John Wycliffe and Jan Huss, Earlier Reformers

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    John Wycliffe and Jan Huss, Earlier Reformers

    Morning Star of the Reformation

    by Ra McLaughlin

    John Wyclif was both a great champion of the Reformation and a dismal failure. He assaulted the papacy and the church in ways that had previously been unthinkable, yet he was cut down at nearly every turn. He pioneered ideas such as sola Scriptura and vernacular Bibles, trying to sweep away centuries of extra-biblical tradition, but met with little to no success. Though his reforms did begin to take hold, they were put down within his lifetime. John Hus managed briefly to rekindle Wyclif’s ideas in the early fifteenth century, but the church extinguished Hus’ voice even more quickly than it had Wyclif’s. Not until Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door at Wittenberg did the seeds of Wyclif’s legacy bloom into the Reformation - but then how glorious was their flowering!

    The Life of John Wyclif1
    The date and circumstances of Wyclif’s birth are not entirely clear. Many scholars believe he was born around 1330, based in part on the dates of his schooling.2 Others opt for a somewhat earlier date, based on his paralysis and strokes in 1382 and 1384, which may be indicative of his more advanced age.3 He appears to have been the son of Roger and Catherine Wyclif,4 and to have been born in Ipreswel, about a mile from Richmond in Yorkshire.5 His surname identifies his family as one that owned property near the village Wycliffe-(up)on-Tees in the same vicinity.6

    What is thought of Wyclif’s early life is highly speculative. He may have begun his education under a local priest,7 and/or he may have attended grammar school in Oxford.8 On the religious side, the common people in his locale were evidently interested in piety, perhaps because the church’s activities offered a much appreciated break from the rest of life. Many attended church regularly, and almost everyone enjoyed the cycle plays and other events of the Christian calendar. Some believe that in Yorkshire at this time the people were unusually interested in Christian themes, including the composition and study of written works on preaching and spirituality.9 It is possible that these works became his primers in grammar.

    What is more certain is that Wyclif and his family fell under the rule of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, in 1342.10 Gaunt’s patronage served Wyclif well over the course of his life, and may have contributed to his ability to attend Oxford (which was expensive11), where he may have begun studies around 134512 or 1346,13 or perhaps as early as 1335.14 Probably, the plagues between 1349 and 1353 slowed his scholastic progress as they disrupted academic life at Oxford.15 With the death of his father in 1353, he became the lord of his family manor.16

    Thereafter, his academic career is somewhat easier to chart because there are more public records related to it. Possibly, he was a Fellow at Merton College in Oxford in 1356.17 He then resided as a Fellow at Balliol College sometime between 1356 and 1360 until his election as Master of Balliol somewhere around 1360.18 After earning his Master of Arts degree in 1361,19 he left Balliol in short measure to accept the college living rectorate of Fillingham in Lincolnshire, probably residing in Oxford and using the money from Fillingham to fund his studies, as was a regular practice for rectors.20 He resided in Queen’s College from 1363 to 1365,21 and perhaps was Warden of Canterbury Hall from 1365-1367.22

    In 1366 Wyclif entered the political fray for apparently the first time, producing the document Determinato quœdam de Dominio in defense of the Parliament’s refusal to pay tribute to the Pope.23The fact that Parliament appealed to him for help demonstrates that his reputation had already begun to grow. In this document Wyclif initially presented the doctrine of lordship24 that he would continue to develop and eventually publish as On Civil Lordship,25 which would draw the censure of five papal bulls.26 Specifically, in Determinato quœdam de Dominio he argued that the king’s lordship was sovereign over the pope’s lordship, that the pope should not have been a proprietor of civil lordship in any manner, that the pope ought only to have received taxes for services rendered, and that the pope in fact had aided the enemies of England and therefore was due no tribute.27 This was only the first of Wyclif’s many attacks on the power of the papacy.

    In 1368 (or perhaps 136928), having been deposed from his position as Warden of Canterbury Hall, Wyclif exchanged, or more descriptively “sold,” his rectorate at Fillingham for a much less lucrative rectorate at Ludgershall. He probably did this to obtain ready cash to pay legal bills for his failed lawsuit to recover the position of Warden. In any event, the reduced income sent him back to residency at Queen’s College.29 Wyclif then devoted himself to studies30 until he earned his Bachelor of Divinity in 1369.31 Sometime thereafter, as early as 1370 and as late as 1374,32Wyclif then received his Doctorate, at which point in time he would have been as young as 40 or as old as 54. In 1371 Pope Gregory XI appointed him a canon of Lincoln,33 and in 1374 the crown not only gave him the rectorate of Lutterworth in Leicestershire, but also appointed him as an ambassador to discuss matters of church appointments with a papal commission at Bruges.34

    Thus far in his life, Wyclif had rather successfully navigated his career to a fairly enviable position. He had not received every appointment he had wanted, but he had earned great respect, and held enough appointments to pay for his needs and his schooling. More importantly, by 1371 he was “renowned as the leading philosopher and theologian of the age at Oxford, that is to say, he was second to none in his scholarship in western Europe in which Oxford ... had come to surpass Paris in its reputation and attainments.”35 His rise through the church ranks was certainly due at least in part to his great intellect, but it also may have had something to do with the fact that his patron John of Gaunt was, for much of Wyclif’s life, the most powerful man in England.36 This relationship was not one-sided, however, as Wyclif’s work On Civil Dominion provided the theological basis for John of Gaunt to seize great wealth from the church - which caused no small amount of trouble for Wyclif.

