John Wycliffe vs. Moses the Black

Did you miss us? Well, we're back for the first full week of Lent Madness action! Hopefully you survived the past 24 hours with no voting -- we know it can be tough on the Lenten psyche.

One thing you may not know is that our Bracket Czar, Adam Thomas, wakes up early every morning to updated the online bracket. This is a great service to you, faithful voters, because he also posts links to all the previous battles. This will come in especially handy in subsequent rounds when you want to revisit those early rounds as you make an educated choice based on the all saintly write-ups.

In case you missed the news on Facebook or Twitter, Mechtild of Magdeburg easily swept past Isaac the Syrian on Saturday 77% to 23% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen. A few folks have lamented about the lack of close contests in the first round. This happens sometimes but...just wait.

John Wycliffe

“The morning star of the English Reformation,” John Wycliffe is best known for his translations of the Vulgate into Middle English and his attempts to reform church structures in England. A philosopher, theologian, professor, and translator, Wycliffe was condemned by the Council of Constance after his death—his bones were dug up and burned.

Born in England in the mid-1320s, Wycliffe centered his life and work at Oxford University—his intellectual home and frequently his physical address. He came of age during the Black Death, living through the upheaval caused by the plague. The dramatic changes caused by the Black Death prompted many cultural questions, and Wycliffe extended his questioning into theology and church organization. Wycliffe was drawn to the Platonist spirit of Augustine of Hippo—students frequently referred to him as “John of Augustine.” Under the influence of both Plato and Augustine, Wycliffe added his voice to a growing undercurrent in medieval theology that questioned the political power, the wealth, and control of the clergy embodied in the hierarchy based in Rome.

Contrary to popular belief, there was no official blanket ban on translating the scriptures into the languages of the common people. However, most of these texts either contained commentary clarifying Church teaching or were paraphrases written from the perspective of Church teaching. Wycliffe rejected any kind of clerical control and issued his new literal translation in order to separate the word of scripture from the Church’s interpretation of it. This position drew the wrath of church authorities and a condemnation by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel.

Wycliffe protested the wealth and political power of the Church and advocated for a religious institution stripped of its wealth, lands, and titles that would be under the authority of the king and the nobles. Not surprisingly, theologically sympathetic, powerful nobles protected him from enemy clerics. Toward the end of his life, Wycliffe’s teachings against the conventional understanding of the sacraments, including the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the necessity of confession, turned many of his former political allies against him.

Collect for John Wycliffe
Stir up in us, O God, the zeal for your Word that inspired your servant John Wycliffe that we, like him, may boldly challenge stifling systems and cling to the promises of your power and presence; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

- Derek Olsen

Moses the Black

Moses the Black was born in Ethiopia around 330. As a young man he left Ethiopia for adventures in Egypt. A servant to a wealthy Egyptian landowner, Moses surreptitiously stole from his boss, lining his pockets with the profits. When the man discovered Moses’ perfidy, he expelled Moses from his house.

Moses, a large and formidable man, gathered around him other bandits. Together they robbed and harassed people living in the Egyptian countryside. As he was fleeing the authorities, he took refuge among monks in Sketes, a desert community outside of Alexandria. Inspired by their contented piety, Moses converted to Christianity and renounced violence and carousing.

Sometime later, when four robbers assaulted the monastery, Moses stood his ground and tied up the would-be thieves, bringing them to the brothers to ask advice about the robbers’ punishment. He suggested that it would not be very Christian to repay violence with violence. The robbers were so moved by the compassion of the monks that they joined the monastery. On another occasion, Moses was summoned to a council to pass judgment on a brother. Going to council reluctantly, Moses carried a leaking jug of water into the meeting. His brothers were perplexed; Moses replied that his sins follow behind him but he did not see them and yet he was coming to judge another. The brothers were moved by this gesture and forgave the offending monk.

Moses ultimately became abbot of a community in the desert, and despite enduring racist stereotyping, he was later ordained a priest. In 405 he was warned of marauding Berbers plotting to attack his monastery. Moses sent all but a few of the monks from the monastery, insisting that the building and the brothers would not respond to any attacks with violence. “Those that live by the sword die by the sword,” he reminded his brothers. He and the remaining cohort of monks welcomed the bandits with open arms and were killed.

