Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Fearful (08/23/07)
- TITLE: I Recant.
By David Butler
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But this was nothing to the winter in the heart of Doctor John Purvey, as he sat at his desk, a vacant expression on his face, his hair prematurely grey.
His name had gone down in history, linked with the late John Wycliffe, as a key translator of the scriptures into English in defiance of the Pope’s ban.
But they finally arrested him. He was singled out as a leader of the Lollard movement for “special cleansing.”
He still felt the pain in his joints from those horrific months in the torture chambers of London Tower.
And he had fallen. He had compromised his convictions. But how could he withstand such horrible torment? he reasoned. The merciless eyes and horrible breath of the guards holding him down while they…
Paper and ink flew everywhere as he fell forward onto his desk in the intensity of his grief and despair, sobbing bitterly.
“O Thou Almighty God in heaven! Will not these nightmares of Hell ever cease??”
Archbishop Courtenay sat on his throne before him like a pale carved idol, benign yet menacing.
Purvey knelt before him, trembling, bleeding, gasping with pain.
“Reverend Father … I have sinned … Forgive me …I recant.”
A look of bleak satisfaction crept into his superior’s hooded eyes as he regarded the pathetic creature before him.
“So be it! As thou’st shown repentance, I grant thee a living once again at the parish of West Hythe. But this one final proof do I require of thee: With thine own hands shalt thou gather all thine accursed writings and cast them into the flames before the assembly at Charing Cross. There also though shalt opertly declare thy guilt and thy repentance, and renounce this plague of Lollardy that thou and that Devil’s son Wycliffe hath brought upon us.
But mark this, Doctor: Refrain of this thy duty, then thou shalt return to the chambers of cleansing…”
“Nay! God forbid! All this I shall so do….”
His cowering submission had bought him some peace and quiet at least.
Or had it?
The horrors of his torments and his subsequent groveling came back to him every night in his dreams. He had lost his self respect. He had lost his dearest friends – even Hereford, his fellow-translator. Many students who had previously saluted him as a great man, now looked away when he passed.
He had more than once considered ending it all. The river was nearby. But then … would God ever take him back, after denying Him so shamefully? He was worse than Peter the apostle. Had he committed the unforgivable sin?
He felt so, so alone.
Out of the corner of his eye, through tears and the cracked lenses of his spectacles, he could see it in a dark corner. The forgotten bookshelf.
He thought that all of those books and papers had been destroyed. How could he – and the sheriff’s men - have missed it after all this time? He noticed one shabby book in the corner, bound in leather. Somehow he was drawn toward it, like a symbol of hope, where there was no hope.
He stumbled over and grabbed it, dusting it off and opening it gingerly on his desk. It was an old draft of his own translations.
Glancing furtively over his shoulder, as though the sheriff's men were spying on him, he quickly turned to Mark’s gospel. His eyes fell upon the words of Jesus to Peter:
“Satan hath desired to sift thee as wheat, but I have prayed for thee…..When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren..”
Opening again at John’s epistle: “...Perfect love casteth out all fear.”
It was like the heavens opened, and the Prince of Peace Himself came down to comfort him. He was forgiven! He felt courage and purpose stirring in his heart again.
Let them catch him if they could.
“……Strengthen his brethren….?”
He began to make plans in his mind. He could leave some copies of his translations in strategic places, perhaps…? …build trust in his colleagues again.
He had found peace at last, and slept more soundly than he had for the last two years.
Based on true events in 1401. On the 6 March, John Purvey was forced to publicly recant, but later secretly continued his involvement with the Lollard movement, which had largely gone underground.
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