John Wycliffe, who lived during the reign of King Edward III in 1372, was a professor at Oxford University. At a time when few people enjoyed an education, Wycliffe was known for his erudition in philosophy and religion. Although everyone knew the name Christ, few understood his teaching.
John Wycliffe was called the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” He was of Saxon blood, born around 1320 in Hipswell, near Richmond, Yorkshire, England. Wycliffe studied at Balliol College, Oxford University, which at the time had 30,000 students. He was very clever in his teaching, and when he finished, he remained a professor at Oxford, proving himself one of the most learned men of his time. In philosophy, he belonged to the realist school of thought, in contrast to the great majority who belonged to the nominalist school. The writings of Augustine had a significant influence on his thinking.
There were always people who, reading the Bible, and the Word of God, could not be content with formal religion but sought to live by the truth of the Gospel, debunking legal Christianity and awakening in others a new life. These doers of the truth were ready for any sacrifice. One such fearless man was the priest John Wycliffe.
Biography of John Wycliffe
Full name: John Wycliff
Year of birth: 1332 AD
Year of death: 1384 AD
Place of birth: Lutterworth, UK
Father's name: Roger Wycliffe
Death cause: further stroke.
What was John Wycliffe known for?
In 1365, he entered the grace of Prince John de Gaunt, son of the English King Edward III. Later, in 1366 he became one of the chaplains of the royal court. In 1372 he took his doctorate in theology at Oxford. In 1374 he was appointed by the king as a priest of Lutterworth.
According to historical sources, John Wycliffe is best known that in 1375, he was appointed negotiator on the royal commission to discuss with the Pope’s ambassadors in Bruges, Belgium. He was also commissioned by the royal house to negotiate peace with France.
A year later, he enunciated the “doctrine of the dominion as found in grace,” according to which both ecclesiastical and secular authority is conferred exclusively by the grace of God; consequently, when the holder commits mortal sins, he loses this authority.
What did John Wycliffe believe?
John, seeing the assent of the people, became bolder. He advocated restructuring theological education without the intervention of the pope or foreign prelates. Also, he demanded that the Bible be taken as the only source of truth. John defended the doctrine of the infallibility of the pope and synods.
The priest John Wycliffe believed and accused the Catholic Church of venality, corruption and worldly ways of life. This he did in sermons both at Oxford and in writing. His pamphlets circulated like hot cakes throughout England. The Pope’s secular, political, authority was being undermined from the ground up among the English people, who were fed up with such authority.
He denounced the doctrine of transubstantiation and purgatory. He maintained that the clergy are not meant to rule but to serve the people. These inflammatory statements were carried abroad. His pamphlets secretly found their way to many countries in Europe. They were a kind of wake-up call. There was no printing press yet, but they were carefully copied and passed from hand to hand, especially to intellectuals.
Read also: What was Dante’s philosophy?
Why was John Wycliffe called the Morning Star?
At least a century before Luther, there were people who thought in the same spirit. As in any human group animated by spiritual intent, some were wheat, some were chaff. Some sincerely believed in what they were saying, others had been infiltrated by the author of whatever spiritual weeds and “discreet”/secret societies. But John was a sincere man.
According to historical sources, John Wycliffe was called the Morning Star for the work he did to save the true faith and for his courage to stand alone against the Catholic Church.
Forty years later, the papists dug up his bones in revenge, burned them and threw them into a stream. His ashes were carried to the Avon, from there to the Severn, into the sea and then into the ocean. They did not realise that by this deed, they symbolised the work of the Reformation begun by John Wycliffe. The beacon of the Reformation had finished its work of spreading light into darkness.
How did John Wycliffe translated the Bible?
He was a talented boy with a great thirst for knowledge. He was educated in philosophy, church canons, and civil law. But contact with the Bible changed the direction of his life. He grew to love and cherish it more than anything else.
According to historians, John Wycliffe translated the Bible with the help of simple, faithful preachers called Lollards, who transcribed it. Through the work of these men, the teachings and the Bible translated by Wycliffe were spread even outside England. Copying the Bible took a long time because it was handwritten. Mechanical printing had yet to be invented. But the demand was great. Some wealthier people ordered the whole Bible, others only parts of it, and many families joined together to buy a Bible. So the Reformation had its start, and its ennobling work was felt throughout England.
