Comments on John Wyclif and the Lollards

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss John Wyclif and the Lollards.

Programme information and audio


    • 1. At 10:03am on 16 Jun 2011, Peter Green wrote:

      The programme was dull, dull, dull. Far too much time spent on background and Wyclif's early biography, and then almost nothing about the Lollards due to time constraints - as evidenced by MB having to chivvy along the contributors. In fact the Lollards did not get a mention until 33 minutes into the programme, by which time I was fast losing the will to live! This happens far too often on IOT, and it is a longstanding fault of MB's.

      Also, it does not help when two contributors seem to think that "Er, er, erm er, and then er erm er perhaps erm, er erm" constitutes a coherent sentence.

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    • 2. At 11:53am on 16 Jun 2011, corsy wrote:

      Whenever MB discusses this topic he always refers to the translation problem as though it were a dispute between "church" and "congregation" without mentioning how few people could read and understand latin.
      To give an example there is a verse which begins "Blessed are those impoverished corporeally by their committment to the spiritual authority of the heavens...." but the only words in the Vulgate might be Blessu, paucam, spiritu and caelorum. So the words are acting as sort prompt notes; merely trying to translate the words can produce gibberish.

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    • 3. At 12:08pm on 16 Jun 2011, EmrysB wrote:

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    • 4. At 12:28pm on 16 Jun 2011, EmrysB wrote:

      Well I found this programme most interesting...thank you to all concerned. May I add that there is evidence of Lollards in Herefordshire. Sir John Oldcastle's family had connections with Lady Troy (who brought up Edward VI and Elizabeth I) and with Blanche Parry, who was with Elizabeth for 56 years. There is also evidence of Lollards in Blanche's father's family. (See 'Mistress Blanche, Queen Elizabeth I's Confidante' and This may indicate that surviving Lollard beliefs, via these two ladies, influenced the religious views of Edward VI and (probably more certainly) of Elizabeth I.

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    • 5. At 9:47pm on 16 Jun 2011, Seaneinn wrote:

      Your guest who described the Church and transubstantiation seemed to inply that the Catholic Church no longer believes this. As a Catholic can I tell him that the Church still holds this to be true.

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    • 6. At 00:03am on 17 Jun 2011, ritchiechillum wrote:

      The discussion on John Wycliffe, broadcast today, was very interesting. Like many people, I’d only heard of the Bible translation and might have vaguely recalled a connection to the Lollards, but knew even less about them. However my ears pricked up when John Oldcastle was mentioned.

      As a former English student, I remember notes in my copy of Henry V that Falstaff was based on this real historical personage. If you haven’t already made a programme on this figure, it seems worth considering. What was Shakespeare’s real attitude to Falstaff/Oldcastle? On the one hand, he portrayed Falstaff as a drunken buffoon, in line with his pro-establishment position; on the other hand he created one of the most popular characters in English and European theatre. Was Will a secret Wycliffite?

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    • 7. At 12:12pm on 17 Jun 2011, dejongtenkate wrote:

      This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

    • 8. At 12:48pm on 17 Jun 2011, Peter Bolt wrote:

      You asked of any lasting effects by Wycliffe :
      Purely a thought :"Bohemian" socially unconvential etc : free thinker,"willing to go against the grain"
      The Czechs (Bohemians) heritage goes back to John Huss and continued their struggles up until final defeat and annexation in 1620.
      Even after that, under Hapsburg, then AustroHungarian rule ,which denied the Czechs their own language . Despite all that Bohemia remained "different" and Prague a "most exciting city".
      Bohemia really did (and still does) "Punch above its weight"

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    • 9. At 6:55pm on 19 Jun 2011, Kevin Gleig wrote:

      during the programme, which was excellent, one person commented that the Cathars were Dualist, and not Christian (though the name Cathar was a Vatican pun, and the name was never heard by most so-called Cathars); they called themselves Christians, and followed Christ's teachings in the New Testament, rather than follow the authority of a corrupt clergy; that is why they were persecuted by the Church; they were Dualist, because they believed that Christ was Dualist - for them it resolved the God / man dilemma

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    • 10. At 7:30pm on 19 Jun 2011, John Thompson wrote:

      Thoroughly absorbing discussion.Points I thought your programme raised:-

      1) Being a realist philosopher,Wycliffe smelled a rat about the concept of transubstatntiation.Bread and wine are not substantially transformed into Christ’s flesh and blood.That would mean the destruction of the bread and wine.Your speakers spoke of Wycliffe being closer to Luther’s idea of sacramental union:the body and blood of Jesus are only symbolically present in the bread and wine. The metaphor is a dramatic image by which one thing is compared to another, but being represented figuratively as that very thing.The consumption of his body and blood are equivalent
      of ingesting his sacred instruction-the former is a figurative expression,the latter literal.Word becomes flesh.Figures of speech are not cannibalistic rituals but the memorialization of presence.To Luther the body and blood of Christ and the bread and wine coexist in union with each other.Similarly Simone Weil’s possession by Christ’s presence after reading Herbert’s poem Love III is akin to taking the sacrament:-
      ‘”You must sit down”,says Love,”and taste my meat”:
      So I did sit and eat.’
      To Wycliffe and to Weil Christ was really present.The whole power of the clergy rested on transubstantiation and the mass and Wycliffe’s attack was deemed heresy.Wycliffe detected idolatry,condemning confession,celibacy,saints and pilgrimages.

