Hus the Bohemian Heretic
By Pastor Hal Mayer
Warm Christian greetings to you and your family once again from Keep the Faith Ministry. I hope that this new year has already been a blessing to you in the Lord’s cause and that you have been able to encourage some soul on the path to heaven. We are living in the end times and it is very important for us to remember that just as we near the end of time and the second coming of Jesus, many of us will experience what faithful men and women have passed through as the trial of their faith in past ages. It is my prayer that the message you will hear today will stir your heart with love for God’s truth and His cause.
Thank you once again for your prayers and support for Keep the Faith Ministry. We are very pleased with how the Lord has led KTF this past year. Our purpose at Keep the Faith Ministry is to warn the people of the soon coming crisis and urge them to prepare. We hope to be able to expand into Brazil this year. We have translators, recording studio, and banking and postal relationships all in place. We are hoping to dramatically expand the ministry of Keep the Faith by many thousands in the Portuguese language who have never heard the things that pertain to fulfilling prophecy in these last days. We are praying that it will go like wildfire. We know that expanding into new fields like this is a challenging and expensive undertaking. However, we have learned to trust the Lord for His support. I am very thrilled with the opportunities that are available through our little CD missionary preachers. They can go where the human preacher cannot go. And it seems that God’s timing is now for this to happen. So please pray for this project and especially that many thousands will come to know the truth for this time and prepare for the crisis.
This month I have decided to take a little different approach than normal. But I think you’ll understand. Our lesson today is one that I hope will inspire you with courage and hope. The story of John Hus is a type of the times that many of us will face perhaps in the near future. It is a story about the life and character of a man whom God used to awaken in human hearts the love of truth at a time when truth was trampled in the dust. It is the story of a man who stood for principle, refused to play games with those who were determined to be politically correct within his church, and who gave his life for a cause that was far beyond him in its scope.
The book of Hebrews gives us a picture of faithful men and women who gave their lives in humble service to God. Chapter 11, verse 32 and onward says, “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon and Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mocking and scourging, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
What a description of so many faithful souls who dared to oppose Satan’s hosts. Do you think that there will come a time when it will be necessary to do this again? I believe that this time is already here at least in some places in the world. Yet most of God’s people don’t expect that it will come to them. How can they, if they don’t really understand the message for this time? If it is not the driving passion of their souls, how would they be willing to severely sacrifice for it, let alone give their lives? It seems that in so many parts of the world today there is no test of faith, no test of character, and consequently, no testimony before man and angels of the powerful truth that heaven dearly loves. Let me ask you. Are you one of these people described in these verses? Is your experience with Christ so strong that you are willing to give your life for your faith?
Please notice the next couple of verses. Verse 39 says: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”
Just think about it. What does it mean that God has provided some better thing for us? You see, Jesus has ordained that those living at the end of time will go through the most difficult circumstances of all. Their faith will be tested to the utmost. Their courage will be tried. Under universal derision, many will be led to give their lives for their faith. The heroes of the past, rest in their graves waiting for us. God has perfected them, but He earnestly desires to bring us with them to perfection.
Listen to this statement in Great Controversy, page 622. “The ‘time of trouble, such as never was,’ is soon to open upon us; and we shall need an experience which we do not now possess and which many are too indolent to obtain. It is often the case that trouble is greater in anticipation than in reality; but this is not true of the crisis before us. The most vivid presentation cannot reach the magnitude of the ordeal. In that time of trial, every soul must stand for himself before God.”
Many don’t like to hear such things because they sound negative. But when you look at history, you see that every hero of the Bible and every hero of subsequent history has always been cast in a negative light by the church of his day. That is the very nature of truth. We are to awaken those around us by sharing with them what God says is coming upon the world. Many among us don’t believe what scripture says. So many only want to hear about love and unity. So many don’t want to hear about what is required of them to change their lives and get ready for heaven.
But this is what God says is going to happen. Listen to page 626 of the same book. “But many of all nations and of all classes, high and low, rich and poor, black and white, will be cast into the most unjust and cruel bondage. The beloved of God pass weary days, bound in chains, shut in by prison bars, sentenced to be slain, some apparently left to die of starvation in dark and loathsome dungeons. No human ear is open to hear their moans; no human hand is ready to lend them help.” This is the future, my friends… We had better think about it, for if we ignore it, we will surely be overcome by the overpowering temptation.
Here is another statement from the 10th volume of the Manuscript Releases, by Ellen White, “Because of his holy integrity and unwavering adherence to God’s commands, Noah was counted singular indeed and made himself an object of contempt and derision by answering to the claims of God without a questioning doubt. What a contrast to the prevailing unbelief and universal disregard of His law!”
