John Huss

The celebrated Bohemian reformer, was born near Prague, in Bohemia, about the year 1376, at a village called Hussinez, upon the borders of the Black Forest His parents were not affluent, but his father paid great attention to his education, which he improved by his strong mental capacities, and by close application to his studies in the University of Prague, where he obtained the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1393, Master of Arts in 1395, and Bachelor in Divinity in 1408. During the course of his university honours, ha obtained also a benefice. John Mulheym, a person of large fortune in Prague, erected a chapel, which he called Bethlehem; and, having amply endowed it, appointed Huss as minister. Huss was at this time a Catholic. The opinions of Wickliffe, though then extending, had not reached Bohemia. Having, about the year 1382, perused, through the medium of a young Bohemian noble man, the writings of Wickliffe, his mind was greatly impressed by them; and he would call him an angel sent from heaven to enlighten mankind. He would mention, among his friends, his meeting with the Works of that reformer, as the most fortunate circumstance of his life. From this time, both in the schools and in the pulpit, he would inveigh with great warmth against ecclesiastical abuses; point out the bad government of the church, and the bad lives of the clergy; and lament the state of the people who were under the government of the one, and the influence of the other. The state of religion in Bohemia was, indeed, at that time very low; it was the subject of barter, and the clergy were most corrupt; Huss, therefore, attracted not only notice, but attention. The followers of Huss became numerous; many members of the university followed him. The works of Wickliffe were translated into the Sclavonian tongue, and read with great attention in every part of Bohemia; and as soon as Pope Alexander V was seated in the chair, observing the diffusion of Protestant principles and writings, he issued a bull, directed to the archbishop of Prague, ordering him to collect the writings of Wickliffe, and to apprehend and imprison his followers. By virtue of that bull, the archbishop condemned the writings of Wickliffe, proceeded against four doctors who had net delivered up their copies of his writings, and prohibited them from again preaching, Huss, with some other members of that university, protested against those measures; and on the 25th of June, 1410, entered a new appeal from the sentences of the archbishop. This affair was carried before Pope John XXIII., in consequence of the previous death of Alexander; and John granted a commission to cite Huss personally to appear at Rome, to answer the accusations made against him. Huss requested to be excused from attending personally. Three proctors subsequently appeared for him before Cardinal Colonna, who was elected pope in 1417. The proctors apologized for the absence of Huss, but expressed their willingness to answer in his behalf; but Cardinal Colonna declared Huss contumacious, and excommunicated him accordingly. The proctors then appealed to the pope: he appointed certain cardinal to draw up a process of the whole matter, and they not only confirmed the sentence of Colonna, but, carrying it further, excommunicated not only Huss, but all his friends and disciples.

This treatment had no tendency to lessen the popularity of Huss. His sufferings increased his influence; and multitudes of all ranks, either impelled by gratitude or by compassion, hastened to enlist themselves in his cause. Thus supported, he did not despond; and, although he was prohibited from preaching, he continued to discharge every other branch of the pastoral office; and, among other plans adopted by him, he gave out questions, which he encouraged the people to discuss in private, and to come to him with their difficulties. Thus disappointed and chagrined in his attempts to suppress me reformed, the new archbishop convened a Council of doctors, who drew up and published some articles against Huss and his adherents. But to them he wrote a spirited and judicious reply. Soon after this performance, Huss published another piece against the usurpations of the court of Rome; and to this the archbishop and Council replied. But with writing alone they were dissatisfied, and therefore applied to the pope for assistance, who merely recommended the subject to the king of Bohemia. The letters which Huss wrote at this time are very numerous. He justified Wickliffe’s book on the Trinity, and defended the character of that reformer against a charge brought by a man of the name of Stokes, and others, who accused him of disobedience. He also wrote many discourses against the peculiar doctrines of the Catholic Church.

