Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 31 - John Wycliffe, Reformer, Theologian, Morning Star

John Wycliffe was frustrated and deeply disappointed with the Church he himself was a part of. He could not simply walk away from the Church that he loved and that loved him but he could not tolerate the extremes to which so many of his friends and colleagues had wandered to. He had been gifted with a keen and natural intellect that had a tendency to cut the arguments of his opponents to shreds--even when his argument was not necessarily centered in truth. As John surveyed the Church, he could not help but admit that the paths of theologians and clerics had been right but had been carried to extremes. The pursuit of solitude had driven monastics to isolation and irrelevance. The pursuit of virtue had closed many Church doors to the very people Jesus said he would be with. The Church was not in need of schism--it was in need of reformation and revival and John hoped to be a part of it.

His education at Oxford served him well but also introduced him to cultural discrimination and exceptionalism. He became aware of a prevailing culture and attitude of domination among the leaders of the Church and this disturbed him and saddened him. When he awakened to the fear that the Church leaders could only attain the power the sought by slowly selling off the integrity of the Church to secular powers, he began to suggest a need for the Church to escape entanglement with empires and governments. John's fears that the clergy had become rulers instead of servants was increasingly confirmed and, eventually, he resorted to suggesting that the kings and rulers of the world should stop the Church from whoring itself out. John had the protection of a local ruler and, so, he was able to preach and teach this message without especial fear of reprisal but his words were not very warmly received.

In his attempt to return power and money to the secular powers of the world, John hoped to return the Church to a place free from the corrupting grip of worldly power and wealth. It was only in losing all claims to affluence and influence that the Church could again become a witness to the homeless savior who bore the hopes of the world upon his shoulders. He was resisted stridently by those with much to lose but also by those who honestly disagreed with him regardless of their own wealth and power--regrettably, John's followers and students have not always been good about remembering that there were good men who strongly disagreed with him. Yet, in his resistance, he continued to strengthen his arguments and fight against those who offered the treasures of the Church for mere wealth or power. He remained committed to the rejection of indulgences and simony while insisting that the role of the minister was that of a servant and not of a ruler or judge. John also continued to translate large sections of the scripture so that the treasures of the Church could be distributed among the many rightful recipients.

On Holy Innocents' Day in 1384, John Wycliffe was stricken apoplectic while listening to the mass of the Church he loved and expected more from. He died a gadfly and reformer--never satisfied with the way things were and always looking forward to the way things should be. Later, he was deemed a heretic and his bones were exhumed from the grave. They were then burnt and crushed to dust. The ashes were cast over the river Swift--yet John was never excommunicated from the Church he loved but refused to be satisfied with.

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