A Tribute to Richard Wyche
Richard Wyche was vicar of Deptford, England and follower of John Wyclif. Following is a letter he sent to John Hus, and its reply. All content is taken from the wonderful and faith-strengthening book The Letters of John Hus. The introductory comments before each letter are the words of Herbert Workman.
Wyche was one of the many priests who had come under the influence of Wyclif’s teaching. Of his earlier years we know little or nothing. Hus, it is true, speaks of him as ‘the companion of Wyclif in the toils of the gospel’
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May the Lord grant you and I the faith, and patience, and steadfastness of these great saints, Richard Wyche and John Hus. Amen
In the September of 1410, before the excitement over the burning of the books had yet cooled down, Hus received a letter from an English Lollard, one Richard Wyche, vicar of Deptford. Wyche’s letter is of remarkable interest, not merely as a sign of the close connection at that time existing between the two countries, or because of the answer of Hus, but also because of the interest attaching to Wyche himself. Wyche was one of the many priests who had come under the influence of Wyclif’s teaching. Of his earlier years we know little or nothing. Hus, it is true, speaks of him as “the companion of Wyclif in the toils of the gospel,” but too much weight should not be attached to a chance phrase by one to whom Wyche was really a stranger. At one time it is possible he had been a monk, for we find in 1399 one of that name in charge of the alien priory of Derehurst, near Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire. In the following year we find that Wyche was an ordained priest in the diocese of Hereford. Shortly afterwards he traveled up to Northumberland to preach the gospel, taking with him a companion named James. After a few sermons he received a summons to appear before Bishop Walter Skirlaw of Durham. He returned from Newcastle, but on arriving at Chester-le-Street the rupture from which he was suffering became so painful that he was forced to hire a horse, leaving his cloak and purse as a pledge at the inn. He arrived at Bishop Auckland on December 7, and was at once flung into prison. A few days later he was brought up for his examination. The bishop suspected, from his inability to produce any authority for preaching outside his diocese, that he was a Lollard, and questioned him closely concerning the sacrament of the altar. His answers proving unsatisfactory, he was sent back to prison. There he was visited by a master from Newcastle, who tried to persuade him to recant, first by offers of promotion, then by threats. “If you don’t do as you are told, you will be burnt,” said the master. “God’s will be done,” replied Wyche, and, in spite of arguments and deputations of all sorts, he remained steadfast. In February 1402, Wyche was brought before the bishop and condemned to degradation and imprisonment. So he was once more thrust back into the cell at Auckland, in horrible pain, but with sufficient food. From this prison he wrote a long letter to his friends at Newcastle, urging them to pray that he might persevere to the end, and asking them to send him some sheets of the gospel in red ink. These might be got through to him by means of a priest living near St. Andrew’s Auckland. A copy of this letter found its way to Prague, and probably fell under the notice of Hus. Coming to light after many centuries, it has recently been published in the English Historical Review (vol. v.).
With the dispatch of this letter our knowledge of Wyche once more becomes uncertain. Fourteen propositions were brought against him at his trial; he defended them all by profuse quotations from the Scriptures.1 But he could not resist the pressure brought to bear upon him, and, following the other English Lollards of the time, he recanted, and was made vicar of Deptford, near Greenwich. As the following letter which he wrote to Hus shows, his recantation was not very sincere. His signature, “Wychewitz,” which has misled so many historians, is either a deliberate disguise or a Czech confusion of his name.
The Letter of Richard Wyche
(London: September 8, 1410)
Greeting, and whatsoever can be devised more sweet in the heart of Jesus Christ. My dearly beloved brethren in the Lord, whom I love in the truth, and not I only, but also all they that have the knowledge of the truth, which abideth in you, and through the grace of God shall be with you for evermore.
