The Wycliffite Heresy: Authority and the Interpretation of Texts

By Kantik Ghosh | Go to book overview

2
William Woodford's anti-Wycliffite
hermeneutics

One of John Wyclif's important and abiding generalisations about the nature of the Christian faith was that all 'truths' necessary to faith are found 'expressly' in the Bible, and the more necessary, the more expressly: 'omnis veritas est ex scriptura, et ut necessarior est expressior'. 1 The word 'express', with its implicit denial of a readerly or institutionally ordained hermeneutics in the construction of meaning, brings to a focus one of the key issues raised by the Lollard heresy: that of the role of interpretation in establishing what is 'authoritative'. 2 In William Woodford's Quattuor Determinationes in Materia de Religione, a set of four anti-Wycliffite tracts investigating the nature of 'authority', the 'expressness' or otherwise of biblical meanings forms one of the crucial points of debate.

William Woodford, 3 Vicar to the Franciscan Minister Provincial of England in 1390, was a polemicist who wrote voluminously against Wyclif from around 1376 (De dominio civili clericorum) till 1397 (De causis condemnacionis articulorum 18 damnatorum Joannis Wyclif). He wrote primarily in defence of the mendicant orders, but, as Anne Hudson points out, he 'was regarded by his contemporaries as a spokesman for a less sectarian position as well'. 4 In particular, his Causis condemnacionis was written to the commission of Archbishop Arundel. The Quattuor Determinationes, written in the Oxford Schools in 1389–90 after Wyclif's death, is a defence of the so-called 'private' religions and a demonstration that they are 'authoritative'. 5 The first determination refutes Wyclif's assertion that the Early Church, before Pope Sylvester, was not endowed; the second deals with Wyclif's belief that all truths necessary to salvation are contained in scripture, and the more necessary, the more 'expressly'; the third and fourth are a defence of the validity of private religions in particular, and more generally,

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