Tuesday, 15 November 2011
Lest we forget.
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
1324 – 1384
Scholar and theologian,
Precursor of reform
Fellow of Merton
Master of Balliol
Warden of Canterbury Hall in Oxford
Though there is no record of his ever having lived here in Fillingham for any length of time, it is very likely that he visited the parish during the seven years during which he was it’s Rector, though curates would have carried out the work.
It is not too fanciful to imagine John Wycliffe riding along the old Roman road now the A15 and part of the runway at RAF Scampton, on his way to the library in the Cathedral to study there, thinking the thoughts that had him both tried for heresy and brought enduring fame.
Wycliffe was born in Hipswell in Yorkshire in 1324. Although in danger for his beliefs and teaching he died of a stroke in Lutterworth on December 11th 1384.
He was known as the ‘Morning Star’ of the Reformation because of his reforming zeal and the effect of his writing on both church and political thought.
He was also the ‘Evening Star’ of scholasticism, because by training and intellectual inclination he was a school man of the traditional sort and indeed all the parishes of which he was incumbent remained orthodox in practice.
He was a secular priest, meaning he was not a member of one of the two great religious orders, the Franciscans and the Dominicans who dominated Oxford at the time. He became particularly antagonistic to them when he was ejected from the wardenship of Canterbury College because it was reserved for a monk.
Wycliffe entered university as a scholar and by 1350 he was a fellow of Merton College. In 1360, aged about 31, he became Master of Balliol and University Lecturer. He was being supported by the lings of churches to which he was presented, but in which he served only intermittently. In this way he became Rector of Fillingham in 1361.
In his work “On the Truth of Sacred Scripture” he justified the practice of absentee incumbents as follows:
“It is lawful for a Rector, for a time, to gather the seeds of faith in theological schools away from his parish with a view to sowing it at an opportune time. Spiritual food is more effective and permanent than bodily food, so it is enough that the pastor feeds his charges at appropriate times in the year... provided he trains a suitable subject... “
This is presumably what Wycliffe did for most of the time in the seven years that he held Fillingham up to 1368.
Fillingham was, and still is, in the gift of Balliol College. In those days it was the richest living in the college’s gift.
In 1368 he transferred to Luddershall which was more convenient fir Oxford. In 1372 he became Doctor of Theology in the university. In 1374 he was presented to the living of Lutterworth which he held until his death.
Wycliffe was a brilliant scholar, an admirer of, and of the same type as Robert Grosseteste the scholar Bishop of Lincoln of a century earlier. Wycliffe’s fame rests on his philosophical work and the effects it had on the political situation in England at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt and through John Huss of Bohemia on the later Reformation in Europe.
He was an effective and popular preacher and in his attacks on the corruption of the papacy, the wealth of the Church, the sale of indulgences and Church interferences in civil matters he made powerful enemies, but won popular support and some powerful friends. He was protected by John of Gaunt, who through Kathryn Swynford is linked with Lincoln. John of Gaunt was very influential in the land throughout the reigns of Edward III and Richard II. He brought about Wycliffe’s call to court from 1376 – 78 during which time he was sent as Ambassador to Bruges to argue the King’s case for non-payment of revenues out of England to the Pope. His line or argument was based on “Charity begins at home”.
Wycliffe’s work was regarded as heretical by many. The Pope ordered Bishop John Buckingham of Lincoln to arrest him. Oxford being in the Diocese of Lincoln. The king did not support this move; instead he used Wycliffe as an advisor. Subsequently, he did face a trial for heresy by an ecclesiastical court in London. The people of London rioted in his support.
On another occasion a similar court was disturbed by an earthquake, which both sides claimed to be the voice of God.
When Wycliffe attacked the Church’s central teaching on the Eucharist, his political friends deserted him. Attacks on him and his followers led to them being banned from Oxford by Bishop Courtenay in 1382. Wycliffe retired to Lutterworth where he continued to write during the two years that were left to him, though he was ill for most of the time.
His teaching about the need for all people to be able to read the bible in their own language, because it was the basis of all true teaching, together with attacks on corruption within the church influenced the group of reformers called the Lollards, who became wandering preachers spreading these ideas throughout England.
Death and burial was not the end of the matter. Wycliffe’s bones were disinterred, burned as a heretic and the ashes thrown into the river Test. The ashes flowed into the wider world. The influence of his ideas has done the same.
His followers, then and now, heeded his words:
“the Gospel telleth us the duty which falls to all the Disciples of Christ, and also telleth us how priests both high and low, should occupy themselves in serving him. And first Jesus himself did do the lessons whivh he taught... (and that is)... to teach us to be useful generally to men and not be unwilling to preach to people because they are few, (even though) our name may not, in consequence, be great. For we should labour for God, and from him hope for our reward”.
May 2000; revised May 2009
NSM Curate of 1981 – 1999
Priest with Pastoral Responsibility for the Springline Group (Fillingham to Burton) 2003 - 2008
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