John de Wycliffe

c.1328 – 1384

John Wycliffe (also spelled Wyclif, Wycliff, Wiclef, Wicliffe, Wickliffe) was the first person to have the Bible translated in English, albeit, the local Midland, middle English version thereof.

His rationale at the time was, that only one on ten monks knew the 10 commandments, so translate the bible so that the common man could learn them, and the rest of the teachings.

At that time John Wycliffe was the rector of Lutterworth. Hence the bible in the town crest, also the star, as he was seen to be the “The Morning Star of the Reformation”

A statue including John Wycliffe in Worms, Stadt Worms, Rheinland-Pfalz.

John Wycliffe from Wikipedia 1328 c. to 1284 At Oxford he translated the Bible from Vulgate (vernacular) Latin to English. Wycliffe believed every Christian should study the Bible. When he met with opposition to the translation he replied “Christ and his apostles taught the people in that tongue that was best known to them. Why should men not do so now?” For one to have a personal relationship with God, Wycliffe believed that need to be described in the Bible. Wycliffe also believed that it was necessary to return to the primitive state of the New Testament in order to truly reform the Church. So one must be able to read the Bible to understand those times”

John Wycliffe is illustrated by his biographical dates and list of principal writings – He was the foremost theologian and philosopher of Oxford in the mid 1300s. His later writings estranged more and more of his early supporters.

1328 ? Wycliffe born of Hipswell Yorkshire. Educated locally

1345 Oxford Merton College

1356 completed arts degree

1356 published “The Last Age of the Church” (believed end of the world around 1400) 1361 Master of Balliol College.

1361 to 1368 rector Fillingham Lincs.

1365 warden of Canterbury Hall, (Arch Bishop’s appointment) for training priests.

1368 rector of Ludgershall, Buckinghamshire,

1369 Wycliffe bachelor’s degree in theology

1372 Doctorate. 

1374 crown living of St Mary’s Church, Lutterworth .

1374 commission of government in Bruges represents king Edward III v pope Gregory XI.

1377 De civili dominio (“On Civil Dominion”) – royal divestment of all church property, clergy should live in complete poverty.

1377  first official condemnation in by Pope Gregory XI, who censured 19 articles.

1377. Bishop of London v Wycliffe supported by Gaunt but attacks upon Wycliffe began/increase.

1377 Pope Gregory XI  bull against Wycliffe, an attempt to put pressure on King Edward to make peace with France.  Wycliffe confined in Black Hall, Oxford

1378 Lambeth Palace – Sir Lewis Clifford / Queen mother (Joan of Kent), forbade the bishops to proceed to a definite sentence concerning Wycliffe’s conduct or opinions.

1378 De incarcerandis fedelibus, He wrote his 33 conclusions in Latin and English. The masses, some of the nobility, and his former protector, John of Gaunt, rallied to him.

1378 pope Gregory XI died in 1378.

1379 De ecclesia (“On the Church”) – the supremacy of the king over the priesthood, rejected purgatory clerical celibacy, pilgrimages, the selling of indulgences, and praying to saints.

1380 writings that argued his rejection of transubstantiation

1380 Objections to Friars. Wycliffe advocated the dissolution of the monasteries.

1381 Wycliffe – Lord’s Supper in twelve short sentences, some declarations pronounced heretical.

1381 Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The revolt was sparked in part by Wycliffe’s preaching carried throughout the realm by “poor priests” appointed by Wycliffe (mostly laymen).

1381 dismissed from Oxford for criticism of Catholic Church

1381 Tracts v monks and pope Urban VI

1381 Trialogus, stands at the peak of the knowledge of his day.

1382 Assembly notables at London, 24 propositions – 10 heretical – 14 erroneous.

1382 Blackfriars council Wycliffe teachings on the Eucharist declared heresy.

1382 Synod at Oxford – Wycliffe was neither excommunicated or deprived of living

1382-95 The Wycliffe bible translations appear, translated under direction Wycliffe.

1384 Opus evangelicum, remains uncompleted.

1384, 28 December, he suffered a stroke, and died as the year ended

1388 John Purvey revises The Wycliffe bible. 150 manuscripts still exist – so widely available in 15th century. For this reason, the Wycliffites =  “Bible men”.

1401 The Anti-Wycliffite Statute of 1401 extended persecution to Wycliffe’s remaining followers.

1408 The “Constitutions of Oxford” aimed to reclaim authority in all ecclesiastical matters

1413 John Oldcastle, with Lollard beliefs uncovered, leads an insurrection, attempted kidnapping of the king. Oldcastle’s revolt made Lollardy = threatening, and persecution of Lollards = more severe. 

1415 The Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic on 4 May 1415, and banned his writings, effectively both excommunicating him retroactively = forerunner of Protestantism.

1428. Wycliffe’s corpse, exhumed, burned and the ashes cast into the River Swift, Lutterworth.

 None of Wycliffe’s contemporaries left a complete picture of his person, his life, and his activities.

Rudolph Buddensieg finds two distinct aspects in Wycliffe’s work. The first, from 1366 to 1378, reflects a political struggle with Rome, while 1378 to 1384 is more a religious struggle – he increasingly argued for Scriptures as the authoritative centre of Christianity. In each Wycliffe has two approaches: he attacks both the Papacy and its institutions, and also Roman Catholic doctrine. Wycliffe lead Lollardy in England in 1300s –

Principal writings

  • The Last Age of the Church (1356)
  • De Logica (“On Logic”) 1360
  • De Universalibus (“On Universals”) 1368
  • De Dominio Divino (1373)
  • De Mandatis Divinis (1375)
  • De Statu Innocencie (1376)
  • De Civili Dominio (1377)
  • Responsio (1377)
  • De Ecclesia (“On the Church”) 1378
  • De veritate sacrae scripturae (On the Truthfulness of Holy Scripture) 1378
  • On the Pastoral Office 1378
  • De apostasia (“On Apostasy”) 1379
  • De Eucharistia (On the Eucharist”) 1379
  • Objections to Friars (1380)

Lollardy, also known as Lollardism or the Lollard movement, was a pre-Protestant Christian religious movement that existed from the mid-14th century to the 16th-century English Reformation. Believing in a universal priesthood, the Lollards challenged the Church’s authority to invest or to deny the divine authority to make a man a priest. Denying any special status to the priesthood, Lollards thought confession to a priest was unnecessary since according to them priests did not have the ability to forgive sins. Lollards challenged the practice of clerical celibacy and believed priests should not hold government positions as such temporal matters would likely interfere with their spiritual mission. Lollards were effectively absorbed into Protestantism during the English Reformation, in which Lollardy played a role. Since Lollards had been underground for more than a hundred years, the extent of Lollardy and its ideas at the time of the Reformation is uncertain and a point of debate. Many critics of the Reformation, including Thomas More, associated Protestants with Lollards. Leaders of the English Reformation, including Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, referred to Lollardy as well, and Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall of London called Lutheranism the “foster-child” of the Wycliffite heresy. There are ample records of the persecution of Lollards from this period. In the Diocese of London, there are records of about 310 Lollards being prosecuted or forced to abjure between 1510 and 1532. Lollards were persecuted again between 1554 and 1559 during the Revival of the Heresy Acts under the Catholic Mary I, which specifically suppressed heresy and Lollardy. The similarity between Lollards and later English Protestant groups such as the Baptists, Puritans, and Quakers also suggests some continuation of Lollard ideas through the Reformation.