    As a result of Wyclif’s teachings in On Civil Dominion and elsewhere (particularly in support of John of Gaunt), William Courtenay, Bishop of London, summoned Wyclif to St. Paul’s in London to defend himself against charges of heresy.37 The charges are not now known, but speculation is that they had to do with Wyclif’s teaching on lordship and dominion that attributed to civil rulers the power to seize church property, as well as with Wyclif’s stand against the church’s power of excommunication.38 On February 19, 1377, Gaunt himself accompanied Wyclif, and brought an entourage of theological doctors from various mendicant orders to aid in Wyclif’s defense.39 Also attending Gaunt was Henry Percy, the marshal of England.40 It was clear that Courtenay was really using the court of church discipline to fire at Gaunt, for whose unpopular political actions Wyclif had written a theological defense.41 During the course of the trial, Gaunt threatened Courtenay, and the London parishioners rioted in defense of their pastor. Without ever having uttered a word of defense, Gaunt, Wyclif and their party were forced to flee for their lives.42 Of course, this action failed to settle the theological unrest surrounding Wyclif, and three months later Pope Gregory XI issued five papal bulls against Wyclif.43

    Gregory XI’s bulls listed eighteen44 (or nineteen45) charges against Wyclif, drawn largely from his teaching on lordship that challenged the church’s right to own property protected from civil powers. Gregory XI sent one bull to Oxford University, one to the king, and three to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London jointly,46 but they were not published until December 18, 1377.47 According to a commission of Oxford doctors, the bulls accurately reflected Wyclif’s teachings on lordship and dominion, and moreover Wyclif’s statements accurately reflected the truth.48 The bulls stated that if Wyclif did indeed hold these teachings, he was to be arrested and to await the pope’s sentence.49 King Edward III’s death prevented the execution of the bulls initially,50 but Wyclif came to trial at Lambeth Palace in 1378 - not, however, without gaining a form of safe conduct: the princess of Wales ordered that the bishops not condemn him.51 While the bishops debated how to prosecute Wyclif without offending the princess, a London mob broke up the trial.52 Shortly thereafter, Gregory XI died, and the Great Schism split the church, leaving the bulls against Wyclif all but forgotten.53

    Thereafter, Wyclif largely withdrew from public life, residing at Queen’s College and teaching until 1381 when he retired to Lutterworth54 and was subsequently banished from the university.55During these last years of his life, he wrote prodigiously, producing significant works such as On the Eucharist,56 The Crusade,57 On Simony, On Blasphemy, On Apostasy,58 and most importantly the English translation of the Bible.59 He did appear publically at the “Earthquake Council” of 1382 at Black Friars in London to appeal to the laity to support the government in seizing church holdings and prohibiting payments to Rome.60 While Wyclif himself was not actually on trial at this council, his followers and teachings were. The council condemned twenty-four of Wyclif’s teachings, labeling ten as heretical and the remainder as erroneous.61 Among those teachings found heretical were Wyclif’s views of “the Eucharist, the papacy, the uselessness of confession and the indefensibility of a property-owning clergy.”62 Wyclif himself was not personally condemned or censured at this juncture.63 After this, he suffered a stroke in 1383 that left him paralyzed,64and another on December 28, 1384, that resulted in his death on New Year’s Eve of that year.65 He was buried at Lutterworth66 as an officially orthodox Christian.67

    As an epilogue to his life, in 1414-1415 the Council of Constance resurrected charges against Wyclif and condemned him on 26068 to 300 or so69 counts of heresy:
    The holy Synod did declare and define the said John Wyclif to have been a notorious heretic, and to have died obstinate in heresy, excommunicating him and condemning his memory; and did decree that his body and bones, if they could be distinguished from those of the faithful, should be disinterred, or dug out of the ground, and cast at a distance from the sepulchre of the church.70
    Bishop Philip Repton of Lutterworth’s diocese did not act on the decision, but his successor Richard Fleming finally followed through with the judgment in 1428, disinterring, burning and scattering Wyclif’s bones.71

    The Thought and Work of John Wyclif
    The Church

    As he set it out in his 1378 work On the Church, Wyclif’s doctrine of the church closely resembled the modern doctrine of the invisible church - he believed the church consisted of the “congregation of the predestined.”72 He also taught the priesthood of all believers, and added as a corollary that all clergy were also laymen.73 Not surprisingly, he rejected the equation of the clergy with the church. Interestingly, and in seeming contrast to the doctrine of the invisible church, he also rejected the suggestion that the church consisted of “the community of all faithful believers, clerk and lay, alive and dead,” because he held that anyone might believe “and yet for want of God’s grace be damned.”74 This doctrine greatly challenged the established church because it argued that even the pope himself might not belong to the church.

    The Pope and Papal Decrees

    For most of his life, Wyclif was not opposed to the idea of a papacy, but rather supported it wholly, as long as the office were held by a righteous man.75 Later in his life, however, he condemned not only the papacy as an institution, but every level of church government save priests and deacons, for which he found scriptural support.76 He did not ascribe any authority to the office of pope in and of itself. Rather, the pope’s authority depended on Wyclif’s doctrine of lordship, such that a pope who was not righteous had no authority.77 Moreover, because he believed only God’s will could be truly authoritative, and because God would not will an erroneous decision, even a righteous pope’s decrees were invalid if the pope erred in his judgment.78 To use excommunication as an example, Wyclif taught that a man could not be excommunicated unless he had truly sinned enough to warrant it.79 Therefore, any excommunication that did not judge the facts rightly was null and void. Excommunication became simply a pronouncement of preexistent fact, not an authoritative or effective action.80 In accordance with this, papal decrees were also valid only insofar as they conformed to Scripture.81 He also believed that the pope and the clergy at large had no business owning more than they needed to support themselves, that this was the right only of civil leaders, “for the pope ought above all to be a follower of Christ, but Christ would not be a proprietor of civil lordship, and so neither should the pope.”82 He did allow that the pope could receive taxes for services rendered.83

    Lordship and Dominion

    Wyclif’s ideas about the authority of the pope and clergy can be better understood in light of his doctrine of lordship, as expressed in On Civil Dominion and Determinato quœdam de Dominio. Wyclif believed that
    the immediate dependence of the individual man upon God ... made him worthy or unworthy; it was his own character, and not his office, that constituted him what he really was. The pope himself, if a bad man, lost his entire right to lordship.84
    For this reason, he effectively ascribed lordship over the church’s decisions to the individual. Authority lay in truth, not in office. Therefore, whoever judged rightly was authoritative, guided in his judgment by God. Thus, when the church acted badly, it lost authority to rule.

