« AnteriorContinuar »
tion through the favour of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, who presented him with a living in Flanders, gave him lodgings in his hotel at Paris, and procured for him the title of Chancellor of the University, and the honour of preaching before the Court. Among the sermons which Gerson composed at this time were some of those on the MysUres, and a portion of his Pane'gyriques des Saints; also discourses adapted to the chief festivals of the Church— Whitsunday, Christmas, the Epiphany, Candlemas, &c. In 1397, in consequence of political disturbances and Court intrigues of which he was the object, Gerson retired to his benefice in Flanders; but early in the following century he was back again in Paris, addressing distinguished audiences in the principal churches—St Paul, Notre Dame, St Severin, and St Antoine.
This second ministry was marked by a feature absent from the first. The parish of St-Jean-enGreve, of which he had charge, contained a large working-class population, and Gerson, somewhat in the spirit of George Herbert (likewise an ex-courtier), devoted his brilliant gifts to its spiritual edification, initiating a course of systematic instruction in Christian morals, which he developed during successive Lents and Advents. In 1414 he attended the Council of Constance as delegate of the University of Paris and representative of the king. During its sessions he engaged in proceedings certain to draw upon him the resentment of Jean sans Peur, and barring his return to Paris. Accordingly, he withdrew to the mountains of La Baviere, and afterwards to the monastery of the Celestines at Lyon. His last days were spent in catechising little children and writing books of devotion. He died in 1429, the memorable year wherein Joan of Arc defeated the English at Patay, and delivered France.
"'Twas a great matter at Paris," says a chronicler of 1400, "when Maistre Jehan Gerson, Maistre Doctor and Eustache de Pavilly, Frere Jacques le derk, Grand, and other doctors and clerks, used to preach so many excellent sermons." The doctor and clerk in Gerson's composition is certainly not hard of perception. The rhythm even of his popular discourses may be traced to the rhetorical periods of those learned models he had studied from youth. His erudition is paraded without scruple, and in such a way as to lead one to wonder what his less educated disciples could make of his allusions. Moses and Mercury, Christ and Jupiter, Aristotle and Augustine—such are the personages that Gerson associates, apparently without any thought of incongruity. Equally strange to modern ideas is his use, or rather abuse, of allegory. Vices become cavaliers, virtues "damoiselles." Prayer is "the chamber-maid of the soul." The Holy Ghost is a good cure, and the soul is his parishioner. These characteristics belong to his earlier manner, and the days when he addressed the Court. In his discourses to the people he strikes a different note, and exhibits a sympathetic feeling which rises sometimes to vehemence and passion, so that we instinctively recall Jean de Varennes, driven to madness by the miseries and corruptions of the age.1
Gerson's career has many points of resemblance to that of John Wiclif, the "morning-star of the Eeformation." Yorkshire "full of knights"
John Wiclif. .
never produced a more chivalrous character than this learned and discreet, but also bold and resolute clerk. For some years Master of Balliol, he became head of Canterbury Hall, afterwards incorporated with Christ Church. In 1367 he was removed from this post by Archbishop Langham, a prelate of strong monkish sympathies. The phrase clericus peculiaris regis applied to him warrants the belief that Wiclif was chaplain to the king. As an author he was known to a select few for his Latin tractates, especially his logic, in which the examples are culled from Holy Scripture.
In the quarrel between the king and Pope Urban V., in which he was now to participate, Wiclif, instead of replying to his challenger directly, set forth the various aspects of the subject in a dialogue between seven lords of Parliament— in fact, in a regular debate. In the end the cause of patriotism wins a complete triumph. Encouraged by his success on this occasion, Wiclif became more and more the mouthpiece of a large and influential party bent on limiting the authority of the Pope.
1 Gerson, however, was no friend to the mystics; indeed, he distinguished himself by opposing the recognition of St Bridget, the enthusiastic Swedish nun. It is to be regretted that his own writings are still largely inaccessible.
When, in 1372, Arnold Garnier, a French Dominican, arrived as papal nuncio and receiver of dues, Wiclif drew up a pamphlet showing precisely how these exactions operated. Again, in October 1377, on the assembling of the first Parliament under Eichard IT., when the question was raised whether it was right for England, in defiance of the Pope's orders and his threat of ecclesiastical penalties, to restrain the outflow of national treasures to foreign shores, Wiclif supported the affirmative.
Meanwhile he had been busy defining for himself and for others the principles upon which his actions were based. These are revealed in a work
Priuaiples. ... . ,
entitled Summa in Theologia, in which the nature of authority is discussed in all its bearings. Wiclif's conception of the Church, as here presented to us, is simple in the extreme. Like Marsilio, he rejects the hierarchical system as a thing which had been grafted on the plain teaching of the Gospel, and slights the distinction between clerk and layman, between priest and bishop. Also the office of the Pope is accepted with considerable reserves. The idea of papal infallibility was not then in the air, and Wiclif boldly affirms that the Pontiffs decrees are binding only in so far as they harmonise with the laws of Christ. Consistently with this avowal, in all his subsequent course he manifests an everlessening regard for the papacy and an ever-increasiug reverence for the Bible. Nor did he shrink from a ving, as far as possible, full practical effect to his veheictions
Influenced it may be by the appearance in its complete and final form of Piers Ploughman, Wiclif began to employ the popular speech for
sermons, for controversial pamphlets, tor moral and didactic tracts, thus inviting the attention of the laity to points of doctrine hitherto reserved for the clergy. Not content with written addresses, the circulation of which, in that age of ignorance, would have been too limited, he founded an order of itinerant preachers, who travelled from place to place with a staff in their hands, and arrayed in long crimson robes of coarse wool. These persons were commonly known as " pore preestes," but they gradually came to include many who were not ordained. Like the first disciples, they were, for the most part, " unlearned and ignorant men." Wiclif, however, made up for their defects by putting into their hands model discourses, and, often enough, sketches of the sermons they afterwards preached to the multitude. Herein he was probably assisted by a circle of devoted Oxford friends, both old and young, who had been persuaded to adopt his opinions. These deliverances, in their piquant satire, their direct and forcible style, their homely images, are not altogether unlike those of Latimer in the time of the great Eeformation.
Even this did not suffice. The "pore preeste," unlettered as he generally was, could never be fully Tmndation of equipped whilst the Bible remained, to the mble. so large arj extent, a sealed book. The special views Wiclif held as to the unique authority of Scripture and the right of the laity to a richer