ARTICLE IV. – HERESIES OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY. – 31. -The Beghards and Beguines; their errors condemned by Clement V. 32.-Marsilius of Padua, and John Jandunus; their writings condemned as heretical by John XXII. 33.-John Wicklifle, and the beginning of his heresy. 34.-Is assisted by John Ball; death of the Archbishop of Canterbury. 35.-The Council of Constance condemns forty-five Articles of Wickliffe. 36, 37.-Miraculous confirmation of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. 38.-Death of Wickliffe.
- The Beghards and Beguines sprung up in Germany in this century. Van Ranst (1) draws a distinction betweeen the good Beghards, who, in Flanders, especially, professed the third rule of the Order of St. Francis, and the heretics; and also between the Beguines, ladies, who led a religious life, though not bound by vows, and the heretical Beguines, whose conduct was not remarkable for purity. The religious Beguines deduce their origin either from St. Begghe, Duchess of Brabant, and daughter of Pepin, Mayor of the Palace to the King of Austrasia, or from Lambert le Begue, a pious priest, who lived in 1170. The origin of the name adopted by the heretics is uncertain; but the followers of the Fratricelli were called by that name in Germany and the Low Countries, as were also the followers of Gerard Segarelli, and Dulcinus, who both were burned alive for their errors. The doctrines professed by the Beghards was as absurd as it was impious. Man, said they, might arrive at such a degree of perfection, even in this life, as to become totally impeccable, and even incapable of advancing any more in grace, and when he arrives at this state, he should no longer fast or pray, for sensuality is then so entirely subjected to reason and the spirit, that anything the body desires may be freely granted to it. Those who have arrived at that pitch of perfection are no longer subject to human obedience, or bound by the precepts of the Church. Man can, even in the present life, being thus perfect, obtain final beatitude, as well as he shall obtain it hereafter in the realms of the blessed, for every intellectual nature is in itself blessed, and the soul does not require the light of glory to see God.
(1) Van Ranst, His. Heres p. 221.
It is only imperfect men who practise acts of virtue, for the perfect soul throws off virtue altogether. “Mulieris osculum (cum ad hoc natura non inclinet) est mortale peccatum, actus autem carnalis (cum ad hoc natura inclinet), peccatum non est maxime cum tentatur exercens.” When the body of Christ is elevated, a perfect man should not show any reverence, for it would be an imperfection to descend from the summit of his contemplation, to think on the Eucharist or on the humanity of Christ. It is remarkable, that many of their opinions were adopted by the Quietists in a subsequent century. Clement V. condemned these heretics in a General Council, held in Vienne, in Dauphiny, in 1311.
- Marsilius Menandrinus, of Padua, and John Jandunus, of Peragia, also lived in this century. Marsilius published a book, called “Defensorum Pacis,” and Jandunus contributed some additions to it. The errors scattered through the work were condemned by Pope John XXII., as heretical, and refuted by several Theologians, especially by Noel Alexander, who gives the following account of them (2). When Christ paid tribute to Cæsar, he did it as matter of obligation, and not of piety, and when he ascended into heaven, he appointed no visible head in the Church, left no Vicar, nor had St. Peter more authority than the rest of the Apostles. It is the Emperor’s right to appoint, remove, and punish Prelates, and when the Papal See is vacant, he has the right of governing the Church. All Priests, not even excepting Bishops and the Pope, have, by the institution of Christ, equal authority and jurisdiction, unless the Emperor wishes that one should have more power than another. The whole united Church has not the power to punish any man, and no Bishop or meeting of Bishops can inflict a sentence of excommunication or interdict, unless by authority of the Prince. Bishops collectively or individually can no more excommunicate the Pope than he can them. The dispensation for marriages, prohibited by human law alone, and not by Divine law, belongs, of right, to the Prince. To the Prince, by right, it belongs to give a definitive judgment, in regard to persons about to be ordained, and Bishops should not ordain any one without his authority. We will now speak of Wickliffe, the leader of all the so-called Reformers.
(2) Nat. Alex. t. 16, c. 3, ar. 13, p. 193.