John Wycliffe, seeing the light of truth shining from the pages of the Bible, could not help but feel sorry that it was not written and translated into the people’s language. Translating the Bible into English was the most outstanding work of his life.
5 Perspectives of Wycliffe’s teachings:
Wycliffe’s teachings can be summarized in the following points, taken from his sermons:
- The Holy Eucharist, after the prayer of consecration, is not the body of Christ.
- Church of Rome is no more important than any other Church, and Christ gave Peter no more power than other apostles.
- The Pope has no more power than any other priest.
- Bible is sufficient for every man, without other rules added by men and without additions to the Gospel.
- Neither the Pope nor any other church face has the power or right to punish sinners.
What happened to John Wycliff?
Following that father’s death in Rome, two rival popes climbed onto the “chair of Peter.” They made each other’s lives bitter, calling each other the Antichrist. Wycliffe was briefly forgotten. The people disgusted by the goings-on in the church found peace in the truth of Scripture and the teaching of Wycliffe.
According to historical reports, the hand of God kept John from harm, and after the first king died, Wycliffe’s former protector succeeded to the throne. He protected the reformer from many dangers and openly rejected the pope’s orders.
John Wycliffe died on 31 December 1384 AD of natural causes. In his church at Lutterworth, he was at the distribution of holy supper when he fell struck by paralysis. Old age had shown its signs before, but this time he died.
3 Facts about John Wycliffe
John Wycliffe was born into a world of extremes. To better understand what role he played in those times. Below are three essential facts about the life of the great priest translator of the Gospels.
1. Wycliffe worked for 15 years to translate the Bible
For 15 years, he worked hard to get the Bible into the hands of his people. As he finished certain portions of the Bible, they were copied by hand and spread among the people. It took ten months to reproduce the whole Bible. So the Bible costs a lot of money, and ordinary people cannot have it. So he hired several poor priests and theology students to go around the communes and fairs and read the Gospel to the people.
2. John Wycliffe ordained that only the Bible counts
He demanded that the Bible be taken as the only source of truth. He denounced the doctrine of the infallibility of the pope and synods. John denounced the doctrine of transubstantiation and purgatory. He maintained that the clergy was not set up to rule but to serve the people. His inflammatory writings were taken abroad. His pamphlets were secretly carried in many countries of Europe. They were a kind of wake-up call. There was no printing press yet, but they were carefully copied and passed from hand to hand, especially to intellectuals.
3. John Wycliffe was Chaplain to the King
He was chaplain to the King, then for two years his ambassador, then chaplain at Lutterworth and professor of theology at Oxford. An outstanding career in those days. But this was not his aim… but to preach the truth of the Bible to all, great or small, poor or rich, without distinction between men. This purpose he achieved with the help of simple, faithful preachers called Lollards.
- John Wycliffe, who lived during the reign of King Edward III in 1372, was a professor at Oxford University. At a time when few people enjoyed an education, Wycliffe was known for his erudition in philosophy and religion.
- Seeing the Gospel of Christ defiled by the errors and inventions of the bishops and monks, he determined to do all in his power to change the situation and teach people the truth. He struggled to declare publicly that his intention was only to rid the Church of idolatry, especially regarding sacraments and communion.
- In 1377, Wycliffe was ordered to appear before his bishops and answer their charges since he continued to preach about these things despite being forbidden. Wycliffe appeared before them on Thursday, 19 February 1377, accompanied by four learned monks, the Duke of Lancaster, and Lord Henry Percy, Lord Marshal of England.
Wycliffe has done his job well. England received the Bible through this priest and teacher for the first time in the language of the people, and this was an incredible blessing not only for England but for all of Western Europe. His enemies, his fellow priests, were gathering evidence and waiting for an opportune moment to arrest and burn him at stake, but old Wycliffe was unexpectedly called home in vespers. He died on 31 December 1384.
Forty-four years after his burial, his bones were disinterred and burned at the stake because the papacy was not at peace with the thought that it could not apply the final solution to him. The remaining ashes were thrown into the Swift River lest the earth be stained. Anyone who read his work was liable for the death penalty. The priest, Wycliffe, lit a fire that all his enemies have never been able to put out, and it burns to this day.