1902 Encyclopedia > John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe
English theologian and Bible translator
(c. 1320 - 1384)

JOHN WYCLIFFE, 1 (or WYCLIF) (c. 1320-1384), was born, according to Leland, our single authority on the point, at Ipreswel (evidently the place now called Hipswell), a mile from Richmond, in Yorkshire. The date may have been somewhere about 1320. Leland elsewhere mentions that he "drew his origin" from Wycliffe-on-Tees (Collectanea, ii. 329), so that his lineage was of the ancient family which is celebrated by Scott in Marmion. The Wycliffes had a natural connexion with the college at Oxford which had been founded in the latter part of the previous century by their neighbours, the Balliols of Barnard Castle; and to Balliol College, then distinctively an "arts" college, John Wycliffe in due time proceeded. It has been generally believed, and was in fact believed not many years after his death, that he was a fellow of Merton College in 1356; but in all probability this identification rests upon a confusion with another and contemporary John Wycliffe. That the future reformer was a fellow of Balliol College is implied in the fact that some time after 1356, but before the summer of 1360, he was elected master of the college. This office he held but a short time. So soon as 1361 he accepted a college living, that of Fillingham in Lincolnshire, and probably left Oxford for some time. In 1363, however, he was back again, this time resident in Queen's College, where he seems to have rented rooms at various dates from this year onwards ; on the 13th April 1378 he obtained from his bishop leave of absence " insistendo literarum studio in universitate Oxon. per biennium," and in the following November he exchanged his benefice for one more conveniently situate, at Ludgarshall, in Buckinghamshire. A certain amount of residence at Oxford was necessary if he was now proceeding to a degree in divinity, and still more if, as is generally understood, he is the same person with the John Wycliffe who was appointed, December 1365, to the wardenship of Canterbury Hall, a house which Archbishop Islip had lately founded for a mixed body of monks and secular clergymen, and then, changing his mind, had filled exclusively with the latter. His successor Archbishop Langham in 1367 reversed the arrangement, expelled Wycliffe and his colleagues, and substituted monks. Wycliffe appealed to Rome and lost his case, 1370. There seems no reason to dispute the legality of the action either of Archbishop Langham or of the cardinal who tried the appeal at Viterbo ; but Wycliffe no doubt felt himself hardly used, and (if he be rightly identified with the reformer) the experience may have confirmed him in some of the opinions which are characteristic of his subsequent career, and which have been attributed, but only on the authority of a bitter opponent, Thomas Netter of Walden, to disappointment at not receiving the bishopric of Worcester (perhaps at its voidance in 1368). But the doubt as to the identification in the one case, and the suspicion attaching to the evidence in the other, may disincline us to reason about the motives which directed Wycliffe on to the path of reform.

more if, as is generally understood, he is the same person with the John Wycliffe who was appointed, December 1365, to the wardenship of Canterbury Hall, a house which Archbishop Islip had lately founded for a mixed body of monks and secular clergymen, and then, changing his mind, had filled exclusively with the latter. His successor Archbishop Langham in 1367 reversed the arrangement, expelled Wycliffe and his colleagues, and substituted monks. Wycliffe appealed to Rome and lost his case, 1370. There seems no reason to dispute the legality of the action either of Archbishop Langham or of the cardinal who tried the appeal at Viterbo ; but Wycliffe no doubt felt himself hardly used, and (if he be rightly identified with the reformer) the experience may have confirmed him in some of the opinions which are characteristic of his subsequent career, and which have been attributed, but only on the authority of a bitter opponent, Thomas Netter of Walden, to disappointment at not receiving the bishopric of Worcester (perhaps at its voidance in 1368). But the doubt as to the identification in the one case, and the suspicion attaching to the evidence in the other, may disincline us to reason about the motives which directed Wycliffe on to the path of reform.

