John Hus

“We’ll cook his goose.” 

This colorful statement was originally directed toward one of the earliest Reformers, John Hus (1369-1415). A century later, Martin Luther referred to Hus as the “goose that became a swan.”

Hus was born in 1369, in Husinec or Goose-town, which is the southern Czech Republic today. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1401, and began teaching at Prague University. He preached in one of Europe’s most popular churches, Prague’s Bethlehem Chapel, which held 3000 people. This church was one of the first to preach sermons in the native tongue, Czech, rather than Latin.

Wycliffe's Influence

At Prague University, Hus discovered the writings of John Wycliffe, Oxford’s leading philosopher, theologian, and influential church dissident. Wycliffe taught radical ideas for the time, such as personal reading of Scripture and that Holy Scripture has authority over the church.

Hus copied Wycliffe’s books for his own study, which awakened his interest in the Bible. Even though he spent some time with a ”foolish sect”, upon discovering the Bible, he said, "When the Lord gave me knowledge of Scriptures, I discharged that kind of stupidity from my foolish mind."  Hus began to trust more and more in the Scriptures, "desiring to hold, believe, and assert whatever is contained in them as long as I have breath in me." He would soon be challenged to do just that. Like Wycliffe, he believed the church was corrupt and needed reform.

Reformation Themes

Hus preached themes that fueled the Reformation a century before Martin Luther tacked his 95 theses on the door at Wittenberg, Germany. He spoke against the teaching of transubstantiation (the bread of communion becoming flesh), and the selling of indulgences (religious artifacts that were meant to provide spiritual blessings) as financial support for the clergy. He rejected the standard of relics as blessing for those who paid to see them, saying that such practice, “denied the doctrine of grace” (Rescuing The Gospel, E.W. Lutzer). Like Wycliffe, he saw the Bible as the authority in life and in the church.

Trouble with Rome

Hus was excommunicated by his Archbishop for teaching Wycliffe’s reformative ideas after the Pope banned Hus from teaching in Bethlehem Chapel. The same day 200 of John Wycliffe’s books were publicly burned in England, Hus was summoned to Rome by the Pope to answer for his rebellion. He refused to go.

He further split with Rome when Pope XXIII offered indulgences to soldiers in exchange for serving in his war against the King of Naples. Hus attacked this as an act of simony (the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges). Agreeing with Hus, the Czech people burnt a papal bull (a written edit from the Pope). Reacting to this action, the Pope stopped any sacraments from being performed in the city. Since only the priests could perform the sacraments they thought were necessary for salvation, the people feared hell and rose up against Hus.

The Church

Due to the uproar, Hus left the city of Prague and went to southern Bohemia, taking refuge in a castle with King Wenceslas in Krakovec. There he wrote two of his most important books: Simony and The Church. In The Church, he defined the church as the body of Christ with Christ alone as its head. God could forgive sins without the necessity of a priest. He objected to the doctrines of relics, making pilgrimages, worshipping idols, and trusting in false miracles. All of which were promised to provide spiritual security outside of the work of Christ. He believed communion wine should be available to the common people. He also taught that the true church coexisted with the false church. He said Christians should not obey an order unless it could be found in Scripture (Rescuing The Gospel, E.W. Lutzer).

Hus’ last stand

The Emperor, Martin V, requested Hus attend the Council of Constance to face charges of heresy against the Catholic Church and promised him safe passage. Traveling through Germany, the people, also ready for reform, turned out in a triumphal procession. Though Hus defended the charge that he agreed with all of Wycliffe’s writings, the judges used articles from his books to condemn him as a heretic. 

In an attempt to break his spirit, he was deprived adequate amounts of food and water, and subjected to brutal conditions. He said he would recant if it could be shown that his views were in opposition to Scripture. Three years before his death he said, “I have said that I would not, for a chapel full of gold, recede from the truth…I know that the truth stands and is mighty forever, and abides eternally, with whom there is no respect of persons.” 

Faced with certain death, he wrote a prayer to a friend, “O most holy Christ, draw me, weak as I am, after Thyself, for if Thou dost not draw us we cannot follow Thee. … 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.”

Martyred

On July 6, 1415, Hus was brought to the Cathedral of Emperor Sigismund. He was placed on a table, mocked and cursed, and forced to wear a crown on which was written: “The Chief of Heretics”. The bishops committed his soul to the devil, but Hus stated, “And I commit it to the most merciful Lord Jesus Christ.” When brought to the place of execution, he was disrobed, his hands tied behind his back, and his neck bound to the stake by a thick rusty chain. He knelt and prayed. Asked once more to recant, he proclaimed: “"God is my witness that the evidence against me is false. I have never thought nor preached except with the one intention of winning men, if possible, from their sins. Today I will gladly die." 

When the fire lit, Hus began to sing, “Christ, Thou son of the living God have mercy on me.” His last words were: “Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray thee to have mercy on my enemies." 

A Swan rises

John Hus was burned at the stake for blasphemy against the Roman Catholic Church. Hus said: “You can cook this goose, but within a century a swan shall arise who will prevail.” That swan was Martin Luther, who said, “Holy Johannes Hus prophesied about me when he wrote from his Bohemian prison that they might now be roasting a goose, but in a hundred years they will hear a swan sing, which they will not be able to silence. And that is the way it will be, if God wills.”

102 Years after John Hus was martyred, the “swan” began to sing.