Wycliffe’s Bones Bear Witness

John Wycliffe was known as the morning star of the Reformation, a herald of the dawn that was just over the horizon. He was used by God to bring the truths of scripture into the hands of the common man and by doing so, to empower an entire generation with the freedom of independent, biblical thought. Wycliffe was a force to be reckoned with and fully expected to die a martyr’s death. Why do you talk of seeking the crown of martyrdom afar?” he said. “Preach the gospel of Christ to haughty prelates, and martyrdom will not fail you. What! I should live and be silent? … Never! Let the blow fall, I await its coming.” But despite his waiting, the blow never fell and he died peacefully in his parish at Lutterworth.

The papacy, however, was out for blood and they would extract it, even if it meant prying it from his lifeless corpse. They had been too busy dealing with the embarrassment of the Papal Schism while Wycliffe was alive to offer him a decent Martyrdom. But at the Council of Constance, convened in 1415 for the purpose of resolving the Schism, the heresy of John Wycliffe was at the top of the agenda.

Lutterworth, England

 It was decreed that his bones be exhumed, cursed, relegated to the farthest parts of Hell and then burnt to ashes. The unhappy task fell to the Bishop of Lincoln who happened to be a former friend of Wycliffe’s. The good bishop procrastinated until he was removed from his office in 1420. His successor, possibly equally fond of Wycliffe, procrastinated a further 8 years by which time the Papacy had had 

Wycliffe, Constanz

enough and under duress prevailed upon the new Bishop of Lincoln to finally get around to the task.  Wycliffe’s bones were duly exhumed, cursed, burned and then scattered in the nearby Swift River which in turn flowed to the Avon River.

The British poet William Wordsworth, waxing lyrical on the significance of this act, had this to say;

As thou these ashes, little Brook, wilt bear
         Into the Avon, Avon to the tide
         Of Severn, Severn to the narrow seas,                      
         Into main Ocean they, this deed accurst
         An emblem yields to friends and enemies
         How the bold Teacher’s Doctrine, sanctified
         By truth, shall spread, throughout the world dispersed.

Wycliffe, Constance

No amount of Papal anathema could stop the spread of the work begun by Wycliffe and even in death his remains, scattered on the waters of a relatively obscure river in England, were a testimony to this fact. Huss and Jerome were influenced by his writings and later Luther would come on the stage of action to carry forward the torch he had lit. Wycliffe’s work is one of the keystones of our spiritual Lineage

because at the very center of it lies the truth that the bible was written for the common man and this truth became the central pillar of the Reformation.

Wycliffe’s life was relatively unspectacular. He ended up caring for the church at Lutterworth, a small country village with little significance but the work he accomplished for the cause of truth and the impact he made on the world is immeasurable. There is power in quiet faithfulness to God where he has placed you. None of the reformers set out to be revolutionaries, they just chose to be faithful to God regardless of the cost and so, they changed the world.

Further Reading

  • White, E.G. (1888) – The Great Controversy
  • Wilkerson, B.G. (1944) – Truth Triumphant
  • Wylie, J.A. (1878) – The History of Protestantism
  • Foxe, J, (1563) – Acts and Monuments or Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

Footnotes 

William Wordsworth’s Sonnet taken from W.Wordsworth, Ecclesiastical Sonnets: 1821-22, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1922, Sonnet to Wycliffe.