Jan Hus was born in 1372 in the small bustling village of Hussenic, Bohemia, which is in modern-day Czech Republic. Ironically enough, his village’s name means “Goosetown,” and his last name means “Goose,” but we’ll get to more of that later. Jan Hus was a common enough man to begin with. He came from a poor family with little to no means of improving his station in life, and so he decided that to escape poverty, he would train to become a priest in the Catholic Church.
Hus’ Early Ministry
Jan Hus, “I had thought to become a priest quickly in order to secure a good livelihood and dress and to be held in esteem by men.”
While attending college in Prague, he would sing and serve in churches to support himself while being steadfast in his studies. Soon enough, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s and doctorate as well. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1401. He immediately became the preacher at Prague’s Bethlehem Chapel, a megachurch by modern-day standards. From that pulpit, he began to see a change in his personal theology that came from the discipleship of John Wycliffe from afar that started him down a path that continues on today in the hearts and minds of all Protestants.
Hus became an adamant supporter of having the Bible printed in the congregation’s native tongue so that both the laity and clergy could have equal access to the Scriptures. He saw the battle that Wycliffe was fighting and knew that God was calling him to an equal fight in Bohemia. Due to his newfound reliance on the Word of God as the sole authority on life, theology, orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and ecclesiology, he began to distance himself from Rome and, in doing so, all of Catholic thought and practice.
Hus began to advocate for priests being allowed to marry because Scripture did not forbid it. Scripture insists that marriage is a gift from God to be enjoyed and cherished by all of God’s children unless God specifically calls a man or woman to singleness like the apostle Paul.
Hus insisted upon a registry of sorts to be created that would hold clergy accountable for grievous sins and abuses of power; such as simony, fornication, bribery, homosexuality, and the selling of indulgences for personal monetary gain. Hus believed that the people of God needed to worship God in their own native tongue, so he began leading worship services in Czech and discarded the Latin Mass and liturgy altogether. Hus personally translated the Psalter into Czech for his own church so that they could finally sing as one people and understand the words that they were actually singing.
How Scripture Shaped Jan Hus’ Ministry
Hus’s understanding of the inerrancy of Scripture and authority of Scripture, which later became known as Sola Scriptura, helped him realize that Christ is the head of the Church and that the Pope is nothing more than a man, which was the result of an inferior view of God and Scripture. This stand against the Catholic Church and the Pope himself prompted many papal bulls to be directed towards him, including being excommunicated twice from the Catholic Church in his lifetime. Hus continued to develop his theology of Scripture insofar as he completely rejected Mary’s veneration, the mother of Jesus, rejected the veneration of “saints,” and rejected the veneration of the Pope as Christ, the only representative on Earth.
In his reforming of the worship services at Bethlehem Chapel, not only did Hus lead his people in worship in their native tongue, but he also opened up the full Lord’s Supper to people for the first time ever. Before, only the clergy were allowed to partake in the wine because it was seen as more special than the bread due to what it represents. Hus argued successfully, though that the Lord’s Supper is a gift to the assembled church and individual Christian.
The partaking of the bread and wine was commanded in Scripture as a means of remembering the sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross for all of mankind’s sins. Ultimately though, it was his fully developed ecclesiology that sentenced him to death. He was condemned a heretic by the Pope at the Council f Constance in 1415 at the age of 43 because he continued to argue and teach that the Catholic Church was not the “True Church”, but rather the true church was the visible and invisible global communion of Christians and that Rome did not have the authority to challenge what the Bible clearly taught about the gathering of fellow believers in Christ.
Hus argued against the monopoly that Rome had on Christianity and pleaded with people that they discern for themselves what the Scriptures say and put their faith in Christ and not the Catholic Church or Pope. Because Hus would not recant when called upon to do so that the Council of Constance, he was arrested and sentenced to death. On July 6, 1415, Jan Hus was burned at the stake, and his ashes were scattered into the Rhine River so that his congregation and many disciples and followers could not use them as a means to rally the people against the Catholic Church.
Jan Hus The Godfather of the Reformation
The ending of this brief portrait goes back to what Jan Hus’s name means goose. While being burned alive, Hus famously shouted out to the gathered assembly of nobility, bishops, clergy, and laity, “Today you burn a goose, but in one hundred years a swan will arise which you will prove unable to boil or roast.” Jan Hus was as close to a prophet as you can get outside of the Old Testament because 102 years after his execution a monk named Martin Luther would pick up his hammer, approach the doors of Castle Church in Wittenburg, and nail his 95 revolutionary, world-upending opinions to the door for all of Europe and Christendom to see. Luther is known as the “Father of the Reformation,” but I like giving the honor of godfather, or rather “Goosefather” to Jan Hus. As for 21st century Protestants, we must continue to judge everything we do according to Scripture like Jan Hus did and continue to uphold Scripture as the sole authority of our lives. Without it, we are lost, and our goose is cooked.
James Forbis is a graduate of The University of Arkansas, a former Jr. High and High School football coach, and American history teacher. He is completing his M.DIV at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Great Commission Studies and Expository Preaching. He’s a self-proclaimed sweet tea connoisseur and Tex-Mex addict. Most Saturday’s you can find him cheering on his Arkansas Razorbacks, hiking or fishing, or reading up on his favorite subject, the Revolutionary War, or spending time with his wife.