The Life and Work of John Wycliffe

Subject: Religion
Type: Expository Essay
Pages: 11
Word count: 2768
Topics: Bible, Biography, Christianity, Church


This study examines the life and works of John Wycliffe and the way his background and works influence the church today. Generally, the intention is to draw relevance to his background and works in the development of the contemporary church. His different treatises, which in most cases were considered heretic during his time, influence the ideas expressed here. In fact, in deep reflection, the contemporary Christian community would relate to his ideas and draw important lessons to shape the way they do things. This study not only addresses the Christian faith community but also seeks to demonstrate the way any communication from a religious perspective would be transmitted years later with some fundamental impacts. It is similarly imperative to point out that the differences in time can make any text to mislay the intended message, but hermeneutically, that message can still be retracted. Indeed, there are numerous ideas that every author communicates to the readers, but due to shallow readership or overshadowed presupposition, prejudice, and prejudgment may veil it, hence this study attempts to deal with such to ensure that the objective is met.

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Wycliffe’s General Life and Career

John Wycliffe was born in England in the village called Hipswell next to Richmond, Yorkshire around the year 1324. He started his education in the local school close to his home before proceeding to Oxford, though the date is not known. His family was large and had spread to cover a larger territory in the region. His life in Oxford influenced much of what he did, and in fact, most of his works were written when staying in Oxford. He earned a doctorate degree in divinity to become a great theologian, which later made him be appointed a theologian professor at Oxford University. He was also appointed a priest, which exposed him to the corrupt nature of the clergy, which he later opposed vehemently. He became a very strong opponent of the pope’s authority that was much interested in wealth creation rather than the good news itself. He was outright in his position against the system of clerical order. He maintained that the people in the church leadership were using their positions to pursue wealth, which made him be rejected by different bishops.

He was instrumental when Rome sent a message to England demanding support, despite the nation’s struggle to resist the infiltration of French attack. Wycliffe felt that it was not right for the church to seek wealth from a nation under that condition arguing that the church in Rome had enough that instead of asking support from England, it ought to give the same support to England. He advised John Gaunt to influence the parliament to oppose such request. He added that the church was having enough that there was no need to bother England for money, alluding to the fact that Jesus Christ lived a humble life and called his disciples to live a humble life, not to make wealth in church. To him, the only authorized institution to keep such taxes was the English authority, not the church. Some critics say that he was doing this as a revenge following his disappointment, more so when he thought that he would be given a bishopric position in Worcester, which instead was given to a monk. In fact, some of his works also criticize monks and their activities. From this background, he seemed to be a patriotic citizen and a leader, which led him to politics.

His Life in Politics

Studies show that he was never interested in politics, but his message portrayed him as a patriotic leader, which in turn made him make contacts with influential political personalities as a reformer. He endeavored to influence the government in different decisions in England, a nation that was struggling to shape both in secular and spiritual life. Many politicians sought to identify with him concerning his position in the change he wanted to see in the church. Some people consider him the greater inciter during the Peasant’s Revolt, though this might not be true, only that he had a common view with the ones that were held by those who spearheaded the revolt. When he advised the government against giving the revenues to the church in Rome, he was visibly seen as a potential political influence in the country. When championing his political thoughts, he rubbed shoulders with the church and was declared heretic.

He wrote his book entitled De civil domino translated as “On Civil Dominion” where he states that the church should not own property. He maintained that the state should ensure royal divestment of the church’s property since Christ did not call his people on a wealth-making mission. As a result, Pope Gregory XI condemned his teachings and maintained that he was misleading the church. On the other hand, Wycliffe maintained his position that the church had gotten out of its way and had no authority to keep wealth. It was prudent according to him that the church should live in total poverty because it had entered into sin. This is something that is cited as the basic reason as to why John Gaunt was quick to oppose the power of the clergy and the wealth controlled by the church. Even though some people think that Gaunt was naïve in making such decisions, he was greatly influenced by Wycliffe in opposing the church and its leadership in their ambition to collect revenue in England.

