views updated May 11 2018


HUSSITES. The Hussite revolution was a protest movement for sociopolitical freedom and religious reform in fifteenth-century Bohemia. Visible in several manifestations prior to the Thirty Years' War, the term identifies followers of the martyred priest Jan Hus (c. 1372/731415), whose distinguishing and unconventional practices involved celebrating the Eucharist in species of both bread and wine.

The instability of the House of Luxembourg in Prague and repeated interference by Sigismund, aspiring Holy Roman emperor, created political uncertainty. Ecclesiastical affairs were no better; the papal schism directly affected Prague, and Czech resentment toward foreign religious domination escalated. Ecclesiastical property included up to fifty percent of Bohemia. Heavy taxation, a declining silver industry, static wages, rising prices, peasant devastation, and an impoverished gentry comprised a host of social and economic grievances. Conflicts between church and state, monarch and barons, and Czechs and Germans exacerbated the climate of discontent. Heretical movements like that of the Waldensians and the teachings of John Wycliffe (c. 13301384), combined with native reform movements, heightened the potential for protest and dissent.


The leading personality was university professor and preacher Jan Hus, who facilitated reform aimed at correcting abuses. Hus exerted unusual influence from his pulpit and wrote prolifically, but ran afoul of the Prague episcopal see, lost favor with the king, and was excommunicated and later accused of heresy. He attended the Council of Constance (14141415) hoping for a fair hearing, but was seized and executed. After his death, and the inability of King Wenceslas (Václav) IV (ruled 13781419) to govern effectively, university masters and Czech barons assumed political power. A league formed in 1415 to protect Hussite interests. Hussite ideologues led by Jakoubek of Stříbro (d. 1429) and Nicholas of Dresden (d. 1417) inaugurated Utraquism, the practice of Communion using both bread and wine. As Utraquism constituted a rejection of Roman ecclesiastical authority, it was condemned by the Council of Constance. Later, Utraquism included all the baptized, including infants. The chalice became the Hussite symbol. Crisis loomed when radical preachers and their followers engaged in thoroughgoing protests against religious and political establishments.

By 1417 Bohemia faced economic blockade. Prague's archbishop commenced active repression, refusing to ordain Hussite priests while evicting incumbents, but the Hussites struck back. The university ratified Utraquism while dissenters forced a suffragan bishop to perform ordinations. Catholic clerics were ejected and replaced with Hussites. The king undertook a largely ineffectual royal repression. By 1419 a crusade aimed at crushing resistance received papal approbation. The Hussites refused to submit and Reformation became revolution. Radical priest Jan Želivský (d. 1422) incited public demonstrations. Resistance rallies formed on hilltops in rural Bohemia throughout 1419, attended by thousands. In July a mob, led by Želivský, overthrew the Prague civil authorities. The king was forced to accept the Hussite coup, but died within a month.

In 1420 the radical community at Tábor began to contravene religious and social mores: vernacular replaced Latin, liturgical vestments and accessories were abandoned, and preaching and simple eucharistic piety predominated. Simultaneous communal experiments developed: private property was forbidden, taxes abolished, equality proclaimed, and community chests established. Radicals elected their own bishop. Originally pacifists, the Táborites became "warriors of God."

Greatly alarmed, Sigismund marched on Prague, suffering ignominious defeat at the hands of Jan Žižka's (c. 13601424) peasant forces. Four subsequent crusades were scattered. Throughout the 1420s the Hussites attempted social and religious reform. Refusing to accept Sigismund as king, they sought a ruler from the Polish-Lithuanian dynasty. The Hussite wars continued, spreading to neighboring regions after Žižka's death. The Four Articles of Prague functioned as a charter, calling for free preaching, Utraquism, divestment of church wealth, and punishment of serious sins. A massive propaganda campaign followed. Radicals advocated seizing property from the wealthy, correcting religious abuses wherever encountered, and promoting "saint" Jan Hus, the chalice, and the law of God. This latter component possessed both theological and social implications.

Forced to negotiate, the Council of Basel (1433) implemented strategic divide-and-conquer policies. When initial talks disintegrated and crisis gripped the Hussite leadership, conservative Utraquist barons colluded with Catholic forces, captured Prague, and forced a confrontation with the radicals in 1434. The Táborites were crushed. Bohemian had outwitted Bohemian in the interests of Rome. Jan Roháč of Dubá (d. 1437) and confederates resisted Sigismund until 1437.


