Morning Star of the Reformation: John Wycliffe of Oxford (1329-84)
Friday, August 22, 2008– Here is the second article I wrote for Redeemer’s Reformation Celebration 2007. These brief summaries are intended to just introduce the church members and visitors to the subject; but they were lots of fun to work on!
Overview: Wycliffe was a forerunner of the Reformation in the sense that he attacked the Church’s immorality, the Church’s ownership of vast amounts of property, and produced a Bible translation in the language of the people of England. Wycliffe disagreed with the doctrine of transubstantiation and founded the Lollards, a group of lay preachers.
Biography of Wycliffe:
- He lived his entire life during the period of the Babylonian Captivity of the papacy and the Great Schism.
- A native of Yorkshire, he received the Doctor of Theology from Oxford, 1372.
- Served the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt who ruled England 1377-81; service included some diplomatic duties.
- Condemned by several papal bulls issued in 1377; Oxford University told to stop his teaching.
- Peasants Revolt of 1381 was blamed on the teaching of Wycliffe; he and his followers were forced out of Oxford.
- Retired to Lutterworth in 1382 where he died in 1384.
- His followers were called Lollards and continued his work until they were almost wiped out in the 15th century. Some hidden Lollard sentiment remained and fueled the Reformation in England later.
- The Council of Constance in 1415 declared Wycliffe to be a stiff-necked heretic and ordered his bones be dug up. In 1427 his body was exhumed, burned, and the ashes scattered in the River Swift.
What Wycliffe Taught:
- Taught that the Church should not own land and was too rich and corrupt.
- Wicked people, even if they are royalty or nobles, should not rule.
- Churchmen who lived in mortal sin should be deprived of their wealth and positions.
- He rejected all ceremonies and rites that were not mentioned in the Bible.
- Condemned transubstantiation and renounced the sacramental power of priests.
- Agreed with Augustine on predestination & that salvation comes by God’s grace.
What Wycliffe Did:
- Translated the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English.
- Established a committed group of followers who came to be known as the Lollards, who were comprised of Oxford scholars, the lesser gentry, and the poor. They preached the Bible, stood against the priesthood and monasticism.
One Man’s Impact on History:
- His teachings were taken from Oxford by Czech students to Prague where Jan Hus adopted the same doctrines. Hus’ teachings indirectly impacted Luther in Germany a century later. From Hus’ Bohemian Brethren came the Moravian Church and it was the Moravians who influenced John Wesley with the gospel. Wesley’s preaching transformed England and America during the Great Awakening.
Questions for Further Study and Application on John Wycliffe
How might the Babylonian Captivity and Great Schism have shaped Wycliffe’s views of the Church and led to his radical theology?
What is the relationship between William of Ockham (1280-1349) and John Wycliffe?
Luther’s opponents said that his teachings and actions would lead to a general disrespect of authority; the Peasant’s Revolt of 1525 followed. Wycliffe was blamed for the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. What is the relationship, if any, between the doctrines of the Reformers and a desire for political and economic freedom and liberty?
When you read your Bible, do you ever think about the millions of believers who never had the Word of God in their own language?
Do you know the name of a ministry based upon Wycliffe’s translation work?
Recommended Reading: John Wyclif: Myth & Reality, G.R. Evans. IVP Academic: Downers Grove, Ill. 2005 (320pp.)