In 1414, Anti-Pope John XXIII – yes, there have actually been anti-popes – called a council at Constance in southwest Germany. One of its goals was to destroy the influence of Wycliffe and Huss towards reform. Huss was summoned to appear there, and under Emperor Sigismund’s promise of safe-conduct he went in good faith. There, he was imprisoned, condemned, and handed over to the secular authorities, who executed him at the stake on July 6, 1415.
He did have a chance to speak, though he was derided and shouted down. His sharp public rebukes of the Catholic clergy must have been unforgivable. He defended his faith and refused to recant of those things which had been falsely attributed to him. From all I can gather, he still believed that the Church of Rome could be reformed. However he also believed that the Scriptures are our final authority, and he had trusted in Jesus Christ as His sole Mediator.
According to S. Harrison Thomson, in Czechoslovakia in European History, the reasons for which Huss was pronounced a heretic and executed were:
- For holding Wycliffe’s teaching on Transubstantiation (Huss rejected Wycliffe’s teaching on this).
- Huss’s own teaching on the church which to quote Thomson was this: “He] regarded the church as the congregation of all the faithful, whose only real head is Christ.” (p. 83)
Jerome of Prague, who had joined Huss at Constance to be of help to him, was also executed.
The Council of Constance was an Ecumenical Council (a general council), and according to New Advent Catholic encyclopedia, “General councils represent the universal Church and demand absolute obedience.” Though called by an Anti-Pope, the proceedings were ratified by Pope Martin V, who is considered legitimate. Now, when a Pope and council agree, it is final. So, remember this when you hear Francis encouraging Christian unity, or speaking of Huss as a reformer. For the Council of Constance declared Huss a heretic and consigned him to death.
So was Huss a reformer or heretic? God has set His seal to this: He knows those that are His.
This past July of 2015, Huss’s death was remembered in Rome by a Liturgy of Reconciliation at which Francis spoke. Here is a translation of his words:
Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave Monday when he received in audience a Delegation of the Czech Republic, on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of Jan Hus’ death.
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I welcome you, distinguished representatives of the Hussite Czechoslovak Church and of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, who are in Rome to celebrate, at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, a Liturgy of Reconciliation on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the Reformer Jan Hus. I give a cordial greeting to Cardinal Miloslav Vlk.
This meeting gives us the opportunity to renew and deepen the relations between our communities. In obedience to the will of the Lord Jesus, who on the eve of his Passion and Death prayed to the Father for the unity of his disciples (cf. John 17:21), we have the duty to promote increasing mutual knowledge and active collaboration. Many disputes of the past call to be revisited in the light of the new context in which we live, and agreements and convergences will be reached if we address the traditional conflictive questions with a new look. Above all, we cannot forget that our shared profession of faith in God the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit, in which we were baptized, already unites us in bonds of genuine fraternity.
Six centuries have passed since the day that the renowned preacher and Rector of the University of Prague, Jan Hus, died tragically. Already in 1999, Saint John Paul II, intervening in an International Symposium dedicated to this memorable figure, expressed his “profound regret for the cruel death inflicted [on him],” and he numbered him among the Reformers of the Church. In the light of this approach, the study must continue on the person and activity of Jan Hus, who for a long time was the subject of contention among Christians, while today he has become a reason for dialogue. This research, carried out without conditioning of an ideological type, will be an important service to the historical truth, to all Christians and to the whole society, also beyond the boundaries of your Nation.
Vatican Council II stated: “the renewal of the Church,” which “consists essentially in enhanced fidelity to her vocation … Hence, this renewal has a singular ecumenical importance” (Unitatis redintegratio, 6). Today, in particular, the need for a New Evangelization of so many men and women that seem indifferent to the joyful news of the Gospel, renders urgent the duty of renewal of every ecclesial structure, in order to foster the positive answer of all those to whom Jesus offers his friendship (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium,27). And the visible communion among Christians will surely render the proclamation more credible.
Responding to Christ’s call to continuous conversion, of which we are all in need, we can progress together on the path of reconciliation and peace. Along this path we learn, by the grace of God, to recognize one another as friends and to consider others’ motivations in the best possible light. In this connection, I hope the bond of friendship will be developed also at the level of the local and parish communities.
With these sentiments, I unite myself spiritually to the Penitential Liturgy that you will celebrate here at Rome. May God, rich in mercy, grant us the grace to acknowledge ourselves all sinners and to be able to forgive one another; I assure you of my prayer and I ask all of you, please, to pray for me and for my ministry. Thank you.
[Original text: Italian]
Francis’ statements, either when speaking of Huss or the Waldenses, seem to be attempting to share mutual guilt. That is, since all are sinners, Huss sinned too. After all, as other Catholics maintain – and to some he is a villain, Huss’s preaching led directly to the Hussite Wars. The problem with Rome’s approach is plain. It is a subtle reproach not a plea for forgiveness. And, Huss didn’t preach war but Christ and reform of the church in the nation he loved.
Francis called Huss’s death “tragic”. And as he noted, he isn’t the first pope to speak of Huss’s death in this way. John Paul II called it “cruel” and, like Francis, sought to promote dialogue for the purpose of unity through the opportunity afforded by studying Huss. John Paul II said the following at an International Symposium on the Czech Reformer,
“A figure like John Hus, who was a major point of contention in the past, can now become a subject of dialogue, discussion and common study” in the hope that decisive steps can “be made on the path of reconciliation and true unity in Christ…” (Vatican Radio, 2/5/2015)
These things aren’t honest. Please pray for Catholics and apostate Protestants to “come out of her My People!”
By grace he was led on to know the Lord,
a diligent servant opening God’s Book
to fulfill his work of preaching,
he found Heaven’s light shining
in the face of Jesus Christ.
Looking around he saw corruption,
Looking afar he saw – on an island in the sea –
another man treading out the corn,
humble oxen both, doing the heavy work.
Looking out he saw, beyond the bars
of his sudden prison, men gathering wood,
servants hauling, pennants flying.
His paper hat with devils scribbled
was probably the first thing to burn,
its black ash falling as sparks ascended.
~ click to enlarge ~