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John Wyclif: viaţa şi opera. 630 de ani de la moartea reformatorului englez

John Wyclif: His Life and Works. The 630th Anniversary of the English Reformer’s Death

Autor(i): George NIŞCOVEANU

The present paper is a novelty in Romanian church historiography. So far, the only chapter concerning the life and activity of English reformer John Wyclif was the one included in Ioan Rămureanu’s Universal Church History handbook. Internatio-nally, however, a great number of writings – not uniform in their approaches and merit – address this topic, therefore my research has implied selecting the most significant works, from the 19th century to the present day, and identifying the main historical sources. The wide array of works I have examined enabled me to obtain a general picture; however, ascertaining the less clear events in John Wyclif’s life has been quite difficult. In such cases, having assessed various – at times conflicting – opinions, I put forth my own opinion on the most plausible version, generally the one in keeping with historical sources.
John Wyclif’s actions must be considered within the historical context of the 14th century. It was a transitional period. The old system was failing, despite the joint efforts of aristocrats and clergymen to maintain the status quo. The medieval epoch was dying, but dying hard. Edward III, King of England from 1330, led during the second half of the 14th century a long campaign to reconquer France, a campaign later continued by his successors and known as „the Hundred Years’ War” (1337-1453). Gradually, discontentment was stirred with the duration of the war that had lasted for more than one generation’s lifetime, while even the richest had been strongly affected by the taxes necessary to support the war. This discontentment threatened to turn into a revolution when royal campaigns started to fail, and En-gland’s economy was on the verge of collapse. Information on John Wyclif’s early life is still scarce, for lack of sources. Several hypotheses have been put forth concerning his birth date, which scholars place between 1320-1335. The most compelling argu-ment belongs to historian Andrew Larsen who assigns John Wyclif’s birth to 1330. Wyclif was born in Yorkshire, in either Hipswell, Wycliffe-on-Tess or Teesdale (to-day’s Richmondshire). As his birth date is uncertain, so is the time when he started his Oxford studies. The first accurate date in the reformer’s life is 1356, when he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Letters. In 1361 he was ordained and assigned the parish Filingham / Lincolnshire. In 1371/1372 he earned the title of Doctor of The-ology. During his academic years Wyclif wrote papers on logics, physics and Aristote-lian psychology. His liege lord was John Gaunt – the duke of Lancaster, whose servi-ce he joined later.
John Wyclif’s formation as an Oxford student is as important as his adherence to both Augustianism and radical realism, two philosophical currents that influenced all his subsequent works. During this time he also had a first conflict with monastic orders, occasioned by the rivalry over the position of headmaster of Canterbury Col-lege, an episode thoroughly investigated in the present paper. The context of times’ events must be taken into account for an analysis of the first major works written by John Wyclif – De Civili Domnio and De Dominio Divino. They address matters such as: the nature of God’s dominion over the created world, the transfer of ecclesial property under royal property, the submission of clergy to secular law, emancipation from papal authority, the detriment brought to the Church by property ownership. The war between England and France and the increasing financial demands made by the Papacy, then seated at Avignon, certainly shaped Wyclif’s response. In 1372 he joined the Crown’s service, more precisely John Gaunt’s, duke of Lancaster, as pecu-liaris regis clericus. In July 1376, Wyclif was part of a royal committee that met with papal legates at Bruges in order to discuss the matter of England’s financial obligati-ons towards the Roman See, with no significant result. During the same year Wyclif defended, in a number of sermons delivered in London, John Gaunt’s proposal that Church estates should be confiscated.
