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Jan Hus

Jan Hus

[huhs; Czech hoos]

Jan Hus (alternative spellings John Hus, Jan Huss, John Huss) (c. 1372 Husinec, BohemiaJuly 6, 1415 Konstanz, HRE) was a Czech religious thinker, philosopher, reformer, and master at Charles University in Prague. He was greatly influenced by the teachings of John Wycliffe. After the King of England, Richard II, married Anne of Bohemia, they traveled back to Bohemia where they carried Wycliffe's ideas with them. Once Hus adopted Wycliffe's ideas, he proposed to reform the church in Bohemia just as Wycliffe had. While some of his followers became known as Hussites, his more radical followers were called Taborites. The Taborites rejected any ideas the Roman church had that were not Biblically founded. Later, in about 1450, some of the Taborites founded a group known as the Bohemian Brethren. The Moravian church further developed this group in Germany. The Moravians (so-called because they fled from Moravia in Czechoslovakia) were one of the first Protestant charismatic communities, who sent more missionaries per head than any other Prostestant denomination in history, and were responsible later for the conversion of John Wesley. The Roman Catholic Church considered the teachings of John Hus heretical; consequently Hus was excommunicated in 1411, condemned by the Council of Constance, and burned at the stake in 1415.

Hus was a key contributor to the Protestant movement whose teachings had a strong influence on the states of Europe and on Martin Luther himself. The Hussite Wars resulted in the Basel Compacts which allowed for a reformed church in the Kingdom of Bohemia - almost a century before such developments would take place in the Lutheran Reformation. Hus' extensive writings earn him a prominent place in Czech literary history. He is also responsible for introducing the use of diacritics (especially the háček) into Czech spelling in order to represent each sound by a single symbol. Today, the Jan Hus Memorial can be seen at the Prague Old Town Square (Czech Staroměstské náměstí).

Jan Hus Day (Den upálení mistra Jana Husa) on July 6, the anniversary of the execution of Jan Hus, is one of the public holidays in the Czech Republic. He is also commemorated as martyr in the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on that day. Today most Czechs describe themselves as non-religious, and among Christians more are Roman Catholics than Hussites , nonetheless Jan Hus is a national hero.

Early years

Jan Hus was born in Husinec in southern Bohemia. His date of birth has been thought to be between 1369 to 1373. Working backward from the year of his ordination, the best estimate is the year 1372. Very little is known of his parents and family.

Papal schism

The University of Prague around 1408 was being torn apart by the ongoing papal schism, in which Pope Gregory XII and Avignon Pope Benedict XIII both laid claim to the papacy.

King Wenceslaus felt Pope Gregory XII might interfere with his plans to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor; thus, he renounced Gregory and ordered his prelates to observe a strict neutrality toward both popes, and said he expected the same of the university. Archbishop Zbyněk Zajíc remained faithful to Gregory. At the university, only the "Bohemian nation" (one of four voting blocs), with Hus as its leader and spokesman, avowed neutrality.

Kutná Hora

At the instigation of Hus and other Bohemian leaders, Wenceslaus issued a decree (while in the city of Kutná Hora) that the Bohemian nation should now have three votes (instead of one) in all affairs of the university, while the foreign nations (Bavarian, Saxon, and Polish) should have only one vote. As a consequence somewhere between five thousand and twenty thousand foreign doctors, masters, and students left the university in 1409. This exodus resulted in the founding of the University of Leipzig, among others. Thus, Prague university lost its international importance and became a Czech school. The emigrants also spread news of the Bohemian "heresies" throughout the rest of Europe.

The Archbishop Zbyněk Zajíc became isolated and Hus was at the height of his fame. He became a rector of the Czech university, and enjoyed the favor of the court. At around this time the doctrinal views of the English theologian John Wycliffe, (1320s-1384), were becoming widely influential.

