Volume. XXXIV, No. 32
Sunday, 09 February 2020

John Wyclif (Part 2)

“The deep veneration which he felt for Holy Scripture, and the supreme importance which he attached to it, led him naturally to the conclusion that the people ought to be allowed to read it in their own tongues.  He expressed that view in his “Wicket,” ‘Those who call it heresy to speak of Holy Scriptures in English must be prepared to condemn the Holy Ghost, who gave it in tongues to the Apostles of Christ, to speak the word of God in all languages that were ordained under heaven’ “.[1]

  • And again, in the “Mirror for Temporal Lords,” ‘Those heretics are not to be heard who fancy that secular men ought not to know the law of God; but that it is enough for them to know what priests and prelates tell them by word of mouth; for Scripture is the faith of the Church, and the more it is known in an orthodox sense the better. Therefore, as secular men ought to know the faith, so it is to be taught them in whatever language is best known to them’.2
  • In the autumn of 1378, Wyclif completed his great treatise entitled “De Veritatae Sacrae Scripturae” (The Truth of Holy Scripture) in which he declared: “The Bible is the Divine Word of God in Christ, infallible, a sole authority, lay lords should read and defend it. ‘No man is so rude a scholar but that he may learn the Gospel in his simplicity.”3
  • “The Bible, the whole unmutilated Bible; the Bible distributed in a tongue understood by the people; the Bible uncorrupted by the false glosses of that Church which claims for itself an exclusive right to interpret the Scriptures, was to be the moral lever by which his country was to be raised from her present state of degradation.”4 This was a sublime conception for the age in which he lived.
  • Difficulties, apparently insurmountable, stood in the way of the design, which embraced not only the literal translation of the Bible, but also its circulation among all ranks and orders of his fellow countrymen. Many would have shrunk back, terrified by the prospect of formidable opposition and persecution.  Bishops and priests, and many of the laity, might have been expected to band together in a dark confederacy against them.
  • He, therefore, stood in a position of comparative isolation. The translators are wrapped in obscurity.  We scarcely find in Wyclif’s writings any references to the progress of his work.  The fact was, that he and those who aided him were afraid that, if they blazed abroad the matter, the powerful hand of authority would prevent them from continuing the translation, and would inflict severe persecution upon them.  The consequence is that we are ignorant of the different stages of a work, which prepared the way for the Reformation, and affected the spiritual destinies of millions.


The Bible was completed by the end of the year 1382.  In all probability, it was Wyclif who translated the New Testament, and Nicholas of Hereford the Old Testament.   When Nicholas was forced to flee in 1382, it was revised in a free style by John Purvey, Wyclif’s faithful assistant at Lutterworth, the ‘Librarian of the Lollards’.  In addition to Nicholas of Hereford, and Purvey, Wyclif was aided by other disciples, former Oxford scholars in and out of hiding.

  • It was an exact literal translation of the Latin Vulgate.


So great was the eagerness to possess the Bible, that those who could not procure the volume of the book would give a load of hay for a few chapters. They would hide the forbidden treasure under the floors of their houses, and expose their lives to danger rather than surrender the book; they would sit up all night, their doors being shut for fear of surprise, reading or hearing others read the Word of God; they would bury themselves in the woods, and there converse with it in silence and solitude; they would, while tending their flocks in the field, still steal an hour for drinking in the good tidings of grace and salvation.

  • Wyclif’s Bible marks an epoch in the development of the English language. Thus, while Chaucer was labouring to fix the English tongue among the higher classes, Wyclif established it yet more permanentlyin language at once simple and beautiful for his fellow countrymen.  It was the great work, which hastened on the Reformation in England.


At once, the hierarchy and clergy of the Roman Church were filled with terror and indignation.  They knew their occupation was gone if all, might, without intervention of the priesthood, consult the sacred oracles.  Hence the fury of the persecutor awoke against the followers of Wyclif.


Indeed, Knighton, a chronicler of the 14th century writes somewhat scathingly, “This Master John Wyclif has translated into English the gospel which Christ gave to his clergy and doctors of the Church, to be by them communicated to the weaker sort, and the laity according to their need.  Thence by this means it is become vulgar and more open to laymen and women who can read it than it is to lettered Clerks of good intelligence.  Thus the pearl of the Gospel is scattered abroad and trodden underfoot by swine.  The Jewel of the Clerics is become the sport of the laity.  What before was the heavenly talent for Clerks and Doctors of the Church is now common property.”5

  • And again, Archbishop Arundel, in a letter to Pope John XXII, asking him to condemn the heresy of Wyclif and his followers, after severe vituperation, writes, “that wretched and pestilent fellow, son of the Serpent, herald and child of Antichrist, has completed his malice by devising a translation of the Scriptures into the mother tongue.”6
  • Papal Bulls flew thick and fast from both Rome and Avignon, for there were two Popes! Wycliffe said of them, ‘The warring Popes were two dogs fighting for a bone.  Princes should take the bone away and reduce them to the simple poverty of Christ.  It was bad enough that many thousands should die and England be sucked dry by begging Friars promoting the Crusade for money, but much worse that their victims were killed in their sins deluded by Antichrist’s pretended absolution and promises of immediate entry into heaven.”7
  • Pope Gregory declared that “John Wyclif, Rector of Lutterworth, Professor of Divinity (if only he were not a Master of Errors!), has rashly proceeded to such a detestable degree of madness as to assert, dogmatise and publicly preach erroneous propositions, false, contrary to the faith and which threaten to overthrow the whole Church! Therefore they should cause the said Wyclif to be arrested and laid in gaol, where they should obtain his confession and transmit it to him . . . furthermore they must keep the said Wyclif in custody in chains until further orders.”8
  • Archbishop Arundel and Convocation issued the following stringent prohibition in 1408, That no unauthorised person should hereafter translate any portion of Holy Scripture into English, … and that no such book … should be read, either in whole or part, publicly or privately, that was composed in the time of John Wyclif, or since, under the penalty of the greater excommunication, till the said translation be approved by the Bishop of the diocese”.9



[1] Pennington p.153

2 Pennington, p.153

3 Lupton, p.104

4 Pennington, p.154

5 Lupton, p.109-110

6 Lupton, p.110

7 Lupton, p.161

8 Lupton p.96

9 Quoted by Pennington, p.1


Editor’s Note: Part 1 of this series was published on Lively Hope on 29 December 2019. The series is to be continued.                                                                                                                                                             


More Lively Hope



  • Easter Family Bible Camp – first meeting will be held today at the Rectory after the Missions Prayer Meeting.
  • Please observe all parking signs. Please DO NOT park on the streets north & west of the church (on Bedford Sq.), block our neighbours’ driveways, park on the verge or grass area on council strips, park on the gravel area beyond our church parking lot.
  • Lunch Duty: Today: Next week: AFG.


Looking Ahead

  • Easter Family Bible Camp, Fri - Mon, 10 – 13 Apr.


Praise & Thanksgiving

  • God’s daily guidance, protection & providence.
  • Missions Teams’ ministries in Batam & Phnom Penh.
  • Journey mercies:  those who have travelled.



  • Healing: Rev George van Buuren; Rev Pong Sen Yiew (S’pore);and others with physical affliction.
  • God’s comfort in grief: to those who have lost their loved ones.
  • Novel Coronavirus - those afflicted & affected.
  • Missions – Rev Sun Sokha & ministry (PhnomPenh); Sis Ang Liang Phoa & ministry (Batam).
  • Journey mercies:  international students (Adl); others who are travelling.





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