    This doctrine was particularly problematic for the church when embraced by England’s powerful civil leaders like John of Gaunt, who defended their seizure of church properties partially on these grounds. Additionally, Wyclif emphasized that civil leader determining to seize the church’s property had the right of judgment:
    If the church fail in its duty, the temporal lords may rightly and lawfully deprive it of its temporal possessions; the judgment of such failure lying not with the theologian but with the civil politician.85
    He went so far as to state that the pope himself could actually be arraigned by laymen.86 To this he then added that the civil government might also seize properties “for its own defense in the case of need.”87 Wyclif extended this idea of lordship and goodness to the secular realm, enlarging the government’s power even further as it was able to seize the property of unrighteous laymen as well.88 The average man did not obtain authority by this doctrine even if he were righteous because Wyclif added the qualification that one could not have lordship only if he were lord over something89 - and he did not become lord over anything simply by being good.

    The Eucharist

    In true Reformation fashion, Wyclif rejected the conclusions of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) regarding the nature of Christ’s presence in the elements of the Lord’s Supper in favor of the opinions of earlier church Fathers,90 such as Berengarius of Tours.91 Specifically, he rejected transubstantiation.92 In his works On the Eucharist (1380) and On Apostasy (1379),93 he expressed the view that Christ was figuratively present, but not essentially or corporeally present. He also taught the receptionist view that the nature of the elements depended upon the faith of the recipient.94 After a council of friars and other doctors condemned his view as heretical,95 Wyclif published his Confession in 1381 to defend his position.96

    Forgiveness and Salvation

    Wyclif sounded remarkably Protestant when speaking of forgiveness and salvation. He taught that salvation could be had only by faith apart from works:
    Trust wholly in Christ; rely altogether on his sufferings; beware of seeking to be justified in any other way than by his righteousness. Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for salvation.97
    He also insisted that confession was useless,98 and thoroughly condemned the effectiveness of indulgences99 and other forms of penance such as pilgrimages, hearing Masses, founding institutions, and giving alms to the poor.100


    Wyclif came to believe strongly that Scripture alone was the “all-sufficient authority for right conclusions,” as he made evident in his 1378 work On the Truth of Holy Scripture.101 This same emphasis can be seen in his insistence that papal decrees are not binding when they contradict Scripture.102 In his Trialogue (1382),103 Wyclif argued that all church institutions were to be judged by Scripture.104 He also asserted that
    holy Scripture was the highest authority for every believer, the standard of faith and the foundation for reform in religious, political and social life... In itself it was perfectly sufficient for salvation, without the addition of customs or traditions such as canon law, prayers to the saints, fastings, pilgrimages or the Mass.105
    Moreover, he insisted on the perspicuity of the Scriptures, arguing that any man could learn the gospel from the Scriptures,106 as long as he read in faith and sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit.107 As a result, he believed that the Bible ought to be available in English, the vernacular language of his country.108 No doubt this was the motivation for his greatest work, the translation of the Bible into English.109

    Wyclif began the translation of the work now known as the Wyclif Bible by working first on the New Testament while his student Nicholas Hereford began to translate the Old Testament. After finishing the New Testament, Wyclif completed the Old Testament where Hereford’s had ended.110 He engaged in this work probably between the years of 1381 and 1384.111 Later, the whole was revised by John Purvey.112

    Wyclif also saw the need for preachers who related God’s Word to the people in their own language, so he trained itinerant preachers and equipped them with partial translations of the Bible to accomplish this task. Many of these preachers were Fellows of the various Oxford colleges.113

    Clues and Insights Relating to Wyclif’s Personal Greatness
    Wyclif’s personal greatness depended on several factors, among the greatest of which was his incredible intellect. One cannot begin to fathom his influence without accounting for the fact that he was recognized as the greatest scholar in the western world while he lived. Even his enemies granted that Wyclif was “the flower of Oxford, in philosophy second to none, without a rival in the discipline of the schools.”114 He was the “greatest clerk ... then living.”115 Moreover, he was known as a man of pure morals, such that “no one of his many detractors ever accused him of incontinence or the lower forms of self-indulgence.”116 William Thorpe, his younger contemporary, said of him:
    Master John Wyclif ... was considered by many to be the most holy of all men in his age... He was absolutely blameless in his conduct. Wherefore very many of the chief men of this kingdom, who frequently held counsel with him, were devotedly attached to him, kept a record of what he said, and guided themselves after his manner of life.117
    Certainly also the mark he made on the world depended in some degree on his good connections. He knew the right people, or more particularly, the right person: John of Gaunt. His benefactor protected him many times in the midst of controversy, and appealed to his aid in high-profile situations. What about Wyclif inclined John of Gaunt to do this? Again, it was Wyclif’s intellect, but not his intellect alone. He also held to doctrines that were politically expedient - not necessarily a trait to be emulated for the sake of expedience, but a contributing factor to his success nonetheless.

