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Reformation Avant La Lettre
in Late Medieval Europe
by Elizabeth McDonald
April 1994 / December 2013 [i]
There were many criticisms of medieval Roman Catholicism from Christians who would not bow to her authority. The Waldensians in the 'Dark Ages' of early medieval Europe, for example, were especially outspoken in their rejection of the Church of Rome's Latin Vulgate Bible - and suffered horrendously at the hands of Rome in consequence. In this article, however, I'd like to look briefly at some of Rome's detractors who were the immediate forerunners of the Reformation of the 16th Century; in particular John Wycliffe (c1320-1384) and the Lollards in England, and Jan Hus (c1369-1415) and the Hussites in Bohemia.
Like the Waldensians before them, these two groups had many complaints against Catholic clerical malversation, but their greater crime according to Rome lay in their theological dissent from core Catholic doctrines, which these 'Reformers avant la lettre' [ii] perceived to be contrary to the explicit and implicit teachings of Scripture and which would result in serious spiritual consequences for the believer.
So there was a great pre-Reformation struggle between the traditions and
canon laws of Roman Catholic 'orthodoxy' and the scriptoria sola
of 'heterodoxy' for the possession of Christian truth as they
disputed - at enormous cost for many of those opposing the giant
Roman behemoth - over who possessed the Truth, and this article will especially focus on the evolution of the two main Catholic doctrines
dealing with the means of salvation: the sacraments of the
Penance and the Eucharist.
The Early Church
Peter, the apostle whom the medieval see of Rome believed to be the rock upon which the Catholic Church was built, wrote to his fellow believers cAD60-70 to warn them of false teachers who would infiltrate the Christian faith:
Likewise, the apostle Paul warned the Christians at Colosse to:
And the apostle John, in his response to their questions concerning the validity of that being taught by other groups, told the believers that what they had been taught by the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the apostles was not only adequate, but was the only reliable doctrine. He reminded them:
Thus, for their salvation, the Christians in the first century needed nothing more or other than what they had received from the Holy Spirit's unfolding of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ through the apostles' teaching, and in the second and third centuries when the Scriptural Canon was established, the test of canonicity was whether a book or letter or instruction had been written by the apostles or came with the authority of the apostles.
At the Church Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon in the fourth and fifth centuries, doctrinal disputes were resolved and creeds of belief subsequently issued, but no new doctrine was added to that already existing. Where, however, earlier statements of Christian truth had been simple assertions of fact, not always contributing to an understanding of doctrine, but only to its acceptance by faith, now these doctrines were being defined more precisely. The Nicene Creed, for example, specifying the precise nature of Jesus Christ, was not an evolution of original dogma, but a clarification of what had always been there in the gospel of John (chapter 1:1-14), in the second epistle of Paul to Timothy (chapter 2:8), and elsewhere .
There was then, right from the beginning of the Christian Church, a yardstick by which to measure any teaching which claimed to be part of the Christian gospel, and anyone who ignored or tampered with apostolic doctrine could be condemned as errorists, as Paul had made clear:
Paul's emphasis in the condemning of heresy was not primarily on its schismatic effect on the unity of the Church - though that was indeed very important - but rather on the spiritual danger to each individual soul of the preaching and acceptance of
Authority, then, for the early Church inhered in the Holy Spirit who was both the inspiration and expositor of the written Scriptures.
During the Middle Ages, the authority to determine doctrinal orthodoxy was to be increasingly claimed by the Roman Catholic Church to the exclusion of any other church or group professing to be Christian, and Rome believed the authority for her claim was Christ Himself with His words to Peter:
Rome insisted that Peter had been made head of the Church - and its foundation, and as, according to the Church 'father' Jerome, the city of Rome had later become Peter's bishopric, it followed that all subsequent bishops of Rome inherited this 'petrine commission' .
Likewise, the gift of the keys of the kingdom of Heaven given to Peter:
and to the twelve apostles:
was inherited by their priestly descendants.
The exercise of this 'inheritance' through the centuries however, combined with the permeation into Roman Catholic theology of revived Aristotelian philosophy via the Summa Theologica and other works of Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, allowed a progressive relocation of ultimate spiritual authority from the Holy Spirit to the Church militant - personified in the Roman papal hierarchy.
Six centuries previously, Isidore of Seville had warned that:
In the 12th century, Peter Abelard reminded Catholics of Augustine's 6th century admonition:
Nevertheless by the end of the 14th century, John of Brevicoxa in De Fide et Ecclesia was arguing that while
yet Scripture did not contain all that was necessary for salvation and could not be interpreted correctly without ecclesiastical traditions and decrees as well as the writings of the Church 'Fathers' which were
And in 1413, Stanislav of Znojmo's Alma et Venerablis stated that the lay Christian must not seek to understand the Scriptures for himself, but must accept the interpretations given by the Roman Church, as it alone could define Scriptural doctrine .
Some, however, questioned the assertions of Brevicoxa and Stanislav. For John Wycliffe (c.1320-1384), who agreed with Aquinas that there was a role for human reason in its interpretation, the Bible nevertheless remained the sole voice of Christ and the word of perfection. It was consistent, self-sufficient, and infallible, and its divine origin necessitated human conformity to it. Hence, papal laws and decretals, when they deviated from it, must be repudiated .
Similarly, Jan Hus (c.1369-1415), who maintained the pre-eminent role of the Holy Spirit in Biblical interpretation , would only accept those papal pronouncements which conformed to the teaching of the apostles .
