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Wycliffe's poor preachers struck a responsive chord among the ordinary people but drew upon themselves heavy censure from the authorities. They were given the name of Lollards, they were branded as subversive, rebels against both civil and ecclesiastical order. As early as 1382 Parliament authorised local officials to arrest troublesome preachers and those who taught heretical conclusions could be imprisoned.

With the loss of the favour which the authorities in Oxford had once shown toward Wycliffe himself, Lollardy became a religion of humble and unlettered men and women, who met in secret to study the Scriptures or to listen to travelling preachers. In spite of persecution it persisted until the 16th century when it was merged into the Protestant Reformation.

With the beginning of the 15th century legal machinery was introduced for dealing with heresy in England and in 1401 the statute "De Heretico Comburendo ("concerning the burning of a heretic") was passed. Henry IV, who seized the throne in 1399 rather apprehensive of his position and the influence that preaching might have in stirring up opposition, was not unwilling to take severe measures against Lollardy.

All unlicensed preaching was forbidden. Those possessing condemned books were to surrender them. Anyone refusing to abjure, or convicted as a relapsed heretic, was to be burned at the stake under the secular authority`s power. Thus the civil government was as much concerned in the punishment of heresy as the ecclesiastical authorities.

Later additions and alterations to the law made heresy fully the subject of secular enquiry and punishments. It was regarded as a civil and treasonable crime as much as an offence against the Church and orthodoxy, and Lollardy was for a long time seen and tested in this light in the 15th century. The first Lollard to be put to death was actually burnt before the new law came into force.

William Sawtre had fallen into the hands of the Bishop of Norwich in 1399 and had recanted. But early in 1401 he was accuded again of Lollard teaching, and being thus "a relapsed heretic" he was burned at Smithfield on royal orders. This case was evidently intended as an example to the Lollards.

Arundel, the Archbishop of Canterbury, then proceeded to deal systematically with the Lollards and earned the reputation of being the "hammer of the Lollards". But only one man apart from Sawtre was actually martyred during his primacy, John Badby, in 1410. A further impetus to attacks upon the Lollards arose out of Oldcastle's rebellion.

Sir John Old Castle had been a convert to Lollardy and a leader in the movement. He was arrested at the orders of the new king, Henry V in 1413, upheld Lollard ideas at his trial, was excommunicated and imprisoned in the Tower. But he escaped and in 1414 made a plot to overthrow the government and seige the king and royal family.

The plot was betrayed and easily put down by the authorities, and a number of people were executed. A similar rising was attempted in 1431 by William Perkins. This too resulted in arrests and executions. The suppression of this rising discouraged any further digressions into political issues on the part of the Lollards and the subsequent history of the movement was more confined to religious issues.


While the Lollards were engaged in their anti-papal activities in England, another reactionary movement against the papacy sprang up in Bohemia. There was some connection between the universities of Oxford and Prague in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, and interchange of scholars between the two. As a result of this Wycliffe's doctrines became known in Bohemia.

John Hus, born in 1369, studied at Prague University and was ordained priest in 1400. He was known for his zeal as a reformer and his ability as a preacher. In 1408 he became the leader of the reforming party and in the following year came into conflict with the Archbishop.

The Germans at Prague were opposed to Wycliffe's doctrines, and there was strong national feeling among the Bohemians against the archbishop and the Germans. This was voiced by Hus and his friend Jerome. The result was that the Germans withdrew to found a new university at Leipzig and Hus was appointed rector at Prague.

The Archbishop had many of Wycliffe's writings burned and excommunicated Hus and his supporters. In 1412 Hus openly opposed the sale of indulgences and spoke of the Pope as Antichrist; he declared that no pope or priest could give absolution from the guilt and penalty of sin, but only God Himself.

As a result of this Hus was denounced to the Pope and left Prague in 1412 so that the city should escape interdict. He was now regarded as the leader of a popular national movement against the Germans and the Pope. While in exile, Hus wrote extensively, setting forth his position.

Later on he agreed to attend the General Council at Constance with a promise from the Emperor Sigismund that he would guarantee his safety. But Sigismund failed to carry out his promise. Hus was confronted with article of Wycliffe and extracts from his own writings and asked to recant them. Refusing to do so, he was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake in Constance in July 1415.

In his general thought and attitude Hus adopted a more moderate attitude than Wycliffe. He did not, for instance, argue that trans-substantiation was doctrinally wrong. But he stood, like Wycliffe, for the right of every Christian to find salvation in Christ alone, he appealed to the Scriptures and he challenged and rejected ecclesiastical authority.

The Bohemian people were enraged by the betrayal and execution of Hus. They were still more incensed when his friend Jerome was burned in the same place in May 1416. Within three years a powerful and well-organised movement had arisen to fight for liberty of preaching and belief.

In 1420 the Hussites drew up the Four Articles of Prague, requiring that:-

(i) The Word of God should be freely preached.

(ii) The Communion should be administered in both kinds.

(iii) The temporal power of the Pope should be abolished, and priests should return to the apostolic life.

(iv) The clergy should be subjected to secular penalties for crimes and misdemeanours.

But the Hussites were split up into groups divided against each other. The two main groups were the Utraquists and the Taborites. The parties however were united in defence of national Hussitism. In 1419 an able Taborite leader named Ziska seized Prague and successfully held it in 1420 against a German army under Sigismund.

