The lanterne of lizt, ed. from ms. Harl. 2324
Wycliffe, John, d. 1384., Swinburn, Lilian M. (Lilian Mary)
Page  [vii]


THE Lanterne of Liyogh;t is a Lollard tract, written in the early fifteenth century, containing an exposition, supported by passages from the Bible and from the writings of the Fathers and mediaeval divines, of the principal tenets of the followers of Wyclif. It is one of a class of books of which there were probably many in circulation during the early years of the fifteenth century, but of which, owing to the rigorous crusade that was carried on against heretical literature, only a few are now extant, such as the Apology for Lollard Doctrines and Purvey's Remonstrance against Romish Corruptions in the Church.

Authorship and date of the MS.

Like most other religious or theological works of the late fourteenth or early fifteenth centuries with a tendency towards reform, the Lanterne of Liȝt has been ascribed to John Wyclif. In the description of the MS. in the catalogue of the Harleian collection, Wanley says:

'The author was a Lollard, as plainly appeareth in fol. 10 and 94b. He complaineth of the taking away of the Books of Scripture, then translated into English, from the Laity; and for punishing those who did read or quote the same (fol. 17b and 93b). He bitterly inveyeth against the Pope as Anti-Christ; against Bishops and Clergy both regular and secular, and their Offices. As to the author, from the nature of the work itself; the way of handling it; the style; and the authors or books cited by him; I am of opinion that it might be by John Wycliffe: although I have not now Bale at hand to consult; and find that he is omitted (as having been a Heretic, forsooth!) by partial Pitts; and even Mr. Henry Wharton's Account of them is sometimes dubious and (in the main) imperfect.'*. [Catalogue of Harl. MSS., vol. ii, p. 654.]

The Lanterne of Liȝt is also ascribed to Wyclif, though without any evidence in support of the statement, by Archbishop Trench:Page  viii 'There were little assemblies or conventicles everywhere; . . . men came together by night . . . to hear some tract which should expound (the) Word as Wyclif's "Wicket" or his "Lantern of Light"'.*. [Mediaeval Church History, Trench, Lect. XXI, p. 322.] On the other hand, the tract is not mentioned in the catalogue of Wyclif's works by Dr. Shirley,*. [W. W. Shirley, Catalogue of the Original Works of John Wyclif, 1865.] although he errs on the side of ascribing too much rather than too little to the reformer,*. [Select English Works of J. Wyclif, ed. T. Arnold, i, pp. iii-viii. (This edition will be cited as S. E. W.)] nor do any more recent editors of Wyclif include it in their list of his writings.*. [S. E. W., iii, pp. xvii-xx; Lechler, J. Wycliffe and his English Precursors, translated by Prof. Lorimer, pp. 484-96.]

The question of authorship is, naturally, closely connected with that of date. Wyclif died in 1384; therefore the possibility of his being the author is precluded if it can be proved that the tract was written after this date.

There is external evidence that the Lanterne of Liȝt was written before 1415.*. [Wilkins, Concilia, iii, pp. 371-5; Foxe, Acts and Monuments, ed. J. Pratt, iii, pp. 531-3.] On August 17, 1415, John Claydon, currier of London, arrested by the Mayor on suspicion of heresy, was brought up for trial before Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury. The charge made against him was that he had in his keeping books written in English, which, in the Mayor's opinion, were 'the worst and the most perverse that ever he did read or see',*. [Foxe, iii, p. 531.] and, chief among these, was a book 'bound in red leather, of parchment, written in a good English hand,*. [Foxe, iii, p. 531.] called the Lanterne of Liȝt'. Claydon confessed that he had had this book copied at his own expense by 'one called John Grime';*. [Foxe, iii, p. 531.] that, although he could not read himself, he had heard the fourth part read by 'one John Fuller';*. [ib., p. 532.] and that he thought many things contained in the book were 'profitable, good and healthful to the soul'.*. [ib., p. 532.] His servants were examined, and testified to having heard a book called the Lanterne of Liȝt read aloud to Claydon; one of them, David Berde, said that it contained an exposition of the Ten Commandments in English.*. [infra, Chap. XII, pp. 81 ff.] The tract was examined by Robert Gilbert and WilliamPage  ix Lyndewode, who drew up a list of fifteen articles contained in it. Foxe gives them as follows:*. [Foxe, iii, pp. 532-3.]

I. First. Upon the text of the gospel, how the enemy did sow the tares, there is said thus: That wicked Antichrist, the Pope, hath sowed among the laws of Christ his popish & corrupt decrees, which are of no authority, strength or value.*. [infra, pp. 3-4.]

