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John Wycliffe
Portrait by Thomas Kirkby, c. 1828
Bornc. 1328
Hipswell, Yorkshire, Kingdom of England
Died31 December 1384(1384-12-31) (aged 56)
Alma materMerton College, Oxford
Notable workWycliffe's Bible (attributed)
EraMedieval philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests

John Wycliffe (/ˈwɪklɪf/; also spelled Wyclif, Wickliffe, and other variants;[a] c. 1328 – 31 December 1384)[2] was an English scholastic philosopher, Christian reformer, priest, and a theology professor at the University of Oxford. Wycliffe is traditionally believed to have advocated or made a vernacular translation of the Vulgate Bible (into Middle English), though more recent scholarship has minimalized the extent of his advocacy or involvement for lack of direct contemporary evidence.[3]: 7–8 [4][5]

He became an influential dissident within the Catholic priesthood during the 14th century and is often considered an important predecessor to Protestantism.[6] His theory of dominion meant that men in mortal sin were not entitled to exercise authority in the church or state, nor to own property.[7] Wycliffe insisted on the radical poverty of all clergy.

Wycliffe has been characterised as the "evening star" of scholasticism and as the morning star or stella matutina of the English Reformation.[8][9]

Certain of Wycliffe's later followers, derogatorily called Lollards by their orthodox contemporaries in the 15th and 16th centuries, adopted a number of the beliefs attributed to Wycliffe such as theological virtues, predestination, iconoclasm, and the notion of caesaropapism, with some questioning the veneration of saints, the sacraments, requiem masses, transubstantiation, monasticism, and the legitimacy or role of the Papacy. Wycliffe's writings in Latin greatly influenced the philosophy and teaching of the Czech reformer Jan Hus (c. 1369–1415).[10]

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Wycliffe was born in the village of Hipswell near Richmond in the North Riding of Yorkshire, England, around the 1320s. He has conventionally been given a birth date of 1324 but Hudson and Kenny state only records "suggest he was born in the mid-1320s".[11] Conti states that he was born "before 1331".[12]

Wycliffe received his early education close to his home.[13] It is unknown when he first came to Oxford, with which he was so closely connected until the end of his life, but he is known to have been at Oxford around 1345. Thomas Bradwardine was the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his book On the Cause of God against the Pelagians, a bold recovery of the Pauline–Augustinian doctrine of grace, would greatly shape young Wycliffe's views,[14] as did the Black Death which reached England in the summer of 1348.[15] From his frequent references to it in later life, it appears to have made a deep and abiding impression upon him. According to Robert Vaughn, the effect was to give Wycliffe "Very gloomy views in regard to the condition and prospects of the human race".[16] In September of 1351, Wycliffe became a priest.[17] Wycliffe would have been at Oxford during the St Scholastica Day riot in which sixty-three students and a number of townspeople were killed.

Career in education[edit]

Wycliffe completed his bachelor of arts degree at Merton College as a junior fellow in 1356.[18] That same year he produced a small treatise, The Last Age of the Church. In the light of the virulence of the plague that had subsided seven years previously, Wycliffe's studies led him to the opinion that the close of the 14th century would mark the end of the world. While other writers viewed the plague as God's judgment on sinful people, Wycliffe saw it as an indictment of an unworthy clergy. The mortality rate among the clergy had been particularly high, and those who replaced them were, in his opinion, uneducated or generally disreputable.[15]

He was Master of Balliol College in 1361.[19] In this same year, he was presented by the college to the parish of Fillingham in Lincolnshire, which he visited rarely during long vacations from Oxford.[20] For this he had to give up the headship of Balliol College, though he could continue to live at Oxford. He is said to have had rooms in the buildings of The Queen's College. In 1362 he was granted a prebend at Aust in Westbury-on-Trym, which he held in addition to the post at Fillingham.

His performance led Simon Islip, Archbishop of Canterbury, to place him in 1365 at the head of Canterbury Hall, where twelve young men were preparing for the priesthood. In December 1365 Islip appointed Wycliffe as warden[21] but when Islip died the following year his successor, Simon Langham, a man of monastic training, turned the leadership of the college over to a monk. In 1367 Wycliffe appealed to Rome. In 1371 Wycliffe's appeal was decided and the outcome was unfavourable to him. The incident was typical of the ongoing rivalry between monks and secular clergy at Oxford at this time.[20]

In 1368, he gave up his living at Fillingham and took over the rectory of Ludgershall, Buckinghamshire, not far from Oxford, which enabled him to retain his connection with the university. Tradition has it that he commenced his translation of the Bible into English whilst sitting in a room above what is now the porch in Ludgershall Church.[22] In 1369 Wycliffe obtained a bachelor's degree in theology, and his doctorate in 1372.[23] In 1374, he received the crown living of St Mary's Church, Lutterworth in Leicestershire,[24] which he retained until his death.


