JOHN WYCLIFFE – “Morningstar of the Reformation”

 

“What is the WYCLIFFE BIBLE?”

John Wycliffe (c.1329–1384) was an Oxford professor and theologian who became concerned with the growing power, corruption, and wealth that he observed in the papacy and in the Roman Catholic Church.

Wycliffe (also spelled Wyclif or Wiclif) began speaking and writing against the church’s errors, teaching that salvation was only available through the suffering of CHRIST, NOT the POWER of the CHURCH.

As Wycliffe gained followers, Rome took notice and eventually pressured Oxford to remove him from his position.

Wycliffe was convinced that the English people needed a BIBLE that they could UNDERSTAND in their OWN LANGUAGE.  

In 1380, he completed the first English translation of the New Testament, and two years later the entire Bible was completed.

Although Wycliffe sponsored the translation and was held responsible for it by the religious authorities, there is evidence that a number of translators worked with him.

Approximately 60 years before the invention of the printing press, the Wycliffe Bible was published and copied by hand.

The first edition of the Wycliffe Bible was a word-for-word translation of the Latin Vulgate (the accepted Bible of the Catholic Church) into Middle English (the language of Chaucer).

The translation followed the Latin so closely that the meaning in English was often obscured. Six years after the release of the entire Bible (and four years after Wycliffe’s death), a follower, John Purvey, published a revision that was much more readable in English.

This Bible was the dominant English Bible until William Tyndale’s translation almost 150 years later.

The Catholic Church CONDEMNED the Wycliffe Bible.

Anyone caught reading it was subject to HEAVY FINES.

Some of Wycliffe’s supporters were BURNED at the STAKE with the Wycliffe Bible hung around their necks.

However, the prohibition seems to have only made people MORE INTERESTED in reading the BANNED BOOK.

Not only did the English people become more interested in the Bible, but their desire for literacy also increased.

At the Council of Constance (1414–1418), Jan Hus, one of Wycliffe’s followers, was condemned and burned at the stake.

Wycliffe’s writings were also condemned, and his bones were dug up and burned, and then the ashes were scattered.

Because of the impact of Wycliffe’s teaching and his translation of the Bible into the vernacular, he is often referred to as “the MORNING STAR of the REFORMATION”

Today, the Wycliffe translation of the Bible is readily available online both in Middle and Modern English. Wycliffe Bible Translators, an organization dedicated to translating the Bible into the language of every people group on earth, continues the work that Wycliffe began almost 750 years ago.

The “LOLLARDS”

Wycliffe’s Bible appeared over a period from approximately 1382 to 1395.

[1] These Bible translations were the chief inspiration and chief cause of the Lollard movement, a pre-Reformation movement that rejected many of the distinctive teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Though relatively few people could read at this time, Wycliffe’s idea was to translate the Bible into the vernacular, saying “it helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue in which they know best Christ’s sentence”.[2]

The association between Wycliffe’s Bible and Lollardy caused the Kingdom of England and the established Catholic Church in England to undertake a DRASTIC CAMPAIGN to SUPPRESS IT.

Supporters of the view that Wycliffe did translate the Bible hold that when Wycliffe took on the challenge of translating, he was BREAKING a long-held BELIEF that NO PERSON should translate the Bible ON THEIR OWN INITIATIVE, WITHOUT APPROVAL of the CHURCH.

It is said that his frustrations drove him to IGNORE this and that Wycliffe believed that STUDYING the BIBLE was MORE IMPORTANT than listening to it read by the clergy.

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.

Wycliffite versions of the Bible were sometimes condemned as such by the Catholic Church.

At this time, the Peasants’ Revolt was running full force as the people of England united to rebel against the unfairness of the English Parliament and its favouring of the wealthier classes.

William Courtenay, the Archbishop of Canterbury was able to turn both the church and Parliament against Wycliffe by falsely stating that his writings and his influence were fuelling the peasants involved in the revolt.

(It was actually John Ball, another priest, who was involved in the revolt and merely quoted Wycliffe in one of his speeches.)

The Church and Parliament’s anger towards Wycliffe’s “heresy” led them to form the Blackfriars Synod in order to remove Wycliffe from Oxford.

Although this Synod was initially delayed by an earthquake that Wycliffe himself believed symbolised “the judgement of God”, it eventually re-convened. At this synod, Wycliffe’s writings (Biblical and otherwise) were quoted and criticised for heresy.

This Synod ultimately resulted in King Richard II ruling that Wycliffe be removed from Oxford, and that all who preached or wrote against Catholicism be imprisoned.[11]

Later on, after John Wycliffe was dead, The Council of Constance declared Wycliffe (on 4 May 1415) a heretic and under the ban of the Church. It was decreed that his books be burned and his remains be exhumed.

In 1428, at the command of Pope Martin V, Wycliffe’s remains were dug up, burned, and the ashes cast into the River Swift, which flows through Lutterworth. This is the most final of all posthumous attacks on John Wycliffe, but previous attempts had been made before the Council of Constance.

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

The “Constitutions of Oxford” of 1408 aimed to reclaim authority in all ecclesiastical matters, specifically naming John Wycliffe in a ban on certain writings, and noting that translation of Scripture into English by unlicensed laity is a CRIME punishable by charges of HERESY.