A direct theological descendant of John Wycliffe, Jan Hus lead the call for change in his native Bohemia, part of the modern-day Czech Republic.
Also known in English as John Hus or John Huss, the scholar and pastor played a pivotal, if often under-appreciated, role in the development of Reformation thought. He continued in the tradition of Wycliffe and further prepared Europe for the arrival of Martin Luther, John Calvin and other more well-known Reformers.
Hus (c. 1369 – July 6, 1415) observed corruption within the Catholic Church and spread many of Wycliffe’s teachings in central Europe. This led to his speaking out against Catholic doctrine and practice, which secured his place in the pyre – another martyr for truth.
Who was Jan Hus?
Hus was born around 1369 in Husinec, Bohemia. Early on, he went to Prague and attended the university there. An exceptional student, Hus made a name for himself as he earned his bachelor and master’s degree before being appointed as a priest and later as rector of the University of Prague. He was also installed as preacher at the new Bethlehem chapel.
During this time, Hus was influenced by Wycliffe’s writings. He even translated one of English Reformer’s works into Czech and distributed it, all of this despite the Church banning Wycliffe’s work.
As Hus became infamous in the Roman Catholic Church, Rome had their own problems. Two men were both claiming to be pope. A third was elected, hoping to end the stalemate, but that only served to split the church even further with three men claiming the title and allegiances across Europe.
For those like Hus, this perfectly demonstrated the corruptness within the leadership of the Church. He increased his complaints as one pope began to sell indulgences to help pay for a war against a rival pope.
Hus became more outspoken, even alienating some of his early supporters in Prague and at the university. They urged him to be more conciliatory. A vote was even taken to show support for Rome. Hus disagreed, to say the least.
“Even if I should stand before the stake which has been prepared for me, I would never accept the recommendation of the theological faculty,” he wrote.
He wrote on and expanded Wycliffe’s teachings on the church and the separation of sacred and secular powers. The movement spread to surrounding nations, but the Church, anxious to stamp out rivals or reformation, banned the writings and ordered all of Wycliffe’s works to be burned.
While he was guaranteed safe passage to a church council, Hus was captured and held in poor conditions for months before being placed on trial for heresy. Refusing to recant his beliefs, unless they could be shown from Scripture to be in error, he was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.
Why do you need to know Jan Hus?
Every movement needs those who faithfully carry the torch in their generation. Hus did just that with the ideas of Wycliffe that would later lead to the Reformation. Hus is credited with spreading the teaching across Europe and plowing the ground in which Luther and Calvin would later plant.
Much like many of the other men who would be used in the Reformation, Hus’ anger was often sparked by seeing the injustices perpetrated by the Church against the people around him. He saw clergy living extravagant and immoral lifestyles, while they bilked the poor commoners for more and more money.
The legacy of Hus can truly be seen by how commonplace much of his teaching seems today. He taught that pastors should model godly lives, while preaching captivating and accessible sermons. Viewing themselves as servants first, they should not seek to become wealthy from the ministry.
Opinion of Hus changed so radically that in December 1999, Pope John Paul II said, “I feel the need to express deep regret for the cruel death inflicted on Jan Hus.”
Above anything else that can be said of Hus, he was a pastor who loved his people. As he prepared to travel to what would be the place of his capture and subsequent death, he told his congregation:
“Faithful and dear friends, you know that for a long time I have faithfully labored among you, preaching to you the Word of God without heresy or errors. Your salvation was, is now, and shall remain my desire until my death.”
His faithful preaching of God’s word was not overlooked by his people or by subsequent Reformation leaders. Martin Luther was so influenced by Hus, that he published a collection of Hus’ letters and wrote a foreword for the book.
In his speech about Hus, Pope John Paul II also said that the Czech Reformer could serve as a bridge between the heirs of his allies and critics. “Hus, who has been such a point of contention in the past,” he said, “has now become a subject of dialogue, of comparison and shared investigation.”
Odd Trivia Fact: The Hussites, those who followed Jan Hus’ teachings after his death, were the first European Protestant group to publish a hymnbook. Later, the famous English hymn writer John Wesley was influenced by those hymns sung by Moravians on a ship sailing to North America.