Soon after his return to England, Wycliffe received from the king the appointment to the rectory of Lutterworth. This was an assurance that the monarch at least had not been displeased by his plain speaking. Wycliffe's influence was felt in shaping the action of the court, as well as in molding the belief of the nation.
The papal thunders were soon hurled against him. Three bulls were dispatched to England,--to the university, to the king, and to the prelates,¹--all commanding immediate and decisive measures to silence the teacher of heresy. (Augustus Neander, General History of the Christian Religion and Church, period 6, sec. 2, pt. 1, par. 8)²
Before the arrival of the bulls, however, the bishops, in their zeal, had summoned Wycliffe before them for trial. But two of the most powerful princes in the kingdom accompanied him to the tribunal; and the people, surrounding the building and rushing in, so intimidated the judges that the proceedings were for the time suspended, and he was allowed to go his way in peace. A little later, Edward III, whom in his old age the prelates were seeking to influence against the Reformer, died, and Wycliffe's former protector became regent of the kingdom.
But the arrival of the papal bulls laid upon all England a peremptory command for the arrest and imprisonment of the heretic. These measures pointed directly to the stake. It appeared certain that Wycliffe must soon fall a prey to the vengeance of Rome.
But He who declared to one of old, "Fear not: . . . I am thy shield" (Genesis 15: 1), again stretched out His hand to protect His servant. Death came, not to the Reformer, but to the pontiff who had decreed his destruction. Gregory XI died, and the ecclesiastics who had assembled for Wycliffe's trial, dispersed.
¹ For a summary of these bulls sent to the archbishop of Canterbury, to King Edward, and to the chancellor of the University of Oxford, see Merle d'Aubigne, The History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century (London: Blackie and Son, 1885), vol. 4, div. 7, p. 93; August Neander, General History of the Christian Church (Boston: Crocker and Brester, 1862), vol. 5, pp. 146, 147; George Sargeant, History of the Christian Church (Dallas: Frederick Publishing House, 1948), p. 323; Gotthard V. Lechler, John Wycliffe and His English Precursors (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1878), pp. 162-164; Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1915), vol. 5, pt. 2, p. 317.
² For the original text of the papal bulls issued against Wycliffe with English translation see also J. Dahmus, The Prosecution of John Wyclyf (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952), pp. 35-49; also John Foxe, Acts and Monuments of the Church (London: Pratt Townsend, 1870), vol. 3, pp. 4-13.