Wyclif Giving 'The Poor Priests' His Translation of the Bible by William Frederick Yeames, published before 1923.[25]

In 1374 his name appears second, after a bishop, on a commission which the English Government sent to Bruges to discuss with the representatives of Gregory XI a number of points in dispute between the king and the pope.[24] He was no longer satisfied with his chair as the means of propagating his ideas, and soon after his return from Bruges he began to express them in tracts and longer works. In a book concerned with the government of God and the Ten Commandments, he attacked the temporal rule of the clergy, the collection of annates, indulgences, and simony.

De civili dominio[edit]

He entered the politics of the day with his great work De civili dominio ("On Civil Dominion"), which drew arguments from the works of Richard FitzRalph's.[26] This called for the royal divestment of all church property.[27]

Conflicts with Church, State and University[edit]

His ideas on lordship and church wealth caused his first official condemnation in 1377 by Pope Gregory XI, who censured 19 articles. Wycliffe argued that the Church had fallen into sin and that it ought therefore to give up all its property and that the clergy should live in complete poverty. The tendency of the high offices of state to be held by clerics was resented by many of the nobles, such as the backroom power broker John of Gaunt, who would have had his own reasons for opposing the wealth and power of the clergy, since it challenged the foundation of his power.

Wycliffe was summoned before William Courtenay, Bishop of London, on 19 February 1377. The exact charges are not known, as the matter did not get as far as a definite examination. Lechler suggests that Wycliffe was targeted by John of Gaunt's opponents among the nobles and church hierarchy.[28] Gaunt, the Earl Marshal Henry Percy, and a number of other supporters accompanied Wycliffe. A crowd gathered at the church, and at the entrance, party animosities began to show, especially in an angry exchange between the bishop and Wycliffe's protectors.[24] Gaunt declared that he would humble the pride of the English clergy and their partisans, hinting at the intent to secularise the possessions of the Church. The assembly broke up and Gaunt and his partisans departed with their protégé.[29] Most of the English clergy were irritated by this encounter, and attacks upon Wycliffe began.

The second and third books of his work dealing with civil government carry a sharp polemic.

On 22 May 1377 Pope Gregory XI sent five copies of a bull against Wycliffe, dispatching one to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the others to the Bishop of London, King Edward III, the Chancellor, and the university; among the enclosures were 18 theses of his, which were denounced as erroneous and dangerous to Church and State. Stephen Lahey suggests that Gregory's action against Wycliffe was an attempt to put pressure on King Edward to make peace with France.[27] Edward III died on 21 June 1377, and the bull against Wycliffe did not reach England before December. Wycliffe was asked to give the king's council his opinion on whether it was lawful to withhold traditional payments to Rome, and he responded that it was.[30]

Back at Oxford the Vice-Chancellor confined Wycliffe for some time in Black Hall,[31] but his friends soon obtained his release.

In March 1378, he was summoned to appear at Lambeth Palace to defend himself. However, Sir Lewis Clifford entered the chapel and in the name of the queen mother (Joan of Kent), forbade the bishops to proceed to a definite sentence concerning Wycliffe's conduct or opinions.[16] Wycliffe wrote a letter expressing and defending his less "obnoxious doctrines".[32]: xlii  The bishops, who were divided, satisfied themselves with forbidding him to speak further on the controversy.

De incarcerandis fedelibus[edit]

Wycliffe then wrote his De incarcerandis fedelibus, with 33 conclusions in Latin and English; in this writing he laid open the entire case, in such a way that it was understood by the laity. In it he demanded that it should be legal for the excommunicated to appeal to the king and his council against the excommunication. Ordinary citizens, some of the nobility, and his former protector, John of Gaunt, rallied to him. Before any further steps could be taken at Rome, Gregory XI died in 1378.

De officio regis[edit]

The attacks on Pope Gregory XI grew ever more extreme. Wycliffe's stand concerning the ideal of poverty became continually firmer, as well as his position with regard to the temporal rule of the clergy. Closely related to this attitude was his book De officio regis, the content of which was foreshadowed in his 33 conclusions. This book, like those that preceded and followed, was concerned with the reform of the Church, in which the temporal arm was to have an influential part.

From 1380 onwards, Wycliffe devoted himself to writings that argued his rejection of transubstantiation, and strongly criticised the friars who supported it.[33]: 281 

Anti-Wycliffe synod[edit]

In the summer of 1381 Wycliffe formulated his doctrine of the Lord's Supper in twelve short sentences, and made it a duty to advocate it everywhere. Then the English hierarchy proceeded against him. The chancellor of the University of Oxford had some of the declarations pronounced heretical. When this was announced to Wycliffe, he declared that no one could change his convictions. He then appealed – not to the pope nor to the ecclesiastical authorities of the land, but to the king. He published his great confession upon the subject and also a second writing in English intended for the common people.[34]

As long as Wycliffe limited his attacks to abuses and the wealth of the Church, he could rely on the support of part of the clergy and aristocracy, but once he dismissed the traditional doctrine of transubstantiation, his theses could not be defended any more.[12] This view cost him the support of John of Gaunt and many others.[30]

