John Wycliffe Biography, Quotes, Beliefs and Facts

John Wycliffe Biography, Quotes, Beliefs and Facts

"Besides, if there should be, which God forbid, in your University, subject to your jurisdiction, opponents stained with these errors [see the condemnations further down], and if they should obstinately persist in them, proceed vigorously and earnestly to a similar arrest and removal of them, and otherwise as shall seem good to you." Pope Gregory XI


John Wycliffe (also spelled Wyclif, Wycliff, Wiclef, Wicliffe, or Wickliffe) was born at Ipreswell (the modern Hipswell), Yorkshire, England, perhaps between 1320 and 1330; he died at Lutterworth Dec. 31, 1384. The family from which he came was of early Saxon origin, long settled in Yorkshire; it became extinct in the first half of the nineteenth century, remaining true to the Church of Rome until the end. In his day the family was a large one, and covered a considerable territory, and its principal seat was Wyclifl'e-on-Tees, of which Ipreswell was an outlying hamlet. His year of birth is not noted in contemporary sources, and the data afforded by his writings are so general that no secure conclusions can be based upon them. Yet they seem to indicate that his birth year is to be reckoned rather before 1320 than after. Wyclif probably received his early training near his home.

No reports are left to determine when he first went to Oxford. While it is certain that young boys were enrolled at the universities of the Middle Ages, such cases were exceptions. The normal curriculum of the universities of the period is well known, and consequently the university course of Wyclif is also approximately known.

Wycliffe was among those to whom the thought of the secularization of ecclesiastical properties in England was welcome. His protector was John of Gaunt, who was acting as ruler at this time. 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 – his great work, the Summa Theologica (not to be confused with St. Thomas' Summa Theologica), was written in support of them. In the first book, concerned with the government of God and the Ten Commandments, he attacked the temporal rule of the clergy – in temporal things the king is above the pope, and the collection of annates and indulgences is simony. But he entered the politics of the day with his work De civili dominio. The work contains 18 stated theses, opposing the governing methods of the rule of the Church and the straightening out of its temporal possessions. Wycliffe had set these ideas before his students at Oxford in 1376, after becoming involved in controversy with William Wadeford and others.

Wyclif returned to Lutterworth, and thence sent out tracts--exceedingly pungent--against the monks and Urban VI. since the latter, contrary to the hopes of Wyclif, had not turned out to be a reforming or "true" pope, but had exerted his activities in mischievous conflicts. The crusade in Flanders called forth the Reformer's biting scorn, while his sermons became yet fuller voiced and dealt with the imperfections of the Church. His last work, the Opus evangelicum, the last part of which he named in characteristic fashion "Of Antichrist," remained uncompleted. While he was hearing mass in the parish church on Holy Innocents' Day, Dec. 28, 1384, he was again stricken with a stroke and died on the last day of the year. His remains found no quiet in the grave, for in his lifetime the great Hussite movement arose and set afire the entire West of Europe. The Council of Constance took cognizance of Wyclif as well as of Huss and declared the former (on May 4, 1415) a stiff-necked heretic and under the ban of the Church. It was decreed that his books be burned and his remains be exhumed. This last did not happen till twelve years afterward, when at the command of Martin V., they were dug up, burned, and the ashes cast into the Swift which flows through Lutterworth.

Bull of Pope Gregory XI, Against John Wycliffe

The Condemned Conclusions of John Wycliffe

1. That the material substance of bread and of wine remains, after the consecration, in the sacrament of the altar.

2. That the accidents do not remain without the subject, after the consecration, in the same sacrament.

3. That Christ is not in the sacrament of the altar identically, truly and really in his proper corporeal presence.

4. That if a bishop or priest lives in mortal sin he does not ordain, or consecrate, or baptize.

5. That if a man has been truly repentant, all external confession is superfluous to him or useless.

6. That it is not founded in the gospel that Christ instituted the mass.

7. That God ought to be obedient to the devil.

8. That if the pope is fore-ordained to destruction and a wicked man, and therefore a member of the devil, no power has been given to him over the faithful of Christ by any one, unless perhaps by the Emperor.

9. That since Urban VI, no one is to be acknowledged as pope; but all are to live, in the way of the Greeks, under their own laws.

10. To assert that it is against sacred scripture that men of the Church should have temporal possessions.

11. That no prelate ought to excommunicate any one unless he first knows that the man is excommunicated by God.

12. That a prelate thus excommunicating is thereby a heretic or excommunicate.

13. That a prelate excommunicating a clerk who has appealed to the king, or to a council of the kingdom, on that very account is a traitor to God, the king and the kingdom.

14. That those who neglect to preach, or to hear the word of God, or the gospel that is preached, because of the excommunication of men, are excommunicate, and in the day of judgment will be considered as traitors to God.

15. To assert that it is allowed to any one, whether a deacon or a priest, to preach the word of God, without the authority of the apostolic see, or of a Catholic bishop, or of some other which is sufficiently acknowledged.

16. To assert that no one is a civil lord, no one is a bishop, no one is a prelate, so long as he is in mortal sin.

17. That temporal lords may, at their own judgment, take away temporal goods from churchmen who are habitually delinquent; or that the people may, at their own judgment, correct delinquent lords.

18. That tithes are purely charity, and that parishoners may, on account of the sins of their curates, detain these and confer them on others at their will.

19. That special prayers applied to one person by prelates or religious persons, are of no more value to the same person than general prayers for others in a like position are to him.

20. That the very fact that any one enters upon any private religion whatever, renders him more unfitted and more incapable of observing the commandments of God.

21. That saints who have instituted any private religions whatever, as well of those having possessions as of mendicants, have sinned in thus instituting them.

22. That religious persons living in private religions are not of the Christian religion.

23. That friars should be required to gain their living by the labor of their hands and not by mendicancy.

24. That a person giving alms to friars, or to a preaching friar, is excommunicate; also the one receiving.

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