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The words of John Wycliffe, whom we looked at last week, didn’t die with him. They found a fresh voice in a Czech man named John Hus who also “dared to toy with the idea that the Christian church was something other than a visible organization on earth headed by the pope.” Thanks to the marriage of Ann of Bohemia (Bohemia is another name for what is now the Czech Republic) and King Richard II, there was a lot of traffic between the scholars at Oxford and Prague. That’s how John Hus came to hear about Wycliffe’s views, which emphasized that Christ, rather than the pope, was the true head of the church.

The Word of Heretics

The paintings at the chapel where Hus preached served as an illustration to expose the corruption of church authority: the image of the pope on a horse contrasted with Christ walking barefoot; the pope having his feet kissed contrasted with Christ washing those of others. In addition to questioning the supreme authority of the pope, Hus also emphasized studying Scripture and taught that people should be given both wine and bread during communion (in those days, priests only reserved the cup for themselves). Hus’s statements caused a stir, especially after the pope ordered the local archbishop to root out heretics. When Hus publicly attacked the pope’s use of indulgences to fundraise for his war against a rebellious Naples, he lost favor with the Czech king and fled to protect the city from more fallout from the controversy. He was enticed back to present his case to a church council with the promise of safe passage, only to be declared a heretic and thrown in prison. Their excuse for going back on their word? You don’t need to keep promises with heretics.

Life or Death

While in prison, Hus prayed: “Give me a fearless heart, a right faith, a firm hope, a perfect love, that for Thy sake I may lay down my life with patience and joy.” He was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415. As he was led to his death, he walked past a pile of burning books: they were his. When he was asked if he would take back his words and save his life, he replied: “God is my witness . . . In the truth of the gospel I have written, taught, and preached; today I will gladly die.”

After his death, Hus’s legacy lived on in a group of followers called Hussites. They would end up joining causes with the Reformation, which Hus himself helped inspire. In fact, Martin Luther— punning o of Hus’s last name, which means “goose”—would remind people of the “goose” who had been “cooked” for defying the pope. Today, Hus still serves as a sobering reminder that truth can be costly. But perhaps even more painfully, he reminds us that sometimes the biggest wounds we receive come not from the world, but from the church.


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