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John Wycliffe - morning star of the reformation

On the shoulders of giants

Adam Caviness

on 17 October 2014

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Transcript of John Wycliffe - morning star of the reformation

On the shoulders of giants
John Wycliffe
His Great Dissent
His End
30 years after Wycliffe’s death in 1415, the catholic church declared him a heretic and ordered that his books be burned and his body exhumed and destroyed.
the morning star of the Reformation
b 1320~
d 1384
Wycliffe was a close follower of Augustine, so much so that he was called "John of Augustine" by his pupils.
Influence of William of Ockham
33 yrs his senior
The principle that in explaining a thing no more assumptions should be made than are necessary. The principle is often invoked to defend reductionism or nominalism. In other words, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

Influence of Augustine
966 years his senior
Where he learned of Plato and disdain of Aristotle
Augustine’s knowledge of the Trinity and Pauline salvation by grace was a major influence on young Wycliffe.

Yorkshire England
In a time when there were no English
Bibles, the priests held the Word in Latin
and the catholic church was truly universal.
This means he predates all the reformers that are household names, by a long shot: actually...
in the same long shot George Washington predates you. (~130)
The Lollards originated from interest in the writings of John Wycliffe but they had no central belief system and no official doctrine. However some were sent directly by Wycliffe to preach two by two without cost, without shoes and without vows.
So much of what we know about Wycliffe's past is pieced together because of the burning of his writings. Accusations of heresy at this time were handled forcefully but a man of Wycliffe's educational pedigree made it very difficult to have him burned. The arguments that he made were behind closed university doors at Oxford, in academic language and with scholastic dialectic. In the synods he was summoned to, he was at worst censured. After his life however, his works were largely burned. He lived much safer than later reformers or even his followers because he was an intellectual.
Reflection & Application
Do you think Wycliffe understood the magnitude of what he undertook in his disagreement with error?
What propelled him to endanger his life for Truth?
What propelled the theological and moral errors in his day?
Is there a need for reformation today?
University teacher at Oxford
He was known to have been at Oxford at age 25
He presided over Balliol College, Oxford.
He became a Doctor of Divinity, making use of his right to lecture upon systematic divinity. This great privilege would also become an anchor of Martin Luther's resiliency in opposing catholic dogma.

The Vulgate
Jerome translated it in the 4th century from the Greek and Hebrew (first via LXX). He did this while living in a cave beneath the church of the nativity in Bethlehem. It took him nearly 30 years.

Although a great blessing in the early centuries, the language fell out of vernacular use. For nearly thousand years only the priests could read it.
Off the subject for a bit to take about the current state of Biblical affairs
Now, back on the subject of
John Wycliffe
Influence on Jan Hus 1374-1415, Prague - First Church Reformer
Only priests could partake of the wine at the Lords supper.
Translated Wycliffe's English Bible translation (and other works) into Czech and gained noble support in Prague.
Archbishop of Prague outlawed Wycliffe's writings and 200 volumes were burned. Hus was summoned to Rome, Which he refused. His King, Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia supported him but he lost that strong support due to his stance against indulgences. He became the famous martyr that would influence Martin Luther and in turn influence us!
"God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today." He was then burned at the stake, and his ashes thrown into the Rhine River.
“The Avon to the Severn runs, the Severn to the sea, And Wyclif’s dust shall spread abroad, wide the waters be.” —Thomas Fuller
Actually, his teachings were a precursor to the Protestant Reformation.
He became deeply disillusioned both with Scholastic theology of his day and also with the state of the Catholic church. He increasingly argued for Scriptures as the authority of Christianity, that the claims of the papacy were unhistorical, that monasticism was irredeemably corrupt, and that the moral unworthiness of priests invalidated their office and sacraments.
In about 1365, he was commissioned by the government to help construct a polemical tract (with his theological background) in defending the nation of England from tribute exacted by Pope Urban V.
His dissent largely went unnoticed and he was therefore difficult for the Catholics to label as a heretic for a couple of reasons. For one, his controversies he engaged in at University were philosophical rather than purely theological and secondly the method of discussion was academic and scholastic.
His views won wide support in London among the nobility. He preached in the city churches of the day and this gained him wide support among the common people as well. God used these relationships in many ways to protect him in his work.
Wycliffe was disturbed by the feudal organization of the Church. The Church was the largest landowner in England and was extraordinarily wealthy.
His fundamental belief was that the Church should be poor, as in the days of the apostles. He used the opulent riches of the pope as a pivot point in developing relationships with temporal powers (secular rulers) to gain protection so he could expose theological error. As with all the reformers this was done with the hope of reform, not fracture.
He effectively argued in several books (De incarcerandis fedelibus, De civili dominio, De officio regis, and his magnum opus so to speak, the Summa theologiae) that the king had the role of temporal power on earth and that clergy were subject to him. Wycliffe’s ideal of poverty became continually firmer and he emphasized that it is a sin to oppose the power of the king, which is derived immediately from God. (Romans 13)
He was soon prepared to make public his dissent and issued tracts where he attacked episcopal jurisdiction, unholy priests, indulgences and squandering of charities.
Concerning monasticism, his polemical works and sermons stated that Christ needed no new sects and that the religion of Christ was enough. The result was a serious drop in alms given to monasteries and their monks and they had to take up manual labor to support themselves.
His protector was John of Gaunt, who was acting as ruler at this time
Wycliffe aimed to do away with the ecclesiastical hierarchy and instructed his men in living poor lives and give the Gospel in sermons without being bound by vows.
The papal bull of Gregory XI labeled these preachers as Lollards. (popular derogatory nickname given to those without an academic background, educated if at all only in English)
Due to the popularity of Wycliffe’s English pamphlets on the Lord’s Supper, a contemporary complained “Every second man that you meet, is a Lollard.”
Sir John Oldcastle, a close friend of King Henry V was a Lollard. Here he is customarily being burned alive.
Lollards stated that the catholic church had been corrupted by temporal matters and that its claim to be the true Church was not justified by its heredity. Part of this corruption involved prayers for the dead and chantries.
A Chantry is a paid prayer for the dead by which priests became filthy rich. These prayers were sold as capable of speeding a dead soul to heaven.
The first complete European Bible in 1000 years.
The first English Bible... ever.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia: Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Cor 1:1-2

He got in serious trouble a couple of times, once with a synod summoned by the bishop of London (pictured here) and then with the pope. The worst they did was censure him. Unlike the later protestant reformers, he was dealt with after his death.
In 1428 his remains were dug up, burned and his ashes were cast into the River Swift which runs into the Avon River. And they excommunicated him. Ironically Richard Fleming, Bishop of Lincoln, a one-time public supporter of Wycliffe's ideas presided over the order. He was also allowed to start a college at Oxford just to combat the teachings of Wycliffe.
The French language was the language of the elite and Latin was the language of literary works. All translations of this time period were from Latin or French.
Wycliffe's Bible
Despite the fact that it was banned more than once and in more than one country, 30 copies still exist today
He may have had some help from Nicholas Hereford with the OT.
Since the Wycliffe Bible conformed fully to Catholic teaching, it was rightly considered to be an unauthorized roman catholic version of the Vulgate text but with heretical preface and notes added.
Be not youre herte affraied, ne drede it. Ye bileuen in god, and bileue ye in me. In the hous of my fadir ben many dwellyngis: if ony thing lasse I hadde seid to you, for I go to make redi to you a place. And if I go and make redi to you a place, eftsone I come and I schal take you to my silf, that where I am, ye be. And whidir I go ye witen: and ye witen the wey. (John 14:1-4)
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. (John 14:1-4)

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