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The Rise of Wycliffe!

The first complete English Bible!

                 SPIRITUAL DARKNESS IN THE MIDDLE AGES #17


THE BIBLE IN ENGLAND BEFORE THE REFORMATION

by Ken Connolly


The Dry Ground


     Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would "grow up as a root
out of a dry ground" (Isaiah 53:2). That may also be said of many
reformers who followed their Master, and not least of Wycliffe,
England's first great reformer, known as "the Morning Star of the
Reformation." Though Wycliffe was not the first man to attack
corrupt practices in the church, he was the first to condemn the
underlying doctrine. He was born about 1330 in the village of
Wycliffe, six miles from Richmond, Yorkshire, but he spent most
of his life in Oxford. He was a man of outstanding intelligence,
courage and charisma. In a university where the art of arguing
was all-important, he could dispute with a panel of the greatest
academics and reduce them to silence. When he came to take an
unpopular stand on political and religious matters, he stood
undaunted before threats from king, Parliament, university and
even, most deadly and bitter of all, from the world-wide church.
Young men enlisted in his cause and gave their lives to be burned
at the stake because they believed he was right.

     To appreciate the stature of this man, it is necessary to
know something of the "dry ground" of the Middle Ages. The
previous chapter has already touched on the religious climate; we
now consider two other important aspects of medieval life:
language and politics.


Language

     The people of Wycliffe's day spoke Middle English, which is
basically the same language as modern English, though people
today would not understand it if they heard it spoken. The
English language passed through three stages. The first was Old
English, which began with the tribes who invaded England from the
third century onwards. Remember, this is just a small island.
Only about 800 miles separate John O'Groats in the north of
Scotland from Land's End at the southernmost tip of England. No
place in the island is more than 100 miles from the sea. Foreign
marauders repeatedly swept in and took over different parts of
the country, bringing their language and culture with them. The
Jutes settled in the south-east, the Saxons in the south and the
Angles in the middle of Britain, from the Scottish border to the
river Thames. The islanders consequently spoke three separate
dialects of Old English. The Angles spoke Mercian, a form of
which was also spoken in London.
     The transition to Middle English came with William the
Conqueror, who landed in England only 260 years before Wycliffe
was born. His forces spoke Norman French, and this became the
language of law and government. But the ordinary people and
merchants continued to speak English, though borrowing many words
from the French. Modern English, therefore, often has two words
for the same thing-for example, the word "lamb," which was used
by the serfs, and "mutton," which came from their French masters.
The one referred to the animal as it was in the fields, and the
other to the meat on the tables.
     Two writers of Middle English stand out. Geoffrey Chaucer
(c1340-1400) is still regarded as one of the greatest English
poets. Everyone knows his masterpiece, the Canterbury Tales, but
few people are famil iar with the great prose writings attributed
to Chaucer's friend John Wycliffe.


Politics

     In politics there was a similar state of flux. When William
the Conqueror took over the island in 1066, he ruled through
barons who governed regions for him, collecting taxes and
marshaling armies. They grew very powerful, and succeeding kings
became dependent on them. Within 150 years they were stubbornly
refusing to co-operate with the king without being granted a
larger voice in national affairs. King John (who reigned from
1199 to 1216) inherited enormous debts along with his crown, and
added further debt by going to war with France. He could receive
no assistance from the Pope because he had appointed his own
Archbishop of Canterbury and rejected the pope's appointee. But
he needed money so desperately that he was forced to submit, and
even laid his crown at the feet of a papal legate-an act of
monumental importance because it subordinated the crown to the
miter, the throne to the church.
     John could not survive without the financial support of the
barons. In return, in 1215 the barons forced him to sign the
Magna Carta, which limited the power of the king and recognized
the rights of barons, church and freemen. He later attempted to
rescind the document, but when he lodged in a monastery in the
north of England a monk laced his wine with poison, and the
document outlived him. Out of that political conflict came the
English Parliament, the forerunner of the American Congress and
many other legislative bodies around the world.
     Wycliffe was to play a leading role in directing England out
of the political quagmire in which church and state were
embroiled, and one of his tools would be the Bible.