These men were concerned that certain Catholic doctrines now being promulgated by the supposed spiritual descendants of the apostle Peter did not conform to even the clearest teachings of Scripture, but were instead either a variation of them, an addition to them, or a subtraction from them. If the Roman Church had deviated from the truth, then, they reasoned, the so-called upholders of the Christian faith were actually heretics and the pope was, therefore, the Antichrist.
It was on the grounds of these developments in medieval Catholicism that Wycliffe, Hus, and others challenged the Roman Catholic Church's claims to spiritual authority. They argued that the efficacy of Christ's death for man's salvation, stated explicitly in the Scriptures, was being replaced by papal decrees demanding ever increasing contributions from the sinner towards his salvation.
The 4th Lateran Council in 1215, for example, stated:
By this decree the dissenters believed the Romish Church was abandoning grace for legalism, against which Paul, in AD 55-56, had warned the Galatian Christians, who had been persuaded by false teachers that Christ's sacrifice was insufficient for salvation without added works of theirs:
Certainly for the Lollard, Thomas Bilney (c.1495-1531):
The Roman Church could accept criticisms of clerical abuses of the doctrines it promulgated - from the friar Francis of Assisi, for example, who also desired spiritual reform of the Church but who grieved more for the growing clerical abuses of position and ecclesiastical wealth than for errant Catholic doctrine (indeed, Francis of Assisi himself leaned towards panentheism) . And it could admit that some of its doctrines might be open to lay 'misinterpretation' - Pope Innocent III readily agreed, for example, that clerical misconduct could promote anti-clericalism and even heresy amongst the laity . But whilst instructing bishops to "correct strictly the excesses of the clergy" he added that "as the infirmity of the physician did not rob his medicine of its virtue" , neither did clerical malversation invalidate Rome's 'orthodox' doctrine.
Three hundred years later, as the stream of dissent swelled into a mighty river, the Catholic Church was still insisting the 'baby' not be thrown out with the bathwater: In reply to the Protestant reformers in the 16th century, Catholic apologists were still reiterating that:
And non-Protestant reformers such as Thomas More, like Francis of Assisi before him, agreed with this. But for Wycliffe, Hus, and the 16th century heresiarch, Martin Luther, it was the very "medicine" or "substance of the matter" itself that was wrong; because it either conflicted with, or had no basis in, Scripture. Certainly clerical misconduct was serious, and promoted anti-clericalism - as did demands for exorbitant payments for clerical services - amongst the credulous Catholic laity who, having little or no knowledge of Christian doctrine (the Bible having been kept from them by Rome) ), judged the Church by how it affected their day-to-day lives; clerical sexual incontinency, for example, was indeed rife, but critics claimed that clerical celibacy was anyway unwarranted by Scripture, which advocated clerical marriage (see 1 Timothy 3:2-5). For the dissenters, there was no Catholic 'baby'.
For the dissenters, the return to legalism was most clearly seen in the development of the doctrines surrounding the sacraments. According to Catholic orthodoxy, it was through the sacraments that God's grace was made effective as salvation for the sinner. Enumerated by Peter Lombard in book IV of Sententiarum Libri Quatuor (1155-8), and accepted by the Church at that time though not formally affirmed until the Council of Florence in 1439, there were seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Penance, Eucharist (the Mass), Extreme Unction, and Ordination .
Through the sacrament of Ordination the priest was 'made holy'; spiritually set apart from the laity to whom he imparted salvation through the other sacraments:
Catholic orthodoxy taught that the sacrament of Baptism in water cancelled out original sin, but that the Christian was still prone to commit sins, and the sacrament of Penance existed for the remission of post-baptismal transgressions. According to the 12th century Cistercian monk Bernard of Clairvaux, Penance comprised seven undertakings by the sinner:
In true contrition the sinner was required to confess to the priest, who exercised the power of the two keys by 'binding' the sinner as the first step in the discipline of penance. When the punishment imposed - which could consist of fasting, sexual abstinence, pilgrimages, floggings, or imprisonment - was completed and satisfaction made, the priest 'loosed' the penitent, forgiving him his sins (supposedly in accord with John 20:23) with the words "I absolve you from your sins". The priest's words of absolution were believed to be the essence of the sacrament, as without them the sinner remained unforgiven or 'bound'.
The implication of this; that without priestly absolution the sinner would therefore be consigned to hell, was a problem for Catholic theologians Peter Abelard and Peter Lombard. They held that although confession was desirable, the essential element in obtaining God's forgiveness for post-baptismal sins was interior penance. But this was disputed by their contemporary, the Catholic mystic, Hugh St. Victor, who insisted that:
It was in this form that penance
became a sacrament. And in 1215 the 4th
Lateran Council decreed that everyone must confess their sins and
submit to penance at least once a year.
At the other end of the scale from Abelard and Lombard, some Catholic theologians questioned whether the penances imposed by the Church were adequate satisfaction in the sight of God for sins committed. Even assuming they were, there were many occasions when the penitent did not manage to complete his penance before he died, thus dying unabsolved. Additionally, as none of the penitential punishments was particularly edifying for the offender, provided no compensation for any injured party, and all of them caused immense disruption to ordinary life, many people were deterred from confessing until on their deathbed, by which time it was too late to start penance.
