Since living in Prague, I have learned about quite a few “history makers” who roamed the streets and wreaked havoc. While the names Charles IV, Vaclav Havel, and Milos Forman come to mind, the person who stands out the most is Jan Hus.
Hus was born in southern Bohemia and began studying at Charles University in 1390. Eventually he became dean of the philosophical faculty in 1401. During this time he became interested in John Wycliffe’s ideas of reform for the Roman Catholic clergy. You see, the clerical estate owned about half of all the land in Bohemia and were one of the heaviest land taxers at the time. You did not have to look far to find people who were in support of a church reform movement.
In 1391, Jan Milic’s (the founder of the national reform movement) pupils founded the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. Here public sermons were given in Czech rather than in Latin as was done in the Roman Catholic church. Starting in 1402, Hus was in charge of the chapel and it had become the center of the growing national reform movement in Bohemia. Eventually he emerged as the popular leader of the movement and began to really enjoy preaching.
In 1403 a German university master, Johann Hübner, drew up a list of 45 articles, which were selected from Wycliffe’s writings, and had them condemned as heretical. Since the German masters had three votes and the Czech masters only one, the Germans easily outvoted the Czechs, and the 45 articles were regarded as a test of orthodoxy. After this, conflict ensued and Hus found himself at odds with his former friends. After the failure at the Council of Pisa in 1409, which was called in the hopes of dethroning the rival popes and to reform the church, King Wenceslas decided to make some changes. He was angered that the German masters had a voting majority in the affairs of the university. He understood that the reformers would never win if the Czech masters did not have a fair shot. He changed the university constitution and granted the Czech masters three votes each and the Germans only one, which caused a mass emigration of the Germans from Prague.
A new pope was elected, Alexander V and was acknowledged by the Reform Party. However, he was bribed by the archbishop to prohibit preaching in private. Of course, Hus refused to obey these orders and the archbishop excommunicated him which resulted in him ignoring orders again and continuing to do what he believed in. Because Hus publicly denounced the indulgences that had been sold to finance John XXII campaign, he was forced to leave and found refuge in southern Bohemia.
King Sigismund of Hungary wanted to put an end to the division in the church. He invited Hus to explain his views. There he was arrested and placed in close confinement. He was tried before the Council of Constance as a Wycliffite heretic. He was allowed to defend himself and succeeded in refuting a few of the charges against him. Being the man that he was, he refused to recant and was burned at the stake.