21st May 1382. John Wycliffe.

Lutherans in emphasising ‘Faith’ as opposed to ‘Grace’, took their cue from the New Testament Romans 1:17: ‘The Just shall live by faith’; thus righteousness before God is not to be had by achievement, but a gift of a ’Justification by Faith‘, the crux of the Protestant Reformation.

Moves towards reform of the Church of Rome came from a variety of sects and a Synod was convened Today in 1382 by archbishop William Courtenay in Blackfriars, London, to discuss the emerging Lollards. (1)

Condemned were the 24 theses of their founder, John Wycliffe and  the 1379 Treatise de Eucharistia, which opposed Transubstantiation.

Known as  the ‘Earthquake Synod’, so called because an earthquake shook the area at the time, Courtenay was to have great influence in governance and in the eradication of the Lollards, which came in no small way from his aristocratic parentage, his aggression, and probably most importantly in the weak reign of Richard II.(2)

Wycliffe scorned overfed, idle clergy at a time of plague and wars, the cause of much tension in the 13th and 14th centuries, and disputed the right of the church to levy taxes and tithes.

19thc painting of Lollards being given the Wycliffe Bible, by Yeames.

He declared the Bible, not the Church to be the highest authority and his manuscript translation into English from the Latin Vulgate, completed after his death in 1384 by John Purvey and Nicholas of Hereford, was considered a dangerous enterprise.

Later in the century, Archbishop Arundel waged war against dissent, which resulted in Henry IV’s 1401 Heresy (‘choice’ or ‘picking’) Act which sent many to the stake. It was now dangerous to read the Wycliffe Bible, except covertly.

Manchester Town Hall Mural: The trial of Wycliffe.

The defeat of Lollardry, was the task of the new king with his ‘de heretico comburendo’, the burning of heretics for questioning Holy Writ.(3)

In 1414 at the so called ‘Fire and Faggot’ Parliament held at Grey Friars Priory, Leicester, under Speaker Walter Hungerford, the main business was suppression of the Lollards: ‘That whoever should read scripture in English…Wicliffe’s learning…shall forfeit land, cattle, goods for life…condemned as heretics to God, enemies of the Crown and traitors to kingdom’.

It went on…’if they continued obstructive…they should be hanged for treason against the king and then beheaded for heresy against God’. 

Wycliffe was protected by many influential followers in life, but after his death at Lutterworth, Leics., they couldn’t prevent his bones being burnt and scattered at the behest of the 1415 Council of Constance.

As it happened multiple translations of the Bible were to come, the Reformation came in Britain as people chose to use their own minds and interpretation; free thinking which was now to drive the power of science and technology through the harsh superstition of medieval society.

(1) The Knighton Chronicle 243 describes the day as :’On the twelfth of the Kalends of June 21st May 1382 there was an earthquake…’

(2) He was a younger son of Hugh de Courtenay 10th earl of Devon, and through his mother (daughter of Humphrey de Bohun 4th earl of Hereford), he was also great grandson of Edward I.

(3) It followed from the harsh Papal decree of 1199 against heresy.

Ref:wordbook days.com.

Ref: wickipedia.org/wycliffe/Pic.

Ref: manchesterorange.co.uk/Pic of trial.

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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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