I rejoiced above measure when our beloved brethren came and gave testimony to us of your truth, how also you walked in the truth. I have heard, brethren, how sharply Antichrist persecutes you in vexing the faithful servants of Christ with diverse and unheard-of afflictions. And surely no marvel if amongst you (as it is so almost all the world over) the law of Christ be grievously impugned, and that red dragon with his many heads, of whom it is spoken in the Apocalypse, have now vomited that great flood out of his mouth whereby he goeth about to swallow up the woman. But the most gracious God will deliver for ever his only and most faithful spouse. Let us therefore comfort ourselves in the Lord our God and in his innumerable goodness, hoping strongly in Him who will not suffer those that love Him to be unmercifully defrauded of any of their purpose, if we, according to our duty, shall love Him with all our heart. For adversity should by no means prevail over us if there were no iniquity reigning in us. Therefore let no tribulation or anguish for Christ’s cause discourage us; knowing this for a surety, that whomsoever the Lord vouchsafes to receive to be His children, these he scourgeth; for so the merciful Father wills that they be tried in this miserable life through and in persecutions that afterwards He may spare us. For the gold that this high Artificer hath chosen He purgeth and trieth in this fire, that He may afterwards lay it up in His pure treasury. For we see that the time we shall abide here is short and transitory; the life that we hope for hereafter is blessed and everlasting. Therefore, while we have time, let us strive earnestly that we may enter into that rest. What other things do we see in this frail life save sorrow, heaviness, and sadness, and that which is most grievous of all to the faithful, too much abusing and contempt of the law of the Lord?
Let us therefore endeavor ourselves, as much as we may, to lay hold of the things that are eternal and abiding, despising in our mind all transitory and frail things. Let us consider the holy fellowship of our fathers that have gone before us. Let us consider the saints of the Old and New Testaments. Did they not all pass through this sea of tribulation and persecution? Were not some of them cut in pieces, others stoned, and others slain with the sword? Some of them went about in sheepskins and goatskins, as the apostle to the Hebrews witnesses. Surely they all kept the straight and narrow road, following the steps of Christ, who said:
‘He that ministereth unto Me, let him follow Me, and where I am,’ etc. Therefore let us also, who have such noble examples given us of the saints that went before us, laying aside as much as in us lies every weight, and the sin which compasseth us about, run forward with patience to the battle that is set before us, fixing our eyes upon the Author of faith, and Jesus the Finisher of the same, who for the joy that was set before Him suffered the cross, despising the shame. Let us call upon Him who suffered much reproach of sinners against Himself, that we be not wearied, fainting in our minds, but that with all our hearts we may pray for help from the Lord, that we may fight against his adversary Antichrist, that we may love His law, that we be not deceitful laborers, but may deal faithfully in all things according as God vouchsafes to give us, and that we may labor diligently in the Lord’s cause under hope of an everlasting reward.
Behold therefore, Hus, most dearly beloved brother in Christ, although in face unknown to me, yet not in faith or love (for distance of place cannot separate those whom the love of Christ doth effectually knit together), be comforted in the grace which is given to thee; labor like a good soldier of Jesus Christ; preach; be instant in word and example, and recall as many as thou canst to the way of truth; for the truth of the gospel is not to be kept in silence because of the frivolous censures and thunderbolts of Antichrist. And therefore to the uttermost of thy power strengthen thou and confirm the members of Christ who are weakened by the devil; and if the Most High will vouchsafe it, Antichrist shall shortly come to an end. And there is one thing wherein I do greatly rejoice, that in your realm and in other places God hath stirred up the hearts of some men that they can gladly suffer for the word of Christ even unto imprisonment, banishment, and death.
Further, beloved brethren, I know not what to write to you, but I confess that I could wish to pour out my whole heart, if thereby I might comfort you in the law of the Lord. Also I salute from the bottom of my heart all the faithful lovers of the law of the Lord, and especially Jacobellus, your coadjutor in the gospel, beseeching that he will put in a petition unto the Lord for me in the universal Church of Jesus Christ. And the God of peace, who hath raised from the dead the Shepherd of the sheep, the mighty Lord Jesus Christ, make you apt in all goodness to do His will, working in you that which may be pleasing in His sight. All your friends salute you who have heard of your constancy. I would desire also to see letters of yours written back to us, for know that they shall comfort us not a little.
