Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Jan Hus, 2017

Jan Hus, Prophetic Witness and Martyr, 1415
Job 22:21–30
Revelation 3:1–6
Matthew 23:34–39
Psalm 119:113–120

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

From Holy Women, Holy Men:  John Hus (1372-1415) was a Czech priest who became leader of the Czech reform movement, which called for a return to scripture and living out of the word of God in one’s life. As preacher at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, he talked to the people in their native language. Hundreds gathered every day to hear his call for personal and institutional reform. Clerics he had offended had him exiled from Prague, but he continued his ministry through the written word. Hus took the radical step of appealing directly to Christ rather than to the hierarchy for the justification of his stance. 

When the Council of Constance opened in 1414, Hus traveled there
hoping to clear his name of charges of heresy. Hus had been given a pledge of safe conduct from the emperor, but his enemies persuaded council officials to imprison him on the grounds that “promises made to heretics need not be kept.” Although several leaders of the Council of Constance were in favor of moderate church reform, the council’s prime objective was the resolution of the Great Western Schism, which had produced three rival popes at the same time. The council therefore tried to secure a speedy recantation and submission from Hus. He maintained that the charges against him were false or twisted versions of his teachings, and he could not recant opinions he had never held. 

Faced with an ultimatum to recant or die, Hus chose the latter. As he approached the stake on July 6, 1415, he refused a last attempt to get him to recant and said: “The principal intention of my preaching and of all my other acts or writings was solely that I might turn men from sin. And in that truth of the Gospel that I wrote, taught, and preached in accordance with the sayings and expositions of the holy doctors, I am willing gladly to die today.”
His death did not end the movement, and the Czech reformation continued. Hus’ rousing assertion “Truth will conquer,” is the motto of the Czech Republic today.

Growing up Lutheran, I learned a lot about Martin Luther and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  It was 500 years ago this October that Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg Germany.  Lutherans will often mention Jan Hus as the direct predecessor of Martin Luther’s ideas, and both men’s rebellion against the abuses of the Church led them to the same sort of place: testifying before councils and having Papal Bulls written to condemn them.  However, Luther had a wealthy benefactor who rescued him from certain death, while Jan Hus’ benefactor abandoned him to torture and execution.

But while Luther is usually credited with creating all these radical ideas, they were not wholly original.  Jan Hus had said many of these same things 100 years before Luther.  And John Wycliffe was burned at the stake for saying many of the same things 30 years before that.  There are threads that connect Wycliffe to Hus to Luther to Thomas Cranmer to every Protestant Church member across the globe today.

But here is the astonishing thing about Jan Hus in my opinion:  Though John Wycliffe and Martin Luther were both willing to stand up for the things they wrote and said, claiming them as their own ideas, Jan Hus was actually put on trial for someone else’s ideas.  In the case they built against him, the writings and ideas presented were mostly those of John Wycliffe, not Jan Hus.  And yet, Jan Hus did not deny that they were true.  His challenge to the authorities of the council was this: Though I did not write and say these things, I will not deny that they are true, unless I can be shown through scripture that they are not true.

That is, he was willing to die for the truth that he himself did not proclaim.  He was willing to go to the stake to defend the writings of another reformer, who died 30 years before him.  In fact, he did not agree with much of the writings presented at his trial, but he refused to condemn them unless they could be proven false.

It is a remarkable thing to be willing to die for the truth as expressed by someone else.  In some ways, it is not too far from the phrase Evelyn Hall put in the mouth of Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  When we clear away all the apocryphal stories about the Reformers and get down to what they were really after, they sought the truth, wherever that took them.  And in the life and death of Jan Hus, that meant seeking the truth, even when he did not agree with the truth.  Hear, once again, today’s Collect:

Faithful God, you gave Jan Hus the courage to confess your truth and recall your Church to the image of Christ: Enable us, inspired by his example, to bear witness against corruption and never cease to pray for our enemies, that we may prove faithful followers of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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