    In this writer’s opinion, however, the most important aspects of Wyclif’s character that propelled him to greatness were his passion for truth, and his commitment to the Word of God as the final arbiter of truth. He did not always understand Scripture aright, but he recognized its value and its authority. He stood on the Word in opposition to the world. He saw in Scripture the living God in action, and developed a commitment to God above creatures like popes and cardinals. He was not afraid to test his own doctrines or traditions by Scripture, or to change his position when the Bible showed him a truer path. He was submissive to the Word.

    It seems to have been Wyclif’s commitment to Scripture that propelled him into becoming the Morning Star of the Reformation. Because of his loyalty to the Word above the church, he prefigured the Reformation in his doctrine of sola Scriptura. He also prepared the way for reform by holding to justification by faith alone, abandoning transubstantiation, and even in some ways through his view of the church. He challenged the church authority structures repeatedly, right up to the pope himself, and stood confidently on his understanding of Scripture. Even in his appeal to political authority for support he prefigured Luther who relied so heavily on the German princes. As one writer has summarized so well, Wyclif
    had not only embodied and vocalised the aspirations for reform which he found at Oxford in his early days: he had infused into the movement so much of new energy and virility that the Reformation in England was virtually effected at the moment of his death, and there was nothing to come but the outward and political manifestations of its completeness. . . . It was not Cranmer, nor Cromwell, nor Henry VIII and his two Protestant children, who banished papal authority from the Anglican Church. They were the accidents, or at most the instruments of a victory already accomplished. For the true moment of victory, and for the effective Reformer, we must look back to the fourteenth century.118

    • Arrowsmith, R. S. The Prelude to Reformation. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1923.
    • Bostick, Curtis V. The Antichrist and the Lollards. Leiden: Brill, 1998.
    • Christian History, vol. 2, no. 2. Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute, 1983.
    • Heaton, W. J. Our Own English Bible. London: Francis Griffiths, 1913.
    • Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity, vol. 1. Peabody: Prince Press, 1999.
    • Manning, Bernard Lord. The People’s Faith in the Time of Wyclif. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1919.
    • McFarlane, K. B. The Origins of Religious Dissent in England. New York: Collier Books, 1952.
    • Parker, G. H. W. The Morning Star. Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1965.
    • Poole, R. L. Wycliffe and Movements for Reform. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1909.
    • Sergeant, Lewis. John Wyclif. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893.
    • Wilson, John Laird. John Wycliffe. New York: Funk and Wagnals, 1884.
    • Workman, Herbert B. The Dawn of the Reformation. London: The Epworth Press, 1933.

