Included in my summer Sabbatical in 2018 was some intentional time to reconnect with extended family, particularly in England. My father’s parents were immigrants from England and we still have lots of cousins in the UK. Additionally my niece lives in Oxford, so I took the opportunity to visit her as well. Of course we had to take the tour of Oxford University while we were there. It was at Oxford that I took this picture of the priest, theologian, and Oxford professor, John Wycliffe who lived from roughly 1320s – 1384.
Many of you will only vaguely remember the name of John Wycliffe, in part because Wycliffe was way ahead of his time in the church and so missed all of the press that went with the Reformation. Wycliffe spoke out against the abuses in the Roman Catholic church 150 years before the Reformation. Among the most valuable contributions he made to theology in his day was a deep value for the scriptures. He believed everyone should be able to read the scripture in his or her native language, and this led to Wycliffe and some of his colleagues translating the entire Bible from the Latin Vulgate into Middle English. It appears to have been published in 1384. It is believed that Wycliffe translated the four gospels and may have been responsible for the translation of the entire New Testament. His colleagues translated the Old Testament. While there were some earlier translations of some of the Bible into Old English, this appears to be the only complete translation into Middle English.
Wycliffe suffered for his work. The church outlawed the translation. A person could be arrested and punished severely for having a copy of Wycliffe’s Bible in their possession. After Wycliffe died, his writings and works were declared heretical. (Most of his beliefs would be adopted by the Reformers.) His bones were removed from the church graveyard, burned and the ashes scattered in the River Swift.
I had a lovely conversation today with one of our people about some of the history of the Christian church. We talked especially about the history of the Reformation with all of it’s turmoil, and agreed we are grateful to live today. We both feel privileged to be able to look in the Bible and read it for ourselves even if we sometimes disagree on how to interpret it.
The saints of old died so the faith could come to us. Many suffered so we could read the Word of God in a language we understand and so we might hear and see the good news of God for ourselves. I invite you to honor the memory of people like John Wycliffe today. Pick up your Bible and read it for yourself… because you can.
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