Huss, John (more properly Hus, the other mode of spelling his name being a mere usage which has established itself in the English language), was the illustrious Bohemian reformer before the Reformation, and the precursor of the Church of the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren.
I. Sketch of his Life. — He was born July 6, 1369, or, according to some authorities, 1373, at Husinec, a small market town of Bohemia, on the Planitz. His parents were common people, but in good circumstances for their station in life. Very little is known of his early years. He entered the University of Prague, and took his first degree in 1393. The development of his mind was slow but his behavior was distinguished by the strictest probity and the most genuine godliness. In his intercourse with others he was modest and kind. A spirit of melancholy gave a subdued tone to his bearing. He was a tall man, with a thin, pale, sad face. His public career began in 1398, when he was appointed a professor in the university. In 1401 he became dean of its theological faculty, and in 1402 its rector. At the same time he was pastor of the Bethlehem Chapel at Prague, erected by John de Milheim (1391), in order to give the people ail opportunity of hearing the Gospel in their native tongue, and in this position he exerted great influence. Multitudes flocked to his chapel, among them Queen Sophia, who also chose him for her confessor. His sermons were not oratorical, but lucid, fervent, and simple, displaying a thorough knowledge of the Bible, and leaving an indelible impression upon the minds of the people. It was from the pulpit of this church that he set forth the truth with such force as to make Rome tremble. The Reformation, which Huss may be said to have inaugurated, may be dated from the 28th of May, 1403, when the doctrines of John Wickliffe were publicly condemned in a meeting of the faculties and doctors of the university, in spite of the efforts of Huss and his friends to prevent such a decision. The formation of two parties was the result; the one in favor of reform, the other opposed to it. At the head of the first stood Huss, who labored with zeal and boldness, uncovering the putrid sores of the Church, and particularly the gross immoralities of the clergy. For a time Zybnek, the archbishop of Prague, recognized the honesty of Huss's intentions. But soon disagreements occurred between them; and when thousands of students left the university because of a new distribution of votes on academic occasions (1409), which Huss had been mainly instrumental in bringing about, the archbishop openly arrayed himself on the side of his enemies. An opportunity soon offered for showing Zybnek's ill will. The clergy of Prague laid before him formal accusations of heresy against Huss, which the latter met with common accusations against Zybnek. Both appealed to the pope. In response, Alexander V conferred extraordinary powers on the archbishop to root out heresies from his diocese. Accordingly, the latter prohibited preaching in private chapels; caused more than 200 volumes of Wickliffe's writings to be committed to the flames, amidst the chanting of the Te Deum; and excommunicated Huss (July 18, 1410). In this emergency king Wenzel came to the rescue, commanding Zybnek to reimburse the owners for the loss of their books, and annulling the ban against Huss. Nor was the prohibition touching chapels carried out. Meantime Alexander died, and was succeeded by John XXIII, an atrocious wretch, formerly a pirate, and now the embodiment of vice. To him, Wenzel, the queen, many nobles, and Huss himself appealed for redress. But the new pope adhered to the policy of his predecessor, confirmed the acts of Zybnek, and cited Huss before his tribunal in person. The king, however, sent two advocates to Bologna, where the papal court had its seat, to plead Huss's cause, and they were joined by three more delegated by Huss himself. But they effected only a transfer of the suit to other hands; while an attempt on the part of Zybnek, at Prague, to lay an interdict upon the city, caused an open rupture between him and the king, who coerced him by violent means. At last, in the summer of 1411, the archbishop yielded, and a pacification, including Huss, was brought about. But in September of the same year Zybnek died, and was succeeded by Albicus, a weak and miserly old man, who received, in the following spring (1412), a papal bull commanding a crusade against Ladislaus, king of Naples, an adherent of the anti-pope, and offering plenary indulgence to all who would take part in it, or contribute money towards its prosecution. The publication of this bull put a sudden end to the peace which had been patched up in the Church of Bohemia. Huss regarded the bull as an infamous document, contrary