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LIFE OF WYCLIFFE.
ORIGIN AND EFFECTS ОР THE PAPAL SCHISMWYCLIFFE's
TRACT ON THE SCHISM OF THE POPES," AND OTHER REFERENCES TO THAT EVENT
HIS WORK ON THE TRUTH AND MEANING OF SCRIPTURE--HIS SICKNESS AT OXFORD, AND RECOVERY-IMPORTANCE ATTACHED BY HIM TO PREACHING-HIS LABORIOUS ATTENTION TO IT-REASONS OF HIS PARTICULAR REVERENCE FOR THAT EXERCISE-HISTORY OF PREACHING CHARACTER OF WYCLIFFE'S MANUSCRIPT DISCOURSES-EXTRACTS-VIL
LUSTRATING HIS MANNER OF EXPOSING THE ERRORS
AND DISORDERS OF
THE ECCLECIASTICAL SYSTEM-AND OF INCULCATING THE SUFFICIENCY OF
The residence of the pontiffs during seventy CHAP. years at Avignon, was described by the Italians As a second babylonish captivity. That capti- Origin vity, if such it may be called, had indeed a ten- fects of dency to reduce the extravagance of the papal schism. claims; but it was far from being the most serious feature of that disgrace, which accompanied the representatives of St. Peter, on returning to the ancient seat of their authority. On the death of Gregory the eleventh in 1378, the cardinals assembled to elect his successor; but the Roman populace, aware that three-fourths of the conclave
CHAP. were Frenchmen, and indignant that the vacant
honor had been so frequently conferred on ecclesiastics of that nation, gathered tumultuously around the place of meeting, and uttered the most alarming menaces with a view to secure the suffrage of the electors in favor of an Italian. The cardinals trembled for their safety, and immediately pronounced Bartholomew de Pregnano, a Neapolitan, and then archbishop of Bari, as the object of their choice. The new pontiff assumed the name of Urban the sixth, but his conduct was such, as soon to exasperate his enemies and to alienate his friends. From this cause, or from national partialities, some of the leading cardinals retired from Rome to Anagni, and at Fondi, a city of Naples, they chose their brother of Geneva, to be the successor of Gregory, and he was immediately proclaimed as Clement the seventh. To justify this bold measure, it was pleaded that the election of Urban was the result of intimi dation, and accordingly invalid. France, and her allies, including Spain, Sicily, and Cyprus, acknowledged the authority of Clement; while England, and the rest of Europe, adhered to that of Urban.' “ And which of these two,” observes Mosheim, “is to be considered as the true and “ lawful pope, is to this day, matter of doubt, nor “ will the records and writings alleged by the
contending parties enable us to adjust that point “ with any certainty.”2
But whatever were the merits of this controversy, its effects were by no means doubtful.
· Mosheim, iii. 326, 327.
Through the next half century, the church had CHAP. two or three different heads at the same time; each of the contending popes forming plots, and thundering out anathemas against their competitors. “ The distress and calamity of these times “ is” said to have been “ beyond all power of de“ scription, for not to insist on the perpetual con“ tentions and wars between the factions of the “ several popes by which multitudes lost their “ fortunes and lives, all sense of religion was ex
tinguished in most places, and profligacy arose to
a most scandalous excess. The clergy while “they vehemently contended which of the reigning
popes was the true successor of Christ, were so
excessively corrupt as to be no longer studious “ to keep up even the appearance of religion or
decency, and in consequence of all this, many
plain, well-meaning people, who concluded that “ no one could possibly partake of eternal life “ unless united with the vicar of Christ, were “ overwhelmed with doubt, and were plunged into “the deepest distress of mind." And thus also it was, that multitudes were prepared to doubt whether the supremacy claimed by the pontiffs, since it could become involved in such fearful uncertainty, could really be an article of faith or discipline so momentous as had been commonly supposed. Wycliffe, whose escape from the vengeance of the clergy, must be attributed in a great degree to the distractions occasioned by this event, was fully aware of the aid which it might be made to confer on his efforts as a reformer.
Schism of the
The controversy had no sooner commenced,
than he published a tract intitled,—“ On the Wycliffe's “ Schism of the Popes,"4 in which he adverts to On the this dispute, as having divided the chief autho
rities of the hierarchy, and as constituting a Popes.”
feature of the times, which presented the most. powerful inducement to attempt the destruction of those laws and customs, which had served so greatly to vitiate the christian priesthood, and to afflict the whole christian community. The endowments of the church, whether claimed by the pontiffs, or by the national clergy, he names as a principal cause of the degeneracy of both; and affirms that all estates entrusted to the stewardship of churchmen are capable of a more just, and of a far less dangerous application. To effect this new appropriation of the wealth which it is said had been frequently ill acquired, and was as frequently worse applied, the appeal made is not to the passions of the multitude, but to the solemn responsibilities of the sovereigns, and the rulers of Christendom. And that this exhortation might not be in vain, he renews his assault on the ground work of that policy which had long derived such potency from the genius of superstition,-questioning entirely the power of binding and loosing as assumed by the pope and his clergy. Instead of conceding that their authority over the disembodied spirit must ever regulate its destiny, he contends, that when correctly exercised, it is strictly ministerial only; and that inasmuch as its decisions were frequently opposed to moral
* MS. Trinity College, Dublin, Class C. Tab. 3, No. 12, p. 193--208.