The Roman empire held the known world in its thrall for centuries. Even after it finally crumbled in the fifth century, Rome was still the seat of power of Europe for almost a millennium. Large institutions fail slowly — and the Roman Catholic church tried to fill Rome's shoes.
Whatever your theological views, it's hard to defend some of the abuses of the theocracy in the middle ages. By some accounts, English taxpayers paid five times as much to the Church as they did to the king. The Pope held near-ultimate power, with the ability to make and replace rulers, apppoint supporters to prime positions, and threaten excommunication and damnation to his enemies. For example, in the early thirteetn century, King John of England had to pay a yearly tribute to the Pope to retain his position after losing a fight over the right to appoint the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Protestent Reformation would come a few centuries later, with famous names such as Calvin and Luther attracting followers and starting movements that persist to this day. However, the seeds of that revolution go further back to John Wycliffe.
In 1365, Pope Urban tried to reinstitute the idea of the king's tribute to Rome. The nation had chafed under the practice under King John and liked it even less under Edward. Wycliffe already had tremendous influence from his post at Oxford and helped to convince Parliament that the issue was the sovereignty of the king. Either Edward or Urban would rule England.
Perhaps even more importantly than nurturing a growing backlash against Continental theocracy, Wycliffe's later work made the world fertile for the printing press and widespread literacy.
Whether the practice came out of the desire to maintain control of the common man or whether it merely helped those aims, the Roman church forbid distribution of the Bible in the vernacular. Translating the Bible — or even practicing priestly duties — was the sole domain of the Rome and its agents and they...