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Supplication for the Beggars and the History of Protestant Reformation in England (historigraphy)

In this article, I quote from Simon Fish's Supplication for the Beggars.  Then I discuss at great lengths to place the quote within the contexof the history of Europe from the 4th Century to the 16th Century CE, only to form my analysis of Fish's Supplication and finally conclude with the Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards, emphasizing its importance with quotes from the Scripture on forgiveness and Christian charity – agapé.

My apologies to all copyright holders that I have quoted.  All the links in the text reference your words. Also my apologies to the Anglicans who might be offended by any irreverence showed in my description of Church of England history.

Any mistakes and omissions are entirely my own.  SHK 2016-10-31

Most lamentably complains their woeful misery unto your Highness your poor daily bedemen¹ the wretched hideous monsters (on whom scarcely for horror any ye dare look) the foul unhappy sort of lepers, and other sore people, needy, impotent, blind, lame, and sick that live only by alms, how that their number is daily so sore increased that all the alms of all the well-disposed people of this your realm is not half enough for to sustain them, but that for very contrient² they die for hunger.” – Simon Fish, Supplication for the Beggars

1: bedemen: plural of bedeman – originally beadsman – a resident of an almshouse in Tudor England. In Scotland, it refers to a privileged or licensed beggar who receives public alms.

Originally, the word referred to a pensioner or almsman who prays for the welfare of his benefactor, when hired to do so, counting the beads on a
rosary. In Medieval English, bede means prayer and is derived from the Old English word biddan. Thus, beadsman means a man of prayer.

In England, the word “bedesman” was long associated with “servant”.

Almshouses are sometimes former bede houses like the Lyddinton Bede House, which was converted to shelter poor bedesmen after 1600 CE in post-Reformation England until 1930. Originally alms are money or services donated to support the poor and indigent out of the tradition of Christian charity. While some almshouses are secular, most of them are European Christian institutions. Establish since the 10th Century in Britain, they provide a place for poor, old and distressed people to live. During the Middle Ages, most hospitals in Europe functioned as almshouses.

2: contrient interdependence: A condition of social situations in which
the actions that benefit some individuals harm others. It tends to
promote competition. [From Latin con- together + terere to rub or
grind + -ent present participle ending + English interdependence]
From: contrient interdependence in A Dictionary of Psychology »

In Fish's England and much of Europe was in an economic crisis by 1529, due to taxation of the poor by the Church. Almshouses were created to deal with the problem. Best known for aiding in the distribution of the Tyndale New Testament, he wrote the anti-clerical pamphlet Supplication for the Beggars, which inspired the English Reformation and the Protestant Reformation proper.

After the Roman Catholic Church condemned the pamphlet as heretical in 1530, Fish was arrested in London on charges of heresy but died of the bubonic plague before his trial. At this time in the Church's history, it was a popular pastime for clerics to burn heretics at the stake after horrific tortures throughout Europe.

In Europe, circa 1517, as a monk Martin Luther objected to church corruption (the selling of indulgences to absolve sin) which led to the Reformation.

As a learned young man, Luther aspired to become a monk, though his father Hans Luther,a rich businessman, wanted him to become a lawyer so much that he withdrew him from the proto-Reformation school run by the Brethren of the Common Life in Magdeburg. Founded circa 1380 by a Dutch
Catholic mystic Geert De Groote., the Confraternity of the Common Life is based on his relations with the German Gottesfreunde (Friends of God), a medieval lay group within the Catholic Church, and the writings of the Flemish mystic Ruysbroek (John of Ruusbroe)c.

In 14th Century Germany, the disruptive reign of the Avignon Papacy had led to the struggle for political power between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Papacy. This culminated in Queen of Naples and Countess of Provence Joanna 1 selling the city of Avignon in 1348 CE to Pope Clement VI for 80,000 florins, uniting Comtat Avignon with the Comtat Venaissin, forming a unified papal enclave whilst retaining their separate political identities.