Some years indeed before this time he had thrown himself publicly into the defence of what had become the national resistance to the papacy at Avignon, closely associated as the latter was with the interests of France. He had entered the service of the royal court, and apparently as king's chaplain (" peculiaris regis clericus ") had published a tract, Determinatio quxdam de Dominio, in support of the action of parliament in 1366, when it repudiated the tribute due to the pope. The tract is of interest, not only because it contains the first trace of the writer's special doctrine of "dominium"" or lordship (adjusting the spiritual relation to a feudal framework), but also because it shows the line of thought by which Wycliffe's position became determined in a sense hostile to the papal system. It was not at the outset dogmatic but political elements in it which provoked his censure. He disputed the right of the spiritual power to interfere in temporal matters, and was gradually led on to deny the lawfulness of any temporal possessions of the church, and thus to become the common enemy of the beneficed clergy and of the endowed monks ; with the friars he was at present on friendly terms. Wycliffe thus drew from Richard Fitz-Ralph, archbishop of Armagh, whose instruction he may have personally followed in his youth, his doctrine of " dominium," which the latter had employed against the friars and in favour of the endowed clergy; while at the same time he combined it with the doctrine of the excellence of "evangelical poverty" which he derived from William of Ockham and the tradition of the Spiritual Franciscans nearly half a century earlier. Wycliffe's position may appear paradoxical; but in truth he made a selection from the discordant views, and built up a consistent theory of his own, of which the salient principles were (1) that sin deprived a man of all right to possess anything; (2) that all property should be held in common; (3) that the spiritual power is entirely separate from the civil, and thus (4) that, should it overstep its bounds and come into contact with temporal concerns, it becomes thereby subject to civil jurisdiction; (5) that the church should hold no property; (6) that excommunication is of no effect unless justified by the sin of him against whom it is directed; and (7) that in no case should it be pronounced for any offence connected with temporal affairs. These views are expounded in Wycliffe's several treatises De Dominio, which were written some time before 1377 and probably not long after 1370, though their precise date has not yet been established.

Plainly such a writer was likely to be useful to the court, where John of Gaunt was now supreme,—especially since Wycliffe enjoyed the reputation of an unmatched proficiency in the scholastic learning of his day. On the 7th April 1374 he was presented by the crown to the rectory of Lutterworth, in Leicestershire, which he held until his death; and on the following July 26th he was nominated one of the royal ambassadors to proceed to Bruges to confer with the papal representatives on the long-vexed question of "provisions." The rank he took is shown by the facts that his name stands second, next after that of the bishop of Bangor, on the commission, and that he received pay at the princely rate of twenty shillings per diem. The commission itself was appointed in consequence of urgent and repeated complaints on the part of the Commons, but the negotiations were practically fruitless; the king had an interest in keeping up the system of papal provisions and reservations, and it could hardly be expected that any concessions that might be gained by his commissioners would imply more than a temporary compromise or an illusory advantage. Yet it is possible that the real result of the negotiations is to be found, not in the formal stipulations, but in certain articles not then committed to writing which were laid before the English parliament in February 1377.

Some time after his return Wycliffe was given the prebend of Aust in the collegiate church of Westbury-on-Trim, which he held but a short time, the confirmation of his appointment (November 6, 1375) being followed within a fortnight by the grant of the benefice to another person. Henceforth he lived mainly at Lutterworth and Oxford, making, however, frequent and, as it seems, prolonged visits to London from time to time. He assumed the position of a popular preacher there, and delighted an audience already sufficiently disaffected towards the rich and powerful clergy. He was also closely allied with John of Gaunt, who welcomed him as an instrument towards his design of humbling the church. Wycliffe indeed expressly refused to affirm that it was in such a condition as to deserve spoliation ; but when to this he added that the decision was the affair of statesmen, " politicorum qui intendunt praxi et statui regnorum" (De Civili Dominio, i. 37, p. 269), it is plain that his theory might readily commend itself to the duke, while the proviso could only increase the hostility towards him of the endowed clergy. For some years he was suffered to spread his doctrines without hindrance. The archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Sudbury, had no mind to proceed against him until at length the pressure of the bishops compelled him to summon the dangerous preacher to appear before the bishop of London and answer certain charges laid against him. The nature of these accusations is not stated, but their purport can hardly be doubtful. On the 19th February 1377 Wycliffe made his appearance at St Paul's. He was accompanied by the duke of Lancaster, by Lord Percy the marshal of England, and by four doctors of the four mendicant orders. The trial, however, came to nothing; for, before Wycliffe could open his mouth, the court was broken up by a rude brawl between his protectors and Bishop Courtenay, ending in a general riot of the citizens of London, who were so much enraged by the insult to their bishop in his own cathedral church—coming as this did at the same time as a serious attempt at an invasion by the duke in parliament of their civic liberties (Chron. Angl., p. 120)—that they would have sacked his palace of the Savoy had not Courtenay himself intervened.

