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On the Kalendar: John Wycliffe (Wyclif), Priest, Prophetic Witness, Reformer

October from Les Petites Heures d'Anne de Bretagne

“October”, kalendar page from Les Petites Heures d’Anne de Bretagne (The Little Hours of Queen Anne of Bretagne), by the Maître des Triomphes de Pétrarque. From Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris (France).

John Wycliffe (there are several spellings of his last name) was an English scholastic philosopher, reformer, and biblical translator. Wycliffe lived from the 1320s to 1384, and because of his teaching and translation work, he is regarded as the evening star of scholasticism and the morning star of the English Reformation. Wycliffe and his followers (derisively nicknamed “Lollards”) questioned, among other things, the veneration of saints and transubstantiation. (Both positions were affirmed in the Thirty-Nine Articles, which can be found at the back of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer: see articles 22 and 28, respectively.) Wycliffe’s writings greatly influenced the Czech reformer Jan Hus, whose martyrdom led to the Hussite Wars.

Perhaps Wycliffe’s greatest contribution to the English Church was his translation of the Vulgate into English. The eponymous Wycliffe Bible was completed by Wycliffe’s death in 1384. Wycliffe personally translated the New Testament, while his colleagues translated the Old Testament. Updated versions, overseen by Wycliffe’s assistant John Purvey, were published in 1388 and 1395.

Wycliffe’s life was filled with turbulence, and he struggled constanly against the papal hierarchy. He suffered a stroke while saying mass on Holy Innocents’ Day, and he died on New Year’s Eve. The Anglican Church commemorates Wycliffe on his dies natalis, but the Episcopal Church commemorates him on 30 October, to avoid conflicts with Saint Sylvester and New Year’s Eve.

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