Not Traditional, Original

14.1 Jan Huss, Fiery Reform Preacher, before Martin Luther

As stated in the previous post, Martin Luther is credited with starting the Reformation, but in truth he had predecessors. John Huss was one of these. As we saw in the article about John Wyclif people were already talking about the abuses of the church and a desire to find a simpler, more scriptural church and way of life.

Bohemia in the 14th century was a center of church and political power. The Holy Roman Emperor was also the king of Bohemia. “In no country of Europe was the church more largely a landholder, or the clergy more worldly than in Bohemia.”[i] It’s interesting that the author notes that Bohemia had previously not associated much with England, but was brought into connection with that country by the marriage of a Bohemian princess to the King of England in 1383. All of a sudden Bohemian students are going to Oxford and bringing back Wyclif’s doctrines and writings

Wyclif’s doctrines were front and center at the University of Prague where in 1394 Jan Huss got his first degree, a bachelor of theology with a Master of arts following a couple years later. In the process Huss became an ardent disciple of Wyclif.

One of the things that separated John Huss apart was his ability to give fiery sermons. “It was this combination of religious and patriotic zeal that gave us his remarkable power of leadership.”[ii]

Today we live in a time where religion and politics are not the bedfellows they were in the Middle Ages. In the United States implications of politicians being influenced by religious hierarchy are grounds for a court case. And even in Europe where there are national religions with ties between archbishops and political masters they are not of the intensity they were in the Middle Ages.

In Bohemia in the early 15th century a schism in the papacy allowed for the elevation of Jan Huss to be the newly minted rector of the newly minted University of Leipzig.  And now we see John Huss, a peasant graduate of the University of Prague, elevated to the stature to be able to mix among the aristocracy spreading his passionate views as a disciple of Wyclif.

Remember I mentioned that Huss received his promotion because of a papal schism, well that schism worked against him because in 1410 he was excommunicated for his fiery promotion of Wyclif’s views.  John Huss was a staunch hero who had preached that the pope had no right to use physical force, that you couldn’t buy indulgences, and that indulgences were really of no use. At the center of the fiery sermons and debate was the push to rely on Scripture alone as the authority. It all came to a head as John Huss,  a man of true conviction, refused to yield and was burned to death for his convictions.  His martyrdom was powerful.

There were certainly other elements involved in the development towards the steps Luther took in the Reformation movement but I have only brought up John Wyclif previously and now Jan Huss as key points to show how this growing controversy stirred the European landscape.   The Reformation was actually a development that built up over centuries over a continent mired in heavy controversy and grew to the point where we will soon see Martin Luther breaking through with radical change.

[i] A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Williston Walker, Scribners, New York, 1959, p. 270

[ii] Ibid, p.271

August 26th, 2018 Posted by | Movements | no comments

13.7 John Wyclif, Pre- Luther Reformer, Wrote of Early Christianity

While Martin Luther is credited with starting the Reformation, the truth is that he had predecessors. About a century and a half before Luther posted his 95 theses there was a man named John Wyclif. Wyclif rose to become a master at Oxford, Balliol College. He was considered the “ablest theologian of its faculty”.[i] The description of Wyclif in the citation below starts with this philosophical outlook. “Philosophically he was a realist, in contrast to the prevailing nominalism of his age. He was deeply influenced by Augustine and through Augustine by Platonic conceptions.”[ii]  I bring that up to show how intrinsically involved philosophy is with theology, i.e., despite Paul’s warning against the dangers of philosophy, by the time of the reformers, philosophy is part and parcel of Christianity.  To understand how the simple Christianity of original Christianity evolved into the power-hungry, death wielding at times monstrosity that it had become by the Middle Ages absolutely requires some understanding of philosophy.

While nowhere near the notoriety that Martin Luther achieved, Wyclif was known for his opposition to the power and maneuverings of the Roman Catholic Church. Specifically, he saw the dramatic difference between the wealth and splendor of the church, and the problems maintaining that wealth and splendor caused on the average Christian in the parishes around Europe.  Pope Gregory the 11th issued five the papal bulls in 1377 in ordering the arrest an examination of Wyclif for his teaching and publishing of treaties against what he called abuses of the Catholic Church.  Nevertheless he had some support among the aristocrats, and was able to start some movement towards Reformation.

“The Scriptures, he taught, are the only law of the church,” [iii]  He taught that the common man might believe that the church is centered around the Pope and the Cardinals, but in truth it is centered around Christ as head of his body, the elect in Christ. He argued that the church may have an earthly leader, thus allowing for a Pope. But his argument was that leader would survive in the simple conditions of early Christianity as opposed to the unimaginable wealth and power exhibited by the church in his day and time. I read one place where the Catholic Church owned one third of the land in England at that time. Wyclif presented a dramatically different view of what the church should be in directing people’s attention to the Scriptures and early Christianity.

Wyclif saw that his mission was to bring the English language Scriptures to the people and spread the gospel. Wyclif worked with others to bring about a translation of the Scripture in English to the people. He also sent out what were termed his “poor priests” to distribute the word and spread it. This movement was called the Lollard movement.

Wyclif also preached against the the Churches’ practice of indulgences. As an Augustinian he believed human works were powerless to earn merit before God.  In other words, indulgences had no basis.  The selling of indulgences is a popular theme in the reformation and one near to Luther’s heart later on.[iv]

Wyclif was considered an intellectual giant, and as such was able to continue in his pastorate until his death despite heavy opposition. His priests whom he had sent out were not as lucky, and many were arrested.  The Lollard movement stopped openly with his death, but continued covertly until the Reformation.

Isn’t it interesting that whenever people want change in the church they compare what exists today with original Christianity? That’s what Wyclif did.  Praise the Lord for him.

[i] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, P. 268

[ii] ibid

[iii] Ibid p. 269

[iv] THE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY, David Bentley Hart, Quercus, London, 2007, p. 186

August 26th, 2018 Posted by | Movements | no comments