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14. - 15. století

Master Jan Hus

A prominent Czech reformer and priest, who was burned at the stake for his beliefs
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Jan Hus was a medieval Czech religious philosopher and rector at the University of Prague (Charles University). He strongly criticized the moral decline of the Church. He was influenced by the work of English reformer John Wycliffe, and was persecuted by the Church for his strong stance, before eventually being burned at the stake as a heretic within the Council of Constance. His death sparked the Hussite upheaval in Europe while his work had become the precursor for later reforms. Hus was excommunicated by the Church and wasn’t exonerated until 1999 by Pope John Paul II when he was acknowledged as a reformer of the Church. The date of his death is a public holiday in the Czech Republic.
Hus studied at the University of Prague and in 1396 he gained the title of Master. In 1400, with the rank of Professor he was ordained Roman Catholic priest, following which his famous sermons began. In 1402 he began preaching in the Bethlehem Chapel, and later even Queen Sofia (who would become one of his strongest advocates) would attend his sermons (even Wenceslas IV was a supporter). Hus became the strongest supporter of Wycliffe’s ideas at the university. Gradually, the conflict between Wycliffe’s supporters and opponents, who were predominately German Masters, became stronger. The conflict eventually surpassed the university’s grounds and both the Roman Pope and King Wenceslas IV became involved. The king needed the university’s support for the upcoming council in Pisa, which was supposed to confirm his claim to the title of Roman King. In an attempt to convince the university, he issued the Decree of Kutna Hora, which modified the vote ratio to the benefit of the Bohemian Masters and, basically, cancelled the decision-making authority previously held by the German side. This caused the mass exodus of Germans from the university in 1409.
The situation intensified in 1411, as Hus didn’t stop preaching Wycliffe’s teachings and Pope John XXIII excommunicated him (which was also a reaction to Hus’ support to the Pope in Avignon). Hus then spoke out against his declaration of a Crusade to Naples and criticized the bartering with indulgences and even went so far as to call the Pope an Antichrist. The Pope reacted by declaring a ban on Hus and thus forbade him to preach in public, which drove Hus out

to the countryside, where he also had many supporters. Hus reacted to the Pope’s ban by appealing to Christ as the highest power, which was totally unprecedented.
By the end of 1413 the Council of Constance was summoned, and Hus’ case was to be discussed. In 1414 Hus arrived to the council ready to argue, after having secured a promise of safe conduct from Emperor Sigmund. He was however not prepared for the trial that his summons turned out to be. Hus was interned in the ossuary and later arrested. Sigmund pleaded for Hus’ release, but when the council threatened to disband, Sigmund subsided under the condition that Hus would be afforded a public trial. In March 1415 Hus’ trial was momentarily overshadowed by a dramatic quarrel between the Council and Pope John XXIII, who first agreed to abdicate, but then absconded and called off his promise. Proceedings were then called for the Pope and the Council removed him, in absentia.
Then came the trial of Hus, who took part in several public hearings, but demanded the disproof of his theses. The request was interpreted as effrontery and he was ordered to recant, which Hus refused to do. He was consequently labeled a heretic and when he refused to recant for the third time, the representatives of the Church washed their hands of him and handed him over to the temporal power. He was then sentenced to death by burning. Right before the execution he was offered a last possibility to recant, as had been ordered by Emperor Sigmund, but Hus refused for the fourth time and so on July 6th 1415, he was burned at the stake. The burning led to major outrage among Hus’ supporters in Bohemia, who saw the event as a complete dismissal of the opinion prevailing in the Bohemian kingdom as a whole and as the murder of a Holy man. These feelings escalated and led to the Hussite upheaval.
The figure of Hus was then significantly manipulated by Czech national revivalists, particularly Alois Jirasek, and later by the Communist propaganda. Hus was neither a patriot, nor an egalitarian revolutionary. Above all, Hus was a priest and as such recognized the Church as a whole, even though he wished to modernize it in many ways. General knowledge pertaining to Hus is thus altered to a certain degree by these distortions. His significance, though, is unquestionable.


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