Jan Hus (alternative spellings John Hus, Jan Huss, John Huss) (c. 1372 Husinec, Bohemia – July 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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