Historian Benson Bobrick has written an excellent book entitled, Wide As the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired. In it he notes the effect on England when he translated even a portion of the Bible, not from the original Greek, but from the Latin text. He notes, “In Wycliffe’s day, Bible reading, even among the clergy, was surprisingly rare. As one of his disciples put it, it was thought sufficient if the priest knew the Ten Commandments, the Paternoster (Our Father), the Creed and Ave (Hail Mary), ‘with common parts of holy Writ.’ The ordinary Christian knew even less—often no more than ‘some jingle picked up from a passing friar.’ The focus of popular interest was the cult of the saints, and the great national shrines . . . The tendency of Church ritual, moreover, was to subordinate the written word to pictorial and ceremonial forms of worship—especially in the liturgical dramas of Christmas and Easter—while biblical stories were mostly gleaned from miracle and morality plays.

“The pulpit fashion of the time was also, largely, to draw material from civil and natural history, fable, and mythology. . . Wycliffe faulted the clergy in general for not preaching from Scripture (when they preached at all) and friars in particular for packing their sermons with unscriptural anecdote and story for entertainment instead of calling the people to reform their lives. He himself saw no need to embellish biblical quotations with extraneous material, and often quoted St. Augustine’s remark that God’s Word has a peculiar and incomparable eloquence all its own.

“Wycliffe’s own works are full of biblical quotation—over seven hundred in one tract alone—and his insistence on the authority of Scripture was more emphatic than that of any other figure of his time.”

Let us not return to the days of church “light”. We need more, not less, of the Word of God in our churches and in our lives.

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