In the midst of this came the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. The revolt was sparked in part by Wycliffe's preaching carried throughout the realm by "poor priests" appointed by Wycliffe (mostly laymen). The preachers didn't limit their criticism of the accumulation of wealth and property to that of the monasteries, but rather included secular properties belonging to the nobility as well.[35] Although Wycliffe disapproved of the revolt, some of his disciples justified the killing of Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1382 Wycliffe's old enemy William Courtenay, now Archbishop of Canterbury, called an ecclesiastical assembly of notables at London. During the consultations on 21 May an earthquake occurred; the participants were terrified and wished to break up the assembly, but Courtenay declared the earthquake a favourable sign which meant the purification of the earth from erroneous doctrine, and the result of the "Earthquake Synod" was assured.[36]

Of the 24 propositions attributed to Wycliffe without mentioning his name, ten were declared heretical and fourteen erroneous. The former had reference to the transformation in the sacrament, the latter to matters of church order and institutions. It was forbidden from that time to hold these opinions or to advance them in sermons or in academic discussions. All persons disregarding this order were to be subject to prosecution. To accomplish this the help of the State was necessary; but the Commons rejected the bill. The king, however, had a decree issued which permitted the arrest of those in error.

The citadel of the reformatory movement was Oxford, where Wycliffe's most active helpers were; these were laid under the ban and summoned to recant, and Nicholas of Hereford went to Rome to appeal.[37]

On 17 November 1382, Wycliffe was summoned before a synod at Oxford. He still commanded the favour of the court and of Parliament, to which he addressed a memorial. He was neither excommunicated then, nor deprived of his living.

Wycliffe aimed to do away with the existing hierarchy and replace it with the "poor priests" who lived in poverty, were bound by no vows, had received no formal consecration, and preached the Gospel to the people. Itinerant preachers spread the teachings of Wycliffe. The bull of Gregory XI impressed upon them the name of Lollards, intended as an opprobrious epithet, but it became, to them, a name of honour. Even in Wycliffe's time the "Lollards" had reached wide circles in England and preached "God's law, without which no one could be justified."[38]

Death and posthumous declaration of heresy[edit]

Portrait of John Wycliffe by Bernard Picart, showing the burning of his works (1714)

In the years before his death in 1384 he increasingly argued for Scriptures as the authoritative centre of Christianity, that the claims of the papacy were unhistorical, that monasticism was irredeemably corrupt, and that the moral unworthiness of priests invalidated their office and sacraments.[39]

Wycliffe returned to Lutterworth. From there he sent out tracts against the monks and Pope Urban VI. Urban VI, contrary to Wycliffe's hopes, had not turned out to be a reforming pope. The literary achievements of Wycliffe's last days, such as the Trialogus, stand at the peak of the knowledge of his day. His last work, the Opus evangelicum, the last part of which he named in characteristic fashion "Of Antichrist", remained uncompleted. While he was saying Mass in the parish church on Holy Innocents' Day, 28 December 1384, he suffered a stroke, and died a few days later.[clarification needed]

The Anti-Wycliffite Statute of 1401 extended persecution to Wycliffe's remaining followers. The "Constitutions of Oxford" of 1408 aimed to reclaim authority in all ecclesiastical matters, and specifically named John Wycliffe as it banned certain writings, and decreed that new translation efforts of Scripture into English needed to be authorized.[clarification needed]

Burning Wycliffe's bones, from Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563)

The Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic on 4 May 1415, and banned his writings. The Council decreed that Wycliffe's works should be burned and his bodily remains removed from consecrated church ground, following the customary logic that heretics had put themselves outside the church. This order, confirmed by Pope Martin V, was eventually carried out in 1428.[12] Wycliffe's corpse, or a neighbour's,[40]: 121  was exhumed; on the orders of the bishop the remains were burned and the ashes drowned in the River Swift, which flows through Lutterworth.[41]

None of Wycliffe's contemporaries left a complete picture of his person, his life, and his activities. Paintings representing Wycliffe are from a later period. In The Testimony of William Thorpe (1407) (possibly apocryphal), Wycliffe appears wasted and physically weak. Thorpe says Wycliffe was of unblemished walk[clarification needed] in life, and regarded affectionately by people of rank, who often consorted with him, took down his sayings, and clung to him. "I indeed clove to none closer than to him, the wisest and most blessed of all men whom I have ever found."


John Wycliffe portrayed in Bale's Scriptor Majoris Britanniæ (1548)

Wycliffe is said to have written about two hundred works in Latin and Middle English; there are few Latinists expert in 14th Century scholastic Latin, so few of the Latin works have been translated to English, leaving much of his thought unknown even to historians.[42] His theological and political works include numerous books and tracts:

  • The Last Age of the Church (1356) attrib.
  • De Logica ("On Logic") 1360
  • De Universalibus ("On Universals") 1368
  • De Dominio Divino (1373)
  • De Mandatis Divinis (1375)
  • De Statu Innocencie (1376)
  • De Civili Dominio (1377)
  • Responsio (1377)
  • De Ecclesia ("On the Church") 1379
  • De veritate sacrae scripturae ("On the Truthfulness of Holy Scripture") 1378
  • On the Pastoral Office 1378
  • De apostasia ("On Apostasy") 1379
  • De Eucharistia ("On the Eucharist") 1379
  • Objections to Friars (1380)

