John Wyclif on War and Peace

October 2014
214 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Royal Historical Society Studies in History New Series
ISBN: 9780861933259
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Royal Historical Society
BISAC HIS037010, REL015000, REL033000

John Wyclif on War and Peace

Rory Cox

New investigation of John Wyclif's writings on the theory of the "just war" shows him to be the first genuine pacifist of medieval Europe.
John Wyclif (c. 1330-84) was the foremost English intellectual of the late fourteenth century and is remembered as both an ecclesiastical reformer and a heresiarch. But, against the backdrop of the Hundred Years War, Wyclif also tackled the numerous ethical, legal and practical problems arising from war and violence.
Since the fifth-century works of St Augustine of Hippo, Christian justifications of war had revolved around three key criteria: just cause, proper authority and correct intention. Utilising Wyclif's extensive Latin corpus, the author traces how and why Wyclif dismantled these three pillars of medieval just war doctrine, exploring his critique within the context of late medieval political thought and theology. Wyclif is revealed to be a thinker deeply concerned with the Christian virtues of sacrifice, suffering and charity, which ultimately led him to repudiate the concept of justified warfare in both theory and practice. The author thus changes the way we understand Wyclif, demonstrating that he created a coherent doctine of pacifism and non-resistance which was at that time unparallelled.

Dr Rory Cox is a Lecturer in Late Mediaeval History at the University of St Andrews.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: War, peace and Wyclif
The development of just war doctrine up to the fourteenth century
Wyclif's rejection of just cause
Wyclif's rejection of proper authority
Wyclif's rejection of correct intention
Wyclif on politics
The medieval pacifist


This book carefully argues for Wyclif's conceptual repudiation of major tenets of just war theory, practical skepticism about application of these tenets in the real world, and spiritual application of principles of martyrdom even in the realm of politics. SPECULUM

Cox has made a compelling case for Wyclif's role in returning a principled Christological pacifism to the theological conversation in the later Middle Ages. FIDES ET HISTORIA

Rory Cox has done an important service in producing the first book-length study of Wyclif's views on perennial themes: violence, war, and the prospect of peace. His generally limpid writing opens up Wyclif's dense and scattered arguments to a broad audience of readers, and his case for Wyclif as the first medieval pacifist is credible and well argued. CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIEW

Clear and comprehensive in the way it brings together and sets out complex ideas and arguments gleaned from a wide variety of Wyclif's work...this study should be of the greatest interest to a wide readership, students of the history of war ... philosophers, politicians, soldiers and others as they debate whether war can ever be 'just'...or not. REVIEWS IN HISTORY

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