Keith Hunt - After the Age of Wycliffe   Restitution of All Things
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After the age of Wycliffe!

The Hebrew and Greek MSS Translations!


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invited to teach on the faculty. He used this opportunity to
pursue a bachelor's degree in theology, which he gained in 1404.
By then he had become a prominent leader in the reform movement.
In 1400 he was ordained as a priest, and two years later he was
appointed to the key position of rector and preacher at the
Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. The chapel had been founded by a
wealthy merchant as a center of the reformed movement, and two
sermons were delivered there daily. Into this environment came
the explosive ideas of John Wycliffe.
     The Wycliffe connection came through a Bohemian princess,
Anne, who, in 1382, had married Richard II of England. In England
Anne came across Wycliffe's writings and became an ardent
supporter of his teach ing. Not only was she able to sway the
king's thinking, but she brought an entourage of ladies-in-
waiting who exerted considerable spiritual influence over the
court in England. The presence of a Bohemian queen in the courts
of Richard led several students to come over from Bohemia to
study in England. One of these students returned to Prague with
several of the more reformed writings of Wycliffe. When Anne died
in 1394, her bereaved ladies-in-waiting returned to Bohemia with
the writings of Wycliffe in their traveling bags. These were
distributed throughout the state of Bohemia.
     Though Huss did not agree with Wycliffe's views on
transubstantiation, he did accept several of Wycliffe's
propositions, notably Wycliffe's denial of the need for popes,
priests and prelates, and his support for the participation of
the laity in the cup of the communion, an idea which was totally
unacceptable to Rome.
     There were a large number of Germans in Prague, with power
to vote, and as a result of their influence the University
condemned Wycliffe on forty-five issues. This divided the entire
country, and led the king to eliminate the German vote at the
University. At this, the Germans packed their bags and quit
Prague, leaving Huss with supreme influence over the city and its
     The Church of Rome was furious, and in February 1411 the
archbishop obtained a papal ban on all preaching at the Bethlehem
Chapel. Huss refused to obey, so he was excommunicated. The
archbishop burned 200 volumes of Wycliffe's writings, and Huss
responded by publicly defending Wycliffe. For this he was ordered
to go to Rome and respond to questions. Once more, he refused to
comply with the pope's orders.
     In 1412, Pope John XXIII launched a crusade against the King
of Naples and offered all the supporting soldiers full remission
of sins in return for their assistance. Huss was so outraged at
such unwarranted spiritual concessions that he more openly
attacked the entire idea of the sale of indulgences. The result
was that the city of Prague was placed under interdict by the
pope, which meant that no religious could be conducted, not even
baptisms or funerals. Under this pressure, Huss left the city and
went into southern Bohemia, spending his time in writing two
important books, one on the church and the other on the buying
and selling of positions in the church.
     During this time three contesting Popes were simultaneously
attempting to rule the Church: Gregory XII in Rome, Benedict XIII
in Perpignan and John XXIII in Avignon, France. They had been
condemning and anathematizing each other and so dividing the
power of the church. In 1414-1418 a Council was convened in the
Swiss city of Constance, in the hope that the schism might be
resolved and the papacy reunited. The emperor, Sigismund, wanted
to resolve the Huss/Wycliffe issue at the same time, and invited
Huss to Constance, promising safe passage in both directions, no
matter what the outcome of the dispute might be. With great
hesitation Huss accepted the emperor's offer. The Council did
mend the papal schism, but behaved treacherously to Huss.
     Within a month of his arrival, he was captured on orders
from the Popes, and put in prison, awaiting trial for heresy.
When the Bohemians heard about it, they protested vehemently, but
the Popes maintained that the arrest was in keeping with canon
law and to deceive heretics was a pious act. After languishing in
prison for eight months without a trial, Huss was taken from his
dungeon to the cathedral in Constance. On July 6, 1415, he was
publicly disgraced by the removal of every article of priestly
clothing, each with a curse. Then he was made to wear a conical
cap with an inscription identifying him as a heretic. At the city
gates, tied with water-soaked ropes, he was burned to death. His
martyrdom became the symbol of the reformed movement.

Candles in the darkness

     If we were to delineate the Middle Ages politically, they
would begin at the fall of Rome in 476 and reach to the discovery
of America in 1492. In terms of religion, the period stretches
from the conversion of Constantine in 312 to Erasmus' Greek New
Testament in 1516. Looked at from the point of view of
scholarship, the Middle Ages begin with the fall of Rome, and end
some time after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and the
development of the printing press in 1454. Within this period we
may distinguish between the "Dark Ages" of the earlier part and
the revival of learning in the later part. This revolution in
academic attitudes came about in three stages.


