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John Wyclif on War and Peace

John Wyclif on War and Peace

Rory Cox
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    John Wyclif on War and Peace
    Book Description:

    John Wyclif (c.1330-84) was the foremost English intellectual of the late fourteenth century and is famed as an ecclesiastical reformer who was instrumental in the creation of the first English Bible and the spread of the Lollard heresy. But at a time when England was engaged in the bitter Hundred Years War, Wyclif also devoted significant energy to analysing the problem of violence. From the writings of St Augustine of Hippo in the fifth century, Christian justifications of war had revolved around three key criteria: just cause, proper authority and correct intention. Using Wyclif's extensive Latin corpus, the author shows how he dismantled these three pillars of medieval "just war" doctrine, exploring his critique within the context of contemporary political thought and ideology, and showing that he not only repudiated the concept in both theory and practice, but also championed an interpretation of Christian obligation that stressed the virtues of sacrifice, suffering, and, above all, charity. The author thus fundamentally changes the way in which we perceive Wyclif, demonstrating that he created a coherent doctrine of pacificism and non-resistance which was at that time unparallelled. Dr Rory Cox is a Lecturer in late medieval history at the University of St Andrews.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-339-3
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
    Rory Cox
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. A Note on the Chronology of Wyclif’s Latin Works
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction: War, Peace and Wyclif
    (pp. 1-14)

    War in late medieval Europe – its cause, its practice and its effects – has been the subject of countless scholarly works. In view of this, it would be fair to say that we know a good deal more about the enmities of late medieval men and political communities than we know about their friendships. But, amid this sea of military history, there remains at least one area which has remained largely submerged; that is, the late medieval intellectual analysis of war, especially in the fields of theology, law and political philosophy. General histories of just war doctrine use the...

  7. 1 The Development of Just War Doctrine up to the Fourteenth Century
    (pp. 15-46)

    Killing in war, according to one military psychologist, is ‘the single most basic, important, primal, and potentially traumatic occurrence of war’. Indeed, many individuals will risk death in order to avoid taking a human life.¹ Yet war, and the killing which accompanies it, has been an ever-present phenomenon in human society, during which time it has been understood as a glorious and noble activity or condemned as an endemic disease resulting in pointless butchery: sometimes both at the same time. If the above-mentioned psychological analysis is correct – that humans share an abhorrence of taking human life – this may...

  8. 2 Wyclif’s Rejection of Just Cause
    (pp. 47-72)

    The condition of just cause was not a neatly defined concept in fourteenth-century just war doctrine. Medieval commentators on war unanimously agreed, however, that just causes for war existed and that the concept of just cause was crucial to the theory and reality of justifiable warfare. What is evident in Wyclif’s treatment of war is a gradual but comprehensive dismantling of the condition of just cause, resulting in the demolition of the first of the foundational pillars of just war doctrine. This alone provides grounds for revising our ideas about Wyclif’s attitude to Christianised violence. The medieval just war was...

  9. 3 Wyclif’s Rejection of Proper Authority
    (pp. 73-87)

    The condition of proper authority was perhaps the most vigorously debated of the three principal conditions of medieval just war doctrine. Roman law, the study of which had flourished since the eleventh century in centres such as Bologna and Ravenna, looked to the singular authority of theprinceps(emperor) to wage just and lawful wars. But, by the fourteenth century, civilians such as Bartolus and Baldus were coming to grips with the reality that thede factoauthority of the empire had passed, and that sufficientde factosovereignty could be translated into thede iureauthority to declare war....

  10. 4 Wyclif’s Rejection of Correct Intention
    (pp. 88-111)

    The condition of correct intention was a late and distinctly Christian addition to the corpus of just war doctrine. In many ways it was also the most problematic. Although a range of opinion existed among medieval commentators regarding the exact requirements of just cause and proper authority, these two conditions for just war contained criteria that were, at least, relatively easy to identify. The finer details of what constituted self-defence or the proportionate redress of goods might have been subject to different interpretations, but it was often an observable phenomenon if an individual or a territory had been attacked or...

  11. 5 Wyclif on Politics
    (pp. 112-134)

    The identification of Wyclif’s rejection of just war doctrine is important in itself, yet it also forces us to take a fresh look at Wyclif’s political agenda as a whole. The reasoning that led Wyclif to reject just war doctrine can also be traced to his theologically-inspired political thought, which emphasised the role ofcaritasin society and thelex caritatisin government. The potentially radical nature of Wyclif’s political vision, which if fully realised foresaw a communistic, quasi-anarchic evangelical society, has been noted by previous scholars.¹ These ‘utopian’ elements of Wyclif’s thought have been dismissed, however, as ‘removed from...

  12. 6 The Medieval Pacifist
    (pp. 135-164)

    Throughout this volume the term pacifism has been used to describe two mutually coherent moral-intellectual positions: the rejection of traditional just war doctrine and the moral rejection of war. Wyclif’s rejection of just war doctrine has already been established, thus much of the task of showing Wyclif to be a pacifist is complete. The purpose of this chapter, then, is to focus on the second sense of pacifism and to demonstrate Wyclif’s moral rejection of war. His radical thought on war, which was very much rooted in a deeply felt moral aversion to violence as well as to the causes...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 165-170)

    It has been observed that ‘philosophers have written about war for as long as there have been philosophers’.¹ This might be because many philosophers have lived through periods of conflict, but it is also because war presents a moral conundrum. In many senses, war alters the moral and legal framework that helps to shape normal interactions within human communities. Killing fellow human beings, an act considered unlawful within most societies, is suddenly made licit and undertaken on a potentially grand scale. Indeed, not only is the legal status of killing transformed from unlawful to lawful, its moral status is transformed...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 171-190)
  15. Index
    (pp. 191-200)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-201)