Petr Chelčický (c. 1390c. 1460) a Táborite separatist, summarized Hussitism as a rejection of medieval society with its tripartite divisions. He exerted formative influence on the Unity of Brethren, a group that survived into the seventeenth century. Jan Rokycana (d. 1471) dominated the Utraquist party. The Hussite movement, together with the nobles organized in the Estates, remained the chief force in Bohemia until their disastrous defeat by the Habsburgs at the Battle of White Mountain (1620). Before White Mountain, Bohemian society and politics took the Hussites seriously. The political reality of the fifteenth-century revolution was a strengthened nobility. During the militant period, army captains Žižka and Prokop Holý (c. 13751434) exerted enormous political influence, while Tábor's bishop Mikuláš of Pelhimov (d. 1460) provided leadership for three decades. After 1440 two main Hussite groups continued: the Utraquists, who inclined toward Lutheranism after 1520, and the Calvinist Unity of Brethren.

Hussite strength and achievement are measured by the standardization of the Czech language (undertaken by Hus), restoration of lay Communion using both bread and wine, and survival through five imperial crusades. In the process, the Hussites achieved formal recognition by the official church (1433), a triumph of toleration exemplified in the "Peace of Kutná Hora" (1485), a common religious confession (1575), and maintained their uniqueness despite Lutheran and Calvinist Reformations. In 1609 the "Letter of Majesty" was published, recognizing the right of Hussite traditions to exist, and in 1596 the vernacular Bible of Kralice was produced. The Hussites thus reformed their religion before the age of the European Reformations. Their greatest weakness was twofold: a tendency toward internal dissension contributing to a major defeat in 1434, and their proclivity for negotiating with the official church, a stance that prevented full implementation of Hussite doctrine. Their defeat at White Mountain was total. During the Thirty Years' War Bohemia was forcibly re-Catholicized. Hussites were exiled or driven underground. A century later, however, the spiritual descendants of Hussites emerged: the Moravian Brethren, who persist to the present day. It cannot be maintained that Hussite ideals survived, except in very limited ways in small communities in eastern Moravia.

The Hussite ethos lasted two hundred years, shaping the Bohemian nation. Its influence on movements within the Protestant Reformation was considerable. Hussites were the first to produce a full-fledged reformation from a movement of heresy and protest, and in this way altered European civilization.

See also Bohemia ; Prague ; Reformation, Protestant ; Schmalkaldic War (15461547) ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .


Primary Source

Fudge, Thomas A. The Crusade against Heretics in Bohemia, 14181437: Sources and Documents for the Hussite Crusades. Aldershot, U.K., 2002. Over 200 documents illustrating the radical period.

Secondary Sources

Bartoš, František Michálek. The Hussite Revolution, 14241437. Edited by John Klassen, translated by J. Weir. New York, 1986. Translation of Husitská revoluce. Study by a leading Czech scholar.

David, Zdenĕk V. Finding the Middle Way: The Utraquists' Liberal Challenge to Rome and Luther. Baltimore, 2003. Definitive study of the Hussite tradition during the Reformation.

Fudge, Thomas A. The Magnificent Ride: The First Reformation in Hussite Bohemia. Aldershot, U.K., 1998. Emphasis on heresy, propaganda, and theological motifs up to 1437.

Heymann, Frederick G. George of Bohemia: King of Heretics. Princeton, 1965. Political history of the movement up to the 1470s.

. John Žižka and the Hussite Revolution. New York, 1969. Fully documented with 11 sources appended.

Holeton, David R., and Zdenĕk V. David, eds. The Bohemian Reformation and Religious Practice. 5 vols. Prague, 19962004. Wide-ranging collection of essays by international scholars of Hussitism.

Kaminsky, Howard. A History of the Hussite Revolution. Berkeley, 1967. The definitive study; history-of-ideas approach that stops at 1424.

Klassen, John M. The Nobility and the Making of the Hussite Revolution. New York, 1978. Insightful perspective with emphasis on the barons and political aspects of the movement.

Odložilík, Otakar. The Hussite King: Bohemia in European Affairs 14401471. New Brunswick, N.J., 1965. Contextual study of Hussite Bohemia with emphasis on politics.

Říčan, Rudolf. The History of the Unity of Brethren. Translated by C. Daniel Crews. Bethlehem, Pa., 1992. Translation of a Czech work and essential for understanding the larger dimensions of the Hussites up to the 1620s.

