John Wycliffe

Portret van  John WycliffeHieronder het artikel uit Chambers’s cyclopædia of English Literature uit 1886 over John Wycliffe.


Letter JOHN DE WYCLIFFE, the distuingished ecclesiastical reformer and translator of the Bible, was a native of the parish of Wycliffe, near Richmond, in Yorkshire. He was born in 1324: studied at Oxford; and in 1361 obtained the living of Fylingham, in the diocese of Lincoln, and the mastership and wardenship of Baliol College.

In 1365, he was transferred to the wardenship of Canterbury Hall – his predessesor, named Wodehall being deposed; but the next archbishop, Langham, restored Wodehall, and Wycliffe appealing to the pope, the cause was decided against him. This personal matter may have sharpened his zeal against the papal supremacy and doctrines, which he had previously dissented from and begun to attack.

His first wrtings were directed against the mendicant friairs and the papal tribute; but having opened a course of theological lectures in Oxford – there being then no formal professor of divinity – he gave more steady and effectual expression to what were termed his heresies. The substance of his lectures he embodied in a Latin treatise, the Trialogus, which is directly opposed to the leading tenets of the Roman Catholic Church.

Wycliffe, however, did not lose favour by this bold course. He was selected, in 1374 as one of a commission that met at Avignon with the papal envoys, to remonstrate against the power claimed by the pope over English benefices. Some concessions were made by the pope, and Wycliffe was rewarded by the crown with a prebend in Wordestershire, and the rectory of Lutterworth in Leicestershire – the latter being afterwards his chief residence.

The heads of the church, however, soon got alarmed at the teaching and opninions of Wycliffe. He was several times cited for heresy, and though strenuously defended by the Duke of Lancaster, he was obliged to shut his theological class in the year 1381.
Shortly previous to this, he had put forth decided vieuws against the doctrine of transubstantiation. Thus cut off from public employment, Wycliffe retired to his rectory at Lutterworth, and there, besides writing a number of short treatises, he commenced the translation of the whole of the Scriptures. He was assisted by some disciples and learned friends in translating the Bible from the Latin Vulgate, and the completion of this great work os referred in the year 1383. Wycliffe died in 1384.

The religious movement which he originated proceeded with accelerated force. Twenty years afterwards, the statute for burning heretics was passed; and in 1484, the bones of Wycliffe were dug up from the chancel of the church at Lutterworth, burned to ashes, and the ashes thrown into the river Swift. „This brook,” says Fuller, the church historian, in a passage which brings quaintness to the borders of sublimity, „hath conveyed his ashes into Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the narrow seas, they into the main ocean: and thus the ashes of Wycliffe are the emblem of his doctrine, which is now dispersed all the world over.”

The writings of Wycliffe were voliminuous and widely circulated, though unaided by the printingpress. His style is vigorous and searching, more homely than scholastic. He was what we would now call a thorough church-reformer. The best specimens of his English are to be found in his translation of the Bible, which materially aided in the development of the resources of the English language.

A splendid edition of Wycliffe’s Bible was printed at the Clarendon Press, Oxford, in 1850, edited by the Rev. J. Forshall and Sir Frederick Madden.