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John Wycliffe, the Modern Reformer

Jim is a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan. This article was written in Church History class at Covenant Christian High School for Mr. S. Van Uffelen.

About seven hundred years ago in a village in the west riding of Yorkshire a male child was born. The child lived through the first few days of his life even though many children did not. This child was providentially chosen to live, and in his life he would change a religion, transform a country, and alter the lives of billions of people in time. From these humble beginnings we see the greatest reformer ever and even though we do not know the exact date of his birth it is believed to be on or about the year AD 1324. If you looked on a map now-a-days you would not find the town of Yorkshire, the name of the town has been changed to Wycliffe.

John Wycliffe received his primary education from the Balliol College and also from the University of Oxford. John Wycliffe received his doctorate of theology in AD 1372. His name can be spelled Wyclif or Wicklife and was also known as the morning star of the reformation. He received this title because the morning star appears at or before sunrise to announce the comings day and Wycliffe was there to announce the coming reforming of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). Wycliffe preached Philosophy periodically during his mid-life but mainly served as a priest in the succession of parishes. He became very widely known in 1374 because of his lengthily dispute with King Edward III and the Pope about the sale of indulgences or the payment of money to clear the sins of ones self of the sins of a person in purgatory. Wycliffe is also quoted as reportedly saying that he thought that the Pope was or someday might be the anti-Christ. He said this in response to the RCC’s use of penance to remove ones sins.

In AD 1376 while in his early fifties Wycliffe publicly made known his ‘new’ doctrine of “dominion as founded in grace” in which he said that all authority of the magistrates and the religious leaders is given directly from the grace of God and as a result of any major sin (i.e. fornication, adultery, theft, etc.) all God ordained power is forfeited and the committee is as guilty of that sin as any other person until he is forgiven by the grace of God. Although in his writings Wycliffe did not explicitly say that the RCC was guilty of any sins his implications were crystal clear to all who read and heard of his writings. Because of his doctrine, speeches and writings, Wycliffe was called to appear before the Bishop of London on February 19, 1377. When Wycliffe was interrogated, the man who was with Wycliffe, John of Gaunt, was involved in a fight with the bishop at this meeting. On May 22, 1377, Pope Gregory XI issued several bulls, or official documents, sent to all RCC churches stating that all of the doctrines and writings of John Wycliffe were heresy and were not to be adhered to by the people of the RCC. In the autumn of 1377 the British parliament made a law that banded the shipment of British riches to Italy, and even if the Pope requested the shipment, it was still to be denied. Wycliffe eagerly promoted the lawfulness of such a prohibition and when the church officials heard of Wycliff’s agreement to such a law they again summoned Wycliffe to appear before a counsel consisting of The Bishop of Courtenay and Simon of Sudbury, the archbishop. This hearing was overruled only because of the influence that Wycliffe had in this court. Had Wycliffe not had this influence, this could have been the end of Wycliffe, but God in His eternal ever-knowing plan gave him this influence and in turn spared the life of Wycliffe it this case.

Wycliffe is a great role model for the modern day church and his knowledge of the truth is a true witness to all who know him and his work. His zeal for and love of the truth at all costs is a true inspiration to all and a path that all Christians should try to walk in this world of the darkness of sin. After the his death on December 31, 1384, the teachings of Wycliffe spread all over the globe and in 1388, when the Wycliffe Bible appeared, the followers of Wycliffe copied it and the gospel was made known to more people than ever before.

The writings of John Wycliffe influenced Wycliffe’s fellow reformer, John Huss. Huss was known as the follower of John Wycliffe. Also the famous reformer Martin Luther gave credit to Wycliffe for the work that he had done, and for the references that Luther used of Wycliffe.

In May, 1415, the Council of Constance viewed Wycliffe’s writings and said that they were damnable heresies and were to be disregarded by all of the RCC and all of its followers. Along with this condemning the RCC commanded that the bones of John Wycliffe be dismembered, burned and spread across the landscape thus showing that he would not have any exact eternal resting place.

Throughout this paper we have learned that the legend of John Wycliffe can live forever. Although the forms of persecution that we may receive may be a little different than being burned at the stake, we may know that the good Lord will deliver us in that great and fateful day of the Lord, and we will live forever with our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.