Have you ever heard of John Wycliffe? He changed the course of the Church in the West and is known as the morning star of the Protestant Reformation. Born in 1334 and died in 1384, his ideas laid the foundation for the Reformation that would come over a century later.
Because of who he was, what he taught, and what he represented, twenty-eight years after his death his remains weredug up, burned, and cast into the river Swift.
Wycliffe, the man with radical ideas
You see Wycliffe was a philosopher, theologian, and (ultimately) a reformer whose radical ideas shook the established church to its very core.
If he were alive today he would disapprove of the methods of the prosperity gospel preaching televangelists. For he attacked the selling of indulgences, comparing the Church’s motivations to those of Simon the magician of Acts 8.
He taught against the idea that the wine and bread of the Eucharist literally become the blood and body of Christ once a member of the clergy blesses it. One of the reasons for his denial was the Church had not begun teaching the doctrine of transubstantiation (the wine and bread actually becoming Christ’s blood and body) until after the Lateran Council in 1215.
In regards to salvation Wycliffe taught that all anyone needs is faith, no other traditions were required. He also argued that we do not even need the Church to have faith. The scriptures are adequate in and of themselves to teach us all we need to know in order to be saved.
From ivory towers to the marketplace
All of these teachings led Wycliffe and his followers to translate the Bible from the language of the scholars (Latin) to the language of the people (English). This act, more than any other, is why we know him today.
It was because he started the Bible translation movement that soon spread to Bohemia, which today is part of the Czech Republic, that the Church dug up his remains, burned them, and threw them into the river.
Commenting on the unceremonious treatment of his remains a historian would later write, “Thus the brook hath conveyed his ashes into Avon; Avon into Severn; Severn into the narrow seas; and they into the main ocean. And thus the ashes of Wycliffe are the emblem of his doctrine which now is dispersed the world over.”
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