Chapter 2 – John Hus: The Martyr of Bohemia
It’s 1381 and Princess Anne of Bohemia had married King Richard II. This bond between the two countries allowed for Bohemian priests to come to England to be trained and introduced to the teachings of John Wiclif. They returned home to add Wiclif’s thoughts to their arsenal.
Czechs were ripe for reform. They’d been a minority in the Germanic area. And there had been conflict in Bohemia/Moravia between the Eastern and Western churches. Each church had vied for dominance. The Eastern church had a strong foothold. Ignored by Rome, the Eastern church moved in with Cyril and Methodius in the mid-800s. They translated scriptures into the vernacular, preached in the same and established popular church order.
And by now, the Western church was German which did not sit well with the Czechs. The church is still terribly corrupt and being German on top of it, didn’t win them any favors. Charles IV was a reformer king in Bohemia. He established a fair justice system, encouraged industry, listened to the people and advanced education. Prague became an archdiocese and home to a university. The people became even more dissatisfied with outside rule of any kind. John Hus was a young man when priests began to return from Oxford. They had a story to tell and Hus, among many of his countrymen, eagerly listened.
John was born in Husinec in 1369. Since he was a peasant, he had no last name and became known as John Hus. Few peasants had the opportunity to go on to higher learning, so he must have been exceptional. He went to the local school run by the monastery, then to a school in a neighboring town and finally to the University of Prague where he earned his way in part as a singer. He studied logic, philosophy and theology. Bachelors in 1394, Masters in 1396. By 1401 he was dean of the philosophy department. In 1402, he was rector of the university – a rotating office, and he was appointed preacher at Bethlehem Chapel. As a preacher and professor, he was better known for his preaching. Weinlick mentions that if Hus had stayed in the classroom and out of the pulpit, he might have lived a long life.
Still, Hus enjoyed the backing of the royal family and university friends for a long time. In Bethlehem Chapel he preached to people from all walks of life including royalty. He not only preached in Czech but also translated hymns from Latin and wrote new ones. He was also an active writer. He wrote sermons, commentaries and tracts. He read Wiclif heavily and helped exposed a “miracle” in Wilsnack involving wafers.
In due time, Wiclif’s teachings were less accepted at the university. Hus was a rebel after my own heart because the more Wiclif was condemned, the more Hus defended him. There was the Papal Schism. A Council of Pisa was held in 1409 to heal the Papal Schism, but it was such a disaster that they ended up with yet a third Pope.
This is really a messy time in history. Difficult to chisel down to a few distinct sentences, but Prague was selling indulgences for a Crusade desired by Pope 3. Hus naturally stood against this. He was excommunicated, and King Wenzel talked him into a voluntary exile. During his two years of exile, Hus moved about freely and preached frequently. After a while, he was able to even visit Prague. In addition to preaching, he wrote sermons, letters and books.
In 1414, another council is held – The Council of Constance. And in its four years of meetings, it did unify the papacy but did little to help the corruption of the church. John Hus’s head was on the proverbial chopping block. Emperor Sigismund of Bohemia convinced Hus to travel to Constance for a hearing. Sigismund guaranteed Hus safe travel to and from Constance. Friends accompanied Hus on the four week journey beginning October 11, 1415. He spent three weeks in town before the hearing. He was arrested on November 28. During his imprisonment, he was housed in a Dominican monastery, in Gottlieben Castle and then in a Franciscan monastery. He was kept in cramped, cold or hot quarters and given insufficient amounts of food.
The trial was three hearings held on June 5, 7, 8. His book, On the Church, was used against him. The Council and Sigismund hoped Hus would recant, but these were the same men who had ordered Wiclif’s bones burned, so there was little chance of a lenient sentence without that recant.
July 6 (his birthday), Hus was sentenced. He was taken to a raised platform and defrocked. He was given another opportunity to recant. He told them he couldn’t. They burned his books and took him to a meadow where they had a place ready. Hus was given one last opportunity to recant. He died in flames singing and praying. His ashes were thrown into the Rhine.
Chapter 3 The Aftermath