Skip to content
IUScholarWorks Journals
22.11.04 Campi/Simonetta (eds.), Before and After Wyclif

22.11.04 Campi/Simonetta (eds.), Before and After Wyclif

As the editors suggest in their informative introduction and as the present volume stemming from a conference held in Milan in 2016 amply demonstrate, the spike of interest in Wyclif’s texts over the past four decades shows no sign of decline. Given this stimulating context, the challenge remains the same: how can yet another volume on Wyclif make an original contribution? Focusing on the idea of reassessing Wyclif’s role in his time, Luigi Campi and Stefano Simonetta have succeeded in publishing a collection of innovative perspectives that invite us to revisit some of Wyclif’s writings and to consolidate our knowledge not only of this well-known figure but also of the philosophical and theological landscape of the later 14th century.

The first paper is an investigation of what is often still known today as a single work, supposedly Wyclif’s earliest, the so-called Tractatus de logica or simplyLogica. This is currently available via an edition published in 1893-1899 by Michael H. Dziewicki, who provided a text of “conspicuous unreliability.” With this rather dramatic observation, Mark Thakkar (“Wyclif’s Logica and the Logica Oxonienses”) announces a projected new edition, providing a new list of manuscripts as a preliminary result. More important, he demonstrates that, contrary to Dziewicki, the Logica is actually two distinct logical writings, a longer and more advanced (and perhaps later) work that Thakkar dubs the Tres tractatus de probationibus propositionum, and a shorter (and early) one that Thakkar names the Tractatuli logice. In context, the latter should be read simply as “pedagogically innovative adaptations” of the popular Oxford logical materials known as the Logica Oxoniensis rather than a fancy treatise on the logic of Scripture. Despite a long and unfortunate tradition of viewing the Tractatuli logice as a work on logic derived from the Bible, Thakkar sees it as a sort of basic textbook compiled to teach the reader logic using Scriptural propositions instead of standard generic ones.

Although Thakkar rejects the existence of a single Tractatus de logica and considers the first 74 pages of volume I of Dziewicki’s edition an “introductory textbook,” the second paper, by Alessandro Conti (“Oxford Realists’ Criticism of Walter Burley’s Last Theory of Proposition”), continues to use the old title while concentrating on the first, basic work, in addition to the Tractatus de universalibus. Conti seeks to put Wyclif in the context of the Oxford reaction to Walter Burley, in which “[t]he so-called ‘Oxford Realists’ followed Wyclif’s ideas on universals and categories, but not on the theory of proposition” (47), for which Conti focuses on Paul of Venice, educated in Oxford in the 1390s, as “the most original.” In thus pointing out continuity and discontinuity in the Oxford realist school, Conti provides a technical analysis of Wyclif’s theory of proposition from the perspective of its sources and of its legacy, while at the same contributing to our understanding of the reception of Burley and of Paul of Venice’s points of dependence on and independence from both Burley and Wyclif.

Next, Aurélien Robert’s passionate investigation (“Atomism at Oxford after John Wyclif. The Cases of Robert Alyngton and Roger Whelpdale”) is the beginning of an attempt to place in a clearer context Wyclif’s atomism, especially his mathematical indivisibilism, developed in connection with theological concerns about how God used numbers, weights, and measures to create the world. Robert briefly notes that Wyclif follows his Oxford predecessors Henry of Harclay, Walter Chatton, and William Crathorn from the 1310s to the 1330s in the general conception of indivisibles as unextended points, in contrast to some of the physical atomists of antiquity. Robert establishes as the terminus ante quem 1411, when Wyclif’s atomism came under negative scrutiny, and sets out to investigate whether Wyclif’s theory had any impact at Oxford before 1411, since as of 2009 it was still claimed that there was no evidence of this. Robert provides our first evidence, exploring the philosophical profile of two scholars from the generation after Wyclif, Robert Alyngton and Roger Whelpdale, examining the manuscripts of their still unedited works (on the Categories and on the continuum respectively), and thus contributing to our knowledge of “Oxford Realism.” Robert first presents Wyclif’s theory mainly from the logical works edited by Dziewicki--noting Thakkar’s findings and correcting the text with a manuscript--but also the Trialogus and, from a manuscript, a Physics commentary attributed to Wyclif. Next Robert analyzes Alyngton and Whelpdale in turn, who adopted and indeed began to transform Wyclif’s atomism into a physical theory, although they did not advance on their early fourteenth-century Oxonian forebears in defending atomism against traditional criticism. Whereas Wyclif’s philosophical atomism was motivated by theological considerations, however, Alyngton and Whelpdale read him as a philosopher and purged all theological implications from his atomism.

From the perspective of Wyclif’s influence on the development of Hussitism, Stephen E. Lahey (“Stanislaus of Znojmo and the Ecclesiological Implications of Wyclif’s Divine Ideas”) investigates the legacy of Wyclif’s theories of divine ideas (as presented in De ideis via the forthcoming edition of Vilém Herold and Ivan J. Mueller) and of the Church as the congregation of those predestined to eternal life. Wyclif’s theory of divine ideas was popular in Bohemia, where taught Stanislaus of Znojmo, the famous professor of Jan Hus, whom Lahey champions as “the foremost authority on Wyclif’s thought in Prague in the 1390s and 1400s” (95). But when the theory was linked to the alleged determinism of Wyclif, whose doctrines were condemned in Prague in the first decade of the fifteenth century, by 1410, Stanislaus began to attack Wyclif’s deterministic ecclesiology as dangerous. Lahey asks whether, when Stanislaus abandoned elements of Wyclif’s theory of divine ideas, it was partially to avoid those deterministic implications and whether Stanislaus thus “compromised his earlier metaphysics.” Lahey first analyzes Stanislaus’ earlier De universalibus, in which the Bohemian master already separates himself from the deterministic implications of Wyclif’s theory. Regarding divine ideas, in De universalibus Stanislaus adopts the Scotist notion of haecceitas, “an abstract particular nature” distinguishing each creature from all others, and Lahey explores whether this idea can be linked to the worry about determinism in ecclesiology, without coming to a firm conclusion. At any rate, after 1410 Stanislaus emphasized the Church Militant via an “organological model” in his now “clumsy, predicable,” “vituperative and often rambling attacks on Hus concept of the church” (109).