to all the principles of the Holy Scriptures, and at once publicly took this stand. A number of his friends, on the contrary, maintained that the will of the pope must be obeyed under all circumstances; they accordingly broke with him, and went over to the anti-reform party. Several of them afterwards became his most embittered foes; and one of them, Stephen de Palec, was the chief instigator of his subsequent condemnation at Constance. In nothing terrified by his adversaries, however, Huss continued to preach against the bull, and held a public disputation upon it in the aula of the university; on which occasion his friend and coadjutor, Jerome of Prague, delivered an address of such fervid eloquence that the students formed a fantastical procession the next day, bearing as many copies of the document as they could find to the outskirts of the city, where they were heaped up and burned. Huss took no part in these proceedings. King Wenzel now became alarmed. He had a reputation-to support in Romish Christendom, and issued a decree making any further revilement o the pope or the papal bull punishable with death. In consequence, three young men were executed, who, on the following Sunday, publicly gave the lie to a priest while advocating the plenary indulgence offered by the pope. Huss buried them in the Bethlehem Chapel, with all the rites of the Church, and extolled them as martyrs. When John XXIII was informed of these events, he excommunicated the Reformer a second time, ordered his arrest, commanded his chapel to be razed to the ground, and laid an interdict upon the whole city of Prague. Wenzel again interfered, saved Huss from arrest, and prevented the chapel from being destroyed: but, as the ban was every where published, and the interdict rigidly enforced, he advised Huss to leave the city for a time. Huss obeyed, and, after having affixed a protest to the walls of his chapel, appealing from the corrupt Romish tribunal to the only incorruptible and infallible Judge, Jesus Christ, he retired to the Castle of Kozi Hradek (December, 1412). There, and subsequently at the Castle of Krakowec, he remained until August, 1414, engaged in literary labors, which resulted in some of the most important both of his Latin and Bohemian works, carrying on a voluminous correspondence, and preaching to the people of the neighboring villages.
Meanwhile a general council of the Church had been called to meet at Constance on the 1st of November 1414, under the auspices of Sigismund, a brother of Wenzel, and designated emperor. This monarch invited Huss to attend, that his cause might be examined and peace given to the Bohemian Church. He pledged himself to grant him a safe-conduct, and to send him back unharmed, even in the event of his not submitting to the council. Modern Romish historians try to disprove the reality of such a promise. But it is incontrovertible. The instrument which Sigismund actually furnished says: "Ut ei transire, stare, morari, redire libere permittatis." Huss joyfully obeyed the summons, for it was the great wish of his heart to defend his doctrines in the presence of the assembled representatives of Latin Christendom, and to unite with them in reforming the Church, for which purpose the Council had been specially convened. Leaving Prague on the 11th of October, with testimonials of orthodoxy from the papal inquisitor and the archbishop, and accompanied by an escort of nobles whom the king appointed to defend him, he traveled through Bohemia and Germany, held disputations upon his doctrines in all the towns where he passed a night, and arrived at Constance on the 3rd of November. The next three weeks he spent in strict seclusion. Sigismund had not yet come, and the pope had temporarily suspended the sentence of excommunication, besides giving him the most solemn pledges for his personal safety. But Stephen de Palec and others among his Bohemian enemies began so persistently to incite the ecclesiastics against him, that he was arrested on the 28th of November, and on the 6th of December he was cast into the dungeon of the Dominican monastery. When Sigismund reached the city, Huss's escort vainly attempted to secure his release. The emperor was persuaded by the priests that it would be wrong to keep faith with a heretic. Huss not only remained a prisoner, but, after the lapse of three months, was conveyed to the Castle of Gottlieben, where a mere hole, so low that he could not stand upright in it, was assigned him as his cell, and where his feet were fastened to a block with heavy irons, and at night his right arm was chained to the wall. In this miserable plight he remained from the end of March to the beginning of June, in spite of the unceasing efforts of his friends, and the solemn protest of the whole Bohemian nation.