In his recounting of the ancient church, historian Salminius Sozomen remarked of Moses, “No one else ever made such a change from evil to excellence.” Moses is a shining example of the transformative power of the gospel and is the patron saint of nonviolence.

Collect for Moses the Black
Almighty God, whose blessed Son guides our footsteps in the way of peace: Deliver us from paths of hatred and violence, that we, following the example of your servant Moses, may serve you with singleness of heart and attain to the tranquility of the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

-David Creech

John Wycliffe vs. Moses the Black

  • Moses the Black (65%, 5,760 Votes)
  • John Wycliffe (35%, 3,136 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,896

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John Wycliffe: Unknown Artist, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Moses the Black: Unknown Artist, modified by User:ZX95 [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons


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285 comments on “John Wycliffe vs. Moses the Black”

    1. I voted for Moses the Black because he reminded me of the bishop in Les Miserables

      1. I just HAD to vote for Moses; one reason because, like many others here, he reminded me of Jean ValJean in Les Miserables. He truly had walked in the shoes of those robbers...I like, too, that he reformed his life so completely; almost a resurrection, of sorts, from the darkness of evildoing to the light of new life. One thing, too, I didn't care for about Wycliffe, (while I did admire him doing his own thing and sanding up to the church authorities) was that he didn't believe in the true presence in Holy Communion, and I do, very much so. Yay! Moses won!!!

  1. I vote for Moses the black because he was a thief and became good and that is cool

    1. Happy every day Oliver. You have a LOT of friends out here in Lent Madness land who look forward to your wisdom every year. Hope you're enjoying school too. What grade?

    2. Perfect answer, Oliver. I'm leaning in the very same direction. And I do love that Moses is the patron saint of non-violence.

    3. Am getting to this late (very) today - was worried not to find you at the top of the comments, Oliver. Glad that you are with us this year as I've enjoyed your wisdom. I have often shared your opinions and now, it seems, I share your birthday! May you have a fantabulous day and many more.

    4. Happy birthday, Oliver! I look forward to your wisdom every day. You have an old soul, like my daughter, and are wise beyond your years. Have an awesome day!

    5. Happy birthday, Oliver! I look forward to your wisdom every day. You have an old soul, like my daughter, and are wise beyond your years. Have an awesome day!
      I had a very tough time deciding who to vote for today. Moses the Black was a great man and much to be honored, but our faith would not be where it is today without Wycliffe's translation of the Vulgate. So I had to give him my vote.

    6. Hi Oliver!
      So glad that you are participating this year! I am so glad to be able to read your comments this Lent! Happy Lent!

  2. Torn between Wcyliffe whose zeal and scholarship gave so much to modern Christianity and Moses whose leaking jug of water was a symbol of his sins that followed behind him which he did not see. A very interesting way to invoke Jesus' saying "let him who is without sin cast the first stone"

    1. First time posting here...I totally agree with you Cheri. Although Wycliffe was doing/did good work "telling the Church the truth", I felt the reincarnation of Moses to a non-violent person is what Lent is truly about!
      Fran N

      1. I also agonized between the two, but finally the appeal of Moses' redemption and conversion to non-violence and forgiveness won out. Well done, Wycliffe!! But I voted for Moses. (The choices are always tough! Oy.)

  3. I voted for Moses the Black because of his example of non-violence, and his amazing journey from change "from evil to excellence". Also his conversion while sheltering with the monks in Skete reminded me a little of the plot of the movie _Witness_.

  4. For maintaining belief in the Real Presence and translating the Bible outside of the church's influence. For "may boldly challenge stifling systems" in the collect. I vote for Wycliffe.

  5. John Wycliffe is a great hero, but our times ache now for Moses the Black. I'm so grateful for this reminder that the only response to evil that changes hearts is that of non-violence. I rooted for him last time he was part of Lent Madness. This year: Moses for the win!

    1. Totally agree. I thought Wycliffe would be a slam-dunk, but when I read Moses's story I thought: we need people to know about him and his example. For personal transformation, Moses wins the day. I voted for Moses.

      1. Exactly my thought. I voted for John Wycliffe, because without him we might still struggle under the yoke of a corrupt system BUT...

