Jan Hus (1369-1415) and
the Hussite wars (1419-1436)

Hus was a Czech priest, who, a century before Luther, called for a reform of the Chuch and was burnt at the stake. His death set off a religious, political and social revolution in Bohemia and 18 years of war.

A forerunner of the Reformation in Bohemia

  • Jean Hus (1369-1415)
    Jean Hus (1369-1415) © S.H.P.F.

He was born in southern Bohemia. Living in poverty, he studied at the University of Prague and was ordained priest in 1400. He became confessor to the queen of Bohemia and dean of the theological faculty in Prague.

He embodied all the hopes of the Czech people

He decided to preach in Czech and there were often more than 3000 people who came to listen to him.

He undertook to translate the Scriptures into Czech, which helped to stabilize the Czech language.

At the same time, he desperately strove for the Czech people to become masters in their own country ( in opposition to the emperor, the king of Bohemia). He also defended their right to use their national language in public life. In this way, he embodied the hopes of the Czech people.

He defended his ideas to the end

  • Václav Brožík, Jean Hus lors du concile de Constance en 1415
    Painting of Jan Hus in Council of Constance by Václav Brožík (1851-1901) © Wikipedia Commons
  • Hus : son cachot près de Constance
    Hus: his prison cell near Constance © S.H.P.F.
1 2 3

He protested against the ecclesiastical system, he preached in favour of reform in the Church and advocated a return to the poverty recommended by the Scriptures. Indeed, the Scrptures were the only rule and every manhad the right to study them. In Questio de indulgentis (1412) he denounced the indulgences.

He admired Wyclif’s writings and defended him when he was condemned as a heretic. He was excommunicated. An interdict was pronounced over Prague and he had to leave it and go to southern Bohemia, where he preached and wrote theological treatises, notably the Tractatus de ecclesia (1413), known as « The Church ».

In 1414 he was summoned by the Council of Constance so he travelled there, the Emperor Sigismund having assured him of safe-conduct for the journey. However, he was declared a heretic and burnt alive in 1415 – his writings were also burnt.

He was as concerned about social justice as religious morality ; he was both a patriot and a reformer of the Czech language.

The martyrdom of Jan Hus led to 18 years of war in Bohemia

  • Exécution de Jean Hus et dispersion de ses cendres
    Execution of Jean Hus and scattering of the ashes © S.H.P.F.

On 30th July 1419, in Prague, a number of prominent Catholics were defenestrated and fell to their deaths ; this was the beginning of the Hussite rebellion ( the Hussites defended the ideas of Jan Hus) ; they offered tough resistance to the five European crusades who had been sent by the pope and the King of Bohemia to curb « those heretics ».

The Hussite's programme

The « Four articles of Prague » set out the Hussite programme :

  • communion in the form of both bread and wine,
  • preaching the Scriptures without any form of control from the authorities,
  • the confiscation of the clergy’s possessions,
  • the punishment of mortal sins.

Some radical Hussites advocated the sharing of possessions, absolute equality and universal priesthood.

The Catholic Church gave in and... won

Due to the military victories of the Hussites,who controlled all Bohemia, the Church negociated a compromise with the moderate elements of the movement : the « compactata » of Basel (1433). They agreed with :

  • communion in the form of both bread and wine,
  • the possibility of reading the Epistles and the Gospel in Czech.

In 1434, the moderate Hussites, who had accepted compromise and who had allied with the Catholics, overcame the more extreme elements of the movement at the battle of Lipany. The « Diet » of Jihlaoa put an end to war in 1436.

Jan Hus precursor of the Lutheran reform

Jan Hus can be seen as a precursor, a century ahead, of the great Reformers of the XVIth century, and of Luther in particular, who undertook to write the preface to his works when they were later printed in Germany.

Two thirds of the Czechs joined the Lutheran Reformation by accepting in 1575 a confession of faith inspired by the Confession of Augsburg.

Bibliography

  • Books
    • DE VOOGHT Paul, L’hérésie de Jean Hus, Publ. de l'université de Louvain, Louvain, 1975
    • MACEK Josef, Jan Hus et les traditions hussites (XVe-XIXe s.), Plon, Paris, 1973
    • MOLNAR Amedeo, Jean Hus, témoin de la vérité, Les Bergers et les mages, Paris, 1978
    • SMACHEL Frantisek, La révolution hussite une anomalie historique, PUF, Paris, 1985

Associated notes

Au hasard des notices