John Wycliffe

(John Wyclif)


John Wycliffe
Wycliffe was an English priest who preached many of the ideas of the Protestant reformation nearly 200 years before it occurred. Like many of the later reformers, he was critical of the wealth and the corruption of the hierarchical church, and sought to reduce its interference in secular affairs. Towards the end of his life he became involved in an ambitious project to translate the bible into English. Even though he lived almost 100 years before Gutenberg, and his bibles originally needed to be transcribed by hand, they were still very popular, and helped spawn the "Lollard" movement, which was a precursor of the Reformation in England.

Wycliffe was educated at Oxford College, and was influenced by many of the most important theologians of his time, including Roger Bacon, and William Ockham. He became a doctor of divinity and one of the most popular lecturers of his time. Some of his criticisms of the church were well received, even by the ecclesiastical authorities, but eventually his ideas were considered too radical, and he was put on trial by the church authorities. He was, however, strongly supported by several secular patrons, most notably John of Gaunt, and was not silenced or reprimanded. When a peasants' revolt broke out in 1381 however, his radical preachings was blamed and the criticisms of him were renewed.

Wycliffe preached the doctrine that priests and the religious orders should live lives of poverty, and that the wealth of the monasteries corrupted them. This was not a new idea, and most of the religious orders were actually founded by priests who took a vow of poverty, but it was opposed by many church leaders, for both selfish and practical reasons. His ideas were seized upon by anti-clerical nobles, who sought to tax and take over the large holdings of the church, as Henry VIII actually did several generations later, as well as those who sincerely sought for honest reforms. Wycliffe was even more influential and controversial after his death than during his life because the movement that he spawned continued to grow and to vex church authorities right up until the Protestant Reformation.

Key events during the life of John Wycliffe:

Birth of Wycliffe
Begins his studies at Oxford
Became head of Balliol College at Oxford
Became a doctor of Divinity
Nominated as a Royal envoy to Bruges
Wycliffe put on trial for his criticisms of the church
Peasants' revolt
Anti Wycliffe synod
  Worked on a translation of the Latin Vulgate to English
Death of Wycliffe

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
The Man Who Preached  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
Richard II., the Last Plantagenet King  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
Wycliffe, 1320-1384  in  Saints and Heroes to the End of the Middle Ages  by  George Hodges
How the Bible came to the People  in  English Literature for Boys and Girls  by  H. E. Marshall
John Wyclif  in  Great Englishmen  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

 in Saints and Heroes to the End of the Middle Ages

Wyclif went into the country and there wrote and taught.
 in English Literature for Boys and Girls

Short Biography
Roger Bacon Franciscan philosopher. Early proponent of empiricism and the scientific method.
William of Ockham English Theologian who greatly influenced Wycliffe.
John of Gaunt Powerful noble during the reign of Richard II. Father of Henry Bolingbroke.
John Purvey Associate of Wycliffe who completed his translation of the bible.