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Hus, Jan


HUS, JAN (1372/31415), also known as John Huss, was a Czech reformer of the Christian church. Hus was called John of Husinec after the village in southern Bohemia in which he was born of peasant parents. During his university years, he shortened his name to Hus. After earning a master's degree, in 1398 Hus became a member of the faculty of liberal arts at the University of Prague. He was ordained a priest in 1400, served as dean of the faculty from 1401 to 1402, and matriculated in the faculty of theology to work toward the degree of doctor of theology. Because of his subsequent activities and the controversies that developed around him, Hus never completed the degree.

In 1402 Hus was appointed preacher at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, where sermons were delivered in Czech rather than Latin. He became a leader in the national Czech reform movement, which emphasized moral reform and preaching in the vernacular. Through his teachers Hus had been introduced to the thought of Milíc of Kromeríz (c. 13251374) and Matthew of Janov (c. 13551393), early leaders of the reform movement.

Hus, along with other reformers, also became interested in the thought of John Wyclif. Prior to 1402, Hus appears to have known only Wyclif's philosophical writings. But after Hus's friend Jerome of Prague brought a number of Wyclif's theological and reformist works to Prague in 1401, and again in 1406, Hus began to use some of Wyclif's less radical ideas for reform in his own sermons at Bethlehem Chapel. He also translated Wyclif's Trialogus into Czech. In 1403, the conflict between the nominalism of the German members of the faculty at the university and the philosophical realism of Wyclif and the Czech faculty members contributed to an academic (not an ecclesiastical) condemnation of the heretical sense of forty-five articles drawn from Wyclif's writings.

The archbishop of Prague, Zbyněk Zajíc, who was primarily a soldier, not a theologian, at first supported both the clerical reform party and Hus. In 1405, he appointed Hus preacher to the Prague synod. However, by attacking clerical vices and abuses in his sermons, Hus aroused increasing clerical opposition to the reform party. Innocent VII and Gregory XII both exhorted Zbyněk to check the growing interest in Wyclif's views. Hus's friends Stanislav of Znojmo and Stephen Páleč later became his bitter enemies after they were forced to defend themselves against charges of heresy by renouncing Wyclif's views (particularly the doctrine of remanence, i.e., that bread and wine remain unchanged after the words of consecration in the sacrament).

Hus lost the archbishop's support when he and other Czech faculty members sided with Wenceslas, king of Bohemia, in his recognition of Alexander V, who in 1409 had been elected pope by the Council of Pisa in an attempt to end the schism that was dividing Western Christendom into three factions. The council had deposed and excommunicated Gregory XII and Benedict XIII, who both, however, refused to abdicate in Alexander's favor. When Zbyněk and the German members of the faculty supported Gregory XII, Wenceslas changed the constitution of the university in a manner that the Germans could not accept, with the result that they left Prague. (Some of them founded the University of Leipzig.) Zbyněk then obtained support from the antireformist clergy and acknowledged Alexander V as legitimate pope in order to secure papal approval of his proposed actions. To silence Hus, the archbishop forbade preaching in private chapels, but Hus continued to preach. Zbyněk retaliated by ordering the burning of Wyclif's books and sending charges of heresy against Hus to the Curia Romana.

When John XXIII, successor of Alexander V, issued indulgences for sale to raise funds for his crusade against Gregory XII and Gregory's supporter Ladislas of Naples, Hus opposed the methods used to sell the indulgences, but not the doctrine of indulgence itself. He thus lost the support of King Wenceslas, who was profiting from the sale of the indulgences. Hus was placed under a stricter ecclesiastical ban, and because his presence threatened Prague with an interdict, he left the city in 1412. He sought refuge in the castles of friends in southern Bohemia, where he completed important works in Czech and Latin, including his famous De ecclesia (1413).

Wenceslas's brother Sigismund, king of Hungary and king of the Romans, seeking to crush heresy and to end the papal schism, brought pressure to convoke in 1414 the Council of Constance. Threatened by an interdict for tolerating heresy in Bohemia, Wenceslas was forced to agree to Sigismund's plan to send Hus to the council. Hus arrived in Constance in 1414 with Sigismund's assurance of safe-conduct, but there he was questioned, imprisoned, and tried for heresy. He was found guilty and was burned at the stake at Constance on July 6, 1415.