    1. Spelling had not yet been standardized at the time Wyclif lived. Thus, there are many variant spellings of his name. Most common are Wyclif and Wycliffe, but any spelling producing the same pronunciation may be expected.
    2. Roberts, Donald L. “John Wycliffe and the Dawn of the Reformation,” Christian History, vol. 2, no. 2., p. 10. Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute, 1983. “A Christian History Time Line,” Christian History, vol. 2, no. 2., p. 20. Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute, 1983. Parker, G. H. W. The Morning Star, p. 19. Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1965. McFarlane, K. B. The Origins of Religious Dissent in England, p. 20. New York: Collier Books, 1952.
    3. Parker, G. H. W. The Morning Star, p. 19. Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1965. Poole, R. L. Wycliffe and Movements for Reform. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1909.
    4. Sergeant, pp. 85-86, 360. McFarlane is not so certain: McFarlane, p. 20.
    5. Poole, p. 62.
    6. Poole, p. 61. Parker, p. 19.
    7. Roberts, p. 10.
    8. Sergeant, p. 360.
    9. Parker, p. 19-20. Roberts, p. 10.
    10. Roberts, p. 10. Parker, p. 20.
    11. McFarlane, pp. 28-30.
    12. “A Christian History Time Line,” Christian History, p. 20. Parker, p. 20.
    13. Roberts, p. 10.
    14. Sergeant, p. 360.
    15. Roberts, pp. 10-11.
    16. “A Christian History Time Line,” Christian History, p. 21. Sergeant, p. 362.
    17. Sergeant, p. 362. McFarlane, p. 20. Though this may have been another man of the same name, per Poole, p. 64.
    18. Poole, 62-64. Parker, p. 20. Sergeant, p. 362.
    19. “A Christian History Time Line,” Christian History, p. 21.
    20. Roberts, p. 11. Poole, p. 65. Parker, p. 21. Sergeant, p. 362.
    21. McFarlane, p. 24. Sergeant, p. 362.
    22. “A Christian History Time Line,” Christian History, p. 21. Poole contests this is another man of the same name: Poole, p. 68.
    23. Poole, pp. 65-66. Sergeant, p. 362.
    24. Poole, pp. 66-67.
    25. Poole, p. 73.
    26. Poole, pp. 79-80. McFarlane, p. 73.
    27. Poole, pp. 66-67.
    28. Sergeant, p. 362.
    29. McFarlane, pp. 34-35. Poole, p. 65.
    30. Poole, 65.
    31. “A Christian History Time Line,” Christian History, p. 21.
    32. Sergeant, p. 362. McFarlane, p. 26. Poole, p. 70.
    33. McFarlane, p. 35.
    34. Poole, p. 75. “A Christian History Time Line,” Christian History, p. 21. Sergeant, p. 364.
    35. Parker, pp. 22-23.
    36. “A Gallery of Defenders, Friends and Foes,” Christian History, p. 14.
    37. Roberts, p. 12.
    38. Poole, p. 77.
    39. Parker, p. 30. McFarlane, p. 82.
    40. McFarlane, p. 82.
    41. Roberts, p. 12.
    42. Roberts, p. 12. McFarlane, p. 83.
    43. Roberts, p. 12. Sergeant, p. 364. Poole, p. 78.McFarlane, p. 87.
    44. Roberts, p. 12. Poole, p. 78.
    45. Poole, p. 78.
    46. McFarlane, p. 87. Poole, pp. 78-79.
    47. McFarlane, p. 88.
    48. McFarlane, pp. 88-89.
    49. Poole, pp. 78-79.
    50. Poole, p. 80.
    51. McFarlane, p. 89. Poole, p. 82.
    52. McFarlane, p. 89. Poole, p. 82.
    53. Sergeant, p. 366. McFarlane, pp. 89-90.
    54. McFarlane, p. 98. Parker, p. 35. Roberts, p. 12.
    55. Roberts, p. 12.
    56. McFarlane, p. 102.
    57. Poole, p. 110.
    58. McFarlane, pp. 125-126.
    59. Poole, pp. 102-103. “A Christian History Time Line,” Christian History, p. 22. McFarlane, however, suggests that Wyclif himself never participated in the translation that bears his name, but rather merely inspired it: McFarlane, p. 127.
    60. McFarlane, pp. 113-114.
    61. Roberts, p. 13. McFarlane, p. 115.
    62. McFarlane, p. 115.
    63. McFarlane, pp. 113-115. Poole, p. 107, 109.
    64. Sergeant, p. 368. “A Christian History Time Line,” Christian History, p. 22.
    65. McFarlane, p. 129. Poole, p. 111.
    66. Poole, p. 111.
    67. Roberts, p. 30.
    68. Roberts, p. 30.
    69. McFarlane, p. 129. Sergeant, p. 350.
    70. Sergeant, p. 350.
    71. Sergeant, p. 351. McFarlane, p. 129. Poole, 111. Roberts, p. 30.
    72. Parker, p. 36.
    73. Poole, p. 88.
    74. McFarlane, p. 100.
    75. McFarlane, p. 97.
    76. McFarlane, p. 125.
    77. Poole, p. 94.
    78. Poole, p. 96.
    79. Poole, p. 79.
    80. Poole, pp. 95-96.
    81. Poole, p. 97.
    82. Poole, p. 66.
    83. Poole, p. 66.
    84. Poole, p. 94.
    85. Poole, p. 79.
    86. Poole, p. 80.
    87. McFarlane, p. 85.
    88. Poole, p. 79.
    89. Poole, p. 87.
    90. McFarlane, p. 103. Parker, p. 41.
    91. Roberts, p. 13. Parker, p. 41.
    92. “From the Archives,” Christian History, p. 24. Poole, p. 105. McFarlane, p. 126. Parker, p. 40.
    93. Roberts, p. 13. Parker, p. 39.
    94. McFarlane, p. 103. Roberts, p. 13. Parker, p. 41.
    95. McFarlane, p. 106.
    96. McFarlane, p. 107.
    97. “From the Archives,” Christian History, p. 25.
    98. McFarlane, p. 115. “From the Archives,” Christian History, p. 25.
    99. McFarlane, p. 125. “From the Archives,” Christian History, p. 24-25.
    100. “From the Archives,” Christian History, p. 25. Parker, p. 43.
    101. Parker, p. 43.
    102. Poole, p. 97.
    103. Incidently, the Trialogue was the first work of Wyclif’s printed (1525, in Basel), and directly linked Wyclif to the sixteenth century Reformers: McFarlane, p. 126.
    104. McFarlane, p. 126.
    105. Parker, p. 43.
    106. McFarlane, pp. 99, 126.
    107. Parker, p. 43.
    108. McFarlane, p. 126.
    109. Parker, p. 44.
    110. Poole, pp. 102-103.
    111. “A Christian History Time Line,” Christian History, p. 22.
    112. Poole, p. 103.
    113. Poole, p. 101-102.
    114. McFarlane, p. 40.
    115. McFarlane, p. 41.
    116. McFarlane, p. 41.
    117. Sergeant, p. 9.
    118. Sergeant, 343-344. John Wyclif: Morning Star of the Reformation

    John Hus: Bohemian Reformer


    While we usually consider Luther's act of nailing his 95 theses on the chapel door of the church of Wittenburg to be the beginning of the Reformation, the fact remains that God began the work of reformation long before the days of Martin Luther.

    Two men are called "Pre-reformers" by historians: John Wycliffe of England and John Hus of Bohemia. Perhaps to call them pre-reformers really does them no injustice; but they were more than pre-reformers; they were reformers in the truest sense of the word -- and perhaps Hus even more than Wycliffe. The reformation of the church in the 16th century would have been impossible without them.

    The two men were different. Wycliffe was first of all a scholar for whom preaching was secondary. Hus was above all a preacher, and scholarly studies were subordinate to preaching. The dusty library was Wycliffe's home; the pulpit was Hus'. Wycliffe labored all his life for reform and left no movement that continued to the Reformation. Hus started a movement of reform that not only lasted to the Reformation, but has come down to the present in almost pure form, primarily in the Moravians. Wycliffe's teachings were almost identical to those of Luther and Calvin; Hus, apparently, was never able to condemn the Roman Catholic corruption of the Lord's Supper. Wycliffe reflected all his life the middle class gentility of his upbringing; Hus, after the pattern of Luther, was of rough peasant stock. Wycliffe, it seems, did not know what it meant to laugh; Hus could banter and joke with his students even while lecturing. Wycliffe went to the grave in peace; Hus was burned to death on a martyr's pyre. But God used them both.

