John Wycliffe

Founder of the Lollards

John Wycliffe (also Wyclif, Wicklif, etc.) is regarded as the man who first started the Reformation, and as the first man to translate the Bible into English. His influence on history, which was not confined to his country, lies not only in his own works, but also in the works of many other theologians. Wycliffe was born in the early 1320s (some historians say 1320, while others say 1324) to an Anglo-Saxon family living in the Yorkshire. He later went to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1345 and showed a great interest in the sciences. He also had a great knowledge of history. In 1360, he became the head of Balliol College when the headmaster, John de Balliol, died. During his time as headmaster he took a great interest in Bible study. His interest in Bible study was known by the Bishop of Canterbury, Simon Islip, who in 1365 appointed Wycliffe to the head of Canterbury Hall. It was here that Wycliffe would gain his first reason for resentment of the Catholic Church. When Simon Islip died, the new bishop of Canterbury, Simon Langhman, fired Wycliffe and appointed a monk to the head of Canterbury hall. Angered, Wycliffe appealed to the Roman Catholic Church, but to no avail. Between 1366 and 1372, Wycliffe received a doctorate in theology. He would use his right of lecture as a doctor of theology many times in his career.
Wycliffe's English translation of the bible, 1382
John Wycliffe’s first entry into politics began in 1365. During this time the English royalty was in debt, since it had not continued its usual tribute payments to the Catholic Church for thirty-three years. The last king to pay this tribute was King John. The Pope demanded that this debt be paid or England would face a punishment. The punishment could have been excommunication from the Catholic Church, or even a Papal Bull similar to the Northern Crusades. However, the English Parliament decided that no foreign power, religious or non-religious should be allowed to tell England what it could or could not do with its money. John Wycliffe served as a theological advisor in this matter. He sided with the English Parliament that the Catholic Church had no right to demand tribute. This was an early example of the separation between the Catholic Church and a country's government. John Wycliffe made another entry into politics in 1374. At the peace congress of Bruges, negotiations took place between French and English delegates. Also, Papal delegates discussed with the English delegates the dispute between their king and the pope. Wycliffe was among the men that signed a decree against the tributes to the Pope and the continued “sale of indulgences”. A sale of indulgences was a promise that anyone who funded or fought in the Pope’s wars and crusades would be absolved of all of their sins and get a free trip to heaven. Jan Hus, who was inspired by Wycliffe’s works, would also criticize this practice. Wycliffe pointed to scripture whenever he criticized the practice of the 'sale of indlulgences'.
Wycliffe reading his bible

John Wycliffe showed heretical tendencies a few times before he was openly defined by the Roman Catholic Church as a heretic. He once said that he believed that there was a difference from the Catholic Church that was and the Church that ought to be. He openly supported reform to reduce the corruption of the Catholic Church. He was against the Anvingnon system, in which priests commonly squandered charity money for their own personal use. Wycliffe not only believed that priests should not squander money, but also that priests should be poor. He was also against transubstantiation, which said that the bread and the wine during Eucharist were the actual body and blood of Christ. Wycliffe could possibly be credited as founding the modern day Protestant system, whose doctrines say that the bread and the wine are symbols. The Catholic Church today still uses the system of transubstantiation. Each of these things mentioned would later be incorporated into the Lollard movement. The Lollard movement in England believed that it was the one true Christian Church. This criticism lost him much of his popularity. By 1380, he considered himself an opponent of the property and government of the Church. Also, the English translation of the Bible that he made, was, and still is considered inaccurate by the Roman Catholic Church. John Wycliffe, like Jan Hus, would point to the Bible for his authority.
Wycliffe Giving 'the Poor Priests' his Translation of the Bible

The demise of Wycliffe began at the beginning of the 1380s. In 1381, his attack on transubstantiation had been heard all around England. An Oxford council stripped away his right to teach about the Eucharist. In 1382 an ecclesiastical court gave sentence against a series of twenty-four Wycliffite propositions. On November 18, 1382, Wycliffe appeared at a synod in Oxford. He was physically very weak because he had recently suffered a stroke, but he was not weak mentally. He asked for the favor of both the English Parliament and court. Though he was denied, the Church never would once excommunicate him or take away his life, unlike what the Catholic Church did to Jan Hus and many other reformers. However, Wycliffe would finally die at the age of sixty-four on December 28, 1384 from apoplexy. Wycliffe’s legacy is that he was the first type of Protestant reformer. He not only affected the history of England, but also the history of Bohemia (through Jan Hus and the Hussite Wars) and the history of the Protestant countries (through Martin Luther). Some of his effects on Bohemian history have already been mentioned. Through Jan Hus, who is usually credited as Wycliffe's inheritor, Bohemia was prepared for the Reformation. Jan Hus read all of Wycliffe's writings that he could, until they were burned by the Church for being 'heretical'. Jan Hus criticized the Pope's crusades and 'sale of indulgences', as Wycliffe did. This would lead to Hus's demise, and later burning at the Council of Constance. At that same council, Wycliffe was declared a heretic, his works burned, and his remains were to be burned. His remains were not to be burned for another twelve years, until they were taken out, burned, and then cast into a river. In the end, both Jan Hus and John Wycliffe ended up burned by the Catholic Church, but the Catholic Church's attempt at censoring their teachings failed.
The burning of Wycliffe's bones

[1] Wikipedia
[2] Encyclopedia Brittanica
[3] The Catholic Encyclopedia
[4] An Introduction to Medieval Europe 300-1500 by James Westfall Thomspon