The 1st Day of Christmas: Jan Huss' Christmas letters and his call for peace on earth (1412)

Jan Huss

The Czech religious reformer Jan Huss (1372-1415) wrote two letters from exile to the people of Prague in celebration of Christmas in 1412. He emphasizes that Christ is the peacemaker and that his message was “peace be to you” (pax vobiscum):

Dear friends, although I am now separated from you, because perchance I am unworthy to preach much to you, nevertheless the love which I bear towards you urges me to write at least some brief words to my loved ones.

Lo! dear friends, to-day, as it were, an angel is saying to the shepherds: I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people. And suddenly a multitude of angels breaks into praise, saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of goodwill!

… Such, then, is the mercy that comes to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour, Who grants you also peace. Our Master, the Peacemaker, taught His disciples to be peacemakers, so that, in whatsoever house they entered, they were to say: Peace be to you. When He rose from the dead and entered into the midst of them, He said: Peace be to you. When, too, He was minded to depart from them to His death, He said: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. After His manner, therefore, I desire peace for you also, dear friends—peace to you from Him, that you may live virtuous lives and overcome the devil, the world, and the flesh—peace to you from Him, that you may love one another, ay, and your enemies —peace to you, that that you may peaceably hear His word—peace to you, that you may speak with discretion—peace to you, that you may know how how to be silent with advantage.

This quotation is part of a series for “The Twelve Days of Christmas” on the theme of “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men” [Luke 2:14]

We begin with two letters Hus wrote while in exile to his followers in Prague exactly 600 years ago. Jan Huss was excommunicated from the Catholic Church and forced to go into exile for his criticisms of the corruption which plagued it. Less than three years after these letters were written Huss was caught and burned at the stake for the crime of heresy. He refused to recant his views, was forced to wear a paper hat with the inscription “Haeresiarcha” (the leader of an heretical movement), was tied to a stake with a heavy metal chain around his throat, then burnt alive and his ashes scattered in the Rhine river. It is in the light of these appalling actions that one should read his letters urging his followers in Prague to heed the teachings of Luke that there will be “on earth peace to men of goodwill”. Huss goes on to say in a most prophetic manner that “After His manner, therefore, I desire peace for you also, dear friends—peace to you from Him, that you may … love one another, ay, and your enemies —peace to you, that that you may peaceably hear His word—peace to you, that you may speak with discretion—peace to you, that you may know how how to be silent with advantage”.