John Wycliffe (born approx.1320’s – 1384)
Born near Old Richmond, Yorkshire, educated and established as a leading theologian and educator at Oxford University in the fourteenth century, Wycliffe has been called the ‘morning star’ of the Reformation.
He won the favour of the English King by publishing a pamphlet arguing that the Pope had no right to levy a tax against England to be sent to Rome. An argument that the King liked!
However, he was unpopular with pretty much the whole church because of his criticism of their idolatry (worship of images and relics), the mass and the sale of indulgences (expensive certificates issued by Rome and said to ensure the release of a dead person’s soul from purgatory). He was particularly concerned about the arrogance of the pope: ‘The Gospel is the only source of religion. The Roman Pontiff is a mere cut-purse and far from having the right to reprimand the whole world, he may be lawfully reproved by his inferiors, and even by ‘lay-men’!’ (Quoted in d’Aubigne, The Reformation in England, Banner of Truth, Vol 1, p.82)
He was incredibly popular with the common people but when he attacked the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation both University and the King began to withdraw support from him.
The idea behind transubstatiation was that during the Mass service, the bread and wine are transformed by the priest into the literal body and blood of Jesus. The English phrase ‘hocus pocus’ comes from the Latin phrases the priests uttered in order to make this so-called transformation take place and is a fine early example of dry, derisive English humour.
But Wycliffe, like later Reformation heroes, had public proclamations issued against him from Rome. A formal declaration issued by the Pope at that time was known as a papal Bull. Not one, but five Bulls were issued against him. He was finally called by one of the two then existing popes to appear at Rome. (Houghton cannot resist telling us that both Popes declared the other to be ‘the Antichrist’, a dilemma if one believes in the infallibility of papal statements. (Houghton, Sketches From Church History, Banner of Truth, p.67)
Wycliffe stayed home, studied the Scriptures and trained preachers. He equipped and sent out large numbers who successfully reached a great proportion of England (they were mockingly called ‘Lollards’). At one point it was said that ‘every second person is a Lollard!’
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© 2008 Lex Loizides