Tomorrow, it will 600 years since the most important religious reformer in Czech history was executed. On 6th of July 1415 in the German city Kostnice (Konstanz), the religious council proclaimed him a heretic and burned him at the stake. But who was he, in what time did he live, and what does his legacy mean today?
Jan Hus (John Huss in English), was a professor of theology at the Prague University (today Charles University) and a popular priest, who lived during the reign of Wenceslas IV., the son of famous. Charles IV. Wenceslas was not as strong a king and diplomat as his father and with the combination of Black Death epidemics and bad harvests, the country fell into an economic recession. As is the often the case, economic problems and social problems developed together, and in the religious society of the 15th century, this also meant religious problems. The Catholic Church at that time was greedy, and priests were forgetting the humility and goodwill that the Bible dictates. The worst was example of this was the selling of indulgences to forgive people’s sins. Jan Hus was different and critical of the church. He knew well the teachings of the British reformer John Wycliffe, and with a combination of good rhetorical skills and his determination for the truth, he quickly found many supporters among both the poor and rich.
The Catholic Church was in a period of internal struggle, with three high priest having declared themselves to the pope, and it did not could not afford further instigation. They invited John Hus to the Council, probably with the hope that John Hus would take back what he was preaching about, but he did not. Four years after his death, the Hussite wars started, where the followers of John Hus fought the Catholic Church, the Holly Roman Empire, and pretty much everyone who did not hold with their beliefs. In the end, the Hussites lost, but for themselves, they won peace to worship as they would.
The legacy of John Hus and his followers was used as an example many times during Czech history in different circumstances. Sometimes they were bandits, sometimes nationalists, and the communist regime changed them to atheists and first Communists comrades. Not until recently, have we really begun learning about his life and the actions of his followers without ideological bias. One quite amazing thing to remember is that it was Jan Hus, who laid the foundation for the protestant church – 100 years before Martin Luther.
This summer will be the summer of Jan Hus, and if you are interested in his life, and you are coming to Prague, you have a great chance to learn more about him. We recommend to start at the Old Town Square at the Church of St. Nicolas, which is a Hussite Church today. Then you can follow this walk we wrote about in our blog about Hussite movement earlier.
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