15 MARCH 1873, Page 14


DR. LECHLER'S LIFE OF WICLIF.* THE work before us is the result of long and loving study. It is now twenty years since Dr. Lechler gave the first-fruits of his researches into Wiclif's life and character in two articles on Wiclif and the Lollards in Niedner's Zeiischrift far Historische Theologie. Since that time much has been done to increase our knowledge of Wiclif, and Dr. Lechler has been one of the most active labourers in the good work. By his publication of the tract De Officio Pastorali (1863), he was the first to show proof of the value of the great collection of Wiclif manuscripts in the Imperial library at Vienna, and he has since increased our debt of gratitude to him by his excellent edition of the Trialogus. Now, at last, as the crown of all his labours, he gives us these volumes, in which all that has been made known by other workmen in the same field is united with the fruit of such a study of Wiclif's theological writings as has not been given to them since they were a living power in the fifteenth century. It is easy to believe him when he tells us in a touching preface how love for the work and its subject has grown upon him with time, and how he has feared lest death should interrupt him before he had fulfilled the duty of vindicating the character and life of his hero. It is, he says, with a sense of relief which a man feels when a stone is rolled away from his heart, that be offers to students this labour of a lifetime.

The book, as its title indicates, is in two parts. The first volume contains the life of Wield, with a preliminary sketch of the attempts at Church reform before his time ; the second is devoted to trading the spread of his doctrines, and their effect in preparing for the Reformation. With regard to the biography, we confess to a certain disappointment in finding how little that is new Dr. Lechler has been able to add to our knowledge, We have always hoped that when the works buried in the Vienna library were ex- humed and carefully studied, some autobiographical notices would befonnd to throw light on the obscure parts of the Reformer's life. This hope has not been fulfilled. One quotation indeed goes far • ■ Johann von Wisp toed die Vorgeschiehte der Reformation. Von Gotthard Lechler. 1.4ipzig; 1871 London; Williams and Norsate. to overthrow Dr. Shirley's theory that the Warden of Canterbury Hall was another. Wiclif, but even this is not decisive, and all we can say is that the balance which was in favour of Dr. Shirley is now against him. Dr. Lechler has been unable to ascer- tain what was the precise nature of the intimate relations be- tween Wicliff and the English Court ; and it is, perhaps, only another form of the same difficulty that he cannot tell us why Wiclif was left personally unmolested while his doctrines were con- demned as heretical, and his disciples imprisoned audforced to recant. This is much to be regretted, as the question is difficult and inter- esting. There is no evidence of Wiclif's having abjured any of- his condemned opinions, yet the only punishment that fell on him was exclusion from the Schools at Oxford, and he was allowed to retire to his living at Lutterwortb, whence he poured forth the enormous mass of controversial writing which must be assigned to the last two years of his life,—writings even bolder and more out- spoken than those which preceded them. We may be almost sure that some powerful influence must have protected him, and we. still hope that further researches, perhaps among our own records, may reveal its source.

In the sphere of doctrine nothing very novel was to be expected. Wiclif was always clear and consistent in his thinking, and the- works already printed are enough to show to a careful reader the substance of his teaching. Yet it must not be supposed that Dn. Lechler's labour has been in vain. His wide knowledge supplies him with illustrations which bring out details with quite new die- tinotness, and his seventh chapter- contains an account of Wielif's system of thought far clearer and more complete than can be blurb elsewhere. He has also done much in tracing out the step* by which Wield arrived at his open and complete antagonism to .thet Church of his time, both as to doctrine and discipline. Wiclif's mind was singularly progressive, and his opinions were still in pro- cess of formation at an age when most men's have long, been crystallised. Thus he must have been nearly sixty yeatur old in 1378, when the schism splitting up the Church under- two rival Popes brought about a great change in his views as to the Papacy. Hitherto he bad recognised the necessity of lawful obedience to the Pope as the chief ruler of the Church now he began to deny the Papal authority altogether, and declare& that the schism was a special providence,—" Ffor [Criat] bath begunne to helpe us graciously, in that that he bath, dole the hayed of Antecrist and maad the ton part fight aghen the tother7 This growth in opinion may be due only to the embitterment incident to continued opposition, hut there is a still more remark- able example of late development in his teaching. as to the Eucharist. It was not till about 1380 (Dr. Lechler says 1381> that he began to imam those conclusions on transubstantiation which most of all his writings won for him the fame of a heretic- in his own time and of a reformer in later ages. This change is specially noticeable, because it cannot be attributed to. the pressure of circumstance. In attacking the received doc- trine of the Eucharist, Wiclif was not uttering opinions. already hinted at, or even drawing conclusions which followed naturally from premisses to which he was committed ; he was breaking entirely new ground ; and there is every reason to, believe that he declared his convictions as soon as he had established them satisfactorily to himself. It would be easy to multiply instances of Wiclif's persistent progressiveness, but these are enough to show the interest which attaches to fixing the date of; his various works and of the opinions maintained in them. Dr.. Lechler has done much in determining some of the main lines, but it is no discredit to him to say that much remains to be done.. Indications of date are apt to be overlooked even by a careful scholar, as a single example will show. Dr. Lechler has printed is his appendix a short tract directed against the-collector of the- Papal dues. This tract, he says, cannot be later than 1374, but her has overlooked the phrase, " creditur quod execucio sui officii regi nostro, licet in state juvenili florenti displiceret." This youthful King must have been Richard IL, end the date cannot,. therefore, be earlier than 1377.