    In Luther's famous debate with John Eck at Leipzig, Eck charged Martin Luther with being a Hussite because Luther appealed to the supreme authority of Scripture. Luther was not sure about this, but spent the noon break reading what Hus had written. At the beginning of the afternoon session he surprised everyone by loudly proclaiming: "Ich ben ein Hussite!" (I am a Hussite.)

    Early Life

    John Hus was born in 1373 in the southern part of Bohemia (now Czechoslovakia) in the village of Husinec -- hence his surname, Hus. The name Hus means "goose," a word which Hus often used in referring to himself. While he was imprisoned in Constance, he wrote his friends in Bohemia that he hoped the goose might be released from prison and that "if you love the goose," try to secure the king's aid in delivering him from prison.

    He was born of poor peasant parents, all of which meant that his early life was one of hardship and cruel poverty under the crushing heel of lords and princes. The difficulties of such a life were, amongst a peasant population, broken only by wild and riotous orgies of drinking and fornication. While it is clear from Hus' later letters that he was as riotous as his fellows, nevertheless, he earnestly insisted that he was never guilty of the immorality of his peers. From this the Lord saved him in preparation for greater work.

    While his parents were not noted in any way for their piety, and apparently gave little thought to John's spiritual instruction, they did want him to go to school because they saw education as the only way for John and for them to escape their grinding poverty. In fact, they apparently considered an education for the priesthood to be the surest way to wealth, an irony that spoke volumes concerning the sad state of affairs in the Romish Church.

    Although John became a highly educated man, his peasant upbringing remained with him all his life, and his enemies repeatedly taunted him for his crude and rough origins.

    In 1385, at thirteen years old, John began his formal education in elementary school at Prachatice. Finishing this part of his education in 1390, he went to the University of Prague, acquiring a B.A. degree in 1393 (at the age of 20); a M.A. in 1396; and a B.D. in 1404. Until he earned his M.A., life was financially difficult; and he earned a bit of money by singing and doing manual work. But upon gaining his M.A. degree, he was qualified to teach, which also he did in the university. He was soon the most popular teacher in the university, partly because he broke old traditions by refusing to be the stern and unbending professor, preferring to laugh, joke, and socialize with his students.

    Hus, the Preacher

    In 1402 John was appointed rector and preacher at the Chapel of the Holy Infants of Bethlehem in Prague. Thus John occupied two of the most strategic positions in all Bohemia -- although he was probably unaware of their importance. The city of Prague had a lengthy tradition of reform and could boast some outstanding preachers, who even preached from the Scriptures. To this tradition Hus fell heir. The University of Prague was in the very center of the reform movement and was a place of ferment as new ideas and programs for the church were constantly being discussed. The chapel to which Hus was appointed was raised in 1391 by a rich merchant as a center for reform preaching.

    It was about the time that Hus began preaching that he also was converted. It seems as if his conversion was centered in his calling to preach. Prior to 1400 Hus had studied for the priesthood in the firm conviction that this was the way to escape from poverty. But when actually confronted with the task of preaching, his life underwent a fundamental change and he was overcome by the consciousness of the great task of preaching the gospel of Christ. He himself wrote of how important he considered preaching: "By the help of God I have preached, still am preaching, and if his grace will allow, shall continue to preach; if perchance I may be able to lead some poor, tired, or halting soul into the house of Christ to the King's supper."

    The Reformer

    The teachings of John Wycliffe had come to Bohemia as early as 1390. A close alliance had been established between England and Bohemia because England's king, Richard II, had married Anne of Bohemia, the sister of Bohemia's king. Scholars had traveled between the countries, and one eminent scholar, Jerome of Prague, had spent some time in Oxford, Wycliffe's school, where he had absorbed the teachings of Wycliffe. On his return, he had spread Wycliffe's writings and teachings throughout Prague and the university.

    Although reform had been in the air for many years, the spread of Wycliffe's teachings gave it direction and a doctrinal foundation. John Hus had become thoroughly familiar with the teachings of Wycliffe and, convinced of their truth, he had himself begun to teach them in the university and preach them in the pulpit. it is not surprising that the full fury of the Roman Catholic Church was soon turned against him. When general reform, especially of clerical corruption, was preached, even many Roman Catholics supported the reform movement. But when Hus and others began to preach doctrinal reform as well as moral reform, Rome turned in a rage against the reformers, and especially against Hus.

    It seems as if from the time Hus began preaching, Hus was under suspicion. A curious document turned up near the end of Hus' life which was a collection of quotes from Hus' preaching and teaching, taken secretly and obviously with the intent of using them to charge Hus with heresy. But the more Hus emphasized that at the root of Rome's evils lay doctrinal error, the more Hus lost the support of the church, of the politicians, and of most of those in authority. It was the students Hus taught in school and the common people who loved his preaching, who continued to support him.


    As the opposition to Hus grew, pressure of many kinds was put on him. First 45 statements, purported to be Hus' teachings, were condemned. Then preaching was forbidden in all the chapels. Then, when Hus refused to stop preaching, he was excommunicated by the archbishop. Soon he was summoned to Rome for trial; but, knowing that he would never escape Rome alive, he refused to go and was excommunicated by the pope. Even this was not enough; Prague was put under the interdict so that no religious services could be performed in the entire city. Gradually the might of Rome was squeezing Hus into a corner.

    In pity for the citizens of the city, and so that the interdict could be removed, Hus left and returned to the area of his hometown. But his new residence soon became a center for preaching in all the surrounding countryside and it gave him the quietness that he needed to write. Perhaps this move did not lessen his effectiveness, but was God's means of spreading Hus' teaching beyond the confines of Prague.

