1378 Wycliffe New Testament: First Printed Edition (1731)
‘I hail thee the first of Englishmen, who dares brave the rage of superstition, in the cause of intellectual freedom’
The new Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ translated out of the Latin Vulgat by John Wiclif, S.T.P. Prebendary of Aust in the Collegiate Church of Westbury, and Rector of Lutterworth, about 1378. To which is præfixt a History of the several translations of the H. Bible and N. Testament, &c. into English, both in MS and Print, and of the most remarkable Editions of them since the Invention of Printing. By John Lewis, A. M. Chaplain to the Right Honourable Thomas Lord Malton, and Minister of Mergate.
(General Title reads:) “THE NEW TESTAMENT OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST TRANSLATED OUT OF THE LATIN VULGAT BY JOHN WICLIF, S.T.P. PREBENDARY OF AUST. IN THE COLLEGIATE CHURCH OF WESTBURY, AND RECTOR OF LUTTERWORTH, ABOUT 1378. ….TO WHICH IS PRAEFIXT A HISTORY OF THE SEVERAL TRANSLATIONS OF THE H. BIBLE AND N. TESTAMENT, &c. INTO ENGLISH, BOTH IN MS AND PRINT, AND OF THE MOST REMARKABLE EDITIONS OF THEM SINCE THE INVENTION OF PRINTING”
(New Testament Title reads:) “THE NEW TESTAMENT WITH THE LESSONS TAKEN OUT OF THE OLD LAW, READ IN CHURCHES ACCORDING TO THE USE OF SARUM, TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH FROM THE VULGAR LATIN. BY JOHN WICLIF, D.D. RECTOR OF LUTTERWORTH, 1380”
London:By John Lewis, A.M., Sold by Thomas Page and William Mount Tower Hill; and William Parker at King’s Head in St. Paul’s Church Yard, M, DCC, XXXI. (1731). $55,000
iv, , 108, 156, viii p.,  leaves of plates : ill., port. ; 39 cm.
Folio, measuring 15″ x 10″. With its Original Full Calf Leather Binding, Title label on Original Spine with 6 raised bands and chipping to top half inch. Both General Title Page and New Testament Title Pages are present and Intact. Both Original Blank leaves front and rear are also present and intact with no marks or writing. With 3 Engraved Full Page Plates, the General frontispiece of Lewis, the New Testament Frontispiece of Wycliffe and a full-page plate with various scenes in the History of the English Translations section of the Bible. All Titles and Preliminaries present, Dedication, Advertisement, Errata leaf, etc. With 108 printed pages to the first part of the Folio (History of English Translations) and 156 printed pages to the New Testament itself. Plus, an 8-page Glossary in the rear. With no marginal tears to first fronts of Lewis otherwise tear free! All Pages are Clean, Crisp and Fresh with LARGE MARGINS!!!) With Woodcut Illustrated Initials (done in the manner of the Original Manuscripts) and Woodcut Headers and Tailpieces throughout. This is a very fine copy.
A bill in the House of Lords in 1390 to suppress Wycliffe’s version was defeated, in part because of the argument that if it were to be suppressed because it led to heresy, then the Latin Bible, source of the greatest percentage of heresies, should be treated equally. A convocation at Oxford in 1408 banned translation and publication of the Scriptures except under ecclesiastical approval, prohibiting public and private reading of any translation from Wycliffe onwards. This, the only authoritative prohibition of English scriptures, hung suspended, an instrument of official terror, over the heads of all who dared read the Word in their own tongue.
In 1415, Wycliffe was branded a heretic by the Council of Constance, which ordered his bones disinterred and thrown far from Holy Ground; this was done in 1428. After Wycliffe’s death, a revised version of his Bible began to circulate,
attributed to John Purvey, a staunch “Lollard” (as Wycliffe’s followers were known) who recanted in 1401. Purvey’s version deliberately omitted Wycliffe’s name – no need to remind anyone of the prohibitions!
JOHN OF WYCLIFFE, of noble birth, was born before 1324; even as a student at Oxford, in 1356, he “published” a tract, “The Last Age of the Church,” which looked at the sad state of Europe, morally and ecclesiastically, and found a counterpoint to its depravity in the love and intercession of the Redeemer. Wycliffe entered the priesthood; by 1360, at Oxford, he was outspokenly opposed to the Mendicant Friars, once itinerant clerics, but by then reveling in wealth and power as the direct agents of the Pope. Wycliffe, like Luther some time later, attacked corruptions with the Bible in hand, “feeling his way into the clearer light of truth.”
In 1366 Wycliffe, as Professor of Sacred Theology at Oxford, convinced himself that the sacred Word needed to be read and preached in a form people could understand. After being a Commissioner negotiating with papal emissaries at Bruges, observing first-hand the venality and corruption of the Roman courtiers (“Antichrist stood revealed before him”), he returned to England, where his open expression of his doctrines on reform landed him in hot water with the clerical
[DMH 1011 (“The earliest printed edition of Wycliffe’s version of the New Testament. . Only 160 copies of this book were issued”) Delaveau & Hillard 3947 (more manuscripts of this survive than any other medieval English text), despite being condemned by the Church for being heretical and officially
outlawed in England in 1409.
About 1376, Wycliffe undertook his great task of translating the Bible into English, from the Latin Vulgate version, knowing full well the Pope would prohibit its “publication” (which in those days before printing meant reading a manuscript aloud, or making it available for copying). The translation was completed about 1380, and “publication” commenced immediately – as did opposition to it. His chief opponent, Henry Knighton, canon of Leicester, said, “And so the gospel pearl is cast abroad, to be trodden underfoot of swine; and what was dear to clergy and laity is now rendered, as it were, the common jest of both; so that the gem of the Church becomes the derision of laymen, and that is now theirs forever…”
Wycliffe was the right man at the right time, for the English language was no longer exclusively for use by peasants, but was spoken at court as well. The easing of feudalism, the rise of commerce, and the general disgust with the corruption and vices of the clergy made Wycliffe’s plan of widespread publication both popular and timely. Wycliffe died in December 1385; Knighton commented that Wycliffe’s followers, preachers of the Gospel in the people’s language, were so numerous that if two people met on a road, one was bound to be a “Wycliffite.”
In 1415, Wycliffe was branded a heretic by the Council of Constance, which ordered his bones disinterred and thrown far from Holy Ground; this was done in 1428. After Wycliffe’s death, a revised version of his Bible began to circulate, attributed to John Purvey, a staunch “Lollard” (as Wycliffe’s followers were known) who recanted in 1401. Purvey’s version deliberately omitted Wycliffe’s name – no need to remind anyone of the prohibitions!
What Wycliffe undertook, and other carried on, became the predominant English version throughout the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th, until the time of Tyndale, when newly discovered manuscripts in Greek and Hebrew rendered any translation solely out of the Vulgate obsolete. In fact, none of Wycliffe’s version was printed until 1731 (This New Testament being sold) and only 160 of them were printed. There was a second edition of 1810 and a third printed in 1848. The complete Wycliffe Bible (both Old & New Testaments) had to wait until 1850 to be printed for the first time!