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The Papacy in the 13th and 14th Centuries.

After the death of Innocent III, the papacy maintained its power through the remainder of the 13th century, but with the turn of the century it began to decline, Boniface VIII (1294 - 1303) insisted strongly that all temporal rulers were subject to him; and in his bill 'Unam Sanctam' he wrote "we declare, state, define and pronounce that for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pope is altogether necessary for salvation".

The arrogance of such claims provoked violent reactions notably in England and France. A growing nationalist spirit in various countries heralded the opening of an era of hostility to the papal claims. Philip the Fair, of France, actually sent a servant to Italy and Boniface was arrested.

A month later he died. The next pope, Clement V (1305 - 1313) was so much under the power of Philip of France that he lived in France and in 1309 he settled at Avignon, For about 70 years from this time the popes continued to reside in Avignon, until Gregory XI returned to Italy in 1377. In the following year he died.

The Great Schism.

The cardinals in Rome appointed Urban VI as Gregory's successor and he decided to remain in Rome. The French cardinals then elected one of their own number as Clement VII and he settled at Avignon. The various countries then lined themselves up in support of the two sides, on political rather than religious considerations. The two popes and their successors continued in rivalry until in 1409 a council was held at Pisa to settle the issue.

The council deposed the two existing popes and appointed another. But the two deposed popes continued to press their claims and the result was that there were now three rival popes instead of two. A further assembly was held at Constance at the end of 1414 and continued holding meetings until 1418. The Council set itself three objectives:

(i) To end the Schism.

(ii) To eliminate heresy.

(iii)To reform the Church of God.

In pursuance of these objectives the activities of the Council became known as the Conciliar Movement. In 1417 a new pope was elected, taking the name of Martin V and he eventually secured his position as sole pope.

But the Council of Constance continued to assert its authority as a General Council representing the Catholic Church. They regarded the Pope as only one member of the Council among the rest and held that the General Council, not the Pope, possessed final authority over the Church on earth. They proposed to continue their efforts to reform the Church by holding meetings at regular intervals.

But there was disagreement among members of the Council and Martin V took advantage of these and by shrewd dealings with the Council gradually began to reconstruct papal power. His work was continued by his successor Eugenius IV. Thus the popes set themselves against all demands and needs for material reform and in 1460 Pius II was able to repudiate all conciliar ideas of the constitutional government of the Church.

The Pope was declared to be unique and unchallengeable in his possession of full power for ruling the Universal Church.

England in the 13th and 14th Centuries.

In England John was succeeded in 1216 by Henry III, Henry pursued a policy of subservience to the Pope and eventually found himself confronted by a wide spread opposition. It was led by Simon de Montfort, who in 1264 defeated the king's army at Lewes and captured the King and his heir, but he was allowed to continue his reign.

His successor, Edward I, established Parliament and encouraged respect for laws Edward III in the 14th century, resisted the papacy whenever it infringed on the rights of the crown. It was in the reign of this king that the "morning star" of the English Reformation was born.

JOHN WYCLIFFE (1330 - 1384)

John Wycliffe was born about 1330 near Richmond, in Yorkshire. His family held property and in 1342 this came under the lordship of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and a son of King Edward III. So in course of time Wycliffe came under the patronage of this important and influential prince.

It was probably in 1345 that he first went to Oxford University to commence a long course of training for a career in theology, Between 1349 and 1353 his studies were interrupted to some extent by epidemics of the Black Death. The plague made a deep impression on the mind of the young student and turned his thoughts to eternity; he called upon God to show him the path he ought to follow and found the answer in the Holy Scriptures.

He determined to make the Scriptures known to others. He was a very able student and about 1360 he was appointed as Master of Balliol College. In May 1361 he was appointed to a living in Lincolnshire and later took various other livings. In 1369 he took the degree of B.D, and in 1372 D.D., in 1374 he became Rector of Lutterworth and retained this living until his death in 1384.

But it was only in the last three years of his life that he remained and worked continuously in this parish. Wycliffe proved himself a brilliant scholar. By 1371 he was renowned as the leading philosopher and theologian of the age at Oxford and was the leading scholar in western Europe.

Until 1371 Wycliffe was mostly occupied in academic work and study in the University of Oxford. After this he began to emerge as an important figure in the religious and political life of the country. England at this time was oppressed by taxation. The Hundred Years' War with France had been in progress since 1337.

The Church was reported to possess a third of the land in the country. Much of its wealth was transferred by taxation to the Pope. The demand for money to pay for the war brought feeling against the clergy and the Pope to a head. It was urged that the government should have the power to take over lands possessed by the Church to meet a national emergency.

