Saturday, April 12, 2014

John Wycliffe (1320s-1384)

Just wrote a short piece on Wycliffe. Here are some quick reminders:
  • Lived ca. 1320s to 1384 (died of stroke)
  • Studied, taught at Oxford (then wooden buildings, with priests as teachers, no university salaries) until he was finally forced out in 1381. From Yorkshire, so he belonged to the northern student group at Oxford (boreales).
  • He lived during the Babylonian Captivity where the Pope lived in France and was a puppet of the king of France. From 1305 on the papacy was at Avignon, and from 1378 there were actually two competing popes.
  • During the 100 Years War between England and France, no doubt further creating resistance among the English toward papal leadership
  • Corruption of the Church obvious to everyone. Simony, nepotism, if positions were left open, the salary was still paid to the Pope, false accusations to seize property... Some popes earlier and later wanted to reform but couldn't pull it off.
  • He was Roman Catholic. There was no other option in western Europe. No thought of starting a new church, only the thought of opposing the leadership of the Church and pushing for reform.
  • John had the support of the throne (especially Richard of Gaunt, the king's uncle) because he argued against monasteries having control of property. Secular authorities should decide matters relating to possessions. This position no doubt had a lot to do with Wycliffe's sense of corruption in the use of material possessions by the Church.
  • Wycliffe was protected by Gaunt from the Church most of his life... until he supported a peasants' revolt in 1381. Then he was finally forced to leave Oxford.
  • At Oxford, one of the biggest debates was over the nominalism of Occam versus the realism of earlier days. Occam had been at Oxford not too long before Wycliffe. Wycliffe took the realist side--there was a reality to things that was indestructible and went beyond the thing you can see. See Olson on this subject.
  • This led him to oppose transubstantiation, which got him into trouble since it had become the primary position of the Church since 1215. To him, bread and wine couldn't be destroyed and taken over by Christ's body and blood. Rather, he espoused something like the "real presence" view Luther would later follow. The presence of Christ is really there, but it doesn't replace or remove the bread and wine.
  • Thomas Bradwardine had briefly been Archbishop of Canterbury in 1349 but died of the plague within 40 days of taking the position. He wrote a book against the Pelagians that revived Augustine--especially the notion of predestination. 
  • The way this idea functioned is to allow people like Wycliffe to make a distinction between the visible church and the true, invisible church. So even the Pope (especially the French one after the Great Western Schism), might not be part of the true church. This allowed Wycliffe to suppose that the corrupt leaders of the church in England and elsewhere were not part of the true church.
  • Wycliffe would pioneer turning to the Bible to undermine the corruption of the Church. It provided a means of authority by which to critique the way the Church and the leaders of the church were behaving. For example, if the Church was orienting itself around wealth, he could show the value of poverty in Scripture.
  • He supervised the translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate, probably as part of his drive to reform the Church. Exposing the people to the Bible empowered them in his mind against the corruption of the Church and may have moved England toward greater literacy. The NT was done in 1380, the OT in 1382. The first edition was so literal a second edition had to be made in 1388 for it to be readable in the Middle English of the day.
  • The Council of Constance condemned him in 1415 along with Jan Hus. Hus was burned at the stake alive. Wycliffe's remains were dug up, burned, and scattered in the River Swift. 
  • He is often called the "Morning Star of the Reformation" and we see later reformers drawing on his rhetoric. His followers were called Lollards, a put-down that means mumblers.
  • There is a tradition that Queen Elisabeth I was presented with a copy of Wycliffe's Bible when she became queen in 1558 after the death of Bloody Mary.

1 comment:

Pastor Bob said...

Enjoyed this God Bless.