Preface of All Saints
[Common of a Martyr]
[Common of a Prophetic Witness]
[Common of a Pastor]
[Of the Holy Cross]
[For a Prophetic Witness in the Church]
PRAYER (traditional language)
Faithful God, who didst give Jan Hus the courage to confess thy truth
and recall thy Church to the image of Christ: Enable us, inspired by his
example, to bear witness against corruption and never cease to pray for
our enemies, that we may prove faithful followers of our Savior Jesus
Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.
PRAYER (contemporary language)
Faithful God, you gave Jan Hus the courage to confess your truth and recall
your Church to the image of Christ: Enable us, inspired by his example,
to bear witness against corruption and never cease to pray for our enemies,
that we may prove faithful followers of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This commemoration appears in A Great Cloud of Witnesses.
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Last updated: 4 May 2019
PRIEST and MARTYR, 6 July 1415
Huss (Jan Hus) was born in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) in
about 1371. He received a master's degree from Charles University in Prague
in 1396, became a professor of theology in 1398, was ordained to the priesthood
in 1400, was made rector of the University in 1402, and in 1404 received
a bachelor's degree in theology (presumably a more advanced degree than
the term suggests today).
In his day, there was a crisis of authority in the Western Church. In
1305, under pressure from the King of France, the seat of the Popes was
moved from Rome to Avignon in France, where it remained for 70 years. (This
period is called the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy, suggesting the
70 years that Jerusalem lay desolate after when the Jews were deported
to Babylon.) In 1376, the then pope returned to Rome. When he died soon
after, the cardinals, mostly French, were disposed to elect a French Pope,
but the people of Rome objected, fearing that a French Pope would move
the Papacy back to France. The cardinals therefore elected an Italian
Pope, and then fled elsewhere, where they elected a French Pope and said
that the first election had been under duress, and was void. Thus there
were two (later three) claimants for the Papal Office. The Council of
Constance was called to settle the matter. One claimant recognized the
Council and then abdicated. The Council responded by proclaiming that
he had been the true Pope. It then deposed the other two, and elected
a new Pope, thus healing the schism.
Meanwhile, Hus had begun to denounce various church abuses in his sermons.
His disputes with authority did not concern basic theological issues,
but rather matters of church discipline and practice. The custom had arisen,
at celebrations of the Lord's Supper, of distributing the consecrated
bread to all Christians in good standing who desired to receive it, but
restricting the chalice to the celebrant alone. Hus denounced this restriction
as contrary to Holy Scripture and to the ancient tradition of the Church.
He also held that Church officials ought to exercise spiritual powers
only, and not be earthly governors. In 1412 his archbishop excommunicated
him, not for heresy, but for insubordination. (The real problem was that
Hus supported one papal claimant and the archbishop another. Hus's candidate
was ultimately declared to be the true pope.) Matters came to a head when
one claimant (later declared unfit) proclaimed a sale of indulgences to
raise money for a war against his rivals. Hus was horrified at the idea
of selling spiritual benefits to finance a war between two claimants to
the title "Servant of the Servants of God," and said so.
In 1414 he was summoned to the Council of Constance, with the Emperor
guaranteeing his personal safety even if found guilty. He was tried, and
ordered to recant certain heretical doctrines. He replied that he had
never held or taught the doctrines in question, and was willing to declare
the doctrines false, but not willing to declare on oath that he had once
taught them. The one point on which Hus could be said to have a doctrinal
difference with the Council was that he taught that the office of the
pope did not exist by Divine command, but was established by the Church
that things might be done in an orderly fashion (a view that he shared
with Thomas More). The Council, having just narrowly succeeded in uniting
Western Christendom under a single pope after years of chaos, was not
about to have its work undone. It accordingly found him guilty of heresy,
and he was burned at the stake on 6 July 1415.
After his death, his followers continued to insist on the importance
of administering the Holy Communion in both kinds, and defeated several
armies sent against them. In 1436 a pact was signed, by which the Church
in Bohemia was authorized to administer Chalice as well as Host to all
communicants. The followers of John Huss and his fellow martyr Jerome
of Prague became known as the Czech Brethren and later as the Moravians.
The Moravian Church survives to this day, and has had a considerable influence
on the Lutheran movement. When Luther suddenly became famous after the
publication of his 95 Theses, cartoons and graffiti began to appear implying
that Luther was the spiritual heir of John Huss. When Luther encountered
the Pope's representative Johannes Eck, in a crucial debate, Eck sidestepped
the questions of indulgences and of justification by faith, and instead
asked Luther whether the Church had been right to condemn Hus. When Luther,
after thinking it over, said that Hus had been unjustly condemned, the
whole question of the authority of Popes and Councils was raised.
— by James Kiefer