Jan Hus, reformer, martyr (c. 1374-6 July 1415)
Jan was born to an humble family in the Kingdom of Bohemia. At a tender age he went to Prague and earned his way by singing and serving in churches. Because of his dedication he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1393 and his Master of Arts in 1396, both at St. Charles University, Prague. He was ordained to the presbyterate in 1400, became rector of the University in 1402 and was appointed preacher in the Bethlehem Cathedral about the same time.
Ann of Bohemia married King Richard II of England. During her time in England, through her influence and the influence of Jerome of Prague, many of John Wycliffe’s writings made their way to Prague and greatly influenced Jan Hus. Jan began his reforms in the early part of the 15th century. His thought was that the Eucharist and other prayers, as well as the lessons from the Bible should be in the language of the people, Czech in his case. (We note in passing that the haček (ˇ) was invented by Jan Hus, so as to make it easier to write in Czech.) He was also against the custom of only giving the communicants the host, as opposed to the host and chalice at communion. (This practice had developed from a fear of spilling the cup). As Martin Luther, he was also against indulgences, and the church charging for everything. As well he was opposed to clergy being involved in government, and declared that the Papacy was an invention of the church for convenience, and had no Biblical warrant. (note: he did not oppose the Papacy, he saw the need of the church of having a head here on earth).
It was this last teaching that aroused the ire of the church against him, as the church was just recovering from the Babylonian captivity and a time of having three popes simultaneously.
Although guaranteed protection, Hus was brought to trial and burned at the stake on 6 July 1415. As he died he sang in Latin, “Christ, Thou Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me. Sadly for him, the King of Bohemia, Vaclav IV was not as powerful (or as sneaky)as Martn Luther’s protector, the Prince Elector of Saxony. As often happens martyrdom gives power to the ideas of the martyrs. Jan Hus’s followers became known as the Moravian and Bohemian brethren and as Wycliffe’s ideas influenced Hus, so did Hus’s ideas influence Martin Luther. (Of course because of the printing press, Martin Luther’s ideas received much more attention and were more widespread) Due to pressure from the Brethren, the Roman Catholic clergy restored the chalice to the laity in the Kingdom of Bohemia. The Brethren still exist in the Czech Republic to this day, although many of them escaped to Saxony, where under the leadership of Bishop Ludwig Count Zinzendorf, they became a mighty missionary force.
Readings for Eucharist: