John Huss (a.k.a. Jan Hus) is regarded to be one of the earliest known religious thinkers and reformers in the world. A philosopher and a Master at Charles University (Prague), Huss was greatly influenced by the writings and teachings of John Wyclife. He made a number of followers during his time, who came to be known as Hussites. Reformers, in the later years, looked up to Huss for his unswerving commitment in the face of the church's cunning brutality, due to which he had to face extreme consequences. Condemning Hus' uprising, the Church first excommunicated him and then burned him to death, in an unfair trial.
Childhood & Early Life
Born in Husssenitz (Boehemia), in 1369, to peasant parents, John Huss trained himself for priesthood, mainly to escape poverty. In 1396, he attained a master's degree from Charles University in Prague and two years thence, became a professor of theology. In 1400, he was ordained to priesthood. In 1404, John Huss received a bachelor's degree in theology. Inspired by the writings and teaching of John Wyclife, he was of the opinion that the Church was supreme, not the Pope. He felt a need for reforms and modifications, to eradicate the corruption and abuses of Roman Church. Huss also believed that each person should have a Bible of his own, in a language he can read.
Rise to Fame
Huss, along with other Bohemian leaders, initiated a decree; according to which Bohemian nation had to have three votes and the foreign nations were to have one vote. This verdict led to the evacuation of many doctors, masters and students from Prague University, in 1409, resulting in the formation of the University of Leipzig. With this, Prague University lost its international repute and turned into a Czech school. The news of the Bohemian heresy spread throughout Europe, thus isolating Archbishop Zbynìk Zajíc. John Huss attained became the rector of the Czech university.
Problems With Church
A reformer, John Huss condemned various church abuses in his sermons, leading to serious problems between him and the church. Huss directed his thoughts to the faulty disciplines and practices of the church. He discarded the practice of reserving the chalice from the laity, during Holy Communion, for the priest. He whole-heartedly accepted the practice of worshipping in the Czech language, rather than in Latin, by the masses. John Huss argued that the lay man also had an important role to play in the administration and leadership of the Church and that Christ was the true head of the Church, not the Pope. His argument that Church officials should exercise spiritual authority, instead of being earthly governors, contributed to the cause of his excommunication, for insubordination, in 1412.
Excommunication of Huss
Alexander V authorized the Archbishop to give up all the books of John Wycliffe, cancelled his doctrines and ceased his free preaching. Though Huss argued in favor of Wycliffe, all his arguments and wiles went unheard. To cap it all, Huss and his adherents were excommunicated. However, this did not stop Huss or his adherents. With the government on his side, he continued to preach in the Bethlehem Chapel and his power increased. Huss became fearless in his allegations against the Church,
Indulgence and Huss
After the death of Pope Alexander V, a crusade against indulgence started, of which Huss was also a part. Huss delivered a speech in 1412, which is said to be directly taken from the last chapter of Wycliffe's book, De ecclesia, and his treatise, De absolutione a pena et culpa. He argued that no Pope or Bishop had the right to raise a sword in the name of Church. Huss was of the opinion that man attained forgiveness only by repentance. His followers burnt the Papal bulls and believed that Huss' sayings should be adhered, to rather than that of Church.
Arrest of Huss
The Pope ordered the Cardinal of St. Angelo to advance against Huss. Imposed under the great church ban, Huss was seized and delivered to the archbishop. Even his chapel was destroyed. In retaliation to such cruelties, Huss appealed that Jesus Christ, and not the Pope, was the supreme judge. Though he was forced to leave the Prague by Wenceslaus, his exodus did nothing to lessen the excitement that had built already.
Council of Constance
A council was set up in 1414, at Constance, with the aim to put an end to papal schism and reform the Church. John Huss gladly joined the council to put an end to all oppositions. It is evident from the sermons he carried that he went with the motive of converting the assembled fathers to his own principal doctrines. For the meeting, the Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg assured John Huss of safe conduct, apart from his safety for the duration of journey. Taking the words of the King, Huss set off for the journey.
Imprisonment & Preparations for Trial
A day before the council was to assemble, Huss reached Constance. Upon his arrival, it was announced that Michal z Nìmeckého Brodu would be Huss' opponent. While, initially, Huss stayed at the house of a widow, later on, rumors spread that he was about to flee and as a result, he was sent into the dungeon of the Dominican monastery. Though the prosecution witness was heard, Huss was not allowed to even appoint an advocate for his defense. After the downfall of the antipope, Huss was taken to the castle of Archbishop of Constance, Gottlieben on the Rhine. Apart from being poorly fed, he was also chained day and night. Husss was isolated from his friends and followers and was tortured by disease.
At the trial, Huss was charged with thirty-nine sentences, out of which twenty-six had been excerpted from his book on the Church, seven from his treatise against Páleè and six from the treatise against Stanislav ze Znojma. However, in return, Huss maintained just one argument that he would renounce himself, if his errors were proven to him from the Bible. He asked for a fair trial and some time, so that he could prove his views. Though there were several attempts to make him recant his words and views forcefully, Huss resisted all of them.
An Italian clergyman pronounced the sentence of condemnation for Huss. Even at that time, he said that he would only be convinced once he has been given proof from Holy Scriptures. As a result, he was enrobed in priestly vestments and asked to recant. Still, he refused. At this, all his ornaments were taken and his priestly tonsure was destroyed. Huss was deprived of all rights and was delivered to the secular powers. A high paper hat, with the word 'Haeresiarcha' inscribed on it, was placed on his head and he was taken away by armed men.
At the execution ground, Huss spread his hands and prayed aloud. After undressing him, the executioners tied his hands behind his back with ropes. His neck was tied, with a chain, to a stake around which wood and straw had been piled up, in such a way that it covered him up to the neck. Count Palatine asked Huss for the last time whether he wanted to recant and save his life or die. Huss preferred to die and was thus, burnt to death.