The Morning Star of Inspiration
John Wycliffe was a 14th-century English philosopher, theologian, and religious reformer, whose egalitarian ideas and beliefs laid the foundation for the Protestant Reformation. As Peter W. Williams notes in the World Book Advanced, Wycliffe was born sometime between 1320 and 1330 A.D. in Yorkshire, England, and was educated at Balliol College, University of Oxford (Williams). According to Alessandro Conti in his entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, John Wycliffe was trained in the “scholasticism of the medieval Roman Catholic Church,” and became disillusioned with ecclesiastical abuses (Conti). He challenged the Church’s spiritual authority and sponsored the translation of the Christian Scriptures into English. Although the church condemned him as a heretic, John Wycliffe, the so-called “Morning Star of the Reformation”, was influential not only during his lifetime in areas from politics to religion, but also after his death when his ideas and teachings inspired the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation (Lambert 43). Wycliffe was famous for his involvement in ecclesiastical politics throughout his lifetime. He received a doctorate in theology in 1372 and taught philosophy at Oxford, while nominally serving as a priest in a succession of parishes (Williams). As LaTourette states in his book A History of Christianity, Wycliffe gained prominence in 1374 during a prolonged dispute between Edward III, King of England, and the papacy over the payment of a certain papal tribute. Both the King and Parliament were reluctant to pay the papal levies. Wycliffe wrote several pamphlets refuting the Pope's claims and upholding the right of Parliament to limit church power (663-664). Furthermore, LaTourette states that King Edward appointed Wycliffe to a commission that conferred with papal representatives at Bruges, Belgium regarding the differences between the Crown and the papacy in 1375. The conference failed, but Wycliffe won the support of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of King Edward III, who was the leader of an antipapal faction in Parliament and an ally to him throughout his life (664). Around the same time that Wycliffe was spreading these ideas, Patterson J. Smyth notes that the “Great Schism” occurred in 1378 (78). This was a critical turning point for Wycliffe and acted as a milestone in his career. Two, and eventually three, Popes had contested each other for claim to the papal thrown, resulting in the double election of two Popes — Urban VI and Clement VII (80). As LaTourette makes apparent, it was during this chaotic time that Wycliffe began to argue that the true Church is made up only by those elected by God. Additionally, Wycliffe claimed that since it is God who determines membership, “no visible church or its officers can control entrance or can exclude from membership” in the Church (663). Although Wycliffe is famous for his activities in ecclesiastical politics, we remember him today for his egalitarian religious ideas and beliefs, which created pushes for reform. In its purest form, his philosophy represented a complete break with the Church. Wycliffe believed in a direct relationship between humanity and God and that by a close adherence to the Scriptures Christians had the ability to govern themselves without the aid of Popes and other religious officials. This idea was supported by the accusation that many of the beliefs and practices of the established Church were unscriptural. Wycliffe held that to resolve the problem the Christian clergy should strive to imitate evangelical poverty, that is, the poverty which Christ and his disciples displayed (Conti). Many of Wycliffe’s ideas were very unpopular with both the Church and the Crown. For example, according to Wilson J. Norman in his work “Religion and Philosophy: Overview,” in 1376 Wycliffe enunciated the doctrine of “dominion as founded in grace”, an idea in contrast to the widely accepted...
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