The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


CHAPTER THREE: Lollard Positions Molded by Prophetic Interpretation

I. Influential Catholics Point the Finger at Rome

In the centuries just preceding the Reformation an ever-increasing number of pious persons began openly to express the conviction that the dire prophecies concerning Antichrist were even then in the process of fulfillment. They felt that the “falling away” had already taken place. They declared that Antichrist was already seated in the churchly temple of God, clothed in scarlet and purple. Numerous individuals of influence spoke mysterious things about seven-hilled Rome, and solemnly pointed the finger at the Roman church as the predicted Man of Sin, which had now become a historical reality. 1 With the Papacy growing in disfavor, the clergy under attack, and heresy rampant, there appeared an outbreak of mysticism. Scholasticism had sought to save theology by buttressing it with argument, whereas mysticism sought to save men by bringing them into direct relationship to God. These mystics included Bridget, or Birgitta, of Sweden (1303-1373) and Catherine of Siena (1347-1380). 2 PFF2 66.1

Some were sound, scholarly thinkers; others were erratic and visionary. Some were outside the church, but most were still within the Catholic fold, conscious of her corrupted character and striving earnestly to effect reforms. There was marked unrest among the heretical sects—Beghards, Beguines, Fraticelli, and so forth—whereas the Spirituals busied themselves preaching and writing against the pope and his court as Antichrist and the Babylonian Harlot. 3 As papal oppression grew, many braced themselves against it. Despairing of reform, they sought religious security outside her pale. 4 The Hildebrandine idea of the church had been questioned, disputed, declined, and condemned, and was never again to dominate the world as before. 5 PFF2 66.2


NICHOLAS OF LYRA, or Lyranus (d. 1340), born in Normandy, was a Hebrew and Greek scholar and exegetical writer of high repute, belonging to the Franciscans. Of the five methods of exposition—verbal, subjective, allegoric, cabalistic, and literal—Nicholas chose the literal, endeavoring to find the actual meaning of the writer. 6 Stimulated by the Jewish writers Rashi (d. 1105) and Maimonides (d. 1204), he still held to the seven rules of Ticonius. 7 But Lyra complained that the Catholic expositions had buried the true sense under a superabundance of mystical interpretation. And he, between 1320 and 1340, filled five vast folio volumes without doing much better. 8 PFF2 67.1

De Lyra could see little in the Apocalypse but Saracens, Byzantines, and Turks, the false prophet being Mohammed. 9 He expected Antichrist to appear at the end of the world, in accordance with the usual medieval understanding. He made the seals, trumpets, and vials consecutive. However, he did expound Daniel’s forty-five days (1290 days plus 45 equals 1335) to be forty-five years. 10 Satan was considered bound by the founding of the orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic. De Lyra still thought the first resurrection to be a change from sin to grace, and the 1,000 years but an indefinite period from Christ’s birth to the end. 11 PFF2 67.2


The most unsparing denunciations of the corruption of the church at Avignon came from two women honored by the church—Bridget of Sweden and Catherine of Siena. It is anomalous that certain of their writings which so searchingly discuss the prevalent corruption were highly prized by the leaders of the church, but they did nothing to remedy the condition. They contained the gravest charges against the popes, the Roman Curia, and the degeneracy of the clergy. Yet Bridget of Sweden, like Joachim of Floris, was honored by the church.” 12 PFF2 68.1

bridget, birgitta, or brigitta (1303-1373), was the daughter of Birger Persson, lord of Finstad, connected with the reigning house of Sweden. She was married to Ulf Gudmarsson, a Swedish nobleman of royal blood, to whom she bore eight children. Her wedded days were filled with happiness, and her life was one of service to others. In 1343 Gudmarsson became a monk, and died the following year. Mystical voices began to be heard by this Swedish princess, whose messages are recorded in her Revelations. She believed herself to be a channel between God and mankind, and denounced the immoral lives of priests and monks. She claimed to have visions, and at times lost consciousness in her trances. She returned to the court to preach repentance. Then she founded the Order of the Holy Saviour, composed of both women and men, with respective convents. PFF2 68.2

