We shall today see the life of a man who is known as the morning star of Reformation. He started the work of rescuing Christianity from papal darkness. He was the first man to translate the Bible in English from Latin. Though he never spoke in tongues, yet there is no one, who after having read his biography, could say, that the hand of God was not upon him. When he was appearing for trial in court, he said,
“With whom, think you are ye contending… with an old man on the brink of the grave? No! But with Truth! Truth is stronger than you all and it will overcome you.”
We are talking about John De Wycliffe. John withstood the Church of Rome, before whom even the kings bowed their heads. Once King Henry IV had to stand on his knees for 3 days and 3 nights at the gate of the castle of the pope, to seek his forgiveness! Such was power against which John De Wycliffe fought courageously to rescue almost half of the Christians of England.
Education and Early Life
It is not necessary that God will always use unlearned fishermen. He chose Apostle Paul who was greatly learned (Acts 22:3, 26:24). He chose Moses who was learned in the wisdom of Egyptians (Acts 7:22). He chose Daniel who was learned in the wisdom of Chaldeans (Dan 1:4, 20). He chose Ezra the man who was learned and was a scribe, to repair the walls of Temple at Jerusalem. God does use men learned in wisdom oftentimes.
Therefore, did God chose for Wycliffe to be first educated in the knowledge of the world. Born in AD 1328, in England, John studied at Oxford University. He mastered in science, philosophy, civil law and theology. He was made professor at Oxford. He was so learned that he was second to none among the whole of Western nations of his days. He was declared as ‘The flower of Oxford.’ This brought him in friendship with kings and princes. This made him understand the bible and withstand papal authorities.
Yes, the Bible in those days existed only in the Latin language. Only those who understood Latin could read and understand it. Uneducated mass only believed what the priests taught them. The church used to teach that the priest has the power to forgive the sins of men. Excommunication from the church meant that if a priest had cast out a man, then God himself had cast him out from heaven. Eternal destinies of men were thus dependent on the will of the priest. If the priest was satisfied, people would get in heaven, but if the priest was upset then people had to spend their lives in fires of hell. There was no hope for a man with whom the church is displeased. It was the education and mastery over Latin that made John understand the errors of the church.
Disowned by Family
Is it a new thing upon earth that a man chosen by God, has his own family opposing him? See John 9:22. The parents of a blind man feared Jews that if they confessed Jesus against their teachings, then the Pharisees would excommunicate them from their synagogues. So it happened with John De Wycliffe. When John was at Oxford, he began reading the bible. He read church fathers and various kinds of literature available at Oxford. His learning made him understand the errors of the pope and the Catholic Church. He saw that Rome had forsaken the word of God for human tradition; He began accusing the priesthood of neglecting Scriptures and demanded that the Bible must be restored to the people and that its authority be established in the church. This news of his anti-pope opinions soon reached his home. His parents rejected him. His own family disowned him.
A glimpse of the Glamorous Pope
Many times, God makes his chosen people part of the false church, to open their eyes. He takes them inside to bring them outside. Yes inside to help them see the flaws first hand and then brings them out of it to expose the inner rottenness to the world outside.
Apostle Paul, for example, was the son of a Pharisee for the earlier part of his life. He first went inside the cult of Pharisees only to come out as a witness for Christ against them. Martin Luther was a Catholic priest before he spoke out against them. Similarly, Wycliffe was a learned priest who got the opportunity to see the glamour of pope, for two years. Let us see how this happened.
In those days, princes of England were unhappy with the burden of taxes laid upon them by the church in Rome. John Wycliffe’s knowledge of science, civil law, philosophy, mastery over Latin and the bible made him a friend to the prince of England. Like David was loved by Jonathan the son of Saul, King Edward’s son became a close friend to John Wycliffe. He was soon made as chaplain for the king of England. He explained to the princes that the pope’s demand for taxing them is unreasonable. Wycliffe united all princes to refuse the payment to the pope. When Rome heard that England has refused to pay taxes, meetings were called to give explanations. England decided to send four representatives to the Netherlands, to talk with Papal authorities. John was one of these four representatives. These talks were held in the Netherlands for two years. During this period, Wycliffe closely observed the ways and manner of the Roman church. He saw with his own eyes the pomp of the pope and the iniquity that prevailed among the so-called priests of God.
Fight against Franciscan monks
The monks of the Franciscan order were known as friars. These catholic monks used to visit from house to house and ask people for money. They would curse them who refused to give them money. They were a nuisance but no one spoke against them as they were thought to be men close to God. They also influenced many youths to join their orders, not only without the consent of their parents, but even without their own knowledge, and contrary to their will.
