Last week we looked at the event in history that launched the Protestant Reformation into full gear; Martin Luther nailing his “95 Theses” to the church door at the Castle of Wittenberg. There’s more to the story, though and that is the topic for this week’s Three Things!
200 Years Earlier
First, it helps to understand the back story that began 200 years before Martin Luther, when a theologian named John Wycliffe began questioning practices of the Church in the 1300s. Wycliffe was a man ahead of his time with beliefs that would also align closely with Luther, Calvin and other reformers. Known as the “Morning Star of the Reformation,” he led a small group of people in a pre-Protestant religious movement that he would never see take hold in his lifetime. His followers were given the derogatory term, “Lollards” and were known for their desire to read the Bible for themselves and also for concerns about the Church’s authority.
First English Translation of the Bible
Second, Wycliffe’s work in England at the University of Oxford led to the first complete translation of the Bible in English in 1382. He was eventually dismissed from his teaching position at the University of Oxford for criticism of the Church and eventually suffered religious persecution in both life and death. (Even 44 years after his death, his body was exhumed and burned in an effort to stamp out his followers and teachings.)
Wycliffe’s Influence on Martin Luther
Third, Wycliffe would not see the impact his work would have on the Protestant Reformation with his own eyes, but Martin Luther and other reformers would pick up his torch and carry it forward. In an interesting twist, while, Wycliffe was still teaching at Oxford, there was a student exchange program between Oxford and the University of Prague where a man named Jan Hus was a professor. Hus became so inspired by Wycliffe and would also lead a reform movement. In 1415, he was charged with heresy and burned at the stake. The efforts of Hus remained strong after his death and began to spread throughout his hometown of Bohemia (current day Czech Republic). Fast forward 100 years later when the work of both Wycliffe and Hus would make their way to the area where Martin Luther was born. Luther was greatly influenced by Jan Hus, saying, “I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.”