     When all the secular schools of the Roman empire were swept
away by the barbarian hordes, the only institution left was the
church. In 800 Charlemagne became the emperor and he gradually
established cathedral schools for the training of priests, and
convent schools for the training of monks. He also had a palace
school for his own children and the children of his nobles, and
often studied with them. He ordered manuscripts, especially
manuscripts of the Bible, to be copied with extreme care, and it
became axiomatic that the church was the guardian of education.
Knowledge increased and minds began to open. Though theology was
the only subject of study, the approach was philosophical.
Attempts were made to reduce Christian doctrine to scientific
form, and to harmonize reason and religion. Because the teachers
were known as schoolmen, or scholastics, this movement, which
flourished from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, became
known as scholasticism. Some of the discussions were trifling and
absurd and scholasticism came under severe criticism from Roger
Bacon, who died some thirty years before Wycliffe was born. In
fact, Wycliffe was considered the last of the scholastics.


     The second stage came with Francesco Petrarch, an Italian
poet who was contemporary with John Wycliffe. He studied art,
society and especially literature, focusing attention on human
achievement. Under his influence, scholasticism gave way to
humanism and the foundation was laid for an age of "inner
motivated" men who emphasised human values and rational thought
and studied the liberal arts, such as history, poetry, philology
and rhetoric. This stage reached its peak at the beginning of the
sixteenth century with such scholars as John Colet, Thomas More,
and Erasmus.

The Renaissance

     The third stage came with the fall of Constantinople in
1453. The ancient city of Byzantium, which Constantine had
enlarged and renamed, became, in AD 330, the seat of government
for the whole Roman Empire. It survived for more than eleven
centuries before falling to the Turks, who made it the capital of
their Ottoman Empire. At its fall, the Greeks fled from
Constantinople to the west, taking with them their humanist
scholarship and culture. The mixing of eastern and western
cultures brought about a renaissance of learning in western
Europe which affected many fields of endeavor. In fine art, when
Raphael or Leonardo da Vinci put paint on canvas, they expressed
the humanism that had captured the minds of Europe. They painted
people, even nudes, with a new care for accuracy of
representation. Michelangelo's sculpture showed the same interest
in the human body. In architecture, builders became imaginative
and inventive, introducing new ideas in apace, decoration and
style. The dome was brought from the east and began to be seen on
many western buildings.
     The new appreciation of art of all kinds spread to music.
Musicians and composers were esteemed as important people in
their own right, and there was a resurgence of creativity. Music
was also secularised. Composers turned to poets for lyrics and
the madrigal was born.
     In the field of scholarship, there was a rebirth of what is
called classial education. Scholars not only explored new
subjects, but also ed opted new tools, such as the classical
language of Greek. This led to a study of Greek and Latin
authors, and required the collecting, printing, annotating and
translating of the writings of the great thinkers of Greece and
     The exploration of new concepts and the intellectual
interest in Creek led to an interest in the original text of the
New Testament. Study of the New Testament in Greek was no longer
frowned upon, since it was associated with a revival in learning.
The day had dawned on the dark medieval night.

The End of Ignorance

Johann Gutenberg

     About the time that Constantinople fell, the process began
for the publication of the first printed Bible. It came to
fruition some three years later, on August 15, 1456. Its printer,
Johann Gutenberg, was a visionary of the type who has millions of
dollars in the bank but cannot afford the cab fare to get there
and collect it.
     Johann was born in Mainz, Germany, about 1398. His father,
Friele zum Gensfleisch, was a well-to-do gentleman and one of the
city's leading officials. (Gutenberg took his name from the place
of his mother's birth.) How his father made his fortune is not
known to us. Some historians relate that he was a scribe who
carefully copied manuscripts, and it was that tedious and tiring
work that motivated his son to invent the printing press. We have
no doubt that the father lost his fortunesJohann's later
financial calamities prove it-and it is surmised that he lost
them at the uprisings of the artisans in 1428. The family was
finally forced to leave Mainz in 1434 and for the next ten years
they lived in Strasbourg. While at Strasbourg, Johann seized and
imprisoned the town clerk of Mainz for a debt owed to him by the
corporation of that city. But when the mayor and the councilors
of Strasbourg disapproved of his conduct, he withdrew his charges
and forfeited all claims to the money.
     The story is told that as a boy Johann entertained himself
in his father's workshop by carving the separate letters of his
name on soft wood. He was lining them up on his father's table
when the "H" fell off into a bucket of purple dye. He quickly
retrieved it, cleaned off the excess on the side of the bucket,
and let it rest on a piece of paper to dry. The impression it
left on the paper, and in his mind, was indelible. This was where
the concept of a printing press with movable type was born. If
this story is true, it took some forty years for the press to
move from an idea to a reality.
     Gutenberg eventually produced a steel stamp, or punch, of
each letter of the alphabet, which, when stamped into a block of
the softer metal, copper, created a mold or matrix into which hot
metal could be poured, and any amount of type cast. But this
process was expensive: it involved not only the manufacture of
type and the building of presses, but also the creation of
special printing inks. The paper of that day, made from rags, was
also expensive. Gutenberg was to print 200 copies of the Bible on
paper. Each page had two columns of 42 lines, and each Bible had
a total of 1,282 pages. He was also to produce 30 of his Bibles
on vellum, made from the hides of calves; and it required 10,000
calves just to accomplish this task. All this required money, and
it was money he did not have. He had to find it.

