c. 1320-1330 - 1384 A.D.
Morning Star of the Reformationby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Shattering earthquake during his trial. Bones obtained and burnt. Speaking God's truth. Who was this man, and what do earthquakes, trials, and burnt bones have to do with speaking the truth? He was John Wycliffe, and this is his story.
John Wycliffe was born sometime between 1320-1330 A.D. in Yorkshire, England. Although little is known of his childhood, it is believed that he was probably trained by a village priest for service in the church, as was customary in those days. A person's historical impact is often not known for generations. Although Wycliffe was severely criticized, his life transformed the future of England.
During Wycliffe's time, a dark cloud of spiritual darkness covered many parts of Europe, including England. Only popes and priests were allowed to read God's Word. It was illegal for other people to own a Bible. It was a time in which the church hierarchy as was sanctioned by the government and manipulated the lives of the people through punishment and information control.
Europe of the 14th century experienced both prolific prosperity and deadly decline. Some foremost events were the Black Death and the resulting Peasant's Revolt (1381). As Italian city-states grew in power, transfer of the seat of the popes from Italy to France led to the Great Schism (1378-1415) of the West which created three popes that ruled during the same time. In the Near East the Byzantine Empire was in declined against the onslaughts of the Ottoman Turks. In other parts of the world, Muslim Sultans were ruling India from Dehli unknowing that Mongol hoards would soon sweep them from power. The story of Buddah's life was traveling rapidly and Singapore was being established as a protected and prosperous center of trade.
Many times people quote the Bible verse that says "the truth shall set you free." This passage, when understood in context and examined with other similar scriptures, provides great insight into the time during which Wycliffe lived. John 8:32 says, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Verse 36 says "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." The people living in these times did not know the truth, because they did not have God's Word. Knowing not the truth, they knew not the Son who is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). Because of this, two things occurred. First of all, the people were not free, and were trapped in a vicious circle of slavery to sin, from which they could not be free themselves. John Wycliffe was an instrumental part of breaking this system. The second thing that happened was that the so-called "Christian faith" that was being enforced was not the true faith God wishes his people to have. The people did not know the Son, so they were not "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith", but unto others whom they felt could be mediators between God and man. However, the truth would rise victoriously over the fallacies of this time through the vessel of John Wycliffe whom God prepared to bring forth the truth which set souls free.
At the age of thirteen, John Wycliffe enrolled in Merton College of Oxford. While attending this school, the students would study many books, but the Bible was carefully restricted. Wondrously, God used this time to bring a certain person into Wycliffe's path that would have a great influence upon him. A man by the name of Bradwardine was finishing his period at the college as Wycliffe was beginning his. Bradwardine took the Word of God at face value, and trusted it to be the inherent guide to life.
Wondrously, Wycliffe was greatly admired by everyone at the college, although he never held an important position. Some of his enemies are known to have felt that he was the life and beauty of the college. Later, he was forced to leave the college because of a doctrinal issue he spoke of.
In 1348, the Black Death began. Wycliffe was very troubled by this, and felt sure that it was a sign of God's terrible wrath. In his time of trouble he turned to God's Word with hopes of being able to find some protection and comfort. This time of horrible pestilence, which seemed to bring nothing but destruction, was used by God to equip His servant.
Usurping authority, Pope Urban V tried to gain more control over England in 1365. King Edward called Parliament together to discuss the ideas set forth by the Pope. It is evidenced from records kept at that parliamentary session that John Wycliffe had previously been involved in this debate, and that the members of Parliament agreed with his ideas and opinions. In the midst of this political struggle, the Lord opened doors for Wycliffe. He was sent to the Netherlands with papal representatives. There, his eyes were opened to the dark lies behind the reasons for the actions of the Pope. Returning to England two years later, Wycliffe publicly stated that the pope was anti-Christ.
Progressively, people began to respect the truth displayed in Wycliffe's life, yet his enemies still raged fiercely against him. He was honored nationwide. Feeling threatened, the pope and his supporters were greatly upset by his works. In 1377, John Wycliffe was called before the Bishop of London. Two of Wycliffe's influential friends traveled with him to the hearing. Soon, the bishop began arguing with one of Wycliffe's friends and the chaotic situation soon forced the trial to be closed. One year later, in April of 1378, Wycliffe was called to another trial. Yet, God's hand was upon His servant, for in the middle if the trial, a message from the queen mother was delivered, stating that Wycliffe should not be harmed, and the trial was closed.
