Born: c. 1330
Birthplace: Yorkshire, England
Location of death: Lutterworth, Leicestershire, England
Cause of death: Stroke
Remains: Missing (body discarded in 1428 by orders of Council of Constance)
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Translated the bible into English
English reformer, born, according to John Leland, our single authority on the point, at Ipreswel (evidently Hipswell), one mile from Richmond in Yorkshire. The date may have been somewhere about 1320 or 1330. Leland elsewhere mentions that he "drew his origin" from Wycliffe-on-Tees (Collectanea, ii. 329), so that his lineage was of the ancient family which is celebrated by Sir Walter Scott in Marmion. The Wycliffes had a natural connection with the college at Oxford which had been founded in the latter part of the previous century by their neighbors, the Balliols of Barnard Castle; and to Balliol College, then distinctively an "arts" college, John Wycliffe in due time proceeded. It has been generally believed, and was in fact believed not many years after his death, that he was a fellow of Merton College in 1356; but this identification probably rests on a confusion with a contemporary. That the future reformer was a fellow of Balliol is implied in the fact that some time after 1356, but before the summer of 1360, he was elected master. This office he held but a short time. So soon as 1361 he accepted a college living, that of Fillingham in Lincolnshire, and probably left Oxford for some time. In the same year the name of a certain "John de Wyclif of the diocese of York, M.A." appears as a suppliant to the Roman Curia for a provision to a prebend, canonry and dignity at York (Cal. of Entries in the Papal Registries, ed. Bliss, Petitions, i. 390). This was not granted, but Wycliffe received instead the prebend of Aust in the collegiate church of Westbury-on-Trym. In 1365 one "John de Wyclif" was appointed by Simon Islip, Archbishop of Canterbury, to the wardenship of Canterbury Hall, a house which the archbishop founded for a mixed body of monks and secular clergy, and then -- as a result of the inevitable quarrels -- filled exclusively with the latter. Two years later, however, Islip's successor, the monk Simon Langham, reversed the process, replacing the intruded seculars by monks. The dispossessed warden and fellows appealed to Rome, and in, 1371 judgment was given against them. The question of the identity of the warden of Canterbury Hall with the reformer is still a matter of dispute. It has been understood as referred to by Wycliffe himself (De ecclesia, cap. xvi. pp. 370 sq.), and was assumed by the contemporary monk of St. Albans (Chron. Angl. "Rolls" ser. p. 115) and by Wycliffe's opponent William Woodford (Fasc. Zizan. p. 517), who found in Wycliffe's resentment at this treatment the motive for his attacks on the religious orders; it has likewise been assumed by a series of modern scholars, including Loserth (Realencycklopädie, 1908 ed., vol. xxi. p. 228, sec. 35), who only denies the deductions that Woodford drew from it. Rashdall, on the other hand, following Shirley, brings evidence to show that the Wycliffe of Canterbury Hall could not have been the reformer, but was the same person as the fellow of Merton, this being the strongest argument against the identification of the latter with the reformer. The confusion is increased by the appearance of yet another "John Wyclif" or "Wiclif" on the books of Queen's College, as paying rent for rooms as a "pensioner" or "commoner" for the years 1371-72, 1374-75 and 1380-81. It has thus been commonly assumed (e.g. by Loserth) that the reformer was at one time in residence at Queen's, the date being given as 1363. It is probable, however, that the John Wiclif of the Queens College accounts is the same as the John Wyclif who appears in the College computus for 1371-72 as one of the "almonry boys" of the College, and, therefore, certainly not the reformer.
