John Wycliffe is called the Morningstar of the Reformation because of his contributions to challenging the Catholic Church and his calls for reform. He was summoned to court by John of Gaunt, regent for Richard II, and was given full protection by him against the Catholic Church.
Wycliffe’s two books On Divine Dominion and On Civil Dominion challenged the Roman Catholic Church to reform itself. In On Divine Dominion, Wycliffe bemoaned the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church and viewed it as a pollution which caused stagnation in the church.In On Civil Dominion, Wycliffe said that government should reform the church if the church would not reform itself. John of Gaunt loved Wycliffe’s ideas, because it meant he could take money from the church to fund the wars abroad. Wycliffe also challenged the belief in transubstantiation where the wine in the cup turns to Christ’s blood at communion. He believed transubstantiation to be false and unscriptural.
Wycliffe’s pamphlet The Wycket was the first gospel tract every written. Wycliffe said that man could not rely on good works for salvation, but man should put himself in the way of salvation and prove to God that he wishes to be saved. Wycliffe acknowledged that only God can grant salvation to an individual. The Wycket is also significant because it was written in Middle English, the newly developing language of the era.
Wycliffe had a strong desire to write an English Bible so he began translating in 1380. One of his first completed Bibles was given to Anne of Bohemia, Richard II’s queen. She furthered support for Wycliffe by bringing young men from Bohemia to study under him. Then the young men returned to Bohemia and eventually joined the Hussite movement. Wycliffe’s Bible would be the only English translation for 120 years until Tyndale.
The Reformation could have started during the life of Wycliffe, but there was no printing press to distribute Bibles. Each Bible still had to be hand-written, so it was not God’s timing. However, Wycliffe’s followers, the Lollards, spread the gospel throughout England by preaching from village to village long after Wycliffe’s death. Wycliffe rightly deserves the title, the Morningstar of the Reformation, because of his accomplishments in England under John of Gaunt’s protection.
– Hannah S. Bowers