        My heart ached as soon as I tapped that dot for the redemption and reconciliation God offers us all as shown in Moses the Black.

        Today was a real tough one on a personal level.

  6. I voted for Moses the Black because of his example of non-violence, and his amazing journey "from evil to excellence". Also his conversion while sheltering with the monks in Skete reminded me a little of the plot of the movie _Witness_.

    1. Sorry for the double post. The website timed out the first time, and I thought it hadn't gone through. I do hope my vote was only counted once. SEC, please investigate and correct as necessary!

  7. Tough round! I finally gave Wycliffe my vote because his translations may have added Tex more people than Moses's brave compassion. x

    1. Very good point, Wycliffe reached so many people with his translation into the common tongue.

  8. Wow - Wycliffe is a heavyweight, but reading Moses the Black's bio, I realize he knows how to fight. I'm going to go with Moses, because Wycliffe takes the first swing, which sure looks like a knockout, but Moses deftly avoids the punch, ties him up, and takes him to the monks for a heavy dose of gospel forgiveness. That always wins.

  9. Wycliffe was a translator, and I am as well. That's the main factor that prompted my vote.
    I don't share any admiration of Augustine of Hippo, but Wycliffe's antipathy toward the organization dynamics of "The Church" are understandable, particularly in eras where those dynamics moved away from the core teachings, balanced things out for me. .

      1. Sorry that me too was to someone else but also me too to you about the Augustine of Hippo comment..... really not a fan. 🙂

        1. So not thrilled with the Hippo man, I am but love the guy who went up against the established authorities. Bet he would have worn a safety pin.

    1. Translating the Bible into the vernacular what a great gift. However, Wycliffe lost me at "Wycliffe’s teachings against the conventional understanding of the sacraments, including the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the necessity of confession". I'd need to know more about those teachings in order to support him.

      1. That immediately turned me against him, Chris. I disagree with that completely -- and I am not a fan of A of Hippo, either. Moses the Black, patron saint of nonviolence!

    2. We get to vote for the two Augustines later in the first round.
      One I give a black miter to; the other gets white!

      I voted for Wycliffe. Reading in the vernacular, without someone else's thoughts, is a blessing. Can you tell I like to do Lectio?

      Moses the Black also gets a white hat. One thing we all need at this point in the evolution of spirituality is COURAGE. And Moses exhibited that.

      Tough first rounds. -- Despite the lopsided outcomes!

  10. I chose Wycliffe, even though I love how the story of Moses the Black, but I have to go with Wycliffe, because he translated the Bible outside of the church, and he was a very brilliant man.

    1. I agree, Sarah Rose! I discovered John Wycliffe when I was about your age, and I read Anya Seton's "Katherine"--all about 14th century England. Anyone who "came of age" during the time of the Black Death, translated the Bible into English, AND stood up to the very, very powerful Roman Catholic Church of that day is a worthy saint indeed!

    2. Glad you're participating and commenting here, Sarah Rose! You make a great point about Wycliffe, but I am impressed by the personal courage Moses must have had.

  11. I agree with Glenn Horton-Smith. And the leaking jug of water compared to our past sins..

  12. I voted for Wycliffe since his efforts were for the church universal. He was a little before his time probably. Also, they dug him up and burned him at the stake so to speak after death. So you know he had to be impacting someone's bottom line!

  13. I chose Wycliffe, even though I love how the story of Moses the Black, but I have to go with Wycliffe, because he translated the Bible, and he was a very brilliant man.

  14. Wycliffe has real history behind him, while Moses feels like legend. Besides, I am a bit of a Lollard at heart.

    1. Me too, Carolyn. A Lollard, I mean. And yes, Moses does feel more like a legend, whereas Wycliffe isn't at all! He is ultimately responsible for the Protestant revolution in England.

  15. Moses - in honor of the Christians in North Africa about whom we don't often hear much but who are being persecuted.

  16. This one was hard, but the devotion to non-violence of Moses the Black and the fact that two of my sons are from Ethiopia gave my vote to Moses!

    1. For Wycliffe who made the Bible more accessible by translating into everyday English. Moses was tempting, but who knows how accurate his history is? Lots of it could be folk lore with hype!

