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CHARACTERISTICS OF THE REFORMATION.-XXI.
WYCLIFFE. HISTORIANS of English history give us the detail of a battle of Hastings, and the facts connected with what they call the Norman Conquest of England; accurately or otherwise, they write down the succession of the kings of the Norman race who ruled over the conquered ones, and tell the names of the barons who divided the English soil (or a portion of it) between them. Looking from the civil to the ecclesiastical annals, we find there marshalled, more or less correctly, the facts relating to the settlement and growth of Christianity, or rather Priestcraft, under the auspices of the Papacy; we learn how the power of the Pope grew, how the Papal authority was respected, and how, at last, an Innocent III. received from John Sansterre (calling himself king of England) a grant of the land, and how said John received it back to be held thenceforth by him and his successors in fee of the Pope. The facts are all duly set down with more or less of diligence and research, but the soul of them, the meaning of them, the great principles at work beneath them, these are nowhere found in our history books. The great Earl of Chatham was in the habit of saying, that all he knew of English history was derived from a study of Shakspere's historical dramas; and they, with Scott's, and, in a still more eminent degree, Bulwer's historical novels, may be said to contain more of true history than any of the professed histories we have. It is true, as certain dry-as-dust matter-of-fact people have now and then troubled themselves to point out, the chronology is sometimes wrong, but there is something above chronology, and he who would gain an idea of the spirit of the ages represented in those works, who would grasp the principles which explain the dry facts, would do well, despite these chronological croakers, to read and thoroughly digest those dramas and novels, provided always, of course, that he have not the time and talent to go to the original sources--the chronicles, the acts of parliament, and other records existent--and distil the essence of history from them for himself. With reference to the Church history, too, we are bound to make an honourable exception of the author of the "History of Latin Christianity," who has to a greater extant than any other Church historian written out the spirit of the religious and ecclesiastical history of those times.
Had the history-ecclesiastical and civil-of those times been really written out as it was lived, the questions would have been asked, Did the Normans really achieve a conquest ?- Was the power of the Pope what it seemed to be ? And, in the answers to these questions, we should have learnt that, through all those centuries, the Saxon element was a living force in history, and was gradually, though surely, encroaching on the Norman despotism of the aristocracy, and the Latin despotism of the clergy; that, in fact, neither "conquering.” William of Normandy, nor the "all potent” Papacy ever really made good their sceming conquest of the English people, who emerged from the thraldom which the Norman barons and kings and the Latin Church had for a time laid upon them, stronger and freer than they had ever been. It is with the Saxon movement against the Latin Church despotism, and with one who is entitled to be called its representative man-Wycliffe; the English Proto-Reformer, and the Father of Religious Freedom—that we shall have in this and some succeeding articles to occupy the attention of our readers.
Born about the year 1324 (the place of his birth being the village of Wiclif, near Richmond, in Yorkshire, and, probably taking his name, as was
common in those days, from his birthplace), Wycliffe was just entering into early manhood at the time the great plague of 1347 was devastating Europe, and, in connection with that event, his name first comes before us. Of his youth nothing more can be told than that he studied at Oxford. He was at Oxford at the time of the plague. Commencing in Tartary in 1345, this fearful pestilence desolated Asia, and, after traversing Europe, carried its ravages into Africa. One-half the population of the world are said to have fallen victims to it; at least, this is certain, that one-third of the inhabitants of Europe were swept away by it. This is the plague which, in its ravages and effects in Florence, is so terribly and truthfully described by Bulwer in one of the chapters of his “ Rienzi ;” and, terrible as the picture is, it is not overdrawn, In many of the cities of Europe not more than a tithe of the inhabitants remained alive, and of these but few remained; fear had driven them forth, as if, by change of place, they could fly from a danger which was everywhere. All the ties which bind men in society were broken, the very bases of social existence were uprooted. If two men met at the street-corners, they turned and fled from each other ; parents forsook children; children deserted their parents ; no bond between man and man but dissolved before the universal fear. Of course, there were some noble exceptions to this, but they were few. The most hideous results produced were the moral degradation and ruin. On every hand were now displayed the master passions of men let loose; some passing from house to house where only the sick and dying were, and gathering together the treasure which no one could and no one cared to guard; others passing their time in sensual orgies, putting in practice the maxim, Let us eat, and drink, and make merry; for tomorrow we die." Meanwhile the destroying demon passed on in his fearful track. He who to-day was well, to-inorrow was borne to the grave. was," says
the chronicler, “a fearful mortality, and more of the young than the old. They “ died in such numbers that we could not bury them. They were struck by " death in the midst of health. A swelling would suddenly arise in the groin,
or under the armpits. It was an infallible sign of death. Many died through
the force of imagination.” A terrible time, made all the more terrible by the occurrence of several earthquakes in various parts of Europe, with heavy floods. In England, it was the wettest season ever known.
