Friday, October 21, 2011

Was John Wycliffe A Heretic?

I think it could safely be said that Wycliffe played
a major role in making the Bible available to
the common person. He also raised a number of
important theological issues that provoked
the ire of some of those among his contemporaries. I simply do
not think that one can easily dismiss Wycliffe as a
heretic, although I know there are aspects of his system
that many would no doubt criticize. The
foregoing having been stated, I want to cite
information from a study that takes an extensive look
at Wycliffe's accomplishments. For the sake of time, I'm going to summarize some points made in this work.

The book I am quoting from is entitled
"From Ockham to Wyclif," edited by Anne Hudson and
Michael Wilks (it's an anthology).

The points I want to make are as follows:

(1) Wycliffe thought that popes function as the CAPUT
PARTICULARIS ECCLESIAE: I.e. a pope is head of the
Roman Catholic Church, and this church is one among
many. Wycliffe therefore maintained that a Christian
should obey the Pope as long he submitted to
God and faithfully expounded God's Law (LEX). In this
way, Wycliffe was militating against the notion that
the Pope is appointed head of both Church and
state as well as of the Church Universal. He
instead proposed a notion of ECCLESIA REGIS, which
has its own set of problems (pp. 154-158).

(2) Wycliffe also insisted that the Church is comprised of
the "body of the saved." He denied that the Church is
an institution or that the Pope and his curia are
the EKKLHSIA TOU QEOU. This view undoubtedly angered
those who viewed the Pope as the Universal Church's head (CAPUT).

(3) While Wycliffe did not deny the "real presence"
in the Eucharist, he did reject the belief that
the elements of the Eucharist change per their
substance but not per accidens. He reasoned that
accidents must have a subject. For otherwise,
how could the bread change as to its substance and still maintain the
appearance (i.e. accidents) of bread without a subject?
Wycliffe thus delineated what would later become known as
consubstantiation(pp. 218-219, 292).

(4) Wycliffe was also surely condemned for preaching
in the vernacular, especially since he spoke about the
Eucharist in the vulgar tongue. The putative heretical nature of
this act is clearly observed when one reads a 15th century work by a
certain Dominican who is thought to be Thomas Palmer.
Whoever the Dominican is or was, he writes that the
"holy mysteries" should not be exposed to the
"unsophisticated language of the laity." In other
words, the writer of the document urges that the
English language is incapable of communicating the
"opacity of the eucharistic doctrine." Some examples
and a few others. At any rate, the point is that a
common attitude among clerics of the time was that any
discussion about the Eucharist had to be done in Latin
in order to keep the common folk from discussing such
holy mysteries. But Margaret Aston writes: "It is
surely one of the most remarkable achievements of the
Wycliffites that in the course of a generation they
changed all this." Yes, Wycliffe pointed to
Acts 4:13 as a model for all Christians (pp. 303-314).
Thus, he paved the way for other vernacular
translations of the entire Bible. A heretic? Probably

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