- John Wickliffe began to preach his heresy in 1374, some say because he was disappointed in the Bishopric of Winchester.* He was learned in Scholastic Theology, which he taught at Oxford, and was a favourite preacher, always followed by the people. He led an austere life, was meanly clothed, and even went barefooted. Edward III. died, and was succeeded by his grandson, Richard, the son of Edward the Black Prince, who was then only eleven years of age; and his uncle, the Duke of Lancaster, was a man of very lax sentiments in regard to religion, and extended his protection to Wickliife, who openly preached his heresy (3). Gregory IX., who then governed the Church, complained to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, that they were not active enough in putting a stop to this plague, and he wrote on the same subject to the King and the University of Oxford (4). A Synod of Bishops and Doctors was accordingly summoned, and Wickliffe was cited to appear and account for himself; he obeyed the summons, and excused himself by explaining away, as well as he could, the obnoxious sense of his doctrine, and putting another meaning on it. He was then only admonished to be more prudent for the future was absolved and commanded to be silent from thence forward (5).
(3) Nat. Alex. s. 6, n. 1; Gotti, loc. cit. n. 2. (5) Nat. Alex. s. 6, n. 1; Gotti, ibid, n. 5, & Grav. loc. cit.
(4) Gotti, ib. n. 3; Nat. Alex. 6, n. 1; Grav. loc; cit.
* I believe the holy Author was misled in this fact; it is generally supposed that the primary cause of his rancour against the Monastic Orders and the Court of Rome were his expulsion from the Wardenship of Canterbury Hall, into which he had illegally intruded himself See LINGARD, vol. IV., c. 2.
- Wickliffe was assisted by a wicked priest of the name of John Ball, who escaped from the prison where his Bishop had confined him for his crimes, and joined the Reformers, who gladly received him. The subject of his discourses to the people was that all ranks should be levelled, and the nobility and magistracy done away with, and he was joined by over an hundred thousand levellers. They laid their demands before the Sovereign, but could not obtain what they desired; they considered that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Sudbury, a good man in the main, but too weak a disposition to cope with the troubles of the times, influenced the Sovereign’s mind against them; they resolved on his death, therefore, and stormed the Tower, where he had taken refuge, and found him praying, and recommending his soul to God. He addressed them mildly, and tried to calm their rage, but his executioner, John Sterling, stepped forward, and told him to prepare for death. The good Bishop then confessed that he deserved that punishment for not being more vigorous in the discharge of his duties, perhaps, and stretched forth his neck to receive the fatal stroke; but whether it was that the sword was blunt, or the executioner awkward, his head was not cut off till he received eight blows (6). Berninus, quoting Walsingham (7), says that the executioner was immediately possessed by the devil, and that he ran through the streets with the sword hanging round his neck, boasting that he had killed the Archbishop, and entered the city of London to receive his reward; this was, however, different from what he expected, for he was condemned to death, and Ball was hanged and quartered, at the same time, together with his accomplices.
- William of Courtenay being appointed Archbishop, in place of Sudbury, held a Synod in London, and condemned twenty-four propositions of Wickliffe ten of them, especially as heretical. These were afterwards condemned by the University of Paris, and by John XXIII., in a Council held at Rome, and, finally, in the eighth Session of the Council of Constance, in 1415, in which forty-five articles of Wickliffe were condemned the greater part as heretical, the rest as erroneous, rash, &c. and among these the twenty-four condemned previously were included. The following are the errors condemned by the Council, as Noel Alexander quotes them (8) : The material substance of bread and wine remains in the Sacrament of the Altar, and the accidence of the bread is not without the substance in the Eucharist. Christ is not identically and really there in his proper presence.
(6) Gotti, loc. cit. n.5; Van Ranst, dicto, n. 241; Bernin. l. 3, c. 9 (7) Bernin. loc. cit. c. 9, con Richard, Ranst. Ann. 1381, ex Walsingh.
