Roots of the Reformation: John Hus
The Influences John Wycliffe
John Hus was 12 years old when John Wycliffe died. Hus desired to become a priest as a means of escaping poverty. Through the study of the Scriptures, he was converted. Hus earned his Doctorate and was ordained to the ministry in 1401. Two wealthy families had built a church and appointed Hus as their pastor because they wanted to hear sermons in their native language rather than in Latin. The church, Prague's Bethlehem Chapel, held up to 3000 people. Under the leadership of Hus, it would soon become another center for Church reform.
There were seminary students who were returning from their studies in Oxford, England. They brought back Wycliffe’s writings with them. It was through these students that Hus became exposed to the thoughts of Wycliffe and came to agree with him. The influence of Wycliffe was immediately evident in the preaching of Hus. His sermons came to emphasize Christ as the head of the Church and the Bible as the final and only authority for the Church and the Christian. It was Wycliffe who said:
“England belongs to no pope. The pope is but a man, subject to sin, but Christ is the Lord of Lords and this kingdom is to be held directly and solely of Christ alone.”
Hus also came to see that salvation was apart from works or merit and was given by God through grace alone. All three of these positions put Hus at odds with the Roman Catholic Church.
Roman Catholic Chaos and Condemnation
The Roman Catholic Church was in a state of disarray at this time. Both Gregory XII, who was in Rome, and Benedictine XIII, who was in Avignon, claimed to be the legitimate Pope. In 1409, the Council of Pisa rejected both men and elected a third Pope. To further complicate the matter, the Council of Constance disposed of all three men who claimed to be Pope and created a schism in the Church. The also issued the Decree of Sacrosancta, which said that the Council had supremacy over the Pope.
The Council also took up the teachings of Wycliffe and of Hus, who was known as one of Wycliffe’s followers. Hus was summoned to the Council with the promise by the emperor that he could return home safely after his testimony. Hus was eager to go and desired to defend his position. In addition to seeing Christ as the head of the Church, the Bible as the sole authority and salvation by grace alone, Hus also believed that the common people were being exploited by the Pope and the Church. Through the Council, Hus was excommunicated and an interdict was issued against the city of Prague. No one could receive communion or be buried on Church ground as long as Hus was serving there. In order to spare the people of the city, Hus went to the countryside and began to write in his defense. No further action was taken until the Council reassembled in 1414.
This time, Hus was summoned to appear and he went with the intent to prove from Scripture that Wycliffe was correct. It was not really a hearing at all. Huss was not given an opportunity to preach or offer any defense. In these hearings, it was almost always assumed that the accused was guilty and the only question that remained to be settled was if the person would admit to being guilty in hopes of receiving a lesser punishment. Huss was pronounced guilty. The council condemned 45 propositions of Wycliffe and 30 of Hus. Hus was declared an obstinate, rebellious, heretic. He was ordered to be handed over to the government for execution by burning. Given Hus’ sentence, the emperor was convinced that he did not have to keep his promise to a heretic. Hus was not given the safe passage home. Rather, Huss was condemned to death. He said,
"Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray thee to have mercy on my enemies."
The life of John Hus was extinguished by the flames of the stake but like Wycliffe before him, his influence lived on. Hus inspired the movement that became the Moravian Brethren Church, which still exists today. It was also the writings of Hus that would later influence Martin Luther. Luther came across some of the writings of Hus by chance in a monastery library. Luther later said, "I was overwhelmed with astonishment. I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill."