John Hus

                      "Truth Conquers  - The Reformer of Prague"


                                        Preparation for Reformation

The Reformation movement launched by Wycliffe and his Lollards in England was intensely opposed and fiercely persecuted by the Roman Church. The Reformation movement was largely driven underground in the British Isles. But Wycliffe’s teachings spread to Bohemia where they resulted in a dynamic revival.

The two nations of England and Bohemia were linked in 1383 by the marriage of Anne of Bohemia to King Richard II of England. Czech students went to Oxford and English students went to Prague.

Scripture translations from the persecuted Waldensian refugees, had begun entering Bohemia in the 13th Century. When Anne of Bohemia married King Richard II she sent copies of Wycliffe’s writings back to her homeland. Queen Anne’s love for the Bible was shared by many of her countrymen. Soon Conrad Stickna was preaching the Gospel in the open air to large crowds. Matthew of Janov travelled throughout Bohemia preaching against the abuses of the church. His followers were imprisoned and burned at the stake. John Milic, Archdeacon of the cathedral in Prague, preached fearlessly against the abuses of the Church and wrote “Anti-Christ Has Come” over a cardinal’s doorway. He was imprisoned.

                                              John Hus' Teachings

John Hus (Jan Hus) was born in the village of Husinec in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic. He studied for the priesthood and received a Masters degree in 1396. In 1402, he was appointed preacher in Bethlehem Chapel. When appointed Rector of Prague University, at age 34, he also began to preach Reformation principles (in the common Language) in the Chapel of Bethlehem in Prague. Hus translated John 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. He believed pastors should be examples of God-fearing integrity and preached vivid, accessible sermons, which captured the people’s imaginations.

On the walls of the Chapel of Bethlehem were paintings contrasting the behaviour of the Popes and Christ. The Pope rode a horse; Christ walked bare foot. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet; the Pope preferred having his feet kissed. Hus insisted that no human institution – including the church can be ultimate in authority. Only God has ultimate authority. Hus advocated that layfolk should receive both bread and wine in the Sacrament, contrary to the medieval practice of administering only bread to lay communicants. He stressed the doctrine of predestination and called for poverty and simplicity in the church. 

In 1410 the Archbishop obtained from the Pope a ban on teaching in chapels, including specifically the Bethlehem Chapel. This ban Hus refused to obey. In that same year the Archbishop burned over 200 volumes of Wycliffe’s works. Hus was described by his supporters as “a passionate Reformer.” Hus responded: “Fire does not consume truth. It is always the mark of a little mind that it vents its anger on inanimate objects.” Hus defended Wycliffe’s orthodoxy. Hus was summoned to Rome, but wisely refused to go.

                                            The Papacy Strikes Back

Archbishop Zbynek excommunicated Hus. Hus was described as “radical” and “dangerous.” Hus then openly attacked the Pope’s sale of indulgences in support of his war against Naples. The Pope thereupon placed the City of Prague under a papal interdict. This meant that the entire city was placed under an ecclesiastical ban (all churches were closed, no masses were allowed, no confessions received, no marriages or burials permitted). Until this time Hus had been protected by the emperor, university and nobility from the wrath of the Pope. But with the entire city in turmoil, the Reformer chose to go into exile. During this time Hus wrote: “On the Church.”

A General Church Council was called at Constance in 1414 to heal The Great Schism (that had raged from 1378). Hus lived through The Great Schism, when Europe was divided between two and then three rival popes who bitterly anathematized one another. It was this Council of Constance, which aimed to bring the Schism to an end, that summoned Hus. The Emperor Sigismund guaranteed Hus safe conduct in both directions, whatever the outcome of the case against him might be.

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. Hus had hoped to present his views to the assembled authorities, but instead he found himself a victim of a cruel inquisition, which condemned him for heresies, which he had neither believed nor taught (including that he had claimed to be the fourth member of the Trinity!) Hus prayed aloud that Christ might forgive his judges and accusers.

Under pressure to recant Hus declared: “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 is the end.”

                                                      Hus burnt at the stake

On 6 July 1415 Hus was condemned to death and taken to the outskirts of the city of Constance to be burnt at the stake. Hus prayed: “O most holy Christ…strengthen my spirit…give me a fearless heart, a right faith, a firm hope, a perfect love, that for Thy sake I may lay down my life with patience and joy.”

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.”

Hus died singing “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me.” He was 43 years old.


                                                     John Hus' Legacy

After Hus’s martyrdom his followers organised military resistance to the Holy Roman Empire. Remarkably these vastly outnumbered Husites repelled six crusades against them. 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 the Moravians. Under Count Nicholas Van Zinzendort, the Moravians started a prayer chain that lasted 150 years! During that extended prayer meeting, 2,400 Moravian missionaries were sent out and were instrumental in the conversation of John Wesley.

                                                     The statue of Hus in Prague's Old Town Square

One interesting anecdote is that Hus is accredited with making a prophecy at his death. “My goose is cooked!” he said. (Hus is the Bohemian word for goose!) “But a hundred years from now a swan will arise whose voice you will not be able to silence.” Many saw Luther as that voice, hence the prevalence of swans in Lutheran art and architecture.

The monument of Jan Hus at the Prague Old Town Square, was designed by Ladislav Saloun. The foundation stone was laid down in 1903 and the monument was unofficially revealed on 6th July 1915, the 500 th anniversary of Jan Hus' death. The monument consists of Jan Hus statue and statues of Czech people around him. Jan Hus statue is looking at the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, which was the main church of the Hussites between 1419 and 1621. The people around him are the Hussite warriors on one side and on the other side there are prostrated people, forced to leave the country in 1620s, after the rebellion of Czech estates was defeated.