Berton, William of (DNB00)

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BERTON, WILLIAM of (fl, 1376), chancellor of Oxford, 1380, is first mentioned in 1376, as B.D. of Merton College, among the witnesses summoned to give information to a royal commission appointed to inquire into a dispute between the faculties of arts and divinity and that of law in the university (Wood, Antiquities of Oxford, i. 489). In February 1379-80 he served on a similar commission nominated to examine the disorderly state of Queen' 8's College (ib. p. 496). By this time he was D.D. and chancellor of the university, having been elected in succession to Robert Aylesham, who died in the autumn of 1379 (Wood, Fasti 0ron. p. 30). Berton's chancellorship is important because of its connection with the Wycliffite controversy respecting the sacrament which then agitated Oxford. According to the author of the 'Fasciculi Zizaniorum' (p. 241), he had at an earlier time taken an energetic part ('strenuegit ac determinavit') in opposition to the new opinions. It is noticeable that, unlike the majority of Wycliffe's antagonists, he belonged to the secular clergy. As chancellor he was able to give an official weight to his arguments. He issued a decree condemning the sacramental doctrine under severe penalties, but not mentioning Wycliffe by name. It was this 'sententia,' bearing the signatures of twelve doctors, which was promulguted in the Augustinian school at 'the very time that Wycliffe chanced to be disputing there in cathedra' in defence of the doctrines it condemned (Fascic. Ziz. pp. llO seqq.) The duration of Berton's chancellorship is uncertain, Anthony à Wood (Fasti, l.c.) makes it expire in 1380, and Robert Rygge hold the office in l381. Yet, if the dates in the 'Fasciculi Zizaniorum' (see Shirlyv's introd. p. xliii, n. 1) are to be trusted, Berton's decree against Wycliffe's teaching must have been published before 10 May in the latter year, and this chronology has been universally accepted (even by Wood himself, in his 'History,' i. 499). On the other hand, a correction in a manuscript of Wyclitle's 'Confession' (Fascic. Ziz. p. 115, n. 1) raises a doubt whether the affair did not actually take place in 1380. Wood also states (Fasti. l.c. ) that Berton was again chancellor in 1382, until, 'he quitting his place, or else desired to leave it, forasmuch as he seemed not to favour Wycleve and his diciples,' was on May of or June succeeded once more by Rgge. The latter's action, however, in the subsequent stages of the Wycliffe eontroversy (Fascic. Ziz. pp. 299, 304, 309seq.) renders it more likely that his election marked the temporary ascendency of the reformer's party (compare Matthew, English Works of Wyvclif hitherto unprinted, introd. pp. xxv seqq., 1880). Be this as it may, both Berton's and Rygge's signatures are attached to the condemnation of Wycliffe's 'conclusions' resolved on by the council of London in the summer of 1382 (Fascic. Ziz. pp. 288, 290), and the only works ascribed to Berton (Bale, Script. Brit. Catal. vi. 89) are exclusively directed against Wyclille.

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