Jan Hus

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Hus, Jan

 

Born 1371, in Husinec: died July 6. 1415, in Constance. National hero of the Czech people. Preacher, thinker. and ideologist of the Czech Reformation.

Hus was born into a poor peasant family. He graduated from Charles University in Prague in 1393 and received his master’s degree in 1396. From 1401 to 1402 he was dean of the faculty of liberal arts, and in the years 1402–03 and again in 1409–10 he was rector of Charles University. Beginning in 1402, Hus was a preacher at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. From the start of his activity he openly declared himself to be a supporter of Wycliffe. whose teachings were prohibited in Bohemia. In his sermons, delivered in the Czech language, and which attracted the popular masses, Hus scourged the Catholic clergy, demanded a radical reform of the church. and condemned its wealth, the corruption of the clergy, and simony (the selling and buying of church offices). He also spoke out against German dominance in Bohemia and the oppression of poor people. For Hus the ideal was a church which would be improved on the model of the early Christian church. Hus considered the Holy Scriptures to be the source of actions for believers and not the decrees of the official church and its leadership. At first Hus’s sermons evoked sympathy among certain circles of the ruling class in Bohemia, who were interested in secularizing church lands, as well as the sympathy of the Czech King Wenceslaus (Vaclav) IV. Subsequently, however, Hus’s development of Reformation ideas provoked sharp resistance from them. In 1410. Hus was excommunicated from the church, and in 1412. after coming out against the selling of indulgences, he was forced to leave Prague. Hus went to southern Bohemia, where he continued to deliver sermons, expressing in them more and more the hopes of the broad masses of the people. At the end of 1414. Hus was summoned to a church council in Constance, where he hoped to defend his teachings in open debate. Nevertheless, despite a charter of immunity from Emperor Sigismund 1, Hus was seized and thrown into prison. All attempts by the Catholic church officials to persuade Hus to recant his teachings were unsuccessful. He was condemned by the council as a heretic and was burned alive. Hus’s death caused grief, indignation, and a general outburst of popular dissatisfaction in Bohemia, all of which led to the Hussite revolutionary movement.

In his principal work (On the Church. 1413). which relied on popular traditions in its criticism of the church and society. as well as on the sermons of the popular preachers Jan Milič and Matèj of Janov, Hus derived democratic and humanistic conclusions from Wycliffe’s teachings. Hus did not reject the dogmas of the Holy Scriptures. According to Hus. the fundamental principle of humanism and the weapon of social transformation was “divine law.” which could be apprehended by reason and by which every man must be guided. Hus was an advocate of peaceful tactics, hoping to bring about a reformation of the church and society by means of royal power. Hus recognized the traditional division of feudal society into three social classes (the clergy, gentry. and common people): nevertheless, according to Hus’s teachings, the retention of power in the hands of the ruling classes was allowable only on the condition that they observe “divine law.” If this was not done, then the subjects have not only the right but even the obligation not to obey the ruling classes: moreover, each person was to be his own independent judge of whether “divine law” was being used correctly. Hus’s teachings laid the foundation for bourgeois as well as peasant-plebeian revolutionary ideology, and they influenced the formation of the ideas of the German Reformation. Hus defended the national rights of the Czech people and the Czech language and culture, and he worked out a system of Czech orthography, which in its basic outlines has been retained to the present day. A monument was erected to Hus in Prague (unveiled in 1915; sculptor, L. Šaloun).

WORKS

Spisy. parts 1—10. Prague. 1903–27.
Poslaniia magistra Ioanna Gusa. Moscow. 1903. (Translated from Czech and Latin.)

REFERENCES

Marx. K. “Khronologicheskie vypiski,” (fasc.) 2. In Arkhiv Marksa i Engel’sa. vol. 6. [Leningrad] 1939.
Rubtsov. B. T. Gusitskie voiny. Moscow, 1955.
Rubtsov. B. T. Ian Gus. Moscow, 1958.
Machovec. M. Husovo učeni a vyznam v tradici českého národa. Prague. 1953.
Kalivoda. R. Husitská ideologie. Prague. 1961. (Contains a summary in Russian, pp. 495–511.)

N. M. PASHAEVA