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Jan Hus

1373-1415. Bohemian Reformer. He was born of poor parents at Husinec in S Bohemia, the name of which place he assumed. His mother greatly desired that her son become a priest, and Jan at about thirteen years old entered the elementary school in the nearby Prachatice. In 1390 he matriculated in the university of Prague and four years later received his A.B. degree, ranked sixth of twenty-two. Going on to obtain the master's degree in 1396, he began teaching in the faculty of arts.

In 1402, after receiving priestly ordination, he was appointed rector and preacher of the Bethlehem Chapel, the center of Czech preaching in the spirit of the previous Czech reform movement. He thus became its most outstanding popular exponent. Nevertheless he continued his teaching in the arts faculty and enrolled in the faculty of theology for the doctor's degree. When the theological works of John Wycliffe* were brought to Prague about 1401, Hus became acquainted with them; prior to that he knew only Wycliffe's philosophical realism, with which he agreed. In 1403 a German university master, Johann Hübner, selected forty- five theses from Wycliffe's writings and secured their condemnation as heretical by the university, where the Germans, largely Nominalists, had three votes against the one Czech vote. This caused a rupture between the German and Czech masters, for the latter generally defended Wycliffe. Hus, however, did not share Wycliffe's radical theological views, such as Remanence, although some members of his party did.

The new archbishop, the young nobleman Zbynek Zajíc of Hasmburk, knew but little theology. Fortunately for Hus and the reform party, he favored its ecclesiastical reforms. This benevolent attitude lasted five years, during which the reform party grew in strength. Finally in 1408 the opponents of reform, mostly the higher clergy, won the archbishop to their side. The final break came in 1409 over the deposition of Pope Gregory XII and the election of Alexander V at the Council of Pisa. King Wenceslas and the Czech university masters, including Hus, sided with Alexander, while Zbynek and the German masters remained faithful to Gregory. When the king forced the archbishop to acknowledge the new pope, Zbynek secured from Alexander prohibition of preaching in chapels, including the Bethlehem Chapel. Hus refused to obey and was excommunicated by Zbynek, and the case was then turned over to the Curia. Hus was cited to appear in Rome, but sent procurators instead. Thereupon he was excommunicated by Cardinal de Colonna for contumacy. The king, angered by the opposition of the German masters to his ecclesiastical policy, changed the constitution of the university by depriving the Germans of their three votes and granting them to the Czechs. The Germans left in a body, and Hus was elected rector of the now Czech university.

But even greater conflict arose in 1411, when Pope John XXIII issued his “crusading” bull against King Ladislas of Naples. Shortly after, he appointed a commission for the sale of indulgences. Hus vehemently denounced this “trafficking in sacred things” as heresy. The Prague populace rose in revolt and burned a simulated papal bull. During the uprising three young men were beheaded for opposing the sale of indulgences. The process against Hus at the Curia was renewed in 1412, and he was declared under major excommunication by Cardinal Peter degli Stephaneschi. Prague was placed under interdict because of Hus's presence; thereupon he left for exile.

Hus found refuge chiefly in S Bohemia, and during the next two years he engaged in literary conflict with his adversaries, particularly Stanislav of Znojmo and Stephen Pálec. He also preached far and wide. Among the most important Czech works he now wrote were the Expositions of the Faith, of the Decalogue, and of the Lord's Prayer, as well as Postil. In 1414 he accepted the invitation of the leading Czech noble, Henry Lefl of Lazany, the chamberlain of King Wenceslas, to his castle of Krakovec.

Because of the Great Schism,* aggravated at the Council of Pisa* by the division of the West among the three popes, it was decided to hold still another council for the final settlement of the controversy. Emperor Sigismund* was the leading promoter, though Pope John XXIII unwillingly cooperated. The council was to be held in Constance* on 1 November 1414. Sigismund invited Hus to attend and promised him safe conduct for the journey both ways, even if the charges against him were not lifted. After much hesitation, and upon the urging of even King Wenceslas, Hus consented to go. He left Krakovec on 11 October and arrived at Constance on 3 November. At first he was left unmolested; but within less than a month he was treacherously lured into the papal residence and then imprisoned in a dungeon in the Dominican monastery. A panel of judges was thereupon appointed, and he was subjected to what amounted to a continuation of the previous trial for heresy. The judges endeavored to convict him of adhering to Wycliffism; but when he successfully repudiated most of the charges, Pálec extracted forty-two articles from Hus's chief work, De ecclesia. When the Parisian chancellor, Jean Gerson, arrived at the council, he brought with him an additional twenty charges of heresy and error.

When Pope John, who presided over the council, found himself in danger of losing his bid for confirmation in the papal office, he fled from Constance on 21 March 1415. He was seized, however, and brought back a prisoner. He was finally condemned and deposed on the basis of fifty-four charges. The council meanwhile reorganized itself. Hus, who had been transferred to the castle of Gottlieben, was now being judged by a new commission, the head of which was Peter Cardinal d'Ailly.* He was finally permitted a public hearing before the council on 5, 7, and 8 June, but was not permitted to present and defend his own views, but only to answer charges falsely formulated against him by his enemies or testified to by false witnesses. Finally d'Ailly demanded that Hus abjure the articles charged against him. In vain Hus protested that to abjure what he did not hold would be to perjure himself. He was willing to abjure if instructed from Scripture in what way his teaching was wrong. This the council refused to do. Even so, it would have preferred to secure Hus's retraction. It gave him a final formula which likewise proved unacceptable, since he still would have to admit having taught heresy and error.

The last session was held on 6 July in the cathedral before the general congregation. The final thirty articles, none of which correctly stated his own teaching, were read. Since he still refused to recant on the ground that they ascribed to him views he did not hold, he was declared an obstinate heretic, a disciple of Wycliffe, deposed and degraded from the priesthood, and turned over to the secular arm for execution. He was burned at the stake the same day on the outskirts of the city.

M. Spinka, John Hus and the Czech Reform (1941), John Hus at the Council of Constance (1965), and John Hus, a Biography (1968); P. de Vooght, L'hérésie de Jean Huss (1960).