John Huss (1369 Southern Bohemia – July 6, 1415 Constance) was a religious thinker and reformer. He initiated a religious movement based on the ideas of John Wycliffe. His followers became known as Hussites. The Catholic Church did not condone such uprisings, and Hus was excommunicated in 1411, condemned by the Council of Constance, and burned at the stake.

Influence of Wycliffe in Bohemia

Huss was a precursor to the Protestant movement. The theological writings of John Wycliffe spread widely in Bohemia. They had been brought over, as is said, in 1401 or 1402 by Jerome of Prague, and Huss was greatly moved by them. The university arose against the spread of the new doctrines, and in 1403 prohibited a disputation on forty-five theses taken in part from Wycliffe. Under Archbishop Zbyn?k Zajíc (from 1403), Huss initially enjoyed a great reputation. In 1405 he was active as a synodical preacher, but the bishop was compelled to depose him on account of his severe attacks upon the clergy.

The doctrinal views of Wycliffe had spread over the whole country. As long as Zbyn?k Zajíc remained obedient to Gregory XII, all opposition to the new spirit was in vain; but as soon as he submitted to Alexander V, conditions changed. The archbishop brought his complaints before the papal see, accusing the Wycliffites as the instigators of all ecclesiastical disturbances in Bohemia. Thereupon the pope issued his bull of December 20, 1409, which empowered the archbishop to proceed against Wycliffism — all books of Wycliffe were to be given up, his doctrines revoked, and free preaching discontinued. After the publication of the bull in 1410, Huss appealed to the pope, but in vain. All books and valuable manuscripts of Wycliffe were burned, and Huss and his adherents put under the ban. This procedure caused an indescribable commotion among the people down to the lowest classes; in some places turbulent scenes occurred.

The government took the part of Huss, and the power of his adherents increased from day to day. He continued to preach in the Bethlehem chapel, and became bolder and bolder in his accusations of the Church. The churches of the city were put under the ban, and the interdict was pronounced against Prague, but without result.

His trial and execution

The Council of Constance was convened in 1414, and he was summoned before it, to answer to the charges brought against him, having been promised the safe conduct, or passport of the Emperor Sigismond. But the Emperor proved false to his word, and the council was determined to condemn him. He was declared a heretic, given the opportunity to recant and sentenced to be burned at the stake. On the 6th day of July, 1415, he was led forth and burned at the stake.

Portions of this material have been adapted from the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (public domain). Go here for more detailed biography.

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