These questions, even that of the wardenship of Canterbury, are, however, essentially unimportant, unless we are prepared with Woodford to impute mean motives to a great man. What is certain is that long before Wycliffe had become a power outside Oxford his fame was established in the university. He was acknowledged supreme in the philosophical disputations of the schools, and his lectures were crowded. His influence was, however, purely academic, nor does it seem to have been inspired at the outset by any conscious opposition to the established order in the church; and, as Loserth points out, it was not until he was drawn into the arena of the politico-ecclesiastical conflicts of the day that Wycliffe became of world importance. It has been generally assumed that this happened first in 1366, and that Wyciffe published his Determinatio quaedam de dominio in support of the action of parliament in refusing the tribute demanded by Pope Urban V; but Loserth has shown that this work, which contains the first trace of that doctrine of dominium or lordship which Wycliffe afterwards developed in a sense hostile to the whole papal system, must be assigned to a date some eight years later. Wycliffe, in fact, for some years to come had the reputation of a good "curialist." Had it been otherwise, the pope would scarcely have granted him (January 1373) a license to keep his Westbury prebend even after he should have obtained one at Lincoln (Cal. Papal Letters, iv. 193). Moreover, it is uniformly asserted that Wycliffe fell into heresy after his admission to the degree of doctor (Fasc. Ziz. p. 2), and the papal document above quoted shows that he had only just become a doctor of theology, that is in 1372.
This, of course, does not mean that Wycliffe's tendencies may not already have been sufficiently pronounced to call attention to him in high places as a possibly useful instrument for the anti-papal policy of John of Gaunt and his party. Evidence of royal favor was soon not wanting. On the 7th of April 1374, he was presented by the crown to the rectory of Lutterworth in Leicestershire, which he held until his death; and on the 26th of July he was nominated one of the royal envoys to proceed to Bruges to confer with the papal representatives on the long vexed question of "provisions." It is probable that he was attached to this mission as theologian, and that this was so is sufficient proof that he was not yet considered a persona ingrata at the Curia. The rank he took is shown by the fact that his name stands second, next after that of the Bishop of Bangor, on the commission, and that he received pay at the princely rate of twenty shillings a day. The commission itself was appointed in consequence of urgent and repeated complaints on the part of the Commons; but the king was himself interested in keeping up the papal system of provisions and reservations, and the negotiations were practically fruitless.
After his return to England Wycliffe lived chiefly at Lutterworth and Oxford, making frequent and prolonged visits to London, where his fame as a popular preacher was rapidly established. It is from this period, indeed, that dates the development of the trenchant criticisms of the folly and corruption of the clergy, which had gained him a ready hearing, into a systematic attack on the whole established order in the church. It was not at the outset the dogmatic, but the political elements in the papal system that provoked his censure. The negotiations at Bruges had doubtless strengthened the sympathy which he already felt for the anti-curial tendencies in English politics from King Edward I's time onwards, and a final impulse was given by the attitude of the "Good Parliament" in 1376; in the autumn of that year he was reading his treatise on civil lordship (De civili dominio) to his students at Oxford. Of its propositions some, according to Loserth, were taken bodily from the 140 titles of the bill dealing with ecclesiastical abuses introduced in the parliament; but it may perhaps be questioned whether Wycliffe did not rather inspire the bill than the bill Wycliffe. However this may be, the reformer now for the first time publicly proclaimed the revolutionary doctrine that righteousness is the sole indefeasible title to dominion and to property, that an unrighteous clergy has no such title, and that the decision as to whether or not the property of ecclesiastics should be taken away rests with the civil power -- "politicorum qui intendunt praxi et statui regnorum" (De civ. dom. i. 37, p. 269). It was unlikely that a doctrine so convenient to the secular authorities should long have remained a mere subject of obscure debate in the schools; as it was, it was advertised abroad by the indiscreet zeal of its orthodox opponents, and Wycliffe could declare that it was not his fault if it had been brought down into the streets and "every sparrow twittered about it."