Wycliffe had escaped for the time, but his enemies did not rely solely on their own weapons. Probably before this they had set their case before the pope; and towards the end of May five bulls were issued by Gregory XL, who had just returned to Borne from Avignon, condemning eighteen (or in other copies nineteen) " conclusions " drawn from Wycliffe's writings. All the articles but one are taken from his first book De Civili Dominio, the recent publication of which shows the charges to be honestly made and the quotations to be entirely free from any suspicion of unfairness. The bulls truly stated Wycliffe's intellectual lineage; he was following in the error of Marsiglio of Padua ; and the articles laid against him are concerned entirely with questions agitated between church and state—how far ecclesiastical censures could lawfully affect a man's civil position, and whether the church had a right to receive and hold temporal endowments. The bulls were addressed (May 22) to the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishcp of London, the university of Oxford, and the king. The university was to take Wycliffe and send him to the prelates; the latter were then to examine the truth of the charges and to report to the pope, Wycliffe being meanwhile kept in confinement. The execution of the papal bulls was impeded by three separate causes,—the king's death on the 21st June ; the tardy action of the bishops, who enjoined the university to make a report, instead of simply sending Wycliffe to them ; and the unwillingness of the university to admit external authority, and, above all, the pope's right to order the imprisonment of any man in England. The convocation, indeed, as the St Albans chronicler states with lamentation, made serious objections to receiving the bull at all; and in the end it merely directed Wycliffe to keep within his lodgings at Black Hall for a time.

If the university was disposed to favour the reformer, the Government was not less so. John of Gaunt was for the moment in retirement; but the mother of the young king appears to have adopted his policy in church affairs, and she naturally occupied a chief position in the new council. As soon as parliament met in the autumn of 1377 Wycliffe was consulted by it as to the lawfulness of prohibiting that treasure should pass out of the country in obedience to the pope's demand. Wycliffe's affirmative judgment is contained in a state paper still extant; and its tone is plain proof enough of his confidence that his views on the main question of church and state had the support of the nation. Indeed he had laid before this same parliament his answer to the pope's bulls, with a defence of the soundness of his opinions. His university, moreover, confirmed his argument; his tenets, it said, were true (i.e., orthodox), though their expression was such as to admit of an incorrect interpretation. But Wycliffe was still bound to clear himself before the prelates who had summoned him, and early in 1378 he appeared for this purpose in the chapel of Lambeth Palace. His written defence, expressed in some respects in more cautious language than he had previously used, was laid before the council; but its session was rudely interrupted, not only by an inroad of the London citizens with a crowd of the rabble, but also by a messenger from the princess of Wales enjoining them not to pass judgment against Wycliffe; and thus a second time he escaped, either without sentence, or at most with a gentle request that he would avoid discussing the matters in question. Meanwhile his " protestatio " was sent on to Rome.

In the autumn of this year Wycliffe was once more called upon to prove his loyalty to John of Gaunt. The duke had violated the sanctuary of Westminster by sending a band of armed men to seize two knights who had taken refuge there. They resisted, and one of them was killed. After a while the bishop of London excommunicated all concerned in the crime (excepting only the king, his mother, and his uncle), and preached against the culprits publicly at St Paul's Cross. The duke, fearing the anger of the Londoners, arranged that the ensuing parliament should be held at a safe distance, at Gloucester, and, it was rumoured, proposed to bring before it a sweeping scheme of spoliation of church property. Wycliffe was required to write an apology for the duke's actions at Westminster. His paper, which is still preserved, and forms part of the De Ecclesia, seeks, without excusing the homicide, to lay down the limits within which the privilege of asylum is permissible, and maintains that the duke was right in invading the sanctuary in order to bring escaped prisoners to justice. But the duke's whole behaviour seems to have been high-handed, and Wycliffe can with difficulty be excused from a charge of subserviency to his patron.

The year 1378 forms a turning point in Wycliffe's career. The schism in the papacy caused by the election in September of Clement VII. in opposition to Urban VI. slowly decided Wycliffe towards a more revolutionary attitude with respect to the Roman see, a power which he now convinced himself was at the root of the disorders of the church. He set on foot an active propaganda, choosing the two special means of sending forth his " poor" or " simple priests" to preach pure doctrine throughout the country, and of making the first complete English version of the Bible. This latter work was mainly executed by Wycliffe himself, but his friend Nicholas Hereford did part of the Old Testament. Afterwards the whole was revised by John Purvey, who assisted Wycliffe in his parish duty at Lutterworth, and finished his edition probably not long after the reformer's death. Most existing copies are of the latter redaction, which is printed in parallel columns with the older one in the great edition of the version edited by J. Forshall and Sir F. Madden (Oxford, 1851). Wycliffe's translation of the Bible, and still more his numerous English sermons and tracts, establish his now undisputed position as the founder of English prose writing.

allowed the real presence of Christ in the consecrated ( elements, but denied any change of substance, a doctrine I practically undistinguishable (unless by its scholastic form) from the modern Lutheran doctrine. The theologians of the university were at once roused. The chancellor, William Berton, sat with twelve doctors (half of whom were friars), and solemnly condemned the theses; Wycliffe appealed to the king, and John of Gaunt hastily sent down a messenger enjoining the reformer to keep silence on the subject.

