Who was Jan Hus?
Jan Hus was a Catholic who questioned the church, thereby making him a forerunner to the Protestant Reformation, and defender of Bible translator John Wyclif. Jan hus was eventaully burned at the stake for his positions and protests.
Early Life of Jan Hus
At an early age he went to Prague where he supported himself by singing and serving in the churches. His conduct was exemplary and his devotion to study remarkable. In 1393 he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts from the University of Prague and in 1396 the master's degree. He was ordained a priest in 1400 and became rector of the university 1402-03.
About the same time he was appointed preacher in the newly erected Bethlehem chapel. Hus was a strong partisan on the side of the Czechs, and hence of the Realists, and he was greatly influenced by the writings of Wyclif. Though forty five propositions of the latter were proscribed in 1403 by ecclesiastical authority, Hus translated Wyclif's "Trialogus" into Czech and helped to circulate it.
From the pulpit he inveighed against the morals of clergy, episcopate, and papacy, thus taking an active part in the movement for reform. Archbishop Zbynek (Sbinco), however was not only lenient with Hus, but favoured him with an appointment as preacher to the biennial synod. On the other hand Innocent VII directed the archbishop (24 June, 1405) to take measures against the heretical teachings of Wyclif, especially the doctrine of impanation in the Eucharist.
The archbishop complied by issuing a synodal decree against these errors — at the same time he forbade any further attacks on the clergy. In the following year (1406) a document bearing the seal of the University of Oxford and eulogizing Wyclif was brought by two Bohemian students to Prague; Hus read it in triumph from the pulpit. In 1408 Sbinco received a letter from Gregory XII stating that the Holy See had been informed of the spread of the Wycliffite heresy and especially of King Wenceslaus's sympathy with the sectaries.
This stirred up the king to measures of prosecution and aroused the university to clear itself of the suspicion of heresy. At the June synod it was ordered that all writings of Wyclif should be handed over to the archdiocesan chancery for correction. Hus obeyed the order, declaring that he condemned whatever errors these writings contained.
About the same time a new conflict broke out on national lines. The king agreed to the "neutrality" plan proposed by the secessionist cardinals at the Council of Pisa and endeavoured to have it recognized by the university. The Czechs fell in with his wishes but the three other "nations" refused. The king then decreed (18 January, 1409) that in the university congregations the Czechs should have three votes, and the other "nations" should have only one vote between them. In consequence the German masters and students in great numbers (5,000 to 20,000) left Prague and went to Leipzig, Erfurt, and other universities in the North.
The king now forbade communication with Gregory XII and proceeded against those of the clergy who disregarded his prohibition. In consequence the archbishop placed Prague and the vicinity under interdict, a measure which cost many of the loyal clergy their position and property.
Hus, who had become once more rector of the university, was called to account by the archbishop for his Wycliffite tendencies and was reported to Rome with the result that Alexander V, in a Bull of 20 December 1409, directed the archbishop to forbid any preaching except in cathedral, collegiate, parish, and cloister churches, and to see that Wyclif's writings were withdrawn from circulation. In accordance with the Bull the archbishop at the June synod of 1410, ordered Wyclif's writings to be burned and restricted preaching to the churches named above.
Against these measures Hus declaimed from the pulpit and, with his sympathizers in the university, sent a protest to John XXIII. The archbishop, 16 July, 1410, excommunicated Hus and his adherents. Secure of the royal protection, Hus continued the agitation in favour of Wyclif, but at the end of August he was summoned to appear in person before the pope.
He begged the pope to dispense with the personal visit and sent in his stead representatives to plead his case. In February 1411, sentence of excommunication was pronounced against him and published on 15 March in all the churches of Prague. This led to further difficulties between the king and the archbishop, in consequence of which the latter left Prague to take refuge with the Hungarian King Sigismund. But he died on the journey, 23 September.
Jan Hus Defends John Wyclif
Hus meanwhile openly defended Wyclif, and this position he maintained especially against John Stokes, a licentiate of Cambridge, who had come to Prague and declared that in England Wyclif was regarded as a heretic. With no less vehemence Hus attacked the Bulls (9 September and 2 December 1411) in which John XXIII proclaimed indulgences to all who would supply funds for the crusade against Ladislaus of Naples.
Both Hus and Jerome of Prague aroused the university and the populace against the papal commission which had been sent to announce the indulgences, and its members in consequence were treated with every sort of indignity. The report of these doings led the Roman authorities to take more vigorous action.
Not only was the former excommunication against Hus reiterated, but his residence was placed under interdict. Finally the pope ordered Hus to be imprisoned and the Bethlehem chapel destroyed. The order was not obeyed, but Hus towards the end of 1412 left Prague and took refuge at Austi in the south. Here he wrote his principal work, "De ecclesiâ". As the king took no steps to carry out the papal edict, Hus was back again at Prague by the end of April, 1414, and posted on the walls of the Bethlehem Chapel his treatise "De sex erroribus".
Out of this and the "De ecclesiâ" Gerson extracted a number of propositions which he submitted to Archbishop Konrad von Vechta (formerly Bishop of Olmütz) with a warning against their heretical character. In November following the Council of Constance assembled, and Hus, urged by King Sigismund, decided to appear before that body and give an account of his doctrine. At Constance he was tried, condemned, and burnt at the stake, 6 July, 1415. The same fate befell Jerome of Prague 30 May, 1416. (For details see COUNCIL OF CONSTANCE.)
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