The Church therefore developed two related methods by which the penitent could be restored to a state of grace if penance as previously formulated was not possible:
Firstly, was the idea of purgatory; a place or condition beyond the grave:
Origen, the 3rd century theologian and Platonist, had first tendered the hope that God would grant a further opportunity for man - and the devil - to be saved after death, and though 150 years later the Church 'father' Augustine denied the possibility of universal salvation, he too believed there were "temporary punishments after death" and that prayers for the dead could result in remission of their earthly sins . With the accession of Pope Gregory I in 590, the idea that some men "somewhat deficient in perfect righteousness" could be purged after death became "something that has to be believed (credendus)" . It was bishop Gerard of Cambrai in 1025 however, who stated what was to be the basic medieval belief in purgatory:
The second development was the system
of commutation; by which a penance - which might take years to
complete - could be partially or fully redeemed by an 'indulgence'
from the pope in exchange for either a good work or some kind of
alms-giving. In 1095 at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II
promised that those who would participate in a crusade for the
liberation of the Holy Land from the Infidel, would receive full
remittance of all penances previously incurred
. At the
turn of the 12th century, Pope Innocent III granted indulgences to
those who would fight the heretics within Christendom; and for those
for whom this was not practicable, a money payment to the Church in
lieu would suffice . Other medieval popes granted partial
indulgences to those who would contribute to the building and
restoration of churches, hospitals, and schools. Consequently,
very soon all kinds of religious institutions were buying
indulgences from the pope or their local bishop to pass on to those
who contributed to their organisation.
Treasury of Merits
To prevent ideas that indulgences were a means of buying one's way into heaven without paying the penalty for sin, theologians such as the Franciscan friar St. Bonaventure and the philosopher Thomas Aquinas were at pains to point out that the granting of indulgences was not a cancellation of the debt of punishment, but a payment of it from the Treasury of Merits, which contained the vast store of 'credits' accumulated by Christ, the 'Blessed Virgin' Mary, and other saints whose holy lives had earned divine merit far in excess of their own requirements and which, through the power of binding and loosing, the pope could grant to the living and the dead who needed them.
During the Papal Jubilee of 1300, Pope Boniface VII made the pronouncement that the benefit of indulgences granted to those who made the pilgrimage to Rome during the Jubilee year would also include the "immediate liberation from all punishment of certain souls in purgatory" , and once the idea took hold that indulgences were effective beyond the grave, it soon became the practice among the laity to pay the Church for prayers and masses  in addition to their own good works, which would buy time off the pains of purgatory for both themselves and their loved ones. Indeed, many a rich nobleman on his death bed would make large grants of land over to the Church "for the remission of my sins". Thus the Church came to own great areas of European land - about a third of the land in England was the property of the Catholic Church by the beginning of the 16th century . So the system of indulgences was very profitable for the Church, and the jingle made famous by Tetzel in Germany later that same century: "As soon as the gold in the coffer rings / right then a soul to heaven springs" was already a common-place at least a hundred years earlier.
But late medieval critics denied that penance as practiced by the Roman Church was scriptural. They argued that there was no evidence that in the early Church sins were confessed to, and absolution sought from, the priest (or overseer). As pointed out by 'apostate' Benedictine monk Henry of Lausanne:
Wycliffe rejected confession to the priest and absolution as mere papal inventions; of Innocent III in particular . Additionally, as only God could know whether a person was truly contrite, and only God could forgive sins anyway (Mark 2:7), Wycliffe condemned sacerdotal claims to bind and loose. In accordance with his view that from eternity one was either of the 'elect' - or the 'foreknown' - Wycliffe argued in his work Sermones that, at best, the priest's absolution could only be declaratory, but if it did not accord with what had already been bound or loosed in heaven, then it was "a misleading and blasphemous arrogation of divine power" .
This was also the position of Hus. Although he believed in the need for confession to a priest and the necessity of subsequent satisfaction , he agreed with Wycliffe that it was blasphemy for the priest to attempt to remit sins, as God alone was powerful and merciful enough to save or condemn. Thus the priestly function was merely to assure the sinner of what God had already done in heaven .
Wycliffe was no less scathing over indulgences. In a long treatise, he declared they were:
Ensuing papal denunciations of Wycliffe's "detestable madness" and "depravity"  did not deter the Lollards - whose beliefs originated in part from Wycliffe's writings - from continuing the criticism of sacerdotal mediation in Point 9 of their Conclusions written in 1394:
Regarding the doctrine of purgatory, the Lollards held to the Romish view until the early 15th century, when, their own reading of the Scriptures in the vernacular having produced no evidence for such a doctrine , they gradually began to preach salvation by faith alone  in accordance with Paul's teaching in Ephesians 2:8-9, and foreshadowing Martin Luther's more developed doctrine a century later. The earliest known Lollard denial of purgatory is that of John Marton in 1416 who claimed that, "Purgatorium non esse post mortem sed sic pro pecunia fictum [There is no purgatory after death; it is a deceit to obtain money]" .
Lollards interrogated by the Roman Church in Norwich in 1428 held that:
Thus prayers and masses and
indulgences for the dead in purgatory were a nonsense.
Prayers to the Saints
The related doctrine of concerning prayers to the saints in heaven was likewise vigorously repudiated by Wycliffe and the Lollards, on the grounds that Christ was the sole mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5-6), and that to pray to, or worship, any of God's creatures was idolatry and condemned by God in the Decalogue (Exodus 20:4) . At his trial before the bar of Romanism in 1530, the Lollard Thomas Harding insisted that there was no mention of purgatory in Scripture and that neither the saints nor the 'Blessed Virgin' Mary could assist a soul to salvation .