Almost 50 years earlier, the French lawyer Pierre Dubois, a pupil of St. Thomas Aquinas at University of Paris was the propagandist who wrote in 1300 the anonymous trestise “Summaria, brevis et compendiosa doctrina felicis expeditionis et abbreviationis guerrarum et litium regni Francorum”, a work on the means to shorten conflicts and wars of France.

Sympathetic to French King Philip the Fair, he wrote the anti-clerical and thus secularizing propaganda against Pope Boniface VIII in 1302, “Supplication du peuple de France au roy contre le pape Boniface le Ville, which virulently indicted the temporal power of the pope. His propaganda continued onwards, long after Boniface's death in 1303.

Importantly, in 1305 Dubois wrote his treatise on the necessary conditions of a successful crusade, De recuperatione terrae sanctae.  It would first begin with a state of peace among Christian nations of the West established and enforced by a church council, which the Catholics view as the aim to subdue the papacy, making it easy for the King of France to take advantage of papal influence.

With reform of the monastic (e.g. Dominicans) and importantly the military orders (e.g. Teutonic Knights) and the reduction of their revenues would allow his king to rule over the Papal States and administer them while forcing the Holy See's vassal countries of Tuscany, Sicily, England and Aragon to pay homage to the French king.  In return the king would grant the pope the revenues of the Papal States.

Dubois also advocated the education of young men and women in oriental languages (Arabic, Greek, Slavic, Turkish) and the natural sciences with a view to the government of Eastern peoples.

Meanwhile, despite disputes with the King of Bohemia, the rise of the Cumans in Hungary which led to the excommunication of the Hungarian King
 and his growing unpopularity by the Magyar people under his rule, and the fears of hereditary monarchy by the Prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire that culminated in the election of Count Adolf of Nassau-Wellburg as Holy Roman Emperor in 1292, 
King Albert I of Germany was finally elected King of the Romans (Holy Roman Emperor) in 1298. Due to his humility and keen sense of justice, he protected the serfs and especially the
Jews, who would be expelled from France in 1306 by King Philip.

Due to Dubois' influence, King Philip attempted to control the French clergy and came into conflict with Pope Boniface but French aims to become a world power didn't stop there. Over two centuries later, in 1536 CE, French
King Francis 1 would make the strategic and sometimes tactical alliance with Suleiman the Magnificent
, the Turkish sultan of the Ottoman Empire, thanks in part to the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by Mehmet II and unification of the Middle East between 1516 and 1517 by Selim 1, Suleiman's father. But that's another tale.

In response to the decadence that occurred in reaction to suppression of the French clergy in performing their rites, Ruysbroek's mystical writings were one of many mystical treatises written to encourage Christian charity and love for one's fellow man, which also include the Theologia Germanica, a treatise of German mysticism associated with the Gottesfreunde (Friends of God).

Christian mysticism at this time was inspiring the common people to realize that God and man shall become united by following the path of perfection e.g. the life of Christ.

Martin Luther admired Theologia Germanica so much he published first a partial and later a full edition of it in mid- to late-1510s CE to support his thesis that the German language is as equally suited to express theological ideas as the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin languages.

In fact, this treatise became so popular among the Radical Reformation and later, of Lutheran and Pietism traditions that the Catholic Church banned its reading in 1612 until the second half of the 20th Century. Yet Theologica Germanica was well read by Catholic mystics.

Meanwhile, back in England, the English Reformation begins when King Henry the 8th wanted to divorce his wife Catherine because Mary was the only child born of her, and the adoption of primogeniture in European royal circles (a consequence of the feudal system in which the ancient Roman custom was adopted from Catholicism and made the law in England) meant
that a legitimate male heir was required to inherit his entire estate (England and Scotland).

With Catherine in her forties, Henry sought a second wife which led to conflict with the Roman Catholic Church when he asked statesman Cardinal
 to appeal to Pope Clement VII for an annulment, having sought Anne Boleyn as his new wife, a lady-in-waiting to his soon-to-be former wife Catherine of Aragon.

Adverse to angering Catherine's nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the Pope refused.

Intrigue on the part of Charles led to his deception of Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry prior to Clement's election as pope. Later, Clement confirmed Wolsey's legateship for life and also gave him the Bishopric of Durham om 1523. Upon becoming bishop, Wolsey resigned the See of Bath and Wells.

