« ÖncekiDevam »
he must in consequence feel, that the Life of our patriarch Reformer is the last which should be left to be gathered from the tales of adversaries, who have employed their utmost ingenuity to conceal his virtues, or to convert them into crime. Nor will it be admitted for a moment, by the sincere disciple of the Reformation, that the History, and the Opinions of Wycliffe, may be sufficiently known through the medium of the brief, or the confused notices, which have been hitherto supplied by his friends. To this, indeed, we might submit, as to a sort of destiny, were it certain that the zeal of his opponents had succeeded in consigning the whole of his compositions to the flames. But though their familiar designation, as inquisitors of heretical pravity, was far from being assumed in vain, the Wycliffe manuscripts still extant are happily sufficient to afford a complete illustration of his character and doctrines.
The only writer who may be said to have attempted a Life of Wycliffe, is Mr. Lewis, a clergyman, who about a century since was "Minister of Meregate." But that gentleman concluded his labours, regretting that his opportunities for examining the works of the Reformer were such as of necessity to render his acquaintance with them imperfect. So feebly also, from various causes, have his very laudable intentions been executed, that his book, which few persons have been known to read, would seem to be rarely consulted, except
by the enemies of Wycliffe, as their best authority when employed in traducing him. It would have grieved the honourable mind of that writer, to have known that such a use would be made of his labours; but this is the event. And, unhappily, the persons who thus avail themselves of his defects, so as to make him appear a party in the work of accusation, are enabled to do so, without being exposed to all the consequences of a disingenuousness with which they certainly are chargeable.
To myself, Mr. Lewis's narrative could afford but a very limited aid, as it became my determination in making my collections with a view to the present Work, to examine the Reformer's manuscripts, so as to become immediately possessed of whatever information those voluminous productions might supply. To acquire this familiarity with writings which are so widely scattered, and where every sentiment is clothed in a character, and mostly in a dialect so long since obsolete, was a point which demanded an exercise of patience. It was strictly necessary that considerable intervals should be passed at both Universities: that access should be obtained to the manuscript libraries of Lambeth Palace, and Trinity College, Dublin and that much time should be spent in consulting the valuable documents in the British Museum. Nor is it until more than two thousand miles have been traversed for this object, and some extended portions of time have for some years been devoted to it,
that I have ventured to claim the attention of the public on a subject so important as the character of the Father of the Reformation. How far the result of these efforts may equal the expectations of my readers, is a question on which I shall not be supposed to be indifferent. I have failed, however, in the object which I have pursued with some solicitude, if these volumes be not found to contain a faithful detail of all the facts which may be known as pertaining to the Reformer's history; accompanied too with whatever of illustration may be brought to them from his writings. In addition to which, I trust the story of his life, and particularly the chapter immediately following it, will be found to present a complete view of his various opinions, as they exist in the series of his works.
The introduction to the main object of these volumes consists of three chapters; the first, relating to the rise and character of the Papal System; the second, to the state of the Protestant Doctrine on the continent, from the fall of the empire to the opening of the fourteenth century; and the last, to the Ecclesiastical Establishment, and the state of society in England, previous to the appearance of Wycliffe. The history of the contest so long perpetuated between the advocates of a corrupted, and of a purer Christianity, is resumed in the Life of the English Reformer. Some observations are also offered, on the state of the church during the interval between the decease of Wycliffe and the appear
ance of Luther.
To a correct estimate of the character of Wycliffe, and of our obligation to his generous labours, it is necessary that the features of the system which he was called to oppose should be clearly perceived, together with the degree of resistance which it had previously encountered. But properly to dispose of the materials which it became important for this purpose to connect with the narrative, was a point of some difficulty. The plan of an introduction has been adopted, as favourable to the more consecutive treatment of the Reformer's history; and of the series of things, whether good or evil, which belong to his times. The comprehensive nature of the points to be investigated within the small space allotted to the preliminary chapters, and the laborious attention which has been so often conferred upon them, must serve to prevent the anticipation of novelty. Should some of the views expressed, with respect to the complicated movements detailed in that portion of the Work be thought to partake at all of that character, they have not, I trust, been hastily adopted; but accuracy, selection, and arrangement, were there the principal matters of solicitude. The first and second chapters describe the Christianity which pervaded the western nations during the middle ages: the last contemplates the same system, subject to the modifications supplied by our local history.
In following the stream of events which issued in the establishment of the papal power, I have been
guided chiefly by Catholic writers. Where these have failed, I have restricted myself to such authorities as, on the questions with which they are connected, will be in general acknowledged by the Protestant reader as decisive. With respect to the churches of the Reformation, now under the protection of the British Government, it is certain that Wycliffe should be considered as the parent of them all, rather than as the partisan of either. In conformity with this view of his character, while stating among his opinions many which must prove unacceptable to various existing denominations, and adding, as no less due to his memory and to the reader, the reasonings on which such opinions were founded, I have been concerned to rest the claims of the Reformer on the gratitude of each religious body discarding the authority of Rome, upon grounds which the whole have agreed to venerate as sacred. If I have any where violated this rule, it has not been from design. In English history, Wycliffe is known as the first man who dared to advocate the free circulation of the scriptures in the vernacular tongue, the unalienable right of private judgment, and our complete deliverance from the wiles and oppressions of a papal priesthood; uniting with these excellencies all the elements of that enlightened piety which adorned the christian profession in its purer ages. The reader who may be capable of regarding these as trivial things, because the mind which proceeded thus far, did not adjust itself with more precision to the delicate frame