In Bohemia, Jan Hus accepted the notion of purgatory, whilst denying the necessity of all the good works and prayers that went with it; but Nicholas of Dresden - a not insignificant influence on Hussite theology - emphatically denied in his Dialogus de Purgatario the possibility of such a place after death because:
For Nicholas, purgatory was merely a fabricated "book keeping device" which the Roman Church used "to assimilate God and His works to human works" when in reality His grace is a free gift which cannot be bought or worked for, and no-one is given a second chance after death. As Christ said, "More will perish than will be saved" . In fact, some radical Hussites - the Taborites - for whom "The New Testament is sufficient for salvation ... without customs of human invention" , and who denied there was any Scriptural authority for the doctrine of purgatory, gleefully punned on the Czech words 'ocistec' (purgatory) and 'osistec' (deceit), so dismissive were they of this unscriptural Roman doctrine .
The Eucharist, meaning 'thanksgiving' in Greek, was the meal shared by Christ with His disciples the night before His passion. Solemnly celebrated by Jews annually ever since their exodus from Egypt c1450BC when the Lord's angel had 'passed over' all the Jewish homes marked by the blood of a blemish-less lamb (Exodus 12:1-36), and known as the 'Passover' or the 'Last Supper' by the New Testament Church, this meal had long been accepted in the Catholic Church as a sacrament. The liturgy surrounding the Eucharist - or Mass - had been subject to much evolution throughout the Middle Ages in both the Western and the Eastern Churches; most particularly with regard to the laity who came to play a smaller and smaller part in the celebration .
The nature of the sacrament itself had not been defined within the Roman Catholic Church beyond the general acceptance that Christ was, somehow, really present within it; so that while it was a thanksgiving in remembrance of His sacrifice on the cross, it was at the same time a re-sacrifice presented by the Church back to God in the way of Abel, Abraham, and Melchizadech . Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem in the 4th century, was the first theologian to suggest that the bread actually changed into Christ's body, but it was not until the 9th and 10th centuries that the relation between them became the subject of serious academic dispute. Attention then focused on the precise way in which Christ was present in the sacrament, "rather than upon the purpose for which he was present" ; a trend Wycliffe tried, unsuccessfully, to reverse in the 14th century .
In response to pastoral queries, Paschasius Radbertus, 9th century abbot of Corbie monastery in France, stated in his exposition of the Eucharist, De Corpore et Sanguine Domini, that, in the same miraculous way that "real flesh was created from a virgin by the Spirit without coition" so Christ's real flesh and blood were created in the Eucharistic bread and wine . This interpretation was disputed by the theologian Berengar of Tours two centuries later, who argued that Radbertus' explanation broke the rules of nature. Armed with "Augustine, logic and grammar" , Berengar insisted that since His ascension into heaven (Mark 16:19 and Luke 24:51), Christ remained at the right hand of God the Father until His final return (Acts 1:9-11), thus the relation between the Eucharist and Christ's body was "figurative" only.
Augustine had once said that while "[a] mystery of faith can be profitably believed, it cannot be profitably examined" , but this did not deter complex discussions of the problem during the next two centuries by medieval theologians and scholars seeking to grasp the metaphysics involved in the mass; for, however much of a theological problem it was in origin, it seemed that theology could not unravel the mystery. These disputes resulted in a final de fide definition of the nature of the consecrated Eucharist at the 4th Lateran Council in 1215 under Pope Innocent III. After that date, divergent views were declared heretical. The change was defined as trans-substantiation, and in reaching that definition the Lateran theologians incorporated into Roman theology the Aristotelian concept that everything that exists does so in two ways simultaneously: firstly, in its 'accidents' which can be perceived by the senses in the form of appearance, and secondly, in its 'substance' or 'subject' which lies beneath the surface and cannot be observed. In the consecration of the Eucharist, the accidents of the bread and wine remained but the substance changed into the real body and blood of Christ:
In 1059 Berengar had supposedly recanted his view on the Eucharist and this was duly incorporated into canon law, so that he was called upon as a witness to orthodoxy . Nevertheless, between the 14th and 16th centuries, critics of transubstantiation still felt able to quote Berengar to defend their position. As a realist philosopher, Wycliffe held that substance and accidents could not be separated without causing cessation of the being, and by combining his metaphysics with his Biblical studies, he came to the conclusion that, both philosophically and theologically, transubstantiation, as defined by the Roman Catholic Church could not occur.
Firstly he said, as Berengar had
argued, transubstantiation involved the contravention of the laws
of nature: accidents without substance were a metaphysical
impossibility. "An accident by definition belonged to a
subject. God, far from being able to override their inherence,
must sustain it because he could not permit contradiction"
could not allow an arbitrary denial of the laws of nature which the
transformation of the substance of bread and wine into flesh and
blood would be, so Wycliffe was able to wave aside Catholic
invocations of miracles in discussions over the Eucharist.
Secondly, the physical reality of Christ in the Eucharistic host
would cause its animation, but this obviously did not occur.
Thirdly, to associate Christ's incorruptibility with the
corruptibility of the bread and wine was to commit blasphemy, and to
break the bread would be to sacriligiously break the body of Christ
again and again. Fourthly, if, in its accidents, the host
remained bread, as transubstantiation supposed, then the laity's
adoration of it as it was elevated by the officiating priest, was, like
prayers to the saints and adoration of images, idolatry
In place of transubstantiation, Wycliffe argued in De Eucharista for the doctrine of consubstantiation or remanence - also the position of Martin Luther two centuries later - in which the accidents and the substance of the bread and wine remained, but to them was added the spiritual presence of Christ, whose (glorified) body remained in heaven. In this way, Christ's body was "sacramentally, spiritually and virtually [present] in every part of the consecrated host, even as the soul is in the body" . Essentially though, for Wycliffe, the importance of the Eucharist lay not in any "juggling of physical and pseudo-physical terms", but in its meaning:
The important thing was that only
through faith could the Eucharist be received. Wycliffe
considered the current teaching of the Church on the Eucharist to be
in error; far removed from the doctrine of the early Church which he
wanted to restore.
