Occurring during a time of great change and upheaval in Europe, the Reformation began with the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther who challenged the powers of the Papacy by nailing his 95 theses on the Wittenberg Church door on 31st October 1517. Besides Luther, God raised other reformers who valiantly contended against the heretical practices of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). For their fearless defence of the historic Christian faith, many of these heroes of the Reformation paid with their very lives.
As we remember these faithful martyrs, let us also acknowledge those who planted the seed of the Reformation. One of the courageous men who laid the groundwork for the return to biblical Christianity was John Huss, the Bohemian reformer.
o John Huss
• Early life and priestly career
John Huss (also known as Jan Hus) was born into a poor peasant family in Southern Bohemia in 1369. To support himself, Huss sang and served in churches, and trained for the priesthood. He “had thought to become a priest quickly in order to secure a good livelihood and dress and to be held in esteem by men” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/martyrs/john-huss.html).
After graduating from Charles University of Prague with a doctorate, he joined the priesthood in 1401. A year later, he was appointed a preacher at Prague’s Bethlehem Chapel, a renowned centre of growing national reform in Bohemia where sermons were preached in Czech. It was in this chapel that Huss preached some of his boldest and most powerful sermons against the errors of the RCC.
• John Wycliffe’s influence
By this time, the writings of John Wycliffe had spread across Europe into Bohemia and influenced Huss, stirring in him an interest in the Bible. In the days before the printing press, Huss painstakingly copied Wycliffe’s writings and sermons, and translated them into Czech.
Like his predecessor, Huss began to place the Bible above the traditions and practices of the RCC, and called for a life of piety as taught in the Word of God. Like Wycliffe, he taught that the masses should be allowed to read the Bible in their own language. He called for reforms in the RCC and a return to the authority of the Holy Scriptures as the only rule of faith and practice. In particular, he condemned the opulent and immoral lifestyle of the clergy.
• Trial and execution
When ordered to stop promoting his controversial views, Huss refused and was ex-communicated from the RCC in 1411.
In 1414, Huss was summoned by the Council of Constance to defend his views. Guaranteed a safe passage by Roman Emperor Sigismund (who was anxious to end the religious controversy), he set off on 11 October. However, he was arrested soon after arrival on 3 November, and cast into a dungeon. Apparently, the Emperor had gone back on his word. After several prison transfers and mock trials, Huss was condemned to be burned at the stake on 6 July 1415.
Arriving at the place of execution, Huss was asked if he would renounce his errors. Huss replied: “God is my witness that the evidence against me is false. I have never thought nor preached except with the one intention of winning men, if possible, from their sins. Today I will gladly die” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Hus). When the fire was lit, and flames driven by the wind engulfed him, the martyr began to sing in Latin: “Christ, Thou Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me.”
News of Huss’ execution stirred up the people of Bohemia. His followers (known as the Hussites) “rebelled against their Roman Catholic rulers and defeated five consecutive papal crusades between 1420 and 1431, in what became known as the Hussite Wars. A century later, as many as 90% of inhabitants of the Czech lands were Hussites” (ibid).
After their leader’s death, the Hussites continued to preach the Gospel fearlessly. Subsequently, they, and the followers of Huss’ fellow martyr, Jerome of Prague, became known as the Czech Brethren and later as the Moravians.
We thank God for raising John Huss, a valiant and faithful forerunner of the Reformation. For his steadfast and unwavering stand against the errors of the RCC, Huss paid with his life.
In later years, Martin Luther, coming across a volume of sermons of the forerunner, commended him: “I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/martyrs/john-huss.html).
God had paved the way for the growth of the Reformation Movement through fearless martyrs like John Huss. The Reformation lit a candle which will never be extinguished. We are grateful for the precious faith that has been passed down to us. May we cherish the truths of God’s Word and stand true to our Lord Jesus Christ in these last days. (… to be continued)