Rejoicing in the Darkness: The Life of John Hus (1372-1415)


jan_hus2On Dark, Dreary, Damp Days…

Sitting on the couch with my wife on this wet and dreary evening I reflect on a day that seemed like a good day to catch up on some writing, dive into a good book, and just talk with my beautiful bride. While summer can bring some of the most beautiful days of an entire year, today was just one of those days to stay indoors. Though I would much prefer to read and write and talk and work and play outdoors amidst the sights and sounds of summer, rainy and dreary days usually indicate a day of sovereign providence whereby God would have me inside to study and relax. And though I do not wish to think this way about God’s diverse and bountiful creation, rainy days are like dark and silent days of sadness and misery. I glance, but do not gaze at the gray sky. I hear, but do not listen to the rainfall. It is a nuisance, it seems to me. My soul can very easily take on the very feeling of the sky and weather on days like today. For today, there was no brightness, no jubilee, no excitement among birds, squirrels, or rabbits.

However, in the darkness of the creeping night sky, sitting on a couch I turn to see a strikingly red male cardinal on a bird feeder. I just watched him for maybe two minutes before he flew off into the woods behind us. There, in the (seemingly) lifeless void of a wet, dark, and dreary backyard, was energetic, spontaneous, bright, and exuberant life. A little, seemingly insignificant, cardinal fluttered around as a signal of hope of the coming dawn. Tomorrow is a new day full of new mercies and new graces from an eternally benevolent Father. And though the moment of the time may be filled with darkness and dreariness, a new day will soon dawn full of the brightness of the glory of God. And in something more than ourselves we must hope.

Hus-tle and Bustle of a Reformer

In 1415, a theologian and pastor by the name of John Hus faced such a dark and dreary day. And what a grand hope he had in something far greater than himself. John Huss was born in 1372 in Bohemia. He was ordained a priest and became preacher of Bethlehem chapel in Prague in 1402 only to later become rector of the University of Prague in 1409. Hus followed in the footsteps of a man who was the Martin Luther of his day, although he was viewed in his day as more of an Adolf Hitler, killing millions with his “evil” writings that challenged the papacy of the Roman Catholic church. So, to be the informal successor of the martyred John Wycliffe (the man responsible for the first English translation of the Bible in 1382) would be similar to taking over the reigns of Hitler after World War II and raised a swastika flag ushering in another Nazi regime. Such a regime would have to be stomped out or burnt up. The same was true of Wycliffe and Hus. Wycliffe was exhumed and burned after his death and so would one of the greatest pre-Reformation reformers of the 15th century.

Hus began to teach Wycliffe’s teachings from his pulpit, the most “dreadful” of which included his rejection of any biblical basis for the authority of the pope over the Church; his insistence that the Scriptures were the foremost authority in all Church matters (the heart of the 16th century Reformation); his insistence on the reform of the corruption within the Roman Catholic church; his denial of transubstantiation; and (probably the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back) his passionate Wycliffe-like insistence that Christians should have a Bible in their own language. I know these seem like not only harmless, but beneficial and good sermon topics, but if you are a Roman Catholic priest living in the early 15th century, these teachings would more than likely be appalling to you.

Soon after these teachings began once again to spread, this time through John Huss, the archbishop of Prague issued decree to suppress the Wycliffe teachings being spread by the “reformists” as they were labeled. However, this backlash was met with an increase in the propagation of the ideas of Wycliffe and Hus by the reformist supporters. Hus especially would not be silenced. He publicly renounced the decree from the archbishop in a sermon. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” John Hus was doing just that. He was utterly convinced of Wycliffe’s teachings on the centrality and authority of God and his Word vis-a-vis the false authority of the pope. He had planted his feet on the thousand mile deep rock of God’s Word and was prepared to stand firm–till death.

Nevertheless, the sky went from gray to black and the storms came with the official and ultimate decree from the pope which called for the end of Wycliffe doctrinal publication in Prague. Hus was now tumbling down the muddy slope toward the scaffold. Hearing of Hus’ continual opposition, the pope called for him to be brought to Rome to answer to accusations of heresy. Hus did not comply with the summons from Rome and was immediately excommunicated for disobedience–the first domino to fall.