As bishop Wolsey showed no personal ambition to become pope. Indeed, he was “more joyous thereof than if it had fortuned upon my person”, which showed his humility.

Now Charles distrusted Henry, so Wolsey opted for alliance with France when the defeat and capture of Francis at Pavia in 1525 made the Holy
Roman Empire a danger to all Europe.

In the Treaty of Madrid Francis lost Flanders and the Artois to Charles.  Allowed to return to France in exchange for his sons, Francis and Henry, once free, he claimed duress led to his agreement with the King of the Romans, thus making it void since his sons were taken hostage which implied that Charles didn't trust him.

Meanwhile, Henry reluctantly made a new treaty with France with Wolsey's aid.  Yet it was making him unpopular in Henry's court due to the jealousy of the nobility because the people of England were hostile towards the taxes exacted to pay for such political power.

Even so, Wolsey had changed the taxation system in England, working with
the treasurer of the Chamber, John Heron to create the “Subsidy.”  By accurate valuations of the taxpayer's wealth, one shilling per pound of income was now exacted.

Given that 20 shillings make a pound, taxation for the Subsidy was 5%. The old taxation system only meant the poor ended up paying as much taxes as the rich. When the new taxation system was implemented, the poorer members of society paid much less.

Wolsey also reinvented the equity court in which the the judge decided the verdict based on the principle of fairness. Both the Star Chamber and the Court of Chauncery concentrated on simple, inexpensive cases and impartial justice. In the Court of Requests for the poor, no fees were required. No longer were powerful people invincible e.g. the Earl of Northumberland was sent to Fleet Prison in 151and Lord Abergavenny was accused of illegal retaining.

It is at this point that King Henry's desire to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn led to Wolsey's fall. While he didn't wish the king to marry Anne, he saw Catherine's political influence as Charles' aunt led her to dislike Wolsey's French policy.

His reasoning was that if the religious tribunal decided that the king's marriage to her was invalid, the pope would confirm it.

Once Catherine learned of the King's plan, she prepared to defend her rights as queen. Since she could count on Pope Clement and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to sympathize with her, Henry sent Wolsey to convince Francis to pressure the pope by delivering the pope from Charles who had sacked Rome, hoping for Clement's gratefulness would convince him to grant Henry the divorce.

On Wolsey's return to England, he learned that he was no longer favored by the King due to his failure to secure a divorce. Instead, he had learned Bishop Knight of Bath and Wells had been sent to Rome in 1527 to get Catherine of Aragon's marriage annulled and to make trade pacts, which never came to fruition, mainly due to the fact that the English were never considered a part of the Continent of Europe by the Central European kingdoms.

For ambassador to the Papacy and European kingdoms. Wolsey preferred Jerome de Ghinucci, Bishop of Worcester, since he had a better command of Italian than Knight, who complained that he was old and going blind.

Yet the King still considered Wolsey useful, and the cardinal realized Anne Boleyn to be a political rival.

Despite the pope sending Cardinal Campeggio to try the case in England with Wolsey, the English cardinal realized that the matter was outside of his hands. Because of the serious nature of annulment, Campeggio delayed holding the trial until June 1529 when the court sat at Blackfriars.

Due to the delay of the trial, Anne Boleyn blamed Wolsey and decided to bring about his fall. When the trial failed, this made her scheme possible.

Soon Wolsey had fallen into disgrace and by November 1529 he had surrendered the great seal of England and all his vast possessions.  After suffering at Esher, in February of the following year, he received a pardon and had the possessions of his archbishopric restored except York House, which now belonged to the king.

Allowed to retire to York, he spend the last six months of his life performing his duties as bishop. Henry decided not to patronize his two colleges at Ipswitch and Oxford, and only Christ's College at Oxford survived to this day.

In November 1530 he was arrested on charges of high treason.

Meanwhile Thomas Cromwell became King Henry the 8th's confidant with him handling the break with Rome and creating the laws and administrative procedures that changed post-Reformation England for better or for worse.

