Sunday, October 30, 2016

For All the Saints: John Wycliffe, and Hallowmas

On the Episcopal calendar, John Wycliffe (c. 1320-1384) is honored today. He was an Oxford professor, scholastic philosopher, theologian, and noted Bible translator who is still well known in the church. Over a century before Luther, he addressed and criticized what he considered abuses in the Roman Catholic church. He translated the Bible into Middle English by the year 1382, undertaking much and perhaps all of the New Testament with his helpers working on the Old Testament. For him, the Bible should be the church's central authority and thus he criticized the papacy and doctrines that he considered unscriptural.

Although the Czech reformer Jan Hus was executed for his teachings (several years later, in 1415), and although Wycliffe's followers were persecuted, Wycliffe himself died of natural causes. Nevertheless, Wycliffe's remains were exhumed, burned, and scattered; he had been posthumously declared a heretic whose books as well as remains should be destroyed.

With Wycliffe, I conclude my year-long posts about different saints of the church, which I began here. I posted 140 altogether. This has been a personal way that I disciplined myself to think about matters of the Spirit as the days and weeks went by, and I learned a lot in the process! There were many, many interesting and faithful persons---honored on Episcopal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox calendars---whom I missed, so I'll probably return to this informal study in the future.

From the Facebook page of St Paul Lutheran
Church, Dog Leg Road, Dayton OH
Tomorrow is Reformation Day, the anniversary of Luther's posting of 95 theses (propositions for debate) upon the door of Wittenberg Church. He did not intend to break with the Roman Catholic Church, only to debate and clarify aspects of church teaching. The statement led eventually to the Protestant Reformation--and certainly, the efforts of Wycliffe and his followers was Luther's forerunner.

Tomorrow is also All Hallows' Evening, or the evening before All Hallows' Day or All Saints' Day (or Hallowmas). Of course, All Hallows' Evening is usually contracted to All Hallows' Eve or just Halloween. It begins the time of Allhallowtide when the dead, including the saints (hallows) and martyrs are remembered and honored. The day may have roots in the Gaelic festival Samhain, but the setting of Hallowmas may date from the 8th century papacy of Gregory III.

And Tuesday is All Saints' Day. It is the middle day of Hallowmas, the three-day festival commemorating those saints, known and unknown, who have died (in Catholic theology: those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven). Many churches have a recitation of the names of members of that congregation who have died during the previous year. According to the informal research that I did last year, the feast was mentioned in a sermon as early as 373 AD, and the date of November 1 was instituted by the 8th century Pope Gregory III, while the 9th century Pope Gregory IV made it a feast for the whole church.

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