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1382 A.D. - John Wycliff Translates the Bible Into English - the Seed of Reformation is Planted

                            John Wycliff

John Wycliff was an Englishman from Ipreswell, England who was born in the mid 1320's. He grew up academically precocious, and would eventually attend the finest schools in England. Though said to be scholastically strong in most areas, he chose theology for his life's attention.

John attended Oxford in around 1345 and would likely have known Wiliam Occam of 'Occam's Razor' fame, and Roger Bacon, who attended Oxford during many of the same years. He obtained his bachelors in theology, was fairly content with the Catholic world of the time for all we really know, and was appointed a cherry position as 'Head of Canterbury' by the Bishop of Canterbury named Simon Islip.

As mentioned Wycliff was a fairly astounding student, excelling in multiple learning areas, and was an excellent writer and an effective and powerful speaker. He learned the scriptures in their original languages, but bringing the same sort of concentration of intellect to their study, he began to become troubled by the state the church had come to be in. He also saw clearly that Jesus's sacrifice was the one and only sufficient atonement, and that works were a side show. Part of the Christian life of course, but not central to salvation which is an unwinnable gift. One hundred and forty years before Martin Luther he was a self taught believer in faith and faith alone being the path to salvation.

Bishop Islip died, however, and his replacement felt that the 'Head of Canterbury' position was better filled by a monk. This was apparently a stinging blow to Mr. Wycliff who was ousted from his position for what he viewed as an unfair reason. Some people who knew him reported that this was perhaps the burr under the saddle that started him down the road to being the pivotal historical figure that he became. Whatever the case, he first became an active political entity at about this time.

Later, during a period in which he held the position of 'Chaplain' to the English King, he let his opinion be known concerning his passionate objection to paying a certain tribute to Rome which Rome called upon the English crown to pay; it was a tribute that England was also in arrears on - 33 years in arrears in fact. Wycliff argued that this was not the Church's place to go about demanding money from nations as if they were subjects, that the Church had given up their rightful place as servant shepherd and had become affected by power and greed. He also said that King John - the king that had first agreed to regularly send the money - had no right to basically enslave the English people, nor their nation, to Rome.

Naturally the present king (I believe it was Edward III - Longshanks - in this year, if it was 1365 A.D.) was fairly inclined to hear such words, as it removed the difficulty of ponying up the money and sending it off to Rome. But when they sided with Wycliff and refused to pay it also marked a point of seperation between England and Rome that came to be essentially total in later times. Pope Urban V found it politically advisable to just back off from that demand when England declared they would not pay. He had troubles elsewhere in Europe, problems which rated as 'bigger fish to fry.'

By 1372 Wycliff had obtained his Doctorate of Divinity as he was nearing 50 years of age. He was given what was called the 'Crown Living' at Lutterworth, in Leicester, where he headed a church there, and it was there that he decided to translate the first English Bible. He personally is known to have translated the 4 Gospels, and maybe or maybe not the rest of the New Testament.  Friends and colleagues assisted with the Old Testament, and before too long a gentleman named Purvey performed some work on it as well. And from this Bible a great many copies were made and distributed throughout the English countryside so that it soon became common for the everyday man to have better knowlege and understanding of the scriptures than some of the priests who led their churches. And the disparity between what was said and done at church and by the clergy, compared to what ought to be said and done according to the scriptures, was made glaringly obvious to all that read this new Wycliff's Bible closely. The people's dissatisfaction with the excesses and errors of the church began to grow by leaps and bounds.

A missionary or evangelistic group called the Lollards grew up around Wycliff writings - they were poor but scripturally learned men travelling the countryside teaching scriptural knowledge. Poor travelling Apostles, basically. Their influence was widely felt. They spread out and were heard by ordinary people in an age before news media, and their message was down to earth: trust the scriptures. Religious powers tend to become corrupted. A pious layman can perform the few rites necessary in Christianity, as validly as a priest. Avoid the worship of images. These and a few other points constituted most of their theology. The net affect of the Lollards was powerful, they became numerous, and so they were persecuted violently at times.

