Before Martin Luther

As we come up on this year’s 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I want to highlight 2 “pre-reformers” and their impacts.

This two people would be John Wyclif and Jan Hus.

John Wyclif (there is some variant use of spelling on his last name) – his name is still known to this day in the Christian community in large part because of his last name, Wyclif. An organization of Bible translators is named after him.

He was born before 1330 near Richmond (Yorkshire) and later came to Oxford where he began to be an influence. He questioned some of the excesses of the Catholic Church at the time and found others who agreed with him. It was his stance on the sacraments (particularly Communion) that became the last straw for the Church. What’s more, he wrote in Latin and English making his works all the more available.

Nevertheless, when looking at John’s work it is clear Martin wasn’t the first to make the same claims about the authority of Scripture and God. What’s more John Wyclif translated the Bible into English. What isn’t widely known is that he put forth two translation, one being more idiomatic than the other. Translating the Bible was a no-no according to the Church.

John Wyclif, despite being declared a heretic, was not killed by the Catholic Church in the end but died of a second stroke in 1384.  Even so, he was already under fire before he passed.

Jan Hus (or Huss) – he was born about 1370 in what is now the Czech Republic. Jans paid the ultimate price and died at the stake but not before making his own impact.

Jan was influenced by John Wyclif works which was easy as Jan was also working in academia in philosophy.

Jan became embroiled in the Czech Reform Movement and took to preaching in the local tongue (Czech) rather than Latin (the Church’s typical m.o.).

An interesting element that flavored the environment of Jan’s time was the Western Schism in which there were two popes trying to lead the Roman Catholic Church (which lead to some reforms in attempt to prevent this from recurring).  It was a messy time that ultimately proved to catch Jan Hus leading to his eventual death.

Some of the things leveled at him included his refusal to stop preaching (when one of the popes tried to have preaching in chapels stop), his public denouncing of indulgences (Martin was no the first the refute these), and his writings that directly refuted his enemies.

He was arrested and tried as a “Wycliffe heretic” (despite not being in 100% agreement with Wyclif’s works) before the Council of Constance after being promised safe-conduct. After refusing to recant, he was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.


Sources & additional information:

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