Alexander V becomes Pope

In 1409, in an attempt to end the papal schism, the Council of Pisa met to elect a new pope. This did not succeed, and the pope they elected, Alexander V, did not end loyalty to the other two popes. The Roman Catholic Church now considers Alexander V an antipope. Hus, his followers, and Wenceslaus transferred their allegiance to Alexander V. Under pressure from Wenceslaus, Archbishop Zbyněk Zajíc eventually did the same. Zajíc then brought his complaints before Alexander V's Papal See, accusing the Wycliffites of ecclesiastical disturbances.

Excommunication of Hus

Alexander V issued his papal bull of December 20, 1409, which empowered the Archbishop to proceed against Wycliffism. All books of Wycliffe were to be given up, his doctrines revoked, and free preaching discontinued. After the publication of the bull in 1410, Hus appealed before Alexander V, but in vain. All books and valuable manuscripts of Wycliffe were burned, and Alexander V excommunicated Hus and his adherents. Riots ensued in parts of Bohemia.

The government took the side of Hus, and the power of his adherents increased from day to day. He continued to preach in the Bethlehem Chapel (a church building in Prague), and became bolder and bolder in his accusations against the Church. The churches of the city were put under the ban, and the interdict was pronounced against Prague, but without result.

Indulgences

Archbishop Zbyněk Zajíc died in 1411, and with his death the religious movement in Bohemia entered a new phase, where the disputes concerning indulgences assumed great importance.

Crusade against Naples

Antipope John XXIII succeeded Pope Alexander V after his death in 1410. In 1411, John issued a crusade against King Ladislaus of Naples, the protector of Gregory XII. This crusade was preached in Prague as well, and preachers of indulgences urged people to crowd the churches and give their offerings. This developed a traffic in indulgences that to some were a sign of the corruption of the church.

Condemnation of indulgences and Crusade

Hus spoke out against indulgences, but he could not carry with him the men of the university. In 1412 a dispute took place, on which occasion Hus delivered his address Quaestio magistri Johannis Hus de indulgentiis. It was taken literally from the last chapter of Wycliffe's book, De ecclesia, and his treatise, De absolutione a pena et culpa. The pamphlet stated that no pope or bishop had the right to take up the sword in the name of the Church; he should pray for his enemies and bless those that curse him; man obtains forgiveness of sins by real repentance, not through money.

The doctors of the theological faculty replied, but without success. A few days afterward some of Hus's followers, led by Vok Voksa z Valdštejna, burnt the Papal bulls. Hus, they said, should be obeyed rather than the Church, which they considered a fraudulent mob of adulterers and Simonists.

Response

In response, three men from the lower classes who openly called the indulgences a fraud were beheaded. They were later considered the first martyrs of the Hussite Church.

In the meantime, the faculty had condemned the forty-five articles anew and added several other "heretical" theses which had originated with Hus. The king forbade the teaching of these articles, but neither Hus nor the university complied with the ruling, requesting that the articles should be first proven to be un-scriptural.

Further dissensions

The tumults at Prague had stirred up a sensation, unpleasant for the Roman party; papal legates and Archbishop Albik tried to persuade Hus to give up his opposition to the papal bulls, and the king made an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile the two parties.

Call for arrest of Hus

In the meantime the clergy of Prague, through Michael de Causis, had brought their complaints before the Pope, and he ordered the Cardinal of St. Angelo to proceed against Hus without mercy. The cardinal put Hus under the great church ban. He was to be seized and delivered to the archbishop, and his chapel was to be destroyed. This was followed by stricter measures against Hus and his adherents, and in turn counter-measures of the Hussites, including an appeal by Hus that Jesus Christ, and not the Pope, was the supreme judge. This intensified the excitement among the people, and Wenceslaus forced Hus to leave Prague, but his departure did little to quell the ongoing excitement.

Attempted reconciliation

The king made great efforts to harmonize the opposing parties. In 1412 he convoked the heads of his kingdom for a consultation, and at their suggestion ordered a synod to be held at Český Brod on February 2, 1412. It did not take place there, but in the palace of the archbishops at Prague, in order to exclude Hus from participation.