But Wycliffe's theory of consubstantiation was complicated, and was later simplified by the Lollards to a straightforward commemorative or memoralistic interpretation, disseminated in their various writings. In the Twenty-Five Points of 1388 and the Conclusions of 1394, for example, it was argued that the substance of the bread remained after consecration:
The Tractatus de Oblacione Lugis Sacrificii (1413/14) was even more damning: Pope Innocent III was Antichrist: guilty of contradicting Christ's words in the gospel and of ignoring St. Paul's teaching in the epistles; of questioning the wisdom of the Church 'fathers' who all supported the biblical narrative; of altering over a thousand years of tradition; and of idolatry . Lollards interrogated by the Catholic Church in Norwich in 1428 claimed that:
Later in the 15th century the Lollard John Edwards of Newbury said the mass was merely
Ultimately, influenced though they were by the views of Wycliffe, for the Lollards it was the Bible itself - in the vernacular - which they called 'The Text' , that was their final authority concerning the nature of the Eucharistic host:
Nonetheless, along with Wycliffe's, Lollard views were condemned at Oxford University in 1381,
at the Blackfriars Council in 1382, and by Archbishop Arundel of
Canterbury c1410 "the worst enmy that Crist hath now [in] Ynglond"
, and again at the Council of Constance in 1415 where Jan Hus was
also accused of - and burned for - his heretical views on the nature
of the consecrated Eucharist, despite the fact that his position was
actually far more biblically orthodox than that of his interrogator, Cardinal d'Ailly
The Mass as a Re-Sacrifice
The definition of transubstantiation as given at the 4th Lateran Council also referred to Christ as the sacrifice of the Church , and in denying trans0ubstantiation the heretics were also denying the mass as a re-sacrifice, as the two ideas were interdependent. The emphasis on its sacrificial, rather than on its thanksgiving, aspect had concurred with Cyril of Jerusalem's suggestion that the bread and wine became the real body and blood of Christ, so that propitiation and intercession became the supreme purpose of the sacrament .
Radbertus had argued, somewhat illogically, that,
But in response to his abbot, the monk Ratramnus had referred to the epistle to the Hebrews in which Paul had stated:
to show that "what [Christ] did once for all he does not repeat daily" .
Yet the theological wrangling continued and could not reconcile the relationship between the once-for-all sacrifice at Calvary, so clearly put by St. Paul, and the daily re-sacrifice offered by the priest as transubstantiation necessitated - except to the extent that
Thomas Aquinas argued that the sacrifice at Calvary was the only sacrifice, but was "shown forth in time at each mass for the particular needs of the people" ; a rather ambiguous statement that did not seem to provide a satisfactory clarification for many Catholic theologians, who continued to believe that Christ was indeed re-sacrificed at each mass. And so the debating continued going round in ever tortuous circles of absurdity for some time...
Acceptance of the Eucharist as a continual re-sacrifice of propitiation was necessarily implicit in the acceptance of transubstantiation, yet the guard against both had been there in the letters of St. Paul right at the start of Church history - also later in the Apologia (c.170) of Justin the martyr - in answer to pagan accusations of cannibalism and necromancy in the early Church celebration of the Eucharistic meal; and the later medieval stream of protest against these Romish inventions eventually fed into the fast-flowing and finally unstoppable Protestant river of the 16th and 17th centuries, which very firmly viewed the Eucharistic meal as one of commemoration only.
Consequential to the doctrine of transubstantiation was the withdrawal of the chalice - the receiving of the wine - from the laity. Hitherto, reception of both the bread and the wine (sub utraque specie or Utraquism) had been the normal practice in the Roman Church, although the frequency with which the laity communicated had decreased significantly. Now they were to receive only the host (the bread). This new practice, said by Catholic apologists to be the result of lay demands for protection against the spilling of the sacred wine from the chalice to the ground , was justified by the doctrine of concomitance; another Aristotelian concept which stated that both the body and the blood of Christ were substantially present in each of the consecrated species . Thus, argued the French canon and chronicler James of Vitry in De Sacramentis, the laity was not being deprived .
Aquinas, who, as an Aristotelian, held to the doctrine of concomitance, nevertheless felt it necessary that for the sake of the laity, the priest must receive the Eucharist in both kinds , and in 1281 the Lambeth Constitutions, reiterating this, stated:
Communion in one kind only was not made mandatory however until the Council of Constance in 1415, when the penalty of excommunication was to be exacted upon any priest offering both the host and the chalice to the laity .
Wycliffe's doctrine of remanence could
have led to his advocating Utraquism, but
there is little in his writings to suggest he favoured it or
otherwise ; possibly because in his lifetime, reception of both
the bread and the wine, though frowned upon, had not yet been
completely anathematised ('accursed' or placed under a ban) by the Church. Neither did the Lollards show any interest in Utraquism until one of their sect
visited certain Hussites in Bohemia
 who were the main
protagonists in this particular battle with the Roman Catholic Church.
