In the first article in this series we looked at the work of Wycliffe which culminated in the translation of the Latin Vulgate  into English. His express desire was that the Holy Scriptures “should be taught in whatever language is most easily  comprehended”. We now look at the effect Wycliffe’s teaching had on Hus and his followers in Bohemia.

Hus plants the seeds of Reformation in Europe

England was not the only country influenced by the work and teachings of John Wycliffe. During Wycliffe’s professorship at Oxford University, numerous students from Bohemia crossed the English Channel to study under him. This was because the Queen of England during this time was Anne of Bohemia, who had married King Richard II when they were both only fifteen years old. These Bohemian students imbibed the teachings of Wycliffe and carried them back to their homeland where they influenced a young clergyman by the name of John Hus.

Hus adopted Wycliffe’s view of the Church and soon began calling for the reformation of its abuses and a return to the teaching of the Word of God. Hus, like Wycliffe, strongly objected to the Catholic teaching regarding Indulgences and Transubstantiation. In 1415 he was summoned to appear at the Catholic Council of Constance, a council convened to reform the Church. The Council of Constance had several objectives, the main one being to resolve the problem of the Western or Papal Schism in the Church, since when the Council was called there were three popes all claiming to be the legitimate Pope!! Another objective was to deal with heretical teaching, including the case of John Hus, and they were also to consider reformation in the Church.

Hus came to the Catholic Council of Constance under a ‘safe conduct order’ issued by the Emperor that granted him the freedom to leave at any time. After disputations with the Church officials, it became evident that the teaching of Hus and Wycliffe were identical. Hus’ teaching was declared heretical, as was Wycliffe’s though he had died 30 years earlier. Hus’‘safe conduct order’ was revoked. In medieval thinking, it was not required to honour a promise made to a heretic; so on July 6, 1415 John Hus was burned at the stake. In the central square of Prague today, a city with a multitude of Catholic Churches, there is a very large brass sculpture of Hus preaching to many of his followers. This monument in Prague is a stark reminder that it was Hus who courageously took the seeds of the reformation that Wycliffe had sown, into Europe itself, into the heart of the Holy Roman Empire.

What are indulgences?

Around the year 1230 a Dominican Monk, Hugh of St-Cher, proposed the idea of a ‘treasury’ of merit points that was available to the Church. This supposed bank of merit points was gained through the infinite merits of Christ through his perfect works. Added to this there was a multitude of merits that the ‘saints’ earned through their good works. It was felt that the saints, like Christ, had gained far more merits than were necessary to go directly to heaven. With all these merits in the heavenly ‘bank’ the obvious thing for a ‘merciful’ Pope to do, as the vicar of Christ on earth, was to make them available to poor sinners – but at a price. This was so they would appreciate the great value of having their sins remitted, and consequently the number of years they were to spend in purgatory, which they rightfully deserved as sinners, either reduced or waived altogether. Popes offered licences to sell these indulgences in different countries in Europe, and so those who obtained this ‘privilege’ journeyed around Europe selling pardons duly endorsed by the Papacy. Furthermore they could also sell pardons for dead relatives and upon the money being paid the soul of the relative would immediately be released from purgatory. In the book Watchman! What of the Night? (pages 83–93) Brother F Walker gives a detailed account of this blasphemous trade in indulgences by the Catholic Church.

We may wonder at the gullibility of people believing such an absurd idea, but let us realise that they were kept in darkness and veiled in the superstition of the Roman Catholic Church because they could not read the Bible for themselves. We should thank God daily that we have the Bible in English and that we can read it without fear of persecution. Until the Bible was translated into their native tongue these poor people had to rely upon the priests to tell them what the Church taught, and so they had no way out of this spiritual blindness and superstition.

The doctrine of transubstantiation

Transubstantiation is a term used by Roman Catholics to define a mystery that they say takes place when they celebrate Holy Communion, that is, the partaking of bread and wine at Mass. They interpret the words of the Lord, “Take, eat; this is my body” and “this is my blood”, and again, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you”, as meaning that the ‘host’, as they call the bread and wine, changes into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. Now the wonder of this mystery is that they still look and taste like bread and wine, but they have been ‘supernaturally changed into the physical and spiritual essence of Jesus’. They claim this is more than just the body and blood; ‘it is the soul and divinity of Christ’ present in the ‘host’ (the wafer). In case you may be doubting that this is what they really teach here is a citation from the renowned Catholic writer John O’Brien, in The Faith of Millions (1974, p255–56):

“When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places himself upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man … the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of man … not once but a thousand times!”

Of course, you may have already considered the dilemma the priest has if the bread or wafer, which is now the actual body of Christ, or the wine which is now his actual blood, is not all consumed at Mass. What is to be done with it? Well, this question has been resolved and all who are familiar with the Catholic Church will be aware of this. On their altar there is a little locked compartment, called the Tabernacle, and the ‘body and blood of Jesus’ is placed there for its next use! In fact children have been told they can go up if they wish and talk to Christ who is in there. You may have noticed that if Catholics pass in front of the altar they genuflect, that is, bow the knee as an act of reverence to Christ, who, they believe, is actually in there, because of the remainder of the ‘host’ left after mass. The wording upon this compartment is normally the Latin words  “Hic Dom Dei Est Et Porta Coeli”, meaning “This  is God’s house and the gate of heaven”.

Note the keyhole which ensures it is locked, because the precious ‘body and blood of Christ’ is inside. The Latin translated reads: “This is God’s house and the gate of heaven.”

We can understand that in the period of the Reformation, as students read the Bible and came to understand the true teaching about the sacrifice of Christ and the symbolic meaning of the expressions, “this is my body” etc, they were repulsed at the paganised way the Catholic Church had blasphemously altered the plain teaching of God’s Word. In fact the reformation Protestants made the claim of ‘cannibalism’ against Catholics for this practice.

Some reflections

We hope readers will appreciate that this series of articles dealing with how the Bible finally became available in English is of far deeper significance  than just an interesting historical account for armchair discussion. What we are looking at is the fulfilment of the Word of God, particularly from  Revelation and Daniel. In Daniel 7 we are told of the  arising of a “little horn” from among the ten who  would “speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High,  and think to change times and laws: and they shall  be given into his hand until a time and times and  the dividing of time” (Dan 7:25). Daniel wanted to specifically know “the truth of the fourth beast …  even of that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout  than his fellows”. The reason he wanted to know  was because “the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them”. If a specific power were to arise in history that would kill the saints (or Christadelphians – the brethren in Christ), Daniel wanted it identified so that the people of God would know what to be wary of.

We know that this blasphemous power was the Roman Catholic Church under the direction of the Papacy. No intelligent reader of the Word of God would deny that now. Further, in Revelation we are told that this iniquitous power “opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them” (Rev 13:6–7).

The work of translating the Bible into the common language of the people is part of the work associated with “the two witnesses” of Revelation 11. These witnesses, political and religious, were prepared to take up arms against the prevailing apostasy (v5–6), but others, our brethren, “were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God” (Rev 20:4). It is very sobering to remember that people lost their lives so we can have a Bible to read today. More than that – if God had not determined that the temporal power of the Papacy was to cease after the 1260 years, as it did, or the Bible had not been made available in the common language of the people, quite possibly each of us would still be buying indulgences, attending confessions to obtain absolution from our sins by a priest, and believing in transubstantiation as we partook of the wafer ‘host’. How blessed we are to have the Bible in our own language now! Let us thank God each time we open it – and let us endeavour to open, read and meditate upon it every day.

In our next article we will look at the period from Wycliffe to Henry VIII.