    At any rate, Rome could tolerate Hus no longer. He was summoned to the Council of Constance in 1414, a council meeting called to settle the papal schism. Three popes were all claiming to be the legitimate pope, and the outrageous situation was making a mockery of the claims of the church.

    Trial and Martyrdom

    The Emperor Sigismund promised Hus a safe-conduct both to and from Constance regardless of the outcome of Hus' trial. And it was for this reason that Hus determined to go, although he was not at all certain that he would emerge from the trial alive. He told his friends, however, that a faithful testimony to his Lord and Savior required that he go.

    Hus would have been safe in his hometown. He testified to this in Constance before his accusers when he told them: "I have stated that I came here of my own free will. If I had been unwilling to come, neither that king (Wenzel) nor this king (Sigismund) would have been able to force me to come, so numerous and so powerful are the Bohemian nobles who love me, and within whose castles I should have been able to lie concealed."

    For one month, while in Constance, Hus was permitted to move about freely, even administering the Lord's Supper daily in his lodgings, the home of a widow whom he called his "widow of Zarephath." But Rome's godless and treacherous clerics could not permit Hus to remain free, and so he was imprisoned on the trumped-up charge that he had attempted to escape the city in a wagon.

    Three months he was in a dungeon in a Dominican convent with a cell alongside the latrines. On March 24, 1414, he was chained and transferred to a castle dungeon at Gottelieven, where he was handcuffed and bound to a wall at night, while free to walk around in chains during the day. After 73 days, he was transferred to a Franciscan friary where he was subjected to cruel and heartless hearings in efforts to make him recant. Through all his imprisonment he was permitted no books, not even his Bible. He was nearly starved to death at times, and throughout he was so cruelly treated that he suffered from hemorrhage, headaches, vomiting, and fainting spells.

    When finally he was brought before the council, he was permitted to say nothing, although repeatedly he made an effort to give the testimony to his faith he longed to give. God did not will that his testimony would be that of a confession of his mouth; his testimony was to be the far more powerful testimony of martyrdom.

    The trial was a joke, a violation of every rule of justice, a farce of the worst sort. But during its proceedings, Hus was repeatedly made the object of mockery, derision, humiliating treatment of the worst sort, and a cruel deposition when he was stripped of all his clerical clothing and publicly defrocked.

    Finally he was sentenced to burning at the stake, and the council, afraid of spilling the blood of a man, turned him over to the secular authorities to carry out the sentence.

    One interesting sidelight gives a glimpse into the magnificent wisdom of God. When Hus was sentenced to death, he appealed to the Emperor Sigismund, who was present, to rescue him, reminding Sigismund of his promise of a safe-conduct. While Sigismund did not have the courage to keep his promise, he did have the grace to blush a fiery red at Hus' rebuke. All this would not mean so much in itself. But just over 100 years later, Luther went to Worms under the safe conduct of Charles V, emperor of Germany, and made his courageous stand for Scripture. Then too the Roman Catholic Church wanted Luther killed, but Charles insisted that the safe conduct be enforced. When Charles was later asked why he permitted the dastardly heretic, Luther, to escape, Charles replied that he remembered all too well the blush of shame on the face of Sigismund, when Sigismund treacherously went back on Hus' safe conduct. God used the blush of a shamed king to save Luther's life.

    Several times on the way to the place of execution, Hus attempted to speak to the people, but was in every case silenced. Finally, when the crowd arrived at the stake, Hus, with tears in his eyes, kneeled in prayer. It was noon. Hus' hands were tied behind him and his neck bound to the stake with a sooty chain. The straw and wood were piled around him up to the chin and rosin was sprinkled on the wood. When he was asked to recant one last time, his response was: "I shall die with joy to-day in the faith of the Gospel which I have preached." As the flames arose around him, he sang twice: "Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy upon me." Praying and singing until the smoke began to choke him, he died a faithful martyr of Jesus Christ. To remove all possible opportunities for his relics to be preserved, his clothing were thrown into the fire and all the ashes were gathered and thrown into the Rhine River.

    So died this faithful man of God sealing his testimony with his blood.


    Hus was a godly man throughout his reformatory career, and he won the grudging praise of his enemies. A Jesuit testified: "John Hus was even more remarkable for his acuteness than his eloquence; but the modesty and severity of his conduct, his austere and irreproachable life, his pale and melancholy features, his gentleness and affability to all, even the most humble, persuaded more than the greatest eloquence." Another Roman Catholic, later a pope, wrote: "He was a powerful speaker, and distinguished for the reputation of a life of remarkable purity."

    Hus was not the original thinker that Wycliffe was, and indeed borrowed most of this thoughts from Wycliffe -- especially Wycliffe's views of the church as the elect body of Christ and the sole authority of Scripture. But Hus became what Wycliffe never was, a powerful preacher of the gospel. By preaching he moved a nation. And by preaching he established a church in Bohemia which Rome could never destroy, but which joined the Reformation just over 100 years later.

    Rome has the blood of countless people of God on her hands. She has never expressed one word of sorrow or regret for this. The blood of the martyrs still cries from under the altar against Rome: "How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"

    But to Hus, along with the other martyrs of Christ, was given a white robe and the testimony that they should rest a little while until their brethren should be killed as they were.


      If anybody wants to tell you that your faith is a " heresy that was invented by Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin," I will humbly submit that the sparks of ecclesiastical reformation were present even as far back as the fourteenth century. If anybody would hurl the term " Protestant" at you as though it were a slur, here's what the Protest at the Diet of Speyer in 1528 was actually about:
      4The Protest at Speyer, Germany.


      John, Elector of Saxony, reads the Protest to the Diet at Speyers.

