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Useful Foils: Lessons Learned From Jews in John Wyclif's Call for Church Reform

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As an ardent advocate for Church reform in the late fourteenth century, John Wyclif found in Jewish history and practices a wealth of material upon which to draw when chastising the present Christian clerical class. Wyclif likens modern friars and prelates to the Jews of the Bible, and concludes that in their avarice and zeal for unscriptural human traditions they have in fact have proven themselves even greater enemies of Christ than the Jews themselves. Though Jews are consistently used as foils, they are not the recipients of gratuitous epithets. Noteworthy is the fact that Wyclif most often employs the term perfidia when speaking of Christian clerics rather than Jews. When he does speak of avarice, treachery, and murder on the part of the Jews those occasions are largely limited to the clerical class, and then in an effort to admonish the Christian clergy of his own day. As Wyclif read the New Testament accounts of Christ and the apostles, thereby forming his vision of an ideal Church, so he read of their adversaries and accepts them as the model for all who oppose his idealized Church.

Affiliations: 1: Marquette University


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