Czech reformer; b. Husinec, southwest Bohemia, 1369?; d. Constance, July 6, 1415. In 1393 he received a B.A. and in 1396 an M.A. in Prague. He was ordained in 1400, and from 1402 he was the preacher at Bethlehem chapel, which had been founded in 1391 for sermons in the Czech language. He became a bachelor of theology in 1404 and taught philosophy and theology. At Bethlehem he followed the tradition of other reforming preachers, advocating reform in morals with great oratorical success. He wrote theological treatises, commentaries on Holy Scripture, various pieces on the spiritual life, and works of controversy in both Latin and Czech. Excommunicated in 1412, he left Prague to spare his fellow citizens the penalties of interdict. He was invited to the Council of constance, where he was condemned to death in the absence of a supreme pontiff (john xxiii had fled, gregory xii had abdicated, and benedict xiii had refused to come to the council). Hus went to the stake on July 6, 1415. Under various headings the council condemned 30 propositions extracted from his works (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, [Freiburg 1963] 1201–1230).
The nineteenth century saw Hus mainly as a national hero. The historical pretext for this view was the fact that King wenceslaus iv in 1409 had altered the method of voting at the Charles University of Prague. To make sure that the university would support the reform-minded cardinals at the Council of pisa, who in turn would support his imperial title, Wenceslaus gave three votes to the Czech nation, which was well-disposed toward Pisa, but only one vote to the combined "foreign" nations (the Bavarian, Saxon, and Polish) who chose instead to remain faithful to Pope Gregory XII. Legend credits this victory of the Czechs over the Germans to Hus. In fact, the king had acted from purely political motives. Further, among the nations discriminated against, one, the Polish, was Slavic; while the Czech nation itself comprised a good percentage of Bohemians originally of German stock. The cleavage, then, did not have a national basis. Besides, at the moment Wenceslaus made his decision at Kutna Hora, Hus lay seriously ill in Prague. Moreover, the myth that Hus was a nationalist leader was strengthened by the fact that he was executed at Constance, despite the safe conduct that the Emperor sigismund had rather unwisely granted.
There was in fact much rivalry in Prague between Czech and German masters in the early fifteenth century, but not on the basis of nationalism. Age divided them, the Czechs on the whole belonging to a younger generation. There were also doctrinal dissensions, for in philosophical matters the Czechs were usually adherents of real ism, and the Germans of nominalism. The Czechs on the whole favored reform, while the Germans, as holders of large benefices, were conservative. This explains their attitude in 1409. The Germans wanted the status quo, but the Czechs supported the accession of Wenceslaus at Pisa, because they looked forward to the end of the west ern schism and to reform in the Church.
Influence of Wyclif. About 1400, the reformers in Bohemia came strongly under the influence of John wy clif. Quite early in the movement, Hus became the leader of the Wyclifite party and did not conceal his admiration for the Oxford master. He defended his books and copied him widely. But although Hus adopted Wyclif's ideals of reform, he avoided subscribing to his formal heresies. A fortiori, he knew nothing of sola fides or sola scriptura, or of the great theses of future Protestantism. Most of Wyclif's ideas were to be found in Hus, but in his writings they received a Catholic inflection. Hus insisted on the sacramental idea of the Eucharistic bread, without denying transubstantiation. Basing himself on the doctrine of the Good Shepherd, he taught that a bishop was "true" in the sense of "good," only so far as he lived an evangelical life, but he did not deny the sacramental character of episcopal orders. He accepted a legal, empirical, and transitory Church, but believed in another Church whose character was changeless and eternal: the Church of the predestined, as he called it. He taught that a person was a worthy member of the Church on earth only so far as he gave indisputable signs of belonging to the heavenly Church. He did not attack indulgences, but was opposed to those granted by the antipope John XXIII, who had attached them to his "crusade" against Pope Gregory XII in Rome. The only real heresy in his teaching concerned the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. The latter appeared to him to go back to Jesus Christ, but not in the sense that he possessed a formal and necessary primacy of jurisdiction (see papacy). In addition he attributed this predominance of Rome, which was unknown in the Gospel, to the Emperor constantine. He did not reject the idea of a pope, but accepted it only on condition that the pope's conduct marked him as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Council of Constance. Hus' teaching alone does not account for his tragic end at constance. Together with his compromise with Wyclifite doctrines, both his character and the provocative turn of his ideas against avarice and simony, and against the richly endowed prelates guilty of those vices, must all be borne in mind. He alienated the most influential of his earliest friends, both Czechs and reformers. These led a tireless cabal against him in Constance, where they found an audience that was only too attentive, in an assembly prejudiced by his reputation as a heretic—for which the Germans, who left Prague in 1409, were responsible. In the last analysis, the emergence of a Hus must be ascribed to the condition of Christianity after almost 40 years of schism. The degradation of authority, the perversion of institutions, the general state of corruption supported his protest.
Hus went voluntarily to the council. If he did not come to an understanding with his judges, it was primarily because he refused to renounce a body of heresies that he had either not taught at all or only to a slight degree. He was condemned because he lacked suppleness, and because he appeared before a tribunal that had already reached its verdict. Hus died pardoning his enemies, invoking the name of Jesus, and reciting the Credo.
See Also: hussites.
Bibliography: Sources . Historia et Monumenta Johannis Hus …, 2 v. (Nuremberg 1558). k. j. erben, Mistra Jana Husi Sebrané spisy české z nejstarších známých pramenů, 3 v. (Prague 1865–68). For the many recent partial editions see below. Literature . j. sedlÁk, M. Jan Hus (Prague 1915). v. novotnÝ and v. kybal, M. Jan Hus: Zivot a Učení, 5 v. (Prague 1919–31). m. vischer, Jan Hus: Aufruhr wider Papst und Reich (Frankfurt an Main 1955). m. spinka, John Hus and the Czech Reform (Chicago 1941). f. g. heymann, John Žizka … (Princeton 1955). p. de vooght, L'Hérésie de Jean Huss (Louvain 1960); Hussiana (Louvain 1960). m. spinka, John Hus' Concept of the Church (Princeton 1966).
[p. de vooght]