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What’s a Good Introduction to Wycliffism?

This question comes up quite a bit on line and in e-mails. This post gives some options for different audiences. In talking to colleagues about possibilities, several noted that new publications specifically to introduce the movement are on the way. New work will be noted here as it comes out.

1. About Wyclif. The most approachable introduction to Wyclif’s life and thought is the first chapter of Stephen Lahey’s John Wyclif (Oxford, 2009). This gives the most recent biography of Wyclif, contextualizing his life with lucid discussions of the political, theological, and philosophical debates that he participated in. This chapter will be accessible to undergraduates.

A more exhaustive discussion, appropriate for advanced undergrads or grad students, is J. I. Catto, “Wyclif and Wycliffism at Oxford 1356-1430,” in volume 2 of The History of the University of Oxford, edited by Catto and Evans (Oxford, 1992). This concentrates on the political and conceptual contexts at the university rather than on Wyclif’s life. Beyond this, the rest of Lahey and the essays in Ian Levy’s A Companion to John Wyclif (Brill, 2006) open up many further avenues into philosophical and theological contexts.

2. About the lollard movement that Wyclif inspired. A number of essay-length introductions accessible to undergraduates now exist, in part because of the “handbook” and “companion” trend in publishing over the past decade. The following suggestions contain overlaps, of course, but each takes a slightly different approach:

  • Mishtooni Bose, “Religious Authority and Dissent,” in A Companion to Medieval English Literature and Culture, c. 1350-c. 1500, ed. Peter Baker (Blackwell, 2007): 40-55. A great introduction to historical and conceptual information about the movement and its study.
  • Wendy Scase, “Lollardy,” in The Cambridge Companion to Reformation Theology ed. David Bagchi and David Steinmetz. (Cambridge, 2004): 16-21. A very succinct description of theological beliefs characteristic of lollardy.
  • Malcolm Lambert, in Medieval Heresy (Blackwell, 2002), now in its third edition, contains chapters on Wyclif, the lollard movement, and the Hussites in Bohemia. These outline the history very well, though interpretations of these facts have differed.

One other resource for shorter work is the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (most academic libraries subscribe), which not only includes essays on Wycliffites, opponents, and contemporaries, but also entries on “Lollard Women” and “Lollard Knights.”

3. Longer work. Book-length introductions appropriate for upper-level undergrads or graduate students must start with Anne Hudson’s The Premature Reformation (Oxford, 1988). This study is key not just for the knowledge that it deploys, gathered by Hudson as she worked with Pamela Gradon to edit the sermon cycle and other works, but also for the argument–which Hudson makes through an extensive interrogation of social and conceptual consistencies gleaned from a wide range of sources–that lollardy was worth studying as a coherent movement.

Beyond this, a next step is several essay collections that include a wide variety of work on the movement and its contexts. These include:

For more help, here are two bibliographical options aside from this site. The first is Derrick Pitard, “A Selected Bibliography for Lollard Studies,” in Lollards and their Influence in Late Medieval England 251-319. This categorizes material differently than this site does (which might be a help), but obviously only includes work published up to about 2002.

A new option is Fiona Somerset and Derrick Pitard, “The Lollards and John Wyclif,” Oxford Bibliographies Online, 2012. You can find this at http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/, though it requires a subscription. This is a categorized and annotated bibliography of about 150 of the most important studies.

If you know of any others that should be here, please add them in a comment!

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