This blog post is based on the Covenant Reformed Seminary of Asia’s lesson on Church History Module – The Forerunners of the Reformation (Part 3): Jan Hus
We’ll learn today about the reformer of Prague, the Goose before the Swan (Hus before Luther). He is said to be the one with the broadest influence amongst the forerunners of the Reformation. Though the reformation launched by Wycliffe was fiercely opposed by Rome, the Lord used John Wycliffe’s writings to reach Bohemia. Compared to Wycliffe, Jan Hus’ ministry reach almost the entirety of Europe.
The Bohemian’s Hope
But Scripture translations from the persecuted Waldensian refugees had begun entering Bohemia in the 13th Century.
What gave an opportunity for the writings of Wycliffe to reach Jan Hus was the marriage of Anne of Bohemia (who is described as a Bible lover) with Richard II of England in 1383.
Because of this providence, Condrad Stickna (who preached the Gospel in the open air to large crowds) was reached and Matthew of Janov (who traveled throughout Bohemia preaching against the abuses of the church) as well. They were preachers and some of their followers were imprisoned and burned at the stake. Another one is John Milic, Archdeacon of the cathedral in Prague, who preached fearlessly against the abuses of the Church and wrote “Anti-Christ Has Come” over a cardinal’s doorway. He was imprisoned.
John Hus’ birthplace is Husinec, Bohemia. His eyes were opened to the world of poverty. Since his father died early, his uncle sponsored his study. By preaching in Bethlehem Chapel, Prague, he courageously confronted corruption in Bohemia.
John Hus understood that the faith should be delivered to the saints, so he labored to preach the gospel in common language in Bethlehem chapel.
He was impressed by two cartoons. First, the cartoon that represented the Lord Jesus Christ wearing the crown of thorns and the Pope wearing a crown of gold, and clothing of rich purple and silk. Second, a cartoon that showed a picture of the woman to whom the Lord Jesus said, “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” and on its reverse side the Pope was depicted selling indulgences to the people.
Hus translated Wycliffe’s works into Czech, exposed the superstitions, fraudulent “miracles” and the sale of indulgences. In 1405, Hus denounced the alleged appearances of “Christ’s blood” on communion water as an elaborate hoax. He condemned the sins of the clergy as “fornicators”, “parasites”, “money misers”, “fat swine”, “drunks” and “gluttons”.
He condemned the practice of simony (buying spiritual offices), and the taking of multiple paid positions without faithfully serving any. He described churches that sold indulgences as “brothels”. Hus adopted Wycliffe’s view of the Church as an elect community with Christ – not the Pope – as its true Head. Hus’s fiery sermons in the Bohemian language received widespread enthusiastic support.
The Bohemian’s bravery
Hus believed pastors should be examples of God-fearing integrity. He preached vivid, accessible sermons, which captured the people’s imaginations. Though his voice was not as eloquent as is it but it was powerful, he was described by his supporters as “a passionate Reformer.”
He strongly opposed the Papacy as he saw a contradiction between the pope and Jesus Christ. On the walls of the Chapel of Bethlehem were paintings contrasting the behavior of the Popes and Christ. The Pope rode a horse; Christ walked barefoot. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet; the Pope preferred having his feet kissed.
He also insisted that no human institution has supreme authority over the church. Only God has authority and the revelation of God in the Bible.
In 1410, Archbishop obtained from Pope John XXII a ban on teaching in chapels, including specifically the Bethlehem Chapel. This ban Hus refused to obey.
“Fire does not consume truth. It is always the mark of a little mind that it vents its anger on inanimate objects.”
Hus concerned was why the word of God needed to be hidden from the people. In that year, the Archbishop burned 200 volumes of Wycliffe’s work. Hus responded by defending Wycliffe’s orthodoxy. Hus was summoned to Rome but wisely refused to go. Archbishop Zbynek excommunicated Hus. (Hus was actually excommunicated 5 times) Hus was described as “radical” and “dangerous.”
Hus then openly attacked the Pope’s sale of indulgences in support of his war against Naples. Until this time Hus had been protected by the emperor, university and nobility from the wrath of the Pope.