Hus's religious views have been interpreted as being derived from the writings of Wyclif, and thus as both heretical and devoid of originality. They have also been interpreted as the culmination of the national Czech reform movement, modified by some of Wyclif's less radical ideas. In this interpretation, Hus is seen as essentially orthodox in his scholastic views, unlike his colleagues, some of whom advocated radical Wyclifite heresies. Some recent Czech writers have seen Hus and his followers as representatives of the lower classes in their revolt against a feudal society.

Hus had what is now called an ecumenical view of the church. He thought of the Roman church as but one among several branches of the church militant and defined the true church as the totality of the predestinated. Thus his judges at the Council of Constance interpreted his views correctly when they accused Hus of denying that the Roman church is the only true church but were wrong in their interpretation that he refuted the valid existence of the church militant. Denying the supreme authority of popes and councils, Hus accorded supreme authority for faith and practice to Christ's teachings and life, as chronicled in scripture; however, he granted a subordinate authority to the traditions of the church, and as a scholastic theologian did not exclude appeals to these traditions. Hus was not, strictly speaking, a pre-Lutheran advocate of sola scriptura. Neither was he an advocate of sola fide, justification by faith alone. He emphasized (with rare exceptions) the necessity of good works for salvation in the sense of fide caritate formata, faith formed by love. He believed in transubstantiation rather than in the doctrine of remanence. Toward the end of his life, in a letter from the Council of Constance to his substitute at Bethlehem Chapel, Hus approved the distribution of both bread and wine, not bread alone, to the laity, a practice that his followers continued.

Hus's influence was especially pronounced among the moderate Hussites who were known as Utraquists (from utraque, "each of two," referring to the two Communion elements), and also as Calixtines (from calix, "goblet, drinking vessel"). His teachings strongly influenced the members of the Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Czech Brethren), who separated from the other Hussites in 1467. The Czechoslovak Hussite Church (or Czechoslovak National Church), founded in 1920, continues the Hussite tradition.

See Also

Wyclif, John.


Works by Hus

De Ecclesia: The Church, by John Huss (1915; reprint, Westport, Conn., 1974) is an edited translation by David S. Schaff of Hus's most famous work. S. Harrison Thomson prepared a critical edition of the Latin text as Magistri Joannis Hus tractatus de ecclesia (Boulder, Colo., 1956). Matthew Spinka edited and translated the important work "Hus on Simony," in Advocates of Reform from Wyclif to Erasmus, "Library of Christian Classics," vol. 14 (Philadelphia, 1953). Spinka also translated The Letters of John Hus (Manchester, 1972).

Works about Hus

Johann Loserth influenced many by his thesis of Hus's extreme dependence on Wyclif in Wiclif and Hus, translated by Maurice John Evans from the first German edition (London, 1884). Loserth's Hus und Wiclif: Zur Genesis der hussitischen Lehre (Munich, 1925) is a second, revised edition. Czech scholars and others have criticized this thesis, for example, Paul de Vooght in his L'hérésie de Jean Huss (Louvain, 1960). Matthew Spinka's criticism of it had appeared in John Hus and the Czech Reform (1941; reprint, Hamden, Conn., 1966). Spinka extended his argument, showing the importance of the national Czech reform tradition, in John Hus' Concept of the Church (Princeton, 1966). The appendix to this work contains the forty-five articles attributed to Wyclif that were condemned in 1403 and 1412 and the thirty articles for which Hus was executed together with Hus's responses. Spinka translated and edited John Hus at the Council of Constance (New York, 1965), which contains an instructive introduction and a translation of "An Account of the Trial and Condemnation of Master John Hus in Constance," by Peter of Mladonovice. Spinka's John Hus: A Biography (Princeton, 1968) is a thorough study with useful maps. Each of these last three works contains an excellent bibliography of primary sources and specialized studies, many of which are by Czech scholars.

John C. Godbey (1987)

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