      2) The theory of dominion,that the wielder of authority needed to be in a state of grace when many leaders were not.Appealing to John of Gaunt’s anti-clericalism and the attacks on rich clergy,the exclusion of churchmen from government,the disendowment of the church,the discrepancy between the church’s materialism and what was preached in the bible,the evils of taxation by the Papacy.
      The taxation was going over to support England’s enemy,the French,where the Papacy was now situated and with whom the English were at war.The Papacy lacked scriptural justification. Wycliffe was protected by his academic freedom.

      3) The use of lay preachers going around preaching the Gospels, closer to the’poverty’ of Christ,to get away from existing hierarchies,teaching the sovereignty of God.These were the Lollards.Wycliffe-instigated bible translations sustained Lollardy countering the teachings of the Catholic church.The actual study of the bible in the vernacular should be done by every Christian due to the need for every man to think for himself, religion and politics being closely entwined.More literal interpretation of scripture.

      4) The influence of the Peasant’s Revolt(1381), increasing the powers of suppression and the persecution of heretics(Lollards). The burnings.Prior to this Wycliffe enjoyed the support of gentry and aristocracy.Revolt ascribed unfairly to Lollards and Wycliffe though he sympathised.Wycliffe survived but his bones were dug up,burnt in Lutterworth.

      5) Sir John Oldcastle’s rebellion 1414,early friend of Prince Hal and career soldier,led to the real crackdown. Entirely the creation of Shakespeare, Falstaff is said to have been partly modeled on Sir John Oldcastle, a soldier and the martyred leader of the Lollard sect. Indeed, Shakespeare had originally called this character Sir John Oldcastle in the first version of Henry IV part I, but had changed the name before the play was registered, doubtless because descendants of the historical Oldcastle—who were then prominent at court—protested.Falstaff is a fictional amalgam of Oldcastle and Sir John Fastolph,who was a catholic.Heresy and treason were linked.

      6) Driven underground, the movement operated henceforth chiefly among tradespeople and artisans, supported by a few clerical adherents. About 1500 a Lollard revival began, and before 1530 the old Lollard and the new Protestant forces had begun to merge. The Lollard tradition facilitated the spread of Protestantism and predisposed opinion in favour of King Henry VIII’s anticlerical legislation during the English Reformation.

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    • 11. At 2:50pm on 20 Jun 2011, David wrote:

      Were the Lollards a small “heretic” group against the holy Roman imperial church or were they part of a Europe-wide resistance to the corrupt and corrupting military-religious powers of the popes who were usurping temporal powers of kings and enriching themselves? That question was hardly dealt with.

      It is clear that millions of faithful Christians resisted to death the Roman heresies and false papal powers, and clung to the original faith of the apostles. The popes called some of them Puritans, because they denounced Rome’s simoniac corruptions and doctrinal depravity. Others were persecuted as Paterines, Leonists, the poor of Lyons, Catharists, Waldenses, Vaudois, Pasagines, Josephines, Arnoldists, Speronists. Whatever name, slur of false doctrine or the black propaganda, Rome incited the deaths, banishments and persecutions of these peaceful groups. They were attacked and slaughtered over the centuries from the time of Constantine’s imperial religion mixing paganism and Christianity.

      In the century before Wycliffe a million people were killed in the Albigensian bloodbath by the papal military arm. This 20-year massacre arose after the Vatican in the person of Dominic (of the Dominicans of the later Inquisition) was trounced and humiliated in public in the great four-day theological debate against Arnold Hot and other pastors on the idolatrous Roman mass, transubstantiation and Roman secular pretensions. For Wycliffe and others that papal ethnocide and subsequent theft of the dead’s property were still reverberating and including more recent scandals and debauchery. The Avignon papacy was repeatedly called ‘a sink of inquity’ by Petrarch.

      Some kings denounced Vatican claims to secular power in forgeries like the Donation of Constantine. So did Wycliffe. The Lollards wanted to return to the original example of the apostles – who did not build expensive cathedrals and abbeys full of immorality – but went out two by two, poor and barefoot, and preached to all. That was in the British tradition of the original Celtic Culdee preachers before and after Augustine’s mission to the Anglo-Saxons.

      One member in the discussion panel seemed so confused in trying to reiterate medieval Roman propaganda that he spoke of Wycliffe’s doctrine as the ‘priesthood of the laity’ ! That 'priesthood' was an invention of the Constantine period when pagan priests were public servants paid and controlled by the Roman State through the Pontifex Maximus. There were no separate, exploiting priests in the early church. The church believed in the brotherhood of all converted, spirit-filled, Bible-reading, commandment-obeying believers under the high priesthood of Christ.

      Where possible the Bible had already been translated by these persecuted groups. Many 'laymen' -- ordinary Christians --memorized entire books. John Trevisa was among many who translated the Bible into English before Wycliffe – as acknowledged by the Translators to the 1611 King James Version. They wrote: ‘And many English Bibles in written hand are yet to be seene with divers {owners}, translated as it is very probable, in that age.’

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    • 12. At 8:54pm on 20 Jun 2011, muswellnel wrote:

      Oh how I agree with Sriech
      Also, it does not help when two contributors seem to think that "Er, er, erm er, and then er erm er perhaps erm, er erm" constitutes a coherent sentence.'
      These are leading academics who DO know their stuff, but why oh why cant they not speak in whole sentences like the mathematicians and scientists do??
      I longed to hear more about the process of translation, but luckily your omniscient bloggers had lots to offer on this score, as well as about the profoundly interesting and much misunderstood Cathars.

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