John Hus: The Bohemian Bible Man

by Ron F. Hale

On July 6, 1415, John Hus was burned at the stake at a site called the Devil’s Place.[1] The Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund promised Hus safety to attend the Council of Constance so that his concerns and teachings could be heard and reforms instituted within the Roman Catholic Church.

The Bohemian reformer found himself caught in a labyrinth of lies as he entered Constance. Hus was quickly arrested, thrown into prison and charged as a heretic. Months passed in prison with the Inquisition coming at the end. Would Hus confess and recant the things he had taught based on the Scriptures? Would he keep his mouth shut for speaking against the flaunting riches of the pope? Would Hus finally agree to the sale of the pope’s indulgences for his war against Naples? Would he continue teaching that Christ is the head of the Church, not the pope? Would Scriptures or the tradition of the Church be argued for by Hus?

After eight languishing months rotting in prison, Hus still refused to recant and clung to the Scriptures as his authority and prayed:

I appeal to Jesus Christ, the only judge who is almighty and completely just. In his hands I plead my cause, not on the basis of false witnesses and erring councils, but on truth and justice.

On his day of death, he was led through a churchyard where his books were being burned. He cordially told the bystanders not to believe the lies being told about him. Coming to the exact spot where he would be burned, Hus knelt and prayed for the last time, he said:

God is my witness that the evidence against me is false. I have never thought nor preached except with the one intention of winning men, if possible, from their sins. In the truth of the gospel I have written, taught, and preached; today I gladly die.

Bystanders heard Hus reciting the Psalms as the flames consumed him. At the end, his ashes were collected and thrown into a lake so that every heretical bit of him disappeared.

John Wyclif (1300-1384) had greatly influenced John Hus (1364-1415) as a reformer, but their work would live on in several ways. Over one-hundred years later, a young monk was rummaging through stacks of paper in a library. Blowing off the dust, the aspiring preacher found a volume of sermons by John Hus. After voraciously reading and studying the material, the young preacher said, “I was overwhelmed with astonishment. I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.”

Some years later, on October 31, 1517 the monk that had found Hus’s sermons in the corner of a library could be heard nailing to the Castle church door at Wittenberg his ninety-five theses, thus setting off a firestorm of reformation across Europe.

Wyclif planted the seeds of reformation. Hus watered those seeds and a German monk came to see that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone—glory be to God!
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[1] Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language-4th Ed., (Nashville: Thomas Nelson,2013), 242.

© Ron F. Hale, July 4, 2014