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July 6 — Jan Hus

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Matthew 10:16-31

On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say

Hus Memorial -- Prague
Hus Memorial — Prague

More thoughts for meditation about Jan Hus

Jan Hus was born in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) in about 1371. By 1400 he was a priest and about to become part of the university in Prague.

He helped launch a vigorous reform of the church in a particularly difficult time in Europe’s history. It was in the middle of what is known as the Great Schism. The King of France moved the seat of the Papacy from Rome to Avignon. Rival popes were elected. Sides were taken and battles were fought. The Council of Constance from 1414 to 1418 was called to solve the issue.

In the middle of this Jan Hus denounced various church practices in his sermons, taking his lead from the famous John Wycliffe of England (the “morning star of the Reformation”). For instance, Hus thought it was unbiblical for the wine of communion to be reserved for the priest. He wholeheartedly accepted the practice of the church worshipping in the Czech language, rather than in Latin. He argued that “laypeople” had an important role to play in the administration of the Church and that Christ was the true head of the Church, not the Pope. He thought church officials should not be earthly governors.

After the death of Pope Alexander V (an “antipope“), a crusade against the practices of granting indulgences started, of which Hus was also a part. He produced writings that are said to be directly taken from Wycliffe’s writings, notably: De ecclesia (The Church). In them he argued that no Pope or Bishop had the right to raise a sword in the name of Church. He insisted that people attained forgiveness only by repentance, not Papal indulgence. His followers publicly burned Papal communiques (“bulls”) and believed that Hus’ sayings should be followed, rather than those of the Church hierarchy. As a result, in 1412 Jan Hus was excommunicated for insubordination.

Diebold Schilling's Spiezer Chronik (1485)
Diebold Schilling’s Spiezer Chronik (1485)

In 1414 he was summoned to the Council of Constance, with the Emperor guaranteeing his personal safety even if found guilty. He was tried, and ordered to recant certain heretical doctrines. He replied that he had never held or taught the doctrines in question, and was willing to declare the doctrines false, but not willing to declare on oath that he had once taught them. The one point on which Hus could be said to have a doctrinal difference with the Council was that he taught that the office of the pope did not exist by God’s command, but was established by the Church so that things might be done in an orderly fashion. The Council, having just narrowly succeeded in uniting Western Christendom under a single pope after years of chaos, was not about to have its work undermined. So it found him guilty of heresy, and he was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.

Hus’ approach to being the church was human, Bible centered, and spiritual.  To partisans on both sides of the Schism, his views seemed idealistic at best, and at worst a dreamy anarchism or heresy. Throughout all the controversy that followed his teaching he maintained a creative loyalty to the church while challenging its pathologies. His death helped give birth to the Moravian Church. That group held the light out for his prophecy to be fulfilled: it is claimed that he said, “In one hundred years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.” In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous “Ninety-five Theses of Contention” to the church door in Wittenberg. Before he died in flames, Hus is said to have stated: “It is better to die well than to live wickedly … Truth conquers all things.”

More on Hus?

Biography

Suggestions for action

It takes faith to see beyond one’s present time and to act for generations yet to be born. We are prone to saving our lives, meaning we are out for ourselves in the present, rather than losing our lives for Christ’s sake, and so gaining a true life. Hus lived for something that was true to Jesus and big enough to be important for the people he loved—something worth risking his life to bring about. It is worth asking the question, when I die, will people remember my faith? Will I leave them a vision of the world that is beyond me?

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