Rather than the Pope of Rome taking over ecclesiastical duties over Britain, King Henry the 8th became the head of the Church of England, which broke away from Papal authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the English Reformation, Fish's Supplication was propaganda against corruption in the English clergy, despite the fact that Wolsey's taxation system was much fairer than the previous 15th and 10th taxation which was introduced in the late 14th Century and led to the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, due to their unpopularity.

Lollardy must be considered as the political and religious movement that existed from the time of John Wycliffe to the English Reformation as inspiration for the Supplication and the Revolt of 1381 since Western Christianity was certainly in need of reform due to the worldly aspirations of the Avignon Papacy and the corruption within the Church due to the role of the clergy and parishioners in the legitimacy of royalty.

Howeverit is not like serfdom was abolished then because Fish was agitating for reformation almost 150 years later.  Yet serfdom was a miserable existence because a feudal lord could work serfs unto death without pay.

But feudalism was dying out due to education of the middle and upper class of British society.

It is amazing what a little education can do to expand the horizons of a people, especially the British people.

Historically, the poor of England and Scotland in the 16th Century had probably had experienced more than a few generations of privation due to contrient interdependence and disease, and were considered servants worthy of Christian charity.

Protest against social equality in Medieval England came to the fore in 1395 with the Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards, which was a critique of the English Church in which the Lollards pressed their argument that the Church needed reform.

First, the state of the Church was worldly, due to the Church of Rome's bad
example e.g. the Avignon Papacy warring with the Holy Roman Empire and amassing Papal States to become a power unto itself.

British royalty at the time couldn't help but be involved in this corruption because all the royal houses since Norman times were related to most of Western Europe's royalty through marriage, including the various Norman and later French royalty (the House of Valois and Francis)western German royalty and Hapsburg royalty (Albert and Charles V), and Spanish royalty (Catherine of Aragon). They made treaties with each other to amass more land and collect subsidies from the taxpayers to fund their war-chest.

It was up to the British nobility to organize the peasants to pay the Subsidy to the English government.

Secondthe priesthood was criticized because the Bible printed by Wycliffe indicated that ordination of priests and bishops do not have any scriptural precedent. IMHO this point would the Church's clergy because the religious law that justifies ordination of clergy is a man-made law, not a law that Jesus laid down.

Third, clerical celibacy was a farce in medieval times because clerical celibacy encouraged sodomy among the clergy.  On this point, I would state that the Orthodox view was against clerical celibacy with only monks and the Patriarch being celibate. This preserves celibacy because then the clergy would show a better example regarding marriage.

Fourth, the doctrine of transubstantiation leads to idolatry in the worship of communion wafers which represents the flesh of the Christ while the spoiled grape juice (table wine) represents his blood.

This would also lead clergy and parishioners alike being tempted for drink, which goes against the temperance established by the Apostles after the Christ's Ascension (Acts 2) e.g. not drinking in the third hour of the morning but instead allowing the Holy Spirit to pour out through all baptized men and women, so that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams... And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Fifth, exorcisms and hallowings are a kind of witchcraft carried out by the clergy and thus incompatible with Christian theology.

Sixthly, it is inappropriate in the higher offices in the Church to also hold positions of great temporal power e.g. the rich Italian banking families that followed the Avignon Papacy from Italy (the Medici and the like).

Seventhly, the uncharitableness of saying prayers for specific individual dead since it by implication excludes all the other blessed dead not being prayed for. Also the practice of prayer requests for the dead by donating money to the Church is bribery that leads to corruption.

Eighthly, the practice of pilgrimages and veneration of relics are ineffectual for spiritual merit and thus idolatry in their worship of man-made objects. IMHO is it any wonder that the lower classes still practiced their folk Christianity in private, at least until the oppression of Puritans by the Anglican church led to an exodus of Puritans to America.

Ninthly, the practice of confession for absolution of sins is blasphemous since only God has the power to forgive sins. If priests did have that power, it is cruel and uncharitable of them to withhold that forgiveness from anyone in the world, even if they refused to confess.

