Home  »  Volume II: English THE END OF THE MIDDLE AGES  »  § 9. The Papal Schism

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

§ 9. The Papal Schism

The election of Urban VI (7 April 1378) was followed (September 1378) by that of an anti-pope, Clement VII, and thus the barely ended sojourn at Avignon gave place to an even more disastrous schism. England supported Urban, and Wyclif, for a time, was loyal to him. But the many admitted ecclesiastical abuses, which others, besides Wyclif, freely pointed out, naturally grew greater during the schism, and the rivalry of two popes led to a wider discussion of ecclesiastical questions. The bishop of Norwich (Henry le Spenser) actually undertook (1382) the leadership of a crusade in Flanders proclaimed by Urban against Clement; indulgences were issued to all who shared in it; friars were specially active in furthering it, and the archbishop of Canterbury (Courtenay had now succeeded the murdered Sudbury) ordered prayers and a general collection for the expedition (April 1383). It is clear, both from Wyclif’s Latin works (such as Cruciata) and from his English tracts, that the crusade, with its mingling of unchristian warfare, a keen struggle for power, the pursuit of wealth and the abuses of indulgences, turned him more strongly against the papacy. Henceforth, there was no reserve in his language, no moderation in his views: he regarded the pope as anti-Christ. But, by anti-Christ, Wyclif hardly meant the same that the prophetic school of later theologians mean. Anything opposed to the law of Christ was anti-christian, and, so far as he broke the law of Christ, a man might be anti-Christ; to be anti-Christ was thus, with Wyclif, a phase of character, and not a personal existence. Before 1378, he had used the expression of isolated acts and special deeds, but, after that year, he came to hold the pope consistently and always anti-Christ. He no longer confined himself to the criticism of abuses; he questioned, at one time or another, the utility of every part of the church’s system: sacraments, holy orders, everything was unessential. Far as this criticism went, it is probable that in it, and in the growing stress laid on preaching as the one essential of religion, lie Wyclif’s chief affinities with later reformers. So strongly did he feel about the Schism and this crusade that the occurrence or omission of any reference to either is an accepted test of date for his works.