Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Wyclif’s purpose in writing On the Truth of Holy Scripture was primarily academic and faith-bound. He sought to preserve the authority and integrity of Holy Scripture against the perceived impiety of those who would quibble over the literal meaning of biblical passages in the late medieval lecture halls at Oxford University. In his view, theologians ought to accept the authority of Scripture through faith, rather than impose the standards of human logic on it for the vainglorious purpose of extracting contradictions, lies, or falsehoods from God’s written word.

By insisting that Holy Scripture resides not on parchment but rather in Christ, Wyclif deemphasized the sacred importance of the physical, scribal records of Christianity. Such records, he noted, could be miscopied, falsified, defiled, or even destroyed. Instead, he identified Holy Scripture in its most proper form as a transcendental “book of life”—an incorruptible and infallible archetype of truth present in God’s mind, embodied in Christ, and inscribed in the hearts of faithful Christians.

In Wyclif’s approach to hermeneutics, recourse to formal methods of interpretation became less important (but not irrelevant) for a proper understanding of biblical truths. Proper interpretation became more a matter of attitude and less one of method. In his view, those who understand Holy Scripture will live in accordance with Christ’s law and will already possess the “intended meaning” of the written word, no matter how paradoxical it might appear to human logic. Knowing in the heart what Christ means, means knowing what Christ meant.

It would be difficult not to notice the circularity of Wyclif’s hermeneutical approach. In all likelihood, its glaring “irrationality” must be seen as a deliberate and mature reflection of the Englishman’s humble submission to the logic of Holy Scripture.