(8) Nat. Alex. t. 16, sec. 14, c. 3, . art. 22, s. 6; Gotti, ibid, Van
If a Bishop or Priest be in mortal sin he cannot consecrate, nor ordain, nor baptize. There is nothing in Scripture to prove that Christ instituted the Mass. God ought to obey the devil. If one be truly contrite, all external confession is superfluous and useless. If the Pope is foreknown and wicked, and, consequently, a member of the devil, he has no power over the faithful. After Urban VI. no other Pope should be elected, but, like the Greeks, we should live under our own laws. It is opposed to the Holy Scriptures that Ecclesiastics should have possessions. No Prelate should excommunicate any one, unless he knows him to be already excommunicated by God, and he who excommunicates otherwise, is, by the act, a heretic, or excommunicated himself. A Prelate excommunicating a Clergyman who appeals to the King, or to the Supreme Council of the Realm, is, by the fact, a traitor to the King and the Realm. Those who cease to preach, or to listen to the Word of God, on account of the excommunication of man, are excommunicated, and in the judgment of God are traitors to Christ. Every Deacon and Priest has the power of preaching the Word of God, without any authority from the Holy See or a Catholic Bishop. No one is a Civil Lord no one a Prelate no one a Bishop, while he is in mortal sin. Temporal Lords can, whenever they please, take temporal goods from the Church. Possessionatis habitualiter delinquentibus id est ex habitu non solum actu delinquentibus. The people can, whenever they please, punish their delinquent Lords. Tithes are merely eleemosynary offerings, and the parishioners have the right, whenever they please, of keeping them from their Prelates on account of their sins. Special prayers applied by Prelates or Religious to any one individual, are of no more value to him than general ones ceteris paribus. Any one giving charity to Friars is excommunicated by the fact. Any one entering a religious Order, either mendicant or endowed, becomes weaker, and less able to observe the commandments of God.
The Saints who founded religious orders sinned by doing so. Religious living in Orders do not belong to the Christian Religion. Friars are obliged to live by the labour of their hands, and not by receiving the oblations of the Faithful. Those who oblige themselves to pray for others, who provide them with the things of this life, are guilty of Simony. The prayer of the foreknown availeth nothing. All things happen through absolute necessity. The confirmation of youth, the ordination of Priests, and the consecration of places, are reserved to the Pope and Bishops, on account of the temporal gain and honour they bring. Universities and the studies, colleges, degrees and masterships in them, are only vain things introduced from paganism, and are of no more utility to the Church than the devil himself. The excommunication of the Pope, or of any other Prelate, is not to be feared, because it is the censure of the devil. Those who found Convents sin, and those who enter them are servants of the devil. It is against the law of Christ to endow a Clergyman. Pope Sylvester and the Emperor Constantino erred by endowing the Church. All members of the mendicant orders are heretics, and those who give them alms are excommunicated. Those who become members of any religious order are by the fact incapable of observing the Divine commandments, and, consequently, can never enter the kingdom of heaven till they apostatize from their institute. The Pope, and all his Clergy having possessions, are heretics, by holding these possessions; and temporal Lords, and the rest of the laity who consent to their holding them, are heretics also. The Roman Church is the synagogue of Satan, and the Pope is not the proximate and immediate Vicar of Christ. The Decretal Epistles (canon law) are apochryphal, and seduce from the Faith of Christ, and the Clergymen are fools who study them. The Emperor and secular Lords have been seduced by the devil to endow the Church with temporalities. It is the devil who introduced the election of the Pope by the Cardinals. It is not necessary for salvation to believe that the Roman Church is supreme among all other Churches. It is folly to believe in the Indulgences of the Pope and Bishops. The oaths which are taken to corroborate contracts and civil affairs are unlawful. Augustine, Benedict, and Bernard, are damned, unless they repented of having possessions, and of instituting and entering into religious Orders; and so from the Pope to the lowest Religious they are all heretics. All religious orders altogether are invented by the devil.
- Enumerating these errors, I cannot help remarking that Wickliffe, the Patriarch of all the modern heretics, attacks especially the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, as we see in his three first propositions, and in this he was followed by all the modern heresiarchs; but God, at the same time, confirmed the faith of his people by extraordinary miracles; and I will just mention three of them (among a great number), on the authority of authors of the first character. Nicholas Serrarius (9) relates, that when the Wickliffites first began to attack this dogma of the Faith in 1408, the following miracle took place : A Priest, called Henry Otho, was one day saying Mass in Durn, in the Diocese of Wurtzburg, and, through his want of caution, upset the chalice, and the Sacred Blood was spilled all over the corporal. It appeared at once of the real colour of blood, and in the middle of the corporal was an image of the Crucifix, surrounded with several other images of the head of the Redeemer, crowned with thorns. The Priest was terrified, and although some other persons had already noticed the accident, he took up the corporal, and laid it under the altar-stone, that it might decay in some time, and nothing more would be known about it. God, however, did not wish that such a miracle should be concealed. The Priest was at the point of death, and remorse of conscience troubled him even more than the agony he was suffering; he could bear it no longer, but confessed all, told where the corporal was concealed, and then died immediately. All was found to be as he stated, and God wrought other miracles to confirm its truth. The Magistrates investigated the whole affair with the greatest caution and deliberation, and sent an authentic account of it to the Pope, and he published a brief, dated the 31st of March, 1445, inviting all the devout faithful to ornament and enlarge the church honoured by so stupendous a miracle.
