JOHN WYCLIFFE c1330 -
xxxxxLong before the Reformation of the 16th century, the English theologian and preacher John Wycliffe was leading a protest against the Catholic Church. In 1336, for example, he supported his king’s policy of not paying tribute money to the pope, and in 1374 he spoke out forcefully against the pope’s declared right to make appointments in the English church without consultation. From his Balliol College at Oxford or his church at Lutterworth in Leicestershire, he launched a series of attacks upon the abuse, the wealth and the corruption of the pope, the higher clergy, and the monastic movements. In his On Civil Lordship, published in 1376, he called for a return to a life of evangelical poverty as followed by Christ and his disciples. Unrighteous clergy should be removed from office by the state. He was condemned by the Bishop of London and the pope for his “erroneous teaching”, but, given the support of John of Gaunt, no action was taken against him. As we shall see, in the next reign (1382 R2) his protest was to become even stronger during the Great Schism. And it was in these later years that he formed the Lollards, and wrote the first complete English translation of the bible.
xxxxxAs we shall see, the driving force of the Reformation (a break-
xxxxxWycliffe was born in Yorkshire and studied for the priesthood at Balliol College, Oxford, becoming master of this college in about 1356. Here he gained a reputation for his controversial and forthright views. In 1366, for example, he addressed Parliament on the question of papal taxation and came down strongly in support of Edward’s policy not to send money (the papal tribute) to the pope, then strongly under French influence at Avignon. He was also opposed to the pope’s right to make appointments in the English church without consultation, and he made his views clear when this matter was discussed at Bruges in 1374.
xxxxxIt was in that year that, through the good offices of his friend John of Gaunt -
xxxxxThen in 1376 he produced his treatise On Civil Lordship (De Civili Dominio), one of his most influential works. In this, he argued that the right to all things came from God. It followed that unrighteous clergy should be removed from their living, not by the church, but by the state. This was virtually an open invitation for state seizure of church property. For such views he was summoned to St. Paul’s cathedral by the Bishop of London to answer charges of “erroneous teaching”. The meeting, held in February 1377, turned into a riot, with John of Gaunt’s supporters and a violent mob attacking the bishop’s men. In May the following year the pope, Gregory XI, condemned eighteen of Wycliffe’s conclusions and ordered his arrest. But again, no action was taken against him. Indeed, in that same year he agreed with Parliament that it was lawful to stop any treasure leaving the country for the papal court. He was now at the height of his popularity and influence, a patriot, a king’s man, and a man of the people.
xxxxxAs we shall see, in the next reign (1382 R2) his attack upon pope and clergy was to become even more vociferous and organised, doubtless encouraged by the unedifying spectacle of the Great Schism. And it was in these later years that he formed the Lollards -
Wycliffe: image in stained glass, artist unknown – Wycliffe College Chapel, Toronto, Canada, photograph by Randy OHC, New York. Lutterworth Church: from Old England: A Pictorial Museum, 1845, by the English writer and publisher Charles Knight (1791-