If the position at which Wycliffe had now arrived was originally inspired, as Loserth asserts, by his intimate knowledge of and sympathy with the legislation of Edward I, that is, by political rather than theological considerations, the necessity for giving to it a philosophical and religious basis led inevitably to its development into a criticism not only of the political claims but of the doctrinal standpoint of the church. As a philosopher, indeed, Wycliffe was no more than the last of the conspicuous Oxford scholastics, and his philosophy is of importance mainly in so far as it determined his doctrine of dominium, and so set the direction in which his political and religious views were to develop. In the great controversy between Realism and Nominalism he stood on the side of the former, though his doctrine of universals showed the influence of the criticisms of Ockham and the nominalists. He is Platonic in his conception of God as the forma rerum in whom the rationes exemplares exist eternally, being in fact his Word, who is omnia in omnibus (1 Cor. xv. 28); every creature in respect of its esse intelligibile is God, since every creature is in essence the same as the idea, and all rationes ideales are essentially the same as the Word of God (De dominio divino, pp 42-43). There is one ens, the ens analogum, which includes in itself and comprehends all other entia -- all universals and all the individual parts of the universe (De dom. div. pp. 58 sq.). The process by which the primary ens is specificated, or by which a higher and more general class passes into sensible existence, is that it receives the addition of substantial form whereby it is rendered capable of acquiring qualities and other accidents (ibid. pp. 48 sq.). To Wycliffe the doctrine of arbitrary divine decrees was anathema. The will of God is his essential and eternal nature, by which all his acts are determined; it was thus with the creation, since God created all things in their primordial causes, as genera and species, or else in their material essences, secundum rationes absconditas seminales (ibid. p. 66). God's creation is conditioned by his own eternal nature; the world is therefore not merely one among an infinity of alternatives, an arbitrary selection, so to speak, but is the only possible world; it is, moreover, not in the nature of an eternal emanation from God, but was created at a given moment of time -- to think otherwise would be to admit its absolute necessity, which would destroy free will and merit. Since, however, all things came into being in this way, it follows that the creature can produce nothing save what God has already created. So then all human lordship is derived from the supreme overlordship of God and is inseparable from it, since whatever God gives to his servants is part of himself, from the first gift, which is the esse intelligibile, i.e. really the divine essence, down to those special gifts which flow from the communication of his Holy Spirit; so that in him we live and move and have our being. But, in giving, God does not part with the lordship of the thing given; his gifts are of the nature of fiefs, and whatever lordship the creature may possess is held subject to due service to the supreme overlord. Thus, as in feudalism, lordship is distinguished from possession. Lordship is not properly proprietary, and property is the result of sin; Christ and his apostles had none. The service, however, by which lordship is held of God is righteousness and its works; it follows that the unrighteous forfeit their right to exercise it, and may be deprived of their possessions by competent authority.
The question, of course, follows as to what this authority is, and this Wycliffe sets out to answer in the Determinatio quaedam de dominio and, more elaborately, in the De civil dominio. Briefly, his argument is that the church has no concern with temporal matters at all, that for the clergy to hold property is sinful, and that it is lawful for statesmen (politici) -- who are God's stewards in temporals -- to take away the goods of such of the clergy as, by reason of their unrighteousness, no longer render the service by which they hold them. That the church was actually in a condition to deserve spoliatien he refused, indeed -- though only under pressure -- to affirm; but his theories fitted in too well with the notorious aims of the Duke of Lancaster not to rouse the bitter hostility of the endowed clergy. With the mendicant orders he continued for a while to be on good terms.
Hitherto Wycliffe had made no open attack on the doctrinal system of the church, and for some time he had been allowed to spread his doctrines without hindrance. Early in 1377, however, Archbishop Sudbury summoned him to appear before the Bishop of London, and answer certain charges laid against him. The nature of these accusations is not stated, but their purport can hardly be doubtful. On the 19th of February 1377, Wycliffe made his appearance at St. Paul's. He was accompanied by the Duke of Lancaster, by Lord Percy, marshal of England, and by four doctors of the four mendicant orders. The trial, however, came to nothing; before Wycliffe could open his mouth, the court was broken up by a rude brawl between his protectors and Bishop Courtenay, ending in a general riot of the citizens of London, who were so much enraged by the insult to their bishop in his own cathedral church -- coming as this did at the same time as a serious attempt at an invasion by the duke in parliament of their civic liberties (Chron. Angl. p. 120) -- that they would have sacked his palace of the Savoy had not Courtenay himself intervened.
