Jan Hus (1369–1415) was a Roman Catholic priest in Bohemia (located in modern-day Czech Republic) who became a pre-Protestant Reformation reformer of the church. Hus (also spelled Huss) earned a doctorate degree and became the preacher at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. The more he studied the Bible, the more he noticed a sharp divergence between what the Bible teaches and what the Roman Catholic Church practiced. Reading the writings of John Wycliffe further influenced Jan Hus in an anti-Catholic direction.
Bucking church directives, Jan Hus began to preach his sermons at Bethlehem Chapel in the Czech language instead of Latin. He also began teaching against Roman Catholic abuses at the University of Prague. These actions led to a conflict with Hus and his followers on one side and the Roman Catholic Church and Holy Roman Empire on the other. No significant consequences befell Hus, however, due to the fact that the Bohemian king supported him.
The conflict between Hus and the Roman Catholic Church greatly intensified when antipope John XXIII authorized the selling of indulgences to raise money for a military conflict against a rival pope claimant. Hus began preaching against the papacy itself, emphasizing the authority of the Bible and the fact that Christ alone is the head of the church. Due to political pressure from Rome, the king of Bohemia could no longer protect Hus, and Hus was officially excommunicated.
In 1412, Jan Hus was commanded by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to come to Constance, Germany, and appear before the Council of Constance. Hus was guaranteed safe passage, but, when he arrived, he was arrested and imprisoned. A mock trial occurred, and, when Hus refused to recant his teachings, he was burned at the stake as a heretic. It is said that his last words were, “Lord Jesus, I endure this cruel death for you. I ask you to have mercy on my enemies.”
The followers of Jan Hus, known as Hussites, continued, expanded, and intensified the rebellion against the Roman Catholic Church. The popes pronounced a series of crusades against the Hussites, which became known as the Hussite Wars. Each of the four crusades between 1419 and 1434 met with defeat at the hands of the Hussites. Within 100 years, nearly 90 percent of Bohemians were Hussite Christians.
The writings of Jan Hus against the selling of indulgences influenced Martin Luther and other early Protestant Reformers. It is incorrect to refer to Jan Hus as a Protestant, however, as he held to many Roman Catholic beliefs despite his strong opposition to papal authority and the selling of indulgences. Jan Hus set a tremendous example of refusing to submit to any authority that violates the teaching of Scripture. In that example, he is to be remembered and followed.