The Hussites ignored the decree of the Council of Constance, continuing to practice Utraquism despite their subsequent condemnation by the Council of Basle in 1432. It was especially under the leadership of a colleague of Jan Hus, the Bohemian reformer Jakoubek ze Stribro (1372-1429), that the Hussites insisted they continue the "example of Christ" who had given both body and blood to His disciples and had forbidden them to "relax one of the least of these commandments" . For Jakoubek who claimed to have received the idea of the lay chalice by revelation, the words of Jesus in John 6:53: "Verily, verily [truly, truly], I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you", and the subsequent warning of the Roman Church's own Pope Gelasius I (492-496) concerning the Eucharist:
plainly forbade any innovation on the part of the Church concerning the Eucharist.
A strong influence on Hussite Utraquism was Nicholas of Dresden, who in 1414, while using biblical, canonistic, patristic, and medieval sources in the writing of his Puncta, argued that Christ was not integral in either species alone. Defending lay reception of communion in both kinds he said:
Theologians at the Council of Constance readily agreed that Christ had given the twelve both the bread and the wine, but, rejecting Jakoubek's arguments that the apostles at the Last Supper represented "the whole future Church militant" , they claimed instead that the apostles were the prototypes of the priestly order and as priests did partake in both kinds, then the sacrament was being preserved in its original form . Where it could be shown by their critics that New Testament Christians other than the twelve had received communion in both kinds, such as the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:27-30), the Catholic response was to move the goalposts; focusing instead upon the prerogative of the papacy, through the 'petrine commission', to change practice:
The Hussites must understand that
That instruction notwithstanding, the Hussites remained undeterred in their insistence on the truth of the matter:
In stark contrast to the "Primitive Church", according to Nicholas of Dresden, the Modern [i.e. late medieval Catholic] Church was "radically corrupt, rotten and diseased" . So much so that:
Thus, the Catholic theologians
And Jakoubek, along the same lines as Nicholas, insisted that:
Jan Hus, on trial at the Council of Constance and subsequently burnt at the stake by Rome for his heretical views, supported the Utraquism of Nicholas of Dresden, Jakoubek, and the other Hussites, as "it had been practiced in the Primitive Church" . To Lord Wenceslas of Duba, also to John of Clum, Hus wrote whilst in prison:
And in his letter to Preacher Havlik, who succeeded him as pastor of the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague and who was not in favour of Utraquism, Hus beseeched him not to
Even within Catholic 'orthodoxy' there were some doubts as to the possibility of concomitance within the doctrine of transubstantiation. The implications of this for the Roman Catholic Church were serious indeed. If it was the shed blood of Jesus Christ that was the saving agent of mankind, and concomitance did not occur, then to deny the chalice to the laity was to preach the most blasphemous heresy: a bloodless religion.
Rome, however, was extremely sensitive to criticisms of the doctrines surrounding Penance and the Eucharist for other reasons. Denials that priestly words could absolve one from sin or conjure up the real body of Christ, and rejection of purgatory and all the paraphernalia supporting it struck at the very heart of the notion of sacerdotal mediation and could - and did - prompt some to deny the necessity of a separate priesthood altogether. The fear of Jean Gerson, theologian at the Council of Constance, that giving the chalice to the laity would result in their believing that "'the layman's worthiness was as great as the priest's' in this matter" , may not have been realised in the Hussties of Bohemia but in England the anti-sacerdotalism of the Lollards culminated in the view of at least one Norwich heretic that, in accordance with 1 Peter 2:5&9 and Revelation 1:6
Four centuries previously, Berengar's views on the Eucharist had been seen to be just such a threat to the ecclesia , and, by extension, to the veracity of papal authority, which had committed itself to the promulgation of transubstantiation and presided over the penitential system. Certainly, for Berengar, the question of authority was central in his disputes with the Romish Church. For him, truth was not necessarily to be found in the majority, as his opponents claimed, and as John of Brevicoxa argued in De Fide et Ecclesia , but rather in those who, like Elijah and the 7000, did not bow to Baal (1 Kings 19:18) . But if its petrine inheritance was to be at all credible, the papacy had no choice but to defend the doctrines it had inaugurated and sanctioned on the basis of that 'rock' which supposedly underlay its authority to determine 'progressive' doctrine.
Most of the dissenters, however, doubted the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18 anyway; some claimed that the 'rock' could be a reference to the "faithful confession that Peter spoke" or to "the divine Scripture and the sacred doctrine of Christ" or even to Christ Himself . Wycliffe contended that the pope had no spiritual authority; he was a usurper, the antichrist, and did not need to be obeyed for salvation . While Hus argued that the papacy had been instituted, not by God, but by the Emperor Constantine, and for the pope to claim to be the infallible head of the Church was to put man before God. The papal title 'most holy' (Sanctissimus) belonged only to Christ .
For the 'heretics' of the Later Middle Ages who, like the Bereans of the New Testament "searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things [Paul had said] were so" (Acts 17:11), much of what the Roman Catholic papacy said was found not to be so; the ecclesia and the papal hierarchy had replaced Scripture and the Holy Spirit with themselves as the final Spiritual authority, and they had ousted faith in favour of "the works of the law" for salvation (Galatians 3:1-5:7). Wrong authority had led to the wrong gospel, which would ultimately replace eternal spiritual life with eternal spiritual death (Galatians 1:6-9; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:21-4:8; Romans 6:23).