The morning star

     Of Wycliffe's childhood we know nothing. He spent a number
of years in Oxford as an undergraduate - becoming a fellow of
Merton College by 1356 - and the next sixteen years studying for
his doctorate, also at Oxford. In the last twelve years of his
life, he kept up his links with Oxford. Though he did some
traveling in the service of the crown, Oxford was his base, and
here he did most of his teaching and writing: he was truly a
citizen of Oxford. He spent the last two years of his life in
Lutterworth, where he died in 1384.
     What was Oxford like when Wycliffe arrived? When the French
evicted all the English students from the University of Paris in
1167, these students had formed their own University in Oxford.
The town was hostile to this invasion of robed academics, and a
"town and gown" controversy ensued in which opposing sides
sometimes came to blows. Consequently, in 1209 some of the
students fled to Cambridge, where they founded another
university. These two universities quickly became the leading
universities of Europe. The year before Wycliffe graduated,
sixty-two students were killed by the townspeople in a riot on St
Scholastica Day. For the next 468 years, on the same day, the
townspeople placed sixty-two pennies on the altar at St Mary's to
atone for that misdeed.
     When Wycliffe was a student, the dreaded Black Death arrived
in England. It was merciless, touching both rich and poor, young
and old. The people of London used the open acres of ground at
Smithfield as a common burial site, and soon they were burying
200 victims a day. This continued until the plague had claimed
over 100,000 lives.
     During this terrifying plague, Wycliffe experienced a
profound spiritual revival that reached to the core of his being.
The holy fear of God that came upon him brought a disregard for
human popes and potentates: it seemed that he held communion with
the citizens of the invisible world. He rearranged his priorities
and became more earnest in his theological studies. The
transformation was soul-shattering and proved to be permanent.
In 1356 he graduated from Merton College. Five years later, in
1361, he added his Master of Arts, and eight years later, in
1369, when he was in his forties, he was awarded his Bachelor of
Divinity degree. Then in 1372 he earned his doctorate in
divinity. By this time he was already considered the outstanding
philosopher and theologian of Oxford, which means he was probably
the most prominent theologian of England. He was the leading
speaker at theological debates, and when he lectured his
classrooms were always crowded.
     In 1361 he was ordained for the ministry and accepted a
living at Fillingham in Lincolnshire, which maintained him until
he was appointed to the rectory of Lutterworth. He did not live
in either of these places, however, except when he retired to
Lutterworth at the end of his life, for neither was within
commuting distance of Oxford and his first love was teaching. (It
was acceptable practice, in those days, to have "absentee
parsons," but it was the parson's responsibility to find someone
to take his place in the parish.) Wycliffe's debates in Oxford
sharpened his convictions and his studies led him to value truth
above tradition. The longer he studied, the more he saw issues in
terms of truth or falsehood, black or white. He could see clearly
where there was wrong thinking and evil practice, even when they
were robed in the red and purple garments of a high-ranking
clergyman. Whether the issues were sacred or secular, political
or ecclesiastical, right was right and wrong was wrong, and right
the day must win. To doubt would be disloyalty, to falter would
be sin.
     In Oxford, Wycliffe the fighter was born, and his sword was,
above all, the Bible.


The Cold War

     During this time Rome and Oxford were engaged in a cold war,
fighting a battle on two fronts.