     In 1450, a lawyer by the name of Johann Fust advanced 800
guilders to Gutenberg to promote his work, requiring no other
security than the tools which were to be made by the investment.
Fust was also to have provided 300 guilders every year for
expenses, though there is no record that this ever happened. In
1452, Fust had to come up with another 800 guilders, in order to
prevent the collapse of Gutenberg's entire venture. Some time
before November 1455 Fust took legal proceedings against
Gutenberg, apparently won the case, and moved all the tools to
his own house in Mainz. There, with the assistance of Peter
Schoeffer, they published various books. It is not known if the
Bible had been printed before the court case. If it had, all the
money that came from its sale would have undoubtedly gone to
     Johann Gutenberg died in Mainz in 1468, destitute and
forgotten. He was buried in the Franciscan church, but it was
demolished and replaced by another church, which in turn has also
been demolished. It is tragic how simple it was to erase the
knowledge of a man who had created a machine which did so much to
bring about the sudden death of medieval ignorance.
Some thirty years later, his invention had been reproduced in
nearly every country in Europe. By 1500, there were no fewer than
151 printing shops in Venice alone; and in the town of
Wittenberg, Luther's city, a printer by the name of Lufft
produced more than 100,000 Bibles. Because the paper contained no
wood, the pages have remained white to this day, and the gold of
the illuminated initials has lost none of its splendor.

William Caxton

     William Caxton was the first English printer. He had been an
apprentice to Robert Large, the Lord Mayor of London, upon whose
death he was sent to Bruges, where he was responsible for the
central foreign market of the Anglo-Flemish trade. He later
became the commercial adviser to Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy.
By July 1471, he was in Cologne, where he learned the art of
printing. In 1476 when he returned to England, he set up a
printing press "at the sign of the Red Pale" in Westminster. He
published about a hundred volumes, printing over 18,000 pages,
and although he did not print the Bible, his presses fired the
imagination of English reformers. Burning in their minds was a
new idea: a printed English Bible.

