At the Council of Toulouse, held in 1229, the hierarchy of the Western Church determined that the laity was to be denied direct access to the Scriptures. The assumption was that the masses of people were simply too ignorant to be trusted with the Holy Writ. A century and a half later John Wyclif openly challenged that notion--and very nearly paid with his life.
After earning his doctorate in 1372 Wyclif was widely regarded as the greatest living philosopher in all of Europe. He was also an eloquent preacher. In passionate sermons, preached not in Latin, but in the English his fellows could understand, he blasted the worldliness of the clergy and the corruptions of the church.
Among the corruptions he challenged were the sale of indulgences, the worship of saints, the veneration of relics, the idleness of monks and priests, the inaccessibility of the Bible, and the empty ritual of many church services. Church authorities lashed back. They summoned Wyclif on this day in 1377, to a trial at St. Paul's Cathedral. He came with his patron and friend, the powerful Prince John of Gaunt--who was then serving as the regent of the realm during the minority of the son of his deceased brother, the Black Prince.
Not surprisingly, the meeting broke up inconclusively with a violent quarrel between the bishops and the prince.
Apparently though, the confrontation made Wyclif more determined than ever before to bring the Word of God to the common people. He not only began to work on a translation of the Bible in common, vernacular English, he trained and sent forth preachers to proclaim its doctrines clearly--these were the men the prelates called Lollards, or "mutterers."
Alas, many of his followers were persecuted and killed. In Bohemia, Jan Hus became a giant of faith after reading and applying Wyclif's teaching before he was burned at the stake. In England, too, his testimony could not be stamped out. The Lollards, though harried, vilified, and punished for the next century and a half, faithfully preached the Scriptures--right up to the time of the Reformation.
Years after his death the church ordered Wyclif's bones dug up, burnt and scattered. But, it was too late to undo the good he had done.
It is no wonder then that he came to be called "The Morning Star of the Reformation."