Jan Hus (c. 1373–1415) is one of my heroes. He was a Czech religious reformer and a forerunner of the Reformation. He modeled pious intellectuality―under great duress.
At ten years of age, Hus was sent to a monastery. Not long after, he was sent to Prague to study, because he was clearly intelligent. In 1393, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Prague. Three years later, he got a Master’s degree and began to teach at the university. Hus became Dean of the philosophical faculty in 1401 and was designated a candidate for the Doctor’s degree in theology. In 1409, he was elected Rector. He was also ordained as a priest and was well-known for his theological writing and preaching. In addition, he introduced improvements to writing in his native language.
Hus was appointed a preacher at the newly established Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. He taught in Czech, so that listeners could understand. In 1401, he discovered the English Reformer, John Wycliffe, and he was deeply impacted by his theology. Hus translated and distributed his works, even though they were condemned by the Church. Hus embraced Wycliffe’s teaching about the primacy of Scripture. He echoed his criticism of the papacy and his demand for reforms concerning indulgences and clerical corruption.
The religious and social context in the Czech lands was very complex and tumultuous. Political and nationalistic intrigue occurred between the Czechs and Germans. Both wanted to control territory, wealth, and religion. Both struggled to dominate the university. Both curried favor with the Pope(s) and church hierarchy. And both rejected intrusive reform or upheaval brought about by Wycliffe and Hus.
The Catholic church was torn by dissent. During Hus’s lifetime, three Popes vied for supremacy. Each appealed to political, religious, and educational leaders for support. Clerical leadership abused and demeaned the lower clergy. The Church imposed onerous taxationwithin their lands and possessed enormous wealth. Bribes were paid for favors and power. Indulgences were marketed to finance ungodly agendas. Ecclesiastical offices and privileges were sold.
Meanwhile, Hus’s influence grew steadily through his teaching, preaching, and writing. He spoke out against corruption and the use of force by the Church. As a result, he drew the ire of Church leadership. They ordered him to stop preaching and spreading Wycliffe’s heretical ideas. Hus refused and continued his ministry.
When he was pressured to affirm unacceptable doctrines at the university, he declared, “Even if I should stand before the stake which has been prepared for me, I would never accept the recommendations of the theological faculty.” When he was invited to the Council of Constance to defend his views, he said that he would repent―if convinced from the Scriptures.
Though he was promised safe travel the Council, he was betrayed, arrested, and condemned to die at the stake. Before his death, he reportedly prophetically declared about future Reformers, “You may kill a weak goose, but more powerful birds, eagles and falcons, will come after me.” When asked a last time if he would recant, he said, “God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.” As he breathed his last, he prayed, “Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on us!”
Hus taught with intellectual integrity, pastoral empathy, and zeal. He produced instructional materials in Czech for priests and laymen. Výklad víry, for instance, is an “Exposition of the Faith, of the Ten Commandments, and of the Lord’s Prayer.” As you read the following statement from this text, consider how Hus loved God with his mind. He demonstrated that sometimes intellectual piety is costly and dangerous:
Thus, faithful friend, search for the truth, listen to the truth, learn the truth, love the truth, tell the truth, keep the truth, defend the truth until death; for the truth will set your free from sin, from the devil, from the death of soul and from death eternal.
Think, as well, how this admonition applies to us even today.
(For more information about Jan Hus click here.)