Reformation History Unit 2(including video on John Wycliffe)

John Wycliffe was born into this world of calm; but the waters would soon be stirred and Wycliffe would join the fray. England was soon plunged into the 100 Years War with France (from 1339 to 1453). This struggle was waged because some Englishmen were tired of the outrageous taxes they had to pay the Church; and France was the arm of the Church in the region. Between 1/3 and 1/4 of the land in England was Church Land! This desire to retain money and regain land that the English viewed as theirs brought them into direct conflict with the Papacy. The Pope wanted to retain the land and money and so the French were called to service; and they served well.

Wycliffe was born in 1320 and studied Theology in Oxford (he died in 1384).

His training and disposition led him to oppose the ownership of English land by the Papacy, on religious and theological grounds rather than merely economic. From 1376 onward Wycliffe published tracts which decried the secularization of the Church. This secularization, he maintained, was beneficial neither to the Church or the State.

In 1377 the Pope issued a Bull (an official document which prohibits the publication of certain writings) condemning in 18 theses the writings of Wycliffe.

Wycliffe’s reaction was violent. He began to denounce the Pope (though, contrary to Luther, not the Papacy) in vehement and incredibly harsh writings.

From 1378 to 1379 Wycliffe published his theological system in a series of tracts.

The main thesis of these works was that the Scriptures are the foundation of all doctrine.

This was the turning point of doctrinal history. To this point Tradition was placed alongside Scripture as a source of doctrine; but Wycliffe disputed this notion and John Hus of Prague and Martin Luther as well as Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin would adopt the view of Wycliffe.

Wycliffe’s doctrine of the Church was likewise revolutionary. He saw the Church as a spiritual institution and not a political one. Thus the pre-reformation work of Wycliffe lay in his doctrines of Scripture and the Church. It would be these precise doctrinal controversies which would later fuel the “Reformation”of Luther and Zwingli.

The significance of Wycliffe cannot be overlooked. His movement towards Scripture and Church as spiritual society were the foundation stones on which the later Reformation would be founded. He, nevertheless, did propose ideas that were very controversial. He suggested that human freedom was non-existent; to the point that everything that a person did was predetermined. His great animosity towards the Pope led him to make some outrageous personal statements; and his distrust of human nature very nearly led him to completely dehumanize humanity.

Yet without Wycliffe, there could not have been a Reformation. Or, for that matter, an English translation of the Bible. Wycliffe’s translation is well known. He did his work from the Latin Vulgate; thus giving the English people the first translation of the Scriptures in their own language. His translation was consulted by Tyndale, Coverdale, the Bishops, and of course the Authorized translators. He was a translator before Luther; a theologian before Calvin; and a reformer before the Reformation.

After the death of Wycliffe there would not appear another Reformer before the Reformation until John Hus (1369 – 1415) In 1414 the Papacy attempted to put an end to the approaching schism by calling the council of Constance where Hus was condemned (and executed on July 6 1415) and Wycliffe again (though long dead) was reviled. But the tide would not be stemmed. The floodgates opened by Wycliffe would reach fruition in Zwingli and Luther. But the nagging question remains to this day: was the result worth the price? Was the fragmentation of the Church worth the result? A result which day by day grows more profoundly disturbing; for Church life is on the decline, and a sense of personal responsibility as a member of the Church is losing ground each day. One can say, at any rate, that when Rome was the only game in town everyone knew their duties.

When freedom was granted without responsibility the only result could be and was the laying aside of responsibility. (As a parenthesis, the reader should read Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” in The Brothers Karamazovfor a literary discussion of this fact).

One other event which took place before the Reformation; and which was absolutely essential for it, was the inventing of the printing press by Gutenberg in 1450.

Without the press, the Reformation would not have been able to spread its message with any success.



One thought on “Reformation History Unit 2(including video on John Wycliffe)

  1. Chance Thank you for taking time to cmeomnt here on the website. I know you will be an encouragement to many who will read your cmeomnt and see how the Lord Jesus Christ has rescued you from the dominion of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of His Son. I welcome your question about what I am personally doing to make certain, by God’s grace, that I do not lose the gospel and work to share its proper (that is to say Biblical) focus is never lost. First, I am a member of a local church. That might sound unimportant, but a healthy congregation is the greatest blessing for any believer and your greatest weapon against temptation. Each week, I look forward to hearing the Bible preached and seeing fellow believers; I seek to really worship God through music, and remain grateful for my fellow brothers and sisters in my church. Staying connected to my local church is vital for me. So many who are involved in religious work stray from the accountability and protection of their church. Find a good church and plant your life there. Second, I read. I read the Bible and good books. Currently I am reading Graham Cole’s book, He Who Gives Life. This is a wonderful book on the Holy Spirit. He is an excellent scholar and helps lead me and teach me things I did not know. We must fill our minds with the Bible and with good teaching so that we might be built up the faith. Third, I work to maintain accountability with other brothers in Christ. I have about five men with whom I speak if not daily then at least weekly and we talk about what is going on in our lives. They help me and I trust, by the grace of God, I help them. We are learning to love each other, and I cannot imagine life without them. Some live here in Oklahoma City. Others live across the country, but they are a critical part of my spiritual growth. Fourth, I work to accurately teach and/or write through every opportunity afforded to me by God’s design. Whether that be in writing for The Messenger or preaching or teaching or meeting with people, I seek to serve Jesus Christ and be the best servant of the Word of God I can be. I am encouraged by your note, Chance. May the Lord bless you and help you as you walk day by day in the power of the Holy Spirit. You contact us any time we can help you. Many people will be praying for you as a result of your courage to cmeomnt here. Yours in Christ,Doug

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