Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jan Hus, Part 1 (of 2)

Jan Hus (1369-6 July, 1415) was a pious child whose manners and performance while singing and serving in church in Prague distinguished him. He earned his baccalaureate at 24 and his master's at 27 from the University of Prague. He was ordained in 1400, and became rector of the university in 1402.

Hus was greatly influenced by the writings of Wycliffe. While Hus was rector, dozens of Wycliffe's ideas were branded heretical by the church authorities. That didn't frighten Hus away from Wycliffe's works, and he translated Wycliffe's Trialogus into Czech. The Trialogus was a conversation between three individuals: Alithia (Truth) and Pseudis (Falsehood), with Phronesis (Wisdom, the voice used by Wycliffe to present his answers to sticky doctrinal questions). Among the many points discussed in the work, Wycliffe challenged the church's teaching on transubstantiation (previously mentioned here), the idea that the consecrated bread and wine at Mass are converted to the body and blood of Christ. Wycliffe's disagreement with the church on this was based on his logic that bread and body must still both exist, and that they cannot simultaneously occupy the same place.*
It signifies, [...] one and the same - as though, for instance, he should make the person of Peter to be one with Paul... For if A is identical with B, then both of them remain; since a thing which is destroyed is not made identical, but is annihilated, or ceases to be. And if both of them remain, then they differ as much as at first, and differ consequently in number, and so are not, in the sense given, the same...
Hus shared these observations, and like Wycliffe began to preach against what he saw as the corruption and moral failings of the church hierarchy. In 1406, when some Bohemian students brought to Prague a eulogy for Wycliffe bearing the seal of Oxford University, Hus read it proudly from the pulpit. By this time, it was known that King Wenceslaus IV was tolerant of non-conformists. Pope Gregory XII, getting wind of all this, sent a stern warning about Wycliffe's heretical works and the king's attitude. The king and the University of Prague both stepped backed from the preaching of Wycliffe and Hus.

Statue of Hus in Prague.
In December 1409, Pope Alexander V issued a papal bull against Wycliffism. Hus appealed to Alexander in 1410, but in vain. All available works of Wycliffe were rounded up and burned, Hus and his followers were excommunicated. Bohemia sided with Hus against the Pope. (This was easier to do since Alexander was the third man currently considering himself a pope; but that's another story.) Like Wycliffe being supported by his friends and powerful political allies, Hus survived a few attacks by the church. Eventually, however, his luck and support would run out.

[to be continued]

*I blame all that Oxford education.

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