Hus_(Lessing_1842)

Jan Hus at the Council of Constance, Carl Friedrich Lessing 1842

By Dr. Harold Sala

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.  Isaiah 40:8

It Doesn’t Take A Hero is the title of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s autobiography that modestly downplays his part in the 1991 Gulf Conflict.  Yet you show me who your heroes are, and I can tell you what kind of a person you are.

I am not sure whether John Huss, the Bohemian reformer, who died in 1415, would agree with Schwarzkopf.  But I do know he would agree with his premise.  And who was John Huss?

John Huss was born of peasant parentage in Bohemia, now part of Czech Republic.  At the University of Prague, he took his bachelor and master’s degrees and became a lecturer in theology.  In 1402 he was ordained to the priesthood and became rector of the university.  As a progressive thinker, Huss felt that the church needed to reform.  When an Englishman by the name of John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English with the goal of making it so simple that a plowboy could understand it, John Huss decided that the same thing would be good for the people he served in Prague.  Huss translated some of Wycliffe’s writings and certainly used some of his ideas in his fiery sermons, which inflamed the minds of those who heard him.

Described by his biographers as “a loyal member of the Roman Catholic church,” Huss became disturbed when, following the papal election of 1378, two men claimed to be the legitimate pope.  Then, in 1409, a third claimed the papal throne, with all three, like politicians in a close race, denouncing each other.  Huss strongly voiced his dissent.

In matters of faith and practice, Huss held unswervingly to the Bible as the Word of God, and it was this that he expounded to the masses who embraced its teaching.  No man of his leadership and stature could say and do the things he did without making enemies. And soon he had plenty of them.  Their power being threatened, the clergy branded him as a heretic and denounced his teaching, but the nation of Czechoslovakia rallied around their favorite son.

It was the church versus the state, and the state lost. Promised a safe conduct by King Wenceslaus of Bohemia, the Emperor, and even the pope, he was summoned to the Council of Constance to explain his teaching and defend himself of the charges which were made against him.  Forget the promise of “safe conduct.”  The council condemned him to death.  Shortly thereafter, in 1415, he was taken outside the cathedral and burned at the stake.

Several years ago, I was visiting Switzerland and visited the cathedral.  A guide took us throughout the massive gothic structure, but said nothing of John Huss or the Council of Constance.  At the conclusion of the tour, I asked, “Could you show me where John Huss stood when he was condemned to death?” Reluctantly, the guide took me to the spot.  I stood there, pondering the great debt of gratitude and obligation we owe to those such as Huss who were willing to pay the supreme price of abiding by their convictions.

Today, Huss is a national hero—a champion of the common man—but in his day, he was a controversial Roman Catholic priest who took on the establishment.  May God give us more men and women who have the courage to stand for what they believe is right. Maybe it doesn’t take a hero, but it takes courage.  John Huss, absent from the body, at home with the Lord.

Resource reading: Hebrews 11:36-40.