For the 14th century proto-Hussite reformer, Matthew of Janov,
and the description of the "scarlet-coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy" in Revelation 17:3 applied to the medieval Roman Catholic Churchmen who:
Thus, the rejection of much of Catholic 'orthodoxy' by these Reformers avant la lettre was the result of their rock-solid belief that the late medieval Church of Rome had neglected the gospel preached by the pure church of the New Testament, and was instead preaching "another Jesus ... another spirit ... another gospel" (2 Corinthians 11:3-4), and in so doing was, as St Peter had said, "bring[ing] in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought [her]" (2 Peter 2:1).
[i] This article was originally written as an unpublished college essay in 1994. Alterations and additions made to the Introduction and some endnotes in December 2013.
[ii] The term avant la lettre was first applied in reference to those theologians who refuted Calvinist soteriology before Jacobus Arminius became the best known name associated with the 'Anti-Calvinists' of the 17th century. See H. C. Porter, Reformation and Reaction in Tudor Cambridge (Cambridge, 1958), and Nicholas Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists: The Rise of English Arminianism, c1590-1640 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1987).
I - Authority
 A.R. Witham, The History of the Christian Church (Rivingtons, London, 1957), pp.195-201.
 It is very unlikely, however, that Peter ever even went to Rome, let alone became its bishop:
 Isidore of Seville, 'On Heresy and Schism', in E. Peters, Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe (Pennsylvania, 1980), p.49.
 J. Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol III: The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300), (Chicago, 1978), p.224.
 John of Brevicoxa, 'De Fide et Ecclesia', in Peters, Heresy and Authority, p.229.
 Peters, Heresy and Authority, p.303.
 M. Spinka, John Hus at the Council of Constance (Colombia, 1965), p.48.
 G. Leff, Heresy in the Later Middle Ages, Vol II (Manchester, 1967), pp.511-4 & p.539.
 Leff, Heresy, Vol II, p.667.
 Leff, Heresy, Vol II, p.637.
 'Canons of the Fourth Lateran Council, 1215', in Peters, Heresy and Authority, p.174.
 A. Hudson, The Premature Reformation (Oxford, 1988), p.496.
 Francis of Assisi, 'The Testament', in M. Perry, J.R. Peden, T.H. Von Laue, Sources of the Western Tradition, Vol I, From Ancient Times to the Enlightenment, (Boston, 1991), pp.246-7. Panentheism is the belief that all nature is in God "as cells are included in a larger organism, ... Just as a person is both the sum of all his experiences and parts and yet more than they, so God has all of finite being as part of his being and experience but transcends it". This is in distinction to pantheism which is the belief that "all things and beings are modes, attributes, or appearances of one single reality or being; hence God and nature are believed to be identical" [Van A. Harvey, A Handbook of Theological Terms (Samuel Bagster, London, 1964), pp.172-173].
 D. Webb, 'The Pope and the Cities: Anti-Clericalism and Heresy in Innocent III's Italy', in D. Wood, ed, The Church and Sovereignty: Essays in Honour of Michael Wilks (Blackwell, Oxford, 1991), p.135.
 Webb, 'Pope', p.149.
 J. Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, Vol IV: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700) (Chicago, 1984), p.248.
 See Margaret Deanesly, The Lollard Bible (Cambridge, 1920). Also, Dusty Peterson & Elizabeth McDonald, Sacred Scripture and Tradition; and Elizabeth McDonald, The New Testament: A Quickie History. The only 'authorised' Bible of the Middle Ages was that made by Church 'father' Jerome at the end of the 4th century; it was in Latin and thus unable to be read by the vast majority of the Catholic laity - and most unlearned parish priests too. All other versions and translations had been banned by Rome. And, as very few, and only minute, portions of the Bible were ever taught on, or read to, the laity by the Church, the precious truths of the Scriptures remained hidden from them:
 F.L. Cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1974), p.1218.
 M. Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge, 1991), p.13.
II - The Sacrament of Penance
 Pelikan, Christian Tradition, Vol III, p.210.
 P. Palmer, 'Sacrament of Penance', New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol XI, (Washington DC, 1967), p.76.
 J.F.X. Cevetello, 'Purgatory', NCE, Vol XI, p.1034.
 J. Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, Vol I: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago, 1971), p.355.
 Pelikan, Christian Tradition, Vol I, p.355-356.
 Gerard of Cambrai, quoted in J. Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory (Hants, 1990), pp.106-7.
 M. Deanesly, A History of the Medieval Church 590-1500 (Routledge, London, 1994), p.187.
 J. Sayers, Innocent III: Leader of Europe 1198-1216 (Longman, London, 1994), p.187.
 Le Goff, Birth of Purgatory, pp.330-1.
 The value of such masses depended upon the now-widespread belief that the sacrament of the Eucharist represented a re-enactment of Christ's sacrifice on the cross; repeated masses therefore adding to the store of 'merits'.
 D. Meade, The Medieval Church in England (Sussex, 1988), p.30.
 W.L. Wakefield and A.P. Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages (Colombia, 1991), p.117.
 Leff, Heresy, Vol II, p.525.
 Hudson, Premature Reformation, p.294.
 Spinka, Council of Constance, p.61.
 Leff, Heresy, Vol II, p.674. Also, see J.R. Mantey, Was Peter a Pope? (Chicago, 1949), pp.56 & 70, in which the author notes that no Greek-writing Church Father ever cited Matthew 16:19, 18:18 or John 20:23 in favour of sacerdotalism, as the words 'bind' and 'loose' in the original Greek texts are not in the present or the future tense but in the perfect tense, as Wycliffe and Hus argued. However, prior to the 15th century Renaissance, access to the New Testament documents in their original (Antiochian [see Dusty Peterson, The Bible Versions Debate, Part 2a and Part 2b]) Greek was limited, and there seems to be no evidence in their writings that either Wycliffe or Hus employed the grammatical over the theological or metaphysical arguments for their views.