Šmahel, František. "The Idea of the 'Nation' in Hussite Bohemia." Translated by R. F. Samsour. Historica 16 (1969): 143247 and 17 (1970): 93197. Vigorous assessment of ideological and political aspects of national identity.

Wagner, Murray L. Petr Chelčický: A Radical Separatist in Hussite Bohemia. Scottdale, Pa., 1983. Excellent monograph emphasizing radical theology and political thought.

Thomas A. Fudge


views updated May 17 2018


Even before John hus, a Hussite spirit characterized the Czech reform movement whose origins go back to the rule of the archbishop of Prague, ernest of pardubice (134364). After the Hussite wars of the 15th century, the Hussite spirit persevered among the utraquists (Calixtines) and in the communities of the bohemian brethren. It left its imprint on the Protestant sects that entered Bohemia in the 16th century. After World War I, it prompted the foundation of a national Czechoslovak church which drew 300 priests and a million Catholics away from their allegiance to Rome (1920). It remains alive among non-Catholic Christian sects of present-day Czechoslovakia. Strictly speaking, however, the history of the Hussites in Bohemia is limited to the period between the death of Hus (1415) and the end of the Hussite wars (1436).

Pre-Hussites. There are several important figures in the pre-Hussite reform movement: Conrad of Waldhausen, summoned to Bohemia by Archbishop Ernest to assist attempts at reform (1360); john milÍČ, his successor, an ascetic visionary, originator of a program for the rehabilitation of reformed prostitutes, and the first of a line of reforming preachers reaching down to Hus; Matthias of Janov (d. 1393), a theologian of great originality whose work was a powerful attempt to restore a Biblical character to theology; Thomas of Štítné (d. 1409), a lay writer on spiritual matters who translated Christian teaching into vivid and familiar language, bringing it closer to the everyday life of the humblest man. These four spearheaded the reform. In their struggle against relaxed moral standards, they tried to lead Christians, especially the clergy, back to the way of Christ. They fought idolatry and the traffic in relics, the superstitious abuse of indulgences, pseudo pilgrimages to places made famous by "miracles" that were often only frauds, excessive veneration of images and statues, and pompous, expensive church ceremonies. The reformers, however, held the Sacrament of the Eucharist in great esteem and even encouraged frequent Communion, although they criticized all ritualistic and simoniacal administration of the Sacraments. They insisted on the need for preaching, appealing frequently to Scripture, which was the word of God to them.

About 1400, these tendencies became stronger and veered away from orthodoxy as the reformers adopted the teaching of John wyclif. However, the violent behavior of reformers like Hus, jerome of prague, James of Stříbro (Jacobellus), and Nicholas of Dresden led to a conservative reaction on the part of men like Stanislas of Znojmo and Stephen of Páleč, who were likewise reformers but who had come to the conclusion that Wyclif was a heretic. When this latter group rallied to the Church, the "Hussites" adopted a more demanding attitude, insisting on the poverty of the clergy and on the punishment of priests guilty of mortal sin. They also demanded that the word of God be preached freely. After the departure of Hus for the Council of constance, Jacobellus at Prague inaugurated Communion under both species. Although the position of Hus on reform was less cogent than that of his friends, his death at the stake (1415) and the condemnation of Communion under both species at Constance infuriated the Czechs. These two events changed the reformers into real "Hussites." Their program was reduced to four points: the word of God should be preached freely by Christian priests, in the way that Christ had commanded; the Eucharist should be distributed under both species to all believing Christians; all who committed mortal sins should be punished, including priests; the clergy should renounce ownership of worldly goods in order to live and work according to the teaching of the Apostles.

Hussite Wars. Deaf to the remonstrances of martin V and heedless of the threats of the Emperor sigismund, the Hussites decided on armed resistance. Enrollment in the Hussite armies was furthered by religious motivation and also by merely temporal considerations; by the desire of the workers in the towns, especially in Prague, to wrest power from the patrician families; and by the urge of an impoverished nobility to enrich itself by seizing the possessions of the Church and by sharing in the spoils. Two crusades instigated by Martin V and a third by eugene iv (1431) failed to put down the Czechs. A military genius, John ŽiŽka, had emerged from their ranks, and on his death (1421) a priest, Prokop the Great, succeeded, proving as invincible as his predecessor. It was a war marked both by acts of generosity and by atrocities. For 15 years Bohemia was ravaged. Žižka "punished one sacrilege by a thousand sacriliges." Sigismund likewise gave free rein to cruelty.

