The Morningstar of the Reformation

John Wyclif was one of the first brave pioneer thinkers of revolutionary philosophical and theological ideas who taught at Oxford University. These major contributions were blessedly produced 30 years after his birth in 1330 to gentried parents.

By the 1370's these ideas of God's delegating real authority to sanctified leaders, and not to the reprobate hierarchy, developed at a time of divisive upheaval in the Papal rule. This distraction, and royal friends in high places kept him free to write his challenges to not just ecclesiastical corruption, as others did; but also to question the doctrines behind them. He started questioning in his writings standard Roman Catholic teachings such as the need for a priest to mediate between God and man. He was protected by people of some substance, when the Pope in 1377, condemned Wyclif's theological positions, such as John of Gaunt, who had brought him to court. Eventually the pressure was too much for his benefactors, and he was forced out of Oxford.

He continued to write after retirement in 1378, a year that saw a peasant's revolt, not sanctioned by Wyclif, but led by a supposed follower, John Ball. So Wyclif was tried by William Courtenay in place of the rebel-murdered archbishop of Canterbury. The earthquake that shook the courthouse was seen as a sign by both sides, and the prosecution claimed it was the land's flatulence at the heresy!

Wyclif had to become a recluse in Lutterworth, Leicestershire where he wrote The Truth of Holy Scripture and The Power of the Papacy. Another noteworthy book, besides his famous new English translation of the Vulgate Bible, was the Summa Theologica. He died there in the Midlands, alone and sick in 1384.

The radical ideas challenging Church authority as only man-made, even relating popes to being anti-Christ. His refuting "Transubstantion" (even though this idea of Christ's real body and blood present in the Eucharist bread and wine was a relatively new dogma) caused the post-humous condemnation of his writings to the point that they cremated his dug up bones 44 years after his death (from a stroke on New Years Eve) in 1384!

The disciples of John Wyclif finished the translation of the Bible in English, fulfilling the desire to see that the final authority of Scripture would be available to all. An excerpt from John 17:5-6 shows how archaic the language was, but how profound the effect the reading in the people's language must have been:

And now, Fadir, clarifie thou me as thisilf, with the clereness that Y hadde at thee bifor the world was maad. Y have schewid thi name to the men whiche thou hast yovun to me of the world; thei weren thine, and thou has yovun hem to me, and thei han kept thi word.

Some Bohemian (Czechoslavakian) pupils in Oxford took copies home with them, and there John Hus was martyred promoting these dissentions. These followers came to be known as Lollards (from a derisive term, not unlike grumbler) whose continued presence devoloped into the Protestant Reformation.


But, Wyclif's contribution is best summed up by another biographer:

They burnt his bones to ashes and cast them into the Swift, an neighboring brook running hard by. Thus the brook conveyed his ashes into the Avon, the Avon into the Severn, the Severn into the narrow seas and they into the main ocean. And so the ashes of Wyclif are symbolic of his doctrine, which is now spread throughout the world.

Today, an organization, and his namesake, the Wycliff Bible Translators, continue his work bringing the Scriptures to various peoples in their indigenous languages.  Oftentime at great peril; But, as they know, to hasten the End of the Age, the Gospel first must be preached to all the world.

Great Leaders of the Christian Church; Moody Press
Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity

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