Huss, John

Huss, John
(Jan Hus, ca. 1370-1415)
   Bohemian priest and religious reformer, educated at the University of Prague and in 1402 appointed preacher in the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. He became an extremely popular preacher, highly critical of the worldliness and corrupt lives of the clergy. Huss also became interested in the theology of the English heretic John Wyclif, whose ideas had spread among some Czech theologians. His surviving sermons, however, are dominated by concern for moral reform and do not uphold the doctrines for which Wyclif had been condemned. His influence rested in part on resentment by ethnic Czechs against the traditional dominance of the national church by the large German minority. Huss' agitation for reform of the church eventually led the Arch-bishop of Prague to try to silence his sermons. His defiance of this attempt was backed by mobs of supporters. In 1409 the king transferred control of the local university from the German scholars, who had traditionally been dominant, to the Czechs. Most of the Germans soon left for Leipzig, where they founded a new university, and Huss himself was elected rector of the Czech university. The claim of his opponents that he was a follower of the doctrines of Wyclif (whose works had been condemned in 1403) was at best an exaggeration, though books written by Wyclif were circulating among Czech theologians. But Huss did protest against the burning of Wyclif's books and as a result was excommunicated. He appealed first to the Roman curia and then to the authority of Christ, but he was never in personal danger, since not only the king but also the overwhelming majority of the Czech-speaking population supported him.
   In 1412, when Pope John XXIII proclaimed an indulgence to raise money for his war against the king of Naples, Huss denounced the indulgence as a perversion of the crusade. The pope responded by laying Prague under an interdict as long as Huss was allowed to live there. Huss relieved the city of this burden by leaving for a self-imposed exile in the countryside, where he wrote several treatises dealing with simony, clerical immorality, and the authority of the church hierarchy but also spread his ideas among the rural population. In 1414 the Council of Constance, assembled to end the Western Schism, invited him to appear and explain his position. Although the Holy Roman Emperor promised him safe conduct, once he arrived in Constance, the council declared that promises made to heretics were not binding. Huss was imprisoned, faced with demands to recant his teachings, and upon his refusal to accept the accuracy of the supposedly Wycliffite passages extracted from his books, was burned at the stake.
   News of the execution of Huss led to a national uprising of the Czech people. Efforts of the local hierarchy to use force against his followers were resoundingly defeated, and when later popes attempted to mount crusades against the Hussites, the crusading armies were crushed.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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