To rephrase a quote of Alexander Pope, to commit sin is human, to forgive divine. 

Just as the Lord forgave the Jews and the Romans on the hill called Skull (Luke 23:34), so did he preach forgiveness in prayer (Matthew 6:1-15) as a good example for everyone alike to follow.

When healing the paralytic, the Christ not only forgave his sins because “the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins.” (Matthew 9:6). Like the Christ, the clergy ought to forgive especially those parishioners who do not confess of their sins out of charity.

Likewise, Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" And he answered, "I do not tell you ‘till seven times,’ but till seventy times seven.” Thus, even if your brother sins against you, forgive him always. It matters not if thy brother is related by blood or not. If you are forgiven your spiritual debt then forgive the debt that other people owe you. By being of a forgiving nature, you will realize that nobody owes you a debt at all. (Matthew 18, Mark 2, Luke 5)

Forgiveness ought be on our minds as Christians, for the Lord said “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it shall be yours. And whenever you stand up to pray, forgive, if you have anything against any one, that so your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses". (Mark 10:24-25)

When your heart is full of charity for the Lord like the woman who wet his feet with her tears and poured perfume on them, he shall forgive you too. It matters not if it is five sins or fifty, save the sin of forgetting God. (Luke 7:49)

Jesus also said “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has offended us; and bring us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:4). By this he meant that when we ask God to forgive our sins, we also forgive everyone lest we be tempted to sin again.

It is clear what Jesus meant when he said, "Be
on you guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him. And
 if he sins against you seven times a day, and seven times a day turns to you saying ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4)

Other instances of the Christ preaching forgiveness include Luke 23:34, and through Peter resisting Simon the Magi attempted to buy the power of healing (Acts 8:22) who said “Repent then this of your wickedness, and beseech the Lord to forgive you this purpose of your heart.”

For the gift of healing through the power of the Holy Ghost cannot be bought or sold. A good Christian does not let the love of money tempt him when shares the blessings of the Holy Ghost.

In the letters of Paul too flow the Holy Ghost as the Comforter that forgives the offender in 2 Corinthians 2:1-10. Given that the Corinthians doubted about the resurrection, Paul asked them to forgive if he was any burden to them (2 Corinthians 12:13).

In Colossians 3, Paul advised the Colossians on how to be good Christians, stating that “as God’s chosen people, consecrated and beloved, clothe yourselves with tenderness of heart, kindness, humility, gentleness, good temper; bearing with one another and forgiving each other, if any one has a grievance against another. Just as Christ the Lord forgave you, so must you forgive. Over them all bind on love, which is the girdle of completeness. Let the peace of Christ, to which also you were called in one body, rule in your hearts, and show yourselves thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15)

Finally, John says “if we confess our sins, faithful is he and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all wrongdoing” for “we have a partnership with one another” as Christians, for his sacrifice at the cross has cleansed us from every sin. (1 John 1)

It is because the practice of forgiveness is the habit of good Christians that I quote Scripture to emphasize the importance of forgiveness as a Christian.

Tenthly, Christians should refrain from warfare, especially wars justified by religion, such as crusades. They are blasphemous since the Christ taught men to love and forgive their enemies. 

It is not a weakness of character to preach love and forgive enemies.

On this matter, Thomas Paine, one of America's founding fathers wrote:

He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
Read more at:

Justice will still demand that their evil acts be punished by law when their acts break the law. As Christians we have no need of hatred towards enemies.

How can a Christian say that what he does is good if he libels his enemy and generalizes against them, misquoting their scripture, using it to shame them, thinking that by doing so they are true Christians? When Jesus purportedly preaches violence, he said “that's enough”, implying that as Christians we follow the Ten Commandments faithfully, knowing that we as the truly righteous are peace loving and forgiving.

It matters not if that enemy is your brother, your sister, your neighbour, a terrorist, a madman, the poor, the diseased. Truly, in the depths of my heart I believe this.

Should my actions betray my hypocrisy, I repent of it to God. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

This URL explains how the Avignon papacy cane to be: an unpopular pope led to the election of Pope Clement.

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