The Lollards, Followers of John Wycliffe: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:03 Who Were the Lollards?
  • 0:53 Who Was John Wycliffe?
  • 1:56 The Lollard Movement
  • 3:45 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 the followers of John Wycliffe, the Lollards. We will learn who they were, what they believed, and how people reacted to them. We will identify the central tenets of their theological approach.

Introduction: Who Were the Lollards?

The Lollards were a group of anti-clerical English Christians who lived between the late 1300s and the early 1500s. The Lollards were followers of John Wycliffe, the Oxford University theologian and Christian Reformer who translated the Bible into vernacular English. The Lollards had profound disagreements with the Catholic Church. They were critical of the Pope and the hierarchical structure of Church authority. The Lollards emphasized personal piety, humility, and simplicity in their relationship to God, rather than formality. The term 'Lollard' was a derogatory term given to the group by the established Church. The exact origin of the term remains uncertain, but it is believed by many etymologists to have come from the Dutch word 'lollaerd,' meaning 'mumbler.' By the mid-1400s, the word had essentially become synonymous with 'heretic.'

Who Was John Wycliffe?

We can't understand who the Lollards were without first looking at who John Wycliffe was. John Wycliffe, who was born some time in the 1320s and died in 1384, was an English Christian theologian who became popular for translating the Bible into vernacular (or common) English in 1382. During this time, the Bible was usually only available in Latin, which was the language used by the Church and those of the upper classes. Therefore, many regular men and women were not able to read the Bible for themselves. Wycliffe wanted to change that, and he did by translating the Latin Bible (the Vulgate) into the people's common language. As a professor of theology at Oxford University, Wycliffe challenged the Catholic Church on numerous points of doctrine. He felt the Church was too institutionalized and had become corrupt. He promoted a personal type of Christianity - one that emphasized piety, humility, and simplicity. He died of natural causes in 1384. After he had been dead for a number of years, the Church declared him a heretic and had his body dug up and burned.

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