Most historians hold that few to none of the Middle English works ascribed to Wycliffe can be confidently attributed to him, in contrast to the Latin works,[5][3]: 8  with the possible exception of three: On the Pastoral Office, On the Pope, and On the Church and Her Members.[43]

Middle English Bibles[edit]

According to tradition, Wycliffe is said to have completed a translation direct from the Vulgate into Middle English – a version now known as Wycliffe's Bible.[44] He may have personally translated the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but it is possible he initially translated the entire New Testament Early Version. It is assumed that his associates translated the Old Testament and revised the Late Version. Wycliffe's Bible appears to have been completed prior to 1384 with additional updated versions being done by Wycliffe's assistant John Purvey, and others, in 1388 and 1395. More recently, historians of the Wycliffite movement have suggested that Wycliffe had at most a minor role in the actual translations[45] or contributed ad hoc passages taken from his English theological writings, with some, building on the earlier theories of Francis Aidan Gasquet,[46] going as far as to suggest he had no role in the translations other than the translation projects perhaps being inspired, at least partially, by Wycliffe's biblicism at Oxford, but otherwise being orthodox Catholic translations later co-opted by his followers.[3]

In keeping with Wycliffe's belief that scripture was the only authoritative reliable guide to the truth about God, he is said to have become involved in efforts to translate the Bible into English. However, while Wycliffe is popularly credited, it is not possible exactly to define his part, if any, in the translations, which were based on the Vulgate.[45][3]

In common belief from only decades after the translations, it was his initiative, and the success of the project was due to his leadership.[47]: 93  For the initial Early Version (EV), the rendering of the Old Testament is attributed to his friend Nicholas of Hereford; the rendering of some of the New Testament has been traditionally attributed to Wycliffe. The whole was revised perhaps by Wycliffe's younger contemporary John Purvey in 1388, known as the Late Version (LV).[citation needed] Linguistic analysis, however, suggests there were multiple translators for both EV and LV translations.[3]

There still exist over 200 manuscripts,[48] complete or partial, mainly containing the translation in its LV form. From this, it is possible to infer that texts were widely diffused in the 15th century. For this reason, the Wycliffites in England were often designated by their opponents as "Bible men";[citation needed] it has been noted, however, that the vocabulary in English Wycliffite sermons doesn't typically match that found in the EV or LV.[49]


John Wycliffe at work in his study

Historian S. Harrison Thomson notes that Wycliff's theology was on a broad canvas than the continental reformation: of the major Protestant notes, he certainly advocated "the supremacy of scripture over tradition", however it is difficult to find justification by faith alone or the priesthood of all believers espoused in his works.[50]

Wycliffe had come to regard the scriptures as the only reliable guide to the truth about God, and maintained that all Christians should rely on the Bible rather than on the teachings of popes and clerics. He said that there was no scriptural justification for the papacy.[51]

Theologically, his preaching expressed a strong belief in predestination that enabled him to declare an "invisible church of the elect", made up of those predestined to be saved, rather than in the "visible" Catholic Church.[52] To Wycliffe, the Church was the totality of those who are predestined to blessedness. No one who is eternally lost has part in it. There is one universal Church, and outside of it there is no salvation.

His first tracts and greater works of ecclesiastical-political content defended the privileges of the State. By 1379 in his De ecclesia ("On the Church"), Wycliffe clearly claimed the supremacy of the king over the priesthood.[12] He also rejected the selling of indulgences.

So far as his polemics accord with those of earlier antagonists of the papacy, it is fair to assume that he was not ignorant of them and was influenced by them. It was Wycliffe who recognised and formulated one of the two major formal principles of the Reformation – the unique authority of the Bible for the belief and life of the Christian.

Attack on monasticism[edit]

The battle against what he saw as an imperialised papacy and its supporters, the "sects", as he called the monastic orders, takes up a large space not only in his later works, such as the Trialogus, Dialogus, Opus evangelicum, and in his sermons, but also in a series of sharp tracts and polemical productions in Latin and English (of which those issued in his later years have been collected as "Polemical Writings").

In the 1380 Objections to Friars, he calls monks the pests of society, enemies of religion, and patrons and promoters of every crime.[15] He directed his strongest criticism against the friars, whose preaching he considered neither scriptural nor sincere, but motivated by "temporal gain".[20] While others were content to seek the reform of particular errors and abuses, Wycliffe sought nothing less than the extinction of the institution itself, as being repugnant to scripture and his theology of apostolic poverty,[27] and inconsistent with the order and prosperity of the Church.[16] He advocated the dissolution of the monasteries.