Looking southward to Avignon and Rome, she wrote a letter of rebuke to Pope Clement, urging him to break the fetters of Babylonian Captivity. Failure to accomplish this led to her journey to Rome. The desolation of Rome struck deeply into Bridget’s soul and inspired pages of eloquence reminiscent of Petrarch. The rest of her life was lived in Italy. But she saw little hope. For the most part she remained in Rome, laboring for the souls of men. Her revelations rebuked the excesses and sins of the populace, and stirred up fierce hatred against her, some even threatening to burn her alive. 13 She proclaimed a mighty overthrow of the seat of the Papacy.” 14 Decrying the “horrible simony” and the theft of the Lord’s sheep, she declared the priests had become the slaves of the devil rather than the servants of God. 15 In one of her visions she bewails the lamentable state of the church in the following words: PFF2 68.3

“Now I wail over you, you head of my church, who sits on my throne, the one I have given to Peter and his successors, to sit on it in threefold “dignity with threefold authority, first: that they should have power to bind souls and to loose them from sin; second, that they open heaven to the penitent; third, to dose heaven to the cursed and despisers of my commandments. But you, who should release the souls and present them you are in reality a murderer of souls. I have ordained Peter as a shepherd and guardian of all my sheep, but you destroy and tear them up. You are worse than Lucifer, he was jealous and did only desire to kill me in order to rule in my place, but you are so much worse, because you not only kill me in thrusting me aside by your wicked works, but you kill souls by your bad example. I bought the souls with my blood and committed them to your charge as to my faithful friend, but you surrender them again to the enemy from whom I ransomed them. You are more unjust than Pilate, who condemned nobody to death except me, but you do not only judge me as if I be a powerless and worthless individual but you condemn also innocent souls and free the guilty ones. You are more cruel than Judas, who sold only me, but you do not sell me alone but the souls of my elect for the sake of vile profit and a hollow name. You are more abominable than the Jews; they crucified only my body, but you crucify and punish the souls of mine elect to whom your wickedness and transgression is more bitter than any sword.” 16 PFF2 69.1


CATHERINE BENINCASA OF SIENA (1347-1389) was a contemporary of Francesco Petrarch, poet laureate of Rome. Matters had changed but little since Dante had written his famous lament in the sixth canto of the Purgatory. During the time of the absence of the popes at Avignon, immorality had grown among the priests, and moral corruption was rampant in the convents and monasteries. Many secular priests openly kept concubines. As the great pestilence of 1348 swept over Italy, scourging everywhere with violence, it seemed like a punishment for the flagrant sins of men. Florence and Siena endured its worst horrors. Catherine’s people were of the ruling class at Siena, her father being a dyer. About 1363 Catherine began a life of incredible austerity and of mystical visions. Raw herbs, bread, and water were her diet, and she slept on a bare board. She entered upon a three-year retreat of silence within the en closure of her cell. It was probably in 1366 that she began to go forth on her missions.” 17 PFF2 69.2

Picture 1: Sons and Daughters of the Church Decry Corruption
Dante and petrarch poets of italy, pour forth their indignation against church’s depravity, and europe listens (upper); bridget of sweden and catherine of siena, honored by the church similarly denounce the prevalent corruption (lower). (For these four characters see pages
Page 71

Catherine announced that a great and thorough reformation of the church would come to pass. 18 The bride, now de formed and clothed with foul rags, would then shine forth with bright jewels, crowned with a diadem of virtue. Catherine declared that the appointment of evil shepherds was responsible for the rebellion in the church. 19 She looked upon the opposing cardinals as fallen angels, who place themselves in the service of Antichrist. To Urban VI she wrote, “I have learned that those devils in human form have made an election. They have not chosen a Vicar of Christ, but an Anti-Christ.” And to the opposing cardinals she declared, “You, who were angels upon earth, have turned to the work of devils. You would ... seduce us into obedience to Anti-Christ.” 20 PFF2 71.1

Let us note briefly five others who represent the times. PFF2 71.2


The celebrated Spanish or French physician and alchemist ARONLD OF VILLANOVA, 21 or Arnaldus of Bachuone (c. 1235-1313), lecturer at the University of Paris and a zealous Joachimite in certain points, maintained that the church of the West was already irretrievably destroyed, and that Antichrist was about to appear and the world to come to its end. 22 His treatise on the coming of Antichrist places that event at the setting up of the abomination of desolation, at the end of the 1290 years, about 1378. 23 PFF2 71.3

Villanova does not identify the Antichrist, but points out his forerunners as he lashes out at the Paris theologians who have tried to silence him: PFF2 72.1