Are there a large number of people today who do not take the word of God as it reads without a doubt? Of course. This is one of the marks of our age and a sign of the end of time. Noah was despised because he took the word of God without questioning it. He had unwavering faith in God’s word. What God said would happen, he believed would in fact happen, even though it took a long time.
Do you think that there is a time of trouble coming upon the world at the end? There certainly is. The scripture is full of warnings for God’s people in these last days. Also history tells us that the scenes that have gone before will happen again.
Let us look then at one of the most fascinating men in history, a man whose spiritual bearing still stands tall, and whose life is an example to us “on whom the ends of the world are come.” I teach history and I have learned to appreciate history as a guide because history repeats itself. The lessons we can learn then are invaluable.
John Hus has become perhaps my favorite reformer. His powerful testimony ranks among the finest in history. His faithfulness and steadfastness amid the moral corruption of his day is remarkable. His loyalty to God, even though threatened with death is a powerful example to me and to you.
The Protestant Reformation was in some ways like a harvest. After all, the Waldenses had been about their work for 1000 years, planting seeds of trust in God’s word and distrust in the word of the priests and popes. The Reformation sprang upon the world by surprise, it seemed, to human eyes. But in reality it was the culmination of the great cause that for centuries went hidden underground, stealthily advancing in the hearts and minds of millions through souls whose only hope was to awaken some benighted soul
to the truth and break the shackles of Rome.
But the Protestant Reformation was especially like the spiritual springtime. It came at the end of a great spiritual winter of a 1000 years. It did much to bring the human mind to flower in beauty and luster. It opened the way for the Bible to gain ascendency among God’s people. It planted many seeds that would spring up later and provide a foundation for the last great and final message to the world.
The Great Husbandman had prepared the soil of human thinking for a great change. The time had come to begin the process of releasing spiritual forces that no human authority could prevent. During the 14th century, God raised up a fearless man whose voice thunders down to us in our day. John Wycliffe rattled the gates of Rome with powerful denunciations of its corruption and uplifted the word of God to the English people in place of it. One of his great principles was the separation of church and state. He could see that a large part of the spiritual problem was that the church controlled the state. Wycliffe advocated that the pope should limit his dominion to the spiritual realm alone. “The pope ought to leave unto the secular power all temporal dominion, and rule,” he said, “and thereunto effectually to move and exhort his whole clergy; for so did Christ, and especially by His apostles.” That is from John Foxe’s book, Acts and Monuments, vol. 3, pp 49.
Wycliffe revealed the huge contrast between Christ and the papal system. His writings spread far and wide, and many people were convinced of the truth of the Bible and the need for change. As controversy swirled around him, Wycliffe demonstrated great meekness, yet a power rested upon him that no one could gainsay. God was with him, and nothing could stop the powerful force he unleashed. It was under Wycliffe that English liberty had its beginnings,” says J. A. Wylie in his History of Protestantism. Yes, the Magna Carta had a part to play some 100 years before Wycliffe. Yet what really produced the spiritual sea change was the Bible. Wycliffe’s life was to uphold the Bible as the authority of the heavens and the earth. Wycliffe gave England the Divine Magna Carta, and this opened the way for later generations to advance in truth and righteousness. Imagine the scowling faces in Rome as they contemplated the impact of John Wycliffe on the people. The pope thundered a denunciation against him and condemned him to death. But God had other plans and protected him until he gave England the Bible in their own language and set forces in motion that would eventually open the door to a complete break with Rome. Then, when his work was done, He laid his servant to rest before the prelates could lay their hands on him.
But no sooner was Wycliffe gone from the scene of action and God raised up another powerful witness for the truth. The great drama began to unfold in Bohemia which is where the Czech Republic is today. Get out an atlas and have a look at where this is in Eastern Europe.
There in 1373 John Hus was born in Hussinetz in a humble home. His father died when Hus was young, and his godly mother, like many mothers of the day wanted her son to have an education at the university in Prague and hoped that he would dedicate his life to God and become a priest. Along the way she knelt beside her son and prayed that God would greatly bless him. Little did she know how that blessing would have pierced her heart had she lived long enough to see it.
John Hus had excellent talents which sharpened and expanded at study. He had a great thirst for knowledge and this passion, along with his sweet disposition endeared him to almost all who met him. When he completed his theology studies, he entered the work of the church where he quickly rose to distinction. He became famous and eventually found himself connected to the court of King Wenceslaus as the confessor to his queen Sophia of Bavaria.