Ian Christopher Levy’s rich essay (“The Words of Institution and Devotion to the Host in the Wake of Wyclif”) investigates the impact of Wyclif’s teaching on the eucharist, in particular his approach to the crucial issue of the precise nature of level of the presence of Christ’s body in the host. After presenting Wyclif’s view based on no less than eight of his texts, Levy provides an overview of different reactions to Wyclif’s position among his followers but also on the side of his opponents (starting with William Woodford, OFM, and Thomas Netter, OCarm). Levy concludes that, paradoxically, Wyclif himself could not have imagined the “cataclysm” that his “sophisticated, if convoluted, scholastic deliberations” on the doctrine of presence would have “when adapted to popular religious expression” and thus undermining the entire the theology of the Mass and affecting basic practical clerical considerations (151). The essay examines the positions of theologians such as Roger Dymmok, Nicholas Love, and Jakoubek of Stříbro to illustrate how complex and intense the discussion became in the wake of Wyclif’s unclear position concerning the nature of the presence of Christ in the host.

Sean Otto’s paper (“Anti-fraternalism and the Sources of John Wyclif’s Sermones”) investigates two of Wyclif’s sermons and shows that his anti-fraternal attitude was not rooted in some personal frustrations in his career, as even contemporary religious claimed, but was more sincere and expressed a doctrinal belief concerning the dangerous pastoral activities and false teachings of the regular clergy. In particular, Wyclif employs his discussion of various levels of hypocrisy to attack the fraternal life of his time. Wyclif also denounced abuses within the Church in general, especially its eagerness for worldly wealth. The influence of the popular Summa virtutum ac viciorum of the Dominican William Peraldus (active in the second quarter of the thirteenth century) on these sermons was substantial, but although Wyclif borrowed passages from him, Otto demonstrates that Wyclif approached Peraldus critically and could use his source for a different purpose, attacking the very friars to whom Peraldus belonged.

Kantik Ghosh’s paper (“After Wyclif: Philosophy, Polemics and Translation in The English Wycliffite Sermons”) opens with a rather poetic characterization of the style of approximately 183 sermons that Wyclif composed after his university years: they are notable for their “intellectual density and allusive well as their methodological indeterminacy and slipperiness” (168). This complicated body of texts was a major inspiration for the 294 “English Wycliffite Sermons,” with interesting results. Ghosh looks at two of these English sermons in particular, numbers 30 and 33, to show how the redactors dealt with the Latin models. With sermon 33 the redactor does possibly well at simplifying certain sections for the new audience. When Wyclif digresses into philosophical asides that presuppose high-level academic knowledge, however, the redactor does not always omit the material, but does not simply translate or paraphrase either, and the rich product provokes questions about the audience. Looking longer at sermons 30 in the light of recent scholarship on the relationship and differences between academic and popular discourse, Ghosh can only wonder what the masses would have understood about the nearly “opaque” texture. The later Wyclif was difficult enough for his academic readers, at least one contemporary thought, the style and procedure of which Ghosh calls “an implosion of scholastic method from within” (186).When rendered into English, presumably for common folk, it was bound to have effects that were “troublesome.”

Jindřich Marek (“Jakoubek of Stříbro as a Wycliffite. The Testimony of His Sermon Collections”) continues the focus on sermons and analyzes the role played by the preacher and master of theology Jakoubek of Stříbro in disseminating Wyclif’s ideas in Bohemia. Jakoubek himself found the real presence of Christ in the host persuasive. He therefore commissioned a translation or a sort of adaptation of Wyclif’s Dialogues into Czech--often making use of the work of Matthias of Janov--and he tried to propagate the belief in Wyclif’s eucharistic theory. Marek highlights two significant moments in the reception of Wyclif in the so-called Czech reform movement: one ‘postil’ on the ecclesiastical year 1413/14 and a commentary on the Ten Commandments dated 1420. Jakoubek’s project was to make Wyclif’s ideas more available by simplifying some doctrinal elements and adapting passages from different texts of Wyclif according to a very personal interpretation.

In his De civili dominio liber secundus of the 1370s, Wyclif inserts an unattributed version of the Apologue or Fable of the Birds, un exemplum that he uses to defend the seizure of Church wealth in time of need and to deplore the encroachment of canon law on civil jurisdiction. As Graziana Ciola’s meticulous study (“The Apologue of the Birds”) shows, Jean Froissart, writing in 1390 and with a slightly different purpose, composed another version of the fable, which he attributed to the Franciscan Jean de Roquetaillade and dated to the 1350s, although it does not survive among Roquetaillade’s writings. Ciola demonstrates that, while they may share a source that may be a lost work of Roquetaillade, these are two independent versions of the fable, the later history of which, always attached to Roquetaillade, she then traces in brief.

The volume concludes with a useful bibliography, a manuscript index, and general indices of medieval and modern authors that together help the reader navigate through the variety of approaches showcased here. This book not only brings novelty but also reveals the great potential for new perspectives one can encounter before and after Wyclif.