Propositions were made to restore peace in the Church, with Hus requiring that Bohemia should have the same freedom in regard to ecclesiastical affairs as other countries and that approbation and condemnation should therefore be announced only with the permission of the state power. This is wholly the doctrine of Wycliffe (Sermones, iii. 519, etc.). There followed treatises from both parties, but no harmony was obtained. "Even if I should stand before the stake which has been prepared for me," Hus wrote at the time, "I would never accept the recommendation of the theological faculty." The synod did not produce any results, but the King ordered a commission to continue the work of reconciliation.

The doctors of the university required from Hus and his adherents an approval of their conception of the Church, according to which the Pope is the head, the Cardinals are the body of the Church, and all regulations of the Church must be obeyed.

Hus protested vigorously against this conception since it made the Pope and cardinals solely the Church. Nevertheless the Hussite party seems to have made a great effort toward reconciliation. To the article that the Roman Church must be obeyed, they added only "so far as every pious Christian is bound." Stanislav ze Znojma and Štěpán Páleč protested against this addition and left the convention. The king exiled them, along with two other spokesmen.

Writings of Hus and Wycliffe

Of the writings occasioned by these controversies, those of Hus on the Church, entitled De Ecclesia, were written in 1413 and have been most frequently quoted and admired or criticized, and yet their first ten chapters are but an epitome of Wycliffe's work of the same title, and the following chapters are but an abstract of another of Wycliffe's works (De potentate papae) on the power of the pope. Wycliffe had written his book to oppose the common view that the Church consisted only of the clergy, and Hus now found himself making the same point. He wrote his work at the castle of one of his protectors in Kozí Hrádek, and sent it to Prague, where it was publicly read in the Bethlehem chapel. It was answered by Stanislav ze Znojma and Páleč with treatises of the same title.

After the most vehement opponents of Hus had left Prague, his adherents occupied the whole ground. Hus wrote his treatises and preached in the neighborhood of Kozí Hrádek. Bohemian Wyclifism was carried into Poland, Hungary, Croatia, and Austria; but at the same time the papal court was not inactive. In January of 1413, a general council assembled in Rome which condemned the writings of Wycliffe and ordered them to be burned.

Council of Constance

To put an end to the papal schism and to take up the long desired reform of the Church, a general council was convened for November 1, 1414, at Constance. The Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg, brother of Wenceslaus, and heir to the Bohemian crown, was anxious to put an end to religious dissension within the church; Hus likewise was willing to make an end of all dissensions, and followed the request of Sigismund to go to Constance.

From the sermons which he took along, it is evident that he purposed to convert the assembled fathers to his own principal doctrines. Sigismund promised him safe conduct, guaranteeing his safety for the duration of his journey; as a secular ruler he would not have been able to make any guarantees for the safety of Hus in a Papal court, a fact that Hus would have been aware of. However Hus was probably reckoning that a guarantee of safe conduct was also a sign of patronage by the king and that therefore he could rely on royal support during the proceedings.

Imprisonment and preparations for trial

It is unknown whether Hus knew what his fate would be; he assembled testimonials of his orthodoxy to show the council, but nevertheless made his will before setting out. He started on his journey on October 11, 1414; on November 3, 1414, he arrived at Constance, and on the following day the bulletins on the church doors announced that Michal z Německého Brodu would be the opponent of Hus, "the heretic." In the meantime Hus' opponents were persuading Sigismund that a promise of safe conduct to a heretic was not legally binding.

In the beginning Hus was at liberty, living at the house of a widow, but after a few weeks his opponents succeeded in imprisoning him, on the strength of a rumor — more than likely spread by themselves — that he intended to flee. He was first brought into the residence of a canon, and then, on December 8, 1414, into the dungeon of the Dominican monastery. Sigismund was greatly angered, as the guarantor of Hus' safety, and threatened the prelates with dismissal, but when it was hinted that in such a case the council would be dissolved, he gave in. Even though Sigismund had given Hus safe conduct, the prelates and bishops convinced him that he could not be bound by promises to a heretic.