Wycliffe had escaped for the time, but his enemies did not rely solely on their own weapons. Probably before this they had set their case before the pope; and on the 22nd of May five bulls were issued by Pope Gregory XI, who had just returned to Rome from Avignon, condemning eighteen (or in other copies nineteen) "conclusions" drawn from Wycliffe's writings. All the articles but one are taken from his De civili dominio. The bulls truly stated Wycliffe's intellectual lineage; he was following in the error of Marsilius of Padua; and the articles laid against him are concerned entirely with questions agitated between church and state -- how far ecclesiastical censures could lawfully affect a man's civil position, and whether the church had a right to receive and hold temporal endowments. The bulls were addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, the university of Oxford, and the king. The university was to take Wycliffe and send him to the prelates; the latter were then to examine the truth of the charges and to report to the pope, Wycliffe being meanwhile kept in confinement. The execution of the papal bulls was impeded by three separate causes -- the king's death on the 21st of June; the tardy action of the bishops, who enjoined the university to make a report, instead of simply sending Wydiffe to them; and the unwillingness of the university to admit external authority, and, above all, the pope's right to order the imprisonment of any man in England. The convocation of the university, indeed, as the St. Albans chronicler states with lamentation, made serious objections to receiving the bull at all; and in the end it merely directed Wycliffe to keep within his lodgings at Black Hall for a time.
If the university was disposed to favor the reformer, the government was not less so. John of Gaunt was for the moment in retirement; but the mother of the young king appears to have adopted his policy in church affairs, and she naturally occupied a chief position in the new council. As soon as parliament met in the autumn of 1377, Wycliffe was consulted by it as to the lawfulness of prohibiting that treasure should pass out of the country in obedience to the pope's demand. Wycliffe's affirmative judgment is contained in a state paper still extant; and its tone is plain proof enough of his confidence that his views on the main question of church and state had the support of the nation. Indeed he had laid before this same parliament his answer to the pope's bulls, with a defense of the soundness of his opinions. His university, moreover, confirmed his argument; his tenets, it said, were true (i.e. orthodox), though their expression was such as to admit of an incorrect interpretation. But Wycliffe was still bound to clear himself before the prelates who had summoned him, and early in 1378 he appeared for this purpose in the chapel of Lambeth Palace. His written defense, expressed in some respects in more cautious language than he had previously used, was laid before the council; but its session was rudely interrupted, not only by an inroad of the London citizens with a crowd of the rabble, but also by a messenger from the Princess of Wales enjoining them not to pass judgment against Wycliffe; and thus a second time he escaped, either without sentence, or at most with a gentle request that he would avoid discussing the matters in question. Meanwhile his "protestatio" was sent on to Rome. Before, however, any further step could be taken at Rome, Gregory XI died.
In the autumn of this year Wycliffe was once more called upon to prove his loyalty to John of Gaunt. The duke had violated the sanctuary of Westminster by sending a band of armed men to seize two squires who had taken refuge there. One of them was taken by a stratagem, the other murdered, together with the servant of the church who attempted to resist his arrest. After a while the Bishop of London excommunicated all concerned in the crime (except only the king, his mother and his uncle), and preached against the culprits at Paul's Cross. At the parliament held at Gloucester in October, in the presence of the legates of Pope Urban VI, Wycliffe read an apology for the duke's action at Westminster, pleading that the men were killed in resisting legal arrest. The paper, which forms part of the De ecciesia, lays down the permissible limits of the right of asylum, and maintains the right of the civil power to invade the sanctuary in order to bring escaped prisoners to justice.
