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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.

XII. English Prose in the Fifteenth Century, I

§ 5. Pecock’s Minor Works

Pecock’s smaller works seem to have pursued the same plan of facing the heretic on his own ground. In The Book of Faith he discards the axiom that the Church cannot err, because the Lollards would not admit it, and proceeds on the supposition that she might. But, if the church should err, this would not excuse the laity from obedience, for she would fail only after having done all that was humanly possible to find the truth—much more than an individual could do. God would not blame her memebers for such unavoidable error. Nor hath any man proved, neither ever can, his own trowing to be true contrary to the Church. He must submit, then, to her wisdom, which, if not absolutely infallible, is relatively enormously greater than that of any individual. But the prelates accused Pecock of declaring that the Catholic Church was liable to error.

It is certain that Pecock was sincere in his bold arguments, and that he believed himself to be refounding the ecclesiastical structure. Whether his works were as widely read as he believed we cannot tell. He intended them for the lay party, i.e. the Lollards, and made his books as brief as possible, because they were necessary for every man to study. In The Donet he seems (like some later apologists) to have tried to find the necessary minimum of belief and to frame a creed which all would accept, paving his way by the assertion that the apostles’s creed was only named after the apostles, not compiled by them. The Poor Men’s Mirror was a selection or skeleton made from The Donet in the hope that even the poor would purchase so cheap and necessary a book. Many other productions Pecock names in a self-satisfied manner in The Repressor; yet, when his orthodoxy was suddenly challenged, he replied that he would not be responsible for works more than three years old, for many had been copied and circulated without his consent and might be incorrect. As this limit would exclude nearly all his works save The Repressor, Pecock either knew the accuracy of coypists to be notoriously poor or was entering a disingenuous plea. His enemy, Gascoigne, declares that he was always changing his mind and disavowing his former statements.

At all events, Pecock had some following of young men, probably at Oxford, where, though the university had promptly renounced him and expressed penitence for permitting heresy to flourish, his books were still being burned as late as 1475, having been overlooked, said the apologetic authorities, in very obscure corners. That they should be even then hidden and remembered implies a more than superficial effect; yet there are very few copies now existing. Most of his works have perished altogether, and, after the Tudor reformation, Reginald Pecock was considered a martyred protestant and received the mistaken eulogy of Foxe.