Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation
Faces of the Reformation: Jan Hus/John Huss
A 15th-century Bohemian reformer who set the stage for the world-changing reforms of Martin Luther.
Born: circa 1373 – Died: July 6, 1415
This month’s Face of the Reformation is about a man who lived more than 150 years before Martin Luther. His name was Jan Hus. Jan Hus was born in a part of what is now the Czech Republic. It was called Bohemia. Jan’s family was not wealthy, but Jan was able to attend the university in Prague. Like Martin Luther, Hus became a priest, and he was well liked by all of the people where he lived because he served them as a priest by speaking their own language.
Also like Luther, Jan Hus began questioning the truth and authority of the teachings of the Catholic church. He studied God’s Word and was also influenced by the writings of John Wycliffe.
In 1412, the pope at that time, Alexander V, issued a new law that said priests could not preach in chapels. The Pope also outlawed the teachings of John Wycliffe. Hus refused to obey this law and he was excommunicated from the church and had to leave Prague.
Again, like Luther, while he was in exile, Hus translated the Bible into the language of the people. Luther’s translation was in German while Hus translated the Bible into Bohemian. Finally, in 1415, Hus was summoned to the Council of Constance to hear about the decision of the church regarding his actions. He was put in prison in Constance and appeared before the Council several times. Each time he was asked to recant his beliefs and teachings. Hus refused to do this and on July 6, 1415, Jan Hus was condemned to be burned at the stake. It is said that as the fires at the stake were lit, Jan Hus cried out, “God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.” As the fires consumed him,
he was heard to cry, “Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us!”
The story of Jan Hus did not end here, however. He was remembered by people always as a person who saw that the true authority and guide for the church was God’s Word and that people needed to hear this Word of God preached and read in their own language. He was so popular with the people in Bohemia that they began a rebellion on their own against the church. These followers of Jan Hus were known as “Hussites.” At one time, it was thought that over 90% of the people in Bohemia followed the teachings of Jan Hus. The life and death, the teachings and the courage of Jan Hus certainly set the stage for Martin Luther.