The schism in the papacy, owing to the election of Pope Clement VII in opposition to Urban VI, accentuated Wycliffe's hostility to the Holy See and its claims. His attitude was not, indeed, as yet fully developed. He did not object to a visible head of the church so long as this head possessed the essential qualification of righteousness, as a member of the elect. It was only later, with the development of the scandals of the schism, that Wycliffe definitely branded the pope, qua pope, as Antichrist; the sin of Silvester I in accepting the fraudulent Donation of Constantine had made all his successors apostates (Sermones, ii. 37). The year 1378, indeed, saw the beginning of an aggressive propaganda which was bound sooner or later to issue in a position wholly revolutionary. Wycliffe's criticism of the established order and of the accepted doctrines had hitherto been mainly confined to the schools; he now determined to carry it down into the streets. For this purpose he chose two means, both based on the thesis which he had long maintained as to the supreme authority of Holy Scripture, as the great charter of the Christian religion. The first means was his institution of the "poor" or "simple" priests to preach his doctrines throughout the country; the second was the translation of the Vulgate into English, which he accomplished with the aid of his friends Nicholas Hereford and John Purvey. This version of the Bible, and still more his numerous sermons and tracts, established Wycliffe's now undisputed position as the founder of English prose writing.
The choice of secular priests to be his itinerant preachers was significant of another change of attitude on Wycliffe's part. Hitherto he had been on good terms with the friars, whose ideal of poverty appealed to him; as already mentioned, four doctors of the mendicant orders had appeared with him at his trial in 1377. But he had come to recognize that all organized societies within the church, "sects" as he called them, were liable to the same corruption, while he objected fundamentally to the principle which had established a special standard of morality for the "religious." On the other hand. Wycliffe's itinerant preachers were not necessarily intended to work as rivals to the beneficed clergy. The idea that underlay their mission was rather analogous to that which animated John Wesley four centuries later. Wycliffe aimed at supplementing the services of the church by regular religious instruction in the vernacular; and his organization included a good number of men who held or had held respectable positions in their colleges at Oxford. The influence of their teaching was soon felt throughout the country. The common people were rejoiced by the plain and homely doctrine which dwelt chiefly on the simple law of the gospel, while they no doubt relished the denunciation of existing evils in the church which formed, as it were, the burthen of such discourses. The feeling of disaffection against the rich and careless clergy, monks and friars was widespread but undefined. Wycliffe turned it into a definite channel.
Meanwhile, in addition to his popular propaganda and his interventions in politics, Wycliffe was appealing to the world of learning in a series of Latin treatises, which followed each other in rapid succession, and collectively form his summa theologiae. During the years 1378 and 1379 he produced his works on the truth of Holy Scripture, on the church, on the office of king, on the papal power.
Of all these, except the third, the general character has already been indicated. The De officio regis is practically a declaration of war against the papal monarchy, an anticipation of the theocratic conception of national kingship as established later by the Reformation. The king is God's vicar, to be regarded with a spiritual fear second only to that due to God, and resistance to him for personal wrong suffered is wicked. His jurisdiction extends over all causes. The bishops -- who are to the king as Christ's Humanity is to his Divinity -- derive their jurisdiction from him, and whatever they do is done by his authority. Thus in his palpable dignity, towards the world, the king is superior to the priest; it is only in his impalpable dignity, towards God, that the priest is superior to the king. Wycliffe thus passed from an assailant of the papal to an assailant of the sacerdotal power; and in this way he was ultimately led to examine and to reject the distinctive symbol of that power, the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Wycliffe himself had for some time, both in speech and writing, indicated the main characteristics of his teaching on the Eucharist. It was not, however, until 1379 or 1380 that began a formal public attack on what he calls the "new" doctrine in a set of theses propounded at Oxford. These were followed by sermons, tracts, and, in 1381, by his great treatise De eucharistia. Finally, at the close of his life, he summed up his doctrine in this as in other matters in the Trialogus.
The language in which he denounced transubstantiation anticipated that of the Protestant reformers: it is a "blasphemous folly", a "deceit", which "despoils the people and leads them to commit idolatry"; philosophically it is nonsense, since it presupposes the possibility of an accident existing without its substance; it overthrows the very nature of a sacrament. Yet the consecrated bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ, for Christ himself says so (Fasc. Zizan. p. 115); we do not, however, corporeally touch and break the Lord's body, which is present only sacramentaliter, spiritualiter et virtualiter -- as the soul is present in the body. The real presence is not denied; what Wycliffe "dares not affirm" is that the bread is after consecration "essentially, substantially, corporeally and identically" the body of Christ. His doctrine, which was by no means always consistent or clear, would thus seem to approximate closely to the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation, as distinguished from the Zwinglian teaching accepted in the xxviii. Article of Religion of the Church of England, that "the means whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith."
