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the apostles: no tyranny was too cruel or graceless for the representative of Him who proclaimed "peace on earth, good will to men." But up to the time of Richard the Second no cardinal doctrine was impeached; the spiritual jurisdiction of the Pope was everywhere conceded; his power of extreme penalties remained intact; even temporal authority over potentates was acknowledged. The Church, on the whole, had continued irresistible. But the grand assault did not come gradually and with premonition, neither did it cease at the outer wall.
There arose a man of piety, of courage, and of learning; one intrusted with the dignity of professorship at Oxford; one everywhere recognized as able in intellect and blameless in private life. To the mind of John Wickliffe the gross abuses of Papacy came with vividness and startling appeal; his conscience and his zeal armed him for a terribly uneven conflict. It was in his single thought that the reformation was born in England. He began with the abuses of acknowledged power, content as yet to leave unmolested that power itself. He inveighed against practices which were declared crimes by the tenets of the Church, and opened his pregnant career by arraigning the priesthood with charges of theft, bribery, and neglect of duty. Growing bolder as he found his efforts received by many with favor, and not being without protectors among malcontents of noble birth, he at length openly attacked the cardinal articles of church faith and church discipline. He denied the transubstantiation of the Body and Blood in the mass. He pronounced excommunication lawful only when prompted by religious justice, and not at the caprice and jealousy of the priesthood. He defended the right of the civil power to appropriate the lands of the delinquent clergy, and went so far as to oppose their occupancy of temporal estates at all. He denounced indulgences, the worship of images, pilgrimages, and monasterial corporations. The Pope, he said, had no power to declare rules of faith; was by no means infallible; had but a limited authority; was powerless in foreign states; in fact, was nothing more than the local Bishop of Rome.
In two doctrines, he went even beyond those who began the German reformation: he doubted the special efficacy of prayers, and he held marriage not only to be permitted to, but obligatory upon, the clergy. The consternation of the hierarchy may be imagined, when "Wickliffe translated the Bible, scattered the grateful harbinger abroad among the people, and absolutely attracted to his own theories nearly one-half the population of the realm; when John of Gaunt, the most moderate and popular of the princes of the blood royal, and Percy of Northumberland, hereditary Earl Marshal, and the most powerful of the subject nobles, defended, encouraged, and protected the reformer; when such new and startling doctrines spread, as fire over a prairie, throughout their enslaved dominion. The relaxation of the feudal system, the honor and influence conceded to men of learning, the constantly growing enterprise of the community, added to the constant disputes yearly recurring between the Courts of London and the Vatican, had prepared the way for this sudden and wonderful change.
The Primate was prompt in his attempts to quell such glaring heresy in its inception; but all the prestige of long settled power failed to avail against the natural promptings of the popular reason. Wickliffe was expelled from Oxford, examined before prelatical councils, imprisoned, persecuted in his property and person, and harassed by every device which the fertile brains of a crafty priesthood could invent. Nevertheless he escaped the greatest pains of their vengeance, and, after a life of unceasing turmoil and trouble, died in old age in Leicestershire. It is a striking fact, that throughout Wickliffe's career, the lower House of Parliament was in a manner favorably disposed toward him, and was the frequent means of averting the extremities to which the clergy would reduce him. While the King and most of the nobility seemed to acquiesce in, and in many cases to urge vehemently those punishments which were proposed by the prelates, the Commons acted as the conservators of judicial order, and the guardians of free opinion. Not indeed flatly and boldly so, but as far as they could with prudence and without danger to their own safety. After the death of the great reformer, his followers went on increasing in number and power, defying boldly the rage of the prelates, holding large meetings in obscure places, and advancing every year some new dogmas in opposition to those which had once been the common belief of all . They began to question the uses of confession, and the efficacy of priestly absolution. The reverence and worship accorded to saints were reproved; they refused to keep saints' days, to seek their intercession, or to kneel before their altars. The use of images, as well the host as statues and pictures, they came to regard as idolatrous. They denied the peculiar sacredness of church dignities. They even went so far as to denounce the use of oaths. It cannot be denied that the Lollards, who were the heretical generation which followed after Wickliffe, did not confine their attacks to church doctrines and their abuse. There was, mixed up with religious zeal, a tendency to defy and resist the civil power. Of course, in such a revolution of ideas, occurring during the very period of growing popular power in Parliament, there was a vast deal of haranguing about equality, the rights of the people, the vanity and tyranny of kings, and the overbearing insolence of nobles. Those who rose against the Church were apt to be allied with those who threatened the throne, and were fain to indulge in treasons, while asserting the rights of conscience. Therefore, in the disorders which began to be oft-repeated as well as formidable toward the close of Richard's reign, were detected many Lollards; and in the covert meetings held for the purpose of listening to heretical orators, were found also those men who strove to degrade beneath the feet of the people every existing principle of the government.
The religious fury of the enthusiasts raged more fiercely every week; and finally, they declared the sacraments to be blasphemies, purgatory and penance fatal lies, the Church the synagogue of Satan, the Sabbath a Jewish ordinance, and that for priests not to marry was a most damnable sin! The Church and the King, united against malcontents composed of parties who were the enemies of both, and united for the destruction of both, succeeded in suppressing the outbreaks which were become so frequent and annoying; and the peace of the kingdom was to a degree restored. But the fire, smothered, still burned, and anon broke forth with full vigor; ideas holding the essence of truth do not pass back to complete oblivion; and in the succeeding reigns the opposing forces again met, and power built on superstition again triumphed over the infant cause of religious revolution. But no sooner had a temporary restraint been put upon this first great calamity of the Church in England, than another misfortune, not indeed so portentous, yet breeding a host of troubles,' arose to divide and distract her throughout Christendom. Gregory the Eleventh died, and left the succession to the tiara to be contested for by the Italian cardinals on the one side, and the French cardinals on the other. The latter predominated in the holy college; but the election being held in Rome, they were driven by menace, and under the duress of a rabble, to give their votes for the Italian aspirant, who received the tiara with the title of Urban the Sixth. Having, however, escaped the local duress to which they had been subjected at the Papal capital, the Frenchmen proceeded to protest against the election, to declare it illegal, and to choose Count Robert of Geneva Pontiff, who set up sacred state at Avignon, and called himself Clement the Seventh. On the one side, Urban claimed to be elected at the proper time, place, and manner, and by a majority of the electors; on the other, Clement urged that an election procured by force was void, and that when a majority of the college could choose freely and fairly, they had designated him. Instantly the line of division ran through' the Christian nations, and Europe was found to be well balanced between two Popes. Each nation of course sided where their own policy dictated, and France being schismatic, England stood for him who presided at St. Peter's. We find the Church, there