A Short Biography of John Wycliffe

By Tim Lambert

John Wycliffe was a famous preacher of the Middle Ages. He was born in the North of England but we do not know the exact year (it was around 1328). John Wycliffe was educated at Oxford University and he soon became famous there for his learning and his skill in debate.

In the Middle Ages, the Church was immensely wealthy and powerful. John Wycliffe was concerned by the situation and he taught that the state had the right to confiscate the property of corrupt clergymen. Not surprisingly many in the Church did not welcome his views!

In 1377 the Pope condemned Wycliffe but he was never arrested or tried for heresy. (He was protected by powerful friends).

Later John Wycliffe attacked the doctrine of transubstantiation (the belief that during mass bread becomes the body of Christ). He taught that Christ is spiritually present. John Wycliffe also taught that the true Church consists of God’s chosen people and they do not need a priest to mediate between them and God. John Wycliffe’s followers translated the Bible into English.

In 1374 Wycliffe was made rector of St Mary’s Church in Lutterworth. John Wycliffe died of natural causes in 1384 but his movement lived on. His followers were called Lollards. The word Lollard may come from a Dutch word meaning ‘mutterer’ because they muttered long prayers.

At first, the Lollards were left alone but when Henry IV became king the situation changed. From 1401 Lollards could be burned to death for heresy. However, the Lollards continued and even increased in number, and in the 16th century, they merged with the Protestants.

John Wycliffe