Sunday, May 18, 2014

John Wycliffe's Defense of Scripture's Sufficiency: A Middle-to-Modern English Translation

I have never attempted a translation like this before, but I have always wanted to. Below, I have a copy of John Wycliffe's comments about the sufficiency of Scripture, but as far as I know, they're only available in Middle-English. Fortunately, for those who only have access to the Middle-English version, I have translated it below. 

Regarding the important subject of Scriptural sufficiency, there is not a whole lot of written material from John Wycliffe to work with. But I hope my own translation at least clarifies one important aspect of Wycliffe's argument, namely, that the sufficiency of Scripture is defended best against Christ's enemies when it is presupposed. Wycliffe writes:
The fend sekiþ many weyes to marre men in bileve, and to stoppe bodily þis, þat no bookis ben bileve. For ȝif þou spekist of the Bible, þanne seyen Antecristis clerkis, how provest þou þat it is holy wryt more thanne annother writen book? Here we seyen, as Crist seith, that kynrede of hordom sekiþ signes. And þerfore men moten use cautels, and axe hem questiouns aȝen, whether Crist lefte his gospellis here for to counforte his Chirche. And ȝif thei seyen that he dide, axe hem whiche ben þes gospels, and hem we clepyn holy wryt. And þus we axen of oþir partis þat trewe men clepyn hooly wryt. But, for Cristen men schulde speke pleynly to Antecrist, we seyen that hooly wryt is taken on þree maneres comynly. On the firste manere Crist him silf is clepid in the gospel holy wryt, whanne he seiþ þat þe writynge may noȝt be fordon þat þe Fadir haþ halwid and sent into the world. On the secounde manere holy wryt is clepid truþis þat ben conteyned and signyfied bi comyn biblis, and þes truþis may noȝt faile. On þe þridde maner holy wryt is clepid bookis þat ben writen and maad of enk and parchemyn. And þis speche is nouȝt so propre as the first and the secunde. But we taken of bileue þat þe secunde writ, of truþis writen in the book of lyf, is holy wryt, and God seiþ it, and þis we knowen by bileve. And as oure siȝt makeþ us certyn of þat þing þat we seen, so oure bileue makiþ us certyn þat þes trewþis ben holy wryt. ȝif holy wryt on the þridde manere be brent or cast in the see, holy writ on the secunde manere may noȝt faile, as Crist seiþ. In Dei nomine, Amen.1

Below is my translation (which might also be the only modern-english translation available today):
The Enemy seeks many ways to damage faithful men, and to stop this bodily, that no documents within are believed. For if you speak of the Bible, as the clerks against Christ say, "How do you prove that this Scripture is more holy than another written book?", here we say, as Christ has said, that "a generation of whoredom seeks [after] signs."2 And therefore men argue with caution, and often ask them questions, whether Christ preserved his gospels here for the comfort of his Church; and if they say that he did [preserve his gospels here for the comfort of his Church], ask them "Which are these gospels?," and  "Which ones do we call Holy Scripture?", and therefore we inquire of other divisive groups that [which] true men call Holy Scripture.  
But, for Christian men who should speak plainly to those against Christ, we see that Holy Scripture is commonly considered [sufficient] according to three manners:
On the first manner, Christ himself is called [thus] in the gospel of Holy Scripture, when he says that "the Scripture cannot be corrupted, that [which] the father has sanctified and sent into the world."3  
On the second manner, Holy Scripture is called "truths that are contained and signified by common books"; and this truth cannot fail.4
On the third manner, Holy Scripture is called "books that are written and made of ink and parchment"; and this description is not so special as the first and the second.5   
But we of faith consider that the second writing—of truths written in the book of life—is Holy Scripture, and God says it, and this we know by faith; and as our sight makes us certain of that thing that we have seen, so our faith makes us certain that these truths are Holy Scripture. If Holy Scripture on the third manner is burned or cast in the sea, Holy Scripture on the second manner cannot fail, as Christ said. 
In the name of God, Amen. 

1.  Wycliffe, J. (1871). Select English Works of John Wyclif. (T. Arnold, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 186–187). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
2.  Matthew 12:39
3.  John 10:35-36. It's interesting that his first point presupposes that Jesus' words, however they have been preserved and passed down through the ages, are unquestionably authoritative. In John 10:35-36, Jesus is quoting the Scriptures in order to identify the unquestionable authority of the Father's words with his own words and actions. Therefore the words of Scripture are as authoritative as Jesus' words and actions, and vice-versa.
4.  By this I think Wycliffe means that the truth-claims within the Scriptures are validated by all sorts of external evidences, even those found in "common books" that are accepted and approved by scholars of his day.
5.  By this I think Wycliffe is describing the reliability of the manuscripts, and his argument is based on the well known fact that they were written down with ink and on parchment (as apposed to other, much less reliable, materials).

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