John Wyclif and the Lollards

John Wyclif was a fourteenth-century philosopher, Oxford scholar, and theologian who disputed many key teachings of the Catholic Church in the fourteenth century. He was also responsible for starting the Bible translation movement. As a result, leaders of the Reformation Movement of the sixteenth century dubbed him the Morning Star of the Reformation because he influenced many of them.

The end of the fourteenth century was a time of complaints and criticisms against the church because of the Bubonic Plague and the Avignon Papacy. In fact, Wyclif argued that the clergyman were not in a state of grace, as in they committed serious sins. At that point, the church obtained enough material wealth and political power that they had control over secular realms. In addition, he criticized the transubstantiation. This involved a priest proclaiming that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ at the words of consecration. Wyclif, however, proclaimed that the bread was both the bread and the body and same with the wine, for he believed the words in the Bible were far superior to the “ink and parchment” (“Wyclif and the Lollards”). Overall, Wyclif concluded that the church was not a true reflection of the church described in the Bible.

What made these views more significant was that he and his followers – the Lollards – preached these in English. This allowed anybody to talk about it. Along with the condemnations of Wyclif, this alarmed the church. In 1382, the Black Friars’ Council was called by the Bishop of London, so they could condemn twenty-four of his conclusions. Moreover, the council brought in his followers to condemn those opinions. As a result, Wyclif experienced a decline in support at Oxford and in academic circles. Additionally, he was instructed to promise not to mention the substance of accordance in the Eucharist in the vernacular. It was apparently during this time that Wyclif started translating the Bible into English. The podcast makes it very clear that the translation process was actually a collaborative effort of his followers that continued long after his death. When the translations were published in the 1390s, the Lollards used these as a mirror of the Church. After the Jan Hus scandal in 1415, the church executed the Lollards, and even the bones of Wyclif were burned.

Even though Wyclif earned a harsh reputation after his death, he was to have an influence on the English Reformation in the sixteenth century. The leaders of the English Reformation applauded his transubstantiation criticisms and continued to translate the Bible. On the other hand, while the Reformation proponents promoted translated Bibles in order for the people to learn from the Bible without aid from the Catholic Church, Wyclif in reality was not a fan of “scripture alone” since he was content with the church adding things to the Bible, but not subtracting elements (“Wyclif and the Lollards”). Nevertheless, the Reformation believers appreciated Wyclif since he encouraged people to think about theology and to produce independence from the church.

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