John Wycliffe – Part 2 (Conclusion)
The Great Schism
What is known as the "Great Schism" began in 1309 when Pope Clement V moved his papacy to a city, Avignon, just outside of French territory. The papacy remained there until 1377 when Pope Gregory XI returned it to Rome. Although the papacy was back in Rome, it still had a Frenchman at the helm.
Upon Gregory's death, a Roman pope was elected. This, of course, didn't sit well with the French bishops, so, in 1378, they elected their own pope who would rule in Avignon. Europe was now divided between the two popes. How did the two pontifs respond to the crises? They excommunicated each other. The schism lasted until 1415.
In Wycliffe's mind, this comedy of errors could not illustrate his message of reform any better. The excommunications added flames to his pen and feet to his message. Wycliffe was now a "radical" for reform.
The English Bible
Wycliffe knew that the only way to achieve true reform was to put God's word into the hands of the people. This of course was forbidden by the Roman Catholic church. In 1382, upon peril of his life, Wycliffe completed his English translation of the bible. He and his followers, known as Lollards, began distributing it to the English-speaking people. This was the first European translation of scripture in more than 1,000 years.
The Archbishop of Canterbury responded by having Wycliffe and his writings condemned. Wycliffe, however, remained undaunted and continued writing until his death (of natural causes) in 1384.
Rome was determined to stamp out the Lollards and Wycliffe's memory. A law was passed which condemned Wycliffe and his followers as heretics. The sentence was burning. Across Europe, the flames were ignited and the Lollards were all but destroyed. Those who survived the wrath of Rome operated in secret until the Reformation.
Rome was not finished with Wycliffe either: 44 years after his death, the pope ordered Wycliffe's bones exhumed, burned, and his ashes scattered.