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Jan Hus - Overview
Category: Medieval Europe: Historical Figures
Jan Hus (also spelled John Hus, John Huss and in Czech Jana Husa) was a Bohemian priest and martyr born in Husenitz (75 kilometers from Prague) in 1369. At a very early age, he went to the Prague where he made a living singing and serving at the churches. In 1393, he received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Prague and a master's degree three years later. He was ordained as a priest in 1400, and was a rector at the University of Prague from 1402 to 1403. He would also become a preacher at a newly erected Bethlehem Chapel. When Hus did give his sermon, he did not say it in the traditional Latin, but in Czech. Hus would later become very influenced by John Wycliffe's writings. John Wycliffe was an English theologian who was a very early critic of the corruption of the Catholic Church, and was the first man to translate the Bible into English. Wycliffe's teachings had spread into Bohemia by the marrying of King Wenceslaus's sister, Anne, to King Richard II of England. Jan Hus would translate Wycliffe's “Trialogus” into Czech, and would spread Wycliffe's teachings. One thing that from Wycliffe's writings that Jan Hus would condemn in his later years was that the clergy were only allowed to drink wine from the chalice during Eucharist. Jan Hus was completely against this and pointed to the Bible for his authority. Unfortunately, the University of Prague feared Wycliffe's teachings being spread into Bohemia, and thus, they banned forty-five theses written by Wycliffe. Archbishop Zbynek, surprisingly, was not just lenient with Hus, but he appointed him to be a synod (A synod was a hierarchical gathering of for the discussion of faith, morals, or discipline) priest. However, on June 24, 1405, Pope Innocent VII would pressure the Archbishop into prohibiting the spreading of the heretical teachings of Wycliffe. At the June synod, it was demanded that all of the writings of Wycliffe be handed over to archdiocese for correction. Hus would follow the order because he condemned the errors that were in the writings.
In Hus's time, there were three different Pope's (the reigning Pope Innocent VII, Gregory XII, and Benedict XIII) fighting in Italy. However, Innocent VII, would die on November 6, 1406. He would be succeeded by Pope Gregory XII. King Wenceslaus declared neutrality in the Papal Wars, and enforced it at the University of Prague. The University of Prague was split up into four “nations”(Polish, Saxon, Bavarian, and Bohemian). The Bohemians accepted Wenceslaus's proposal, but the three other nations refused this. Because of this, Wenceslaus demanded that Bohemia should get three votes for what the university would say, while each of the other nations would get one each at the Decree of Kutna Hora. Many Germans would leave the University of Prague because of this and form their own University of Leipzig. Now King Wenceslaus would no longer communicate with Pope Gregory XII because of this. Consequently, The archbishop placed Prague and its surrounding areas under interdict, which cost many of the local clergymen of their position and property. Jan Hus, who had once again become a rector at the University of Prague, was called to Rome because the Pope had heard from the archbishop of his tendencies to condone Wycliffe's teachings. This resulted in a Papal Bull by Pope Alexander V(in 1409, the Council of Pisa deposed Gregory XII and elected Alexander V) that ordered that the all of Wycliffe's books were to be confiscated, Wycliffe's doctrines were to be revoked, and that free preaching was to be discontinued. Hus sent an appeal to Alexander V, but to no avail. Jan Hus and his assistants were excommunicated by the archbishop on July 16, 1410. Hus, however, was still in protection by King Wenceslaus. Jan Hus was later called to Rome to personally speak to the Pope. Instead, Jan Hus sent his best representatives to plead his case. Now, in February of 1411, the Pope officially excommunicated Jan Hus. He was banned from all of the churches in Prague on March 15.