No army could conquer the Hussites, but internal dissensions did. The taborites, the Prague party, the Adamites, and the "Orphans" fought each other in the pauses in the war against Pope and Emperor. In 1434, the imperial troops, with the help of the Hussites from Prague, defeated the Taborite extremists at Lipany. Meanwhile, the Council of basel had invited the Hussites to discuss differences. After a preliminary meeting at Cheb (1432), the Council received a Hussite delegation with great ceremony in Basel itself (1433). They conferred together, and after much emendation four articles were accepted by both parties: the word of God was to be preached freely, but only by those who had received their mission from the Church; the use of the chalice was conceded to the laity, i.e., Communion under the species of wine was conceded, provided it was believed and taught that Christ was present wholly under either species; mortal sins, particularly those causing public scandal, were to be punished in conformity with divine and

ecclesiastical laws, though only by legitimate authority; the Church had a right of ownership and so did the clergy, but they were obliged to administer and use their goods in an entirely just way. In 1436 these four articles, under the name of Compacts, were promulgated solemnly at Jihlava. On the same occasion the Czechs recognized Sigismund as their king. The status quo regarding Church property that had changed hands during the disturbances, as well as the churches taken over by the Calixtines, was accepted. Thus ended the Hussite wars. Of the Hussite movement, only the Catholic utraquists remained, for whom the fundamental charter was provided by the Compacts. But the spirit of Hus was soon to revive through another great spiritual adventure, that of the Bohemian Brethren.

Bibliography: v. v. tomek, Dějepis města Prahy (Prague 1855). c. j. von hefele, Histoire des conciles d'après les documents originaux, tr. And continued by h. leclercq, 10 v. in 19 (Paris 190738), 7. p. moncelle, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 7.1:346348. f. hrejsa, Dějiny křeštanství v Československů (Prague 1950). f. g. heyman, John Žižka and the Hussite Revolution (Princeton 1955). f. seibt, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765); suppl., Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil: Dokumente und kommentare, ed. h. s. brechter et al., pt. 1 (1966) 5:546549. p. de vooght, L'Hérésie de Jean Huss (Louvain 1960). f. bartos, The Hussite Revolution, 14241437 (Boulder 1986). f. graus, "The Crisis of the Middle Ages and the Hussites," in s. ozment, ed. The Reformation in Medieval Perspective (Chicago 1971). h. kaminsky, A History of the Hussite Revolution (Boulder 1978). j. macek, The Hussite Movement in Bohemia (New York 1980).

[p. de vooght]


views updated May 14 2018


HUSSITES , Christian reform movement, closely interwoven with the national and social conflicts prevailing in Bohemia in the 15th century, named after John Huss (Jan Hus; c. 1369–1415). They influenced European history through their reform ideology and their victories in the five crusades launched to subdue them (1420–34). Mainly because of their attitude to the Old Testament and their rejection of the adoration of relics and saints, contemporary Roman Catholics accused them of being a Judaizing sect. (An extremist group even insisted on introducing kashrut and sheḥitah.) The Jews sympathized with the "Benei Hushim" or "Avazim" (Czech husa, Heb. avaz: "goose"), seeing in their actions an approach toward Judaism. The Taborites, the belligerent radical wing, identified themselves with biblical Israel, calling their centers by the biblical names of Horeb and Tabor. The latter remained as the name of the town in southern Bohemia and as the designation of an assembly in the Czech language. The last refuge of Hussite opposition after its defeat (1434) was called Zion.

However curious these biblical and linguistic influences may be, the fact is that the Hussites initiated an important change in the attitude toward the Jews through the interpretations of one of their leaders, Matthias of Janov (d. 1394), of figures like Antichrist as being Catholic and not Jewish, as was maintained by medieval Christianity. However, Huss himself attacked the Jews for their implacable opposition to Christianity. There is no proof in the assertion, read out when Huss was on the stake (1415), that he had "counseled with the Jews." Jacobellus of Stribro (Mies), the leader of the moderate Calixtine faction, in his treatise De usurae ("On usury") said that it would be much easier to convert the Jews to Christianity if they would work in agriculture and crafts like the gentiles. They would thus have less time for study and would more easily be converted. The regents protected the Jews out of greed, but Jacobellus suggested that this protection should be continued because Jews had once been the object of divine revelation. However, as in many other matters, in their approach to the Jews the Hussites followed the lead of Matthias of Janov and not that of Huss, as revealed in the writings of Jacobellus in 1412 and the Anatomia Antichristi (1420) by the radical Taborite Pavel Kravar. The Hussite approach to the Jews was also determined by their concretization of history as a struggle between Christ and Antichrist. Every Christian is a limb (membrum) of one of these two bodies (corpora), and the Jews now have no part in this struggle. They had in the past, however, when Christianity first emerged.