Wycliffe was drawn into these issues on the side of John of Gaunt, who was one of the most powerful men in the country. Wycliffe supported the rights of the English king against the Pope and his right of exercising control over the Church. Wycliffe held the doctrine that lordship or power is founded on grace; only Christians who carried our their duties in proper manner should exercise lordship.

If they failed to carry out their duties properly, they should lose their authority. Wycliffe's support of John of Gaunt brought him into conflict with Courtenay, Bishop of London and in 1377 he was summoned to St. Paul's to answer charges about his teaching„ After a stormy meeting proceedings against Wycliffe were suspended.

In the same year papal bulls (edicts) were issued to authorities in England, ordering that Wycliffe should be arrested. From 1378 Wycliffe withdrew increasingly from public and political affairs and turned more exclusively to spiritual issues. He now advanced rapidly to the conclusions and doctrines which turned him into the reformer who paved the way for the Reformation in England. These conclusions related to three subjects, the Church, the Eucharist and the Scriptures.

The Church.

Wycliffe regarded the Church as the predestined body of the elect. Only God could know who belonged to this true Church. On the strength of this argument Wycliffe attacked the claims of the Pope, swept aside ecclesiastical authority and rejected the commonly accepted distinction between clergy and laity.

In particular he attacked the claim made by Boniface VIII in his bull Unam Sazctam that the Pope was the head of the Church and that all Christians had to be subject to him for their salvation. The only Head of the Church, he said, was Christ, Since nobody knew if an individual were predestined to salvation, no Christian had the power to make or even proclaim the Pope head or a member of the true Church.

Wycliffe condemned pilgrimages, the worship of saints and the selling of indulgences. He regarded the primitive organisation of the apostolic Church as the ideal for membership and conduct. Manner of life revealed the true Christian; ordination was valueless if the priest belived his office by unworthy conduct.

Wycliffe regarded the king as God's regent, who had the authority to reform the Church's hierarchy and cut away its corrupting privileges. He demanded a return to Gospel principles and the pattern of the early Church for Christian living. This meant that the individual Christian could coy une with God without the need of any mediating priesthood.

The Eucharist.

In 1379 Wycliffe broke away from the doctrine of transubstantiation, with which he had for a long time been uneasy, and then completely rejected it. He argued that transubstantiation was a doctrine of only recent origin and urged a return to the teaching of the Scriptures. For these views Wycliffe came under attack at Oxford. His former protector, John of Gaunt, vainly tried to persuade him to refrain from further disputing.

Wycliffe published his "Confession" in 1331, defending and amplifying his position. The ecclesiastical authorities in Oxford condemned Wycliffe and his teaching, and in 1382 his doctrines were more formally condemned in the Blackfriars Synod.

The Scriptures.

It became one of Wycliffe's basic principles that the supreme place and authority should be given to the Scriptures. He had always quoted extensively from Scripture, but it seems that he had only gradually come to regard the Bible as supremely authoritative. In his last years he exalted the Scriptures in uncompromising terms and in 1378 he issued a lengthy discussion entitled "On the Truth of Holy Scripture", Holy Scripture, he said, was the highest authority for every believer, the standard of faith and the foundation for reform in religious, political and social life.

It was grounded in its divine inspiration in every part as God's law, and witnessed to Christ and the whole scheme of salvation in Him. Knowledge of the Bible alone was essential and failure to know it was failure to know Christ; as it stood, it could be understood by anyone who read in faith and sought the teaching of God's Holy Spirit.

With this attitude toward the Scriptures, it is not surprising to find that Wycliffe urged and eventually undertook the translation of the Bible into ordinary language for common use. The work was being planned by 1380; Wycliffe himself did not take much part in the actual translation work, but he was the initiator and the inspiration behind it.

The translation that came into general use, made from the Latin Vulgate, was completed by John Purvey, Wycliffe's secretary at Lutterworth, about 1395. This translation came to be known as the Lollard Bible, and its popularity is attested by the fact that over a hundred manuscripts of it still survive, despite legislation enacted and enforced during the 15th century against possessing or reading the Bible in English. Purvey's Bible paved the way to the work of Tyndale and his successors.

The other practical result of Wycliffe's attitude to the Bible was the organisation and work of the "poor preachers". This involved the training of laymen to minister among the people. By 1382 groups of Wycliffe's supporters had sprung up at Leicester and there carried the Gospel to neighbouring midland towns.

Wycliffe placed the very highest premium upon preaching as the ministry of God's Word to the whole people. He did not intend to set up any new order or a rival ministry to the parish priesthood but simply to fill the gap in preaching the Gospel, with a different stress in what was said.

He urged that the "bare text" of Scripture should be taken and expounded, for the most part in practical terms. Thus the translation of the Bible into English and a popular evangelistic movement were the results of Wycliffe's concern with Scripture. In each case the final shape of the movement was the work of Wycliffe's disciples.

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