They used to say,
“Though thy father should lie before thy door, weeping and lamenting, and thy mother should show the body that bore thee and the breasts that nursed thee, see that thou trample them underfoot, and go onward straightway to Christ.”
With such monstrous inhumanity, they used to deprive parents of their sons and daughters. Many educated youths fell into their deceptive traps. Many repented afterwards, but once entrapped in the snare it was impossible for them to obtain freedom. John began working against them. He published a book against these monks. It was published by the name “Against the friars.” We have already published some excerpts from this book in one of our articles (Click here to read it).
Pope Issues a Bull against Wycliffe
The King of England soon made John a priest over a church at Lutterworth. There he began teaching against Catholic doctrines. He went several times to London and started preaching more openly and with greater zeal, declaring the covetousness, pride, and deception about the human gods of Rome. In those days there were no mobile or telephones, to make the news reach Rome. It took time and letters to get the news exchanged between priests sitting in England and those ruling from Rome. That gave enough time for John to gain popularity of poor men and nobles. Local priests began to counter-attack John, but none could stand his wisdom, knowledge of Bible, philosophy and the language of Latin which was the language of the Bible.
Anyways the news reached Rome. Pope began reading the writings of John Wycliffe. He straight away declared him a heretic and named Wycliffe as “Master of Errors.” Pope wrote three letters – one to the king of England, another to the head of the University where Wycliffe was working, and the third to the head priest of the Church of England. These kinds of letters are Called “Papal Bull “. It’s kind of Holy Decree.
It was commanded to all the three, to take immediate steps to silence the teacher of heresy. Before the arrival of these letters, bishops somehow got the news about Pope’s stand against Wycliffe. In their zeal to show faithfulness to Rome, they called for Wycliffe to appear in court for a trial. A great crowd was gathered in front of the court to see the spectacle. Two of the most powerful princes in the kingdom were with Wycliffe when he appeared before the courts. A great crowd followed him. There was so great a tumult that the proceedings were made to be suspended for a time. Soon the aged king of England died. In his place, the friend and protector of Wycliffe were made the new king. When the letters of pope reached England, it was necessary for Wycliffe to be arrested and imprisoned. Even his powerful friends could not protect him. But God was with John Wycliffe. Death came calling and Pope Gregory XI “Entered Glory“. The Death of Gregory XI made the two cardinals (Catholic equivalent of TPM centre pastors) compete with each other for the title of pope. Each one declared himself as the supreme ruler and called for his supporters to be obedient to his orders. They declared war against each other. They both promised heaven to their supporters and hurled anathemas at those who went against them. While this political unrest continued in Rome, Wycliffe got time to continue his mission. He gathered a group of men who were simple, devout, and desired nothing but the expansion of the truth. He made them go to the markets and to every great city in England. He also began the work of translating the Bible from Latin to the English.
The Bible Translation and Printing
John had begun the work of translating the Bible. While Rome was engaged in a war between the two popes, John continued his work. He placed the Bible in the language of the common man in the hands of people of England. The art of printing was still unknown, and it was only by slow and great labour that copies of the Bible could be multiplied. So great was the interest to obtain the book that many willingly engaged in the work of transcribing it. The demand for copies of the Bible was great. Those who were rich purchased the entire Bible, while others bought only portions of it. In many cases, several families united to purchase a copy. The appearance of the Scriptures brought dismay to the authorities of the church. Again the papal leaders plotted to silence the Reformer’s voice. He was made to appear before courts for trials, for three times. He somehow escaped each time.
It is not necessary that all his warriors die as martyrs. While all apostles died as being martyred, John died of old age. Many reformers were burned to death. But God chose to give normal death to Wycliffe. Wycliffe died in his old age, but not without persecution and battling with the pope. Wycliffe’s teachings of — salvation through faith in Christ and infallibility of the Scriptures was accepted by nearly one-half of the people of England during the time he dies. Roman Catholic Church was so fed up with John De Wycliffe, that by the decree of the Council of Constance, more than forty years after his death, they dug his grave and took out remaining of his bones, and burnt them into ashes. Then they threw the ashes into a nearby river. His teachings were the reason for the rise of many reformers in centuries to come.
Unfortunately and sadly in 1923, the anti-reformer Paul Ramankutty laid foundations for the Ceylon Pentecostal Mission and undid the work of John De Wycliffe by enslaving people back into the clutches of Catholic style leadership, under the cloak of Pentecostalism. We pray that may God soon rescue his people yet again from the clutches of TPM popes. Amen!