It was shortly thereafter that John Wycliffe became very ill. Wishful friars, hoping to hear some death-bed recanting of his beliefs, hurriedly arrived at his bedside, only to hear the bold words of faith "I shall not die, but live, and declare the evil deeds of the friars." This statement proved to be true, and Wycliffe was restored to health.
The third trial arrived in 1382, and again Wycliffe was appearing before the Bishop of London. Perhaps God was angry that men would again try to harm his servant, because this time, He caused the earth to shake. Despite the fact that Wycliffe was condemned at this trial, god's mighty hand had been displayed, and Wycliffe was not harmed for the rest of his life. God's words, supposedly known so well by the church, were proven true: "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His anointed, saying, 'Let us break Their bonds in pieces, and cast away Their cords from us.' He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then he shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure." - Psalm 2:2-5
As time passed, Wycliffe made the decision to return to his home and live the rest of his life quietly shining a light to the next generation. Though he was aged, his influence did not end. Wycliffe himself worked on translating and overseeing the translation of the first English Bible in 1,000 years. He also trained men to share the gospel and instructed them in the truths of scripture. These followers of Wycliffe who continued his legacy of living with the Word of God as ultimate truth were known as the Lollards. They came to twelve basic conclusions including subject matter such as the state of the church, the priesthood, transubstantiation, prayers for the dead, pilgrimages, and confessions. What really separated Wycliffe and the Lollards from the general population of the time was their faithfulness to the Bible, and their belief that it was the absolute truth.
Wycliffe lived many years before the period we now know as the Reformation began with men such as Martin Luther or John Calvin. Although we do not think of the Reformation beginning in the 1300s, it truly did. Though he lived many years before the reformation period, John Wycliffe, a "man ahead of his time", truly was the "Morning Star of the Reformation."
In 1384, Wycliffe suffered from his second or third stroke and went to be with his Lord. Death did not silence his influence, however. In fact, he had caused such disturbance in the minds and hearts of those who most hated him, that thirty years after his departure, he was officially condemned by the church for a second time. Instructions were given for his bones to be dug up and burnt as well as his writings, and finally, his ashes thrown into the river. Throwing his ashes into the river turned out to be quite an ironic act, as William Wordsworth explains in his poem on the subject:
Wycliffe is disinhumed
Yea his dry bones to ashes are consumed
And flung into the brook which travels near
[.]Into the Avon-Avon to the[.]
main ocean they- this deed accursed
An emblem yields to friends and enemies
How the bold Teacher's Doctrine sanctified
By truth, shall throughout the world dispersed.
1) True/False - John Wycliffe and Martin Luther were contemporaries.
2) In Wycliffe's day and age, Bibles __________________.
a. Were in abundant supply; anyone and everyone had one - the church also funding
programs to hand them out
b. Were few and far between; only church officials had them, it was illegal for anyone else to own one
c. Did not exist
d. Were being handed out by the church rapidly, as popes and priests wrote decrees concerning the necessity of owning one
3) The preachers and followers John Wycliffe sent out were called:
d. Sons of Wycliffe
4) After John Wycliffe’s death, the Pope and other officials were ______________
b. Greatly grieved
d. Still uncomfortable, because they were afraid his influence would live on
500 anniversary of the Discovery of the New World. Reformation.org. September 17, 2004. <http://www.reformation.org/new-world-anniversary.html>
14th century. The Free Dictionary.com. September 24, 2004. <http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/14th%20century>
John Wycliffe: Ahead of his time. Wycliffe. September 17, 2004. <http://www.wycliffe.org/history/JWycliff.htm>
John Wyliffe and the Lollards. The Geoffrey Chaucer Page. September 24, 2004. <http://www.courses.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/special/varia/lollards/lollconc.htm>
Shand, Margaret. John Wycliffe. 1997-1998. Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia. September 17, 2004. <http://www.epc.org.au/literature/bb/wycliffe.html>