“For who of the faithful is ignorant, since the Chaldeans and barbarians are not ignorant, [of the fact] that the Roman pontiff is Christ on earth? ... How, therefore, without the greatest ruin of the Catholics, can those despise his authority who have been chosen for the protection of the Lord’s vineyard? Can it be argued from this that the persecution of Antichrist already hastens exceedingly, since he is to be armed with a whole phalanx of his iniquity against the apostolic see as against the chief and personal see of Jesus Christ, and he is to speak great things against the chief pontiff as against the God of gods in the church militant. Are not such despisers of the apostolic see the exact forerunners of Antichrist?” 24 PFF2 72.2

The fifteen propositions condemned by the theologians of Paris in 1309 included the following: The papal bulls, decrees, and canonical constitutions are simply the works of men; the monks corrupted the doctrine of Christ; the founding of churches, works, and perpetual masses cannot save one who does not have charity; works of mercy are more pleasing to God than solemn sacrifice. 25 PFF2 72.3


The learned CLEMANCIS (c. 1360-1440), rector of the University of Paris, wrote a tractate “On the Corrupt State of the Church.” In this he laments the corruptions of the church: PFF2 72.4

“I speak of the temporal power, the glory, and the delicacies, with which the Church has become drunk even to nausea and forgetfulness of herself. Concerning these things it is commanded to the avenging angels, in the condemnation of the harlot, ‘How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her.’ For, to omit events at a distance, such as the secession of the Greeks, brought about by our own pride and avarice; the now contracted limits of the Catholic religion, once extended over almost the whole breadth of the world; to pass over these, and some other wounds lately inflicted on the Church, there is at least the ruin which we now see befalling the city of Rome, the seat and head of the Church. Does not this ruin declare that the desolation of the Church, as well as of her whole government, is at hand, even as the dispersion of the synagogue and of the Jews followed close upon the destruction of Jerusalem? PFF2 72.5

“For how can she long endure and flourish, wandering homeless and unstable about the world, her standing destroyed, her head lost, and she herself forced to migrate from place to place, as a pilgrim and a guest in the world? From this she ought to gather certainly that her destruction is at hand; for, quitting the city of Romulus on account of her own hateful corruptions, she has fled to Avignon, where, in proportion to her greater liberty, she has more openly and shamelessly displayed her ways of simony and gain. Her foreign and perverse manners, the forerunners of calamity, she has brought into our Gaul, till that time upright and frugal.... PFF2 73.1

“Gaul herself, impoverished by her, has begun to pay back her injuries, so as to fulfil the prediction of the prophet, ‘Thou shalt be ashamed of Egypt as thou wast ashamed of Assyria.’ Also this: ‘O daughter of Babylon, wasted with misery, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast rewarded us.’” 26 PFF2 73.2


The Spanish Dominican preacher of Valencia, VINCENT FERRER (1350-1419), felt called to announce that the public appearance of Antichrist was about to take place. 27 PFF2 73.3

It is interesting to note that Ferrer used his fiery eloquence to convert the Spanish Jews. In 1411 he traveled over Castile from synagogue to synagogue with a scroll of the law in one hand and a crucifix in the other, exhorting them to embrace Christianity. In view of the facts that his preaching had occasioned mass violence against the Jews in Valencia, and that mobs continued to accompany him, it is not surprising that he won converts. At any rate, thousands were won over by his per suasion to a quasi-voluntary acceptance of nominal Christianity. While some were sincere, and others indifferent enough to be satisfied with halfhearted Christianity, most of them remained secret Jews at heart. 28 PFF2 73.4


JACOBUS DE PARADISO (1381-1465), the Carthusian doctor at Erfurt (c. 1457), likewise contended that the church would continue in utter depravity until the appearance of Antichrist, then believed near. 29 PFF2 74.1

“To me,” says Jacobus, “it seems scarcely possible that the Church in general can be reformed, unless the court of Rome be reformed first. And how difficult that is, present events show: for no people or nation of believers make such resistance to the reformation of any church as the Italians.” 30 PFF2 74.2


The satires of the celebrated Minorite poet JACOPONE DA TODI (fl. thirteenth century) commented on the appearance of a “new Lucifer” in the papal chair, and the idea that the chair of St. Peter would for a long time be the spoil of the predicted Antichrist. This idea was confirmed when in 1310, Clement V subjected his predecessor Boniface VIII to a public prosecution and a process of inquiry lasting more than a year. 31 PFF2 74.3

Let us turn next to four remarkable characters in Britain- Brute, Cobham, Wimbledon, and Purvey. PFF2 74.4