Views on the papacy[edit]

Rudolph Buddensieg finds two distinct aspects in Wycliffe's work. The first, from 1366 to 1378, reflects a political struggle with Rome, while 1378 to 1384 is more a religious struggle. In each Wycliffe has two approaches: he attacks both the Papacy and its institutions, and also Roman Catholic doctrine.[53]

Wycliffe's influence was never greater than at the moment when pope and antipope sent their ambassadors to England to gain recognition for themselves. In 1378, in the ambassadors' presence, he delivered an opinion before Parliament that showed, in an important ecclesiastical political question (the matter of the right of asylum in Westminster Abbey), a position that was to the liking of the State. He argued that criminals who had taken sanctuary in churches might lawfully be dragged out of sanctuary.[30]

The books and tracts of Wycliffe's last six years include continual attacks upon the papacy and the entire hierarchy of his times. Each year they focus more and more, and at the last, the pope and the Antichrist seem to him practically equivalent concepts. Yet there are passages which are moderate in tone: G. V. Lechler identifies three stages in Wycliffe's relations with the papacy. The first step, which carried him to the outbreak of the schism, involves moderate recognition of the papal primacy; the second, which carried him to 1381, is marked by an estrangement from the papacy; and the third shows him in sharp contest.

Basic positions in philosophy[edit]

Wycliffe was a prominent English theologian and scholastic philosopher of the second half of the 14th century.[12] He earned his great repute as a philosopher at an early date. Henry Knighton says that in philosophy he was second to none, and in scholastic discipline incomparable.[54] There was a period in his life when he devoted himself exclusively to scholastic philosophy. His first book, Latin: De Logica (1360), explores the fundamentals of Scholastic Theology. He believed that "one should study Logic in order to better understand the human mind because ...human thoughts, feelings and actions bear God's image and likeness".[55] He espoused propositional realism: that a true proposition maps onto a truth about being (i.e., about something real.)[56]

The centre of Wycliffe's philosophical system is formed by the doctrine of the prior existence in the thought of God of all things and events. While Platonic realism would view "beauty' as a property that exists in an ideal form independently of any mind or thing, "for Wycliffe every universal, as part of creation, derived its existence from God, the Creator".[55] Wycliffe was a close follower of Augustine, and always upheld the primacy of the Creator over the created reality.

In some of his teachings, as in Latin: De annihilatione, the influence of Thomas Aquinas can be detected. He said that Democritus, Plato, Augustine, and Grosseteste far outranked Aristotle. So far as his relations to the philosophers of the Middle Ages are concerned, he held to realism as opposed to the nominalism advanced by William of Ockham.

A number of Wycliffe's ideas have been carried forward in the twentieth century by philosopher and Reformed theologian Cornelius Van Til.[citation needed]


A second key point of Wycliffe's is his emphasis on the notion of divine Lordship (Latin: dominium).[57]

Latin: De dominio Divino (c. 1373) examines the relationship between God and his creatures. The practical application of this for Wycliffe was seen in the rebellious attitude of individuals (particulars) towards rightful authority (universals).

"Beyond all doubt, intellectual and emotional error about universals is the cause of all sin that reigns in the world."[58]

In Latin: De civili dominio ("On Civil Dominion", c. 1377) he discusses the appropriate circumstance under which an entity may be seen as possessing authority over lesser subjects. Latin: Dominium is always conferred by God: injuries inflicted on someone personally by a king should be born by them submissively, a conventional idea, but injuries by a king against God should be patiently resisted even to death.[59] Gravely sinful kings and popes forfeited their divine right to obedience. Versions of this were taken up by Lollards and Hussites.

Attitude toward speculation[edit]

Wycliffe's fundamental principle of the preexistence in thought of all reality involves the most serious obstacle to freedom of the will; the philosopher could assist himself only by the formula that the free will of man was something predetermined of God. He demanded strict dialectical training as the means of distinguishing the true from the false, and asserted that logic (or the syllogism) furthered the knowledge of catholic verities; ignorance of logic was the reason why men misunderstood Scripture, since men overlooked the connection, the distinction between idea and appearance.

Wycliffe was not merely conscious of the distinction between theology and philosophy, but his sense of reality led him to pass by scholastic questions. He left aside philosophical discussions that seemed to have no significance for the religious consciousness and those that pertained purely to scholasticism: "We concern ourselves with the verities that are, and leave aside the errors which arise from speculation on matters which are not."


John Wycliffe rejected transubstantiation along with the sacrament of confession, saying they were against scripture.[60] Wycliffe was attacked as being a Donatist, however the claim was a misconception, perhaps used to discredit his views on the Eucharist.[61]

The consecrated Host we priests make and bless is not the body of the Lord but an effectual sign of it. It is not to be understood that the body of Christ comes down from heaven to the Host consecrated in every church.

— John Wycliffe[62]


Wycliffe appears to have had similar ideas of justification as the later reformers would. According to Wycliffe faith was sufficient for salvation:[60]

Trust wholly in Christ; rely altogether on his sufferings; beware of seeking to be justified in any other way than by his righteousness. Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for salvation.

— John Wycliffe[60]


Wycliffe expressed his theories in the book Latin: De Veritate Sacrae Scripturae (On the Truthfulness of Holy Scripture, c.1378).

