Monday, December 14, 2009

Wycliffe on the Judicials

John Wycliffe's Bible contains a lengthy prologue, a portion of which I have attempted to translate from Middle English into modern English. Any errors in translation are mine, and I have provided the original as well as the translation for comparison. This section has to do with Wycliffe's understanding of the trifold division of God's law, with specific focus on the moral and judicial laws.

John Wycliffe, General Prologue to the Holy Bible, Chap. II:

The old testament is departid in to thre parties, in to moral comaundementis, iudicials, and cerimonyals. Moral comaundementis techen to holde and preise and cherishe vertues, and to fle and repreue vicis, and these comaundementis bynden euer, and han strengthe, for tho ben groundid in charite and reson, and in lawe of kynde.

Judicials techen domes and peynes for orrible synnes, and iudicials of Moises lawe weren ful iust and profitable for men, for tho weren ordeined of God, that may not erre in his domes, and lawis, and workis. Netheles sithen Crist was maad man, and ordeyned lawe of mercy and of charite, and wole not the deth of a sinful man, but repentaunce and saluacioun, cristen men ben not bounden to kepe the iudicials of Moyses lawe, that was endid in the tyme of Cristis passioun. But 3it cristen lordis that han the swerd, and are Goddis vikers, in xiij. c. to Romayns, moun punishe men, that trespassen openly, in catel and bodyly prisoun, and sumtyme bi bodily deth, whanne the synne may not ellis be distried, neither the comynte may ellis be stablished in pees, as the foure doctours and other latter preuen opynly by holy writ and resoun; but looke that this be don for charite and comyn profit, with mercy and compassioun of bretheren, not for couetise, nether pride, neither for veniaunce of a mannes owne wrong.


The Old Testament is divided into three parts, into moral commandments, judicials, and ceremonials. Moral commandments teach [us] to hold and practice and cherish virtues, and to flee and reprove vices, and these commandments bind always, and have strength, for they are grounded in charity and reason, and in laws of kind.

Judicials teach judgments and punishments for horrible sins, and judicials of Moses' law were completely just for men, for they were ordained of God, who may not err in his judgments, and laws, and works. Nevertheless, since Christ was made man, and ordained laws of mercy and of charity, and willed not the death of a sinful man, but repentance and salvation, Christian men are not bound to keep the judicials of Moses' law, that was ended in the time of Christ's passion. But yet Christian lords that have the sword, and are God's vicars, in the 13th chapter of Romans, may punish men, that trespass openly, in property and bodily prison, and sometimes by bodily death, when the sin may not else be destroyed, neither the community may else be established in peace, as the four doctors [of the mendicant orders (I think) -- RAM] and other [?] prove openly by holy writ and reason; but look that this be done for for charity and common profit, with mercy and compassion of brethren, not for covetousness, nor pride, neither vengeance of a man's own wrong.

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