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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

The dogma of Transubstantiation


was directed against the feudal

supremacy of the Popes over England. He supported the Parliament's complaints of Romish Provisions and exactions of money, with great learning and at great length. Had his activity confined itself to these subjects, he would be hardly more remembered than perhaps Marsilius of Padua. What gave him quite a special significance was the fact that he brought into clear view the contradiction between the ruling form of the Church and the original documents of the Faith. From the claim of the Popes to be Christ's representatives, he drew the conclusion that they ought also to observe the Gospel which comes from the God-Man, follow His example, and give up their worldly power.[56] The leading Church dogma, that most closely connected with the hierarchic system, the dogma of Transubstantiation, he attacked as being one which equally contradicted Scripture and Reason. He urges his proofs with the acuteness of a skilful Schoolman, but throughout he shows a deep inner religious feeling. We may distinguish in him two separate tendencies. His appeal to Scripture, his attempt to make it accessible to the people, his treatment of dogmatic and religious questions which he will allow to be decided only by Revelation,--all this makes him an evangelic man, one of the chief forerunners of the German Reformation. But, as he himself felt, his strength lay rather in destruction than in construction. In asserting the doctrine that the title to office depends for its validity on personal worth, that even
the rule of temporal lords rests on the favour in which they stand with God, and in raising subjects to be the judges over their oppressive masters, he entered on a path like that which the Taborites and the leaders of the peasants in Germany afterwards took.[57]

And these were precisely the doctrines for which his scholars, who traversed the land to make them known, found a well prepared soil in the people of England. How could the rise of popular elements fail to call forth a kindred effort also among the lower classes? The belief arose that Nature intended all men to be equal. The country people spoke of their primitive rights, traces of which were found in the memorials of the Conqueror's times, and which had then been taken from them. When now, instead of seeing these respected, they were subjected to new impositions, and this with harshness and insolence, they rose in open revolt. So overpowering was the attack which they directed against the capital and the King's palace, that Richard II found himself forced to grant them a charter which secured them personal freedom. Had they contented themselves with this, they might have done best for themselves and perhaps for the crown, but when they demanded yet further and more extreme concessions, they roused against themselves the whole power of the organised State, for which they were as yet no match. The Mayor of London himself struck down with his dagger the leader of the bands, Wat Tyler, because he seemed to threaten the King; the Bishop of Norwich was not hindered by his spiritual character from levelling his lance against the insurgents;[58] after which he accompanied the leaders, who were taken and condemned to death, to the scaffold, with words of comfort; in other places the lay nobles did their best. When therefore in the next Parliament the King brought forward the proposal to declare the serfs free by a united resolution,--for the previous charter that had been wrung from him was considered invalid,--both Lords and Commons rejected it, as tending to disinherit them and prove pernicious to the kingdom.


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