wel & ende in perfit charite, & þis were best for alle parties.

Capitulum 3m.

As to lawe, trewe men seyn þat þei willen mekely & wilfully drede & kepe goddis lawe vp here kunnynge & myȝt, & eche lawe of mannes makynge in as myche as þei witen þat it acordiþ wiþ goddis lawe & reson & good con|science & to þe riȝtful execucion þer-of; & god him self may bynde man no more to his owen lawe for his endeles riȝtwis|nesse & charite þat he haþ to mannes soule. lord, where synful men þat ben anticristis, & in caas deuelis in flesch & blood, may bynde men more to here wickid lawis & wrong execucions of hem þanne god wille bynde hem to his most riȝtful lawe & profitable. cristen men knowen wel of feiþ þat neiþer petir ne poul ne ony creature may do ouȝt lawe|fully aȝenst þe trewþe of holi writt ne aȝenst þe edificacion of holy chirche, þat is good techynge & gouernynge & amend|ynge of cristene soulis. what power han þan worldly prelatis to make so many wickid lawes? siþ god curseþ hem þat maken wickid lawes, & comaundiþ þat no man schal adde to his wordis ne drawe fro hem vp peyne of grete cursynge of god & dampnynge in helle. þat is to seie þat no man adde false sentence ne false glose to holy writt, for þan, as ierom seiþ, he is an heretik; and þat no man drawe ony treuþe fro goddis wordis, for þei enclosen alle nedeful treuþe & profitable for mannys soule. & to þis entente siþ poul in his pistel þat ȝif ony man, ȝee apostil or angel of*. [Gal. i. 8.] heuene, preche oþer þing þan is tauȝte of crist & his apostelis 1he is cursid. And Seint Jon seiþe,1*. [1_1 omitted X.] in þe ende of þe*. [Rev. xxii. 18.] apocalips, þat ȝif ony man adde þus to goddis wordis, god schal brynge vpon hym alle þe vengaunces wryten in þe Page  38 apocalips, & ȝif ony man wiþdrawe þus fro goddis wordis, [page 29] god schal don hym out of þe bok of lif. ¶ Lord, siþ goddis lawe is so myche & so hard to vndirstonde, as austyn & oþere seyntis techen, þat þouȝ eche man hadde neuere so gret witt & myȝtte lyue hool & sond in bodi & wittis til þe day of dome, he schulde euere haue ynowȝ to lerne and ocupie him þerine at þe fulle, whi schulle wordly curatis & prelatis*. [X. inserts and.] make so many bokis of here newe lawis for to meyntene here pride & coueitise & worldly array? siþ men be nowe of lesse wittis & schortere tyme & feblere of com|plexion. certis þe chargen men ouer myȝt & maken hem bysy to kunne wrongful tradiciouns of synful folis makynge & to leue holy writt vnstudied, vnknoud & vnkept; & þis is a sotil cautel of þe fend to for-do goddis lawe & knowynge & loue of oure goode god. And þerfore crist pleyneþ of þis peple, bi þe prophete ysaie, & in þe gospel also, þat is peple worschipiþ him in lippis but here herte is fer fro god, & þei*. [Isaiah xxix. 13.]*. [Matt. xv. 8, 9.] worschipen hym with-outen cause, for þei techen þe loris of men & here maundementis. & ȝit seyntis in þe popis lawe reprouen euyle lawis vngroundid in holy writt & reson, & hem þat maken hem also, & seyn þat we owen to take hede what crist seiþ, & to no man ellis but in alse myche as he acordiþ wiþ crist, & he his false þat seiþ or techeþ ony þing þat is not euydently groundid in goddis lawe. & þerfore seynt petyr comaundiþ ȝif ony speke, loke he speke as goddis wordis.*. [1 Peter iv. 11.] þus þes worldly prelatis drawen cristen men fro holy writt þat is þe beste lawe & constreyne men to here owne lawis ful of errour, maad to coloure here cursed pride & coueitise; for þei ponysche men sorere for breken of here owen lawis þan for brekynge of goddis lawe, & louen & chirischen men of here lawe and dispisen & putten abac men of goddis lawe. Late wordly prelatis ceesse to schlaundre pore men, seynge þat þei wolen not obesche to here souereyns & dreden not curs but dispise lawe. for in alle þes þre þei ben clere bifore god & man ȝif riȝt & reson & charite be wel souȝt.