Wycliffe's dictum Latin: omnis veritas est ex scriptura, et ut necessarior est expressior says that all truths necessary to faith are found expressly in the Bible, and the more necessary, the more expressly.[63]: 67 

The whole of scripture is one word of God (Latin: Tota scriptura sacra est unum dei verbum): being a monologue by the same author meant that sentences from different books could be combined without much regard for context, supporting strained and mystical interpretations.[63]: 23, 28 

The scriptures were literally true (Latin: sensus . . . literalis est utrobique verus, cum non asseritur a recte intelligentibus) unless obviously figurative, to the extent that when Jesus spoke in parables, he was reporting events that had actually occurred.[63]: 34  Psalm 22 v6 ("I am a worm and no man"),[64] which Pseudo-Dionysius had memorably used to give 'worm' as a name of God,[65] became in Wycliffe's extreme literalism a statement that Jesus had been begotten without sexual contact (as was then believed of worms) and was formally God not a simply man.[63]: 32  The literal sense of scripture is that sense which the Holy Ghost first imparted so that the faithful soul might ascend to God (Latin: sensum literalem scripture sensum, quem spiritus sanctus primo indidit, ut animus fidelis ascendat in deum.)[63]: 36 

Vernacular Scripture[edit]

Wycliffe is popularly connected with the view that scriptures should be translated into the vernacular and made available to laymen, and that this was a critical issue in the censures against him.

However, scholars have noted the availability of scriptures to laypeople in the vernacular was not a notable theme of Wycliffe's theological works. (It is mentioned in his De XXXIII erroribus curitatum, Chapter 26 against those who would stop secular men from "intermeddling with the Gospel".[32]: 27 ) Nor were there any church-wide bans on vernacular scriptures in place that Wycliffe might be regarded as protesting against.[66] It was not part of Wycliffe's 1377 papal censure, nor the declaration of heresy by the Council of Constance (1415).[67] Vernacular scriptures were not mentioned in the two key early Lollard documents, regarded as channelling his doctrine: the Twelve Conclusions (c. 1396)[68] and the Thirty Seven Conclusions (c. 1396)[69] (or Remonstrances).


A stained glass window in Wycliffe College Chapel, Toronto

Wycliffe was instrumental in the development of a translation of the Bible in English, thus making it accessible to English speakers with poor Latin, though whether he himself translated the Bible, in part or whole, or merely played a part in motivating its translation indirectly through his revival of Oxford biblical studies, is a matter of debate.

His theology also had a strong influence on Jan Hus.[21] Hus' De Ecclesia summarised Wycliffe's work of the same name, with additional material from Wycliffe's De potentate papae. See also Writings of Hus and Wycliffe.

Several institutions are named after him:

Wycliffe is honoured with a commemoration in the Church of England on 31 December,[70] and in the Anglican Church of Canada.[71]

Wycliffe and its variants are popular given names, presumably starting in some Protestant communities. For example, Haitian rapper and musician Wyclef Jean.

In the centre of Lutterworth, a Grade II-listed memorial obelisk to Wycliffe was erected in June 1897[72] on a site behind which the Wycliffe Memorial Methodist Church was built a few years later for the town's Wesleyan Methodist congregation.[73]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In Latin, Ioannes Wiclefus.