The condemnation at Oxford was almost immediately followed by the Peasants' Revolt, with which it has been supposed that Wycliffe had something to do. The only positive fact implicating him is the confession of one of its leaders, John Ball, that he learned his subversive doctrines from Wycliffe. But the confession of a condemned man can seldom be accepted without reserve; and we have not only the precise and repeated testimony of Knyghton that he was a " precursor " of Wycliffe, but also documentary evidence that he was excommunicated as early as 1366, long before Wycliffe exposed himself to ecclesiastical censure. Wycliffe in truth was always careful to state his communistic views in a theoretical way ; they are confined to his Latin scholastic writings, and thus could not reach the people from him directly. At the same time it is very possible that his less scrupulous followers translated them in their popular discourses, and thus fed the flame that burst forth in the rebellion. Perhaps it was a consciousness of a share of responsibility for it that led them to cast the blame on the friars. In any case Wycliffe's advocates must regret that in all his known works there is only one trace of any reprobation of the excesses that accompanied the outbreak.

In the following spring his old enemy William Courtenay, now archbishop of Canterbury, resolved to take measures for stamping out Wycliffe's crowning heresy. He called a provincial council at the Blackfriars in London, which assembled on the 21st May 1382, and sat with intervals until July. The council was met by a hardly expected manifestation of university feeling on Wycliffe's side. The chancellor and both the proctors stood by him. They allowed a Wycliffite sermon to be preached before the university on Ascension Day. The archbishop's commissary complained that his life was not safe at Oxford. Still no steps were taken to bring Wycliffe to judgment. Twenty-four articles extracted from his works were condemned; some of his prominent adherents were imprisoned until they recanted; the university officers were soon brought to submission, but Wycliffe himself remained at large and unmolested. It is said indeed by Knyghton that at a council held by Courtenay at Oxford in the following November Wycliffe was brought forward and made a recantation ; but our authority fortunately gives the text of the recantation, which proves to be nothing more nor less than a plain English statement of the condemned doctrine. It is therefore lawful to doubt whether Wycliffe appeared before the council at all, and even whether he was ever summoned before it. Probably after the overthrow of his party at Oxford by the action of the Blackfriars council Wycliffe found it advisable to withdraw permanently to Lutterworth. That his strength among the laity was undiminished is shown by the fact that an ordinance passed by the House of Lords alone, in May 1382, against the itinerant preachers was annulled on the petition of the Commons in the following autumn. In London, Leicester, and elsewhere there is abundant evidence of his popularity. The reformer, however, was growing old. There was work, he probably felt, for him to do, more lasting than personal controversy. So in his retirement he occupied himself, with restless activity, iii writing numerous tracts, Latin and English, as well as one of his most important books, the Trialogus. In spite of a paralytic seizure which came upon him in 1382 or early in 1383, he continued his labours. In 1384 it is stated that he was cited by pope Urban VI. to appear before him at Rome ; but to Rome he never went. On the 28th December of this year, while he was hearing mass in his own church, he received a final stroke, from the effects of which he died on the New Year's eve. He was buried at Lutterworth ; but by a decree of the council of Constance, May 4, 1415, his remains were ordered to be dug up and burned, an order which was carried out by Bishop Fleming in 1428.