It has been the fault of earlier biographers of Wiclif that they looked upon him too exclusively as a reformer of doctrine.. Dr. Lechler, although his interest in Wiclif is mainly religious, yet, shows us the man from other points of view than the ecclesiastioal.. It is a many-sided figure with which he has to deal. In the first place, there seems to have been no learning current in his own time of which Wiclif had not some tincture. His distinction as a, schoolman is well known ; less familiar is the fact that he was master of the physical sciences, as they were then known. These studies, which he speaks of having carried on when he was younger, are shown by his frequent reference to them in hia roil- gious works. " Now it is arithmetic or geometry that he presses into his service to illustrate certain truths or relations ; now he employs physical or chemical laws, facts of optics or acoustics, to -explain truths of morals or religion. And this is not the case only in scientific treatises ; even in sermons, at least such as seem to have been preached before the University, he makes use of similar examples." Dr. Lechler might have added that a few instances are to be found even in his popular English works.

A man who to these acquirements added a quick wit, great powers -of expression, and considerable social gifts had all the qualifications necessary to win distinction in a society where intellectual eminence -and culture were honoured, as then at Oxford. But his activities 'were not confined to the University. He played an important part in political affairs ; was employed by the Government, both as adviser and diplomatist, and was a fertile, vigorous pamphleteer.

The second part of Dr. Lechler's book is scarcely less interesting or valuable than the first. It gives a satisfactory answer to the question, "What was the permanent result of Wiclif's life ? " Viewed superficially, his work seems almost to have perished with him, or at least to have passed away soon after his death. The severe persecutions with which the House of Lancaster bought the -support of the Church repressed the outward manifestations of Wiclifism, but the new thoughts had sunk deep into the hearts of the people, and continued to exert an influence which prepared England to receive the Reformation. For fifty years after Wiclif's -death occasional persecutions show that his followers were still active. It must be remembered that the men who were tried for heresy were not merely individual rebels against authority. In almost all cases they were charged with holding conventicles, and they were only the most active or most unfortunate among many of the same way of thinking. When persecution ceases we 'have testimony that it was not for want of fit subjects. One of -our chief witnesses is Bishop Peacock, of whom Dr. Lechler very Tightly gives a full account. Not only does Peacock tell us that be often met Lollards when Master of Whittington's College in London.(1431-1441), but he gives a stronger proof of the preva- Jence of their opinions by directing against them his famous Repressor. Peacock deserves notice as a singular instance of the manner in which a great movement of opinion -affects even those who set themselves in opposition to it. He believed himself to be defending the cause of the Church against the Lollards, but his method was too like theirs. The clergy, with a true instinct, felt that the appeal to reason was dangerous in itself, irrespective of the purpose for which it was made, and Peacock's rationalism cost him his bishopric and his liberty. Yet the very champions of orthodoxy could not escape the new spirit -which was abroad ; the execution of Archbishop Scrope, and the suppression of the alien priories, show that the national feel- ing was gaining strength at the expense of the power of the 'Church.

While the survival of Wiclifism in England has a special interest for us, it must be remembered that Wiclif had disciples -out of his own country. The fire which was smouldering in England burst into flame in Bohemia. " The apostles, the heirs of Wycliffism," says Dr. Milman, " were John Huss and Jerome -of Prague." Dr. Lechler traces out, more fully than has been done before, the relations of Huss and his followers to

and shows that they acknowledged him as a master and -upheld his fame in spite of Church censures. This influence of Wiclif is worth insisting on, because it connects him with the main stream of the Reformation in Europe, and especially because, as far as we-remember, he is the only Englishman who has exercised any great positive religious power abroad, the only name we have to set beside Bernard, Francis of Assisi, and Luther.

We have left to the last the expression of our thanks to Dr. Lechler for the pieces which he prints in his appendix. We 'have, unfortunately, only too much reason to be grateful to any one who will add to our very small stock of Wiclif literature. As Englishmen and Protestants, we may well be ashamed that the writings of our great Reformer should be unprinted, while those of his opponent, Walden, have gone through three editions. The University of which Wiclif was so distinguished a member may have done all it can, but some -means should be found to relieve England from the disgrace of thus neglecting the fame of one of her greatest sons. If practical reasons are wanted, we may give them in the words of Dr. Shirley : " It is from the Latin works alone that Wyclif's theological posi- tion can be understood, and it is perhaps not too much to say that no writings so important for the history of doctrine are still buried in manuscript."