The term Lollard is a pejorative from the Middle Dutch lollaert, which meant “mumbler.” The term was used to refer to someone who had pious but heretical beliefs. It came to be applied to the followers of John Wycliffe (1330–1384). Wycliffe was an Oxford theologian who questioned the authority of the Pope and emphasized the authority of Scripture. He is known as the Morningstar of the Reformation.
After Wycliffe’s death, his followers continued to spread his teachings and eventually acquired the derogatory name of Lollards. At first, the Lollards were limited to like-minded people at Oxford, but eventually their sentiments began to spread among people of all social classes.
The Lollard doctrine, or Lollardism, is most clearly spelled out in a 1395 document called Twelve Conclusions, which was presented to Parliament and is summarized below:
1. The Church of England has become subservient to the Church at Rome.
2. The ordination ceremonies for bishops and priests have no biblical support.
3. Celibacy of the clergy has encouraged sodomy among the clergy.
4. The doctrine of transubstantiation leads to the idolatrous worship of the wafer.
5. Exorcisms and consecrations practiced by the priests are more in line with witchcraft than Christianity.
6. Men who hold powerful church offices should not simultaneously hold powerful secular offices.
7. The practice of praying for the dead should be rejected, and accepting money to say prayers for the dead corrupts the church.
8. Making pilgrimages and venerating relics are ineffective for spiritual growth and can lead to idolatry.
9. Confession of sin to a priest should be stopped because only God can forgive sins, and, if priests had the power to do it, they should forgive everyone regardless of whether or not they had confessed.
10. Christians should not participate in warfare, especially warfare that purports to have a spiritual basis (such as the Crusades).
11. Vows of celibacy among women have led to all kinds of sexual sin among those women.
12. Christians are spending too much time producing things, not being content with what they have.
In addition to the Twelve Conclusions, the Lollards also believed that the primary duty of the priests should be to preach and that every person should have access to the Bible in his own language. Wycliffe and the Lollards were responsible for an English translation of the Bible.
When Henry IV came to the throne of England in 1399, he made fighting “heresy” a top priority, and the Lollards were in his crosshairs. In 1401 the Lollard Henry Sawtrey was burned for his faith. In 1414 the Lollards were involved in a military revolt led by Sir John Oldcastle and defeated by Henry V. Fearing reprisals, the remaining Lollards were driven into hiding. This actually facilitated the spread of their teaching and influence. Their influence spread as far as Czechoslovakia and Jan Hus who in turn influenced Martin Luther.
At the time of the Reformation, the Lollards joined forces with other Protestant groups.