The Hussites considered themselves "God's warriors" (Boží bojovníci) subduing the "soldiers of the Antichrist," i.e., the German Catholic crusaders. There were no direct attacks by the Hussites on the Jews, although they incidentally became victims of the Hussites, as after the capture of Chomutov (Komotau) in 1421, where Jews were burned at the stake together with the Catholics (although the Jews were given the choice between adopting Hussitism or death, a choice denied to the Catholics); and in Prague (in 1422) the Jewish quarter was plundered along with the Old City. However, these attacks were incidental to attacks on Catholics. In the 1420s the Jews were accused of supplying arms to the Hussites and on that account suffered massacres and expulsions at the hands of the Catholics from Austria in 1421, Bavaria in 1422, and Iglau (Jiniouva) in 1428. The rabbinical authorities of the period, such as Israel *Isserlein, Israel *Bruna, Jacob *Weil, and Yom Tov Lipmann *Muehlhausen expressed guarded sympathy with the Hussites, while an anonymous chronicler (writing in Hebrew c. 1470; see Ben-Sasson in bibl.) expressed it freely seeing Hussitism as inspired by Avigdor *Kara. Consequently the chronicler reports outstanding events of the Hussite period, mingling truth and fantasy. According to this Hebrew chronicler, Kara was in close contact with the Hussites and composed a piyyut, which seems to reflect the messianic hopes roused among Prague Jewry by the rise of the Hussites. He states that it was sung openly in Hebrew and Yiddish. The tune the piyyut was sung to seems to have been that of a Hussitic hymn. The collapse of Hussitism was a disappointment to the Jews.

The later followers of Hussitism, the Bohemian Brethren, also showed much interest in Judaism and Jewish history. They too identified themselves with biblical Israel and likened their expulsion (1548) to the galut. They published the Czech translation of the Hegesippus version of Josephus' Wars three times in the second half of the 16th century. In 1592 Václavˇ Plácel published a Hystoria židovskáá ("Jewish History"), also based on Josephus but continuing until the seventh century c.e., which displays an unusual measure of sympathetic understanding for the fate of the Jews. When the Brethren founded their community in Poznan (Posen) some Jews joined them. One, who was baptized and adopted the name of Lukas Helic, collaborated in the translation of the Bible into Czech (Králická Bible). As an outcome of the persecutions, some of the Brethren preferred adopting Judaism to forced conversion to Catholicism or emigration. Some Bohemian Jewish families traced their descent to these converted Brethren, among them Brod, Dub, Jellinek, Kafka, Kuranda, and Pacovsky. Under Catholic Hapsburg rule, there was rapprochement and understanding between the clandestine Brethren and the Jews. Their heritage was manifest once more with the emergence of the sect of the *Abrahamites in the 18th century.

After the Holocaust, many synagogue buildings in Czech localities became prayer rooms of the Bohemian Brethren or the Czechoslovakian Church, and in these localities they took over the care of the Jewish cemeteries. They had a special prayer for these occasions (Věstník židovských náboženských obcí v československu, 11 (1949), 532).


E. Schwarz, in: jggjČ, 5 (1933), 429–37; R. Kestenberg, ibid., 8 (1936), 1–25 (incl. bibl.); J. Macek, Hussite Movement in Bohemia (19582); Baron, Social2, 13 (1969), 209–16, 416–21; H.H. Ben-Sasson, in: Divrei ha-Akademyah ha-Le'ummit le-Madda'im, 4 (1969/70), 66–69; R.R. Betts, Essays in Czech History (1969); H. Kaminsky, A History of the Hussite Revolution (1967); Kestenberg Gladstein, in: Journal of the Warburg Institutes, 18 (1955), 245, 254, 288–9; idem, in: Judaica Bohemiae, 4 (1968), 64–68.

[Ruth Kestenberg-Gladstein]


views updated May 29 2018

Hussites Bohemian and Moravian followers of the 15th-century religious reformer Jan Hus. The execution of Hus in 1415 provoked the Hussite Wars against Emperor Sigismund. The Council of Basel (1431) brought peace, but the Taborites, the radical wing of the Hussites, rejected the terms. Sigismund defeated the Taborites at the Battle of Lipany in 1434.

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