      ]There was but one piece of business to be transacted at the Diet of Speyer - the Council of the Holy Roman Empire under Charles V, when it convened in 1529. Very simply the Emperor wished to repeal the Edict of Toleration issued at Speyer in 1526 that allowed the free exercise of religion until a General Council was called. As a requirement by the Emperor it was a simple enough task that should not have taken long to agree. It was in practice a cataclysmic proposal and subsequent events gave rise to the term `Protestant` and `Protestantism` - named after the defining protest against the resolution.

      .At the heart of the issue was an intent to enforce the Edict of Worms (25 May 1521) that had called for extirpation of heretics - meaning in Germany, Lutheranism. Specifically it banned Martin Luther and his literature, and made it a crime to give him food and shelter ( similar to the Scottish `intercommuning` provisions in later years). The Papal Numcio had the edict extended to include the killing of Luther to be lawful - without due process of law. At the time this had caused Prince Frederick, the Emperor`s brother, to intervene and take Luther to Wartburg Castle for safety. It was there that Luther began his translation of the Bible into German.

      In the Spring of 1526 Charles V was in Spain and heading towards Rome for his coronation as Emperor when there was a breakdown in relations between him and Pope Clement VII . The Pope had visions of restoring the medieval glory of the papacy and was seeking to create an Italian state with himself as its temporal ruler. To this end he had entered into a League at Cognac, in France, with some European rulers to constrain the all consuming power of the Emperor**. In Germany itself he Peasants` War had devastated the land and brought the religious divide between the various states and the free towns into sharp focus. Political necessity forced Charles to seek the support of the Lutherans as he prepared to fight the Pope and his confederate kings. Thus the Edict of Worms was temporarily suspended at the [COLOR=#111111]Diet of Speyer[/COLOR][COLOR=#111111] in [/COLOR][COLOR=#111111]1526[/COLOR][] and an Edict of Toleration issued to bridge the gap until further consideration could be given. This of itself was a groundbreaking precedent as it was the first legal act that permitted Lutheranism to exist - at least until a General Council decided otherwise; moreover it was a legal blow at the supremacy and infallibility of Rome. The decision ran :

      ]"As to religion and the Edict of Worms, in the meanwhile till a General or National Council can be had, all so shall behave themselves in their several provinces as that they may be able to render an account of their doings both to God and the Emperor.."

      This was interpreted as meaning that every state was free to act in religion upon its own judgment.

      1Wylie in his History of Protestantism describes it as:
      "..the dawn of toleration in matters of conscience to nations; the same right had still to be extended to individuals. A mighty boon had been won. Campaigns have been fought for less blessings: the Reformers had obtained this without unsheathing a single sword."

      ]This then was the background to the convening of the Diet at Speyer in 1529 and why the requirement of the Emperor to reactivate the Edict of Worms caused so much consternation.

      Diet of Speyer 1529.

      ]While it was clear that the Edict of Toleration was a temporary expedient, in the meantime the nascent Lutheran Church had progressed by leaps and bounds and now had structure and organisation. The divide between Catholics and the Lutherans had crystalised into a constitutional and legal debate that if unresolved, would lead to civil war. At issue was the independence of the individual states who had the right to regulate their internal affairs, including religion. A central diktat by a Catholic majority in the Diet would usurp those rights and destroy the unity of Germany.

      ]A compromise was arrived at that sought to maintain the status quo - they would neither enforce or abolish the Edict of 1526. But cunningly the Catholic majority in the Diet ring fenced the Reformation until future consideration of the matter. Meanwhile the Popish hierarchy should be reinstated; the mass permitted; and that no one should be allowed to abjure Popery and embrace Lutheranism till such time as a Council had met and framed a general arrangement.

      ]On 18 April 1529 the Lutheran princes led by the Elector John of Saxony, and Philip of Hesse, were told by King Frederick that the matter was decided and they must submit and that was the end of the matter. The princes retired to consider a reply while the impatient King Frederick departed not waiting for their response. The following day, 19 April 1529 John of Saxony read a Declaration to the Diet "Protesting" at the decision. This was renewed at the last sitting of the Diet on 24 April and was subscribed by John, Elector of Saxony, Philip Landgrave of Hesse; George Margrave of Brandenburg; Ernest and Francis Dukes of Luneburg; and the Count of Anhalt. Joined with the Princes were several of the chief cities including Strasbourg, Nuremburg, Ulm, Constance, Rentlingen, Windsheim, Lindau, Kempten, Memmingen, Nordlingen, Heilbronn, Isny, St Gall, and Weissenburg. From that day forward the Reformers were called Protestants.

      Charles V (1500-1558) was born at Ghent , the elder son of Philip, son of the Emperor Maxmillian and Joanna daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. In 1506 Charles inherited the Netherlands. In 1516 he became King of Spain and some possessions in Italy. In 1519 he inherited the Austrian Duchies and chosen Emperor in 1520. In 1525 he had defeated France and was ruling over more land than any other European king.

      The Pope was especially jealous of Spanish power in Italy. Charles possessed Naples and victory at Pavia ratified his control over France, this gave him a foothold in Lombardy which hemmed in the Papacy . Clement VI negotiated a `Holy League` to resist Charles, joining with England, Louisa of Savoy on behalf of France (her son Francis I being a prisoner), Venice , Milan and the Republic of Florence. The conniving came to no good and ended in the sacking of Rome in 1529, and the imprisonment of the Pope for a while.

      [FONT=Arial][SIZE=4][COLOR=#111111]In all his strength, power and glory Charles returned to Germany and convened a Diet at Augsburg where it was his intention to personally attend, and ensure that his will concerning the Edict of Worms was followed. The outcome was the Augsburg Confession. The Protest at Speyers 1529


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