Who is Jan Hus?
As I bring to a close my exploration of the Protestant reformers, I decided to finish with Jan Hus. Like his contemporary, John Wycliffe, Hus lived and died 100 years before the accepted starting date of the Protestant Reformation. Yet, Hus’ belief in the church’s need for reform, a belief that cost him his life, was an inspiration to the later reformers who would come after him.
In 1369, Jan Hus was born in Bohemia, now known as the Czech Republic. From an early age, the church was an important part of Hus’ life. After moving to Prague, Hus supported himself by singing and serving in the church while he earned his education. By 1400, he was ordained as a priest, and by 1402 he was preaching messages of reform, based on the influential writings of John Wycliffe.
In his messages, Hus denounced what he considered to be the moral failings of the clergy, bishops, and even the papacy. Preaching in the language of the Czech people, instead of Latin, Hus taught that the Bible was the source of all truth, not popes or other church leaders. Hus’ criticism of the Catholic Church was underscored by the disruptions taking place in the church itself, disruptions that resulted in three men claiming, at the same time, to be the true pope of the church.
In addition, Hus also preached against the use of indulgences and against the church taking up arms as it did during the crusades. Hus asserted that no pope or bishop had the right to take up the sword in the name of the church. It was the responsibility of the pope and bishops to pray for their enemies and bless those who cursed them. Hus also taught that forgiveness of sins was obtained through true forgiveness, not money.
In 1410, Alexander V (one of the three clamants to the papacy) moved to suppress dissent in Bohemia by ordering that all the writings of John Wycliffe by burned and declaring that chapels were unfit places for preaching. Hus was preaching at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague at the time. Hus appealed the pope’s decision but was denied. Of course, this did not stop Hus from continuing to preach to huge crowds, even after his excommunication. When Alexander’s successor, Pope John XXIII, banned all religious services in Prague, Hus took refuge in the Bohemian countryside where he continued to write and preach.
In 1414, King Sigismund, head of the Holy Roman Empire, offered Hus safe travel to attend the Church’s Council of Constance in Germany. Less than a month after his arrival, however, Hus was arrested on orders of the Pope. Hus said he would recant his teachings if the Council could show how him where he erred according to the Bible, but he would not concede to any of the 39 charges against him.
On July 6, 1415, the Council found Jan Hus guilty of heresy and sentenced him to death. Civil authorities then burned Hus at the stake. On his head was a tall, paper hat with an inscription labeling him the leader of a heretical movement. Hus died defending his belief that it was God’s will to reform the church, even if that reform challenged powerful religious men.