Jan Hus would still criticize the Pope. He would attack the Bulls in which the Antipope John XIII (elected after Alexander V at the Council of Pisa) proclaimed indulgences(forgiveness for all their sins and a free trip to Heaven) to all of those who would either supply funds or fight in his crusade against Ladislaus of Naples, the protector of Pope Gregory XII. Jan Hus and Jerome of Prague, whom was a avid supporter of Wycliffe's policies, highly criticized the practice of indulgence by John XIII. They aroused support from the local populace and the University of Prague. Consequently, the papal commission, which was sent to announce the indulgences, was treated horribly. Word got back to Rome, and not only was Hus's excommunication reiterated but Jan Hus's residence was placed under interdict. The Pope ordered that Hus was to be imprisoned, and the Bethlehem Chapel which Hus had spoken at was to be destroyed. However, his orders would not be obeyed by King Wenceslaus. Hus would take exile in Austi to the South of Prague towards the end of 1412. It was in Austi where he would complete his greatest work “De ecclesiâ”. Hus would return to Prague by the end of April, 1414, because King Wenceslaus had taken no steps to carry out the Pope's excommunication and edict. Hus would write his treatise “De sex erroribus”, and it would be posted on the walls of the Bethlehem Chapel. However, Hus was not always safe. Hus's works would later be reported to Archbishop Konrad von Vechta because he was becoming an ever so dangerous heretic. At the Council of Constance in November of 1414, Jan Hus would be urged by King Sigismund of Hungary, King Wenceslaus's brother, to appear at the Council to explain his doctrines. However, this was a ploy. At the council, Hus was tried for heresy. He was found guilty, and was to be burnt at the stake. His last work was on July 1. “I, Jan Hus, in hope a priest of Jesus Christ, fearing to offend God, and fearing to fall into perjury, do hereby profess my unwillingness to abjure all or any of the articles produced against me by false witnesses. For God is my witness that I neither preached, affirmed, nor defended them, though they say that I did. Moreover, concerning the articles that they have extracted from my books, I say that I detest any false interpretation which any of them bears. But inasmuch as I fear to offend against the truth, or to gainsay the opinion of the doctors of the Church, I cannot abjure any one of them. And if it were possible that my voice could now reach the whole world, as at the Day of Judgment every lie and every sin that I have committed will be made manifest, then would I gladly abjure before all the world every falsehood and error which I either had thought of saying or actually said! I say I write this of my own free will and choice.” On July 6, 1415, Jan Hus was burnt at the stake. He was given the chance to have his life saved by taking back what he said, but he replied with, “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." Before his death, he said "Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon me." July 6 has been made an official holiday in the Czech Republic, and on December 18, 1998, Pope John Paul II apologized for Jan Hus's execution. Jerome of Prague would also be executed in 1416.
Jan Hus greatly influenced Czech history after his death. King Sigismund, the same man who had him executed, would lead five crusades against the Hussites during the Hussite Wars(1419-1434). The main symbol of the Hussites was the chalice because Jan Hus had so fervently preached that the chalice of wine should be given to the people, and not just to the clergymen. During the Hussite Wars, there were two main factions of Hussites. One was the more radical Taborite faction, named because they founded the city of Tabor. They were very warlike and would not defect until they were ultimately defeated in 1434. The other was a not so radical faction called the Utraquists or “Communion in both kinds” that emphasized that Eucharist should be given in both kinds to the common man. The Utraquists would commonly defect to the Crusader's side. Long after the Hussite Wars, in 1458, George of Podebrady would become the first Hussite King. He was also the first European king ever to renounce the Roman Catholic faith. He would die in 1471, and the Hussite movement would die out with him for a long while. The Czech people would much more easily accept Martin Luther's teachings during the Reformation due to the fact that Jan Hus had followed Hus's teachings not so long ago. Though the movement was dead for over 500 years, the Hussite church still exists today. It was revived on January 8, 1920 in Prague by ThDr. Karel Farský, whom would become the church's first patriarch. Today, the Church is called the Czechoslovak Hussite Church (CHC) and has a small number of about 18,000 members.
Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope, eds., The Letters of John Hus, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), pp. 275-276
The Catholic EncyclopediaPoland & Czechoslovakia by Frederick G. Heymann pp.49-63