Archbp. Thomas Arundel: Constitution against Gospellers, 1409.

Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury (1397)  was responsible for his `Constitution against Gospellers` (1409) that was meant to exterminate all unapproved preaching and teaching by any means. It was most thorough and swingeing in its coverage and left very little room to manoeuvre if charged with `error` or heresy. This was used in conjunction with a statute previously passed called the “Ex Officio” that enjoined the secular authority to proceed with condign punishment for heresy ie  burning at the stake.

The text is given in full and normally runs to several pages. But it is important as it demonstrates clearly the extent to which the Church of Rome was prepared to go to suppress the acts, words,  deeds thoughts, and remembrance of John Wickcliffe and his followers. Note the sentence that makes it sacrilege to even presume to dispute the Pope`s decisions and was thus heresy; – what is “the authority of civil wisdom” ?  There is no such precept . It is medieval gobble de gook and political correctness to an extreme, even a form of thought policing long before George Orwell wrote about it and 21st century politicians present similar arguments `as if new`.

The cruel Constitution of Thomas Arundel, Archbishop, against the Gospellers, or followers of God’s Truth.

Thomas, by the permission of God, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England, and legate of the see apostolic: to all and singular our reverend brethren, fellow bishops, and our suffragans; and to abbots, priors, deans of cathedral churches, archdeacons, provosts and canons; also to all parsons, vicars, chaplains, and clerks in parish churches, and to all laymen, whom and wheresoever dwelling within our province of Canterbury, greeting, and grace to stand firmly in the doctrine of the holy mother church.

It is a manifest and plain case, that he doth wrong and injury to the most reverend council, who so revolteth from the things being in the said council once discussed and decided; and whosoever dared, presume to dispute of the supreme or principal judgment here in earth, in so doing incurreth the pain of sacrilege, according to the authority of civil wisdom and manifold tradition of human law. Much more then, they, who, trusting to their own wits are so bold to violate, and with contrary doctrine to resist, and in word and deed to contemn, the precepts of laws and canons rightly made and proceeding from the key-bearer and porter of eternal life and death, bearing the room and person not of pure man, but of true God here in earth; which also have been observed hitherto by the holy fathers, our predecessors, unto the glorious effusion of their blood, and voluntary sprinkling out of their brains,[ a reference to Archbp. Thomas Becket]  are worthy of greater punishment, deserving quickly to be cut off as rotten members, from the body of the church militant. For such ought to consider what is in the Old Testament written, ‘Moses and Aaron among his priests,’ that is, were chief heads amongst them; and in the New Testament, among the apostles there was a certain difference: and though they were all apostles, yet was it granted of the Lord to Peter, that he should bear pre-eminence above the other apostles and also the apostles themselves would the same, that he should be the chieftain over all the rest; and being called Cephas, that is, Head, should be as a prince over the apostles, unto whom it was said, ‘Thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren.’ As though he would say, If there happen any doubt among them, or if any of them chance to err and stray out of the way of faith, of just living, or right conversation, do thou confirm and reduce him into the right way again,’ which thing, no doubt, the Lord would never have said unto him, if he had not so minded, that the rest should be obedient unto him. And yet, all this notwithstanding, we know and daily prove what we are sorry to speak, how the old sophister, the enemy of mankind (foreseeing and fearing lest the sound doctrine of the church, determined from ancient times by the holy forefathers, should withstand his malice, if it might keep the people of God in unity of faith under one head of the church), doth therefore endeavour, by all means possible, to extirpate the said doctrine, feigning vices to be virtues. And so, under false pretence. of verity dissimuled, be soweth discord among catholic people, to the intent that some going one way, some another, he, in the mean time, may gather to himself a church of the malignant, differing wickedly from the universal mother, holy church: in which, Satan, transforming himself into an angel of light, bearing a lying and deceitful balance in his hand, pretendeth great righteousness, in contrarying the ancient doctrine of the holy mother church, and refusing the traditions of the same, determined and appointed by holy fathers; persuading men, by feigned forgeries, the same to be nought, and so inducing other new kinds of doctrine, leading to more goodness, as he by his lying persuasions pretendeth, although he in very truth neither willeth nor mindeth any goodness, but rather that he may sow schisms, whereby divers opinions, and contrary to themselves, being raised in the church, faith thereby may be diminished, and also the reverend holy mysteries, through the same contention of wortds may be profaned by Pagans, Jews, and other infidels, and wicked miscreants. And so that figure in the Apocalypse, chap. vi. is well verified, speaking of him that sat on the black horse, bearing a pair of balances in his hand; by which heretics are understood, who, at the first appearance, like to weights or a balance, make as though they would set forth right and just things, to allure the hearts of the hearers; but afterwards appeareth the black horse, that is to say, their intention, full of cursed speaking. For they, under a diverse show and colour of a just balance, with the tall of a black horse sprinkling abroad heresies and errors, do strike; and, being poisoned themselves, under colour of good, raise up infinite slanders, and, by certain persons fit to do mischief, do publish abroad, as it were, the sugared taste of honey mixed with poison, thereby the sooner to be taken: working and causing through their sleight and subtleties, that error should be taken for verity, wickedness for holiness and for the true will of Christ. Yea, and moreover, the aforesaid persons thus picked out, do preach before they be sent, and presume to sow the seed, before the seed discreetly be separate from the chaff; who, not pondering the constitutions and decrees of the canons provided for the same purpose against such pestilent sowers, do prefer sacrifice diabolical (so to term it). before obedience to be given to the holy church militant.

