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John Wycliffe: Biography, Facts & Quotes

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  • 0:01 Who Is John Wycliffe?
  • 0:49 Bible Translation
  • 1:55 The Lollards
  • 2:23 Death and Legacy
  • 3:02 Quotes
  • 3:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about John Wycliffe. We will examine his life, and learn why he is an important figure in history. We will also focus on his role as a Bible translator as well as review some of Wycliffe's quotes.

Who is John Wycliffe?

John Wycliffe was an English Protestant theologian in the 1300s known best for his role in translating the Bible into the common language. As a critic of the Catholic Church, Wycliffe is usually considered an early reformer. Let's learn a little more about his life.

Early Life

John Wycliffe was born in Yorkshire, England around 1324. Wycliffe attended Oxford University, where he earned a doctorate in divinity and eventually became an Oxford professor. Wycliffe also became a priest, but used this position to speak out against what he saw at corruption and heresy in the Catholic Church. He was an outspoken critic of the pope and the whole system of ecclesiastical hierarchy. He felt ministers should be humble, lowly, pious, and not subject to pomp and veneration.

Bible Translation

John Wycliffe historically translated the Bible into vernacular English, or common English. During this time, the Catholic Church exercised tight control over the reading of the text. As a formal and academic institution, the Catholic Church printed the Bible in Latin, which many of the lower classes could not read. Wycliffe felt peasants and common people should be able to read the Bible for themselves, rather than have the Catholic Church force its interpretation of the Bible on them.

In 1382, Wycliffe translated the Latin Vulgate into common English. According to the Wycliffe Bible Translators organization, Wycliffe's Bible was the first complete European translation done in nearly 1,000 years. While the specifics are uncertain, it is widely believed that Wycliffe did much of the translation personally, but also led a team of translators. This Bible was enormously popular, and was commonly referred to as the Wycliffe Bible. The clarity and beauty of Wycliffe's Bible translation impacted the development of the English language for hundreds of years.

The Lollards

Followers of Wycliffe were called Lollards, a derogatory term used by those opposed to the group. There is debate over the exact origins of the term, but many scholars believe it originated as word meaning 'mumbler', or referred to the uneducated. It eventually became synonymous with heretic. The Lollards, like Wycliffe, were an anticlerical group who were committed to opposing the institutionalized Catholic Church. Some went to prison.

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