While at the university he had studied the writings of Wycliffe ardently, but nevertheless he was passionate and devoted to the Church of Rome. In 1402 he was appointed as the preacher at the chapel of Bethlehem in Prague. In those days, while the Church of Rome was gaining strength in the West, the eastern part of Europe was not so much under its control. Here in Bohemia, they had the Bible in the language of the people and it was preached openly in the churches.
Hus’ sermons were powerful. The moral condition of the people was at an all time low. Referencing Comenius, J. A. Wylie writes that “the king, the nobles, the prelates, the clergy, the citizens, indulged without restraint in avarice, pride, drunkenness, lewdness, and every profligacy.”
Hus was like their conscience. He founded all his preaching on the word of God. “Now it was against the prelates, now against the nobles, and now against the ordinary clergy that he launched his bolts,” writes Wylie. “These sermons seem to have benefited the preacher as well as the hearers, for it was in the course of their preparation and delivery that Hus became inwardly awakened.”
Whenever you study and teach the word of God, my friends, you will inevitably discover the source of corruption in the church as well as society. Hus realized that the moral corruption was linked to the profligate doctrines of the church. So he worked diligently to restore the word of God to the people of Bohemia hoping to reform both church and society. Hus developed quite a following, a movement, if you will, that would lead the people to greater piety. But Hus could not discern the true character of this movement and could not understand at that time where it would lead him. This is often the case when God’s servants start out on their work.
Hus placed the Bible above the authority of the pope and prelate. Whenever you do that my friends, you place yourself at odds with the prevailing religious views. And this often leads to controversy and commotion. Yet this is God’s purpose. Don’t accept the status quo because it is too dangerous to ruffle the feathers of the religious establishment. We must be loyal to the word of God. It must have pre-eminence above all earthly opinions.
The Great Reformation was a great controversy ordained and sustained by the God of heaven. Many people, even today, want to remain in happy, blissful ignorance of the coming crisis. They don’t want to think about the time of trouble that is inevitably coming upon the world. They would rather sleep through the preparation time than bestir themselves and change their evil ways. And often they are encouraged by church leaders to remain in their ignorance. “Leave these controversies to the theologians,” they are told. “Let them sort it out and tell you what to believe.” Here’s another one; “don’t worry about health reform. It is easy to become a fanatic anyway. And you don’t want to become a fanatic.” Or how about this one, “Don’t listen to the doom and gloom preachers out there. The time of trouble is a long way off. Sunday laws will not come any time soon. Jesus loves you and forgives you and that is all with which you really need to concern yourself.” There is one more I can’t resist. “Don’t worry about the innovations in the church, like the praise band, coffee drinking, and clowns. Just relax and know that you are forgiven. Don’t be a legalist. We need these things to keep the young people in the church, and to stay relevant to modern society.”
Have you ever heard these kinds of sentiments? Perhaps they are said in different words. But you get the same idea. Often the prevailing practices are in clear contrast to the word of God. We don’t speak about it, because it would stir up too much opposition and we will be accused of bringing trouble and disunity upon the church. Perhaps you are afraid to speak up against those things that are wrong. If so, pray and ask God to give you strength so that you can be faithful no matter what the consequences.
Jerome of Prague had also visited England and had brought back with him to Bohemia the writings of John Wycliffe. These greatly influenced John Hus. But now another connection to England and Wycliffe entered into Hus’ life. Anne, the sister of the king, married Richard II of England and this increased the connection between the two countries. When Anne died, the Bohemian ladies of her court returned home with the writings of John Wycliffe among her things. Now again John Hus, as close as he was to the royal court, was confronted with the faithful writings of Wycliffe. Again the Holy Spirit pressed upon his mind the truths of which Wycliffe had written.
One day two English strangers came to Prague. James and Conrad were both graduates of Oxford in England and were followers of the gospel as proclaimed by John Wycliffe. They came to spread the truth. Their plan was to start some discussions, so they set themselves up in a public place and started to “dethrone the pope.” These “public discussions” soon reached the ears of the authorities and they were silenced.
They cast about concerning what to do next. They had studied art as well as theology, so they got the permission of their host where they were staying to use two walls in the corridor of the house. Wylie explains it this way. “On the one wall they portrayed the humble entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, ‘meek, and riding upon an ass.’ On the other they displayed the more than royal magnificence of a Pontifical cavalcade. There was seen the Pope, adorned with triple crowns, attired in robes bespangled with gold, and all lustrous with precious stones. He rode proudly on a richly caparisoned horse, with trumpeters proclaiming his approach, and a brilliant crowd of cardinals and bishops following in his rear.”