We, therefore, considering and weighing that error which is not resisted seemeth to be allowed, and that be openeth his bosom too wide, who resisteth not the viper, thinking there to thrust out her venom; and willing, moreover, to shake off the dust from our feet, and to see to the honour of our holy mother church, whereby one uniform holy doctrine may be sown and planted in the church of God, namely, In this our provInce of Canterbury, so much as in us doth he, to the increase of faith and service of God, first rooting out the evil weeds and offendicles which, by the mean, of perverse preaching and doctrine, have sprung up hitherto, and are likely more hereafter to grow; purposing by some convenient way, with all diligence possible, to withstand them in time, and to provide for the peril of souls which we see to rise under pretence of the premises; also, to remove ail such obstacles, by which the said our purpose may be stopped, by the advice and assent of all our suffragans and other prelates, being present in this our convocation of the clergy, as also of the procurators of them that be absent, and at the Instant petition of the procurators of the whole clergy within this our province of Canterbury, for the more fortification of the common law in this part; adding thereunto punishment and penalties condign, as be hereunder written.

We will and command, ordain and decree: That no manner of person, secular or regular, being authorized to preach by the laws now prescribed, or licensed by special privilege, shall take upon him the office of preaching the word of God, or by any means preach unto the clergy or laity, whether within the church or without, in English, except he first present himself and be examined by the ordinary of the place, where he preacheth: and so being found a fit person, as well in manners as knowledge, he shall be sent by the said ordinary to some one church or more, as shall be thought expedient by the said ordinary, according to the quality of the person. Nor any person aforesald shall presume to preach, except first he give faithful signification, in due form, of his sending and authority; that is, that he that is authorised, do come in form appointed him in that behalf, and that those that affirm they come by special pnvilege, do show their prIvilege unto the parson or vicar of the place where they preach. And those that pretend themselves to be sent by the ordinary of the place, shall likewise show the ordinary’s letters made unto him for that purpose, under his great seal. Let us always understand, the curate (having the perpetuity) to be sent of right unto the people of his own cure: but if any person aforesaid shall be forbidden by the ordinary of tbe place, or any other superior, to preach, by reason of his errors or heresies which before, peradventure, he hath preached end taught; that then, and from thenceforth, he abstain from preaching within our province, until he have purged himself and be lawfully admitted again to preach by the just arbitrement of him that suspended and forbade him; end shall always, after that, carry with him, to all places wheresoever he shall preach, the letters testimonial of him that restored him.

