It is the 17th of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm your guest host, Sam Leanza Ortiz.
Making apologies is a difficult thing. No one likes to do it, but as Christians, confession is a major part of the faith, and so today, we look at a famous apology for one of Christian history's most notorious deaths.
On this day, in 1999, Pope John Paul II issued an apology for the death of proto-reformer Jan Hus.
Now, for those keeping track, Jan Hus was burnt at the stake in 1415, which was 584 years before 1999.
Hus’s execution has been covered on the Almanac before, but to rehash in brief, Hus was a native Bohemian serving the church in Prague who became caught up in the work of English preacher John Wycliffe.
Both men condemned the church for rampant abuses that would be dug up once more in the Reformation, affirmed the need for Scripture in the vernacular and communion in both kinds.
Ecclesiastical authorities horrified at the nature of Hus's heterodoxy, turned him over to the secular authorities who carried out the execution.
For the leader of the world’s largest Christian denomination to apologize for an event that occurred over half a millennium ago –– is no small thing.
Indeed, this was not just a haphazard decision to right the wrongs of yesteryear, but 1999 was a culmination of years of research and deliberation following a papal visit to Prague in 1990 that prompted the pope to investigate the matter.
The ecumenical commission was led by Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, who brought together scholars and theologians from the Czech Republic and surrounding European nations to reconsider Hus’s relationship to the church and its reform movements.
The symposium has been a multi-year project that seems to have reached no final destination other than to smooth out the wrinkled relationship between the church and the Czech people, who revere Hus as their greatest folk hero.
For what seems like a long-forgotten event, the recognition of the tragedy of Hus’s death made quite a few headlines in its time. Publications ranging from The Christian Century to the New York Times reported on the Vatican’s action.
The apology for Hus was part of a broader trend of the Vatican taking stock of its past failings. During his papal reign, John Paul II issued over 100 apologies for the church’s wrongdoings, from as far back into the crusading era and as recent as the horrific sex abuse cases that continue to haunt the church and her flocks today.
This string of confessions reached its peak in the Great Jubilee of 2000. Like the jubilees of the Bible, the church took the year to rejoice in the mercies and forgiveness of God, which are only realized in the confession of sin.
The church’s posture of admitting its faults continued under Pope Benedict XVI. When he was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he helped to direct a study on the "Church and the Faults of the Past" in the 1990s.
In 2015, the 600th anniversary of Hus’s execution, Pope Francis welcomed delegations from the Czech Hussite Church and the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren to the Vatican to renew the church's commitment to continuing the study on life and works of Jan Hus.
Recognizing the growing threats of secularism facing the church in the twenty-first century, Pope Francis proclaimed that the “visible communion among Christians will surely render the proclamation more credible.”
The occasion also featured a celebration of a Liturgy of Reconciliation, but placing this and papal sentiments aside, Jan Hus has yet to be rehabilitated into the church. The same views on Scripture and authority that brought about his death remain anathema, outside the bounds of Roman orthodoxy.
Hus has feast days in the Moravian Church, the Episcopal Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a public holiday in the Czech Republic– all of which fall on the anniversary of his death on July 6.
Whether Hus ever gets a feast day on the Roman calendar remains nearly impossible, but the reevaluation of Hus in the Roman Church took a significant step with the Vatican's apology for his death on this day in 1999.
The last word for today comes from a hymn by Hus, “To avert from men God’s wrath,” the fourth verse:
They who Jesus’ mercy knows
are from wrath and envy freed;
love unto our neighbor shows
that we are His flock indeed;
thus we may in all our ways
show forth our Redeemer's praise.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 17th of December 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
This show was produced by Christopher Gillespie.
This episode was written and read by a woman who loves a good kolache from Czech Stop in the town of West, Texas – I’m Sam Leanza Ortiz, filling in for this show’s regular host who will be back tomorrow! Thank you, Dan, for letting me host this week and to you, the listener, for tuning in.
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.