A public attack by a theologian of Wycliffe's influence on the doctrine on which the whole system of the medieval church was based could not be passed over as of mere academic interest. The theologians of the university were at once aroused. The chancellor, William Barton, sat with twelve doctors (six of whom were friars), and solemnly condemned the theses. Wycliffe appealed, in accordance with his principles, not to the pope, but to the king. But the lay magnates, who were perfectly ready to help the church to attain to the ideal of apostolic poverty, shrank from the responsibility of lending their support to obscure propositions of the schools, which, for no practical end, involved undoubted heresy and therefore the pains of hell. John of Gaunt, accordingly, hastily sent down a messenger enjoining the reformer to keep silence on the subject. The rift thus created between Wycliffe and his patrons in high places was, moreover, almost immediately widened by the outbreak of the great Peasants' Revolt of 1381, the result of which was to draw the conservative elements in church and state together, in defense of their common interests.
With the Peasants' Revolt it has been supposed that Wycliffe had something to do. The only positive fact implicating him is the confession of one of its leaders, John Ball, that he learned his subversive doctrines from Wycliffe. But the confession of a condemned man can seldom be accepted without reserve; and we have not only the precise and repeated testimony of Knyghton that he was a "precursor" of Wydiffe, but also documentary evidence that he was excommunicated as early as 1366, long before Wycliffe exposed himself to ecclesiastical censure. Wycliffe in truth was always careful to state his communistic views in a theoretical way; they are confined to his Latin scholastic writings, and thus could not reach the people from him directly. At the same time it is very possible that his less scrupulous followers translated them in their popular discourses, and thus fed the flame that burst forth in the rebellion. Perhaps it was a consciousness of a share of responsibility for it that led them to cast the blame on the friars. In any case Wycliffe's advocates must regret that in all his known works there is only one trace of any reprobation of the excesses that accompanied the outbreak.
In the spring following the Revolt his old enemy, William Courtenay, who had succeeded the murdered Archbishop Sudbury as Archbishop of Canterbury, resolved to take measures for stamping out Wycliffe's crowning heresy. He called a court of bishops, theologians and canonists at the Blackfriars' convent in London, which assembled on the 17th to 21st of May and sat with intervals until July. This proceeding was met by a hardly expected manifestation of university feeling on Wycliffe's side. The chancellor, Robert Rygge, though he had joined in the condemnation of the theses, stood by him, as did also both the proctors. On Ascension Day (the 15th of May) his most prominent disciple, Nicholas Hereford, was allowed to preach a violent sermon against the regulars in the churchyard of St. Frideswyde. The archbishop protested through his commissary, the Carmelite Dr. Peter Stokes, who was charged with the execution of the archbishop's mandate (on the 28th of May) for the publication in the university of the decision of the Blackfriars' council, by which 24 articles extracted from Wycliffe's works were condemned, ten as heretical and fourteen as erroneous. The reply of the chancellor was to deny the archbishop's jurisdiction within the university, and to allow Philip Repington, another of Wycliffe's disciples, to preach on Corpus Christi day before the university. Chancellor and preacher were guarded by armed men, and Stokes wrote that his life was not safe at Oxford. The chancellor and proctors were now summoned to Lambeth, and directed to appear before the Blackfriars' court on the 12th of June. The result was that the university officers were soon brought to submission. Though they were, with the majority of regent masters at Oxford, on the side of Wycliffe, the main question at issue was for them one of philosophy rather than faith, and they were quite prepared to make formal submission to the authority of the Church. For the rest, a few of the reformer's more prominent adherents were arrested, and imprisoned until they recanted.