     The political front in Wycliffe's day nearly all the leading
positions of state were occupied by the clergy, who were
influential and aggressive. This state of affairs was wrong. It
harmed the clergy, who were called to a superior ministry, and it
was damaging for the state, since these men took their orders
from Rome. Quite simply, it was bad politics.
     In addition, major religious positions were filled by the
pope's nominees, many of whom were foreigners, who never even set
foot on English soil but had their lucrative salaries sent to
them. While Wycliffe could see the political harm of this policy,
he felt the religious harm more keenly. Clergymen were being
bought, sold and traded in return for favors to their religious
superiors, and any sense of sacred service to Christ had vanished
from their pulpits. Wycliffe wrote a tract on this subject before
Parliament presented a petition to the king concerning the grip
which Rome had on England. Most students of history are persuaded
that it was Wycliffe who gave Parliament the ammunition and the
incentive for its action.
     The highest insult to England came when French priests were
awarded positions in the church in England. This was a foolish
move on the part of Rome. England at that time was engaged on the
Hundred Years War against France, and these appointments only
inflamed passions and aggravated hostilities. This was the final
straw and it provoked the English Parliament to pass two very
important statutes.
     The first was the Statute of Provisors, in 1351. This stated
that no one had the right to make any appointment on foreign soil
when that appointment could be considered an insult to the
sovereign of the country. The statute ruled that foreign
appointments within the English realm must first receive the
king's approval.
     The second was the Statute of Praemunire, passed in 1353.
This law prevented any foreign court from demanding trial, or
exacting penalty from any Englishman, before he had been tried in
an English court. It also nullified any existing writ demanding
that an Englishman appear for trial in a foreign country. In
future such writs would require the permission of Parliament.
These statutes were soon to be tested. When King John had placed
his crown before a Papal legate (see previous section), Pope
Innocent III had imposed an annual tax of 666 pounds on the
British crown. It was paid, erratically, until 1320. In 1365, the
Pope demanded the reinstatement of this tax, and an immediate
payment of the arrears. To add insult to injury, the following
year a Papal Bull was issued ordering the king to appear in Rome
and defend himself. Those decisions on Rome's part trampled over
Parliament's Statute of Praemunire.
     Six years later, in 1372, the year Wycliffe received his
doctorate, Rome sent an agent to collect money for the Pope's war
with Milan. The agent's extravagant and pompous retinue, his
costly robes, and his large staff of accountants requiring
numerous rooms, were all more suitable for a minister of state
than a representative of the church. The Pope's emissary promised
Parliament that he would do nothing that was against the
interests of the king, but Wycliffe could see that he was
promising what he could not perform. Immediately Wycliffe
published a tract pointing out that the nature of the agent's
mission was inconsistent with his promise to Parliament, which,
in effect, made him a liar.
     Two years later, Wycliffe was appointed to a royal
commission which was sent to Bruges in an attempt to relieve
tension between London and Rome. That assignment occupied the
next two years of his life but proved to be a tedious waste of
time. Many of the English bishops on the commission gave way when
their foreign superiors promised them lucrative jobs, but
Wycliffe could not be bribed or swayed, and resolutely opposed
payment of the tribute. Though he failed to turn the
negotiations, his stance endeared him to Parliament and earned
him the friendship of John of Gaunt, the powerful fourth son of
the king. Wycliffe was later made a royal chaplain.


The theological front

     The second front in the cold war centered on Wycliffe's
rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation. This doctrine, a
recent innovation, dating only to 1215, attempted to explain the
words of Jesus, "This is my body." The church contended that
though the "accidents" or "species" (the bread and wine
observable by human senses) remained the same, their substance
was literally and mysteriously changed into the actual body and
blood of Christ. Wycliffe saw serious problems in this
interpretation, which he considered to be unscriptural. The fact
that he had received his doctorate in 1372 suggests that he was
not considered heretical by the church at that time, but after he
published his book "On the Eucharist" in 1381 he lost most of his
friends in palace, Parliament and university.