Playing with matches

     A child came into the world in 1466 or 1467, born (like his
brother Peter) the illegitimate son of a monk. The parents later
married, and the father named the boy Herasmus. Later, Herasmus
decided to adopt the Greek form of his name, Erasmus, preceding
it with the Latin equivalent, Desiderius, and, because he was
born in Rotterdam, he added Roterodamus. Desiderius Erasmus
Roterodamus became known to the world as Erasmus, one of the
keenest brains of the humanist movement.
     At the age of eight he went to the School of the Brethren of
the Common Life, attached to St.Lebuins' church in Deventer,
where he made important acquaintances, including Adrian of
Utrecht, who became pope during the great Lutheran debate.
At the age of eleven, he suffered a very great tragedy when first
his mother and then his father died of the plague. Though
custodians for his welfare were named, one of them soon died of
the same plague. In that day, defenseless and immature children
were kidnapped by monks or enticed into religious orders. His
brother Peter submitted to the enticements of the monks, but
Erasmus refused. His health was weak and he felt he would be
unable to stand the rigors of monastic life. Moreover, he was a
free spirit and did not want to be in bondage to any person or
power on earth. He did, however, agree to a friend's suggestion
that he become a boarder in an Augustinian monastery for a
three-month trial period. This gave him access to the library and
required no fasting.
     At the end of the three months, facing the prospect of being
homeless and penniless, Erasmus had little choice but to take the
next step and become a novice. This led, in 1486, to his
reluctantly becoming an Augustinian canon. He was ordained in
1492, but left the monastery a few years later, and took up the
position of Latin secretary to the Bishop of Cambrai. Thus ends
the first chapter of his life.
     The second chapter opened when an old schoolmaster persuaded
the Bishop to let Erasmus study at the University of Paris. Poems
he had written were already circulating in Paris, and he was
welcomed there by the intelligentsia. To augment his income, he
started both learning and teaching Greek. One of his students,
William Blount, invited him to England to become a student of
Greek at Oxford. There he was introduced to Richard Charnock, the
prior of one of the colleges, who in turn brought him to meet Dr
John Colet, who was lecturing on the book of Romans at the
university. One day Colet took Erasmus for a meal at the home of
the Lord Mayor of London and at the table he sparred with a
nineteen-yearold boy who sat opposite him, whose name was Thomas
More. They were to become lifelong friends. More took Erasmus to
the royal nursery to meet the nine-year-old Henry, who was to be
the future King Henry VIII. On every occasion, Erasmus dazzled
and amazed his hosts with his sharp mind and keen wit.
     One of Erasmus' friends enabled him to accomplish a lifelong
dream and travel to Italy. Venice was a thrilling experience. At
Rome he had a great and flattering reception, meeting cardinals
and strengthening his existing friendship with Pope Julius II.
The Pope asked him to stay and write papers on the Pontiff's
military activities, but he declined, considering Rome another
tempting cage in which he would end up with his wings clipped. On
his way back to England he was awarded a doctorate at the
University of Turin.
     Erasmus owed much of his popularity to his writings. The
early poems of the 1490s gave way to his Manual of the Christian
Soldier, in which he showed that much of the dogma and ceremony
in the church were irrelevant. Writings such as this fed the
future reform movement. William Tyndale, who was born the year
Erasmus died, had the manuscript translated into English, and
then printed and circulated.
     When Erasmus returned to England in 1505, he stayed with Sir
Thomas More and wrote his famous satire "In Praise of Folly," in
which he portrayed kings, bishops, princes and Popes in bondage
to Folly. But his greatest work was his edition of the Greek New
Testament, which appeared in 1516. For this, Erasmus collected
the Greek documents of antiquity for the entire New Testament,
and compiled and printed them with a Latin translation, on 672
pages. To assure its acceptance, he dedicated it to Pope Leo X.
This was the first time the New Testament in its original
language was made generally available - about 3,300 copies were
printed of the first two editions. The only other Greek edition
available was confined to about 600 unwieldy and expensive
copies. Erasmus' edition formed the basis of vernacular
translations of the New Testament for much of Europe: Zwingli and
Calvin used it to give their people a Bible, Luther did the same
for the German nation, and Tyndale for England. The fourth and
fifth editions of 1527 and 1536 were used in the King James
version. Erasmus had never intended to create such a
conflagration, but then, he should have known better than to play
with matches. As he himself admitted, he "laid the egg which
Luther hatched."


     It might be helpful to see where our trail has led us so
far. We have seen that the New Testament writings were the work
of apostles or men who knew the apostles. The young church grew
rapidly, turning the world upside down. Persecution, far from
destroying the church, fanned the fire of faith into a blaze.
Though the church was often bitterly split by controversies and
heresies, out of these inner turmoils emerged the creeds.
With Constantine there came new dangers ... the church became
materialistic, secular, power-seeking, and immoral. Ritual
increased. Preacher gave way to priest, the Lord's table to the
altar, the apostle to the pope. Excommunication turned into
execution. The Latin Bible was known only to priest and monk, and
even then was little studied. Without the Bible, apostasy went
unchecked while ordinary people fed on superstition and fear.

     In the middle of the medieval night, scholasticism opened up
an opportunity for debate. In the fourteenth century the voice of
reform was heard in the West. Since John Wycliffe's benefactor
was the king's brother, every attempt to silence his voice was
     As humanist learning spread from Constantinople, scholars
began to study Erasmus' Greek New Testament. With the invention
of printing new and subversive ideas spread rapidly throughout
Europe. The door was open at last for the Reformation, and for
the collapse of the wall which had divided the people from the
indestructible book.


And so from the spiritual darkness of the long middle ages, light
began to come through, slowly more and more light as the
Scriptures of the Bible became available to all people. The
Reformation brought more light but also more deception, as the
Protestant churches and leaders would not teach and walk in all
the light being opened. Over the last 300 hundred years or so,
true light in part did shine. Some people obtained more light and
walked in that light for a while; but then some of that light was
twisted and perverted, and hence there is yet a need for the

Keith Hunt

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