Like Richard Rolle, Wiclif was a Yorkshireman by birth. Of his career at Oxford little is known until 1360, when he is described as 'master of Balliol'. From Balliol he was presented to the living of Fillingham, and, after a series of preferments, he accepted in 1374 the rectory of Lutterworth, which he held till his death in 1384.
Wiclif's life was stormy. His acknowledged pre-eminence as a theologian and doctor in the University did not satisfy his active and combative mind. 'False peace', he said, 'is grounded in rest with our enemies, when we assent to them without withstanding; and sword against such peace came Christ to send.' He lacked neither enemies nor the moral courage to withstand them.
At first, under the powerful patronage of John of Gaunt, he entered into controversies primarily political, opposing the right of the Pope to make levies on England, which was already over- burdened with war-taxation, and to appoint foreigners to English benefices. On these questions popular opinion was on his side.
He proceeded to attack the whole system of Church government, urging disendowment; rejecting the papal authority, which had been weakened in 1378 by the fierce rivalry of Urban VI and Clement VII; attacking episcopal privileges, the established religious orders, and the abuse of indulgences, pardons, and sanctuary. Still his opinions found a good deal of popular and political support.
Then in 1380 he publicly announced his rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation. From the results of such a heresy his friends could no longer protect him. Moderate opinion became alarmed and conservative after the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. Richard II was no friend of heretics. John of Gaunt, himself unpopular by this time, commanded silence. And in 1382