1369 - 1415
Martyr for Christ and reformer of the Churchby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Tied to a stake with the flames licking around him, John Huss committed his soul to God and was burned to death. His offence was teaching heretical doctrines, which he denied teaching and, in fact, denied that those doctrines were true. He was condemned in an unfair trial but still gave up all to follow his Savior. What was it that kept his faith in God strong, and what could have motivated him so much that he would give up his life to follow Jesus?
Huss was born in Southern Bohemia in 1369, somewhere around July. Little is known about his early life, but we do know that he longed to go into the church. When he was around 18 years of age, he went to study at the Prague. He received his Bachelor of Arts in 1393, his Bachelor of Theology in 1394, and his Master of Arts in 1396. He became a priest in 1400 and taught the Bethlehem Church in Prague in a language the people could understand instead of the mandated language of Latin. A few years later he became rector of the philosophical faculty.
Huss soon became known for his support of Wycliffe's ecclesiastical reforms. The teachings of John Wycliffe were disliked by the church, as was Huss who promoted Wycliffe's reforms. The government, on the other hand, sided with Huss. Huss attacked the clergy violently for its corruption and also disagreed with the church about the Lord's Supper. He declared that the bread and wine did not become the actual body and blood of Christ (as is taught in the doctrine of transubstantiation) but was just a representation. Soon the Cardinal of St. Angelo put him under Excommunication. Huss was forced to flee Prague, and while he was in exile he wrote his most famous work, De Ecclesia (concerning the church). This work declared that the church did not need the Pope and Cardinals and that the church could function and had functioned without them.1 This work instantly brought upon itself the condemnation from the Pope. The king of Bohemia, becoming greatly distressed at the division occurring in his country, set about to reconcile the two parties. Huss put forth his demands which were that Bohemia should have the same freedom in regard to ecclesiastical affairs as other countries and that approbation and condemnation should therefore be announced only with the permission of the state power.1 The church did not give in to any of his requests and the battle raged on.
On Dec. 4, 1414, the Council of Constance, headed by three Bishops with commands from the Pope, met. Huss attended, because Emperor Sigismund granted a safe conduct, even if he was found guilty. Huss' friends tried to warn him that it was a trap, but Huss was fully determined to go. Within a month of arriving, Huss was cast into a dungeon in a Dominican convent. He was attacked by illness and starvation which nearly killed him. He was finally heard in June of the next year. At the trial Huss wasn't allowed to defend himself, but he did declare that he would recant his works if they could be proven wrong. The Council grew angry at this and called him a stubborn heretic. At his last trial on June 8, the Council read to him thirty-nine sentences, twenty-six of which had been excerpted from his book on the Church, seven from his treatise' against Palecz, and six from that against Stanislaus.
Huss was condemned on July 6. They then stripped him of his vestments, put on his head a hat with pictures of the devil, and condemned his soul to the devil. 1 Huss was then led to the place of execution where he knelt down and prayed to God to forgive him. Some of the crowd cried to give him a confessor, but a nearby priest viciously cried that a heretic should neither be heard nor given a confessor. The executioner then tied Huss' hands to the stake with a rope, and his neck with a chain. At the last moment he was asked again to recant his views, Huss replied that he had never taught that which they claimed he had, and that he would gladly die for his Saviour. The fire was immediately kindled and as the flames licked around him Huss is recorded as singing, "Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy upon me." His ashes were scattered in the Rhine River. .2
Huss had endured all his trials and tribulations calmly, and he could only have done it with help from God. This seems to have motivated him throughout his whole trial. The after affects of the burning of Huss at the stake sent a shockwave throughout Europe. Several reformers sprung up; among them was a man who, like Huss, started as a priest but realized how corrupt the church was and left it. This man was Martin Luther. Luther was once asked whether the church had been right to condemn Huss. Luther replied that Huss had been unjustly condemned; this resulted in the questioning of the authority of the Pope and any Council he might set up. 3
1 David L. Brown. Ph. D. "John Huss - Jan Hus". Logos Ministries. www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/john-hus.html (December 3, 2007)
2 anonymous. "John Huss". English Bible History. www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/john-hus.html (December 3, 2007)