At this distance of time 'Wycliffe's reputation is still a battleground of parties. By those who uphold the indefeasible sanctity of church property, the exemption of the church from all control or oversight on the part of the state, or yet more the apostolic prerogative of the Roman see, his political doctrine is judged as revolutionary, sacrilegious, and heretical. His denial of transubstantiation is conceived to imply a base hypocrisy in his continued discharge of priestly functions; but they who maintain this argument should bear in mind that the office of the mass is older than the doctrine of transubstantiation, and a man cannot be fairly accused of dishonesty in using words in a sense at all events nearer that in which they were originally written. A sober study of Wycliffe's life and works justifies a conviction of his complete sincerity and earnest striving after what he believed to be right, If he cannot be credited (as he has been by most of his biographers with all the Protestant virtues, he may at least claim to have discovered the secret of the immediate dependence of the individual Christian upon God, a relation which needs no mediation of any priest, and to which the very sacraments of the church, however desirable, are not essentially necessary. When he divorces the idea of the church from any connexion with its official or formal constitution, and conceives it as consisting exclusively of the righteous, he may seem to have gone the whole length of the most radical reformers of the 16th century. And yet, powerful as was his influence in England, it was but transient, and within forty years it was nearly extinct. His true tradition is to be found not in his own country but in Bohemia, where his works were eagerly read and multiplied, and where his disciple John Huss, with less originality but greater simplicity of character and greater spiritual force, raised Wycliffism to the dignity of national religion. To Huss, whose works are to a great extent a cento of extracts from Wycliffe, Luther owed much; and thus the spirit of the English teacher had its influence on the reformed churches of Europe.

The documentary materials for Wycliffe's biography are to be found in John Lewis's Life and Sufferings of J. Wiciif(w3\Y ed., Oxford, 1820), which contains a valuable appendix of illustrative papers and records; Foxe's Acts and Monuments, vol. iii., ed. 1855, with app.; Forshall and Madden's preface to the Wycliffe Bible, p. vii. note, Oxford, 1851; W. W. Shirley's edition of the Fasciculi Zizaniorum (probably the work of Thomas Netter of Walden), 1858 ; and H. T. Riley's notices in the appendices to the Second and Fourth Reports of the Historical Manuscripts Commission. Among contemporary records the recently discovered narrative of a monk of St Albans—a bitter opponent of John of Gaunt—is of conspicuous value; it was published under the title of Chronicon Angliss, by Mr E. M. Thompson, 1874. Of this the account in Walsingham's Historia Anglicana (ed. H. T. Riley, 1863, 1864) is mainly a modified version. Knyghton, wiio wrote De Eventibus Anglitv at Leicester in the heart of what may be called the Wycliffe country, is very well informed as to certain passages in the reformer's history, though ins chronology is extremely faulty (printed in Twysden's Hist. Anglic. Scriptores Decern,, 1652). There are valuable notices also in the continuation of the Eulogium Historiarum (vol. iii., ed. F. S. liaydon, 1863), in the Chronicle of Adam of Usk (ed. E. M. Thompson, 1876), and in more than one of the continuations of Higrlen. For the study of Wycliffe's theology the controversial works of Wodeford and Walden are important, but must necessarilv be used with caution.

Of modern biographies that by Dr G. V. Lechlet (Johann von Wiclif und die Vorgeschichte der Reformation, 2 vols., Leipsic, 1873; partial Engl, trans., by P. Lorimer, 187S, 1881, and 1884) is by far the most comprehensive; it includes a detaded exposition of the reformer's system, based to a considerable extent on works which were tjien unpublished, Shirley's masterly introduction to the Fasciculi Zizaniorum, and Mr F. D. Matthew's to his edition of English Works of Wyclif hitherto unprinted (1880). as well as Mr Creighton's History of the Papacy during the Period of the Reformation, vol. i., 1882, and Mr H. C. Maxwell Lyte's account in his History of the University of Oxford (1886), add to or correct our stock of biographical materials, and contain much valuable criticism. Wycliffe's political doctrine is discussed by Mr R. L. Poole (Illustrations of the History of Mediwval Thought, 1884); and his relation to Huss is elaborately demonstrated by Dr J. Loserth (Has und Wiclif, Prague, 1884; also Engl, trans.)

Wycliffe's works are enumerated in a Catalogue by Shirley (Oxford, 1865). The following are published:—A. Latin.—De Officio Pastorali, ed. G. V. Lechler, Leipsic, 1863 ; Trialogus, ed. G. V. Lechler, Oxford, lsfifl; portions of the Summa in T/ieologia, viz., De Civili Dominio, i., ed. R. L. Poole, 1885, a:>d De Ecclesia, ed. J. Losei th, 1886; De Benedicta Incarvatione, ed. E. Harris, 1886; Dialogus sive Speculum Ecclesix Militantis, ed. A. W. Pollard, 1886; Sermones, ed. J. Loserlh, 2 vols., 1SS7-88; Polemical Tracts, ed. R. Buddensieg, 2 vols., 1883; De Compositione Hominis. an early work, ed. R. Beer, 1884. All but the first two of these are issued by the Wyclif Society, which was founded in 1882 for the purpose of publishing ail the reformer's unedited works.

