Jan Hus

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Jan Hus being burnt at the stake

Jan Hus (c. 1372 – 6 July 1415), sometimes anglicized as John Hus or John Huss, and referred to in historical texts as Iohannes Hus or Johannes Huss, was a Czech theologian and philosopher who became a Church reformer and the inspiration of Hussitism, a key predecessor to Protestantism, and a seminal figure in the Bohemian Reformation.

Hus is considered by some to be the first Church reformer, even though some designate this honour to the theorist John Wycliffe or Marcion of Sinope. His teachings had a strong influence, most immediately in the approval of a reformed Bohemian religious denomination and, over a century later, on Martin Luther. Hus was a master, dean, and rector at the Charles University in Prague 1409-1410.

Early life

Jan Hus was born in Husinec, Bohemia to poor parents. In order to escape poverty, Hus trained for the priesthood. At an early age he traveled to Prague, where he supported himself by singing and serving in churches. His conduct was positive and, reportedly, his commitment to his studies was remarkable.

Career as priest

After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree and being ordained as a priest, Hus began to preach in Prague. He opposed many aspects of the Catholic Church in Bohemia, such as their views on ecclesiology, simony, the Eucharist, and other theological topics. Hus was, unlike the vast majority of preachers at the time, an advocate for women and feminism. He believed women were given rights in the Bible. Hus stated that "Women were made in the image of God and should fear no man." He allowed women to preach and serve in battle, and they later fought in the Hussite wars.

When Alexander V was elected as a pope, he was persuaded to side with Bohemian Church authorities against Hus and his disciples. He issued a Papal bull that excommunicated Hus; however, it was not enforced, and Hus continued to preach. Hus then spoke out against Alexander V's successor, Antipope John XXIII, for his selling of indulgences. Hus' excommunication was then enforced, and he spent the next two years living in exile.

When the Council of Constance assembled, Hus was asked to be there and present his views on the dissension within the Church. When he arrived, he was immediately arrested and put in prison. He was eventually taken in front of the council and asked to recant his views. He replied, "I would not for a chapel of gold retreat from the truth!". When he refused, he was put back in prison.


On 6 July 1415, he was burned at the stake for heresy against the doctrines of the Catholic Church.

Before his execution, Hus is said to have declared: “you may kill a weak goose (in Czech Hus means goose), but more powerful birds, eagles and falcons, will come after me”. Luther modified the statement and reported that Hus had said that they might have roasted a goose but in a hundred years a swan would have sung to whom they would have been forced to listen. In 1546 Johannes Bugenhagen gave a further twist to Hus’s saying in his funeral sermon for Luther: "You may burn a goose, but in a hundred years will come a swan you will not be able to burn", and in 1566 Johannes Mathesius, Luther’s first biographer, found in Hus’s prophecy a proof of Luther’s divine inspiration.

At the place of execution, he knelt down, spread out his hands and prayed aloud. The executioner undressed Hus and tied his hands behind his back with ropes. His neck was bound with a chain to a stake around which wood and straw had been piled up so that it covered him to the neck. At the last moment, the imperial marshal, von Pappenheim, in the presence of the Count Palatine, asked Hus to recant and thus save his own life. Hus declined, stating:

God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.

Anecdotally, it has been claimed that the executioners had trouble intensifying the fire. An old woman then came to the stake and threw a relatively small amount of brushwood on it. Upon seeing her act, a suffering Hus then exclaimed, "O Sancta Simplicitas!". It is said that when he was about to expire, he cried out, "Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on us!" (a variant of the Jesus Prayer). Hus’ ashes were later thrown into the Rhine River as a means of preventing the veneration of his remains.


Responding with horror to the execution of Hus, the followers of his religious teachings (known as Hussites) refused to elect another Catholic monarch and defeated five consecutive papal crusades between 1420 and 1431 in what became known as the Hussite Wars. Both the Bohemian and the Moravian populations remained majority Hussite until the 1620s, when a Protestant defeat in the Battle of the White Mountain resulted in the Lands of the Bohemian Crown coming under Habsburg dominion for the next 300 years and being subject to immediate and forced conversion in an intense campaign of return to Catholicism.

The Hussite community included most of the Czech population of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Under the leadership of Jan Žižka (c. 1360 – 1424) and later of Prokop the Great (c. 1380 – 1434) – both excellent commanders – the Hussites defeated the crusade and the other three crusades that followed (1419–1434). Fighting ended after a compromise between the Utraquist Hussites and the Catholic Council of Basel in 1436. It resulted in the Basel Compacts, in which the Catholic Church officially allowed Bohemia to practice its own version of Christianity (Hussitism). A century later as much as ninety percent of the inhabitants of the Czech Crown lands still followed Hussite teachings.

In contrast to the popular perception that Hus was a proto-Protestant, some Eastern Orthodox Christians have argued that his theology was far closer to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Jan Hus is considered as a martyr saint in some jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church. The Czechoslovak Hussite Church claims to trace its origin to Hus, to be "neo-Hussite", and contains mixed Eastern Orthodox and Protestant elements. Nowadays is considered a saint by the orthodox churches of Greece, Chiprus, Czechoslovakia and other several support them.