This graphic pictorial sermon greatly impressed the people of Bohemia. Many came to look at these pictures and remarked about the lowly estate of Christ in comparison to the haughtiness and pride of the priest of Rome. It created quite an excitement, so much so that the English strangers felt it best to leave Prague. They had done a powerful work. John Hus came to gaze at the drawings too, and the impact of it led him to more deeply study the writings of Wycliffe. God was moving in the shadows and preparing for His servant to more openly work for truth against the falsehoods of his day.
Do you think that God is moving in the shadows today to prepare men and women to do a work that will finish the Gospel commission and bring the final warning to the world? Of course He is. He works behind the scenes to awaken the soul and train the mind of men or women for a powerful effect. Then he develops circumstances that launch them “surprisingly” into the field of controversy where they can proclaim His truth more fully.
This time, the study of the writings of John Wycliffe made a much more powerful impression on the mind of Hus. It was like a bright light that shown suddenly in a dark room. Wylie says, “the Bohemian preacher had appealed to the Bible, but he had not bowed before it with the absolute and unreserved submission of the English pastor. To overturn the hierarchy, and replace it with the simple ministry of the Word; to sweep away all the teachings of tradition, and put in their room the doctrines of the New Testament, was a revolution for which… Hus was not prepared.”
About this time there was a controversy at the University in Prague and many German students left the University for their homeland. But many had been influenced by John Hus and took with them the truths of the gospel to their native land. Notice how God moves the truth from place to place. He allows things to happen that caused the concentrated places to spread out and influence other places. He is working on the principle of multiplication.
Hus was elevated to become the rector of the University. Now he could spread the reform doctrines more easily. But when the pope heard about what was going on in Prague, he issued a papal bull against those that would preach the new doctrines of Wycliffe. Over 200 books by Wycliffe were publically burned on a street in Prague.
This burning of books inflamed the zeal of Hus. He preached against indulgences as well as the abuses of the church leaders (By the way, you may not be aware of this, but Rome still offers indulgences today). The pope summoned Huss to answer for his doctrines personally. If Hus would have obeyed this summons, he would have been killed. Everyone else knew that this would be the end of Hus too. The King and Queen, the University, and the nobles of Bohemia send a joint request to the pope asking to have Hus heard in Prague instead of Rome. The pope refused to listen to this plea and had Hus condemned in absentia and put Prague under interdict.
Interdict was a terrible thing to the people at that time. The churches were closed. Images in the streets were covered in sackcloth or laid on the ground. No burials could be made in the sacred cemeteries of the churches. Weddings could not be solemnized. Everyone was defacto excommunicated. All of Prague went into a panic. “Let us cast out the rebel,” was the cry of many, “before we perish!”
Controversy and tumult led Hus to leave Prague to his home in Hussinetz. Here he had the protection of the noble lord of the territory. Hus travelled all round the area teaching and preaching in the towns and villages. In this way, he won many followers to the truth of the gospel especially because of his holy life. Reformers, my friends, must always have a holy life if they are true reformers.
Nevertheless Hus had many conflicts in his mind. He still believed in the authority of the Church of Rome. He still thought it was the bride of Christ and that the pope was the representative of Christ on earth. If the church was Christ’s authority on earth, why was he compelled to disobey it?
I dare say this is the same conflict in the minds of many today. They believe that the church is right in all things. They think that the church has authority and that they must obey it or at least go along with it. But when a church goes beyond God’s word and requires things that are not required there, or when the church does things that are forbidden or not authorized in the word of God, the members are duty bound by the authority of God to disobey and even resist these encroachments. After all, when we do evangelism, we are teaching the people to obey the word of God above the authority of their pastors or priests. The primacy of the Bible has always been at the center of the issue throughout history. Satan has always tried to use his agents to downplay or destroy confidence in the word of God; while on the other hand, God’s servants have always tried to uplift the authority of the word above the authority of man. This often brings them great trouble like it did for John Hus.
Hus became convicted that God, speaking to the conscience through the Bible is the one infallible guide of men. This is the principle of Protestantism. And by the providence of God, Hus did not understand where it would lead. If he had, he would have shrunk from its work.
Eventually things became quiet in Prague again. Hus returned and again stood in the pulpit of the Bethlehem Chapel. This time he was more courageous than ever in preaching against the tyranny of the priests in forbidding the free preaching of the Gospel. This created another tempest. Powerful forces were now united against him, and it seemed that they would try to silence him. But the priests feared the people because Hus was so popular. As Hus preached, popular indignation against the priests grew daily. The priests were horrified at being exposed for their wickedness, simony and pretended piety. Hus’ disciples grew bolder and bolder. His defenders became more determined to protect him.