  1. ^ "John Wycliffe | Biography, Legacy, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  2. ^ For a recent biography see: Andrew Larsen, John Wyclif c. 1331–1384, in Ian Christopher Levy (ed.), A Companion to John Wyclif. Late Medieval Theologian, Leiden: Brill, 2006, pp. 1–61.
  3. ^ a b c d e Kelly, Henry Ansgar (2016), The Middle English Bible: A Reassessment, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  4. ^ Hudson, Anne (1985). Lollards and Their Books. London: Hambledon Press. pp. 144–145.
  5. ^ a b Minnis, Alastair (2009). Translations of Authority in Medieval English Literature: Valuing the Vernacular. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 10.
  6. ^ Lacey Baldwin Smith, This Realm of England: 1399 to 1688 (3rd ed. 1976), p. 41
  7. ^ "John Wyclif, Translator and Controversialist". justus.anglican.org.
  8. ^ Emily Michael, "John Wyclif on body and mind", Journal of the History of Ideas (2003) p. 343.
  9. ^ An epithet first accorded to the theologian by the 16th century historian and controversialist John Bale in his Illustrium maioris britanniae scriptorum (Wesel, 1548). Margaret Aston, "John Wycliffe's Reformation Reputation", Past & Present (30, 1965) p. 24
  10. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia: Jan Hus". www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  11. ^ Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford
  12. ^ a b c d e Conti, Alessandro. "John Wyclif". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  13. ^ Dallmann, W. (1907), Concordia Theological Quarterly, vol. XI, St. Louis, p. 41{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link).
  14. ^ Calhoun, David B. "The Morning Star of the Reformation". CS Lewis institute..
  15. ^ a b c Murray, Thomas (26 October 1829). "The Life of John Wycliffe". John Boyd. Retrieved 26 October 2019 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ a b c Vaughan, Robert (26 October 1845). Tracts and Treatises of John de Wycliffe: With Selections and Translations from His Manuscripts and Latin Works. Society. ISBN 978-0790561592. Retrieved 26 October 2019 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ Lahey 2009, p. 5.
  18. ^ Davison, Jon (1995). Oxford – Images & Recollections, p. 261. ISBN 1-86982499-7.
  19. ^ "Archives & Manuscripts". Oxford: Balliol College. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  20. ^ a b c Estep, William Roscoe (1986). Renaissance and Reformation. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-0802800503. Retrieved 26 October 2019 – via Google Books.
  21. ^ a b Buddensieg, Rudolf (26 October 1884). "John Wiclif, patriot & reformer; life and writings". London: T. Fisher Unwin. Retrieved 26 October 2019 – via Internet Archive.
  22. ^ "John Wycliffe in Ludgershall" (PDF).
  23. ^ "John Wycliffe and the Dawn of the Reformation". Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
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  25. ^ Stone, Larry (11 December 2012). The Story of the Bible: The Fascinating History of Its Writing, Translation and Effect on Civilization. Thomas Nelson. p. 83. ISBN 978-1-59555-433-8.
  26. ^ Burns, J. H. (1988). The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought c. 350–c. 1450. Cambridge University Press. pp. 644–649. ISBN 978-1139055390.
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  29. ^ An excellent account of this dispute between the bishop and the protectors of Wycliffe is given in the Chronicon Angliae, the gist of which is quoted in DNB, lxiii. 206–207.
  30. ^ a b c "John Wyclif, Translator and Controversialist".
  31. ^ "21 St Giles, Oxford". www.oxfordhistory.org.uk. Retrieved 21 September 2023.
  32. ^ a b Tracts and Treatises of John de Wycliffe. The Wycliffe Society. 1845.
  33. ^ Hudson, Anne (2002). The premature Reformation: Wycliffite texts and Lollard history. Oxford: Clarendon. ISBN 978-0-19-822762-5.
  34. ^ "John Wycliffe". www.greatsite.com. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  35. ^ "John Wycliffe – Michael Davies". 12 April 2018. Archived from the original on 11 December 2021. Retrieved 26 October 2019 – via www.youtube.com.
  36. ^ "Earthquake Synod." Cross, F. L. and E. A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford UP, 1974. p. 437.
  37. ^ "§12. Nicholas Hereford and John Purvey. II. Religious Movements in the Fourteenth Century. Vol. 2. The End of the Middle Ages. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature: An Encyclopedia in Eighteen Volumes. 1907–21". www.bartleby.com. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  38. ^ "John Wycliffe (1324–1384)". WebTruth.org. 18 January 2018. Archived from the original on 27 September 2020. Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  39. ^ Herring, George (2006), Introduction To The History of Christianity, New York: New York University Press, p. 230.
  40. ^ "John Wycliffe". The Catholic Layman. 5 (59): 121–123. 1856. ISSN 0791-5640. JSTOR 30066639. Retrieved 21 September 2023.
  41. ^ This may have been to prevent the development of a saint or relic cult around Wycliff: some local Lollards believed a miraculous spring had sprung where his bones were buried.Marshall, Peter (2018). Heretics and believers: a history of the English Reformation (First published in paperback ed.). New Haven London: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300234589.: 116 
  42. ^ Thakkar, Mark (22 October 2020). "Duces caecorum: On Two Recent Translations of Wyclif". Vivarium. 58 (4): 357–383. doi:10.1163/15685349-12341391. hdl:10023/20939.
  43. ^ Lindberg, Conrad (1991), English Wyclif Tracts 1-3, Oslo: Novus Forlag, p. 11.
  44. ^ Walker, Williston (1958). A History of the Christian Church. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 269. ASIN B00087NRC8.
  45. ^ a b See Mary Dove, The First English Bible (Cambridge, 2007), and Elizabeth Solopova (ed.), The Wycliffite Bible (Leiden, 2016).
  46. ^ Gasquet, Francis Aidan (1894). "The Pre-Reformation English Bible". Dublin Review. 115: 122–152.
  47. ^ Matthew, F. D. (1895). "The Authorship of the Wycliffite Bible". The English Historical Review. 10 (37): 91–99. ISSN 0013-8266. JSTOR 547995.
  48. ^ Clossey, Luke (2024). Jesus and the Making of the Modern Mind, 1380-1520. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers. p. 257. doi:10.11647/OBP.0371. ISBN 978-1-80511-001-9.
  49. ^ McCormack, Frances (2007). Chaucer and the Culture of Dissent: The Lollard Context and Subtext of the Parson's Tale. Dublin: Four Courts Press. p. 161.
  50. ^ Thomson, S. Hunter (1967). "John Wyclif". Reformers in Profile: [essays].
  51. ^ "John Wycliffe condemned as a heretic". www.historytoday.com. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  52. ^ "John Wycliffe", Encyclopædia Britannica (online ed.), 16 October 2009.
  53. ^ Wycliffe, John (26 October 1883). "John Wiclif's Polemical works in Latin". Wyclif society. Retrieved 26 October 2019 – via Google Books.
  54. ^ Deanesly, Margaret (1971). "A History of the Medieval Church 590–1500". Scottish Journal of Theology. 24 (2): 239 – via Cambridge University Press.
  55. ^ a b "John Wycliffe: The Morning Star of the Reformation". 14 October 2016. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  56. ^ Lahey, Stephen. "Stanislav of Znojmo's Commentary on John Wyclif's Philosophy". globalcommentary.utoronto.ca.
  57. ^ Lahey 2009, Ch. 7: "Wyclif’s writings on dominium, which make up the bulk of the first half of his Summa Theologie, contain the essence of his theological vision, uniting his metaphysics to his sociopolitical and ecclesiological thought."
  58. ^ Wycliffe, John. On Universals, (trans. A. Kenny), Oxford: 1985, pp. 162–165
  59. ^ Rao, H. Krishna (1942). "John Wycliffe". The Indian Journal of Political Science. 3 (4): 372–379. ISSN 0019-5510. JSTOR 42754272.
  60. ^ a b c "John Wycliffe Was an English Bible Translator and Early Reformer". Learn Religions. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  61. ^ Woods, William. "Why was John Wyclif regarded as a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church?" (PDF). Brisbane School of Theology.
  62. ^ "From the Archives: Wycliffe Causes Controversy over Eucharist".
  63. ^ a b c d e Ghosh, Kantik (4 October 2001). The Wycliffite Heresy: Authority and the Interpretation of Texts. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511483288. ISBN 9780521807203.
  64. ^ This verse is also used in the quasi-Joachimite Middle English tract The Last Age of the Church, attributed to the young Wycliffe, which gives the year 1400 as start of the age of the anti-Christ, interpreting the verse using versions of a Talmudic legend and mentioning a supposed prophecy of Merlin. Wycliffe, John (10 March 2023). The last age of the church.
  65. ^ Corrigan, Kevin; Harrington, L. Michael (2023). "Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.
  66. ^ François, Wim (2018). "Vernacular Bible Reading in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe: The "Catholic" Position Revisited". The Catholic Historical Review. 104 (1): 23–56. doi:10.1353/cat.2018.0001. S2CID 163790511. Retrieved 14 August 2023.
  67. ^ Tatnall, Edith C. (1970). "The condemnation of John Wyclif at the Council of Constance". Councils and Assemblies. Studies in Church History. Cambridge University Press: 209–218. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511665820.013. ISBN 9780521080385.
  68. ^ "The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards". chaucer.fas.harvard.edu.
  69. ^ "The Thirty Seven Conclusions of the Lollards" (PDF). English Theological Review. XXVI: 738–749. 1911.
  70. ^ "The Calendar". The Church of England. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  71. ^ "57. The Calendar, ix", The Prayer Book online, CA, archived from the original on 4 November 2013, retrieved 26 November 2012
  72. ^ Historic England. "Wycliffe Memorial, Bitteswell Road, Lutterworth, Leicestershire (Grade II) (1209165)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 29 March 2024.
  73. ^ "Lutterworth, Bitteswell Road, Wycliffe Memorial Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Leicestershire". My Wesleyan Methodists website. Methodist Heritage and the Methodist Church of Great Britain. 24 June 2018. Archived from the original on 29 May 2022. Retrieved 29 March 2024.