II. That the archbishops and bishops, speaking indifferently, are the seats of the beast Antichrist, when he sitteth in them, and reigneth above other people in the dark caves of errors and heresies.*. [infra, p. 15.]

III. That the bishop's license, for a man to preach the word of God, is the true character of the beast, i.e. Antichrist; and therefore simple and faithful priests may preach when they will, against the prohibition of that Antichrist, & without license.*. [infra, p. 14.]

IV. That the Court of Rome is the chief head of Antichrist, and the bishops be the body; and the new sects (that is, the monks, canons and friars), brought in not by Christ, but damnably by the pope, be the venemous and pestiferous tail of Antichrist.*. [infra, p. 16.]

V. That no reprobate is a member of the church, but only such as be elected & predestined to salvation; seeing the church is no other thing but the congregation of faithful souls, who do, and will keep their faith constantly, as well in deed as in word.*. [infra, pp. 22, 25.]

VI. That Christ did never plant private religions in the Church, but, while he lived in this world, he did root them out. By which it appeareth that private religions be unprofitable branches in the church, and to be rooted out.*. [infra, p. 38.]

VII. That the material churches should not be decked with gold, silver, and precious stones sumptuously; but the followers of the humility of Jesus Christ ought to worship their Lord God humbly, in mean and simple houses, and not in great buildings, as the churches be now-a-days.*. [infra, p. 41.]

VIII. That there be two chief causes of the persecution of the Christians; one is, the priests' unlawful keeping of temporal and superfluous goods; the other is, the unsatiable begging of the friars, with their high buildings.*. [infra, p. 43.]

IX. That alms be given neither virtuously nor lawfully, except it be given with these four conditions: first, unless it be given to the honour of God; secondly, unless it be given of goods justly gotten; thirdly, unless it be given to such a person as the giver thereof knoweth to be in charity; and fourthly, unless it be given to such as have need, and do not dissemble.*. [infra, p. 54.]

Page  xX. That the often singing in the church is not founded on the Scripture, and therefore it is not lawful for priests to occupy themselves with singing in the church, but with the study of the law of Christ, and preaching his word.*. [infra, p. 58.]

XI. That Judas did receive the body of Christ in bread, and his blood in wine;*. [infra, p. 60. in which it doth plainly appear, that after consecration of bread and wine made, the same bread and wine that was before, doth truly remain on the altar.]

XII. That all ecclesiastical suffrages do profit all virtuous and godly persons indifferently.*. [infra, p. 75.]

XIII. That the pope's and the bishop's indulgences be unprofitable, neither can they profit them to whom they be given by any means.*. [infra, pp. 75-6.]

XIV. That the laity is not bound to obey the prelates, whatsoever they command, unless the prelates do watch to give God a just account of the souls of them.*. [infra, pp. 82-4.]

XV. That images are not to be sought to by pilgrimages, neither is it lawful for Christians to bow their knees to them, neither to kiss them, nor to give them any manner of reverence.*. [infra, pp. 84-5.]

There is no doubt that the book, for possessing which Claydon was burnt as a heretic,*. [Wilkins, iii, p. 375; Walsingham, Historia Anglicana, vol. ii, p. 307 (R. S.), where he is called Willelmus Cleydone. is the one transcribed here, for the fifteen articles given above can all be closely identified with passages in the text, and other statements, as to the nature and contents of the book, tally with our MS. The Lanterne of Liȝt must therefore have been written before 1415.]

