A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Wiclif, or Wyclif, John

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Wiclif, or Wyclif, John (1320?-1384).—Theologian and translator of the Bible, b. near Richmond, Yorkshire, studied at Balliol Coll., Oxf., of which he became in 1361 master, and taking orders, became Vicar of Fillingham, Lincolnshire, when he resigned his mastership, and in 1361 Prebendary of Westbury. By this time he had written a treatise on logic, and had won some position as a man of learning. In 1372 he took the degree of Doctor of Theology, and became Canon of Lincoln, and in 1374 was sent to Bruges as one of a commission to treat with Papal delegates as to certain ecclesiastical matters in dispute, and in the same year he became Rector of Lutterworth, where he remained until his death. His liberal and patriotic views on the questions in dispute between England and the Pope gained for him the favour of John of Gaunt and Lord Percy, who accompanied him when, in 1377, he was summoned before the ecclesiastical authorities at St. Paul's. The Court was broken up by an inroad of the London mob, and no sentence was passed upon him. Another trial at Lambeth in the next year was equally inconclusive. By this time W. had taken up a position definitely antagonistic to the Papal system. He organised his institution of poor preachers, and initiated his great enterprise of translating the Scriptures into English. His own share of the work was the Gospels, probably the whole of the New Testament and possibly part of the Old. The; whole work was ed. by John Purvey, an Oxf. friend, who had joined him at Lutterworth, the work being completed by 1400. In 1380 W. openly rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, and was forbidden to teach at Oxf., where he had obtained great influence. In 1382 a Court was convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury, which passed sentence of condemnation upon his views. It says much for the position which he had attained, and for the power of his supporters, that he was permitted to depart from Oxf. and retire to Lutterworth, where, worn out by his labours and anxieties, he d. of paralytic seizure on the last day of 1384. His enemies, baffled in their designs against him while living, consoled themselves by disinterring his bones in 1428 and throwing them into the river Swift, of which Thomas Fuller (q.v.) has said, "Thus this brook has conveyed his ashes into Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the Narrow Seas, they into the main ocean, and thus the ashes of Wicliffe are the emblem of his doctrine, which now is dispersed all the world over." The works of W. were chiefly controversial or theological and, as literature, have no great importance, but his translation of the Bible had indirectly a great influence not only by tending to fix the language, but in a far greater degree by furthering the moral and intellectual emancipation on which true literature is essentially founded.