Thus far, we’ve looked at the era “before printing.” It staggers the mind: manual, slow, tedious, and loving efforts of Bible transmission. We briefly looked at Anglo-Saxon “glossing” or “translating” of the Latin Bible, or, the Bible in Britain from the earliest times to AD 850. (It also sounds like Andy has uncovered Aelfric's Anglo-Saxon sermons. More as that develops.) It’s time to follow Mr. Daniell’s discussion of the Wycliff (“Lollard”) Bibles, pages 66ff.
Something “new and mysterious” was afoot in the 1380s (66).
1. First, there was a "complete Bible," en toto and unvarnished by legends, saints’ lives, and other historical fancies. The Bible was written on vellum so as to last. These were the earliest “complete Bibles” in English, not “part-Bibles.” They were often copied and intensively used until Tyndale’s 1526 version and Coverdale’s complete Bible in 1535.
2. They appeared in large numbers. Quite significantly in terms of labor and effort, 20 manuscripts of the whole Bible come from the 1380s, 90 of the OT from 1380, and a total of 250 manuscripts (thereafter) survived the ruthless, bitter, hostile, wicked and determined persecution of Lollards and the burning of their books. This number--250--stacks up as four times larger than Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales at 64 manuscripts. It was being read in the 15th century: in 1430, Nicolas Belward of Earsham, Norfolk, bought a Wycliffite NT in London. Relatedly, we will leave open the tantalizing idea that Tyndale had a copy as he did his work on the Continent; some scholars have noted many similarities of terms and phrases.
3. There is nothing in the manuscripts to identify the authors (=copiers) or places of origin. As we’ll see, inferably, this was to avoid the ruthless persecutions from the Devil in Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, and the Antichrist in Rome.
4. These were copied despite “violent opposition.” We’ll belabor this point some. Here are a few English mouthpieces of the Devil. First, a quote from Thomas Arundel of Canterbury in a letter to another devil, a fellow-devil, this one operating from the hell hole in Rome, Pope John XXIII:
“This pestilent and wretched John Wycliff, of cursed memory, that son of the old serpent…endeavoured by means to attack the very faith and sacred doctrine of the Holy Church, devising—to fill up the measure of malice—the expedient of a new translation of the Scripture into the mother tongue” (67).
A few notes on this comment: (1) Wycliff had assailed a number of Roman doctrines, (2) Wycliff was widely known in England, France, Belgium, Bohemia and Rome—he lived during the wretched Avignon Papacy where, to use Macaulay’s phrase, “two wicked priests [=Popes] were reviling each other,” (3) transubstantiation was one pillar supporting sacerdotal supremacy, (4) hefty church endowments and wealth was attacked by Wycliff, (5) the translation of Scriptures is called an “expedient” and (6) the “mother tongue” of the Bible was being reviled by this Devil in Canterbury. Oh yeah, the hissing serpent in Canterbury was calling Wyclif a "son of the serpent."
We bring another quote from Henry Knighton’s "Chronicle," written after Devil Arundel wrote:
“The Master John Wycliff translated from Latin into English—the Angle not the angel speech—the Gospel that Christ gave to the doctors and clergy of the Church…so that by his means it has become vulgar and more open to lay men and women who can read than it usually is to quite learned clergy of good intelligence. And so the pearl of the Gospel is scattered abroad and trodden underfoot by swine” (67).
This summarizes the English and Italian church’s hatred, vehemence and determination to keep the English (=Middle English) Bible from the rank-and-file Churchmen throughout the land of 1000s of churches. These are not minor points.
Quibble as one might with a translation as Rome might, and as one must in scholarly translations, then produce a better one and get it before the Churchmen, but no, Rome wasn’t about doing that.
It was, rather, a book for the “doctors and clergy” not the vulgar laity and “swine.” An ME Bible was “vulgar.” All the swine needed was the “hearing the Latin services without understanding had sacramental value” (68). The Bible, to the Antichrist, was good “only when it was not understood, read, taught, pondered or received.”
