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The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

Dissidence and Lay Bible Study

The capacity of heretics to use the Bible for their own ends, notable from the twelfth century, was linked to dissident moves to have scripture in the vernacular. This was a reflection in part of the rise of an urban middle class in the twelfth-century towns, who were articulate and entrepreneurial and did not take kindly to the notion that they must depend upon a priesthood they could see to be poorly educated for their salvation and for the instruction of their souls.

The Waldensians of the twelfth century became the Lollards of the fourteenth and fifteenth, not necessarily by direct inheritance, but certainly in the close similarity of many of their preoccupations. There is evidence that the Lollards formed Bible study-groups in private houses, and that on occasion they reached a remarkably high standard of criticism. They were looking to be pilots of their own souls, and to minister to themselves in matters of the Word.

There is an irony in this, in that one of the main objects of the hatred of Wyclif himself was the Friars, whom he described, with members of other religious orders, as sectae. Much of his ill will was generated by internal warfare in the University of Oxford, where there were academic parties representing the various orders. But in fact it was the friars perhaps above all who were actively providing a ministry of the Word in a period when that had become partly separated from the ministry of the Sacraments. The focus of the eucharist was the act of consecration, and Masses were commonly said without the inclusion of sermons.

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