Wycliffe himself remained at large and unmolested. It is said indeed by Knyghton that at a council held by Courtenay at Oxford in the following November Wycliffe was brought forward and made a recantation; but our authority fortunately gives the text of the recantation, which proves to be nothing more nor less than a plain English statement of the condemned doctrine. It is therefore lawful to doubt whether Wycliffe appeared before the council at all, and even whether he was ever summoned before it. Probably after the overthrow of his party at Oxford by the action of the Blackfriars' council Wycliffe found it advisable to withdraw permanently to Lutterworth. That his strength among the laity was undiminished is shown by the fact that an ordinance passed by the House of Lords alone, in May 1382, against the itinerant preachers was annulled on the petition of the Commons in the following autumn. In London, Leicester and elsewhere there is abundant evidence of his popularity. The reformer, however, was growing old. There was work, he probably felt, for him to do, more lasting than personal controversy. So in his retirement he occupied himself, with restless activity, in writing numerous tracts, Latin and English. To this period, too, belong two of his most important works: the Trialogus and the unfinished Opus evangelicum.
The Trialogus is as it were his summa summarum theologiae, a summing up of his arguments and conclusions on philosophy and doctrine, cast in the form of a discussion between three persons, Alithia, representing "solid theology", Phronesis, representing "subtle and mature theology", and Pseustis, representing "captious infidelity" whose function is to bring out the truth by arguing and demonstrating against it. The Trialogus was the best known and most influential of all Wycliffe's works, and was the first to be printed (1525), a fact which gave it a still greater vogue. It is also significant that all the only four known complete manuscripts of the work, preserved in the Imperial Library at Vienna, are of Hussite origin. The note of both the Trialogus and of the Opus evangelicum, Wycliffe's last work, is their insistence on the "sufficiency of Holy Scripture."
In 1382, or early in 1383, Wycliffe was seized with a paralytic stroke, in spite of which he continued his labors. In 1384 it is stated that he was cited by Pope Urban VI to appear before him at Rome; but to Rome he never went. On the 28th of December of this year, while he was hearing mass in his own church, he received a final stroke, from the effects of which he died on the New Year's eve. He was buried at Lutterworth; but by a decree of the council of Constance, May 4, 1415, his remains were ordered to be dug up and burned, an order which was carried out at the command of Pope Martin V, by Bishop Fleming in 1428.
A sober study of Wycliffe's life and works justifies a conviction of his complete sincerity and earnest striving after what he believed to be right. If he cannot be credited (as he has been by most of his biographers) with all the Protestant virtues, he may at least claim to have discovered the secret of the immediate dependence of the individual Christian upon God, a relation which needs no mediation of any priest, and to which the very sacraments of the Church, however desirable, are not essentially necessary. When he divorces the idea of the Church from any connection with its official or formal constitution, and conceives it as consisting exclusively of the righteous, he may seem to have gone the whole length of the most radical reformers of the 16th century. And yet, powerful as was his influence in England, his doctrines in his own country were doomed to perish, or at best to become for a century and a half the creed of obscure and persecuted sectaries. It was otherwise in Bohemia, to where his works had been carried by the scholars who came to England in the train of Richard II's queen, Anne of Bohemia. Here his writings were eagerly read and multiplied, and here his disciple, Jan Hus, with less originality but greater simplicity of character and greater moral force, raised Wycliffe's doctrine to the dignity of a national religion. Extracts from the De ecclesia and the De potentate Papae of the English reformer made up the greater part of the De ecclesia of Hus, a work for centuries ascribed solely to the Bohemian divine, and for which he was condemned and burnt. It was Wycliffe's De sufficientia legis Christi that Hus carried with him to convert the council of Constance; of the fiery discourses now included in the published edition of Wycliffe's Sermones many were likewise long attributed to Hus. Finally, it was from the De eucharistia that the Taborites derived their doctrine of the Lord's Supper, with the exception of the granting of the chalice to the laity. To Hus, again, Martin Luther and other continental reformers owed much, and thus the spirit of the English reformer had its influence on the reformed churches of Europe.
Do you know something we don't?
Submit a correction or make a comment about this profile
Copyright ©2013 Soylent Communications