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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

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 After his fourth excommunication, Hus voluntarily went into exile from 1412 to 1414 and lived among wealthy nobility in southern Bohemia. During this period, he wrote numerous books, including his most influential treatise on the church, De Ecclesia, written in 1413. Other major writings included On Simony, expositions on the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer, and a short devotional work known as The Daughter, or How to Know the Correct Way to Salvation. This was penned for a community of women, known by Hus through one of his friends. In 1414 Hus agreed to travel to Constance, Germany, to attend the council that had been convened to deal with him, but also to resolve the embarrassing dilemma of the multiple popes; 1378 had marked the beginning of the Great Schism in which initially two and eventually three rival popes fought for exclusive supremacy. Hus’s teaching had been condemned as heretical, and he naively thought he would have the opportunity to defend himself before the learned doctors of the church. Instead he was imprisoned and later condemned as a follower of Wycliffe. After frequent attempts to coerce Hus to recant, he was removed from the priesthood and burned at the stake on July 6, 1415, charged with being an obstinate heretic.

The Protestant Reception of John Hus

 As early as Martin Luther, prominent Protestants have embraced the teachings of Hus. Luther’s perception of Hus was marked by growing appreciation and deep respect. His original rejection of Hus was transformed when in his monastery library he discovered—and was astonished by—some sermons by Hus. Luther shocked his opponents with his growing approval of Hus. This led to Luther’s famous confession in February 1520: “I have taught and held all the teachings of Jan Hus, but thus far did I not know it . . . In short, we are all Hussites and did not know it.”3 More recent examples illustrate the continuing Protestant approval of Hus. Harry Emerson Fosdick’s Great Voices of the Reformation, written in 1952, singles out, as being critically important, Hus’s dedication to the Bible. He writes:

Behind all else in Huss’ teaching stood his devotion to the Scriptures as the ultimate guide of life and thought. Here we run decisively upon one of the major issues dividing Roman Catholicism from the whole movement which issued in the Protestant Reformation. According to Roman dogma one did not believe in the church because Scriptures say so, but believed in the Scriptures because the church says so.4

 Even more amazing are the authors that claim Hus to be an “evangelical.” David Otis Fuller’s Valiant for the Truth: A Treasury of Evangelical Writings (1961) incorporates a section from Hus’s work on the church. Hus clearly satisfies the prerequisite for this volume that “each man possessed the same fierce conviction––that all truth is absolute, never relative . . . in theology, their absolute authority was the Bible.”5 In the same year, James McGraw wrote Great Evangelical Preachers of Yesterday. This book begins with Wycliffe and moves to Hus and Luther. McGraw’s definition of evangelical reflects greater precision. For him

the term “evangelical” means “preaching the good news”…Such preaching as was done by the subjects studied in this book was not bound by form or method, but was guided by need. It was done for a purpose––the exaltation of Christ and the nurture of faith in his power to save.6


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