The pen is mightier

     Wycliffe gave lectures to his students on the secular
immoralities of the church. But he decided that his pen was more
powerful than his pulpit. There were no printing presses and all
publications had to be hand written, and then painstakingly
hand-copied for distribution; but the pen was nevertheless the
most potent vehicle for the dissemination of revolutionary ideas.
Wycliffe's earliest writing was a tract written in 1360 entitled
it "Objections to Friars," in which he accused the friars of
disrupting school discipline and domestic relationships, and
called them a pestilence. He said they were guilty of ignorance
and proselytizing, and were a major inconvenience both to church
and to university. Two important facts about this tract deserve
notice. First, it was not an attack on the church but on a
corrupt order of friars within it. Second, it gained Wycliffe
great support in the University of Oxford.
     His great treatise on Civil Dominion, written in 1376, was
aggressive and strong. He declared that "England belongs to no
Pope. The Pope is but a man, subject to sin; but Christ is the
Lord of lords, and this kingdom is held directly and solely of
Christ alone." John Wycliffe considered that the division between
Rome and London was irreconcilable and went so far as to argue
that "every Papal resident in England, and every Englishman
living at the court of Rome, should be punished with death."
     In 1378 he wrote "The Truth of Holy Scripture" in which he
made clear his view on truth in the Bible. He stated that the
scriptures are without error and contain God's entire revelation.
No further teaching from any other source is necessary, and all
other teaching must be tested against the Bible.
     His book "On the Eucharist," published in 1381, was followed
by "Twelve Propositions." As we have seen, his courageous stance
against what he regarded as unbiblical teaching lost him the
friendship and support of much of the establishment.
     In Wycliffe's writings we see all the seeds of the
Reformation. For nearly every issue on which he expressed his
opinion, godly men were burned at the stake 150 years later. He
condemned trust in personal works, pardons, indulgences and
priestly absolution. He called the sale of indulgences "a subtle
merchandise of Antichrist's clerks to magnify their counterfeit
power, and to get worldly goods, and to cause men to dread sin."
He held that Scripture comes "from the mouth of God": it is the
truth - superior to the teaching of the Pope, the Church or the
Fathers, and tells us all we need to know. Wycliffe set the table
and wrote the menu for the great reform that was to shake Europe
to its roots.
     One of his last tracts was the "Trialogue" which took the
form of a conversation between Truth, Falsehood and
Understanding. "The church has fallen," he argued, "because she
has abandoned the gospel and pre ferred the laws of the Pope.
Although there should be a hundred Popes in the world at once
[there were two contending at the time], and all the friars
living should be transformed into cardinals, we must withhold our
confidence from them in the matter of faith, except so far as
their teachings are those of the Scriptures."
     Wycliffe's powerful and prolific pen was dipped in acid. But
its greatest product was yet to come - a Bible in the language of
the ordinary Englishman and woman. However, he had first to face
the fury of an offended church.


