A heretical group of semisecluded communities in Bohemia since the late 14th century. The name originated either as a Slavicized version of Beghards (see beguines and beghards), or from those supporters of the movement who immigrated to Bohemia from Picardy, France, due to the Inquisition in the early 1400s. Whether the Picards were originally heretical or merely unique in their communal way of life is questioned. The religious life of 14th-and 15th-century Bohemia was intricate, and the Picards can be understood only against that background.
Shortly after 1300, the Czech branch of the devotio moderna began to flourish under the bishop of Prague, John of Dražice. The Devotio had ties with the Netherlands, whence the Beghards, including Gerard groote, who had studied at the Charles University in Prague, had spread through Europe. It is possible that this relationship between Bohemia and the Netherlands influenced the origin of the Picards. Furthermore, john milÍČ, a leading preacher in Prague, had insisted, as early as mid-14th century, on the usefulness of the semisecluded communities in which a brotherly life was practiced by Christian laymen. Although Milíč's own similar community in Prague, "New Jerusalem," remained orthodox, most of those outside the capital—including the Picards—eventually became contaminated with heresy. The fact that John ŽiŽka, the military leader of the taborites, put to death a community of Picards in 1421 does not in itself prove that the Picards were or were not hussites of some variety, as Žižka treated in like fashion anyone unwilling to submit to his leadership. Actually, the Picards were never orthodox Hussites, being more in sympathy with such radical Hussites as the Taborites and Adamites.
The Picards advocated a pseudorationalistic biblical criticism. They emphasized individual piety, and their mysticism, borrowed from the Beghards, became a pantheistic hedonism. Not unlike the waldenses in their criticism of the Church, they denied the priesthood, confession, the liturgy, and especially the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church. They denied the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and broke with orthodox Hussites, who were willing to compromise on the doctrine of transubstantiation. The Picards were still to be found in Bohemia and Moravia in the 19th century.
Bibliography: f. m. bartoŠ, Husitství a cizina (Prague 1931). f. g. heymann, John Žižka and the Hussite Revolution (Princeton 1955). r. kalivoda, Husitská ideologie (Prague 1961). f. seibt, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 8:503–504.