The church and the Christian life
in John Wyclif
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Wyclif’s political theory was defined by a basic concept, a theory of lordship (dominio) that began in God’s perfect governance of the created world and ended in his creatures’ just lordship over each other. This relationship between the divine and the human is introduced in On Divine Lordship, Wyclif’s first extended treatment of this topic, and he provides an extended analysis of lordship in the created world in its massive sequel, On Civil Lordship. He suggests there that civil lordship (such as that enjoyed by a monarch) presupposes natural lordship, which could exist only in a lord who was in receipt of God’s grace. The gift of grace, of course, was something of which its recipient could hardly be aware, but the likelihood of grace being bestowed upon a corrupt or unrighteous individual seemed less than negligible, which meant for Wyclif that neither popes nor ecclesiastics could wield authority with any certitude. Wyclif believed that the sinful nature of papal endowments effectively rendered the papacy ineligible to receive God’s grace, an idea that became prominent in his later writings.