Biography of John Huss


Huss, John (1369-1415), a Bohemian reformer and martyr. His name is derived from the little market village of Husinec in which he was born. His parents were well-to-do Czech peasants. He entered the University of Prague and took various degrees, becoming master of arts in 1396. Two years later he was an official of the university and a lecturer on theology and philosophy. In 1401 he was made dean, and, two years later, rector of the university. He appears to have acquired an influence over the Czech students and the Bohemian people. The University of Prague and all Bohemia was Roman Catholic. Huss began to advocate the views of Wyclif, the English reformer. Naturally, this course got him into trouble. The clergy of the city brought complaint against him.

About this time Huss became involved in a controversy between the Bohemian and the Germanic elements attending the university. The Germans seceded and established the University of Leipsic. The hatred which the Germans at this time acquired for the Bohemian leader is partly accountable for his later fate. The pope ordered his teachings inquired into. The archbishop burned Huss' works publicly in the courtyard of his palace and excommunicated the reformer and his friends, forbidding the city of Prague to harbor him. Huss went home to his native village, but all Bohemia was in a ferment. In 1413 a general council of the church was called at Constance, Switzerland. Huss was ordered to attend and express his views. The emperor Sigismund gave him a safe conduct, promising him his protection, and giving assurance that he should be permitted to return home unharmed. In 1414 Huss was brought before the council. His doctrines were condemned and he was asked to withdraw his views and to make unqualified submission. This he declared he could not do. July 6, 1415, in the presence of the emperor, who had promised to protect him, he was degraded from the priesthood and turned over to the constables of the city, with orders that he be executed immediately. He was tied to a stake in the public square and faggots piled around him. Upon refusing for the last time to recant his errors, the faggots were fired and his body was consumed.

His followers, known as Hussites, rose in arms, and maintained a war of some twenty years, but were finally conquered and suppressed. The Hussite movement is one of the three great religious movements in western Europe, preceding Luther.