by Michael Wilson
From Martin Luther to John Wesley, the teachings and legacy of John Hus have played an integral part in the Reformation and beyond.
John Hus was born in a peasant family in southern Bohemia sometime between 1369 and 1373. Being very poor as a child, John hoped to avoid poverty by studying to become a member of the clergy. By 1396 he had earned his Master of Arts from the University of Prague and began teaching at the university shortly thereafter; then, in 1401, John Hus became dean of philosophical studies.
It was during his time of study at the university that Hus came in contact with the teachings of John Wycliffe, known as the “Morning Star of the Reformation." These teachings caused Hus to study the Scriptures at a deeper level. While John Hus did not entirely agree with Wycliffe’s teachings, he did adopt much of the Augustinian theology taught by Wycliffe – especially his beliefs related to the nature of the church.
Because of Wycliffe’s influence, Hus began emphasizing the Bible as the ultimate authority within the Church and the importance of Biblical preaching. Hus instructed people to always obey God rather than man. He also taught the importance of personal piety and purity.
Preaching the Word
In 1400, John Hus was ordained as a priest; and in 1402, he became the pastor of the Bethlehem Chapel, where he preached to nearly 3,000 people on a regular basis. Bethlehem Chapel served as an arm of the Reformation, providing the people of Prague with a service in the vernacular instead of Latin.
Hus emphasized the importance of Biblical preaching and the Bible as the ultimate authority.
In addition to preaching and teaching, John Hus also served as Queen Sophia’s personal confessor and court chaplain. Because of his preaching, Hus was not only popular with elements of the aristocracy but also the masses of Prague.
Despite his sincere efforts, Hus was not appreciated by the other clergy. He condemned their extravagant and sometimes immoral lifestyles. The first conflict came when the archbishop of Prague ordered John Hus to stop preaching and to burn all the manuscripts of John Wycliffe’s writings. Hus refused to comply with the order, but was able to go on preaching without interruption because of his popularity with the people and the queen.
Obeying God Rather Than Men
It was when Hus began preaching against the sale of indulgences, authorized by antipope John XXIII to fund a crusade against one of his rivals, that things got ugly. In addition to infuriating the church, this also upset the king who received a portion of the indulgence sale. Thus, John Hus lost his support from the royalty. For his preaching against indulgences, Hus was excommunicated and an interdict was placed on the city of Prague. The interdict meant, most importantly, that no one could receive the sacraments and thereby be saved.
To deflate the situation, John Hus left Prague for the countryside in 1412. While there, he wrote feverishly and composed numerous treatises. The most important one was The Church in which Hus argued that Christ alone, not the pope, is head of the Church.
Hus instructed people to always obey God rather than man and taught the importance of personal piety and purity.
In 1415, the Council of Constance summoned John Hus to appear in order to defend his beliefs. Emperor Sigismund of the Holy Roman Empire promised that he would have safe conduct to and from the council at Constance, Germany. However, when Hus arrived in the city, he was arrested.
Persecuted for the Righteousness' Sake
Hus was then placed in a cell under a convent, where he was held for several months. Many people appealed for Hus to be given a fair trial. Instead of giving Hus an opportunity to debate theology, he was only given opportunity to recant of a list of beliefs that the church ascribed to him.
Hus had not taught or even believed the entire list, but he still refused to recant. The Council of Constance officially denounced Hus as a heretic, having already condemned the teachings of John Wycliffe and, therefore, Hus. On July 6, 1415, John Hus was defrocked of his priesthood and handed over to the secular authorities to be burned at the stake.
Just before the executioners lit the fire, Duke Louis and the imperial marshal asked Hus to recant one last time. He responded with, “God is my witness that the evidence against me is false. I have never thought or preached except with the one intention of winning men, if possible, from their sins. I am willing gladly to die today.” And with that, the fire was lit which would end the life of Catholic priest John Hus. However, it would not end his influence.
"I have never thought or preached except with the one intention of winning men, if possible, from their sins. I am willing gladly to die today."
From Hus to Luther to Wesley
John Hus influenced generations to come. Perhaps Hus' greatest legacy was the impact that he had on Martin Luther. Hus’ treatise on the Church influenced his view. When Martin Luther was accused of being a Hussite (considered an incredible insult) by Johann Eck, Luther responded by saying that Saint Paul and Saint Augustine were also Hussites.
From a Wesleyan perspective, Hus also had a substantial impact. The followers of John Hus in Moravia would eventually become known as Moravians. Later in history, Moravian missionaries would make their mark on both John and Charles Wesley.
Despite being an influential reformer, it is important to recognize that Hus remained a devout Catholic; he continued to hold to doctrines like transubstantiation and the intercession of the saints. While most of Hus’ followers eventually joined the Protestant Reformation, it was a process that would take another century to complete. Hus’ life and legacy demonstrates that the Reformation took shape in many ways and in many places.
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