 'John Wyclif: On Indulgences', in Peters, Heresy and Authority, pp.267-70.
 'Pope Gregory XI to the masters of Oxford: On Wyclif', in Peters, Heresy and Authority, p.271.
 'The Lollard Conclusions 1394, point 9', in Peters, Heresy and Authority, p.280.
 A. Hudson, Lollardy: The English Heresy, Studies in Church History, Vol 18 (Blackwell, Oxford, 1981), pp.275 & 279.
 Hudson, Premature Reformation, p.194.
 Hudson, Premature Reformation, p.309.
 'The Trial of Johannes Skylan de Bergh', in N.P. Tanner, Heresy Trials in the Diocese of Norwich 1428-31 (Royal Historical Society, London, 1977), p.148.
 Hudson, Premature Reformation, pp.302 & 311.
 Hudson, Premature Reformation, p.506.
 H. Kaminsky, A History of the Hussite Revolution (California, 1967), pp.213-4.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.216.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.287.
 Le Goff, Birth of Purgatory, p.366.
III - The Eucharist (The Mass)
 A.H. Couratin, 'Liturgy', in J. Danielou, A. Couratin, and J. Kent, The Pelican Guide to Modern Theology, Vol II: Historical Theology (Penguin, 1969), chapters 4 & 6.
 Couratin, Historical Theology, pp.195-6, and Pelikan, Christian Tradition, Vol III, pp.136-7.
 Couratin, Historical Theology, p.226.
 Leff, Heresy, Vol II, p.552.
 Rubin, Corpus Christi, pp.14-15.
 Rubin, Corpus Christi, p.17.
 Rubin, Corpus Christi, p.22.
 'Canons of the Fourth Lateran Council', in Peters, Heresy and Authority, p.174.
 Pelikan, Christian Tradition, Vol IV, p.53.
 Leff, Heresy, Vol II, p.552. See also C.S. Lewis, 'Miracles', in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology (Collins, 1942), and C.S. Lewis, Miracles (Collins, 1947), for discussions on miracles and the laws of nature.
 Leff, Heresy, Vol II, p.553.
 Wyclif, in Spinka, Council of Constance, p.29.
 Hudson, Premature Reformation, p.282.
 'Lollard Conclusions 1394, point 4', in Peters, Heresy and Authority, p.278.
 Hudson, Premature Reformation, pp.286-8.
 'The Trial of Ricardus Knobbying de Baccles', in Tanner, Heresy Trials, pp.115.
 Hudson, Premature Reformation, pp.284-5.
 Rubin, Corpus Christi, p.332.
 Rubin, Corpus Christi, p.332.
 Hudson, Premature Reformation, p.286.
 Spinka, Council of Constance, pp.58-9.
 'Canons of the Fourth Lateran Council', in Peters, Heresy and Authority, p.174.
 Couratin, Historical Theology, p.178.
 Pelikan, Christian Tradition, Vol III, p.79.
 Pelikan, Christian Tradition, Vol III, p.79.
 Pelikan, Christian Tradition, Vol IV, p.55.
 B. Hamilton, Religion in the Medieval West (Edward Arnold, 1986), p.45.
 Pelikan, Christian Tradition Vol IV, p.302; and Rubin, Corpus Christi, p.70.
 Rubin, Corpus Christi, p.54.
 Rubin, Corpus Christi, p.71.
 Rubin, Corpus Christi, p.71.
 Rubin, Corpus Christi, p.72.
 Rubin, Corpus Christi, p.72.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.102.
 Hudson, Premature Reformation, p289.
 Pelikan, Christian Tradition, Vol IV, p.123.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.101.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.107.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.113.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.111.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.116.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.117.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.123.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.119.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.115.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.118.
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.118.
 Spinka, Council of Constance, p.253.
 Spinka, Council of Constance, p.273.
 Spinka, Council of Constance, p.277.
IV - The Threat to Sacerdotal Mediation
 Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.124.
 'The Trial of Edmundus Archer de Lodne', in Tanner, Heresy Trials, p.166.
 Rubin, Corpus Christi, p.19.
 John of Brevicoxa, 'De Fide et Ecclesia', in Peters, Heresy and Authority, p.307.
 Pelikan, Christian Tradition, Vol III, p.216.
 Pelikan, Christian Tradition, Vol IV, p.115.
 Leff, Heresy, Vol II, pp.534-5 & 540-1.
 Leff, Heresy, Vol II, pp.666 & 669. Note that the word translated 'Peter' is 'petros' (m) in Greek, meaning 'pebble' or 'stone'; while the word translated 'rock' is 'petra' (f). Though the two sound similar, their meanings are quite different and the Latin Vulgate failed to make the distinction in its translation from the (Alexandrian [see Dusty Peterson, The Bible Versions Debate, Part 2a and Part 2b]) Greek text. In this passage, Christ was not identifying but contrasting Peter with the rock (Himself) upon which His church would be built [see also Moyer, Was Peter the First Pope?, pp.14-17]. However, as with the priestly 'keys' to forgive sins, there is no indication that either Wycliffe or Hus made use of the Greek texts in their arguments with the Roman Catholic Church.
V - Another Jesus... Another Spirit... Another Gospel...
 Matthew of Janov, 'Regulae I', p.45, in Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, pp.19&20.
 Janov, 'Regulae I', p.209ff, in Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, p.20.