Notes and highlights on the deadly sin of war and a better way to live by the Christian reformer John Wycliffe (1324-1384) selected from his work The Seven Deadly Sins.
Compiled and Edited by David Timothy Holdsworth
“When the morning star appears, the dawn cannot be far behind.”
– Anon –
THE CHURCH NEEDS A DOCTOR
Due to men’s sins, the Church shall surely never be healthy until her parts are healed again by His heavenly doctoring and the medicine of men. Oh, if it were a kindness to heal a sick man, how much more kindness would it be to heal the Church, our mother!
WHO IS THE TRUE AUTHOR OF WAR AND CONFUSION?
The devil, the father of anger, is the one who authorizes this fighting, and his disciples follow along, moved by their master.
CAN EVIL BE CONQUERED WITHOUT MURDER?
Wise men of the world hold back their strength, and thus vanquish their enemies without throwing a punch. Men of the Gospel conquered through patience, and yeomen won rest and peace by suffering death. We may also do right, if we care about love.
IS IT LOVING TO WAGE WAR?
Men who fight have a deceitful love, the kind of false love that the demons of hell invent. But men shall know on Judgment Day who fights thus for “love.” It is no loving thing to ride against your enemy upon a strong war-horse and armed with a sharp spear – in comparison, the kiss of Judas was more of a token of love. And so God’s law teaches men to excel in deeds of love and works of worship. I do not read in God’s law that Christian men should excel in fighting or battle, but in meek patience. And this is the means whereby we should have God’s peace.
DO WHAT IS TRULY PRAISE WORTHY, BE NOT A BUTCHER
The worldly name that the devil has promoted is a great evidence that battle is cursed. Many men are praised now for the devil’s works, and the respect and honor that the world gives them are commonly for vices and not for virtues, for worldly men judge more by vices than by virtues. Lord, what respect is bestowed upon a knight because he kills many men?
And so it would be better for a man to be butcher of animals than to be a butcher of his brother, for the latter is more unnatural. The suffering of Christ is to be highly praised, but the slaying of His tormentors is odious to God. Lord, since the king of this entire world praises suffering so much, and hates such butchery, why shouldn’t men do likewise?
GOD WILL NOT TELL US TO TAKE OTHER LANDS
If a kingdom transgresses against the Most High God, as punishment for this trespass He may give that kingdom to other folk. But man should not imagine that people have so sinned that God will punish them thus; a man should only think such things IF God tells him. The Amorites sinned for four hundred years while God justly allowed them to remain in His promised land. Also, in such a conquest the conquerors MUST be worthy to have the land that they should conquer. And thirdly, IF God gives land to a people and commands them to conquer it, their right of ownership is only valid IF they continue to live righteously.
(Editors note: In many understandings of the Old Testament narratives it is thought that God at times authorised certain conquests. That be as it may, Christians are of the New Covenant and held to an even higher standard. God does not tell Christians to take other lands. All true Christians should know by now they are not worthy or righteous enough to follow through and maintain such a task. We are saved by Grace to do good works and acts of true love, not bad works and acts of war).
REVENGE IS REBUKED
I read that Christ rebuked Saint Peter when he wanted to defend Christ’s life by striking with a sword. I also read that Christ would not take vengeance on the Samaritans when they withheld His own goods from Him and His apostles, and denied them both food and lodging.
CONCERNING “MEN OF GOD” WHO PRACTICE WAR
If man-slaying by the laity is odious to God, it is much more so by the priests who should be Christ’s representatives.
The clergy violates the rules of our faith, and the laity encourages them.
WE GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY!
Each man’s soul is a spear that must do something, and if it not led by the Holy Spirit to God’s service, the devil will lead it to his.
PRACTICE THE PEACEABLE TASK OF PREACHING
Jesus Christ left other works behind and occupied himself most in the work of preaching. His apostles also did this, and God loved them for it. The better a person keeps God’s commands, the better he will do.
So a priest’s life should be rooted in preaching, praying with sincerity, giving of the sacraments, learning of God’s law, and giving good example by righteous living. It would profit a priest to do these five things first, and to engage in eating, sleeping, and appropriate merry-making as a means to that end.
They should hunt the devil, destroy sins, busy themselves in Gods law, and taste of His sweetness. They will not seek the pleasures of the nobility if they remember their calling, but the covetousness of amassing wealth and the idleness of leisure lead many priests to serve the devil.
OFFICIALS AND LEADERS MUST RESTRAIN THEMSELVES AND BLESS OTHERS
Just as garments of pride should be far from knights, so also should be the plundering of poor men, particularly if they are their own tenants.
Therefore, John the Baptist told the Roman soldiers that, if they would win heaven, they should restrain themselves. “Do not oppress your brethren and do not do them injury, but flee the coveting of possessions and be satisfied with your wages.”
(Wycliffe explains that they must be good examples and promote righteousness)…
If they abandon this responsibility, they sin against God, serve God’s enemy, and are God’s traitors.
Friend, since lords are representatives of the virtue of Christ, let them pursue virtue in the way they govern.
SUBJECTS/CITIZENS MUST NOT SUPPORT PHYSICAL REVOLUTION
I have not read in God’s law that subjects should fight with their worldly sovereigns in order to obtain peace. Instead, Christ taught us to vanquish our enemies by patience, and to win the bliss of heaven without other strife. Oh, if the killing of men by knights is wicked, it is more so by subjects, who should be meek and patient. And so, true men come to the conclusion that no one should take vengeance.
THERE ARE TWO LAWS, WHO WILL YOU SERVE?
Every man should understand that the entire world is controlled by law, and obeying Christ’s law brings in peace and love, but obeying the Antichrist’s law brings in strife and envy.
The Antichrist busies himself to gather men, to curse them, to deprive them of their goods, and to put them back into bondage. This is the law that is more often taught, feared, and enforced, for the devil and covetousness have mastery of more men, and those of Christ and His law are scattered thinly.
God’s law teaches submission and peace; it teaches the means to achieve peace and forbids the contrary. The common folk should be taught this to keep them from sin and to employ them in virtue. But this is not accomplished by war, since the people who fight in wars shall always be inferior in virtue.
THE TIME HAS COME FOR PEACE
Treacherous men stir up battles now, even though the time has come that Isaiah spoke of regarding Christ – that men shall beat their swords into plowshares and the iron of their spears into scythes or sickles.
Now is the time of peace.