Hus spent much time after his excommunication continuing to preach the gospel as well as the Reformation-like teachings of John Wycliffe until December of 1414 when he was arrested following the Council of Constance. He was placed in the control of the archbishop of Constance whereby he was chained day and night, tortured by disease, and poorly fed for seventy-three days.

D-Day for John Hus

Doomsday was approaching as Hus was put on trial on June 5, 1415. On June 8, 1415, the last day of his trial, Huss was asked to recant his teachings and confess the following:

  • that he had erred in the Wycliffe theses he had held to
  • that he renounced them for the future
  • that he recanted them
  • that he in fact declared the opposite of these sentences

John Hus always maintained that he would recant if he could be proven wrong biblical. No such attempt at persuasion came. Only accusations of heresy without any attempts to convince Huss of his errors persisted. One month later, Hus’ D-Day finally arrived. On July 6, 1415, John Hus after further refusals to recant, John Huss was condemned to be burned at the stake for his “heresies.”

At this point even, the early reformer protested loudly, saying that even at this hour he did not wish anything but to be convinced from Holy Scripture. In the spirit of his Lord and Savior of whom he so faithfully preached, it is said that Hus prayed for God to forgive his enemies. He was then robed in priestly attire and again asked to recant. He refused. With curses his ornaments were taken from him, his priestly attire was destroyed, and the sentence was pronounced that the Church had deprived him of all rights and delivered him to the powers of the world. Thus Huss was led away to the stake under a strong guard of armed men. This is the death by which Hus would glorify God (John 21:19). At the place of execution he knelt down, spread out his hands, and prayed aloud.

Then the prophecy came. A bright red cardinal, or maybe a white dove lighted upon his shoulder in this his darkest hour of gloom and dreary despair. On hope he stood and hope he would proclaim. His executioners tied his hands behind his back. He was strapped to a stake with wood piled high above his head. Hus was given one last chance to recant, but his persecutors were not given the satisfaction as all they heard from him was,

God is my witness that I have never taught that of which I have been accused by false witnesses. In the truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached I will die today with gladness.

It was in this spirit of sorrowful rejoicing in suffering that he opened his mouth in prophetic cry. As the stake was lit and the fire kindled with the very writings of John Wycliffe, John Hus uttered among his dying breath and words,

In 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.

Thankfulness 600 Years Later

Praise be to God that the morning dawned on the darkness of the suppression of the authority of Scripture by the Roman Catholic church with the arrival of Martin Luther and the great Reformation of the 16th century! Almost exactly 100 years from Hus’ death, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Church doors in 1517 proving Hus to be a prophet. God indeed did raise up a man who called for reform and he was not suppressed! Though Hus was burnt up with the writings of his predecessor and he died on a dark and dreary day, the hope on which he stood, hope in the supremacy of Christ and the exaltation of his Word. Hus hoped for a day in which every Christian would have the Word of God translated into their native language. He learned this from Wycliffe. I am thankful to God for these men and the hope with which they gave and ultimately lost their lives for.

As I read my English Bible on this rainy day, I realized that I am daily living the hope and dream of John Wycliffe and John Hus. Although Hus never saw the bright and shining day of reckoning in 1517, that day did come. And though we may not be able to see one hundred years from now the condition of many social issues the church is battling today (i.e. abortion, human trafficking, biblical marriage, etc.) we must stand firm on the Word of God and hope in Christ through any suffering we may experience along the way. So, instead of moping and sulking in those dreary, damp, and dark moments of my life, I am resolved in the spirit of John Huss and our Savior Jesus Christ to rejoice in these moments knowing that God is sovereign to accomplish his will and it will never be thwarted. I am thankful for that little red bird that fluttered in the darkness this dreary day. And I am even more thankful for the sovereign work of God amidst the darkness of suffering to accomplish his purposes. In this we can, like Paul, truly be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10) even if we are burning on a stake.

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