It is important to point out that Wycliffe’s ideas and thoughts were felt both within and outside the Christian community. His opposers tried to do everything possible to do away with him, but his influences were widespread that they could not be wished away. Even today, his works are significant, and indeed, it is pointless for the church to control wealth and resources if it does not operate within the confines of its doctrines and the scripture as Jesus Christ taught. Many church leaders appear to be influenced majorly by making significant benefits while paying very meager attention to what is expected of them. By interacting with the ideas expressed herein, it becomes apparent that Wycliffe’s contribution even though were given eight centuries back, they are significant and will continue guiding the church for many more centuries to come. They are also significant to non-believers who apply the same skills in other realms. It implies that every institution can only be trusted and be supported if it lives to the expectations accorded to it.

Conflict with the Church and its Leaders as a Reformist

Wycliffe had constant problems with the church and its leadership. In different occasions, he would be summoned by different leaders, and at certain points, he was confined following his dissimilar and dissenting opinions in different matters pertaining that church leadership and management. The bishop of London, William Courtenay over something that was not known, summoned him. However, some scholars argue that it happened so because those opposed to John Gaunt majorly targeted him. On the other hand, those opposed to the church’s hierarchy and authority liked Wycliffe. This demonstrates that besides being a theologian and a member of the church as a leader, he was indifferent to the church itself. When the bishop summoned him, a big crowd was seen around the church, including the entrance. There was a faction between the bishop’s supporters and those who stood by Wycliffe, an open disagreement.

Many clergymen were not happy with the way things happen on that day and set to openly attack Wycliffe. On the other hand, Wycliffe went deeper in his study of the Bible and opposed the church leadership, which he considered lacked merits and understanding of what the scripture obligates them to do. He was constantly having problems with the church leadership that was vivid in his writings. For instance, he was openly opposed to the doctrine of transubstantiation, which he believed that the body of Christ remains the bread of life that Christians must acknowledge. He was also opposed to indulgence calling it blasphemous to the wisdom of God. It is inferential from the study that his reformation activities did not begin while serving as a teacher or a pastor but through his commitment to ecclesiastical politics. Besides being one of the delegates in the congress at Bruges, he was outright in proclaiming the liberated way of understanding the Bible, which made him profound among his contemporaries. He acted at a time when the church was more driven to property than the gospel itself. His background in the biblical study exposed him to a lot of ideas that opened his eyes. His preaching was more in support of moderate disendowment. Many people cite him being summoned by the London bishop as one of the impetus that propelled him to fame, which indeed outlives him. The parliament and the king sought his opinion on very fundamental matters, for example, whether it was okay to deny Rome the treasure. Wycliffe maintained that it was legal to deny it since the church is not premised on wealth creation.

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Translation of the Bible

Wycliffe is credited for his contribution in the Bible translation to other languages. He dedicated his time, over twelve months planning on the way to go through the process of translation. He was preoccupied with the spirit of scholasticism, which was the medieval way of learning. It is said that he made two distinct translations, but one appeared to be more idiomatic than the other. Some thinkers maintain that his contributions in the translation played a greater role in replacing the foundations of the Roman religious thoughts with the biblical one. The original language in the bible was so rigid and was not easy to understand for many people. To him, the monks were clueless about the truth expressed in the Bible, and as a result, he sought to bring a different way of looking at it so that people can get the fundamental message contained inside. He sought to use an intelligent way of spreading the gospel as opposed to what the monks have set to advance, which he considered foolishness. To him, having the Bible in vernacular languages was a work of intelligence that could not be performed by the low thinkers who dominated the activities of the church. It is stated that apart from the clergy, only a few people were able to understand Latin, the language in which the bible was written. This, in essence, denied many people the opportunity to interact with the Bible, even if they were willing to read it. The Catholic Church took great control of the gospel, as the bible was the language that was only understandable to them, which was opposed to Wycliffe.