Internal evidence leads to a still closer approximation of date, but such evidence must be used with care, since it is easy to read more into a reference in the text than is altogether justifiable. For instance, the following passage might be taken as referring to the Statute 'De Heretico Comburendo', passed in 1401, which empowered the Bishops to hand over an obstinate heretic to the secular arm to be burned: 'Whereto make ȝe schrynes to seyntis; & ȝit ȝe drawen hangen & brennen hem þat holden þe weie of Crist & wandren aftir hise holi seyntis & þouȝ þis schewe not inPage  xi ȝoure outwarde dede, ȝe don þis slawȝtir in worde & wille. As pharisees wiþ bischopis in þe þridde oure foriuggid oure Lord wiþ her toungis & aftirward kniȝtis at þe sixte our hangid his bodi upon þe cros, so þise sectis goon biforn to smyte þe peple wiþ her tung & aftir knyȝtis of Herowdis hous ben ful redi to make an ende.'*. [p. 43.] It might seem legitimate to see in the last words a reference to the punishment accorded to an obstinate heretic under the Act, and hence to deduce the fact that the Lanterne of Liȝt was written after 1401. But this evidence alone is not conclusive, for references to death by burning as being the penalty for heresy occur in works generally accepted as Wyclif's, as well as in others of more doubtful authenticity, which must have been written before 1384.*. [S. E. W., i, p. 201, 'oure prelatis ... stranglen and killen men, and spoilen hem of her goodis'. ib., p. 205, 'þis word counfortiþ symple men, þat ben clepid eretikes and enemyes to þe Chirche, for þei tellen Goddis lawe; for þei ben somynned and reprovyd many weies, and after put in prison, and brend or kild as worse þan þeves'. ib., p. 211, 'alle þese (popes & bishops, helped by secular lords) bitraien Cristen men to turment, and putten hem to deeþ for hoolding of Cristis lawe'. These three passages occur in sermons which are undoubtedly by Wyclif. Cf. also English Works of Wyclif, ed. F. D. Matthew, Early English Text Society, pp. 34, 88, 211, where the references are to works of more doubtful authenticity, but which were probably written by 1384. (This edition will be cited as E.E.T.S.)]

Again, in the text there are references to the prohibition of unlicensed preaching.*. [pp. 14, 18.] Such preaching was prohibited by the Act 'De Heretico Comburendo' (1401),*. ['None ... shall presume to preach openly or privily without the License of the Diocesan of the same place first required & obtained.' 2 Hen. IV, c. 15.] and again by the Constitutions of Archbishop Arundel, 1409,*. [infra, p. xii.] but unauthorized preaching had been forbidden by the Bishops many years before this. Evidence of this fact is to be found in such passages as 'prelatis letten & forbeden prestis to preche þe gospel in here iurdiccion or bischoperiche, but ȝif þei han leue & letteris of hem'; and, 'þei (i.e. prelates) wollen not suffre trewe men teche frely cristis gospel wiþouten here leue & lettris, þouȝ trewe men ben neuere so mochil charged & stired of god to preche his gospel',*. [E.E.T.S., pp. 57, 105.] which occur in a tract called 'Of Prelates', which, if not by Wyclif himself, must have been written soon after his death.*. [ib., p. 52.]

Page  xiiHowever, there is a passage in the Lanterne of Liȝt which proves conclusively that it must have been written after 1409. In speaking of the five assaults which Antichrist makes upon the servants of God, the author says the first is 'constitution'. He explains the text 'Constitue domine legislatorem super eos' by saying 'Antichrist useþ fals lucratif or wynnyng lawis as ben absoluciouns, indulgence, pardouns, priuelegis, & alle oþir heuenli tresour þat is brouȝt in to sale for to spoile þe peple of her worldli goodis, & principali þise newe constituciouns bi whos strengþe anticrist enterditiþ chirchis, soumneþ prechours, suspendiþ resceyuours, & priueþ hem her bennefice, cursiþ heerars, & takiþ awey þe goodis of hem þat forþeren þe precheing of a prest, ȝhe þouȝ it were an aungel of heuene, but if þat prest schewe þe mark of þe beast, þe whiche is turned in to a newe name & clepid a special lettir of lisence for þe more blyndyng of þe lewid peple'.*. [infra, pp. 17-18.]

There does not seem to be any doubt that the 'new constitutions' to which the author refers are the Constitutions of Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, which were drawn up at a Council at Oxford in 1408, and published in January, 1409.*. [Wilkins, Concilia, iii, p. 306. These constitutions are called 'novellae constitutiones', and the first two are thus given by Foxe:]

I. 'We will and command, ordain and decree: that no manner of person, secular or regular, being authorized to preach by the laws now prescribed, or licensed by special privilege, shall take upon him the office of preaching the word of God, or by any means preach unto the clergy or laity, whether within the church or without, in English, except he first present himself, and be examined by the ordinary of the place where he preacheth: and so being found a fit person, as well in manners as knowledge, he shall be sent by the said ordinary to some one church or more, as shall be thought expedient by the said ordinary.... Nor any person aforesaid shall presume to preach, except first he give faithful signification, in due form, of his sending and authority; that is, that he that is authorized, do come in form appointed him in that behalf, and that those that affirm they come by special privilege, do show their privilege unto the parson or vicar of the place where they preach.... And if any man shall willingly presume to violate this our statute grounded upon the old law, after the publication of the same, he shall incur the sentence of greater excommunication,Page  xiii "ipso facto" .... And that the said person here-upon lawfully convicted (except he recant & abjure after the manner of the church) be pronounced a heretic by the ordinary of the place. And that from thenceforth he be reputed and taken for a heretic and schismatic, and that he incur "ipso facto" the penalties of heresy and schismacy, expressed in the law; and chiefly, that his goods be adjudged confiscate by the law, and apprehended, and kept by them to whom it shall appertain. And that his fautors,*. [favourers, supporters. receivers, and defenders, being convicted, in all cases be likewise punished, if they cease not off within one month, being lawfully warned thereof by their superiors.']