The lion's den

     After Wycliffe wrote Civil Dominion, the opposition
determined that, by one means or another, Wycliffe must be
silenced. The threats now turned into action.
     On February 19, 1377, Wycliffe was called to answer charges
before a convocation of bishops at St Paul's. The trial drew a
fanatical crowd, blindly obedient to the church. When Wycliffe
arrived, it was with a small procession of men who supported and
helped him. These included the two most powerful men in England:
Lord Percy, the marshal of England, and John of Gaunt, the Duke
of Lancaster, who was administering the kingdom during the
terminal sickness of Edward 111. These two great men walked ahead
of Wycliffe. Following him were four doctors of divinity, who
were his counsel. They bravely threaded their way through the
hostile crowds thronging the entrances to the church. Once they
stepped across the threshold, they were confronted by a solid
wall of booing people, who swayed to and fro, their hands raised
in anger. The prince turned to Wycliffe and assured him that they
were there to protect him. Some sharp, angry words passed between
Percy and Courtenay, the Bishop of London. When Percy noticed
that Wycliffe stood during this exchange, he turned to him and
said, "Sit down and rest yourself." This assumption of authority
enraged Courtenay, who was acting as chairman, and he cried, "It
is unreasonable that one cited to appear before a bishop should
sit down during his answer. He must and shall stand." A riot
broke out which disrupted the entire proceedings, and Wycliffe
and his escort providentially escaped from the threatening
danger.
     Later that year five papal Bulls were issued against
Wycliffe, the Benedictines having examined his writings and taken
exception to eighteen propositions, and King Edward III was
ordered to place Wycliffe in prison awaiting the pope's pleasure.
The king, however, was a sick man, on the point of death, and no
action was taken against Wycliffe.
     Early in 1378, with the new Richard II a mere boy of ten,
Wycliffe appeared once more before the bishops. The citation was
issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury; the king and the
university were silent. The venue was astutely changed from St
Paul's to Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop
of Canterbury. Again there were angry crowds. "Men expected that
he should be devoured," wrote one historian, "being brought into
the lion's den." But there was uneasiness at the royal palace. As
we have seen, a law had been passed stating that papal Bulls
should have no effect in England without the consent of
Parliament and king. Shortly after the trial began, it was
interrupted by Sir Louis Clifford with a message from the old
king's widow to the effect that they should pass no verdict on
the Reformer. The bishops were panic-stricken. They made an
immediate about-turn, attempted to placate Wycliffe, and told him
simply that he should not argue his controversial opinions in
Oxford university or preach them from the pulpit.

     In the winter of 1380-1381, a commission of twelve Oxford
doctors investigated Wycliffe's teaching on the Mass and
concluded, by a majority of seven to five, that Wycliffe was in
error. The chancellor warned that anyone who held such views,
taught them or defended them would be imprisoned, suspended from
university office and excommunicated. In response, Wycliffe
declared that the chancellor could not possibly make him weaken
his opinion; and in May 1381 he published a defense of the
condemned opinions.
     This was the year of the Peasants' Revolt, when, under the
leadership of Wat Tyler and John Ball, peasants marched on London
to air their grievances, and the King was obliged to seek refuge
in the Tower of London. Those in authority suggested that
Wycliffe's views had inspired the revolt, and in 1382 a Council
of theologians meeting at Blackfriars in London decreed that his
writings contained both heresy and error. In the middle of their
proceedings, an earthquake shook the whole building, whereupon
both the supporters of Wycliffe and his detractors claimed that
it showed God agreed with them. Wycliffe's enemies instigated a
Parliamentary bill condemning Wycliffe's teachings and this bill
was given royal assent without ever being debated by the Commons.
The attack was now concentrated on Wycliffe's Oxford disciples,
many of whom were brought to recant publicly. Wycliffe himself,
who had not been present at Blackfriars, escaped such a fate. In
1382 he left Oxford and retired to Lutterworth, where he
continued to write despite the effects of a stroke. On December
28, 1384, while he was at communion in his parish church, he
suffered a second stroke and slumped back into his chair. Four
men came forward, lifted up the chair and carried it silently out
through a side door of the church to the parsonage. The old man
never spoke another word until he talked with his Savior in the
presence of the angels on the last day of that year.


A book for burning

     Before Wycliffe, others had translated parts of the Bible
into English. We have already looked at the work of the "seven
great men" (see previous chapter). In addition, about the year
1200, Orm, an Augustinian monk, made a metrical paraphrase of
parts of the Gospels. He was followed by William of Shoreham, a
parish priest living in Kent, who made a translation of the
Psalms in 1320. A third translator was Richard Rolle, a hermit
from Yorkshire, who in 1340 also made a translation of the
Psalms, adding a verse by verse commentary. But it was left to
Wycliffe and his followers to provide the first complete Bible in
the English language. Wycliffe fervently believed that the Bible
needed no special interpretation even for laymen to understand,
but since the ordinary man could not understand Latin, the Bible
had to be translated into English.