O God and Lord, now the council condemns even Your own act and Your own Law as heresy, since You Yourself did lay Your cause before Your Father as the just judge, as an example for us, whenever we are sorely oppressed.
Hus lived during The Great Schism when Europe was divided between two and then three rival popes who bitterly anathematized one another. Pope Martin V was the pope this time as elected by the council of Constance (1414). It was this Council of Constance which aimed to bring the Schism to an end that summoned Hus.
However, upon arriving, Hus was imprisoned on orders of Pope John XXII. Despite the Imperial guarantee of safe conduct, Hus was taken through a mockery of a trial in which he was allowed no defense.
Matters were complicated by the sudden escape from the city of Pope John XXIII, fearful lest an enquiry should be instituted into his intolerably wicked life and works. In March, John escaped from Constance disguised as a postman. During his absence, John was deposed by the council, and upon his return, he was tried for heresy, simony, schism and immorality, and found guilty on all counts. Gibbon wrote, “The more scandalous charges were suppressed; the vicar of Christ was accused only of piracy, rape, sodomy, murder and incest ” (Gibbon, 1946, p. 2417).
THE BOHEMIAn’s Steadfastness
“I would not, for a chapel full of gold, recede from the truth…the truth stands and is mighty forever.” Hus stated that he would prefer to be burned in public than to be silenced in private “in order that all Christendom might know what I said in the end.”
The above quotation was the bold statement that Hus uttered when he was under pressure. On arriving at the execution ground, Hus knelt and prayed: “God is my witness that the evidence against me is false. I’ve never thought nor preached except with the one intention of winning men, if possible, from their sins. In the truth of the Gospel I have written, taught and preached; today I will gladly die.” In 1415, he was burned at the stake while singing “Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on me” at 43 years old.
Bohemian moved away from Papacy in response to Hus’ execution. But Pope Martin V issued a Papal bull authorizing the execution of all supporters of Hus and Wycliffe.
It is commonly said that “To know history is also to become Catholic.” But to witness how Roman Catholicism is a very bloody religion should make anyone run away from it.
These Husites fought under Hus’s motto: “Truth conquers.”
They proved that you could take on the Holy Roman Empire – and survive! His followers, The Unity of the Brotherhood, survived as an independent church co-operating with the Waldensians and later with the Lutherans and the Calvinists. The Husites became known as Moravians. Under Count Nicholas Von Zinzendorf, the Moravians started a prayer chain that lasted 150 years! During that extended prayer meeting, 2,400 Moravian missionaries were sent throughout the world. They were instrumental in the conversion of John Wesley.
“It is thus that you silence the goose, but a hundred years hence there will arise a swan whose singing you shall not be able to silence.”
Luther once wrote of John Hus upon reading his works on the church, “I have taught and held all the teachings of Jan Hus but thus far did not know it… I am so shocked that I do not know what to think when I see… that the most evident evangelical truth was burned in public and already considered condemned more than 100 years ago” (Tomlin, 2012, p. 73).
Nearly six centuries later in 1999, Pope John Paul II expressed “deep regret for the cruel death inflicted” on Hus and added “deep sorrow” for Hus’s death and praised his “moral courage”. But why only 600 years later? Is this Christ’s teaching about forgiveness?
None can silence the blood of the martyrs. God will raise men who will herald and fight for the truth of God’s infallible Word to give light to this dark world and for the good of the church.
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
- Houghton, S. M., & Bennink, B. J. (1980). Sketches from church history. Banner Of Truth Trust, , Printing.
- Needham, N. R. (2016). 2000 years of Christ’s power. Volume 2, The Middle Ages. Grace Publications Trust.
- Tomlin, G. (2012). Luther & his world. Lion Books.
- John Huss Prophesied of Martin Luther. (n.d.). http://Www.johnpratt.com. https://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/meridian/2010/luther.html
- Gibbon, E., Bury, J. B., & Giovanni Battista Piranesi. (1946). The history of the decline & fall of the Roman empire,. New York Heritage Press.
- Miranda, Salvador, “Cossa Baldassare,” The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Cardinals.fiu.edu. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from https://cardinals.fiu.edu/cardinals.htm
3 thoughts on “Reflections on the Past IX: Jan Hus”
Its amazing to see God’s work even before the Reformation. And its impact goes out for centuries
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