Mortal terror sat enthroned as despot over the souls of men during all that terrible year, and we can hardly wonder that the idea became widely spread that the world was about to end, an idea which would be all the more familiar to the minds of men from the preachings and teachings of the Fraticelli. Not a few began to think that the doctrine of the Everlasting Gospel was indeed true. The Abbot Joachim’s book was familiar to Wycliffe, and he, too, came to the conclusion that there was truth in it.
It is a somewhat curious coincidence that the man who was afterwards to become the great enemy of the Mendicant Friars, should have been operated on by the same influences, and, to some extent, have espoused the same views, as their old enemies, the Fraticelli, without having any connection with them.
The deep impressions caused by the Plague on his mind, led to his composing his earliest work, prophesying the end of all things, a tract entitled, “The Last Age of the Church.” In this work, Wycliffe declares that the plague was the judgment of God on men as a punishment for the evils they had committed, but more especially for the sins of the Church. In prophetic strain, he says: “Both vengeance of the sword and mischiefs
“unknown before, by which men in those days should be punished, should “ befall for sin of priests; and, ere long, men should fall on them, and cast "them out of their fat benefices, and they should say, He came into his “ benefice by his kindred ; this, by covenant made before ; that, for his
service; and this for money came into God's Church. Then should each “such priest cry, Alas, alas, that no good spirit dwelt with me at my coming “into God's Church !” He then goes on to censure the exactions and usurpations of the Pope, and to denounce the greed of Holy Church ; the tract is directed solely against the Pope and the Hierarchy, with the Simoniacal Clergy. This tract is valuable as shewing that, even at that early period in his career, the mind of Wycliffe was opened to the corruptions found in the bosom of the Church. It is, however, but right to mention that his latest biographer, the Rev. W. W. Shirley, * throws doubt upon the authenticity of this tract, inasmuch as he says, “it has been attributed to “ him in the absence of all external, and in defiance of all internal, evidence." Let it be granted that the external evidence is at the best but doubtful, we must, however, demur to the other statement, for the tone of thought is that of Wycliffe. If the authorship be denied to him, this should, at least, be feasibly explained, and the real author indicated.
But what of the prophecy? We have already cited, in a previous paper, facts which shew that Wycliffe was not single in prophesying the end of the world ; we might have named many more instances in which knaves or fools, ancient and modern, have prophesied the same thing; the distinction of Wycliffe lies in this, that he cannot be charged with being either ; his prophecy was made in solemn earnestness, and, at that time, with some apparent foundation in reason. In truth, however, this idea of the world being near its end, that the “consummation of all things is at hand,” which in this, even as in former ages seems to possess so strong a charm for some minds, is no less ridiculous than it is totally false, and sad withal. False, we say ; the world is not old but young. Consider it well, that other doctrine is a sad one. Time waxing towards completion, and man not yet learnt to love his brother man. Eternity at hand, and the nations not yet able to worship God aright. Man's probation ended, and the day of truth and justice not yet arrived. No future for humanity, and the past all spent in mere strivings after what may be. Man's career of greatness cut short, now that it is only beginning. All the struggles that have been made, all the sufferings that have been endured, all the mighty self-sacrifice, all the noble work of the past, all, all, in vain. Alas! for us, what can be sadder to contemplate ?
Believe it not, brother! the earth is only in its infancy, there is work yet for the human race to do, there is a perfection not yet attained, which has to be won ; let not your faith be lessened, your strong right arm paralyzed, as it must be if this belief is to take possession of your soul that, ere long, all will be finished, and human energy, human aspirations, all of no avail. Half, or more than half, of the human race are barbarian still ; is their day of great things never to arrive ? Science has but disclosed a few of the infinite series of Nature's mysteries; is man never to know the whole of God's truth? Are we to exchange the glorious hope of working out our salvation from human tyrannies, of freeing our souls from the bondage of false creeds and spiritual despotism, for the silly dreams of visionaries; and cease our endeavours to establish truth and justice among men, in order that we may * See his Introduction to the work edited by him for the Treasury Commissioners, " Fasciculi
" Zizaniorum Magistri Johannis Wyclif, cum Tritico,"
place faith in the lying tales of prophecymongers and Apocalyptic sketchers ? God forbid ! All truc men will scout the teaching and the teachers, and manfully set themselves to the task of making the future nobler and better than the past has been.
The age of Wycliffe, however, was one in which, looking at its moral and religious aspects, a man might be excused for believing that progress was impossible, and that the only way to cure the existent evils would be to make a clean sweep of humanity as it was, in order to make room for the "Reign of the Saints." Chaucer has painted the age for us in colours that will never fade; we have only to look into his pages to find the religious, moral, and social state of the fourteenth century. In his “Canterbury Tales” may be read both the objective and subjective side of that age, when faith in the old was dying ont, and the new had not yet taken its place; when chivalry had been baptized into the Church, and the brutal propensities of that semi-savage time thus had the sanction of religion, while “ Our Lady' had become the real deity of Christendom; and when monk and friar met to laugh at the superstition they called religion; and men in general used religion as a means to gratify their lusts or minister to their pleasures, and sought only by its aid to lull their conscientious scruples.