On December 4, 1414, John XXIII had entrusted a committee of three bishops with a preliminary investigation against Hus. As was common practice, witnesses for the prosecution were heard, but Hus was not allowed an advocate for his defense. His situation became worse after the downfall of the antipope, who had left Constance to evade the necessity of abdicating. Up to that time, Hus had been the captive of John XXIII and in constant communication with his friends, but now he was delivered to the Archbishop of Constance and brought to his castle, Gottlieben on the Rhine. Here he remained for seventy-three days, separated from his friends, chained day and night, poorly fed, and tortured by disease.

Trial

On June 5, 1415, he was tried for the first time, and for that purpose was transferred to a Franciscan monastery, where he spent the last weeks of his life.

He acknowledged the writings on the Church against Znojma, Páleč, as well as Stanislaus of Znaim as his own, and declared himself willing to recant if his errors should be proven to him from the Bible.

Hus conceded his veneration of Wycliffe, and said that he could only wish his soul might some time attain unto that place where Wycliffe's was. On the other hand, he denied having defended Wycliffe's doctrine of The Lord's Supper or the forty-five articles; he had only opposed their summary condemnation.

King Wenceslaus admonished him to deliver himself up to the mercy of the Council, as he did not desire to protect a heretic. At the last trial, on June 8, 1415, there were read to him thirty-nine sentences, twenty-six of which had been excerpted from his book on the Church, seven from his treatise against Páleč, and six from that against Stanislav ze Znojma. The danger of some of these doctrines to worldly power was explained to the emperor to incite him against Hus.

Hus again declared himself willing to submit if he could be convinced of errors. He desired only a fair trial and more time to explain the reasons for his views. If his reasons and Bible texts did not suffice, he would be glad to be instructed. This declaration was considered an unconditional surrender, and he was asked to confess:

  1. that he had erred in the theses which he had hitherto maintained;
  2. that he renounced them for the future;
  3. that he recanted them; and
  4. that he declared the opposite of these sentences.

He asked to be exempted from recanting doctrines which he had never taught; others, which the assembly considered erroneous, he was willing to revoke; to act differently would be against his conscience. These words found no favorable reception. After the trial on June 8, several other attempts were made to induce him to recant, but he resisted all of them.

The attitude of Sigismund was due to political considerations — he looked upon the return of Hus to his country as dangerous, and thought the terror of execution might improve the situation.

Condemnation and execution

The condemnation took place on July 6, 1415, in the presence of the assembly of the Council in the Cathedral. Each voting member stood up and delivered his own, often moving speech which ended with a vote as to whether Hus should live or die. A sizable minority voted to save Hus's life, but the majority ruled, and Jan Hus was to be burnt to death.

If the beginning of the day could be called solemn, the scene after the voting was one of scuffles and chairs being thrown. (For an eye-witness account and text of speeches, read Pogius; or Matthew Spinka, John Hus at the Council of Constance).

After the performance of High Mass and Liturgy, Hus was led into the church. The Bishop of Lodi delivered an oration on the duty of eradicating heresy; then some theses of Hus and Wycliffe and a report of his trial were read.

Refusals to recant

An Italian prelate pronounced the sentence of condemnation upon Hus and his writings. Again he protested loudly, saying that even at this hour he did not wish anything but to be convinced from Holy Scripture. He fell upon his knees and asked God with a low voice to forgive all his enemies.

Then followed his degradation — he was enrobed in priestly vestments and again asked to recant; again he refused. With curses his ornaments were taken from him, his priestly tonsure was destroyed, and the sentence was pronounced that the Church had deprived him of all rights and delivered him to the secular powers. Then a high paper hat was put upon his head, with the inscription "Haeresiarcha" (meaning the leader of a heretical movement). Hus was led away to the stake under a strong guard of armed men.

