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Posts Tagged ‘John Huss’

Some of you might read the title of this post and have two questions: who is John Huss and when did he die (and why didn’t I read about it on CNN)?  To answer the first question, John Huss (or Jan Hus, to be more accurate) was a 15th century Bohemian priest who was highly critical of the excesses in the Catholic Church at that time.  Yesterday (July 6) was the 594th anniversary of his death.

Huss is often overlooked by most Christians today, which is to our detriment.  The fact is that most Christians know about the Protestant Reformation; they know the names of Martin Luther and John Calvin.  While the Reformation is generally seen as “starting” when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the chapel in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517 (an event I celebrate), the truth is that Luther was not the first to stand against the excesses and doctrinal errors of the Catholic Church (he was, I suppose, the most successful).  Before Luther, there was John Wycliffe, John Huss and William Tyndale.

Huss himself was less theological than some of these other men.  His greatest concern was for the purity of the church, especially her leadership, which he saw lacking in his day.  He protested the exploitation he saw in the indulgence sales; he opposed the Catholic Church declaring war on another group of Christians and he stood against a ban that only allowed preaching in approved church buildings.

When I read about Huss, I’m amazed at his courage.  I’m not entirely sure we understand how courageous it is to stand against corrupted authority, who possess something close to total power.  We think someone is courageous when they write an op-ed calling out our President on some matter.  That’s not courageous- it’s built into our system of government.  Calling George Bush an evil warmongerer or Barak Obama an immoral liberal is hardly courageous.  We have thousands of bloggers in this country who spout off all sorts of rhetoric against our country’s leadership and have no fear of retribution (in fact, one could argue that it takes more courage to defend American politicians, but that’s not our concern now).

Huss, and the other Reformers, had to face the possibility of retribution.  They knew that they would have their possessions taken from them, so they held to them loosely.  They knew their churches would be endangered, so they continued to preach the Word and encourage them to stand firm.  They knew their lives could be taken from them, so they did not waste time in preaching the truth.

Huss, after multiple excommunications and threats, ultimately was brought before the Council of Constance and called to recant.  He refused, though claiming he would recant if someone could show him where he had been wrong.  He wasn’t being stubborn, he was simply calling out immorality when he saw it and calling for repentance.  His priestly tonsure was shaved off and a paper crown of demons was placed on his head as he was lead past a pile of burning books- the very ones he had written that got him into this situation.  Finally, he was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.  Huss once said “Fire does not consume truth.”  When he uttered those words, did he know he would be burned at the stake?

We can take away any number of lessons from all this, but specifically I’m impressed by the courage of Huss.  He stood against the most powerful force of his day because he saw that the Church was not living like the people of God.  Sexual immorality, simony (buying a clerical appointment0,  exploiting the poor- these were practiced by the clergy!  Huss noted the irony that the immoral clergy walked about freely, while those (like him) who stood against those practices were thrown in jail.  What had the Church become?

It takes courage to stand against such things, especially when you’re confronting those of your own ilk (in this case, other priests and church leadership).  The easy road would be to turn a blind eye to sin in the church, the even easier road would be to partake in those sins, too.  But Huss refused, claiming that if he did not oppose these practices, he would be just as guilty as if he participated in them.  We have in John Huss a model of willingness to fight for the purity of the Church.

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