Au contraire, Wyclif disagreed, in keeping with Anglo-Saxon glossers, and so did his followers. Jan Huss who had visited Wyclif at Oxford noted, “By the English it is said that Wyclif translated the whole Bible from Latin into English” (69). The collision course between Christ and Anti-christ ensued. (Elizabeth 1’s reign solidified the place of the English Bible. Thereafter, Rome was toast.)
After Wyclif and before Tyndale, the vehemence in the English church was notable, if not singularly so compared to other nations, for over 130-plus years from 1401.
In 1401, the Act of De Haeretico Comburdendo decreed burning not just for reading but possessing a vernacular Bible, even a portion of it. More on this later; the fight for the English Bible would continue into the 1530s-1550s in England in high Romanist dudgeons, chest-thumpings, and imperialistic triumphalisms.
In the ninth century, the Slav Bible was denounced by the Pope. In 1199, Pope Innocent III condemned Waldensians themselves, their vernacular Bibles in particular and anyone owning or reading them; ruthless persecution by the Inquisitors and demonic dragoons railed in southern Europe. In 1538, Pope Paul, as if he were Christ the Head of the Church, commanded the burning of the English Bibles.
In 1844, to be a little more modern, Pope Gregory XVI condemned the Bible in the vernacular. Possessing a vernacular Bible was heresy.
In 1864, Pope "Pee-on-us" (Pius) IX, in his anti-democratic rant of the "Syllabus of Errors," would condemn Bible societies and vernacular Bibles.
Vatican 2, ending in AD 1965, permitting vernacular Bibles, was a significant change of rudder orders for Rome. That's nearly a 600-year denial of the vernacular Bible for the Churchmen, church services and for daily use in homes and groups. (We'll say more later on vernacular versions on the Continent...but England from 1401 to the 1530s was uniquely hostile to vernacular Bibles thanks to Wyclif and his merry band.)
Even after Wycliff died, 31 Dec 1384, English demons were railing against him decades later...well into the 1530s. We bring a few brief notes on Wyclif.
Born AD 1324.
Fellow at Merton College, Oxford.
AD 1361—Master of Balliol College, Oxford.
AD 1372—the doctorate of theology was conferred on him by Oxford.
AD 1374—he served as a Chaplain to King Edward III.
He attacked the fashionable nominalism of Occam and Duns Scotus.
Anthony Kenny remarked:
“…if Wyclif was the Morning Star of the Reformation, he was also the Evening Star of Scholasticism…[that] synthesis of Christian and Aristotelian ideas which is perhaps the greatest intellectual legacy of the Middle Ages. Wyclif was the last of the great Oxford schoolmen…; those who were interested in his kind of philosophy disowned him as a heretic, and those who hailed him as a forerunner regarded scholastic philosophy as one of the corruptions from which the Reformation offered liberation” (70).
Wyclif’s hefty corpus, "Summa de ente," allegedly by Mr. Daniell’s, still resides in Bohemian archives and Rome, allegedly, has refused to publish the entire corpus.
As for Hussites, we suspect there are “trial transcripts” too that have never seen the light of day; we would like more information on that score. Especially the trial transcripts for Hus. (I've read a number of them for the English Reformers burned by Mary and her Devils...ugly!) Copies of Wycliffite writings were made by Czech or Bohemian students…Hussite students of Wyclif and were confiscated in Bohemia.
The background to the above shenanigans was the Avignon Papal Schism when “two worthless priests [= Popes] were cursing each other…” (citing Macauly, 70). Actually, there were three poopers. When the schism broke out--1 worthless Poop in Rome and 1 worthless Poop in Avignon, France--Wyclif was working on "On Truth of Sacred Scripture." In this he anticipated Erasmus’ later call for widespread vernacular Bibles throughout the Catholic Churches—Churchwide. That wouldn’t happen until 1965 with growing popularization of vernacular Scriptures in Romish conventicles. England and America have enjoyed the Bible widely since the 1550s.