But in the midst of this turmoil, and with friends all around him, Hus was alone. He had no one to stand by his side in ministry. No close confidant to help him with his work. So about this time God sent him Jerome, a Bohemian knight who had studied in Oxford and had learned the teachings of Wycliffe. Now he joined in the work of John Hus.
Rome was angry with Hus’ doctrines and now she determined to move against him. But there arose a controversy between three men who each believed that he was the pope. They were John XXIII, Gregory XII and Benedict XIII. All three claimed infallibility. Each would denounce the others as heretics, demons and antichrist. Europe was confused and descended into anarchy. Each raised up armies against the others. To get money for equipping their armies, they each issued pardons, indulgences and dispensations. The priests followed the example of the popes and enriched themselves in the same way. Wylie writes, “Truth, justice, and order banished from among men, force was the arbiter in all things, and nothing was heard but the clash of arms and the sighings of oppressed nations, while above the strife rose the furious voices of the rival Popes frantically hurling anathemas at one another.” In those frightful times, the eyes of many were opened and they saw the spiritual pride and wickedness, and they longed for peace. John Hus saw that the church was completely corrupted. He thundered that all three of these imposters were right. They were all antichrist. He raised his voice against all the abuses he could see.
In 1413 the new emperor Sigismund called a church committee meeting, a council which would settle the controversy and the war between the rival would-be popes, and to also put an end to the heresy of Hus. He had more serious things to attend to, such as the Muslim hordes that were gathered on the eastern border of the empire. But could not as long as this state of affairs continued, he knew that the Muslims would take advantage of the general weakness and conflict in the empire.
Sigismund pressured John XXIII to convene the council. Pope John was alarmed. Only one of the antipopes would remain and he felt that it was likely that he would be one of those deposed. After all, he was guilty of many crimes and he lived in fear of being assassinated. But he had no choice. He had to cooperate with the emperor.
When the council convened at Constance in southern Germany, there was a vast assembly from many nations. I want you to understand the size of the council. It would rival many modern day conventions. There were “thirty cardinals, twenty archbishops, one hundred and fifty bishops, and as many prelates, a multitude of abbots and doctors, and eighteen hundred priests came together in obedience to the joint summons of the emperor and… pope” John XXIII. Wylie. But that is only the beginning. According to Lenfant’s History of the Council of Constance, “The Pope alone had 600 persons in his retinue; the cardinals had fully 1,200; the bishops, archbishops, and abbots, between 4,000 and 5,000. There were 1200 scribes, besides their servants, etc.” This was an enormous assembly. They all had to housed, fed and watered in and around the city of Constance. (Vol.1, pg. 83).
In contrast to all this pomp and pride, the humble John Hus made his way to the council with only a few people. He carried with him several important documents, the most important of which was the safe conduct issued by the emperor Sigismund. This safe conduct was required as protection for Hus from enemies who might try to stop him, or assassinate him. He was protected by the emperor’s military. It also meant that local governments along the way would let him pass freely without customs duties or any other charge. He was to go to the council and return in the name and under the protection of the emperor without molestation of any kind.
Hus would not travel without it, but he did not trust only in this. He trusted in the One who alone could give Him safe conduct if it was His will. He wrote to a friend, says Wylie, “I confide altogether in the all-powerful God, in my Saviour; he will accord me His Holy Spirit to fortify me in His truth, so that I may face with courage temptations, prison, and if necessary, a cruel death.”
“In that assembly [at Constance],” wrote Wylie, “[was] the illustrious scholar, Poggio:… secretary to several popes, ‘and whom,’ it has been remarked, ‘providence placed near the source of so many iniquities for the purpose of unveiling and stigmatizing them…” Poggius Bracciolini was actually the papal messenger that brought the Papal summons to John Hus in Prague, ordering him to appear at the Council of Constance. Then Poggius travelled with him to Constance. He wrote some letters about his impressions of the council and in particular the man John Hus and his trial.
I would like to read a few pieces of his lengthy account to show you how bad things were, and how godly John Hus was. It is now in book form and has made John Hus my favorite reformer. Incidentally, while we are on the subject of books, if you would like to be absolutely inspired, I would recommend the book by J. A. Wylie, History of Protestantism. It is one of the most fascinating and uplifting books to read. It will show you God’s hand behind the scenes as well as the characters of the drama. It has been out of print for many years until recently, when Hartland Publications re-issued it. You can call them in the United States at 540-672-3566. Though it is large, it is not expensive for its size. It is one of those books that is worth every penny you invest. That number again is 540-672-3566. You can also write them at PO Box 1, Rapidan, VA 22733
The personal account of Poggius concerning the trial of John Hus is one of the most impressive I have ever read. It is in the form of two letters to his friend Nikolai, and it contains one of the most graphic descriptions of that council and its behavior, as well as the treachery that betrayed John Hus to his enemies. But perhaps the most important parts of his account is the change in Poggius’ heart concerning Hus. Let me read a little.