At the place of execution he knelt down, spread out his hands, and prayed aloud. Some of the people asked that a confessor should be given him, but one priest exclaimed that a heretic should neither be heard nor given a confessor. The executioners undressed Hus and tied his hands behind his back with ropes, and his neck with a chain to a stake around which wood and straw had been piled up so that it covered him to the neck.

At the last moment, the imperial marshal, Von Pappenheim, in the presence of the Count Palatine, asked him to recant and thus save his life, but Hus declined with the words "God is my witness that I have never taught that of which I have by false witnesses been accused. In the truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, I will die today with gladness."

He was then burnt to death.

Dying prophecy

Amongst Hus' last words are allegedly that, "in a hundred years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed." Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses of Contention to a church door in Wittenberg 102 years later.

Hus' scholarship and teachings

The Czechs, who in his lifetime had loved Hus as their prophet and apostle, now adore him as their saint and martyr, a national hero.

He left only a few reformatory writings in the proper sense of the word, most of his works being polemical treatises against Stanislav ze Znojma and Štěpán Páleč. He translated the Trialogus, and was very familiar with his works on the body of the Lord, on the Church, on the power of the pope, and especially with his sermons.

There are reasons to suppose that Wycliffe's doctrine of the Lord's Supper had spread to Prague as early as 1399, with strong evidence that students returning from England had brought the work back with them. It gained an even wider circulation after it had been prohibited in 1403, and Hus preached and taught it, although it is possible that he simply repeated it without advocating it. But the doctrine was seized eagerly by the radical party, the Taborites, who made it the central point of their system.

The book on the Church and on the power of the pope contains the essence of the doctrine of Hus. According to it, the Church is not that hierarchy which is generally designated as Church; the Church is the entire body of those who from eternity have been predestined for salvation. Christ, not the pope, is its head. It is no article of faith that one must obey the pope to be saved. Neither external membership in the Church nor churchly offices and dignities are a surety that the persons in question are members of the true Church.

But it seems clear that Hus’s efforts were predominantly designed to rid the Church of its ethical abuses, rather than a campaign of sweeping theological change. In explaining the plight of the average Christian in Bohemia, Hus wrote, “One pays for confession, for mass, for the sacrament, for indulgences, for churching a woman, for a blessing, for burials, for funeral services and prayers. The very last penny which an old woman has hidden in her bundle for fear of thieves or robbery will not be saved. The villainous priest will grab it.” (Macek, 16)

After Hus's death, his followers, then known as Hussites, split off into several groups including the Utraquists, Taborites and Orphans.

Nearly six centuries later in 1999, Pope John Paul II expressed "deep regret for the cruel death inflicted" on Hus. The pope then went on to suggest an inquiry as to whether Hus might be cleared of heresy.

A church and a theatre in Manhattan, located at 351 East 74th Street, are named for Hus: respectively the Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and the Jan Hus Playhouse. Although the church and theatre share a single building and management, the Playhouse's productions are usually non-religious or non-denominational.

Iconography

Although Hus was a Catholic priest, he is pictured bearded, without tonsure. Although he described himself as small and fat, he is pictured tall and slender. Meyers Lexikon used this convention, which was echoed by Czech academic painter Václav Brožík.

Famous followers of Jan Hus

Notes

References

  • .

    • .
    • Matthew Spinka: 'John Hus at the Council of Constance' Columbia University Press, 1965 (Includes the eye-witness account by Peter of Mladonovice)
    • Count Lützow: 'Life & Times of Master John Hus' E.P. Dutton & Co. London 1909.
    • Josef Macek: The Hussite Movement in Bohemia. Orbis, Praha 1958. (Marxist interpretation of the Hussite Revolution)
    • Philip Schaff-Herzog: Encyclopedia of Religion
    • Richard Friedenthal: Jan Hus. Der Ketzer und das Jahrhundert der Revolutionskriege. 2. Auflage 1987, ISBN 3-492-10331-6

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