Wikipedia documents the following which occurred after the death (from a stroke) of John Wycliffe in 1384, at the age of 64 :

The Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic on 4 May 1415, and banned his writings, effectively both excommunicating him retroactively and making him an early forerunner of Protestantism. The Council decreed that Wycliffe's works should be burned and his body remains removed from consecrated ground. This order, confirmed by Pope Martin V, was carried out in 1428.[24] Wycliffe's corpse was exhumed and burned and the ashes cast into the River Swift, which flows through Lutterworth.

What is the current Vatican's position on the digging up of Wycliffe's body and its being burned ? And why did the Council require this ? Was it to prevent John Wycliffe from arising from the dead in the resurrection ?

  • Where did your Declaration come from. After looking at the council documents, I see nothing from the documents about burning his body. Only that it was "exhumed and removed from the burial place of the Church". Section 8 Council of Constance. I also don't believe the Church teaches that man can stop God from resurrecting anyone. Dying an impenitence and obstinacy as a heretic, does make one concerned for his salvation, especially considering all those souls lead away from the Lord. God is the Judge, not man, God is not subject to the Church but the Church to God.
    – Marc
    Aug 8, 2018 at 18:18
  • I just quoted Wikipedia. Are you saying the source is incorrect ?
    – Nigel J
    Aug 9, 2018 at 8:47
  • 1
    They burnt his bones to ashes and cast them into the Swift, a neighboring brook running hard by. Thus the brook conveyed his ashes into the Avon, the Avon into the Severn, the Severn into the narrow seas and they into the main ocean. And so the ashes of Wyclif are symbolic of his doctrine, which is now spread throughout the world. PRCA.ORG - from Foxe's Book of Martyrs
    – Nigel J
    Aug 10, 2018 at 11:53
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    Another quote regarding Wycliffe, and this from the Catholic New Advent website: "All his writings were ordered to be burned and his body was condemned to be dug up and cast out of consecrated ground (this was not done until 1428 under Bishop Robert Fleming of Lincoln). In 1418 Martin V, by the aforesaid Bull "Inter Cunctas", approved the action of the council (Mansi, op. cit., XXVII, 1210 sq.; see WYCLIFFITES)." newadvent.org/cathen/04288a.htm
    – Lesley
    Aug 12, 2018 at 17:09
  • 1
    Another quote from the Catholic New Advent web site: "A second stroke came in 1384 while he was hearing Mass in his church, and three days later he died. He was buried at Lutterworth, but the Council of Constance in 1415 ordered his remains to be taken up and cast out. This was done in 1428." newadvent.org/cathen/15722a.htm
    – Lesley
    Aug 12, 2018 at 17:11

1 Answer 1


Regarding the Council of Constance in Switzerland, this is what I gleaned from an article by Caroline T. Marshall in the Lion History of Christianity (published 1997). She was writing about Jan Hus, who was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1401:

"His case was referred to Rome. In 1415 Hus attended the Council of Constance in order to defend his beliefs... The Hussites, especially after the execution of Jan Hus at the Council in 1415, held that all Christians should receive both bread and wine. The Council prohibited it. Wyclif was condemned for heresy by the Council in 1415, and his body disinterred from holy ground in 1427." (pages 330-331)

Page 339 adds, "The two most troublesome movements [to the papacy] were those instigated by Hus and by Wyclif, whose followers came to be called Lollards. By the end of the Middle Ages they had come to attack the very foundations of the medieval hierarchy, including the papacy itself."

Another history book, "The Pilgrim Church" by E.H. Broadbent (Pickering Classic first published 1931, quoting from the 1985 edition page 124) notes,

"Another object of the Council was to combat the teachings associated with the names of Wycliff and Hus... But, in spite of the Imperial promise, [Huss] was seized and cast into a foul dungeon on in island in the lake. To justify this action the Council promulgated a solemn decree (1415), claimed as a decision given by the Holy Spirit and infallible, for ever binding, that the Church is not bound to keep faith with a heretic... After a solemn service of degradation, Huss was burned."

I looked to a modern-day Catholic source to see if any mellowing of attitudes to such matters has occurred. In The Encyclopedia of Theology edited by Karl Rhaner (published 1981) it was written under the heading of 'Heresy I. Canon Law' that only a baptized Catholic who 'contumaciously denies or doubts a truth which ought to be adopted by virtue of divine or Catholic faith' can be called a heretic (page 604). It must be noted that Jan Hus was an ordained Catholic priest, and Wyclif was the best Catholic scholar in Oxford, and who considered preaching to be the most important duty of the clergy. He was a preacher. Both were accused of heresy.

Yet there have been changes in attitudes to heretics in more recent times. It further says on page 605,

"Vatican II avoided completely the words heresy and heretic. The decrees speak only of separated non-Catholic Christians or of separated brothers. In view of the Directorium Oecumenicum it may be assumed that the notion of heresy and heretic have changed since Vatican II. The view upheld by Augustine that those who are born (Christians) outside the Catholic Church are not to be spoken of as heretics seems to be prevailing once more. Hence the only heretics would be those who deliberately departed from the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ, and these would then be subject to the penalties of canon law."

It seems clear from that that Hus and Wyclif are still viewed as heretics by the Catholic church for there was no retraction regarding their attacks on the foundational authority of the papacy. On page 608 Rhaner mentioned some ancient groups, but not the Lollards. He said, "The Church learns to know more clearly its own truth by hearing and rejecting contradiction of its own truth, and of its growing self-understanding."

The simple question that requires answering is this - Has the Catholic church changed its self-understanding of the authority of the papacy to come closer to that stated by Hus and Wyclif, or vice versa? The answer is, 'No. There has been no change in either stance regarding the authority of the papacy.' That is my answer to your main question.

As for your secondary questions about Catholic views regarding exhuming Wyclif's body in 1428 (44 years after his death), I can only point to a comment to your question, questioning details of the event. The exhumation itself is not denied. However, history records that at Lutterworth Church, around the grave, in the chancel, was Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Bishop Fleming of Lincoln, plus other dignitaries and clerics. The source I cite below adds that Wyclif's coffin was carried on the shoulders of men through the chancel, down the winding road to the River Swift. A fire was then kindled on the bridge; the bones of Wyclif were taken out of the coffin and flung into it. They were reduced to ashes which were then cast into the River Swift. Thomas Fuller, 'The Church History of Britain: From the Birth of Jesus Christ until the Year MDCXLVII, 3 vols. (London, England: Thomas Tegg and Son, 1837), 1.493

  • Excellent research. Much appreciated. Thank you.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 28, 2018 at 22:09

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