On this Date(ish), May 4: John Wycliffe declared a heretic

John Wycliffe portrait

It was on May 4, 1415 that John Wycliffe, the English scholar, priest, translator, reformer and Oxford University teacher was declared a heretic by the Council of Constance. It was decreed that his books be burned and his remains be exhumed. The exhumation was carried out 13 years later, in 1428 – his remains were dug up, burned, and the ashes cast into the River Swift.

Called the "Morning Star of the Reformation," Wycliffe was known as an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century, and an early opponent of papal authority influencing secular power. Born in Yorkshire c. 1330, he also played a major role in making the Bible available to the common person through his role in translating the Bible into English in the late 1300s.

Although he wasn’t declared a heretic until over 30 years after his death 1384, he showed heretical tendencies throughout his life. For one, he was against transubstantiation, which said that the bread and the wine during Eucharist were the actual body and blood of Christ. By 1380, he considered himself an opponent of the property and government of the Church.

Below are Wycliffe-related images from our collection, including a 1731 Wycliffe New Testament as well as images from two separate editions of Foxe's Book of Martyrs, one of which illustrates the burning of Wycliffe's bones. The Fisher has one of the most extensive collections of the Book of Martyrs in North America, with some sixty editions dating from the first printed in 1563 to a near-contemporary 1973 issue.

The University of Toronto’s Wycliffe College, an evangelical Anglican graduate school of theology, honours John Wycliffe with its name.