“When the news came to Constance: ‘Hus, the arch-heretic has arrived!’ there was a great tumult and no one’s heart could await the day when Hus would walk openly through the streets of Constance to the Council…”
Hus had to appear for a preliminary hearing before the bishops. “He could hardly squeeze his long body through the masses of the populace, so crowded stood the curious, while some of them, here and there, squeezed his hand in deep concern, others encouragingly. Some felt urged to address questions to him about his new teachings, to which he answered fittingly, without conceit. But these proceedings already lined up his preliminary judges against him, because they did not want him to be known and heard among the people, out of their own weakness. For this reason the Roman Legate and Mons. Zilliciri reprimanded him furiously, as if he were a demagogue and an evildoing renegade, full of malice and hypocrisy. Hus defended himself against that and said; ‘Where have I failed so badly and transgressed, that your Lordships admonish me so evilly? Is it not duty [when] a blind brother asks in Christian mildness: where is the road? That I show him the road, as I see it? So that God will not punish me, too, with blindness, which I should have well deserved had I shown stubbornness…” The clear answer of John Hus could not be countered, but it only made his judges angrier.
Evil forces were also at work to revoke the safe conduct issued to Hus if possible. Prelates pressure Sigismund so much that he finally gave in and within a month of his arrival in Constance, Hus was arrested and placed under house arrest and a heavy guard. A week later he was cast into a dark dank prison. Count Chlum, one of his friends and countrymen angrily remonstrated with the priests. Two of Hus’s companions went back to Bohemia to tell the news of Hus’s imprisonment to King Wenceslaus and the nation.
Wylie says that “when the tidings of his imprisonment reached Hus’s native country, they kindled a flame in Bohemia. Burning words bespoke the indignation that the nation felt at the treachery and cruelty with which their great countryman had been treated.” Book three, chapter four. The Bohemian barons remonstrated with Sigismund, but to no avail. Again the priests pressed him, telling him that he did not have to keep honor with heretics and that he had no right to issue a safe-conduct in the first place, and certainly had no obligation to stand by it.
The prison was a terrible place. Wylie writes; “the sewage of the monastery flowed close to the place where he was confined, and the damp and pestilential air of his prison brought on a raging fever, which had well-nigh terminated his life. His enemies feared that after all he would escape them, and the Pope sent his own physicians… to take care of his health.
Often Hus was “dragged forth from his hole,” says Poggius, and questioned as to his convictions, whether he had not relented and had changed them. Yet, just like the stone bastions which God’s hand had built towering upon the shores of the sea, thus firm remained the Bohemian upon the structure of his opinions…, which towered above everything else. And I, dear Nikolai, carry a like conviction within me, for Hus said: ‘what else is it that you cardinals , bishops, and judges ask of me than to sin, by untruth and deceit, against the Holy Spirit?… You offer me gold and want thereby to hang a lock upon my lips; you want to give me rich revenues, clothe me in soft garments and give me well cooked food, so that I may be lost in everything that is called folly and worldly desire, leading to disaster and damnation… Your law is a spoiled structure of sentences, just to no one, resembling stinking, foul water, from which truly no thirsty man can drink, in the midst of which all sorts of terrible beasts, worse than snakes, newts and salamanders, creep and wade about clumsily, at home in the slime, fearing the light and devouring all flesh which strays into their filth… Because I have the courage to shed light into this desert, you confine me behind dark walls, gruesome bars and iron-bound doors with heavy bars and locks, grant for my body less foul straw than to a murderer and killer…
“This sort of speeches I have listened to with my own ears. Oh, that I had to be the tool, to serve to persecute the man, who speaks thusly in truth without fear of any earthly power. Yes, dear Nikolai! If I lay my hand upon my heart’s chamber and ask myself; for I had not thought that they would torture Hus, nor had I believed that woe would come unto him.
“When I recently visited him, because I had heard that he was suffering from an illness, I was terribly taken aback to find him in such a dungeon. Imagine the corner tower above the Rhine Bridge, the waters flowing about its foundation. Ten spans above the water you’ll see a small hole riveted thereto a grate of thick iron bars, through which, when the waves beat high, foam and drops splash into the dark chamber where Hus is sitting. It is necessary to descent thirty steps, the stairway being thrice protected by barred doors.