Some Fundamental Doctrines

Wycliffe maintained the spirit of the Bible and regarded it as the sole source of truth to rely on. He taught that anything that is unsupported by the bible should be followed. He was doing so to oppose the teachings of the Roman clergy that misinterpreted the bible to fit their personal interests. He proclaimed the interests of the invisible members of the society that ought to receive the good news as opposed to the visible members of the Catholic Church. He maintained that there was only one universal, and anything out of it was not worth salvation. He was against the privileges given to the church leaders and believed that it was better for the gospel to thrive in poverty than in wealth.

 He similarly disapproved clerical celibacy that was among the monks and the clergy. He had a problem with the papacy and maintained that the leadership hierarchy in the church was not supported in the bible. He was openly opposed to monasticism and called the monastic orders the imperial papacy. To him, the monks did not have any significant value in the church, and in fact, he referred to them as the societal puppets. He also added that they were the enemies of religion that promoted all the crimes that happened in the church. The friars were also attacked vehemently since their interests were not to advance the good news but to seek personal interests through their preaching. His reforms set the stage for later reform movements that shaped the church. People like Martin Luther borrowed a lot of ideas from him while advancing their ideas. The church according to Wycliffe is to be guided by the truth contained in the scripture.

The Current Problems in the Church and Significance Of These Backgrounds To The Church Today

The contemporary Christian community is grappling with division arising from challenges like leadership wrangles and poor management of the church resources. The life and works of John Wycliffe have a lot of significance to the church that is today faced with these undying problems. It tells the Christian community to be more skillful when sharing the word of God in and out of their vicinities. This is imperative and significant to the contemporary Christians. The gospel should be available to everyone regardless of his or her economic, social and academic backgrounds. The translation of the Latin Vulgate into the English language that many people understand was a great step that exposed many people to the gospel, which should be the same spirit to the church today. His work in the translation of the Bible sought to have the biblical message to reach all classes of the society and not just the specific class of people. He developed the movement whose time was ripe and could not be wished away.

Today, many people enjoy the Bible in an easy readership, and all these are under the courtesy of John Wycliffe. This act demonstrates succinctly that the gospel was intended for the whole world and could not be confined to specific people. Paul sought the same and helped to spread the gospel to the Gentile world by allowing the non-Jews to interact with the gospel. The same spirit was with St Stephen who preached that it was not compulsory for people to come to the temple of Jerusalem but could worship everywhere in truth and spirit. 

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The Way in Which the Subject Provides Direction and Options

Spreading the good news requires dedication and commitment without any intimidation. There are some strong personalities in the church that stand for the truth regardless of what it takes, though they are not many. For instance, Wycliffe was opposed and hated by the clergy, hence being subjected to synods and summons, but not all these deterred him from accomplishing his missions. The same spirit is necessary among the contemporary believers to advance the gospel beyond the borders. It is important to appreciate from this understanding that the gospel should be vested in truth as contained in the scriptures and not advance the selfish interests of the leaders. Despite the harsh conditions, no one should be intimidated to stop telling the truth, something that Wycliffe stood for even if it meant death. After his death, his followers were also condemned and declared heretic and subjected to persecutions. He believed that in the same way the scripture made him different, it ought to do the same too to more people, something that the contemporary Christian community should emulate. He represents the period of doctrinal change in the Christian community. It is stated that after his death, his body, which was buried was unearthed, burnt and the ashes were thrown into the river. However, his legacy could not be erased and lives to date.  Therefore, the church should not condemn him, but draw a lot of lessons from him.


It is inferential from this powerful background that John Wycliffe is a great pillar in the church today. People enjoy the English version of the Bible and other translations courtesy to him. He was a committed scholar who was motivated by the interest to ensure that the gospel was not confined to few people, but to allow it to reach the people regardless of their social, economic and intellectual background. The contemporary church should learn from his endeavors and support the gospel’s expansion to different people indiscriminately. His opposed the church leadership that was more interested in wealth creation and reminded the believers that Jesus did not call the church to his mission for wealth creation. This indeed makes it apparent that Wycliffe’s contribution even though were given eight centuries back, they are significant and will continue guiding the church for many more centuries to come. Therefore, this study is significant to inform the readers about the importance of John Wycliffe’s works and life in today’s Christian community.

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