Moreover the parish priests or vicars temporal, not having perpetuities, nor being sent in form aforesaid, shall simply preach in the churches where they have charge, only those things which are expressly contained in the provincial constitution set forth by John, our predecessor, of good memory, to help the ignorance of the priests, which beginneth, ‘ Ignorantia Sacerdotum` which book of ccconstitutions we would should be had in every perish church in our province of Canterbury,  within three mouths next after the publication of these presents, and (as therein is required) that it be effectually declared by the priests themselves yearly, and at the times appointed. And, lest this wholesome statute might he thought hurtful to some, by reason of payment of money, or some other difficulty, we therefore will and ordain, that the examinations of the persons aforesaidand the making of their letters by the ordinary, be done gratis and freely, without any exaction of money at all by those to whom it shial appertain. And if any man shall willingly presume to violate this our statute grounded upon the old law, after the publication of the same, he shall incur the sentence of greater excommunication, ‘ipso facto’ whose absolution we specially .reserve, by tenor of these presents, to us and our successors. But, if any such preacher, despising this wholesome statute, and not weighing the sentence of greater excommunication, do the second time, take upon him to preach, saying and alleging, end stoutly affirming, that the sentence of greeter excommunication aforesaid cannot be appointed by the church in the persons of the prelates of the same, that then the superiors of the place do worthily rebuke him, and forbid him from the communion of all faithful Christians.

And that the said person heeupon lawfully convicted (except he recant and abjure after the manner of the church) be pronounced. heretic by the ordinary of the place. And that from thenceforth he be reputed and taken for a heretic andd schismatic, and that he incur ‘ipso facto’ the penalties of heresy and sehismacy, expressed in the law; and, chiefly, that his goods be adjudged confiscate by the law, and apprehended, and kept by them to whom it shall appertain. And that his fautors, receivers, and defenders, being convicted, in all cases be likewise punished, if they cease not off within one month, being lawfully warned thereof by their superior.

Furthermore, no clergyman, or parochians of any parish or place within our • province of Canterbury, shall admit any man to preach within their churches, churchyards, or other places whatsoever, except first there he manifest knowledge had of his authority, privileges or sending thither according to the order aforesaid: otherwise the church, church-yard, or what place soever, in which it was so preached, shall ‘ipsi facts’ receive the ecclesiastical interdict, and so shall remain interdicted, until they that so admitted and suffered him to preach, have reformed themselves, and obtained the place so interdicted to be released in due form of law, either from the ordinary of the place, or else his superior. 

Moreover,like  as a good householder casteth wheat into the ground, well ordered for that purpose, thereby to get the more increase, even so we will and command, that the preacher of God’s word, coming In form aforesaid, preaching either unto the clergy or laity, according to his matter proponed, shall be of good behaviour, sowing such seed  as  shall be convenient for his auditory: and chiefly preaching to the clergy, he shall touch the vices, commonly used amongst them; and to the laity, he shall declare the vices commonly used amongst them; and not otherwise. But if he preach contrary to this order, then shall he be sharply punished by the ordinary of that place, according to the quality of that offence.