II. 'Furthermore, no clergyman, or parochians of any parish or place within our province of Canterbury shall admit any man to preach within their churches, church-yards, or other places whatsoever, except first there be manifest knowledge had of his authority, privilege, or sending thither, according to the order aforesaid: otherwise the church, church-yard, or what place soever, in which it was so preached, shall "ipso facto" receive the ecclesiastical interdict, & so shall remain interdicted, until they that so admitted and suffered him to preach, have reformed themselves, and obtained the place so interdicted to be released in due form of law, either from the ordinary of the place, or else his superior.'*. [Foxe, iii, pp. 243, 244; cf. also Wilkins, iii, pp. 315, 316.]

The paragraph from the Lanterne of Liȝt quoted above refers to these two constitutions, and the correspondence between the passage in the text and the wording of the Constitutions justifies the assumption that the author had the 'new constitutions' vividly in his mind when he wrote the Lanterne of Liȝt.*. [Compare the wording: 'enterditiþ chirchis, soumneþ prechours, suspendiþ resceyuours, and priueþ hem her bennefice, cursiþ heerars & takiþ awey þe goods of hem þat forþeren þe preching of a prest' with 'the church ... shall receive the ecclesiastical interdict'; 'his goods be adjudged confiscate ... & his fautors, receivers and defenders ... be likewise punished'. It therefore follows that the work must have been written between the years 1409 and 1415. It seems reasonable to assign to it the date 1409-10, a date soon after the publication of the Constitutions, and one which would allow for a period of some four or five years to have elapsed during which it might have been disseminated among the Lollards and have become known to men like John Claydon.]

This date is further borne out by the tone of the book. It was evidently written during a time of persecution, when many whoPage  xiv had embraced the new faith drew back from the prospect of a cruel death and recanted: 'For now manye þat semeden to have be stable in vertu fallen from her holi purpose, dredyng losse of worldli goodis and bodili peyne.'*. [infra, p. 2, ll. 5-7.] A whole chapter is devoted to the encouragement of Christ's servants in a time of persecution.*. [Chap. XI, 'Of ioie in tribulacioun'.] There are several references to the fact that death was the penalty for holding what were considered to be heretical opinions: 'ȝe drawen hangen & brennen hem þat holden þe weie of Crist',*. [p. 43.] 'þe fende settiþ wacche & bisie spie where þat he may fynde ony peple þat wole rede priue or apert Goddis lawe in englische ... þei sein lyue as þi fadir dide, & þat is ynow for þee, or ellis þou schalt to prisoun as if þou were an heretike & suffre peynes many & strong & ful lickli þe deeþ'.*. [p. 100.]

The general tone of the tract would lead to the conclusion that it was written to encourage a sect in a time of more active persecution than that which marked the last years of Wyclif's life; in such a time, indeed, as the early years of the fifteenth century, during which three Lollards went to the stake for their opinions, and many others were brought before the courts and forced to recant, or else tortured and imprisoned.*. [Cf. Foxe, iii, pp. 221 ff., 235 ff., 249 ff., 285, 286. Sawtré was burnt in 1401; John Badby in 1410; John Claydon in 1415.]

It is impossible to say who the author of the Lanterne of Liȝt was, for no clue as to his identity is given in the book itself or in the account of the trial of John Claydon. It is evident from the book that he was writing from the Lollard point of view, and the tenets which he held may be briefly summed up as follows:

Holy Scripture is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct; therefore all should be allowed to study the Bible in their mother tongue.

The preaching of God's word is the chief duty of a priest.

Pilgrimage, image-worship, and the costly decoration of churches are unlawful.

The sale of sacraments, absolutions and indulgences, and the traffic in the benefices of the Church are contrary to God's law.

The taking of an oath, or swearing in any form, is forbidden by the teaching of Christ.

Page  xvThe temporal possessions of the clergy are the cause of most of the evils in the Church.

Holy Church is the company of all faithful souls.

