Gadfly of the Church

Today the church honors a proto-Reformer who, had the printing press been available during his life, may have caused all of us to be called “Hussians” rather than Lutherans: Jan Hus, Martyr, Gadfly of the Church, and prelude to Luther’s Reformation.

Jan Hus was born “Jan of Husinec” sometime around 1373 to peasant parents in Bohemia. He was fortunate to attend the newly established Charles University in Prague, where students shortened his name to “Jan Hus”…which was funny because “hus” literally means “goose.”

St. Jan, that wild goose, would go on to receive his Masters Degree and eventually teach Theology at Charles University while also being named the preacher of the Chapel of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem. In that church he preached in Czech, a drastic departure from the Latin used in the rest of Christendom. But in these days the church was in conflict (three Popes claimed the Chair of St. Peter), and reformation was in the air!

St. Jan had been greatly influenced by that other rascal, John Wycliffe, who had truly formalized much of the radical thinking that Luther would glom onto in the Reformation. Though Jan and John differed in many areas, St. Jan began to be more Wycliffian in his preaching and writing, including condemnations of the abuses of the church (and her lazy priests) in his regular sermons.

This, as you can imagine, was a problem for the Archbishop.

St. Jan did crazy things like, oh, suggest that the bread AND the wine could be provided to the laity in the Mass. He openly questioned the historic episcopate, and started to advocate for only two sacraments (baptism and communion) to be officially recognized.

Sound familiar?

Pope Alexander V condemned Wycliffe’s writings in 1409 and, in short order, excommunicated St. Jan in 1412. Interestingly enough St. Jan was not excommunicated for his own writings, but rather because he refused to travel to Rome to give an account of them. Basically, he didn’t show up to court…

St. Jan Hus refused to be quiet, though, and even as a heretic of the church preached against the avarice the local priests showed. He was summoned to the Council of Constance in Switzerland in 1414 and, though he had been promised safe travel back to Bohemia after his trial, was immediately arrested, held in the dungeon there, brought up on false charges, and burned at the stake.

It is said that he was praying the Kyrie eleison as he died.

St. Jan Hus is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes not saying something is not an option, even if it costs you your job, your status, and yes, your life.

-historical bits gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

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