At London, on the Nativity of the glorious Virgin, in the year 1410. Your servant, desiring to become a sharer with you in your labors, 2
RICHARD WYCHEWITZ, most unworthy of priests.
By the same messenger, it is interesting to note, Woksa of Waldstein, a councilor of Prague and intimate friend of Jerome of Prague, also Zdislaw of Wartenberg (a baron of the realm, one of the University friends of Hus, who on August 10 of that year had defended before the University Wyclif’s tractate, De Universalibus), received letters from the famous Lollard, Sir John Oldcastle. Oldcastle, it would appear, had corresponded at one time with Hus himself, whom he calls ‘a priest of Christ,’ but the correspondence is now lost. Probably the intermediary in this correspondence would be Zdislaw, who had been in England, knew Oxford well, and may have met with Oldcastle himself.
On the receipt of Wyche’s letter, Hus replied as follows:
6. John Hus to Master Richard of England
(Undated: end of September 1410)
May the peace of Christ abound in your heart by the Holy Spirit given to you, my dear friend in Christ Jesus!
Your affectionate letter, which came down from, above from, the Father of lights,3 powerfully kindles the soul of your brothers in Christ. It contains so much sweetness, efficacy, invigoration, and solace, that if every other writing were engulfed in the abyss of Antichrist, it would suffice of itself for the salvation of Christ’s faithful ones. Turning over in my mind its marrow and strength, I said in a large assembly of people, numbering, I suppose, nearly ten thousand, as I was preaching in public, “See, my beloved brothers, what a care for your salvation is shown by the faithful preachers of Christ in other countries; they yearn to pour out their whole soul, if only they can keep us in the gospel of Christ, even the Lord.” And I added, “Why, our dear brother Richard, partner4 of Master John Wyclif in the toils of the gospel, hath written you a letter of so much cheer, that if I possessed no other writing, I should feel bound by it to offer myself for the gospel of Christ, even unto death. Yea, and this will I do, with the help of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ’s faithful ones were fired with such ardor by the letter that they begged me to translate it into our mother tongue.5
What then I should write to you, dear friend, and the rest of the brothers, I know not. I have no skill to instruct those who are so much more learned than myself. Can I, the weaker, say aught to cheer the stronger in the warfare of Christ? What am I to say? Dear friend, you have anticipated the words of instruction. It only remains for me to seek and to seek again the help of your prayers. I am thankful that Bohemia has under the power of Jesus Christ received so much good from the blessed land of England through your labors; and I do not wonder that while to some it is a savor unto death, yet to others it is a savor unto joy, because for many it is a savor unto life eternal.6 For the enemy of man had sown tares7 so widely in our kingdom that scarcely a grain or two of wheat appeared. The whole of man’s field had been so filled with nettles that the way of salvation could with difficulty be found.
