Wycliffe was born about 1330 in the North Riding of Yorkshire. He was educated at Oxford and was the author of many books. As a priest he served in a number of churches with his last appointment was as rector of Lutterworth, in Leicestershire. In the 1370s Wycliffe became embroiled in the politics of the English Kingdom, with Edward III giving him a royal commission to discuss a number of disputes the king had with the Church in Rome and so in 1374 he met w with representatives of the Church to discuss matters including papal taxes and appointments to Church posts. The experience left Wycliffe dissatisfied with his government role as a means of propagating his ideas and so began to express them in tracts and longer works. His ideas on lordship and church wealth caused his first official condemnation in 1377 by Pope Gregory XI, who called for his arrest. This went unanswered in England.
By the 14th Century, parts of the Bible had been translated into early forms of English, but the complete Bible was only available in the Vulgate version. This meant that only the those who could understand Latin could read the Bible for themselves, leaving those who could not dependent on the educated clerics, such as Wycliffe, to read and explain God’s Word. With his belief in the authority of God’s Word, and that everybody should have direct access to it, Wycliffe went on to promote the translation of the Bible into the vernacular, Middle English. The result was the first complete version of the Bible in English. He started his work in August 1380 in his rooms at Oxford. By 1384 Wycliffe and his colleagues had translated the entire Bible. Many consider that Wycliffe himself translated the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and possibly the whole of the New Testament, while his colleagues worked on the Old Testament. Updates were produced in the succeeding years by men such as Nicholas of Hereford in about 1390, and John Purvey (c 1353 – 1428) in 1388 and 1395.
In the same year as the Bible translation was completed, Wycliffe suffered a stroke on 28th December and by the end of the year this led to his death. Naturally, his work was not well received by the Catholic Church and at the Council of Constance in 1415 his teachings were condemned and he was declared a heretic.
Despite Wycliffe’s death, the Lollards continued to support and propagate his ideas. In our next blog in this series we will tell their story. These scenes were built by James Pegrum; follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.