The Bible of John Wyclif: Production and Circulation -- By: Donald G. Davis, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 128:509 (Jan 1971)
Article: The Bible of John Wyclif: Production and Circulation
Author: Donald G. Davis, Jr.

The Bible of John Wyclif:
Production and Circulation

Donald G. Davis, Jr.

[Donald G. Davis, Jr., Graduate School of Library Science, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois.]

A question which has interested historians of the book and the book trade is: how were books produced and circulated in the late Middle Ages, before the invention of movable type printing? This question assumes greater importance when the publication of a mass circulated work is studied.1 The Bible of John Wyclif and his followers in the late fourteenth century is such a work.

The purpose of this article is to trace the production and circulation, or distribution, of the Wyclif Bible by searching the available historical evidence. The result of this kind of case study will be that one may be able to understand better how a late medieval bestseller was translated from the pen of the author into the hands of the reading public. Unfortunately, the limitation of space and time prevents the development of the full history of Wyclif, the Lollard movement, a movement on which much study has concentrated, and the manuscript trade in general. Therefore, only necessary background sketches will be provided; the reader is asked to look elsewhere for treatment of more complete historical details regarding Wyclif’s political, theological and social influence. Nevertheless, a brief summary of Wyclif’s early life and a short description of fourteenth century Oxford, the context in which he labored and the base for his supporters for twenty-five years, is in order.

John Wyclif, born of humble parentage in Yorkshire about 1328, began his studies at Oxford University about 1345.2 Had his

graduate career been uninterrupted, he would have received his doctorate in 1361, instead of 1372. Several events probably contributed to his relatively slow progress. The Black Death came to Oxford in July 1349 and brought with it the usual havoc and unsettling. As the University and the town were recovering from that pestilence, a dispute broke out in the middle thirteen fifties between the students and the townspeople, resulting in a serious riot in which sixty-three students were killed or fatally wounded.

Shortly after receiving his theological doctorate, Wyclif entered the service of the crown and at the same time was presented with the rectorship of Lutterworth in central England. In the summer of 1374 he served as a commissioner of the king to negotiate with papal representatives in Bruges. This was a most difficult assignment since the Avignon Pope, influenced by the French, was concerned ab...

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