But now the people which walked in darkness have beheld the great light of Jesus Christ. The light of truth hath appeared to them that dwell in the region of the shadow of death8 and is eagerly welcomed under our Savior’s power by the people, barons, knights, counts, and the common folk. If the community of the saints in England learn of this to its full measure, their hearts will dance for joy: give praise, thou barren, that bearest not: sing forth praise, and make a joyful noise, thou that didst not travail with child: for many are the children of the desolate.9
I must tell you, dear brother, that the people will listen to nothing but the Holy Scriptures, especially the gospel and the epistles. Wherever in city or town, in village or castle, the preacher of the holy truth makes his appearance, the people flock together in crowds, despising the clergy who are not able to furnish it. As a result, Satan hath arisen: for now the tail of Behemoth10 himself hath been set in motion, and it remains for the Lord Jesus Christ to bruise his head.11 See, I have but gently touched his tail and he hath opened wide his mouth to swallow me down, and my brothers also. He is raging now. At one time he utters heresy with lying words: at another he fawns. Anon he fans the flame of censure and kindles the torch of a grim fulmination among the dioceses of the neighboring12 lands; at home he dare not touch my head. For the hour has not yet come; seeing that the Lord hath not yet, by me and my brothers, snatched from his maw those whom He hath predestined to the life of glory. Therefore He will give courage to the preachers of the gospel that they may wound Behemoth at least in his tail, until his head and all his members be utterly crushed.13 It is for this we are praying with all our heart: it is for this we are laboring, even as your reverence hath written as only love can write: it is for this that we are bound humbly to endure death and not to fail with the Lord Almighty on our side, seeing that our gracious Lord saith: I am with him in tribulation, I will deliver him and glorify him.14 O holy deliverance and glorification! look for Richard and his brothers, who have now endured many tribulations. Take me up also in my misery that I may be with my brothers who fearlessly confess Thy gospel in the midst of a wicked and adulterous generation.15 Grant to us help in tribulation: for vain is the salvation of men.16 May our hope be in Thee!17 May we be drawn to Thee by the threefold cord18 that cannot be broken: for it hath been woven by the Lord Jesus Christ. May He, dear brother, grant to you and your helpers a life inviolate in glory, that you may be able to live a long while and bring back19 the straying sheep to the way of truth.
I greatly rejoice with all who love the gospel that you have shown your loving-kindness by giving us healthful counsel. Our Lord the King and all his court, the Queen, barons, and common folk, are on the side of the word of Jesus Christ. The Church of Christ in Bohemia greets the Church of Christ in England, and yearns to share in its confession of the holy faith by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the glorious God be your reward for having ministered to our need by the example of your great labors. May yours be the peace that passeth all understanding!20 Amen.
What became of Wyche we know not for certain. He is usually assumed to have been the same Wyche who many years afterwards was first degraded, then burnt on Tower Hill (August 2, 1439), and to whose tomb, as Foxe tells us, the Londoners made pilgrimage, accounting him a prophet and a holy man. ‘So they upreared a great heap of stones and set up a cross there by night.’ This Richard Wyche, as we learn from the writ prohibiting the pilgrimages, ‘did long since heretically hold, teach, and publicly preach certain heresies in many places, and being judicially convicted did before a judge abjure all heresy generally.’ If this Richard Wyche was the same as the author of this letter, he must have been, at the time of his burning, a very old man too old, in fact, to have been, as Hus assumes, the actual companion of Wyclif.
See Fasciculi Zizaniorum (Rolls Series), 370-82, 501-5. ↩︎
Text in Mon. i. 101, Höfler ii. 210-12. Better readings in the first. The above translation is based on Foxe (ed. Pratt), iii. 506, corrected. ↩︎
Jas. 1:17. ↩︎
See infra, p. 40. ↩︎
The translation is said still to exist in the Library of Prague. ↩︎
P.: Si aliis odor et mortem sed gaudium, quia multis odor in vitam aeternam. Höfler: et in mortem. Read Si aliis odor ad mortem, sed aliis in gaudium, quia multis, etc. There is only one MS. From 2 Cor. 2:16. ↩︎
Matt. 13:25. ↩︎
Isa. 9:2. ↩︎
Isa. 54:1. Inexact. For deserti (P.) read desertee. ↩︎
Job 40:10-12. ↩︎
Gen. 3:15. ↩︎
P.: jacentium, H.: (circum)jacentium. ↩︎
See infra, p. 119, n. 1. ↩︎
Ps. 90 (91):15. ↩︎
Matt. 12:39. ↩︎
Ps. 107:13. Inexact. ↩︎
Ps. 61:8 ↩︎
Eccles. 4:12. ↩︎
P.: redire; read with H.: reducere. ↩︎
Phil. 4:7. ↩︎