As stated in the previous post, Martin Luther is credited with starting the Reformation, but in truth he had predecessors. John Huss was one of these. As we saw in the article about John Wyclif people were already talking about the abuses of the church and a desire to find a simpler, more scriptural church and way of life.
Bohemia in the 14th century was a center of church and political power. The Holy Roman Emperor was also the king of Bohemia. “In no country of Europe was the church more largely a landholder, or the clergy more worldly than in Bohemia.”[i] It’s interesting that the author notes that Bohemia had previously not associated much with England, but was brought into connection with that country by the marriage of a Bohemian princess to the King of England in 1383. All of a sudden Bohemian students are going to Oxford and bringing back Wyclif’s doctrines and writings
Wyclif’s doctrines were front and center at the University of Prague where in 1394 Jan Huss got his first degree, a bachelor of theology with a Master of arts following a couple years later. In the process Huss became an ardent disciple of Wyclif.
One of the things that separated John Huss apart was his ability to give fiery sermons. “It was this combination of religious and patriotic zeal that gave us his remarkable power of leadership.”[ii]
Today we live in a time where religion and politics are not the bedfellows they were in the Middle Ages. In the United States implications of politicians being influenced by religious hierarchy are grounds for a court case. And even in Europe where there are national religions with ties between archbishops and political masters they are not of the intensity they were in the Middle Ages.
In Bohemia in the early 15th century a schism in the papacy allowed for the elevation of Jan Huss to be the newly minted rector of the newly minted University of Leipzig. And now we see John Huss, a peasant graduate of the University of Prague, elevated to the stature to be able to mix among the aristocracy spreading his passionate views as a disciple of Wyclif.
Remember I mentioned that Huss received his promotion because of a papal schism, well that schism worked against him because in 1410 he was excommunicated for his fiery promotion of Wyclif’s views. John Huss was a staunch hero who had preached that the pope had no right to use physical force, that you couldn’t buy indulgences, and that indulgences were really of no use. At the center of the fiery sermons and debate was the push to rely on Scripture alone as the authority. It all came to a head as John Huss, a man of true conviction, refused to yield and was burned to death for his convictions. His martyrdom was powerful.
There were certainly other elements involved in the development towards the steps Luther took in the Reformation movement but I have only brought up John Wyclif previously and now Jan Huss as key points to show how this growing controversy stirred the European landscape. The Reformation was actually a development that built up over centuries over a continent mired in heavy controversy and grew to the point where we will soon see Martin Luther breaking through with radical change.
[i] A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Williston Walker, Scribners, New York, 1959, p. 270
[ii] Ibid, p.271