In 1374, a living [ = endowment] was conferred on Wyclif of the Lutterworth parish. There were growing challenges to the confiscatory wealth and holdings of the “worthless priests.” For Wyclif, where did this find expression in the NT? There were growing challenges to simony and nepotistic appointments.
His studies led him to claim there was no biblical basis for the church’s vast “feudal powers” (71). (Charles V would later hem Pope Clement into the Castel San Angelo—in 1527ish—1000 feet up the street from St. Peter's--and Charles V would claim that it was “God’s judgment” and that the Pope’s sins were the results of his vast feudatories, claims and more…Charles V in 1527ish sounds like Wyclif in the 1380s.)
In 1377, Wyclif was summoned to London’s St. Paul’s by the bishop to answer heresy charges but princely support shielded him.
He also had been attacking “prayers to saints” [= sound familiar, Anglo-Tracto-heads, you Roman parasites? Greeks? Romanists?], meritorious pilgrimages, simony, and transubstantiation.
The latter point was just unforgiveable and undercut priestly supremacy—those making Christ-cakes, Christ-wafers, and becoming Christ-creators, to use Thomas Roger’s s quaint but very serviceable terms and summaries for Ubiquitarians.
Historian Anthony Kenny writes:
“It was not Wyclif’s assault on the Papacy which led to his final breach with the teaching authority of the Church. It was when he turned to the sacrament of the Eucharist, and attacked the theologians’ explanation of its nature, that he began to stand out in clear view as a heretic. When he denounced the Popes and questioned the validity of Papal claims he could find sympathizers even among the higher clergy; when he called for the disendowment of the Church, many laymen and begging friars found his word congenial; but when he renounced the doctrine of transubstantiation, friars, noblemen, and bishops all turned against him, and the university which had sheltered him offered him home no longer” (72).
The same battle would send Mr. (Canterbury) Cranmer and hundreds of other English Churchmen to the flames under Queen Mary.
The Council of Trent (1545—1563), reaffirmed more recently by Mr. (Pope) Carol Wotjyla (JP2) and Joe Ratzinger (B16), anathematized millions of truly Catholic (=non-Romanist) Churchmen since then. They now call us "separated brethren."
By summer of 1382, a sermon would be preached in Oxford University denouncing the by-then-retired Wyclif, laboring away in Lutterworth. Tucked away quietly at Lutterworth and, allegedly with no more university-influence, between 1380 and 1384, Wyclif produced 57 Latin works. He died of a stroke on 31 Dec 1384, having suffered it days earlier after divine worship. He fell ill in the vestry. He was taken to his residence where he died 31 Dec. The light was shining and the darkness comprehended it not. Notably, he had many, many followers.
The Council of Constance would burn Jan Huss in 1415. This obsessive-compulsive disorder over Wyclif would be revealed by condemning the now-dead Wyclif with a follow-on of exhumation and burning his resting bones. This indicates Wyclif’s influence, Rome’s fear of him, his doctrines and Bibles, and their abhorrence. Wyclif was widely known outside England.
Wyclif’s Poor Preachers.
In 1382, while Wyclif was still alive, several followers were at work in the diocese of Winchester: Nicolas Hereford, John Aston, Robert Arlington, Laurence Bednon and others. 20th century revisers have attempted to disconnect Wyclif from Lollardy, but reviews of the episcopal documents from Worcester and Bath & Wells reveal the extensive influence of Wycliffite followers. For example, there is two 1000-page documents entitled "Florentum" and "Resarium Theologae"--these are full of Wycliffite theological notes with references to the source: “D.E.” [= “Doctor Evangelicus” = code for Wyclif]. These were theological handbooks of Wyclif’s thoughts. It suggests seriousness of thought, diligence of inquiry, and willingness to write voluminously.
Here we must return to the infamous ecclesiastical and state (English Parliament) instruments of repression, the famous Act of 1401, "De Haeretico Comburendo." It must have been serious if legislation resulted. Lollardy had spread from Oxford more widely, even after Wyclif’s death in 1384. By 1407, 23 years after his death, that Devil in Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, convened a Provincial Synod at Oxford in order to control the issue, preachers, books and the universities.
