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From the Winter 2015 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Legacy of John Hus

by Tom Schwanda,  Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College

t the center of the spacious Old Town Square in Prague stands the John Hus1 monument. This massive statue, erected in 1915, commemorated the five-hundredth anniversary of the great Czech reformer’s death. His notable words are inscribed around the base of this monument: “Love each other and wish the truth to everyone.” This has often been succinctly summarized as “the truth prevails!” The year 2015 marked the six-hundredth anniversary of Hus’s martyrdom and provides an important reminder of his life and ministry. Yet many people hardly recognize his name or his substantial contributions to the church and the Christian life.
 John Hus (c. 1372–1415) was a pastor and church reformer born into poverty in southern Bohemia. He was educated at the University of Prague, now known as Charles University, and received his master’s degree in 1396. He became a faculty member that same year and taught until 1412. Hus served as both dean of the faculty and later rector at the university. During this early formative period, Hus read the writings of the English reformer John Wycliffe. While Hus identified with the Augustinian theology of Wycliffe and was indebted to his thinking, especially on the nature of the church, nearby Bohemian writers also inspired Hus.
 In 1402 Hus took on an additional role, as pastor at the Bethlehem Chapel, the center of the growing Bohemian Reform movement. Significantly, the name Bethlehem was chosen for its meaning, “house of bread.” The chapel was established as a site for preaching in the vernacular rather than the traditional Latin. This was a period of rampant immorality and corruption among the priests and officials within the Western Catholic Church. Hus’s sermons frequently addressed the corruptions, most notably the ancient ongoing practice of simony or the purchasing of church offices. Wealthy parents and others would secure ecclesiastical positions to ensure the lucrative and stress-free livelihoods for their sons. Not surprisingly, these men rarely took their leadership seriously, creating a spiritual vacuum. Hus’s messages, marked by spiritual zeal, also addressed critical issues of moral purity, including priestly celibacy and the abuse of indulgences, often angering the clergy and church hierarchy.
 Unfortunately, similar to the situation with John Calvin, we know little of Hus’s personal life, including specifics about his conversion. However, at some point early in his ministry, Hus was convicted by the truth claims of Scripture and thereafter stressed the importance of obeying the pope or church decrees only to the extent that they agreed with Scripture. The best window into Hus’s inner life and motivation is through his letters. Repeatedly he reminded his friends, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”2 These are the words of Peter from Acts 5:29. Hus’s resistance to following the teachings of the Church further irritated the leadership and brought frequent condemnation and led to his excommunication.

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