It is the 6th of July 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1415.
This episode being the 433rd of the Almanac we were surprised to look in the archives and see that we hadn’t yet talked about the man whose death on this day, in the year 1415, set the stage for the revolts and reforms of the next century—this man, of course, being the Bohemian reformer Jan Hus.
1415 would stand out as a remarkable year, if for no other reason than the execution of Hus as a heretic. But it was an important year for several reasons. 1415 was the year that Henry V defeated the French at Agincourt. The battle was important for the Hundred Years War, but most of us know of this from Shakespeare’s play Henry V wherein this battle at Agincourt takes center stage.
It is in this play that Henry gives the St. Crispin’s Day speech. Part of it reads: “But we in it shall be rememberèd—We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” While “band of brothers” became a phrase associated with the book and miniseries of the same name, it was Napoleon who first referred to his captains as a “band of brothers,” based on this speech.
For the church in the West, this year centers around the Council of Constance, which was opened this year. It was convened by Pope Gregory XII, who then resigned. No pope had resigned since Gregory XII until Pope Benedict XVI did the same in 2013.
Gregory was pope, but others also claimed that title. This was during the Western Schism. Also claiming to be pope was Benedict XIII in Avignon and John XXIII in Pisa, amongst a handful of other lesser claimants. You may remember a reference on yesterday’s show to a Pope John XXIII in 1962. That Pope John XXIII did not recognize the schismatic pope, and thus negated his existence, at least in the records, by taking the same name.
Gregory was expected to resign, as was Benedict XIII. Eventually, Pope Martin V would assume the office, but not until the retired Pope Gregory died. For two years, the papal seat was empty.
With a divided and weak papacy, the issue of conciliarism was debated, that is, the question of who has more power: The Pope or the Councils that elect the Pope? While the idea of conciliar power was popular, later, the church claimed that as no pope was present for the vote in favor of the councils, it was illegitimate.
Of course, the story of the council was the condemnation and death of Jan Hus. He was born in Southern Bohemia in 1369. We do not know much about his early life, except that from an early age, he made a living by singing and serving in supporting roles at churches in Prague. He went on to study at the University of Prague and eventually became its rector. Hus found a kindred spirit in John Wycliffe and sought to translate all he could into Czech. As Wycliffe was being condemned, Hus was becoming a famous preacher, known for preaching on the same kind of abuses that had Wycliffe condemned. Hus condemned the usual laundry list of complaints about the morals of the clergy and the lavish lifestyles of church leaders.
His real trouble came from his insistence on translating the Word of God into the vernacular and for receiving both the wafer and wine in communion. The church was already stamping out the heresies of Wycliffe when the Czech church heard of Hus’ affection for the Englishman. Hus hastily condemned whatever the church had condemned to save his neck. However, later emboldened by the mess that caused the Council of Constance, Hus began to affirm the condemned teachings publicly.
Hus was ordered to stand trial at the council and was given safe passage from the Pope that ensured ecclesiastical authorities would not kill him.
The council found Hus guilty but added that his heresies were of such a dangerous sort, he would be handed over from ecclesiastical leaders to secular leaders. The Pope’s offer of safe travel was technically granted as it was to the secular leaders who then killed him. Nevertheless, this would begin to fan the flames of revolution and reform in Bohemia, which would remain a hotbed of reform movements. A little over a hundred years later, the Hus event would be recalled by a young Martin Luther who was similarly given safe passage to account for his heresies.
His friends called him “the goose” as that’s what his name sounded like in Czech. His “goose” would be cooked at the Council of Constance, but not before his teachings and defiance could help spark a movement. Born in 1369, he was killed on this day in 1415. Jan Hus was 46 years old.
The reading for today comes from Hus himself. This is a selection from one of a few letters he wrote to his church while he was in exile. This is Hus’ “Exhortation to Peace:”
"When He rose from the dead and entered into the midst of them, He said: Peace be to you. When, too, He was minded to depart from them to His death, He said: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. After His manner, therefore, I desire peace for you also, dear friends—peace to you from Him, that you may live virtuous lives and overcome the devil, the world, and the flesh—peace to you from Him, that you may love one another, ay, and your enemies —peace to you, that that you may peaceably hear His word—peace to you, that you may speak with discretion—peace to you, that you may know how how to be silent with advantage."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of July 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man called Goose by his friends, but on account of his love of Anthony Edwards’ character in Top Gun, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.