     Wycliffe's Bible was not a translation from the original
languages, for two reasons: first, the manuscripts which later
became available had not yet been discovered, and second, Hebrew
and Greek were little known in England. (That was the real
reason, as the Greek MSSW by the thousands had been preserved by
the Greek church - Keith Hunt). But Wycliffe and his followers
were good Latin scholars, and the source for their translation of
the Scriptures was Jerome's Vulgate of AD 405. As the church
accepted the authority of the apocryphal writings, the Wycliffe
Bible included them.
     It is not clear whether or not Wycliffe himself did any of
the translation but he certainly inspired, instigated and
probably supervised the work. There is every reason to believe
that the Old Testament, as far as Baruch 3:20, was translated by
(or under the direction of) Nicholas Hereford, one of Wycliffe's
disciples and fellow workers. There is a sharp contrast between
the style of the translation before and after that point. The
first part was scholarly, stiff and excessively literal-it may
have been intended chiefly as a "crib" for those clergy who
needed help with following their Latin Bibles-whereas the
remainder inclined more to the common language of the people. We
know that Nicholas Hereford was summoned to stand trial in London
as a heretic, and was excommunicated from the church. We do not
know for certain who was responsible for the rest of the
translation, but tradition has it that Wycliffe worked on some or
all of the New Testament.

     That was the Bible in English until, in 1396, a dozen years
after Wycliffe's death, a revision was made by John Purvey, who
had been Wycliffe's close assistant and secretary during the
Reformer's retirement at Lutterworth. Purvey revised the literal,
crabbed style of the original Old Testament translation to make
it much more readable and in keeping with the style of the New
Testament. It is Purvey's revision that was circulated as the
Wycliffe Bible, and it is impossible to over-emphasise its
importance and influence.
     Remember, there were as yet no printing presses. It took ten
months to reproduce one copy of the Bible, and the cost of a copy
was between 30 and 40 Engish pounds. It was reported that two
pennies could buy a chicken, and four a hog. 40 pound was 9,600
pennies - an enormous amount of money. Fox wrote of people who
provided a load of hay for the privilege of having the New
Testament to read for one day. Some would save for a month in
order to purchase a single page. Soon copies had to be made and
distributed by stealth, the Arundel Constitutions of 1408 having
decreed that "no one henceforth do by his own authority translate
any text of Holy Scripture into the English tongue or into any
other, by way of book or treatise; nor let any book or treatise
now lately composed in the time of John Wycliffe, or since, or
hereafter be composed, be read in whole or in part, in public or
private, under pain of the greater excommunication... He that
shall do contrary to this shall likewise be punished as a favorer
of heresy and error." The "punishment" referred to involved
execution by burning. Nevertheless, so many copies were produced
that even today there still exist over 200 manuscript copies of
this Bible. Wycliffe had started something in England which it
was impossible to stop. He had released an irresistible force
that would dispel the darkness, liberate the church and elevate
the social conditions of mankind for generations to come.