“Finally one comes to a narrow chamber, which is as long and broad as a man is high, barely leaving in the light by the drafthole toward the lake, where the above mentioned splashes come from. I stood for a while in this chamber, before I discerned its outlines and then I saw the poor prisoner, who huddled at my feet in the foul straw… “
The interview with John Hus left Poggius angry at what had become of him. He went to the Cardinal legate to plead for Hus. But the legate was glad to know that he was suffering much in that stinking hole. Then he went to the Chief Marshall of the city and pled with him to give Hus better quarters. “This man arose immediately, after hearing my supplication, from his easy chair,” wrote Poggius, “grasped the baton of his office and said, ‘No misdeed against a deserted stranger shall find support under my administration, as true as my name is Stuessi. A just victor honors even a defeated enemy.’
“After a short while Hus was led out of his dungeon into a decent chamber, but his feet almost refused to carry him, he swayed as he walked; listless and unused to the day was the light of his eyes, deathly pale his cheeks and loose what was left of his teeth, since eleven had fallen out due to the damp prison. The nails on his fingers were terribly long, because he had been unable to bite them off for many weeks; upon his skin was a crust of dirt which exuded an awful stench and his otherwise brown hair fell in white ringlets upon his rotting and torn garb. His shoes had rotted upon his feet and his shirt and loincloth had vanished. The rounded flesh which had covered his bones had shrunken and shriveled and he had become a picture of woe without equal, unrecognizable to those who had known him before. Horror filled those who looked upon him and pitying people prepared a bath for him, brought shirts and clothing and refreshed him with strengthening foods, for which he could only thank with tearful eyes.”
“When the day came for his trial, Hus, walked to the church as erect as his strength permitted, scantily garbed, accompanied by Wenceslaus of Duba and the Count Chlum, followed by a warden. At the church they found fifty-six clerical gentlemen, two procurators and several scribes, seated at special tables, also eleven witnesses, who, soon after Hus’ arrival, were sworn to the truth of their testimony. It so happened, while the oaths were taken, that one of the witnesses relented, because his conscience tortured him. He declared publically that he had permitted himself to be bribed to give false testimony for a sum of money which he had been in need of. Quickly the repentant witness was ordered away with the death sentence: ‘Hang a stone about the neck of the perjurer and cast him into the water outside of the town where it is deepest!’ and soon the bidding of the fathers was obeyed, the unfortunate man was dragged upon the bridge and cast over the railing so that he drowned.”
One wonders why the fathers didn’t investigate to discover who had bribed him, and then condemn him to the same fate. Obviously that wasn’t their intention. “After that,” wrote Poggius, “peace reigned at the church assembly as if no human life had been taken…”
The accusations were laid against John Hus, mostly misrepresentations of what he had said. Hus did not deny them, but tried to prove what he had really said. “But now he was being loudly denounced, cursed and condemned in many tongues,” wrote Poggius, “so that he could not talk any longer and remained silent, when Michael de Causis, in raving excitement, jumped before him and called threateningly with uplifted fists: ‘Now we have you in our power, from which you shall not escape until you shall have paid with your last farthing! And burnt you shall be, even if your thin bones have cost us so much money.’ He, who was thus silenced, had to take off his priestly garb again, after which they made fun of him, calling him derisively, ‘goose-head,’ since ‘goose’ is supposed to mean ‘hus’ in the Bohemian tongue, and he was led away to his small chamber.”
The jailer’s name was Erlo. He came to Hus and when they were alone said, “’Friend, you see that I am old and my days are numbered, already I am eighty-one years of age. So listen to me and take to heart what I have to offer you in his lonely hour… Tonight, when the clock strikes one, be awake and prepare yourself for an escape. Under your bed you will find Austrian soldier’s clothes, don them and hang over your shoulder the leather pouch which you will find, in which there is a letter, worded as if Vienna were its destination. Near the tree-lined road by the city wall… there will be a swift mule… upon which you may trot away with Emizka the Moravian noble, whom you know, who is a brave fighter and carries gold in considerable quantity.”
“But Hus said: ‘Far be it from me that I should endanger your gray head by my flight, honest Erlo! Behold, I shall walk the path which the finger of the Lord has shown me. I would count it as a dire sin, if I should go away like a thief in the night and grant my enemies a triumph at the expense of my dishonor. No, I can’t let this happen to me! What can human beings do to me if God’s arm protects me? And if He does not protect me, the vengeance of my enemies would seek me out, if I should flee to the remotest ocean!…
“Hus really went with his liberator” said Poggius, “as far as the outside of his prison, then he stopped and looked for a while to the sky, as if he wanted to ask: All-knowing One, is it not a sin before the Holy Spirit that I leave the path which thou has laid down for me? And he turned, offered his hand to Erlo and said with a sigh: ‘Devoted father, I cannot flee! Let me thank you ardently for your work of love, and pray for me should I go to my death. Convey to my friends my sincere thanks for their offer and ask them not to condemn me for my stubbornness. I shall trust in God and await my time!’ Out of liberty Hus returned confidently into his narrow prison.”
