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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

II. Religious Movements in the Fourteenth Century

§ 14. Wyclif’s Views on the Eucharist

There are three stages in Wyclif’s views upon the Eucharist. First, a stage in which he accepts the current doctrine of transubstantiation, but holds it to be an exception to his other doctrine of the permanence and indestructibility of matter. This stage lasted until about 1370. But in De Benedicta Incarnacione (written before his doctorate in 1372) he is wavering as to what the changed substance is, and is inclined to leave the question aside as unnecessary to a simple “pilgrim.” This being his position, he is not inclined to discuss the question overmuch. But when, about 1380 or so, he had reached a positive opinion, and maintained that the substance of bread remained, he felt bound to teach this, as he held, vital doctrine. Hence, this final stage is marked by great energy of utterance, and continual reference to the question. But the result of his latest view of the Eucharist, taught with much insistence and gradually made the centre of his system, was a controversy, in which he was opposed not only by his former enemies the monks, but by secular priests, and, lastly, by friars. With these last he had, indeed, been gradually breaking friendship; it had seemed to him that some of them, bound as they were to poverty, must sympathise with him and must, therefore, join him. In his disappointment he began to regard their law of life as hostile, like the law of monasticism, to the law of Christ; in his latest works, therefore, the friars are attacked with much bitterness. They, concerned, on their part, for their whole position, and, also, passionately believing in the central doctrine he now attacked, replied with equal vigour. His followers, too, who possibly, may have hastened the quarrel, took their part in the strife. Hence, his teaching on this point seemed to over-shadow all his other views. Thus, his system, as it was handed down to later years, attacked the papacy, the organisation of the church, monks and friars and overthrew the popular conception of the Mass. His positive teaching was forgotten; his followers kept merely to his love of the Scriptures and found practically no place for church organisation, for sacraments or rites; prayer, preaching and the reading of the Scriptures summed up, for them, the conception of the Christian faith.

An assembly of bishops and ecclesiastics was held at Black-friars on 17 May 1382. The council, which was afterwards called “the earthquake council” from its being interrupted in its session with “earthdyn,” condemned some doctrines of Wyclif. He himself was not named in the decrees issued, but the bishops were to excommunicate any one preaching the condemned doctrines, the university was to prohibit their setting forth and the company of those offending was to be avoided under pain of excommunication. After much discussion at Oxford, Wyclif was attacked, and, like his supporters, was suspended from all scholastic duties, by an order which was afterwards repeated by the king. But, of his later life, and of the result of the proceedings against him, we know little or nothing. A passage in his Trialogus seems to imply that he was bound by some promise not to use certain terms i.e. substance of bread and wine—outside the schools. It was supposed, at one time, that he, like his leading Oxford followers, had recanted, but of this there seems no evidence. Just before the earthquake council, he had presented a very bold defence of his views to parliament, demanding not only freedom for his opinions but their enforcement in practice. His boldness did not leave him, but his influence in Oxford was at an end, and he lived for the rest of his days at Lutterworth.