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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

§ 7. Wyclif’s Earlier Writings

But he owed even more to Grosseteste—“archi-doctor,” “Lincolniensis,” as he called him, and to Richard FitzRalph, “Armaghanus,” archbishop of Armagh (1347–60). With the former, who had greatly influenced Oxford, Wyclif was in general philosophical agreement, and from him, possibly, learnt his great love of the Scriptures. From FitzRalph, who was chancellor of Oxford (1333), Wyclif drew the doctrine of dominion or lordship, to which, although carrying it somewhat further, he really added nothing. FitzRalph had reached his views through the controversy with the mendicants; he had come across them at Oxford; he knew the charges brought against them of enticing youngsters to join them; later, on his return from Ireland (1356), he found the controversy between them and the seculars peculiarly keen; he preached against them in London, and, afterwards, at Avignon (1357), he delivered his famous Defensio Curatorum on behalf of parish priests who suffered much from their encroachments. His De Pauperie Salvatoris not only dealt with the poverty of Christ (which, as he pointed out, was not mendicancy) but discussed “lordship” and “use.” In the end he made all “lordship” depend on that of God, to whom all lordship belonged; man had once received as a loan from God an original lordship for himself; but this he had lost through sin, and a new relation had begun. There is, thus, a distinction between the lordship of the ideal state of innocency, and the conditional lordship found in the actual world. Only in so far as man serves God does he approach true lordship; so far as he is sinful, he forfeits his lordship. To use Wyclif’s expression “dominion is founded in grace,” and, as a consequence, a man in mortal sin cannot exercise lordship. But Wyclif did not follow FitzRalph blindly; for, while FitzRalph had gone on to condemn the poverty of the mendicant friars, Wyclif, until his last years, sympathised with the Franciscans, whose model his own “poor priests” in some ways reproduced.

But this doctrine of dominion, excellently as it enforced responsibility towards God, was capable of much abuse. FitzRalph had carefully guarded it as an ideal, and his discussion of the civil state property had moved in a different plane from that of his ideal conditions. But, as so often happens between a master and a scholar, Wyclif the scholar reproduces his master’s outline in deeper colours and without the shades; hence, it was not always easy to see that his arguments applied merely to an ideal society. If his teaching was charged with favouring the Peasants’s Revolt and if later, Lollards appeared to society as socialists, it was, largely, owing to Wyclif’s unguarded expression of this doctrine of FitzRalph.