John Wycliffe translated the Latin Vulgate Bible into English.
Some of you may read the above sentence and be completely unimpressed. What does Wycliffe’s translation possibly have to do with 21st Century Christianity? My blog posts about Joni Eareckson Tada last week were, some of you might say, much more interesting than posts about some 14th Century Oxford scholar who defied the papacy by trying to make God’s Word available to the laity.
But perhaps we forget that, in the 14th Century, most people had no direct access to Scripture. This handicap was particularly debilitating because the Roman Catholic Church controlled nearly every aspect of society, making everyone dependent on the teachings of priests, bishops, cardinals and popes for their understanding of God and His Word. This dependence obviously gave Rome tremendous power.
Wycliffe saw Rome abuse that power, teaching doctrines that contradicted the Bible and oppressed people. His education, as well as his position as a rector, afforded him the ability to read Latin, which in turn enabled him to read and study the Latin Vulgate Bible.
As his passion for Scripture grew, Wycliffe yearned to see the English laity read it for themselves. The problem was that he desired to make God’s Word available in order that people would understand the Gospel of salvation through Christ alone. Remember, he had already stood squarely against Transubstantiation, calling it idolatry and pointing out that it denied Christ’s bodily resurrection. He also felt distressed by the doctrines of Purgatory and Indulgences.
Translating the Bible into English promised common people the ability to come to Christ apart from Roman Catholic rituals that had no basis in Scripture. Although he died in 1384 without having been charged with heresy or excommunicated, the 1415 Council of Constance condemned him on 260 separate counts. in 1428 (presumably to cleanse the world from his influence), the pope had his body exhumed and his bones burned.
Ladies, translating the Bible in 1380 challenged Rome’s authority. The act of translating God’s Word into English gave common people the knowledge that Jesus Christ, not the sacraments and rituals concocted by Catholic dogma, brought salvation through His blood shed once-for-all. Wycliffe’s actions didn’t have the impact that the 16th Century Reformers had, but they planted a seed. For that, we should praise God.