Huss, Jan (1372-1417)

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Jan Huss, born in the city of Husinec in Bohemia in 1372, was perhaps the most important Czech religious reformer of the early fifteenth century. Huss was heavily influenced by the work of John Wycliffe (1330-1384), and Huss's beliefs would find expression in the Lutheran Reformation more than a century after his death. His active participation in the politics of the Great Schism (1378-1417) contributed to his demise. He was burned at the stake in Constance, Germany, in 1415.

Beginning around 1401, through his positions in the University of Prague and as a priest and preacher at Bethlehem Chapel, Huss was able to proclaim his message of reform, a message that owed much to the teachings of Wycliffe. His most famous work, De ecclesia, proclaims salvation by faith alone, that the pope is not the head of the earthly church, and that the church should return to its original simplicity. Huss's familiarity with Wycliffe's work was extensive, and he translated the Trialogus into Czech. Although Huss abjured some of Wycliffe's most radical positions (e.g., that the pope was the Antichrist and that the bread and wine taken in Communion retained their essential matter), he quickly aroused the ire of Archbishop Sbinko. By 1407 his teachings had been condemned by Rome. The chaotic politics of the Great Schism allowed the archbishop (through bribes and other means) to have Huss excommunicated twice--in 1411 and again in 1413. Despite attacks by the archbishop and one or more popes, Huss was able to escape death and continue his work with the support of King Wenceslaus IV (1378-1419) and other influential friends. It was during the period 1413-1414, when he sought protection with the Czech nobility, that Huss completed De ecclesia. As a whole, this work is a restatement of Wycliffe's major positions with little modification. Huss met his end at the Council of Constance (1414-1417), where he was tried, convicted, and executed.

His general popularity led to his lasting importance in Czech religious life, and Huss is recognized today as a martyr and national hero. Later reformers took his life and teaching as inspiration, and his program largely became reality during the Reformation of the sixth century.


Works by the Author

Huss, Johann. De Causa Boemica. Paulus Constantine, 1520.

Huss, Johann. The Church. Translated by David S. Schaff. New York: Scribner's Sons, 1915.


The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.

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