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John Wyclif

Wyclif, Wycliffe, Wickliffe, or Wiclif, John (all: wĭkˈlĭf) [key], c.1328–1384, English religious reformer. A Yorkshireman by birth, Wyclif studied and taught theology and philosophy at Oxford. He was later made rector at Fillingham (1361), at Ludgershall (1368), and at Lutterworth (1374). His belief in the doctrine that Christ is humanity's only overlord and that power should depend on a state of grace made him a champion of the people against the abuses of the church. He early associated himself with the anticlerical party in the nation and in 1374 was sent to Bruges to represent the English crown in negotiations over payment of tribute to the Holy See. From 1377 he made many vigorous attacks in both Latin and English on orthodox church doctrines, especially that of transubstantiation. Through his own preaching in the vernacular at Oxford and London and the itinerant teaching of his "poor priests," he spread the doctrine that the Scriptures are the supreme authority and that the good offices of the church are not requisite to grace. He was condemned as a heretic in 1380 and again in 1382, and his followers were persecuted, but he was not disturbed in his retirement at Lutterworth, where he died in 1384. The Wyclif Bible is a great landmark in the history of the Bible and of the English language. This first and literal translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible into English was mainly the work of his followers, notably Nicholas Hereford; the smoother revision of c.1395 was directed by Wyclif's follower John Purvey. In England the Lollards (see Lollardry) formed the link between Wyclif and the Protestant Reformation; on the Continent he was a chief forerunner of the Reformation, through his influence on Jan Huss, the Bohemian reformer, and through Huss on Martin Luther and the Moravians.

See editions of most of his works by the Wyclif Society; biography by H. B. Workman (1926); G. M. Trevelyan, England in the Age of Wycliffe (new ed. 1972); K. B. McFarlane, John Wycliffe and the Beginnings of English Nonconformity (1953); J. Stacey, John Wyclif and Reform (1964); J. C. Carrick, Wycliffe and the Lollards (1977); L. B. Hall, The Perilous Vision of John Wyclif (1983).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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