B. English.—Select English Works, ed. T. Arnold, 3 vols., 1869-71, and English Works hitherto imprinted, ed. F. D. Matthew, 1880, chiefly sermons and short tracts, of many of which the authenticity is tvncertain. The Wicket (Nuremberg, 1546; reprinted Oxford, 1828) is not included in either of these collections. (R. L. P.)


Itinerary, Stow's transcript, Bodleian Library, Tanner MS., p. 464, f. 45 (Leland's original being mutilated at this place). Hearne misprinted the name "Spreswel," and thus set all Wycliffe's biographers on a search after a vox nihili.
See a document of 1325 printed in the appendix to the Fourth Report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission, p. 442 sq. Provision for theological study was made by the benefaction of Sir Philip Somerville in 1340 (Lyte, Hist, of the Univ. of Oxford, p. 154, 1886).
Hence arose the common mistake, which was repeated so lately as in Milman's Hist, of Latin Christianity, bk. xiii. ch. vi., that Wycliffe began his university career at Queen's College. It is indeed open to question whether this be not yet another John Wycliffe ; see Mr H. T. Riley's remarks in the Second Report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission, appendix, p. 141 sq.

Among the rest " Wyclif" has the support of Shirley, of Mr T. Arnold, and of the Wyclif Society ; while '' Wiclif" is the popular form in Germany.

Archbishop FitzRalph had been a fellow of Balliol College, and was vice-chancellor of the university in or about 1333 (A. a Wood, Fasti Oxon., p. 21, ed. Gutch, 1790). His work, on which Wycliffe mainly based his theory, is entitled De Pauperie Salvatoris, and exists only in manuscript; but Mr R. L. Poole is preparing the greater part of it for publication. An old legend makes Wycliffe take part in the archbishop's controversy with the friars so early as 1360. It was suspected by Robert Vaughan, and then denied by Shirley. The further researches of Dr Lechler have placed the late date at which Wycliffe began his opposition to the friars on a sure foundation ; and the fact has been confirmed decisively by the publication of the St Albans Chronicon Anglim, by Mr E. M. Thompson, in 1874 (see pp. 116, 118), and more recently by that of the reformer's earlier Latin works.
It is uniformly asserted that Wycliffe fell into heresy after his admission to the degree of doctor (Fasc. Ziz., p. 2). The process about Canterbury Hall makes the warden B.D. in 1367 or 1368 (Lyte, p. 252, n. 5),—so that if he be the reformer we have an approximate terminus a quo for his inception.

When he says that the bull was only received at Oxford shortly before Christmas, he is apparently confounding it with the prelates' mandate, which is dated December 18 (Lewis, appendix xvii.)—Chron. Angl., p. 173.
In one text of this document a note is appended, to the effect that the council enjoined silence on the writer as touching the matter therein contained (Fasciculi Zizaniorum, p. 271). This, if true, was apparently a measure of precaution.

3 This is the date given in the Fasciculi Zizaniorum. Wood, however, makes Berton chancellor in 1380 and 1382. But if Wycliffe's heresy was first put forth in the latter year there seems to be hardly time for the condemnation and then for the archbishop's summons to the London council in May. It is safest therefore to leave the date of the Fasciculi Zizaniorum undisturbed. The Peasants' Revolt in June 1381, and the murder of Archbishop Sudbury, may sufficiently account for the interval between the Oxford and the London proceedings.
Wycliffe's itinerant preachers were not necessarily intended to work as rivals to the beneficed clergy. The idea that underlay their mission was rather analogous to that which animated Wesley four centuries later. Wycliffe aimed at supplementing the services of the church by regular religious instruction in the vernacular ; and his organization included a good number of men who held or had held respectable positions in their colleges at Oxford. The influence of their teaching was soon felt throughout the country. The common people were rejoiced by the plain and homely doctrine which dwelt chiefly on the simple " law " of the gospel, while they no doubt relished the denunciation of existing evils in the church which formed, as it were, the burthen of such discourses. The feeling of disaffection against the rich and careless clergy, monks, and friars was widespread but undefined. Wycliffe turned it into a definite channel (he was now persuaded that the friars were as bad as the monks) ; he insensibly passed from an assailant of the papal to an assailant of the sacerdotal power ; and in this way he was led to reject the distinctive symbol of that power, the doctrine of transubstantiation. It was in the summer of 1381 that Wycliffe propounded at Oxford a set of theses, substituting for the accredited doctrine of the church one which

Of Wycliffe's personal appearance we know hardly more than that he was a spare man with frail health. None of the existing portraits of him is contemporary.

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