Other voices joined the few Popes and Councils advocating reform during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Some were so effective they are often designated "prereformers." They really aren't prereformers, they stand out as reformers in their own right! Alexander Campbell believed the church owes much to these leaders, perhaps more than to Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin.

Calls began sounding for reform from many sources. Clerical immorality, fiscal abuse, and parish neglect all cried out for reform. We can identify two types of reformers. The liberal, undogmatic, and ethical reformers relied upon education to achieve their goals. Such men worked within the church. Other reformers, more dogmatic and narrow, demanded precise formulations of faith and an enforcement of the rules. Church reformers often grew disillusioned and withdrew to work for reform outside the church.

I. Peter Waldo [Valdez] (c. 1140-1218)

Peter Waldo learned much from Arnold of Brescia. Arnold sounded one of the earliest voices against worldliness in the church. He urged the church to return to apostolic poverty. Those who listened soon turned against their bishop because he accumulated wealth and enjoyed luxury. Innocent II banished Arnold from Italy. He then wandered Italy until he returned to Rome in an attempt to lead an uprising against both church and state. He dreamed of re-establishing the ancient Roman Republic. Frederick Barbarossa arrested him and burned him at the stake throwing his ashes into the Tiber.

Not long after Arnold's death, Peter Waldo of Lyons began contemplating the monastic life. He gave away his goods to follow Christ's example. He cared for his wife's needs, placed his daughters under the care of nuns, and then, following Matthew 19:21, proceeded to give his estate away.

Waldo's devotion soon drew disciples around him. Waldo, who took Scripture literally, sent these followers out two-by-two just as Jesus sent out the 70. Pope Alexander III and the Third Lateran Council (1179) approved the idea of poorly educated or uneducated people living a life of poverty. The Pope stipulated that these preachers should preach only with a bishop's approval and oversight. Most of the day's bishops refused to invite or allow these laymen opportunity to preach. With or without permission, the "Poor Men of Lyons" ventured out to boldly speak against the established church's wealth and laxity.

Waldensians enjoyed enthusiasm and they soon reacted against almost everything. They rejected oaths, warfare, magistracy, capital punishment, and even renounced self-defense. Others rejected infant baptism, transubstantiation, and   tried to return to simple apostolic Christianity. They allowed any believer to administer sacraments, rejected Catholic feast days with very few exceptions, and they ultimately disassociated themselves from physical paraphernalia including buildings, cemeteries, liturgies, and the like.

In 1181, the Archbishop of Lyons ordered the Waldensians to stop preaching in his jurisdiction. Waldo's followers continued preaching since the Bible commanded preaching to the poor. The Waldensians spread into southern France and then into Italy. Once in Italy, Pope Lucius III excommunicated them and ordered the Inquisition to eliminate them. The Waldensians fled Lyons. They later organized themselves into a church complete with bishops, priests and deacons claiming to be the "true church." The Catholic church labelled them heretic at the Fourth Lateran Council. Waldo's followers stood firm in their convictions although one of the most persecuted groups in Europe.

II. John Wyclif (1329-1384)

During the Avignon period, England recognized the Pope as representing France's interests. Prior to the fourteenth century, Robert Grosseteste (1235-1253), the Bishop of Lincoln, protested the English clergy's moral conditions blaming the papacy. Innocent IV, over Grosseteste's objections appointed a nephew as one of Lincoln Cathedral's canons. Grosseteste refused the man his position. The Pope ordered Grosseteste to appear before him only to be refused. Not long after this, Grosseteste died. The English admired the man for his stand against papal authority.

The English and the papacy often found themselves at odds. The strain dated back to Patrick and Celtic Christianity. When England's national identity grew strong so did its distrust of France and its relationship to the Pope. To make matters worse, Boniface VIII claimed Scotland in 1299. To protect English claims on Scotland, the English kept money and influence at home.

John Wyclif, a Yorkshire native, arose in the middle of all this stress and strain. Wyclif, known as an outstanding scholar and teacher, received his education at Oxford as a master of scholastic philosophy and theology. He spent most of his life as a teacher becoming the Rector of Lutterworth in 1374. While serving at Lutterworth, he served as the church's liaison to Avignon. While there, Wyclif saw first hand the papal court's worldliness and abuses. Thoroughly disgusted, Wyclif returned home convinced England needed to keep their money at home.

