John Wycliff

by Vania DaSilva

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"Reformer and translator of the first Bible into English". Born in the city of Yorkshire, England, in 1329. Attended Oxford University and finished doctorate in theology in 1372. Also was one of the professors at the University of Balliol. For being the most distinguished theologian of his days, he had opportunity to be the King Richard II’s Chaplain who had access to the Parliament, and to translate the Bible, along with his associates, from Latin into English.

The Papal Corruption in England

Erroneously, many people think that the return of the Bible started with Calvin and Luther, the Reform leaders. On the contrary, before the Reform there were attempts to stop the decline of Pope's prestige and power through many ways of Reform.

The problems represented by a corrupt and extravagant papacy who lived in France instead of Rome, and the trouble prevailed by trying to take the papacy back to Rome; this motivated a movement that lead the Biblical humanists, the Reformers and its council of the XIV century, to sort ways to bring about a spiritual revival inside the Roman Catholic Church.

The English people resented sending money to the Pope in Avignon, which was under the influence of England's enemy, the King of France. This natural patriotic feeling increased the royal and middle class' resentment, because of the diversion of funds from the English Treasury, and from the English State Administration through papal taxes. At that time, the Roman Catholic Church, besides being very rich, owned one third of all the land in England and was exempt of all taxes. The seven Popes that ruled since Avignon had a wolf’s reputation instead of that of a sheep, due to their bad conduct, their politics and greed for money and power. It was in the midst of the nationalist reaction against the church that Wycliff came in the scene to challenge the Pope.


The Intents of a Reform

Up to 1378, Wycliff wanted to reform the Roman Catholic Church by eliminating the immoral clerics by deposing them from their properties which, according to him, was a source of corruption. In a Work of 1376 titled "Of Civil Dominion", Wycliff demanded a moral base for church leadership. God allowed the leaders the use and possession of properties, but not their ownership as a deposit to be used for his glory. The church's failure to accomplish these responsibilities were sufficient reason for the civil authority to take away their possessions.

At the time of the "One Hundred Years War", between England and France, Wycliff began his Reform by attacking the papacy's authority in 1378. He opposed the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church, by affirming that Christ and the Bible alone were the only authority for the believer. For this reason, he made the Bible accessible to the common people in their own language. In 1380, he finished the complete translation of the New Testament, and in 1382, his assistant Nicholas Hereford, finished the Old Testament,


The Wycliff's Teachings

The Pope Gregory XI condemned him, but Wycliff was protected by some noble royal family, especially by the Duke of Lancaster, John Gaunt, son of Eduardo III. At that same time, he contested the catholic doctrine of the transubstantiation, showing that the priest could not maintain the salvation of people, by having in his hands the "body and the blood of Christ" in the communion. He condemned the dogma of purgatory, use of relic, peregrination, selling of indulgences and the fallacy that the papacy never fails. All his teachings were condemned in London, in 1382 he was forced to leave to take his pastorate in Lutterworth.

Beginning 1381 until his death, Wycliff dedicated himself to study the Scriptures and to write some of his most recognized literature to defend the veracity of God's word aside from the translation of the Bible. The most relevant publications were:

The truth of the Sacred Scriptures:

written in 1378, where he portrays the Bible and its practice as the rule for faith through which, the traditions, the council and even the Pope should be proven. He stated that the Bible contains all that is needed for salvation, without any additional tradition. Wycliff alluded that the Scriptures should be read by all men and not just the clerics.

The Pope's Power:

written in 1379, where he describes the papacy as an occupation instituted by men and not by God. He explains that the papal authority doesn't extend to the secular government, and that its power does not originate from his position, but from his moral and Christian character. He stated that the Pope who does not follow Jesus Christ was an Antichrist.


written in 1379, where he condemned the Roman doctrine of the transubstantiation.


written in 1380, is an extension of his previous literary work, where he denounces this heresy in several ways, namely: recent innovation, philosophically incoherent and contrary to the Sacred Bible. He condemns Thomas Aquino and his teaching, where he says that the bread and the wine were transformed into the body and blood of Christ. In his book, Wycliff describes that the bread and the wine maintain their original form, being a sacrament in memory of the body and the blood of Christ.


The Results of Wycliff's Work

The Reform Movement meant a pretext and a reaction against troubled times and a decadent and corrupt church. Social and political rebellions were common in the XIV century. The Black Pestilence in 1348 and 1349 decimated about one third of the European population. The Farmers' Rebellion in 1381, in England, was the evidence of social dissatisfaction associated to Wycliff’s ideas.

To assure that the English people would not remain in darkness of Catholics dogmas, Wycliff founded a group of untrained preachers called Lollards, who preached his teaching all over England, until the Roman Catholic Church in 1401, enforced the declaration "De Haeretico comburendo" (Burning the Heretics) by the Parliament, and introduced punishment by death penalty to those preachers. Nevertheless, they were never eliminated. The Lollards helped to prepare the way, even though unnoticed, to the great Reform in England. The Bohemians, who studied at Oxford University, by returning to their land, they brought the Wycliff’s teachings, which influenced John Huss' life and the Bohemian Reform.


His Condemnation after Death

Wycliff abilities influenced the preparation of the way for the Reform in England. In 1384, he dies of stroke. John Huss, influenced by Wycliff s teachings, was taken as a heretic and burned to the stake on 1415 by the Council of Constance. As it could not be otherwise, Wycliff after his death also was condemned as a heretic by the same council, and 45 of his teaching were considered as heresies. Because of this, the Roman Catholic Church gave orders to exhume his body, to bum his bones and throw his ashes in the Swift River in 1428. John Wycliff was the principal exponent of the Reform’s measures, and for this reason he is called "The Reform Morning Star".

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Updated: on July 7, 1999.

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