Item, Forasmuch as the part is vile, that agreeth not with the whole, we do decree and ordain, that no preacher aforesaid, or any other person whatsoever. shall otherwise teach or preach concerning the sacrament of the altar, matrimony, confression of sins, or any other sucrament of the church, or article of the faith, than what already is discussed by the holy mother church; nor shall bring any thing in doubt that isdetermined by the church, nor shall, to his knowledge, privily or apertly pronounce blasphemous words concerning the same; nor shall teach, preach, or observe any sect, or kind of heresy whatsoever, contrary to the wholesome doctrine of the church. He that shall wittingly and obstinately attempt the contrary after the publication of these presents, shall incur the sentence of excommunication ‘ipao facto:’ from which, except in point of death, he shall not be absolved, until he have reformed himself by abjuration of his heresy, at the discretion of the ordinary in whose territory he so offended, and have received wholesome penitence for his offence. But if the second time he shall so offend, being lawfully convicted, he shall be pronounced a heretic, and his goods shall be confiscated, and apprehended, and kept by them to whom it shall appertain. The penance before mentioned, shall be after-this manner: if any man, contrary to the determination of the church, that is, in the decrees, decretals, or our constitutions provincial, do openly or privily teach or preach any kind of heresy or sect, he shall, in the parish church of the same place where he so preached, upon one Sunday or other solemn day, or more, at the discretion of the ordinary, and as his offence is more or less, expressly revoke what he so preached, taught, or affirmed, even at the time of the solemnity of the mass, when the people are most assembled; and there shall he effectually, and without fraud, preach and teach the very truth determined by the church; and, further, shall be punished after the quality of his offence, as shall be thought expedient, at the discretion of the ordinary.

Item, Forasmuch as a new vessel; being long used, savoureth after the head, we decree and ordain, that no schoolmasters and teachers whatsoever, that instruct children in grammar, or others whosoever, in primitive sciences, shall, in teaching them, intermingle any thing concerning the catholic faith, the sacrament of the altar, or other sacraments of the church, contrary to the determination of the church; nor shall suffer their scholars to expound the holy Scriptures (except the text, as hath been used in ancient time); nor shall permit them to dispute openly or privily concerning the catholic faith, or sacraments of the church. Contrariwise, the offender herein shall be grievously punished by the ordinary of the place, as a favourer of errors and schism.

Item, For that a new way doth more frequently lead astray, than an old way, we will and command, that no book or treatise made by John Wickhiff, or others whomsoever, about that time, or since, or hereafter to be made, be from henceforth read in schools, halls, hospitals, or other places whatsoever, within our province of Canterbury aforesaid, except the same be first examined by the university of Oxford or Cambridge; or, at least, by twelve persons, whom the said universities, or one of them, shall appoint to he chosen at our discretion, or the laudable discretion of our successors; and the same being examined as aforesaid, to be expressly approved and allowed by us or our successors, and in the name and authority of the university, to be delivered unto the stationers to be copied out, and the same to be sold at a reasonable price, the original thereof always after to remain in some chest of the university. But if any man shall read any such kind of book in schools or otherwise, as aforesaid, he shall be punished as a sower of schism, and a favourer of heresy, as the quality of the fault shall require.

Item, It is a dangerous thing, as witnesseth blessed St. Jerome, to translate the text of the holy Scripture out of the tongue into another; for in the translation the same sense is not always easily kept, as the same St. Jerome confesseth, that although he were inspired, yet oftentimes in this he erred: we therefore decree and ordain, that no man, hereafter, by his own authority translate any text of the Scripture into English or any other tongue, by way of a book, libel, or treatise; and that no man read any such book, libel or treatise, now lately set forth in the time of John Wickhiff, or since, or hereafter to be set forth, in part or in whole, privily or apertly, upon pain of greater excommunication, until the said translation be allowed by the ordinary of the place, or, if the case so require, by the council provincial. He that shall do contrary to this, shall likewise be punished as a favourer of error and heresy.

Itens, For that Almighty God cannot be expressed by any philosophical terms, or otherwise invented of man: and St. Augustine saith, that he hath i oftentimce revoked such conclusions as have been most true, because they have been oflènsive to the ears of the religious; we do ordain and specially forbid, that any manner of person, of what state, decree, or condition soever he be, do allege or propone any conclusions or propositions in the catholic faith, or repugnant to good manners (except necessary doctrine pertaining to their faculty of teaching or disputing in their schools or otherwise), although they defend the same with ever such curious terms and words. For, as saith blessed St. Hugh of the sacraments, ‘That which oftentimes is well spoken, is not well understood.’ If any man, therefore, alter the publication of these presents, shall be convicted wittingly to have proponed such conclusions or propositions, except (being monished) he reform himself in one month, by virtue of this present constitution, he shall incur the sentence of greater excommunication ‘ipso facto,’ and shall be openly pronounced an excommunicate, until he hath confessed his fault openly in the same place where he offended, and hath preached the true meaning of the said conclusion or proposition in one church or more, as shall be thought expedient to the ordinary.