Huss had three hearings before the council; the first on the 5th of June (1415), the second on the 7th, and the third on the 8th. For the most part they were stormy debates, or irregular philippics against him. He was not permitted to explain and defend his doctrines. An immediate and explicit recantation was required of him, which he declined giving, unless convicted of heresy by the testimony of Christ and his apostles. After the last hearing several weeks elapsed, in which every conceivable effort was made to induce him to recant. But he remained firm, and calmly prepared for death. On Saturday, July 6, he was once more cited before the council, condemned as a heretic, degraded from the priesthood, and delivered into the hands of the secular power for execution. The proper officers immediately conveyed him to the outskirts of the city, where, at about ten o'clock in the morning, he was burned alive at the stake, while the council continued in session. He suffered with the heroism of the early martyrs. His ashes were cast into the Rhine. A simple monument, erected by the present generation of his countrymen, marks the spot. Erasmus pithily said: "Joannes Hus exustus, non convictus." The tradition of a peasant woman bringing a fagot to the pile, and moving him to exclaim "O sancta simplicitas!" is very doubtful; the other tradition of a prophecy with regard to Luther, under the image of a swan, uttered by Huss on his way to execution, lacks all historic basis. Jerome of Prague (q.v.), who had stood faithfully by the side of Huss, and, on the death of his friend, himself led the followers of the lamented Huss, soon suffered the same fate. The disturbances which then followed we treat under HUSSITES SEE HUSSITES .
II. Huss's Literary Labors. — Besides the many letters which Huss wrote, and which clearly set forth his theological views, he was the author of fifteen Bohemian, and a large number of Latin works. Of the former, among which his Postills and Treatise on Simony are particularly important, several have, unfortunately, never been translated, and others remain in manuscript. Of the latter, his Tractatus de Ecclesia deserves to be particularly mentioned, together with the polemical treatises against Palec and Stanislaus, that form its supplements (Historia et Monumenta Joannis Hus, 1, 243-331, ed. of 1715). Other of his Latin works are of an exegetical character. He also composed numerous hymns and didactic hexameters. Many of his hymns were adopted by the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren, and some of them are still in use in the Moravian Church. Moreover, he carefully revised the old Bohemian version of the Bible, which had been translated as early as the 13th century; and quite recently, Palacky, the great Bohemian antiquary and historian, has discovered a catechism in that language, which he supposes to be from the pen of Huss, and which, no doubt, formed the basis for the catechism of the Brethren, published in 1522. As a writer of his mother language the merits of Huss cannot be overestimated. He purified it; fixed etymological and syntactical rules, and invented a new system of orthography, distinguished by its simplicity and precision. It was brought into general use by the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren in the sixteenth century, since which time it has remained the acknowledged standard. Ulrich yon Hutten was the first to publish the Latin works of Huss. The edition by O. Brunfels (Strasb. 1525, 4to, with woodcuts), is very scarce. A more complete edition appeared at Nuremberg in 1558, entitled Historia et Monumenta Joannis Huss atque Hieronymi Pragensis, in two fol. volumes. Still more complete is the edition of 1715, which came out at the same place with the same title. A small but very important volume of his sermons, translated from a copy of the Bohemian Postills, brought to Herrnhut by the Moravian refugees, appeared at Görlitz in 1855. Its title reads as follows: Johannes Hus Predigten uber die Sonn- und Festtags-Evangelien des Kirchenjachrs. Aus der Bömischen in die Deutsche Sprache übersetzt von Dr. Johannes Nowotny. They are pre-eminently sermons for the times, and abound in polemics. His letters have been translated into English (Edinb. 1859, 1 vol.) and other modern languages. A collection of his writings in Bohemian was begun by Erben (Prague, 1864, etc.).
