On the Truth of Holy Scripture Summary

John Wyclif


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

On the Truth of Holy Scripture is one of twelve treatises contained in John Wyclif’s Summa theologiae (wr. 1375-1381; a summary of theology). Internal evidence suggests that the treatise was composed over the course of about one year, from the fall or winter of 1377 until late 1378. Its thirty-two chapters reflect not only the author’s mature thought on the nature and authority of Holy Scripture but also his growing estrangement from the Roman curia at the onset of the Great Western Schism (a split within the Catholic Church).

The first nine chapters of On the Truth of Holy Scripture deal with a variety of hermeneutical issues, ranging from discussion of the various levels of Holy Scripture to the concept of divine logic. According to Wyclif, the highest and most authoritative level of Holy Scripture is the “book of life,” or spiritual truth. The fifth and lowest level of Scripture is represented by individual manuscripts, the spoken word, or other physical reminders of God’s will and ordination; these, however, do not actually contain the truth in any ontological sense but can lead to it when properly interpreted.

Because God cannot lie or contradict himself—otherwise he would not be God—it follows that his word can contain neither deceit nor contradiction. Scripture, Wyclif insists, is never self-contradictory, but rather it is “equivocal” (aequivoca), meaning that it can signify different things on different levels at different times. When sophists armed with human logic assert that the Bible contains contradictory statements, they indulge in blasphemy. Blinded by sin, they cannot or will not learn the divine logic of Holy Scripture. They fail to distinguish between literal and figurative manners of speech, or they reason out of context without consideration for the whole.

Christians, Wyclif contends, should humbly submit to the eloquence of Scripture, because it is inherently superior to the grammar and logic of human reason. Faith and constant exposure to God’s word are required before one can ascend to the first level of Scripture and fully grasp God’s “intended meaning” (virtus...

(The entire section is 896 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Evans, G. R. John Wyclif: Myth and Reality. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2005. A biography portraying the Englishman not as a religious firebrand but as an “able academic” whose links to Lollardy and the Reformation have been overstated.

Ghosh, Kantik. Wycliffite Heresy: Authority and Interpretation of Texts. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. According to Ghosh, Wyclif’s “textual idealism” paradoxically ignores essential hermeneutical problems by relegating them to “the irrelevant category of scripture quinto modo.”

Levy, Ian Christopher. John Wyclif: Scriptural Logic, Real Presence, and the Parameters of Orthodoxy. Milwaukee, Wis.: Marquette University Press, 2003. Examines the fundamental concepts of authorship, intended meaning, and scriptural logic within the framework of Wyclif’s theological realism.

Tresko, Michael. “John Wyclif’s Metaphysics of Scriptural Integrity in the De veritate sacrae scripturae.” Dionysius 12 (1989): 153-196. Discusses Wyclif’s opposition to the threat of biblical literalism in fourteenth century nominalist thought; recommended reading.