General and cited sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Boreczky, Elemér. John Wyclif's Discourse on Dominion in Community (Leiden, Brill, 2007) (Studies in the History of Christian Traditions 139).
  • Fountain, David. John Wycliffe – The Dawn Of The Reformation (Mayflower Christian Publications, 1984) ISBN 978-0907821021.
  • Hudson, Anne, and Anthony Kenny. "Wyclif, John (d. 1384)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online ed., September 2010 accessed 13 October 2014 doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/30122; a short biography
  • Ghosh, Kantik. The Wycliffite Heresy. Authority and the Interpretation of Texts (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001) (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature, 45) (ISBN 0-521-80720-4).
  • Lahey, Stephen E. John Wyclif (Oxford University Press, 2009) (Great Medieval Thinkers).
  • Lahey, Stephen E. "John Wyclif." in Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy (Springer Netherlands, 2011) pp. 653–58.
  • G. W. H. Lampe, ed. The Cambridge History of the Bible. The West from the Fathers to the Reformation, [Vol 2]
  • Leff, Gordon. John Wyclif: The Path the Dissent (Oxford University Press, 1966)
  • Levy, Ian C., ed. A Companion to John Wyclif, Late Medieval Theologian. Brill's Companions to the Christian Tradition 4). Leiden: Brill, 2006. (hardcover, ISBN 90-04-15007-2.)
  • McFarlane, K. B. The origins of religious dissent in England (New York, Collier Books, 1966) (Originally published under the title "John Wycliffe and the beginnings of English nonconformity", 1952).
  • Michael, Emily (2003). "John Wyclif on body and mind". Journal of the History of Ideas. 64#3 pp. 343–60.
  • Robson, John Adam. Wyclif and the Oxford Schools: The Relation of the "Summa de Ente" to Scholastic Debates at Oxford in the Later Fourteenth Century (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1961).
  • Thakkar, Mark. Duces caecorum: On Two Recent Translations of Wyclif (Vivarium, 2020)

External links[edit]