Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

John Wyclif: Myth and Reality

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

John Wyclif: Myth and Reality

Article excerpt

John Wyclif: Myth and Reality. By G. R. Evans. (Downers Grove, Illinois.: InterVarsity Press. 2006. Pp. 320. $25.00.)

An ambitiously titled volume, this account of the life and achievements of the fourteenth-century English polymath and "heretic," John Wyclif, attempts simultaneously to be an account of the late medieval university and church. Details of Wyclif's controversial and resonant political, academic, and religious career are therefore intermingled with (often rather potted) accounts of intellectual and institutional history. The result can be frustrating at times: intriguing postulates such as Wyclif's disinclination "to waste work" and to make publications out of his lectures-on which subject one would have liked to hear more, so idiosyncratic can be the heresiarch's written style and expository method in the context of medieval scholastic productions-can get lost in between thumbnail sketches of "the disputation" and details of medieval scribal practice (pp. 83-85). The rationale for such an approach eventually emerges: the volume is informed by a largely speculative attempt (there are numerous "it seems"s and "it is possible"s scattered throughout the text) at integrating the known biographical details of Wyclif's life and of his polemical and philosophical career into a psychologically coherent portrait of an ambitious, frustrated, and eventually embittered man whose forays into public life failed to win him the rewards he expected. The conclusion suggests that the "real Wyclif was an able academic, not untypical of his times in the subjects which interested him and the lines he took in his teaching and writing," and an ineffective politician who became "the bête noire of others more ruthless and politically astute than he"(pp. 255-56).This Wyclif is to be distinguished, Evans suggests, from the Wyclif of legend constructed by his sixteenth-century admirers, the morning star of the Reformation. …

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