III. Huss's Theological Views, and the Principles of His Reformation The views of Huss were molded by the writings of two men in particular; the one Matthias of Janow, a Bohemian, the other Wickliffe, the English Reformer. He was attracted by the latter, inasmuch as Wickliffe always traced the truth up to its source in the New Testament., and desired to renew Christianity in its apostolic sense. Hence he made him his guide in those principles which he had, first of all, learned from Janow, but which Wickliffe developed more fully and consistently. Not having passed through the same conflict which brought Luther into the inner sanctuary of divine grace, through Christ, and justification by faith, he did not turn his attention so much to doctrine as to practice, and set forth the Saviour of the world rather from the standpoint of that perfect law whereof he is the author, than from that of his redeeming work. As a necessary consequence, he insisted more upon the reformation of the Church in regard to life than in regard to its unsound and corrupt dogmatical views. This was the weak point of his Reformation, bringing it to a premature end, and him to the stake. In order to success, an absolute reform of the dogmas of the Church was essential. Huss did not see this, because he had formed no plan of operations antagonistic to Rome. He advanced, not in obedience to a.
systematic process inwardly developed, but under the influence of outward circumstances. While Christ was the center of his own faith, and he held to Christ's Word alone as the norm of the faith of all, he did not, on that account, reject Romish dogmas until he became conscious of a contradiction between them and the Scriptures. The more any theological question was made prominent by the circumstances of the times, the more clearly he apprehended the truth in its evangelical import. Upon some points, however, as, for instance, the seven sacraments, and transubstantiation in the Lord's Supper, he never changed the views, which were his by education. No outward impulse was given him to investigate these points in a reformatory spirit. So also he allowed, with certain qualifications and great caution, prayers for the dead, although he did not deem them of any importance; also confession to a priest and absolution, though none, he said, could forgive sins but God only; and he was, at first, satisfied with the holy communion in one kind. When this latter usage, however, grew to be a subject of dispute between the national and the Romish party in Bohemia, he emphatically endorsed the position of Jacobellus of Mies, who was the great advocate of the cup. For an exposition of his views on the Church, as set forth in the work mentioned above, see Neander's Kirchengeschichte, 6. 395, etc., or Torrey's Translation, 5, 299, as also Gillett's Life and Tines of Huss, 1, 244, etc. In general, it may be said that it was not until his trial before the council that he recognized the necessity of breaking with the Church of Rome in order to effect a reformation. If he had been able, at that time, to escape from the hands of his enemies and return to Bohemia, he would have been the Luther of the world, and Protestantism would have begun its enlightening course a century earlier. SEE REFORMATION. While Huss failed to bring about a general reformation, his principles, developed and purified, found an ecclesiastical form forty-two years later in the Church of the Brethren, and have, through that channel, come down to the present day as a power in Christendom. SEE MORAVIANS.
IV. Literature. — For a study of the life of Huss, in addition to the histories of the Council of Constance, the most important works are: Lebensbeschreibung des M. Johannes Hus von Hussinecz, von Aug. Zitte, Weltpriester (Prague, 1790); an anonymous history, in German, "Of the manner in which the Holy Gospel, together with John Huss, was condemned in the Council of Constance by the Pope and his faction," written by an eye-witness, and published in 1548; Becker's Life of Huss;
Koehler's Huss und seine Zeit; Hist. of the Hussites, by Cochleius; Hodgson, Reformers, p. 123 sq.; Neander's Kirchengeschichte, vi; Gillett's Life and Times of John Huss; and especially Palacky, F., Geschichte von Bohmen, 3 pt. 1, c. 3-5; Palacky, F., Documenta Mag. J. Hus vitam, doctrinam, causamt in Cone. Constant. actam, etc., nunc ex ipsisfontibus hausta (Prag. 1869); Bonnechose (Emile de), Les Reformations avant la Reforme (Paris, 1847, 2 vols. 12mo); Good Words, Jan. 6, 1866, p. 21 sq.; Ranke, Hist. of the Popes, 2, 79 sq.; Zitte, Lebenbeschreib. d. Mag. J. Huss (Prag. 1789-95,2 vols.); Wendt, Gesch. v. Huss und d. Hussiten (Magdeb. 1845); Helfert, Huss u. Hieronymus (Prag. 1853); Bohringer, D. Kirche Christi v. ihre Zeugen (ultrampntane) (Zur. 1858, vol. 2, pt. 4); Krummel, J. HuIss (Darmst. 1863); Hofler, 3 Mag. J. Huss (Prague, 1864); Contemp. Rev. April and July, 1869; Stud. u. Krit. 1863, 4; Meth. Quart. Rev. 1864, p. 176. (E. DE S.)