No man is an island

     By the time of Wycliffe's death, his disciples, or Lollards,
looked upon themselves as a Christian church, dependent on the
Bible, and independent of Rome. They accepted the priesthood of
all believers and administration of the sacraments by men who had
not been ordained by a bishop. The poverty of the Wycliffites,
and their insistence on preaching in the language of the people
rather than in Latin, won them respect. Their views were so
popular that Wycliffite slogans and insults were placarded on the
walls of St Paul's and other public places. In 1395 a manifesto
was nailed to the door at Westminster Hall demanding that
Parliament "abolish celibacy, transubstantiation, prayers for the
dead, offerings at images, auricular confession, the practice of
blessing the oil," and so on.
     When Wycliffe's supporters nailed the Twelve Conclusions, a
summary of the teaching of the early Lollards, on to the doors of
St.Paul's and Westminster Abbey, Arundel, the Archbishop of York,
and Bray brooke, the Bishop of London, reacted angrily, storming
off to King Richard II, who was in Ireland at the time. By then
the king's wife, Anne of Bohemia, had died, and without her
influence for good, the king was easily swayed by these men. When
he returned to England, he ordered Parliament not to deliberate
the issue, threatening to punish anyone who persisted in
defending the followers of Wycliffe. A strange twist of
circumstances then occurred. Richard had previously quarreled
violently with his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, the son of
Wycliffe's patron John of Gaunt, and had banished Bolingbroke
from the country. When Richard was in Ireland, Bolingbroke had
landed in Yorkshire and amassed a rebel army. His efforts were a
success. In 1399, he dethroned Richard and became England's new
king, Henry IV.
     Thomas Arundel, now Archbishop of Canterbury, had seen the
handwriting on the wall and had already deserted Richard to align
with Henry. It was he who placed the crown on the head of Henry,
and directed him at the coronation to "consolidate the throne,
conciliate the clergy and sacrifice the Lollards." Henry replied,
"I will be the protector of the church." Two years later, in
1401, the infamous De Haeretico Comburendo, the Act for burning
heretics, was passed by Parliament. Within eight days of its
passage, the fires of Smithfield were burning for William Sawtre,
the first martyr for Wycliffe's doctrine, who had been guilty of
saying, "Instead of adoring the cross on which Christ suffered, I
adore Christ who suffered on it." He was dragged to the precincts
of St.Paul's cathedral, where his head was ceremonially shaved. A
layman's cap was put on his head and then he was handed over to
the "mercy" of the state.

     With Lollardy condemned in the Constitutions of Arundel, a
Lollards' prison was built at Lambeth Palace, the London
residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was a room twelve
feet by twelve, with a ceiling seven feet high; it is still
there, with iron rings attached to the wall a few feet apart. You
can still see the etchings made on the wall by the prisoners. One
reads "Jesus amor meus" (Jesus is my love).
     In Norwich, the Bishop was zealous in his persecution of the
Lollards, causing so many to be killed that the place of public
execution became known as the Lollards' Pit. Such burnings took
place all over England, testifying to the large numbers of
Lollards who were willing to die for their faith.
     The faith of these persecuted people is exemplified by Sir
John Oldcastle who took the title of Lord Cobham through his
third wife. He became a disciple of Wycliffe's theology, attended
the preaching of Lollard priests, and helped to provide
literature in English for them to distribute. He was brought to
trial at St.Paul's on September 23, 1413. When he was questioned,
and the shouting priests demanded, "Believe!" Sir John responded:
"I am willing to believe all that God desires. But that the Pope
should have authority to teach what is contrary to Scripture -
that I can never believe." At this he was led back to the Tower
of London.
     Two days later he was attacked in the most abusive language
by the priests, canons, friars and indulgence-sellers, but he was
adamant. He informed them: "I ask not for your absolution: it is
God's only that I need."

     He was given forty days to prepare his soul for death in the
hope that he would recant before his execution, and so weaken the
Lollard cause. Miraculously he escaped from the Tower, and fled
to Wales, where he led a Lollard rising. After three years, he
was recaptured, in December of 1417, and dragged on a hurdle to
St.Giles's Fields, tied by chains to a spit over a slow fire, and
slowly roasted to death like a hog.

     Wycliffe's followers could not be stamped out by
persecution. They were still numerous and active 125 years later,
when the Reformation started in earnest and turned all Europe
upside down.


The priest of Prague

     The fires of reform that were being kindled in England were
burning also in Bohemia (today part of the Czech republic). In
1360 the king of Bohemia invited Conrad of Waldhausen to come and
preach against the corruption which was prevalent in the church.
That was the beginning of a national reform movement which was
later to focus in a man called John Huss.
Born in 1372, Huss entered an elementary school when he was
twelve. Five years later he enrolled as a student at the
University of Prague, where he remained as student and professor
for the rest of his life. He earned his B.A. and his M.A. degrees
in 1396 and was then
......

To be continued 


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