John Wycliffe (c. 1320–1384) on the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin


I have placed John Wycliffe (c. 1320–1384) under the category of Medieval Theologians, despite him often being called “The Morning Star of the Reformation”, simply because Wycliffe both lived during the Middle Ages and his theology mostly still reflected the tenets of Medieval theology. He lived two centuries prior to the Reformation proper (of the 16th century). Below, he explains the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. I could have put in some effort to change the 14th century English to modern English, but thought it may be interesting for the readers to see for themselves how the English language has changed since then, and thus left it unaltered:

“The first parable stondith in a question of Crist [Christ]; he axith [asked] which man of hem [them] hadde an hundrid shepe to kepe, and he were nedid [needed] to save hem [them] ech on, and he hadde lost oon [one] of hem [them]; ne wolde he not leeve fourescore and nyntene in a sikir deserte and go and seke pis lost sheep til pat he fond it ; and when he haddefounden it, wolde leien it on his shuldris wip joie and whanne he comep hoom, he clepep [called] togidre his frendis and neigboris, and seith to hem, Be ye gladde and panke me, for Y [I] have founde my sheep that was perishid. Certis [Certain] Y [I] seie to you that there shal be joie in hevene upon oon [one] synful man pat doith penaunce, he tho more than upon foure score and nyntene rigt-wise that have no nede of penaunce. This man is Jesus Crist that was of the Jewis, and he was herty [hearty] and wyse and hadde in his kepynge the aungelis confirmed in hevene, and with hem [them] mankynde. Nynty and nyne bitokeneth thes aungelis, for thes nyne ordres that ben knytted in Crist; and this oo [one] sheep is mankynde, that acordith more to-gider than these nyne ordres of aungels. This oo [one] sheep that was lost perishide by synne of Adam, as the psalme seith. Hevene is clepid [called] disert by many enchesouns, for it is selde visited of men, that slowly comen thidir, and it is not tilid as is erthe here with us, and it is florishid with goostly trees that evermore ben grene, for grenesse in virtues may nevere faile in hevene. And this is a sykyr place; for fendis tempten men not there. Crist lefte this aungel kynde dwellyng in hevene; for Crist toke not angels kynde but toke here mannis kynde, and bi his greet virtue he suffride peyne as other men thre and thitty [thirty] yeer [year], and brougt mankynde to hevene, and bade the aungelis his frendis, and man next him in manhede, rejoyeshe hem [them] with him, for he hadde saved mankynde that was perishide. And bi this aungels in hevene, mankynde, and feendis, shulde be gladde bi resoun [reason]; for the more that ben dampned the more is fendis peyne, and thus is more joie in hevene of this oo [one] sheep, than of nyne ordris of aungels that neden noo penaunce, for the synneden nevere.

This o [one] sheep that is mankynde synede for the more parte, and was quykid [quickened] bi Crist, that was oon [one] with his bretheren; and he, algif he mygte not synnen, suffride peyne for his sheep. And more joie is in hevene of him and his membris than of nyne ordris of angelis, for thei ben beter and lyveden more medefully as trewe knygts of God.

The seconde parable of Crist stondith in this, that a wyse womman that hadde ten dragmes, if she hadde lost oon [one], she wolde Iigtne her lanterne, turne up hir house to seke this lost dragme, and whan she hadde founden it, she wolde make joie as it was seid bifore of him that lost th sheep.

This womman is Jesus Crist, wysdom of the fadir [Father]; these ten dragmes ben his resonable creaturis, for thei ben maid alle to ymage and licnesse of the Trinite. The tenthe dragme that was lost is mankynde, the lanterne that was ligtid [lit] is the manhede [manhood] of Crist, the turning up of this house is changinge of statis that ben maid in this world by manhede of Crist. For the angel wolde not suffren [suffer] Joon [John] to knele and worshipe him, for his lord was Joones [John’s] brothir, and the aungelis weren hise servauntis; and so many thingis of this world weren turnid [turned] up so down, sith evry parte of this worlde was beterid [bettered] bi Cristis [Christ’s] manhede.

We may touche in this gospel what spedith men and what thing lettith [prevents] men for to be saved, for men mote [must] nede do penaunce in berynge of this sheep, and have ligt of this lanterne for to fynde this lost dragme.”

– John Wycliffe (c. 1320–1384), Select English Works, 1:8-9