iggybacking on the theme introduced here by Spurgeon yesterday, I want to say a word about the Lollards today.
OK, this is actually a not-very-subtle way of sneaking one of those confounded this-is-where-I-am-right-now-type posts in the back door, because today Darlene and I are in the English midlands, and we visited St. Mary's parish church in Lutterworth, where John Wycliffe served as rector in the fourteenth century.
On Dec. 28, 1384, Wycliffe had a stroke while leading a service here and was carried out on his chair through the diminutive door in the photo at the left. He died three days later.
Wycliffe was a consummate scholar and churchman, so it may seem ironic that the movement he inspired was a campaign led by lay preachers without formal education, known for the simplicity and directness of their preaching, and who operated outside the established church. The Lollards were one of the bright spots of late medieval church history, and they laid the foundation for the Protestant Reformation in England. You can read about them here or here.
Wycliffe, of course, is known as "the Morning Star of the Reformation." He was a harsh critic of priestly and ecclesiastical corruption and an early advocate of practical and theological reform in the church. He was the first to call the Pope "Antichrist." He taught predestination, opposed the doctrine of transubstantiation, and above all, believed the Bible should be translated into the vernacular. His translation, based on Jerome's Vulgate (the only source text Wycliffe had access to), was the first-ever English version of the Scriptures.
Wycliffe and the Lollards created so much trouble for the Pope that in 1415 (30 years after Wycliffe's death), the Roman Catholic Council of Constance condemned him as a stiff-necked heretic on 267 counts, ordered his books to be burned, and formally excommunicated him. They decreed that his bones should be exhumed from their resting-place in this parish church, burned, crushed, and scattered in the river Swift (a tributary of the River Avon).
Twelve years later this decree had not yet been carried out. Pope Martin V was enraged by this and personally ordered that the bones of Wycliffe be dealt with immediately according to the Council's wishes. That order was dutifully carried out in December 1427 by the toadying Bishop of Lincoln, Richard Fleming, who had actually been one of Wycliffe's earliest students.
Wycliffe is disinhumed,Many of the Lollards were made martyrs as well, but they continued their ministry underground. The speed with which the Reformation overtook England is owing in large part to their faithful work.
Yea, his dry bones to ashes are consumed,
And flung into the brook that travels near;
Forthwith that ancient Voice which streams can hear
Thus speaks (that Voice which walks upon the wind,
Though seldom heard by busy human kind):
As thou these ashes, little Brook! wilt bear
Into the Avon—Avon to the tide
Of Severn—Severn to the narrow seas—
Into main ocean they,—this deed accurst,
An emblem yields to friends and enemies,
How the bold Teacher’s Doctrine sanctified
By truth, shall spread throughout the world dispersed.William Wordsworth
May their tribe increase.