Sunday, July 6, 2014
Jan Hus wanted to be wrong. He had read the works of Wycliffe and been convinced that there was something within the Church that was in desperate need of change. Jan feared that the further developing practice of the sale of indulgences was, at its heart, the sale of the Church's soul. He advocated for reform but he eagerly hoped that somebody would correct him and demonstrate to him that he was the one who was mistaken. After all, Jan loved his Church and was devoted to the Head of that Body: Jesus Christ. Jan would have much preferred to believe it was his error that left him feeling that something within the Church was drastically wrong than to believe that the Church had drifted from its high calling and holy mission. But every time Jan sought correction and guidance he only found the threat of horrible consequences offered to him by a group of men ordained to serve Jesus Christ the Crucified. Jan was barred from the services and sacraments of the Church he loved because he had the audacity to suggest that something might be going wrong and ask for clarification and correction. Eventually, all of the city was placed under papal interdict because of Jan's residence there. All Christians were ordered not to feed or shelter him on penalty of excommunication. For asking questions and advocating reformation, Jan was outcast.
Eventually, those in power convened the Council of Constance to bring reformation and unity to the Church so long travailing. Sigismund, the emperor of the "Holy" Roman Empire made a promise to Jan that he would have safe passage to Constance to help sew together the fragmented pieces of God's holy Church. Jan finally thought that correction would be achieved even if it had to be the Church that was corrected. He wasn't keen to face the thought that the Church had erred but he was very eager to see it righted again. But when he arrived at Constance he was ambushed by those who were still anxious to punish him for his questions and reforming intentions. He was labeled a heretic--even though he openly sought correction if he was wrong--and questioned at great length.Meanwhile, those in power endeavored to convince Sigismund that a promise to a heretic was not legally binding and so could be rescinded without penalty. They hoped that Sigismund would turn Jan over into their hands so that they might complete their vengeful desires and vindicate themselves in the eyes of all the others who were pained at Jan's questions and suggestions. He was held captive in increasingly dire conditions before eventually being held in a dungeon beneath a Dominican monastery. Sigismund was furious at first but was eventually convinced that he need not feel guilty for abandoning Jan and so he rescinded his promise of safe passage. With this change, Jan must have known that his end was soon approaching even as the answers to his questions continued to drift farther and farther away.
They tried him as a heretic but the trial was little more than a formality--a judicial hoax that covered over a vindictive punishment. He was asked if he supported Wycliffe and he informed those who judged him that though he did not agree with everything Wycliffe had wrote he thought that he was, at least, partially correct--the Church was in need of reformation and all too often in captivity to civil powers. He continued to ask them, as often as possible, to demonstrate to him the error of his ways and the ignorance of his questions. If they would only do this, he insisted, he would gladly recant everything he had ever suggested to the contrary. He wanted to be wrong but he was increasingly confident that he was dreadfully correct about the state of the Church he loved. Though they offered him no answers, and were unwilling to listen to his defense, they were willing to find him guilty heresy and punish him as they saw fit. With the blessing of civil powers increasingly uncomfortable with a man like Jan who seemed all too willing to "rock the boat" and question the rightness of the Church's complicit involvement in the desires of the State, he was condemned to be burned to death as a heretic. They labeled him who feared the Church's downfall a heretic and tied him to a stake so that he might burn as punishment for seeking correction in a way that demonstrated loyalty first to God and only second to ecclesiastical and civil powers. Though his request to make confession before his execution was denied he proclaimed the following before they set him on fire: "God is my witness that I have never taught that of which I have by false witnesses been accused. In the truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, I will die today with gladness." He died on the sixth of July in the year 1415.
Posted by Joshua Hearne at 7:00 AM