Imagine my friends, what Hus did here. He actually had a chance to flee, but he chose not to escape. What would you do in this case? I dare say that most of us would flee given the same opportunity. This was a giant of a man! Here was one that saw the deepest spiritual principle. He knew that like Christ, God had called him to suffer so that others would one day be free. He yielded his body that he might serve the Lord.
I wish I had time to share with you the awesome and compelling speeches that were made in defense of Hus during the trial. They are all in the letters of Poggius. They are absolutely incredible. Poggius himself voted for life, but Hus was condemned to death by 2 votes. One bishop died during the process and was left in his chair so that his vote could be counted should it have been needed. Even Sigismund denounced Hus with strong words and signed the death warrant. When the judgment was announced, “the bishop of London was the one who spoke most derogatory. He whined too Sigismund: ‘Oh emperor, you have earned praise out of the mouths of sucklings and little children. You shall be praised eternally, because you exterminate enemies of the true faith and kill their seeds. All past and future sins shall be forgiven you, all misdeeds and errors, whatever they might be. Your name be praised everywhere!’
“Into this, many voices cried against the papists: ‘Hypocrites, bloodhounds, slimy creatures are ye, who misuse the name of God to wallow in stinking mire!’ Chair backs were broken and the pieces were thrown about. During the tumult the Emperor slid away… The corpse of the prince bishop of Cleve, who had died during the council, was thrown over and trampled beyond recognition, while the mob dispersed.” After all this had happened and the dust had settled, “nobody had remained in the church, Hus was being missed, to the consternation of his enemies. They raised a great noise and hurried to the gates to cut him off, while the bells were being tolled. When they returned from their search, they found him upon his knees in his room, praying devoutly for courage and fortitude. They did not lock his door, but honored the nobility of his soul.”
After writing a long and beautiful letter to his friends, which is also in Poggius’ letter, Hus lay down to sleep… “On the morning of the 6th [of July 1415], Hus rose early and sang several psalms. After that he [requested] a little wine and some sweet bread. After that had been given to him, he asked to be left alone, then he fell upon his knees, prayed loudly and sobbingly to God, thanked Him for the days of his life, for the joys and trials, from childhood until today. Then he confessed his sins to God, prayed for blessing for his friends and forgiveness for his enemies, blessed the bread for which he had asked and ate it while he spoke the words of the last supper; the same he did with the wine, before he tasted of it. After all this had happened, he prayed again with much devotion, then he walked about in his cell until his friends came to him to take leave.
“I too, dear Nikolai, called on him again… and when I prayed him not to bear malice against me, because I had been the carrier of the letter which had called him into this chamber of woe, he answered modestly: ‘May God prevent that I shall harbor malice in my heart against someone, because he had not been a Jonathan for me! Does not God make bad days with the good ones, that man might not look into the future? You have shown me a great deal of love by your vote and your pity. For this reason my dear Poggius, I owe you thanks for the service which you have rendered to me by obeying the command of the Roman Lord on Peter’s chair. It has enabled me to become a witness for the truth before all people…”
That day, Hus was burned at the stake. Poggius ends his comments by saying “I wanted to acquaint you with this story of a heretic, my dear Nikolai, so that you might know how much fortitude of faith Hus had shown before his enemies and how blissful, in his faith, this pious man’s end had been. Verily, I say unto you, he was too just for this world!”
My friends, John Hus laid down his life knowing that one day another would arise to take his place. At his execution, Hus turned and said to the executioner, “You are now going to burn a goose, but in a century you will have a swan which you can neither roast nor boil.” A hundred years later almost, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg chapel. The death of Hus kindled at first a great interest in his writings. It also caused great indignation in Bohemia and led to the wars of Bohemia in which the Bohemian armies in the providence of God, routed Sigismund’s Catholic troops. But most importantly, Hus’ life and unjust death were the seeds of the great Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.
Please meditate on this incredible story. Is your faith like that of Hus? Will you have the courage that he had in dealing with those who were the mortal enemies of truth and righteousness? Do you have an experience with Christ that will give you strength to meet such a trial? You can you know. You must in fact. But it will only come by diligent study of God’s holy word, and by ordering your life within its principles. Let us pray and ask God to give us this kind of experience that we may have this kind of faith.
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