By Rev. Roslyn Hamblin
July 06, 2015 marks 600 years since the martyrdom of John Hus. As we commemorate this significant event, we trace his short life of 46 years; but a 46-year period in which each moment seems to have counted significantly for Christ. His Christian life, moral and Biblical stance, ethical teaching, and ultimate sacrifice helped to reform and shape the Christian church of the 15th and 16th centuries and to give birth to the Moravian Church in 1457. They are the legacy he has left, influencing our Moravian ancestors through the ages and our Moravian sisters and brothers of more recent times.
We therefore seek to trace the link between Hus and the establishment of the Moravian Church, and between Hus and our Church today. It all happened because of the stand Hus took for Christ. As a result of this thread, Moravians today have a reason to celebrate Hus. And out of his witness for Christ, we today are influenced to similarly live for Christ.
A Short History of John Hus
On July 06, 1369 the boy John was born in the village of Husinec in Bohemia, and in his early life became known as John of Husinec. Later he adopted and adapted the name of his birthplace, thus becoming “John Hus”. His early education took place at the village school by the monks. He later went on to study Philosophy and Theology at the University of Prague and after completing his Master’s degree in 1396, soon became lecturer at the university, Dean of the faculty of Philosophy, and rector or president of the university. In 1401 he was ordained as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church.
During this time Hus became deeply engrossed in the writings of the English reformer, John Wycliff, who had died in 1384. These writings greatly influenced Hus. One of Wycliff’s bold assertions declared that even the pope was not to be obeyed when his orders were contrary to the Bible. Hus was convinced that Wycliff had found a great Truth and Hus sought to live by and teach this Truth. Hus himself continued this search for the Truth. He once said, and maintained as his motto, “Seek the truth, hear the truth, learn the truth, love the truth, speak the truth, hold to the truth and defend the truth until death, for the truth will free you.”
In 1402 Hus was appointed as preacher at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. This was one of the few churches in Europe where the tradition was for all the services to be done in the local language rather Latin (In the Roman Church services were usually fully done in Latin.) Hus became famous for his preaching here. Having spent much time as a chorister during his university days, Hus revived and developed congregational singing at the chapel. He therefore immersed himself into the translation of Latin hymns and the writing of new hymns. One hymn which his congregation frequently sang before his sermons begins this way:
“The Word of God, which ne’er shall cease,
Proclaims free pardon, grace and peace,
Salvation shows in Christ alone,
The perfect will of God makes known.”
Recognizing that the Church was slipping into corruption, Hus advocated reform in the Roman Church and in his sermons was not afraid to denounce sin of any kind or from any quarter. But his efforts at reform were met with much resistance from the Church. There were five (5) main point of concern about which Hus taught.
¨ That the sale of indulgences was iniquitous.
¨ That the Laity should be allowed to receive the cup at the Lord’s Supper.
¨ That worship should be conducted in the language of the people.
¨ That Christ alone should be recognized as Head of the Church.
¨ That the authority of the Bible should take precedence over the authority of the Church.
Rather than seeing reform, Hus was excommunicated and exiled. During his exile he wrote extensively, including a book called “De Ecclesia” (“The Church”) which summarizes his position. He was summoned to a Council at Constance to defend himself, but this trial was a farce. He was dressed in his priestly robes and ordered to recant. When he refused to recant his robes were torn off; a communion cup was placed in his hand and snatched from him by a bishop. Thereafter he was condemned to death.
On his 46th birthday, July 06, 1415, he was led to a meadow in Constance, and tied to a stake, bound with wet ropes. He was given one last opportunity to recant, to which he responded: “I shall die with joy in the faith of the gospel which I preached.” He was burnt to death and his charred skeleton was broken up, and further burnt until only ashes remained. The ashes were then thrown into the Rhine River so that no one would be able to find anything which might be kept as a relic of the man. But John Hus had become a Christian martyr and a national hero.
John Hus died, but his teachings found many followers. When these realized that the Church was not going to institute the reforms for which Hus had sacrificed his life, they founded a church of their own, giving it the name “Unitas Fratrum” or “Unity of the Brethren”. Associated with the beginnings of this church were Peter of Chelchic (Peter Chelchicky), a farmer whose writings greatly influenced Gregory the Patriarch, who, together with Michael Bradacius, emerged as the leadership of this new church. They settled in the eastern Bohemian village of Kunwald and organized themselves as a church in March of 1457. This church was quickly established in the neighbouring Czech province of Moravia, and later spread to Poland when they fled there from persecution during the 17th century. The nickname “Moravian” later became attached when they settled in Germany in 1722.