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John Wycliffe – The Pioneering Bible Translator

John Wycliffe was born in England’s Yorkshire in c. 1330. This English philosopher, theologian, and church reformer inspired the Bible’s first complete English translation from the Latin Vulgate. Wycliffe was a leading reformer of his time. He spoke out against the church’s practices, beliefs, and abuses almost 200 years prior to Martin Luther. In 1378, John Wycliffe started an organized attack on the church, and his controversial views were spread by the Lollards, a group of people who combined heretical beliefs with religious pretenses. Though Wycliffe was an esteemed religious scholar, he got entangled in politics, which made it hard to separate his genuine reforms from his fight with the church and state. On December 31, 1384, John Wycliffe left Leicestershire’s Lutterworth and went to his heavenly abode.

John Wycliffe’s Early Life and Career


Though it’s not known when Wycliffe attended the University of Oxford for the first time, he remained closely linked to the institute until he died. Though there’s some doubt, his name is associated with three colleges of Oxford - Merton, Queen’s, and Balliol. At Balliol, he became a regent master in arts in 1360. In 1361, he resigned to become Fillingham’s vicar. This was a church post. He might have become the warden of Canterbury Hall soon afterward, which was a house for pastoral and monastic clergy, though there’s some doubt about it. He drew a prebend (a type of stipend) from the church of Westbury-on-Trym while he stayed elsewhere. Though he condemned this practice in others, he went ahead with it. The bishop of Lincoln granted him a leave of absence from Fillingham in 1363 and 1368 so that he could study at Oxford. However, he switched over from Fillingham to Ludgershall in 1368, the latter being a parish closer to the university. He obtained his bachelor of divinity (an academic degree) from Oxford in 1369 and a doctor of divinity degree in 1372.

John Wycliffe’s Political Activities

After he was appointed to the rectory of Lutterworth by Edward III on April 7, 1374, John Wycliffe started showing an interest in politics. He proved to be a king’s man and a patriot when he was commissioned to discuss the noticeable differences between Rome and England, like appointments to church posts and papal taxes, with the papal delegates at Brugge. He complemented this activity with his political pieces on civil and divine dominion. However, his alliance with John of Gaunt, Edward III’s younger son, who opposed the power and wealth of the clergy, made his ecclesiastical superiors unhappy. In February 1377, he was summoned for an appearance before them, but the proceedings were stalled due to disorder, and Wycliffe escaped unscathed. Five bulls (church edicts) were issued by Pope Gregory XI against him in May, condemning his theories and demanding his arrest. However, his demand wasn’t answered, and Oxford declined to denounce its marvelous scholar.

John Wycliffe’s Attack on the Church

Long before Martin Luther's principle of salvation aided by grace was proposed, where he said God justifies humans through faith alone, Wycliffe educated people about putting their absolute faith in Christ for salvation. He condemned the individual confession as part of the atonement, saying it had no foundation in Scripture. John Wycliffe also disproved the practice of indulgences and other activities people took up as penance, like donating money to the poor or going on pilgrimages.

The authority he put in the Bible and the way he positioned it higher than the proclamations of the church or the pope made John Wycliffe a pathbreaker in his time. In his book titled On the Truth of Holy Scripture (1378), Wycliffe declared that the Bible included all that’s indispensable for salvation, and didn’t need the church’s additions of the Mass, abstaining from food (during fasting), prayers to saints, indulgences, or pilgrimages.

John Wycliffe’s Bible Translation

From August 1380 to 1381’s summer, John Wycliffe was busy translating the Latin Bible into English. At his initiation, two translations were created, where one was more idiomatic compared to the other. Perhaps this happened because the Bible became essential in his theories to substitute the church’s discredited authority and to make God’s law available to every individual who could read. This, together with the strong belief in the efficacy of preaching, caused the creation of the Lollards. However, the exact degree to which John Wycliffe was involved in the Lollards’ creation is vague. But it’s beyond doubt that they helped to spread his controversial views.

Final Words

John Wycliffe suffered his first stroke in 1382 at Lutterworth. Though he continued with his prolific writings, another fatal stroke in December 1384 brought it all to an end. At the Council of Constance (in 1415), the church found him guilty of over 260 charges of heresy. Forty-four years after he died, John Wycliffe’s bones were dug up (in 1428) by church officials, after which they were burned and the ashes scattered on the River Swift. If you are looking for John Wycliffe Antique Bibles & Rare Bibles, Click Here the world's most unusual gift shop today.

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