Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The First Reformer | John Hus

The Life and Teachings of John Hus

John Hus was a man who grew up much-like Martin Luther. He had been born to bohemian peasants in 1373 and sent off to the University of Prag sixteen years later. Like The Protestant, he sang for bread in the streets and studied diligently. In 1394, Hus received the Bachelor of Theology; in 1396, the Master of Arts; and, in 1400, he had been finally ordained as a priest.[1]

Although, there had been a couple of events leading up to this point, one of the first big controversies of Hus was after he had been appointed as the Synodal preacher in 1405. The vocation of this new office led Hus to use ferocity and a fiery fervor to scorn the avarice and immorality of the clergy. He held “sin no more permitted to a clergy-man than to a layman, and indeed more blameworthy.” This led to a festering of hatred against the man.

At the same time, there were two men from Prag who had painted a cartoon on their house outside the city. This cartoon contrasted “the lowly Christ and the proud pope.” It immediately became rather popular and drew crowds. Hus recommended this portrait from the pulpit as “a true representation of the opposition between Christ and Antichrist.” Luther would later edit similar cartoons of the same effect.[2]

Hus would later come into conflict against the abuse of relics and fraud to raise funds for the church. He did not see the need for pilgrimages and indulgences which simply seemed like an economy for the mammon-loving clergymen. He wrote that “a Christian need not seek for signs and miracles but need only hold by the Holy Scriptures.” “Man gets forgiveness of sins through real sorrow and repentance, not through money.” Luther would also hit the church where it hurt the most, in the wallet. Both men received a similar reaction: “Hurt in pride and pocket, the enraged clergy lodged complaints against Hus as a pestiferous heretic, who had to be suppressed; he lost his position as the Synodical preacher in 1408.” Two years later, Hus and his followers were excommunicated for wielding teachings that allowed the laity to think they were meant to lead their clergy and made their clergy disobedient to the Roman Church. [3]

Yet, Hus continued to preach. He said, “Wherever in a city or village or castle a preacher of the holy truth appears, the people stream together in great crowds.” “We must obey God rather than men in things which are necessary for salvation.” Hus placed the authority of the Church against the individual conscience. And, stated that his purpose was, “to defend the truth which God has enabled me to know, and especially the truth of the Holy Scriptures, even to death, since I know that the truth stands and is forever mighty and abides eternally; and with Him there is no respect of persons. And if the fear of death should terrify me, still I hope in my God and in the assistance of the Holy Spirit that the Lord will give me firmness. And if I have found favor in His sight He will crown me with martyrdom.” [4]

In 1412, Hus’s Reformation had won its first three martyrs who were executed by the church for burning the Pope’s bull and speaking against indulgence. In 1414, Hus had been invited to meet with the Pope and king, “the two vilest men then living on the face of the earth,” at Constance, Baden, near Switzerland. He went there “thinking he was going to his death” and found himself in the midst of seventeen hundred entertainers including seven hundred public prostitutes summoned to amuse his hosts. There, he was condemned, he was sent to prison soon after and burned alive the following year. [5]

It seems as if Olivier was right. The change in theology was needed for the Church. But, the men who were ahead of their time suffered for pursuing such an act.

[1] William Dallmann, John Hus, (Concordia Publishing House, 1916), 1-2.
[2] Ibid., 6-7. It is also worth noting that Hus and both of the cartoonists were followers of Wicliff whose books would be burned by the church in 1410 leading to riots and Hus’ public defense of Wicliff’s teachings.
[3] Ibid., 7-8, 10-12, 16.
[4] Ibid., 12-14.
[5] Ibid., 16, 20-25, 58.

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