Wyclif’s ideas were soon heard at the Papal Court. On 22 May 1377 pope Gregory XI issued five bulls condemning 19 of Wyclif’s propositions, most of them put forth in his treatise De civili dominio, demanding archbishop Sudbury and bishop Courtenay to investigate the case attentively. On 18 December the condemnation bulls were issued, and on 27 March 1378 Wyclif appeared before an assembly of bishops at Lambeth, in order to defend his opinions. However, he was not condem-ned. The support he enjoyed from the British Crown, more precisely John Gaunt and the Queen Mother Joan, prevented his trial and sentencing. The Western Schism of 1378 marked a turning point, and prospects for a serious, objective dialogue with papacy were thwarted. A bizarre situation was created. Each claimant asserted his own infallibility, each claimed to be the vicar of Christ. Each passed decrees, issued bulls, cast anathemas and acted as visible head of Christ’s Church. The two ended up by excommunicating each other.
Wyclif resumed his campaign and wrote treatise after treatise (De veritate Sacrae Scripturae, De officio regis, De potestate papae, De simonia) attacking mo-nastic orders, the doctrine of superabundant merits and indulgences, demanded that clergymen be judged by secular courts, asserted that people should believe in the pope only inasmuch as he followed Christ and developed the doctrine regarding the Church – a Church comprising only those predestined by God from eternity (De Ecclesia, 1378-1379). The tenet that lost him the support from the Crown and Uni-versity of Oxford concerned the Holy Eucharist. In 1378 Wyclif started his attacks on the Roman-Catholic doctrine of transsubstantiation, which he found philosophically untenable, and although he never denied the actual presence of the Body and Blood of Saviour Jesus Christ in the bread and wine offerings, he put forth a teaching very similar to consubstantiation, named remanence. This departure from the generally accepted doctrine had negative consequences for the British reformer. Firstly, two Eucharistic propositions he put forth were censored at Oxford in 1380, and he lost John Gaunt’s support. In 1381 Wyclif withdrew from University to live in his parish at Lutterworth for the rest of his life.
Another unfelicitous event was the Peasants’ Revolt in the summer of 1381. Although Wyclif’s involvement was highly unlikely, Church leaders had no qualms in associating the above-mentioned uprising to his teachings and the preaching of his Oxford disciples. The possibile connection between Wyclif and the 1381 events is under careful scrutiny, based on the information provided by sources and secondary literature. After William Courtenay became archbishop, the first measures were ta-ken against Wyclif and his followers, known as Lollards. The Council of Blackfriars, convened in May 1382, declared itself against unauthorized preachers and condem-ned 24 of Wyclif’s propositions. He was charged with denying transsubstantiation and papal authority and was accused of Donatism. The only support came from University of Oxford, then headed by Robert Rigg, an adherent of Wyclif’s theories. He allowed some of Wyclif’s disciples to preach in his defense.
Nevertheless, Wyclif continued to write freely. Towards the end of his life he reviewed his works and wrote the Trialogus – a synthesis of all his teachings, the only one printed during the Reformation at Worms in 1525. In 1382 Wyclif had a heart attack that considerably weakened him for the rest of his life. This was why, when pope Urban VI invited him in 1383 to appear before the papal Curia, Wyclif answered he was unable to, due to his disability. On 28 December 1384, another heart attack caused him to paralyze, and he died three days later. He was buried at Lutterworth, but following a decree of the Council of Constance (4 May 1415), his remains were disinterred, burned and discarded in a nearby river (1428). The Coun-cil also condemned 45 propositions directly associated to Wyclif and further 260 propositions indirectly starting from him.
Thus until the end of his life Wyclif served as a priest of the Roman Church. Moreover, he always deemed his views to be „orthodox”, he never attempted to sepa-rate from the Church, but his entire activity aimed to reform the Church, to return it to the early Christian life, according to the apostolic example. Two 15th-century mo-vements were based on John Wyclif’s ideas. In England, the Lollardy which lasted until the 16th century, while in Bohemia wyclifism inspired the Czech national move-ment and paved the way for the reforming movements of Jan Hus and Jerome of Prague. He even influenced Luther through the great number of Hussite societies and Wyclif’s writings circulating throughout Germany around 1530. However, a dis-cussion of Wyclif’s influence in history is beyond the scope of the present paper. John Wyclif is one of the key figures of the Middle Ages, due to his undeniable influence on the Reformation exerted through his political ideology and especially his ideas concerning the Church, the Holy Scripture and the Holy Eucharist.

Dialog teologic
Pagini: 241-272