Item, No manner of person shall presume to dispute upon the articles determined by the church, that are contained in the decrees, decretals, or constitutions provincial, or in the general councils; but only to seek out the true meaning thereof, and that expressly, whether it be openly or in secret; and none shall call in doubt the authority of the said decretals or constitution; or the authority of him that made them; or teach any thing contrary to the determination thereof: and, cchiefly, concerning the adoration of the holy cross, the worshipping of images, of saints, going on pllgrimage to certain places, or to the relics of saints, or against the oaths, in cases accustomed to be given in both common places, that is to say, spiritual and temporal. But by all it shall be commonly taught and preached, that the cross and image of the crucifix, and other images of saints, in honour of them whom they represent, are to be worshipped with procession, bowing of knees, offering of frankincense, kissing; oblations, lighting of candles, and pilgrimages,’ and with all other kind of ceremonies and manners that have been used in the time of our predecessors; and that giving of oaths in cases expressed in the law, and used of all men to whom it belongeth, in both common place; ought to be done upon the book of the gospel of Christ. Contrary unto this whosoever doth preach, teach, or obstinately affirm, except he recant in manner and form aforesaid, shall forthwith incur the penalty of heresy, and shall be pronounced a heretic, in all effect of law,

Item, We do decree and ordain, that no chaplain be admitted to celebrate, in any diocese within our province of Canterbury, where he was not born, or received not orders; except he bring with him his letters of orders, and letter, commendatory from his ordinary, and also from other bishops in whose diocese of a long time he hath been conversant, whereby his conversation and manners may appear; so that it may be known, whether he hath been defamed with any new opinions touching the catholic faith, or whether he be free from the same: otherwise, as well he that celebrateth, as he that suffereth him to celebrate, shall be sharply punished at the discretion of the ordinary.