About this time Peter of Dresden was obliged to fly from Saxony, and seek a refuge at Prague, where he encouraged a priest of St. Michael’s chapel to preach up the establishment of the communion under the species of wine. Huss embraced these sentiments, and for which he was exposed to persecution; but eventually the Hussites were permitted to continue their sermons, and their sentiments became general. In 1412, Huss left his retirement, and returned to Prague. Pope John XXIII at this time published his bulla against the king of Naples, ordering a Crusade against him, and granting indulgences to all who engaged in that war. Huss declaimed against such bulls, Crusades, and indulgences. The populace espoused the opinions of Huss: the magistrates imprisoned and persecuted them, and a massacre ensued; but through the whole affair he displayed a true Christian spirit. Immediately after that melancholy affair, Huss retired to his native place, where he lived protected by the principal persons of the country. Thither some of the most eminent men of every country resorted, to obtain his directions, his assistance, and his advice. During his retreat at Hussinez, he spent much of his time in writing. There he wrote his treatise “Upon the Church” his paper entitled “The Six Errors,” levelled against indulgences, simony, excommunication, &c. These treatises were much opposed, and Huss defended them. Huss, soon after, once more returned to Prague, and engaged in other controversies. At Constance, at this time, the famous Council was held, at which it was determined, that a reformation was necessary; and Pope John was deposed and imprisoned. But against Huss and his followers, it also directed its thunderbolts. Wickliffe was now dead ; but they reviled his memory—burnt his books—and even ordered his bones to be dug up and consumed to ashes. To Constance Huss travelled, there determined to defend his principles, and support the cause of truth. On his journey he was received with acclamations, and in three weeks arrived at that place. He was nominally examined before the pope and the cardinals; and, after remaining there some time, he was one day suddenly seized by a party of guards, in the gallery of the council, although the pope had assured him of liberty and protection. At such perfidy the assembly was surprised; and the pope, confounded and alarmed, could only say that it was the act of the cardinals.

In a lonely monastery on the banks of the Rhine, belonging to the Franciscans, who, as an order, were bitterly opposed to him, Huss was now confined. Yet even there he composed some interesting tracts, among which was one entitled, “A Comment upon the Commandments” another, ” Upon the Lord’s Prayer” a third, “On the Knowledge and Love of God” and a fourth, “On the Three great Enemies of Mankind”. For a long time Huss remained in prison. Catholics of more liberal principles interceded for his acquittal, but in vain. Many sessions elapsed prior to the exhibition of articles against him; but on the 5th and 6th of June, 1515, after a previous examination, he was tried for maintaining the doctrines afterwards professed in the Reformed Church, and was advised to abjure his books and recant. But he magnanimously refused: and on the 7th of July, the Council censured him for being obstinate and incorrigible, and ordered “that he should he degraded from the priesthood, his books publicly burnt, and himself delivered to the secular power”. That sentence he heard without emotion. He immediately supplicated the pardon of his enemies; and the bishops appointed by the Council stripped him of his priestly garments, and put a mitre of paper on his head, on which devils were painted, with this inscription,—” A Ringleader of Heretics”. The bishops delivered him to the emperor, and he delivered him to the Duke of Bavaria. His books were burnt at the gate of the church, and he was led to the suburbs to be burnt alive. Prior to his execution, he made a solemn public appeal to God, from the judgment of the pope and Council, which was fervent and energetic. He was then surrounded with fagots, his mind all the while composed and happy. The flames were then applied to the fagots; when the martyr sang a hymn, with so loud and cheerful a voice, that he was distinctly heard through all the noise of the combustibles and of the multitude. At last he uttered, “Jesus Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy upon me!” and he was consumed; after which, his ashes were carefully collected and cast into the Rhino. Hubs was a true ecclesiastic end a real Christian. Gentle and condescending to the opinions of others, this amiable pattern of virtue was strict only in his principles. His great contest was with vice. His piety was calm, rational, and manly; his fortitude was undaunted. “From his infancy,” said the University of Prague, “he was of such excellent morals, that during his stay here, we may venture to challenge any one to produce a single fault against him.” His writings were simple, pious, affectionate, and intelligent Luther said he was the most rational expounder of Scripture he ever met with.

HUSSITES, the followers of John Huss.


A Theological Dictionary – London 1833

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