You can break Wyclif's reform efforts into three periods. The period before the great schism, after the schism, and a period of radicalism.

Wyclif rejected papal authority prior to the Great Schism in 1378. He felt fiscal matters were badly in need of reform and he came up with several possible solutions. He proposed a concept known as "dominion" which states that all property belongs to God who grants its use as long as the "owner" renders faithful service. To fail to render faithful service meant forfeiture of ownership. Wyclif argued that if ecclesiastical structures, or individuals, misuse land the secular powers should remove it. English nobles listened and began confiscating monastic properties and removing unsavory ecclesiastical figures.

Like Waldo, Wyclif surrounded himself with a group of trained preachers. Once instructed in the basics, Wyclif sent these "Lollards" or "Poor Preachers" out to preach. These simple men asked nothing and gave much. They proved an adequate contrast to the worldly monks who begged much but gave nothing.

After 1378, England supported Urban VI. Wyclif wanted both Popes deposed to allow the Cardinals to start over. During this period Wyclif's radicalism begins showing through. Finally, he becomes a genuine "card carrying" radical. He denied transubstantiation, called the Pope anti-Christ, argued the priesthood of all believers, condemned the saint cult and the veneration of relics. He repudiated the sale of indulgences and masses for the dead. While such actions don't sound particularly radical to non-Catholics, they were extreme actions in that day. Wyclif then translated the New Testament into the vernacular English by 1380.

The church condemned Wyclif some 44 years after his death. The Council of Constance (1418) declared Wyclif a heretic and ordered his bones removed from consecrated ground, burned and thrown into the Severn River.

III. John Hus (1373-1415)

John Hus, poorly born but educated at the University of Prague, may be the best known of these reformers. Hus took no new stands, however. He drew from Wyclif's work and made reform palatable among Bohemians. When King Richard II of England Married Anne of Luxembourg, the Bohemian king's sister, Bohemian students went to Oxford. There they drank of Wyclif's writings and brought them home to Prague. When Hus studied in Prague he soon found himself attracted to Wyclif's writings -- a "fatal attraction."

Hus became the university president even though classed as only an average student. He also took priestly vows in 1400. He then attracted much attention because he preached in both Latin and Czech and because his sermons moved people to re-examine their relationship with God. Even though his sermons weren't patriotic, they had a patriotic effect. Mostly Hus preached moral reform.

Hus's preaching evidently struck home. In 1410, Prague's Archbishop obtained a papal order prohibiting preaching in private chapels and calling for Hus's books to be burned. Since Hus preached at the university, he preached in a private chapel. At the time Hus had widespread support so the Bishop did little to enforce the orders. His public support came because he soundly railed against John XXIII's sale of indulgences. John then excommunicated Hus but he continued his preaching. The Pope then placed Prague under interdict hoping to stifle Hus. It worked and the Bohemian's began questioning Hus's teaching. Hus left Prague just to get the Pope's interdict removed. He spent the remainder of his life preaching openly in castles of supporting nobility.

The Council of Constance ordered Hus to appear before it in 1414. Sigismund guaranteed Hus safe conduct. Hus went confident that he could upgrade the papacy and successfully argue his opinions with the theologians. He was wrong on both counts. The Council arrested Hus immediately. Once jailed, he found that guarantees to heretics don't count. Sigismund protested the action but had no power to stop it. The Council imprisoned Hus for six months, tried him and burned him at the stake for heresy on July 6, 1414. It is said that Bohemian patriots removed the dirt from the stake and took it back to Bohemia.

Hus's followers later divided into two major camps, the Utraquists and the Taborites. The Taborites became extremely radical and separate from Catholicism. They ultimately become part of the German Brethren. Utraquists rejoin Catholicism after winning the right to take communion in "both kinds."

Martin Luther read Hus and some charged him with being a Hussite. Luther really isn't one of Hus's disciples even though both men had much in common. The church needed reform, but the church refused to listen. The church felt their reform method was superior to all others. To their shame, their method -- Conciliarism -- failed.

                      | Home | Where to Go |