Butler, William (d.1410?) (DNB00)

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BUTLER, or BOTELER, WILLIAM (d. 1410?), a controversial writer against the Wycliffites, was the thirtieth provincial of the Minorites in England. At Oxford in 1401 he wrote as his ‘Determinatio,’ or academical thesis, a tract against the translation of the Bible into the vulgar tongue. Pits says this was in vindication of some public edict which ordered the burning of English Bibles, probably deriving the statement from Bale, who says that Purvey asserts (but Bale gives no reference for his citation) that such an order was issued at the instance of the friars; but no such injunction is known of so early a date. It was not until 1408 that Wycliffe's version was condemned in the provincial constitutions of Archbishop Arundel, and owners and readers of the book were declared excommunicate unless license had been obtained by them from their diocesans (Wilkins, Concilia, 317). Butler's tract exists in one manuscript which is preserved in Merton College, Oxford; unfortunately the first leaf has been deliberately cut out, and all information which the beginning may have afforded as to the immediate cause of the composition of the tract is consequently lost. The colophon alone gives name, date, place, and title, as stated above, except that the first remaining page is also headed ‘Buttiler contra translacionem Anglicanam.’ Bale says that Butler states in this tract that the Psalter was translated by Bede, and other portions of the Scriptures by an (arch)bishop of York. This statement must have occurred in the introductory portion now lost. He also says (in his manuscript referred to below) that the book existed in Queen's College, Oxford, but this is probably a mistake for Merton College. The tract contains six sections devoted to as many arguments against the allowance of the Scriptures in the vernacular; and is possibly the earliest extant statement in English controversy of the opponent's case.

The first argument is that the use of the vernacular would quickly lead to multiplication of erroneous copies, while Latin copies, being written and read in the universities, are easily corrected. 2. That human understanding is insufficient for all the difficulties of Scripture. The knowledge of God is better gained by meditation and prayer than by reading. 3. That in the celestial hierarchy the angels of lower order depend for illumination upon angels of higher order, who convey to them God's revelations, and that the church militant corresponds to the church triumphant. 4. That the teaching of the apostles was not by books, but by the power of the Spirit. And Christ himself in the temple asked the doctors, and did not read. 5. That if men were to read Scripture for themselves, disputes would soon arise. 6. That in Christ's body each member has its proper office, but if everyone may read, then the foot becomes the eye; and who would offer a book to a joint of his foot? Butler also wrote a tract ‘De Indulgentiis,’ of which Bale saw a copy which had belonged to the Minorites at Reading; four books of commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard; one book treating of various questions; and several other works which his biographers do not specify. To Reading he is said to have removed from Oxford, and there, according to Pits, he died about 1410.

[Bale's Collectanea de Scriptt. Anglis, a MS. in the Bodl. Lib., ‘Selden supra, 64,’ p. 215; Bale's Scriptt. Brit. Catalogus, Basle, 1557, p. 537; Merton Coll. MS. 68, ff. 202–4; Pits, De Angliæ Scriptoribus, Par. 1619; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. 1748; Madden's and Forshall's Pref. to Wycliffe's Bible, Oxford, 1850, i. xxxiii.; Brewer's Monumenta Franciscana, Lond. 1858, pp. 538, 561.]

W. D. M.