By 1409, Devil-Canterbury Arundel ratified the provincial council of 1407 at St. Paul’s in London. A number of Constitutions were ordered up. Here’s article 7: It was forbidden:
“…to translate any text of Holy Scripture into the English or any other language by way of a book, pamphlet, or tract, and that no book, pamphlet, or tract of this kind be read, either recently composed at the time of the said Wyclif, or since then, or that in the future may be composed, in part or in whole, publicly or privately, under the pain of greater excommunication…”
A few self-evident notes: (1) No translation activity of any kind, in part or the whole, (2) Wyclif gets special mention 25 years after his death—or, his Bible and works were still spreading and needed the Devil’s strong check, (3) there were no translations by the Devil’s leaders in Oxford and Canterbury until Tyndale in the 1520s—and we know what happened to him, and (4) The 1401 Act, the ruling of the Provincial Council at Oxford and the 1409 Constitutions would constitute the legal authority for searches, warrants, trials, book burnings, and people-burnings.
2 years later, 17 March 1411, 267 heresies were imputed to Wycliff (by now, dead 27 years) and a bonfire at Oxford was conducted in the presence university officials including the Chancellor. In January, 1413, more of Wyclif’s works were burned at St. Paul’s London (75-76).
Lollardy between 1384 and 1413 was a clear and present danger to the Devil. One hostile commentator noted: “A man could not meet two people on the road, but one of them was a disciple of Wyclif.” High on the list amongst other views was this single fact: “possession of a vernacular Bible.” If you had that, you were a heretic.
Two other factors of suspicion: interest in English education, or education in theology in the vernacular, and owning theological books in English.
What was really frightening, however, was the Lollard’s two-fold objective (among others): (1) dis-endow the church and (2) create 15 new universities with that money (76). Imagine that!
The general picture until the 1960s has been that Lollards were an incoherent, inchoate, and eccentric band of illiterates and rhubarbs. Or, that Lollardy was economically driven rather than theologically driven.
The larger imputation often made is that the future Tyndales, Barnes, Friths, Roys and others were not driven by English impulses but were “entirely Continental” in force (76). Well, ya’ sorta think? The Act of 1401, the 1407 Provincial Council, and the 1409 Constitutions directed the vehemence against a native English movement to recover the Bible. Throw in the devil’s scowls at the continental Council of Constance, book burnings, and more. Tyndale and others were forced to flee vehement English policy in church and state.
As for modern English interpreters, can anyone hear the lingering anti-Calvinism and anti-Lutheranism in these 19th-20th century types?
Then, throw in Council of Constance, 1414-1418, held to resolve the “three-popes-problems, mutual recriminations, mutual confusions in “apostolic succession,” Conciliarism v. Papal supremacy (resolved at Vatican 1 in 1870) and lastly, old Wyclif and Jan Huss. Wyclif was the real culprit and got special mention in the opening session and in session 8—4 May 1415.
As for Hus, "This holy synod of Constance, seeing that God's church has nothing more that it can do, relinquishes Jan Hus to the judgment of the secular authority and decrees that he is to be relinquished to the secular court." (Session 15—6 July 1415). As the laws required and as the Devil knew would happen, the secular court sentenced him to the stake. Huss was burned—roastee-crispy old boy.
The hatred and vehemence for Wyclif persisted in Italian and Canterburian policy. In 1428, at the command of Pope Martin V, Wyclif’s body, resting in the grave until the resurrection, was exhumed and burned. Can ya’ feel the love of the Devil?
The greatest achievement of the Lollards? The (ME) English and their books, many of which were destroyed and burned. What is starting to emerge, academically, is that Lollardy was not a band of rhubarbs, mechanics, tinkerers, half-whacks, nutjobs and backwoodsmen, but was a “massive, careful, complex and developing achievement” (90).
A lingering question is open here: did Tyndale in the 1520s and 1530s have a Wycliffite version with him? There are some strong similarities.