Although Wycliffe had many good and faithful friends who cherished his memory, his death could not satisfy the hatred and contempt that the Catholic Church still had for him.In 1408, twenty-four years after Wycliffe’s death, Arundel, the archbishop of Canterbury, summoned a group of clergy and decreed that no further translations of the Bible could be issued by way of book or tract and that no man was allowed to read such a translation, in private or public, as “composed in the time of the said John Wycliffe under penalty of the greater excommunication.” If a person was caught with one of Wycliffe’s translations, he would lose his land and all his personal property to the Church. Twenty-nine years after Wycliffe’s death, a papal decree in 1413 ordered his books to be burned.
Roberts Liardon tells us that in 1415, thirty-one years after his death, the general council of the Western church met in Constance and condemned Wycliffe’s teachings on three hundred accounts. They condemned his memory as “one who died an obstinate heretic” and ordered his bones to be exhumed from their resting place and “cast at a distance from the sepulchre of the church.”
By then, a bishop by the name of Philip Repton was the head of the Lutterworth diocese. To his credit, Repton left Wycliffe’s grave untouched.
It wasn’t until 1428, some forty-four years after Wycliffe’s death, that the pope commanded that Wycliffe’s bones be exhumed and burned; the new bishop of Lutterworth, Richard Fleming, carried out the task. After Wycliffe’s bones were exhumed and burned, the ashes were cast into the Swift River in an attempt to be free of any trace of him. But there was no chance of that. His memory was etched in the foundations of Christian liberty.
Roberts Liardon tells us that Thomas Fuller, describing the events, engraved his words forever in history. He so beautifully wrote, “They burnt his bones to ashes and cast them into Swift, a neighboring brook running [nearby]. Thus this brook hath conveyed his ashes into the Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the narrow seas, they into the main ocean. And thus the ashes of Wicliffe are the emblem of his doctrine, which now is dispersed the world over.”