The Pope is Antichrist; therefore obedience should not be rendered to him or to his servants since they command what is contrary to God's law.

The author holds no heretical opinions on the subject of the Seven Sacraments, although the enemies of Lollardy attacked the only passage in which he refers to the Lord's Supper as unorthodox. In this respect he differs from Wyclif, who had discussed the relative value of the Sacraments and had attacked the doctrine of Transubstantiation. There is, however, nothing original in the particular views held by the author; they had all been put forward before by Wyclif either in his English or his Latin works. On the whole, the tone is more moderate and restrained than that of the author's master, for the tract was not written to propound new theories of reform, but to encourage and strengthen an already existing sect in a time of persecution. Besides the fact that the author was a Lollard, we may also deduce that he was a good Latin scholar, since he apparently made his own translation of the passages of Scripture used to illustrate his theme.*. [See Appendix. He seems, moreover, to have been well read in the writings of the Fathers and the mediaeval divines since quotations occur from St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, St. Hilary, St. Isidore, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, St. Bede, St. Bernard, St. Hugh, Nicholaus de Lyra, Odo of Cheriton, Peter Cantor, Peter Comestor, Peter Lombard, Robert Grosseteste, St. Thomas Aquinas, and William de St. Amour; but investigation has shown that he followed the usual practice of the theological writers of the later Middle Ages, and quoted from works containing excerpts from patristic literature rather than from the originals themselves. His main sources seem to have been the Decretum of Gratian, the Libri Quattuor Sententiarum of Peter Lombard, and the Glossa Ordinaria of Walafrid Strabo.]

It is perhaps permissible to assume from these facts that the author was educated at Oxford, where he would come into contact with Wycliffite ways of thinking, but more than this it is impossible to state with any certainty.

Page  xvi

Description of the MS.

The MS. from which the following transcript has been made occurs in the Harleian collection in the British Museum, and is catalogued as No. 2324. It is a small duodecimo volume, the pages measuring 5.6 x 3.8 inches, and contains 128 folios. In addition there are four folios at the beginning and two at the end ruled ready for the scribe, but unused. It is written on vellum, and the handwriting is neat and legible. There are few scribal errors, and the mistakes made have been almost invariably corrected by the scribe himself. The MS. is not illuminated, but the headings of the chapters and the initial letter of the first word of each chapter are written in red. The Latin quotations, which occur frequently, are generally underlined in red. Attention is called to important points in the MS. by marginal notes: nō (nota), nō. bn. (nota bene), 'be war', or a hand with an outstretched forefinger, are the most usual.

Punctuation, &c. The MS. is punctuated, and the original punctuation has been preserved, except where some alteration seemed advantageous in order to make the meaning clearer. Capital letters are occasionally used for proper names. In the transcript, modern usage has been conformed with in this respect.

Contractions. Many of the shorter words are abbreviated in the MS., and the Latin quotations show the contractions usually employed by the mediaeval scribe. All the contracted words have been expanded in the copy, the letters supplied being printed in italics.


The phonology and grammatical forms of the text are those of the East Midland Dialect, at that time becoming the standard, and do not differ markedly from those of Wycliffe's works or the Wycliffite Bible-translation.*. [Gasner, Beiträge zum Entwickelungsgang der neuenglischen Schriftsprache auf Grund der mittelenglischen Bibelversionen ...]

A few Northern features occur, such as the frequent noun plural in -is, the occasional substitution of v for w initially, and the use of the preposition til = to. The strong past participle regularlyPage  xvii ends in -n as in Northern and North Midland, even in such forms as 'bounden', 'soungen', which often lost the -n in Midland.*. [Morsbach, Über den Ursprung der neuenglischen Schriftsprache, § 7. 19.] On the whole, however, Northern characteristics are less common in the Lanterne of Liȝt than in the Apology for Lollard Doctrines, another anonymous Lollard tract of about the same date.*. [Siebert, Untersuchungen über 'An Apology for Lollard Doctrines', pp. 38-40.]

The comparatively late date of the text is indicated by the frequent disregard of the final unaccented -e, which was regularly silent in the North before the end of the fourteenth century, and became so in the Midland dialect by the middle of the fifteenth. Thus in the strong plural and the weak declension of the adjective, where final -e tended to survive longer than in the noun or verb, forms with and without -e occur side by side.

In the strong verbs, levelling of the stem form occurs in the preterite plural where this had a distinctive form in Old English, and several old strong verbs have become weak.*. [[This study of the Lanterne of Liȝt was presented in an extended form for the degree of M.A. in the University of London.]]