This began a twelve years war, in which the Taborites, first under Ziska and later under Procopius the Great, were successful in three further battles against papal forces. Eventually negotiations for peace were begun, and finally in 1436, the Hussites agreed to make peace and be restored to the unity of the Church in return for communion in both kinds and free preaching of the Word of God.

Thus the authoritarian claims of the Roman Church were challenged and challanged successfully in the name of religious reform. Their achievement paved the way for all who later assaulted papal government.


The Renaissance was the most important non-religious movement which helped to pave the way for the Reformation. The word means 'rebirth' and refers to the revival of interest in Latin and Greek literature which began in Italy during the fourteenth century and developed to its fullest extent during the fifteenth century.

It was an intellectual revival, a movement of the human spirit which set men's minds free from the bondage which had held them fast for centuries under papal domination. It gave rise to a spirit of enterprise and adventure, of pride and independence, and a reappraisal of man. The devotees of the new movement were called Humanists.

During the fourteenth century interest in the classical writers had been revived by Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. The movement reached its floodtide during the fifteenth century. In this century two important events gave it further impetus. About 1440 there came the invention of printing and in 1453 the capture of Constantinople by the Turks resulted in many scholars fleeing to the West, bringing with them many manuscripts of the classical writers.

As well as men of learning the Renaissance produced brilliant men in the fields of art, architecture and sculpture; names such as Raphael, Michael Angelo and Leonardo da Vinci belong to this period. But side by side with these cultural developments there was also a decline in morality; love of pleasure, treachery and murder increased and immorality was made respectable.

In the early days Florence took the lead in the Renaissance, followed by Venice and Milan. In course of time the movement spread to Rome, which became one of the great Italian Renaissance cities. From the middle of the fifteenth century the Popes embraced the new movement and Rome was transformed from a city of poverty and disorder into a leading cultural and artistic centre.

But the Papacy was also affected by the corrupting influences of Renaissance societyand pilgrims in the latter half of the century were often astonished at the corruption in the court and general social life which was encouraged by the Popes.

SAVONAROLA (1452 - 1498).

Savonarola was born of a good middle-class family and in 1475 he entered a Dominican house at Bologna in Italy. After theological training at Bologna and Ferrara, he went out on his first preaching tour in 1484, but his preaching was at first ineffective. In 1489 he was recalled to Florence and here he quickly gained a reputation for his fiery preaching and denunciation of the morals of the day.

In 1491 Savonarola became the Prior of a Convent. Two years later he carried out rigorous reforms among the Dominicans in Florence, enforcing a return to simple study and devotion and training members to evangelise in and around the city.

Savonarola became involved in politics in the city and in 1495 events brought him into a commanding position. This position he maintained for nearly four years. During this period he turned what had been riotous secular carnivals into great -religious festivals. He stopped gambling and immorality, and in this kindled great bonfires in which indecent books and paintings and vanities were burned.

Savonarola did not hesitate to attack the Pope and to condemn Rome for its immorality. The Pope excommunicated him and in 1498 threatened to place Florence under interdict unless Savonarola were stopped from preaching. Eventually he was brought to trial, tortured, pronounced guilty of heresy and hanged.

Though Roman Catholic in doctrine, Savonarola denounced sin, even in the Pope, and set himself to restore purity of life. He exposed the faults in the religious affairs of Italy, and upheld the right of every individual to resist a corrupt order, and in so doing he helped to prepare the way for Luther.

JOHN COLET (1466 - 1519).

Visits to Italy by travellers and scholars resulted in the Humanist movement spreading to other countries, and in due course it came to England, where the introduction of printing by Caxton In 1476 gave additional stimulus to study. Among the leading Humanists in England was John Colet, who visited Florence at the time when Savonarola's influence was at its height.

The visit kindled Colet's interest in religion and his concern with Humanism waned except in so far as it aided his Biblical studies. From 1497 he lectured in Oxford on the Pauline Epistles, bringing out the contrast between the early Church and the Church of his time. From Oxford he moved on to London and became Dean of St. Paul's in 1505. Here he called men to repentance and a revival of spiritual life.

He was now in touch with ordinary people as well as scholars and people flocked to hear him preach. He also stood for the instruction of children in the Christian religion and founded St. Paul's School for this purpose.

ERASMUS (1467 - 1536).

Erasmus was the greatest of the "Christian Humanists". Born in Rotterdam, he travelled and studied in various parts of Europe and in 1499 came to England and spent some months in Oxford. Here he met Colet, who exercised a profound influence upon him. As a result his objective became Cby rather than purely Humanistic, but he didnot  become inspired with Colet's passion for Christ.

Erasmus was a brilliant scholar, with tremendous energy in literary work, and he edited and printed the complete works of a number of Christian Fathers, such as Irenaeus, Ambrose and Augustine. But his most important work was the publication in 1516 of the complete text of the New Testament in Greek. It was his desire that the Gospels and Epistles of St. Paul should be translated into every language and that they might be read by everyone, "even the most humble women".

But Erasmus always retained his humanistic outlook and when Luther, broke away from the Roman Church, Erasmus remained in it; he was not willing to break away from his allegiance to the Pope. He could never accept that the human will was wholly depraved and unable of itself to contribute in some way to salvation.

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