JAS. L. GOODING.
THE LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF SAKYA (BUDDHA).
§ 8.-SAKYA AND HIS DOCTRINAL SYSTEM. The foregoing is a very faithful summary of the moral teaching of Sakya and, with that before us, we may now with safety turn to the cosmological and doctrinal portions. And first, it is curious to learn their ideas regarding how the world was peopled. Of its creation, not knowing, they do not say much. We are informed in the Sacred Books, and it seems to be true, that the world has always existed—that there are Kalpas or lengthened ages, millions of years in each, during which the world is peopled, then comes a Kalpa, age of destruction, when all things are blotted out. To effect that object, extra suns are added to the existing system, and they shine with such intense glory, and pour out so much heat that the whole earth is consumed; then comes water and frost, and all visible things are bound up in the icy chain. When the existing races commenced their existence, it seems that the earth "! was dark and void,” and Brahma descended giving glorious light from his own person. Through this “advent of heavenly light” the earth assumed a smiling face, again flowers bloomed in rich luxuriance, and the appearance of all things was most inviting. At this time sundry of the happy Brahmin spirits, dwelling in the many places of happiness, were attracted by the beauty of the fresh green earth, and one by one they descended to pluck the flowers and luxuriate amid the balmy odours. By-and-bye they regularly visited it, and the crust was changed to honey. One day " these blessed spirits tasted the sweet thing, and that taste lost them the power of returning to their spirit homes. To eat of the earthy was to become of the earth. Now darkness fell upon all, and they knew not how to live, for behold! the taste of mortal earth had made themselves mortal. But, as in mercy to them, the sun was poised high in heaven to give them light and warmth, and thus their lives were rendered bearable. From these imprisoned spirits proceeded all
the races and existing inhabitants of the earth. To them also sin came, first in the form of falsehood, which even now is esteemed the most terrible. By and bye, they separated into classes, and some holier than others, became purer Brahmins-hence the Brahmin class. Then came the Buddhas, or holiest of all. These are rare : some Kalpas cannot boast a single Buddha-others boast of six or seven. The present Kalpa has already had four, and one more will appear before the final consummation of all things. For this Buddha, the 'Tartars, Siamese, and others are even now anxiously looking.
Entering the Buddhist system of philosophy, we find that they hold a triune faith; Buddha, Dharma, Sanga, or Intelligence, Law, and Church (human unity), and when spoken of in a philosophical sense, these terms mean, Wisdom of the Master, Power of Mind, Cohesion of Matter. But all is eventually resolved into one, so that here, as in all other schemes, the One or Absolute Unity, reigns over and pervades all. Some have held that the Buddhists have no idea of God, and if this be said to convey the idea that they know not His ways in all minuteness, then its truth must be acknowledged; but if it be meant, as is usually the case when the missionaries are speaking upon the point, to convey the idea that they have no idea of any superior Intelligence, then it is a sad libel upon the whole of their faith and writings.
They believe in heaven or heavens. Indeed, the idea already given of the beginning of our race, involves such a belief, for the pious ones came down from above. Moreover, according to their system, there are sixteen heavens, or places of blessedness. All these heavens are as stages, through which men must
pass in order to attain the highest. The Buddhist never tells you that, although you may have robbed and murdered, lied and borne false-witness, -although you have led a most miserable life, labouring for money, place, power, and worldly honours, and labouring to attain them without paying any respect to justice, mercy, or truth, - although you have sullied your soul with every crime, still, and at the last hour, by merely believing something a priest reads out of a book, you can be at once rendered pure as the purest, holy as the holiest, and equally God's favourite with the noblest martyrs and the most virtuous who have lived. With all his weaknesses and idle dreams, the Buddhist has never yet so strangely contradicted reason or sullied the idea of Divine Justice. He has left this for the Christian Dogmatists, and has gone on teaching that, according as a man acts during life, so will he be placed when he passes into another state of Being. IIe may act so well to pass at once to the highest heaven, or only so as to the lowest of the sixteen. He may enter a mediate heaven, but whichever he enters he is not bound for ever there, but may, and must go on toward the very highest, or, indeed, must fall again into a lower, for to stand still is the only impossibility:
The highest heaven, the topmost round in this ladder of progress is Nirwana, and from this there is no exit. But about this state of Being or non-being, there is great difference of opinion. What is it? Is it annihi. lation, the blotting out of all sensation ? This is declared by many eminent Oriental scholars, but as many, and equally eminent, declare the contrary, and hence it is both hard and imprudent to decide. The highest state of blessedness, freedom from all excitement, care, and active pleasure, is what the Buddhist means by Nirwana, and certainly, seeing that he believes that all the Buddhas dwell in Nirwana, it is hard to conceive the meaning to be that all have passed out of existence. Of course, however, in deciding upon this matter, we must remember the climateric influences which operate upon the