John Wycliffe
                          "The Morning Star of the Reformation"


                                                 Wycliffe's Teachings

In 14th century England, John Wycliffe introduced new ideas of theology and the church which would go on to form much of the basis of the Reformation - he is usually identified as the main precursor of this greatest of all upheavals in Christian history and is known as "The Morning Star of The Reformation".

  Between 1376 and 1379 John Wycliffe, writing mainly in Oxford, took a controversial line on a great many issues. He argued that the church had no proper role in temporal matters and that corrupt churchmen lost even the spiritual authority supposedly attached to their office. He maintained that all a Christian needed was the example of Scripture, which believers should be able to read in their own languages. He denied that the consecrated bread and wine are literally the body and blood of Christ - transubstantiation as it is known in the Roman Catholic church. 

Most provocative of all, he found no justification in scripture for the authority of the Pope. Wycliffe denounced the worldliness and luxury of the Popes and the spiritual bankruptcy of the office of Pope. The Papacy had departed from the simple Faith and practice of Christ and His disciples. Wycliffe wrote: “Christ is truth, the Pope is the principle of falsehood. Christ lived in poverty, the Pope labours for worldly magnificence. Christ refused temporal dominion, the Pope seeks it.”  In his book The Power of the Papacy published in 1379, Wycliffe argued that the Papacy was an office instituted by man, not God. No Pope’s authority could extend to secular government. The only authority that any Pope may have would depend upon him having the moral character of the Apostle Peter. Any Pope who does not follow Jesus Christ is the anti-Christ. Wycliffe proclaimed that “Christ alone is the Head of the Church.”

In 1377, Pope Gregory XI denounced Wycliffe as a heretic and ordered him to be imprisoned and examined, but he had powerful protectors in England (including John of Gaunt). He was briefly placed under house arrest.

In 1378 Gregory XI died and the Papacy was plunged into its
Great Schism. Two rival Popes in competition for the Papacy, had more pressing matters on hand than the English heretic. By 1380 Wycliffe had retired to spend the last few years of his life in the Parish of Lutterworth, where he died in 1384.

His ideas were spread in England by followers who become known as the Lollards (from a Dutch word for a 'mutterer'). Lollard attitudes - more strident than Wycliffe's, and expressed in a more popular manner - prefigure much that will be associated with P

Central to the Lollard programme were two Wycliffe themes:

1.    The main task of a priest is to preach
2.    That the scriptures should be accessible to everyone.

He would also have approved of their scornful dismissal of Rome's pretensions. But the Twelve Conclusions, drawn up by Lollards in 1395, go considerably further - finding fault with images, pilgrimage, vestments, confession, the celibacy of priests and even the vows of chastity taken by nuns. 


                                         Wycliffe instructs his Lollards to spread the word

Wycliffe’s Lollards helped to prepare the way for the English Reformation (in the 16th Century) by reading, preaching and singing the Scriptures in English in marketplaces, fields and homes throughout the land.

                                                   John Wycliffe's Legacy

The Wycliffe Bible is a great landmark in the history of the Bible and of the English language. This first and literal translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible into English was mainly the work of his followers, notably Nicholas Hereford; the smoother revision of c.1395 was directed by Wycliffe's follower John Purvey. In England the Lollards formed the link between Wycliffe and the Protestant Reformation. As his teachings were spread on the Continent, he was a chief forerunner of the Reformation, through his influence on Jan Huss, the Bohemian reformer, and through Huss on Martin Luther and the Moravians.