Through a lens of likeness: Reading "English Wycliffite Sermons" in light of contemporary sermon texts

Jennifer Illig, Fordham University


This dissertation focuses on the English Wycliffite Sermons (EWS), a collection of 294 sermons produced by the followers of the John Wyclif, who was condemned as a heretic after his death. This sermon cycle is the largest and only surviving Middle English sermon cycle that provides sermons for the entire liturgical year. Over the years, scholars have tended to use it as a source for the "heretical" beliefs of the Wycliffites. This dissertation argues that the best way to understand the sermons is by reading them not only within their Wycliffite context but within a broader Christian one as well. When this is done, it is easy to recognize that the sermons of EWS are not unlike other late medieval sermons in their concern for providing Christian formation and teaching about the tenets of the faith. To study the sermons, I developed a liturgical calendar for the year 1404/05 and read the sermons in their liturgical order. In this dissertation, I have examined the way that the writers teach through the translation of scripture. I have looked at the way that they offer instruction in Christian life by teaching about virtue and sin and the practices of prayer and almsgiving. Finally, I have looked at the way that the sermon writers discuss specific theological topics: Christ, Mary, and the eucharist. Although their teachings on these various topics are sometimes different—in large and small ways—from that of the mainstream church, the writers of the sermons almost never say that these doctrines or practices ought to be dismissed. Rather, they offer alternate ways of thinking about them within what they would consider the boundaries of orthodoxy.

Subject Area

Medieval literature|Theology|Medieval history

Recommended Citation

Illig, Jennifer, "Through a lens of likeness: Reading "English Wycliffite Sermons" in light of contemporary sermon texts" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3643072.