Finally, Because those things which newly and unaccustomably creep up, stand in need of new and speedy help, and where more danger is, there ought to be more wary circumspection and stronger resistance; and not without good cause, the less noble ought discreetly to be cut away, that the more noble may the more perfectly be nourished: considering therefore, and in lamentable wise showing unto you, how the ancient university of Oxford, which as a fruitful vine was wont to extend forth her fruitful branches to the honour of God, the great perfection and defence of the church, now partly being become wild, bringeth forth bitter grape; which being indiscreetly eaten of ancient fathers, that thought themselves skilful in the law of God, hath set on edge the teeth of their children: and our province being infected with divers and unfruitful doctrines, and defiled with a new and damnable name of Lollardy, to the great reproof and offence of the said university, being known in foreign countries, and to the great irksomeness of the students there, and to the great damage and loss of the church of England, which in times past by her virtue, as with a strong wall, was wont to be defended, and now is like to run into ruin not to be recovered: at the supplication, therefore, of the whole clergy of our province of Canterbury, and by the consent and assent of all our brethren and suffragans, and others the prelates in this convocation assembled, and the proctors of them that are absent, lest the river being cleansed, the fountain should remain corrupt, and so the water coming from thence should not be pure, intending most wholesomely to provide for the honour and utility of our holy mother the church and the university aforesaid: we do ordain and decree, that every warden, provost, or master of every college, or principal of every hall within the university aforesaid, shall, once every mouth at the least, diligently inquire in the said college, hall, or other place where be hath authority, whether any scholar or inhabitant of each college or hall, etc. have holdest, alleged, or defended, or by any means proponed, any conclusion, proposition, or opinion, concerning the catholic faith, or sounding contrary to good manners, or contrary to the determination of the church, otherwise than appertaineth to necessary doctrine; and if he shall find any suspected or defamed herein, he shall, according to his office, admonish him to desist And if, after such monition given, the said party offend again in the same or such like, he shall incur ‘so facto’ (beside, the penalties aforesaid) the sentence of greater excommunication. And nevertheless, if it be a scholar that so offendeth the second time, whatsoever he shall afterwards do in the said university shall not stand in effect And if he be a doctor, a master, or bachelor, be shall forthwith be suspended from every scholar’s act, and in both cases shall lose the right that he hath in the said college or hall, whereof he is, ‘ipso facto;’ and by the warden, provost, master, principal. or other to whom it appertaineth, he shall be expelled, and a catholic, by lawful means, forthwith placed in his place. And if the said wardens, provosts, or master. of colleges, or principals of hails, shall be negligent concerning the inquisition and execution of such persons suspected and detained, by the space of ten day, from the time of the true or supposed knowledge of the publication of these present, that then they shall incur the sentence of greater excommunication, and nevertheless shall be deprived ‘ipso facto’ of all the right which they pretend to have in the colleges, halls, etc., and the said colleges and halls, to be effectively vacant: and after lawftil declaration, hereof made by thee to whom it shall appertain, new wardens, provosts,  masters, or principals, shall be placed in their places, as hath been accustomed in colleges and halls being vacant in the said university. But if the wardens themselves, provosts, masters, or principals aforesaid, be suspected and defamed of and concerning the said conclusions or propositions, or be favourers and defenders of such as do therein offend, and do not cease being there of warned by us,or by our authority, or by the ordinary  of the place: that then by law they be deprived, as well of all privilege scholastical within the university aforesaid, as also of their rights and authority in such college, hall, etc., besides other penalties before mentioned, and that they incur the said sentence of greater excommunication.

But if any man, in any case of this present constitution, or any shove expressed, do rashly and wilfully presume to violate these our statutes in any part thereof although there be another penalty expressly there limited, yet shall he be made altogether unable and unworthy by the space of three years after, without hope of pardon, to obtain any ecclesiastical benefice within our province of Canterbury: and nevertheless, according to dl his demerit. and the quality of his excess, at the discretion of his superior, he shall be lawfully punished.

And further, that the manner of proceeding herein be not thought uncertain, considering with ourselves, that although there be a band of equality in the crimes of heresy and offending the prince, as is avouched in divers laws, yet the fault is much unlike, and that to offend the divine Majesty requireth greater punishment than to offend the prince’s majesty: and where it is sufficient, for fear of danger that might ensue by delays, to convince by judgment the offender of the prince’s majesty, proceeding against him fully and wholly, with a citation sent by messenger, by letters, or edict not admitting prooft by withesses, and sentence definitive to be: we do ordain, will, and declare, for the easier punishment of the offenders in the premises, and for the better reformation of the church divided and hurt, that all such as are defamed, openly known, or vehemently suspected in any of the cases aforesaid, or, in article of the catholic faith, sounding contrary to good manners, by the authority of the ordinary of the place or other superior, be cited personally to appear, either by letters, public messenger being sworn, or by edict openly set at that place where the said offender commonly remaineth, or in the. parish church, if he here any certain dwelling house; otherwise, In the cathedral church of the place where he was born, and in the parish church of the same place where he so preached and taught: and afterwards, certificate being given that the citation was formerly executed against the party cited being absent end neglecting his appearance, it shall be proceeded against him fully and plainly, without sound or show of judgment, and without admitting proof by witnesses and other canonical probations. And also, after lawful information had, the said ordinary (all delays set apart) shall signify, declare, and punish the said offender, according to the quality of his offence, and in form aforesaid; and further, shall do according to justice, the absence of the offender notwithstanding.

Given at Oxford.