Much of the impact Wycliff had was through his writings, which long survived him and were inspiring to many of the leaders of the Protestant movement. The odd thing is that he was actually a member of the Catholic church when he wrote most of these, as there was no real alternative. They paid his position's needs while he wrote the seeds of their great destruction. Summa theologia was one of his most important works, decrying indulgences, asserting the rights of kings above clergy in temporal matters. De civili domino was a work asserting that the Church had no business even being a temporal power (a big statement in the day when the church was - behind the scenes - the greatest European temporal power. Many wars were waged at the Roman Catholic Church's behest.) He also advocated the state actively resisting bad or wrongful Church practices, and called it a duty for the king to step in when Church property was misused for unworthy, immoral, or wrongful practices.

The whole problem of the era was that though Christianity had been introduced to England in the very early centuries, there had been nearly 1000 years of the scriptures being withheld from the people. It was heresy by some areas' laws to read the scripture if you were not a priest - illegal to translate the scripture to local languages in most places. The scriptures were the exclusive and powerful property of the Roman Catholic church, and the people had to go to them to receive regular teaching about Jesus, God, and how a Christian should live. That might have been alright, except that the truth had been very highly corrupted, as had the Catholic church, by God's hard working and very capable enemy Satan.

You can mislead a leader and bring his followers to harm. This Satan learned long ago. And Satan is an implacable and astoundingly intelligent misleader. He rises early, and he means business. His techniques are many and varied. But - he is not allowed to override human self-will. We, as humans, can always decide to turn away from evil, to support right, to oppose wrong. But - and here is the big BUT - people have to have clear teachings. We must have clear and truthful teachings to know what is right and wrong. And the scriptures hold those very teachings.

So, a people led by the scriptures and able to access the scriptures - even posess scriptures - is a people awesomely empowered for God's kingdom. They know their Lord's will pretty clearly, and now have only to follow it. So when you put the scriptures in every man and woman's hand, in their own language, you have given every man and woman a sword. A spiritual sword. That is what Wycliff and his helpers did. That's his legacy. He allowed God's light to shine, and it exposed Rome for what it had become. We never give owning a Bible a second thought, but it took the lives of hundreds of thousands of martyrs over centuries of time to win back this right and privelage. It's a big big deal in the war for humanity's souls. Satan once had to only mislead a church, and its millions of members just followed. Now, each human mind must be attacked one at a time, and many just won't be easily fooled. We all sin, but many people make it their daily business to be right with Jesus and God, and they use the scriptures as their guide.

In the last 6 years or so of his life, Wycliff wrote tracts and published in opposition to the Church and the Papal system, such that he seemed to begin to see the Catholic Church of his day as an embodiment of an anti-Christal system on earth due to the errors and debauchery it had fallen into.

How influential was the Wycliff's Bible? By the time his Bible came out, he had many followers. The first Bibles were hand copied by many helpers, but so voracious were the people of the land to know the word of their God that copyists could not keep up with the demand. Sometimes two families would pool their money and buy a single copy, and jut share it back and forth between them.

How important was John Wycliff? John Huss - the next century's great reformist - said he hoped his soul would get to dwell with Wycliff's. Martin Luther was aware of his writings, and influenced by them. Though Wycliff died in 1384 of natural causes, the Catholic church had him dug up about 30 years later in around 1415 and burnt as a heretic. Then his ashes were thrown into the Swift River and carried out to sea. That gives you an idea just how harmful of a blow he struck to Satan on behalf of Jesus. Praise to our Lord who chooses men and women in every age on whom to shed His light, and who sometimes go on to bear His light for others.

It has been said that it is the simple people, Bible in hand, that represent the one area of Jesus's army that has been almost impossible for Satan to mislead or harm. There's just not much of a handle to grab hold of on that sort of Christian. Their day is spent in honest activities. They do their own labor, not hiring it out to others. They start and end their day with prayer and gather with those who seek the same. Their habitual restudy of the Lord's words keeps their thinking pretty well in line with God's intentions. This is the flock that worships in Spirit and in Truth, though they come from many denominations. John Wycliff was the tool God used to restore that lifestyle in his region....for a while! It's ground that has to be defended and held by every new generation. Praise Jesus that He's always there to help with that, if only His people will rise to face the challenge, each generation in its turn.  

©2017 Daniel Curry & 'Deeds of God' Website