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The English Reformation Essay

3482 words - 14 pages

The English Reformation

During the reign of King Richard II "England was experiencing her first serious outbreak of heresy for nearly a millennium." This widespread heresy, known as Lollardy, held the reformation of the Catholic Church as its main motivation, and was based upon the ideas of John Wyclif, an Oxford scholar. "All kinds of men, not only in London but in widely-separated regions of the country, seized the opportunity to voice criticisms both constructive and destructive of the present state of the Church." While commoners protested and pressed for reform, going so far as to present their manifesto, the "Twelve Conclusions," to Parliament, members of the royal household were protecting John Wyclif and his ideas, John of Gaunt, son of King Edward III, and Joan of Kent, the widowed Princess of Wales, "by whose influence he was protected from ultimate disgrace (such as excommunication)," were Wyclif's supporters and protectors.

Like Wyclif's Lollard heresy, the English Protestant Reformation, over one hundred years later, would draw support from both the common people and the royal establishment. Among the many causes of the Reformation, one stands out as the most important because it alone brought about a specifically English reformation. The religious drive of the common people to create a more open system of worship was a grassroots movement of reform, similar to the reformations taking place across Europe. The political ambitions of those at the highest levels of government to consolidate power in the person of the monarch, however, is what made a reformation of the Church in England into a specifically English Reformation.

John Wyclif and the people who followed him reflected how royal authority could be blurred into religious and spiritual reform. Wyclif, himself, had been employed by Edward III "to develop arguments to enable Edward III's government to direct clerical wealth from papal coffers to his own, so as to assist in the prosecution of war against France." He continued to argue for the monarchy's cause against the Church by claiming that the pope represented the humanity of Jesus, while the monarch represented his divinity. "It thus followed that it was the duty of the king to reform the Church." Eleven years after Wyclif's death, a group of Lollards came before Parliament with their complaints, and asked "the Lords and the Commons in Parliament to lead the way to reformation."

Wyclif's, and by extension the Lollards, views also included the supreme importance of the Scriptures as a guide to living a Christian life, as opposed to the Catholic view which placed the Scripture along side the advise and beliefs of the Church hierarchy. This resulted in the translation of the Gospels and the Bible into English so that all people could read and understand the Scriptures. The Lollards rebelled against the idea that the host and wine could be turned into the body and blood of Jesus, "and called for a return to...

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