- Thomas Treter (10) relates the next miracle. Some Jews bribed an unfortunate Christian servant woman to procure a consecrated Host for them, and when they got it, they brought it into a cavern, and cut it in little bits on a table with their knives, in contempt of the Christian Faith. The fragments immediately began to bleed, but instead of being converted by the miracle, they buried them in a field near the city of Posen, and went home. A Christian child soon after, who was taking care of some oxen, came into the field, and saw the consecrated particles elevated in the air, and shining as if made of fire, and the oxen all on their knees, as if in adoration. He ran off at once, and told his father, and when he found the fact to be as the child stated, he gave notice to the Magistrates and the people.
(9) Serar. Moguntinar. rerom, l. 5. (10) Treter de Mirac. Eucharis.
Crowds immediately followed him to the place, and all saw the particles of the Sacred Host shining in the air, and the oxen kneeling in adoration. The Bishop and Clergy came at once in procession, and collecting the holy particles into the pixis, they brought them to the church. A little chapel was built on the spot soon after, which Wenceslaus, King of Poland, converted into a sumptuous church, where Stephen Damaleniski, Archbishop of Gnesen, attests that he saw the sacred fragments stained with blood. Tilman Bredembach (11) relates that there lived in England, in 1384, a nobleman of the name of Oswald Mulfer; he went to his village church one Easter, to receive his Paschal Communion, and insisted on being communicated with a large Host. The Priest, fearful of his power, if he denied him, placed the large Host on his tongue, but in the very act the ground opened under his feet, as if to swallow him, and he had already sunk down to his knees, when he seized the altar, but that yielded like wax to his hand. He now, seeing the vengeance of God overtaking him, repented of his pride, and prayed for mercy, and as he could not swallow the Host for God would not permit him the Priest removed it, and replaced it in the Tabernacle; but it was all of the colour of blood. Tilman went on purpose to visit the place where this miracle happened : he saw, he says, the Host tinged with blood, the altar with the marks of Oswald’s hands, and the ground into which he was sinking still hollow, and covered with iron bars. Oswald himself, he says, now perfectly cured of his pride, fell sick soon after, and died with sentiments of true penance.
(11) Bredembach in Collat. l. 1, c. 35.
- We now come back to Wickliffe, and see his unhappy end. On the feast of St. Thomas of Canterbury, in 1385, he prepared to preach a sermon, not in honour of, but reprobating the Saint; but God would no longer permit him to ravage his Church, for a few days after, on St. Sylvester’s Day, he was struck down by a dreadful palsy, which convulsed him all over, and his mouth, with which he had preached so many blasphemies, was most frightfully distorted, so that he could not speak even a word, and as Walsingham (12) informs us, he died in despair. King Richard prohibited all his works, and ordered them to be burned. He wrote a great deal, but his principal work was the Trialogue between Alithia, Pseudes, and Phronesis Folly, Falsehood, and Wisdom. Several authors wrote in refutation of this work, but its own contradictions are a sufficient refutation, for the general characteristics of heretical writers is to contradict themselves (13). The University of Oxford condemned two hundred and sixty propositions extracted from Wickliffe’s works; but the Council of Constance included all his errors in the one hundred and forty-five articles of his it condemned.
(12) Walsingham, ap. Bernin. t.3, c. 9; Van Ranst, p. 241; Varillas, t.1. l.1 & Gotti, loc. cit. (13) Graveson, t. 4, sec. 15, coll. 31; Bernin. t, 3, l. 9, p. 609, c. 8,