The church faced heresy in the 1300s, but some Christians were courageous, willful thinkers and independent. These courageous Christians remained steadfast in their thoughts and expressed their views through writings. For instance, the tussle between Pope Boniface VIII and French King Philip IV, led to a brief kidnap of the papacy to Avignon in 1303. These fourteenth century reforms owe much credit to John Wycliffe and John Huss for their efforts to reform the church.
Brief Biography of John Wycliffe
John Wycliffe was a preacher, translator, theologian and a philosopher, who was born in 1330 in North Ridings, Yorkshire. His family was of the Saxons origins. John moved to Oxford, Balliol College, to study theology, mathematics and natural sciences. He would later become a master of Balliol, though his interest remained in the study of scripture and theology.
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In 1365, John was made the head of the Canterbury hall by Archbishop of Canterbury. It was through his great understanding of the law and his reputation as a great scholar that made the Archbishop make him the head of Canterbury hall. When the Pope pressed England to pay taxes, Wycliffe was instrumental in making the reply to the Pope that the papacy had no power to demand tribute a foreign power. In response, Pope ceded the demands, seeing no need to antagonize the English.
In 1374, John’s political influence was furthered when he sat a negotiator between England and France in the Peace Congress at Bruges. The time that John spent in Oxford would soon influence his stance. His education and influence by the Catholic philosophy made him critical of the huge power that the clerics wielded. He felt that by wielding so much secular power, the clerics would often act in an immoral way, which was against the gospel.
When he returned from Bruges, with the support of patron John of Gaunt, Wycliffe began to write a number of books that expressed his views. His popular works included the Summa Theologiae that included the denunciations of the collection of indulgences for sin remission. Moreover, he reiterated that the King, if justified, had the right to take away property from the church.
John Wycliffe became a popular preacher in London, and many people became inclined to his views. However, he faced resistance from the individuals with powerful position from the church, towards his reform agenda. His call for secularization of the British church property, led to his indictment for blasphemy, to which he was put under his defense at Lambeth Palace. Owing to an opinion split, he was barred from speaking about the matter.
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However, he gained powerful backers and continued to advance his church reforms through the translation of the New Testament from Latin to English. This allowed many people to read the gospel, removing the church as the chief “interpreter” of the gospel. His opponents order the destruction of his translated version of the gospel, but few copies remained, which suggested his influence and the distribution of the translated gospel were successful. His reform movement attracted a group called Lollards, which helped him to spread his ideas throughout England. The increased attacks on his ideas, led to his excommunication from his position, with the help of the parliament and the people in Oxford.
John Wycliffe later retired to Lutterworth, where he suffered stroke in 1384, dying three days later. In 1415, he was condemned as heretic and that his books should be burned and his body exhumed and burned. In 1428, his body was exhumed and his bones burned and cast into the river. However, his pioneer work of reformation had left a huge mark in Europe and England. His challenge for the authority of the papacy and the church led to the later rejection of papacy and promotion of the bible. Moreover, his work to translate the bible into English was instrumental in the development of the English Christianity.
Brief Biography of John Huss
John Hus was a master and philosopher at Charles University, Prague, Czechoslovakia. He was born in 1369 and ordained in 1400, serving as a priest in 1401, where he also preached in Bethlehem Chapel. Huss was greatly influenced by the writings of Wycliffe, which had found their way to Czechoslovakia. Inspired by Wycliffe’s writings, 1404, Huss received bachelors degree in theology. He was of the opinion that the Church was supreme above the pope. He saw the need for reforms, where he sought to fight corruption and poverty, ridding the abuses that he felt was propagated by the Roman Church. Huss felt that every believer needed a bible, which was in the language that they understood.
The decree that was initiated by other leaders together with Huss, which demanded that foreign countries have one vote and Bohemia (present day Czechoslovakia) have three votes, led to mass evacuation of students, masters and doctors from Prague University. In 1409, the University of Leipzig was formed and Prague University lost its international appeal. This news of Bohemian heresy spread throughout Europe. Archbishop Zbynic Zajic was isolated and Huss became the rector of Czech University.
Having the feeling of reforms within the church, Huss during his sermons, heavily criticized the abuses that were done by church leaders. This spelt the beginning of Huss’ troubles with the church. He showed the total regard towards the reservation of chalice from laity for the priests, during the Holy Communion. Moreover, he accepted the need for preaching in native language. This was based on his argument that the locals had important roles to play in Church leadership and administration, and that Christ and not the Pope, was the head of the Church. His views that the Church leaders should exercise spiritual authority, rather than being governors of earthly possessions led to his excommunication in 1412.
The increased desire for Huss for Church reforms finally led Alexander V to issue an authority for the Archbishop to cease all his free preaching and the burning of all Wycliffe’s books. However, feeling the support of the government, Huss continued to preach and push for Church reforms. His sermons in the Bethlehem Chapel attracted huge masses, thus increasing his power. He became fearless in criticism of the abuses of the Church. Huss and his adherents were eventually excommunicated from the Church.
In 1412, after the death of Alexander V, a crusade against indulgence in which Huss was convened. Huss delivered a speech during that crusade, which was believed to have been extracted from the book of Wycliffe, De Eclessia. In his speech, Huss asserted that no Pope or Bishop has an authority to raise a sword in the name of the Church. He felt that it was only through man’s repentance that one attained forgiveness.
Owing to his fierce criticism of the Church and the Papacy, the Pope order Cardinal of St. Angelo to arrest Huss. He was arrested and delivered to archbishop and his Chapel was destroyed. In retaliating, Huss appealed and reiterated that Jesus Christ and not Pope was the supreme judge. He was forced to leave Prague by Wenceslaus, though his reforms had already built great momentum.
In 1414, a council at Constance was convened to end papal schism and attempt to reform the church. Huss agreed to be part of the council, where he saw it an opportunity to convert the council members to his own doctrines. However, as he was staying in a house of a widow, word spread that Huss was trying to flee and was sent to the dungeon of Dominican monastery. Although the judge heard the prosecution witness, Huss was never given an opportunity to appoint an advocate. When the antipope excitement had ceased, Huss was taken to Gottlieben, Rhine, in the castle of Archbishop of Constance.