      1. Various commentators in this contest seem to think that the story of Moses is suspect simply because it's older than Wycliffe's story. But no one questions Julius Caesar, and he's even more ancient than Moses.

  17. The Ethiopian Xian church is sui generis; it has evolved separately from the rest of Xendom. For that reason alone an adherent would be worthy of consideration. However, Moses seems actually to be part of the Egyptian tradition. Plus I always find myself balking at these violent men (I'm looking at you, Columba) who repent and become saints. While inspiring in schematic terms, I'm never quite convinced of the historical accuracy. Which leaves me turning to the more modern figure, who did genuinely challenge the norms and status quo of his time. Wycliffe is an essential figure in English Reformation history. Translating the Bible into vernacular English was a revolutionary act. (Luther translated the Bible into vernacular German.) Derek Olsen's collect speaks of "zeal" and "boldly challenging stifling systems," qualities and actions we are sorely in need of now. My diocese posted a "statement of resolve" after the 2016 presidential election, and it solemnly reminded us of those overriding Xian values. I herewith commend it to you: I have cast my vote for John Wycliffe.

    1. Brilliant, as always! I also voted for Wycliffe for the same reasons you so eloquently expressed.

    2. Well said. Had I read this before voting for Moses, John Wycliffe would have had my vote.

    3. Celia, you expressed doubts about the repentance of Columba and Moses. Why is it easier to believe that these men remained violent than to believe that they were touched by the Holy Spirit and repented? That's what the Gospel is all about.
      As for "stifling systems", Wycliffe wanted to put the Church under the authority of the king and nobles, a form of church government which has no warrant in scripture. Interference by the king is no better than interference by the pope.

      1. A good point. Yes - the overlordship of a king is no better than the overlordship of a pope. I, too, love the examples that Moses the Black gave. However, for his great importance to the history of Christianity, I had to go with John Wycliff.

      2. Harlie, you ask a very important question and one that, I think, gets at the heart of our faith. I saw your question earlier and gave myself several hours to ponder it. As a Christian I believe that people can change, and I am aware that the “fortunate fall” is at the core of our tradition. It’s not just Moses and Columba, but it’s Augustine and Paul. And indeed, it’s Adam and Eve. People fall into error, even commit great crimes, and repent. That potential should be honored. Here we are in Lent, trying to amend and purify our own lives. So I take that theme seriously. Perhaps I could be more “forgiving” of some of these stories of conversion; some I find “typed,” hard to connect with. I have before me the moment Augustine broke with his longstanding mistress: “The woman with whom I had been living was torn from my side as an obstacle to my marriage and this was a blow which crushed my heart to bleeding, because I loved her dearly.” I don’t know the original Latin, so I don’t know if he wrote this in the passive voice. But I see in this “confession” a refusal to take responsibility, so I distrust Augustine a bit, even if he is touched by deep emotion. I tend to read Wycliffe backwards through a Lutheran lens, as fighting for the freedom of the individual Xian rather than giving power to the king, per se. But truly I don’t know Wycliffe’s motivations. Short answer: Yes, response to the holy spirit is always key. For me, sifting through these stories often involves finding some poetry in the experience that takes it deeper. That is subjective. I like to think of each of these little “contests” as opportunities for me to feel my own tiny conversion experience; that is, in what way can I “turn” in response to something in these individuals’ experiences (some of these “people” being in the end possibly apocryphal)? I try to expand my sense of saintliness and perhaps find a model I hadn’t thought of that I can possibly taste in the coming church seasons until next Lent. I hope that gives you a thoughtful answer.

  18. Modes the Black. I voted for him last time he was in Lent Madness, and I will happily vote for him again. His transformation and witness, even unto death, are hallmarks of saainth [d.

  19. From evil to excellence! What hope that description of Moses the Black gives me for my son, Adam, as he makes his first steps away from the criminal mindset toward embracing the mind of Christ.

  20. A tough call, as usual. I was leaning toward Wycliffe, but I couldn't get around his idea of stripping the Church of its autonomy and putting it under the control of the king and nobles. In the end I voted for Moses the Black.k

  21. Hallmarks of sainthood. (Couldn't see the last words since the form covered them over.) Weird voting on my phone

  22. I found Wycliffe a prig in Sunday school sixty years ago. He has not grown on me in the interim. So I voted against him.