John Wycliffe

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Wycliffe, John


(also Wiclif, Wyclif). Born between 1320 and 1330 in Yorkshire; died Dec. 31, 1384, in Lutterworth, Leicestershire. English reformer; proponent of the primacy of temporal power over ecclesiastical power. Professor at Oxford University; doctor of theology (1372).

Wycliffe was the author of numerous pamphlets and treatises, and he translated the Bible into English. His reformist teachings were an expression of the ideological struggle in English society that preceded the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

According to Wycliffe, human society is the earthly church militant. God, as the supreme lord, has the right to rule over all the earth, but in his mercy he temporarily cedes his power to man in return for service to him. This service consists in the exact fulfillment of the law of god, which is obligatory for all men, regardless of social position. There is a division of responsibilities in society among the three estates: the clergy, the secular lords, and the common people. Postulating the primacy of temporal power over ecclesiastical power, Wycliffe proposed the subordination of the clergy to the king as god’s vicar on earth, the secularization of church property, the simplification of church rites, and the elimination of the clergy’s social privileges. Although his teachings were condemned by Pope Gregory XI in 1377, Wycliffe was protected by the English government.

Wycliffe’s teachings were perceived by the masses as a criticism of the feudal system as a whole, and his doctrines played an important role in the ideological ferment that led to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Wycliffe himself, however, did not go beyond the struggle against ecclesiastical feudalism, maintaining that the relationship between masters and servants had to be based on the strict fulfillment of mutual responsibilities. Wycliffe believed the uprising of 1381 was the result of violations of god’s law by the three estates, and he thought that limiting the amount of property an individual could hold would prevent further social conflicts.

In 1382 a council of English bishops condemned Wycliffe’s teachings as heretical, and in 1415 the Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic. Wycliffe’s reformist ideas influenced the Lollards in England as well as J. Hus, M. Luther, and various figures of the English Reformation.


Shirley, W. W. A Catalogue of the Original Works of J. Wyclif. Oxford, 1865.
Selected English Works of Wyclif, vols. 1–3. Oxford, 1869–71.
The English Works of Wyclif Hitherto Unprinted. London, 1902.


Saprykin, Iu. M. “Vzgliady Dzhona Uiklifa na obshchnost’ imush-chestva i ravenstvo.” In the collection Srednie veka, fasc. 34. Moscow, 1971.
Illarionova, E. V. “Zhizn’ i literaturnaia deiatel’nost’ Dzhona Viklefa.” In the collection Iz istorii zap.-evropeiskogo sredneve-kov’ia. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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(4.) Anthony Goodman gives attention to the "firm measures," which included sentences to be burned at the stake, ecclesiastical authorities had been taking since 1382 to suppress the growth in numbers of the followers of John Wycliffe (142-46).
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In describing the degenerated condition of the church in John Wycliffe's time, Foxe says as much: "In somuch that there could be no great difference almost perceaved betwene Christianitie and Juishnes, save only that the state and condition of the Jewes might seame somewhat more tolerable, then ours (1563, 86).
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