The historic city of Prague, where the Baptist World Alliance Annual Gathering is being held, was the home of Jan (Johannes) Hus, who was a Reformer when reforming wasn’t cool. Hus (whose name means “Goose,” and rhymes with it) was born about 1370 in Husinec, in the southern part of Bohemia. He traveled to Prague in order to study, earned degrees, and became dean of the faculty at the university — a testimony to his scholarship.
Hus considered his true calling to be that of a minister, however. He was ordained as a priest in 1400, and appointed as rector of Prague’s Bethlehem Chapel in 1402. Bethlehem Chapel (below right), less grand than the city’s cathedral, had been financed by laymen and dedicated in 1394 as a place where the gospel could be preached in the Czech language. The chapel held 3,000 and was often full, for Hus was a popular preacher, sometimes preaching 200 sermons in a year.
Hus’ message was popular in part because he believed in speaking to the people in their own language. Hus followed the pioneering work of the English theologian John Wycliffe, who advocated for translation of the Latin Bible into the vernacular of the people. But, daring to confront traditions of the Church did not go over well with the Catholic authorities, who were in the midst of a “Great Schism” that led to multiple popes, and the last thing they wanted was a priest who agitated for putting the Bible in the language of the people and allowing them to interpret it with the guidance of the Holy Spirit rather than trusting to church tradition alone.
Church leaders summoned Hus to Rome, but he woudn’t go. They stripped him of his church and excommunicated him, but he wouldn’t stop preaching. Finally, with a guarantee of safe passage from the emporer, Hus met with church officials during the Synod of Constance (or Konstanz). There Hus was betrayed, put on trial by the church, convicted of heresy, and condemned to death.
When he refused to recant, Hus was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415, now a national holiday in the Czech Republic. The city’s “Old Town” square is home to a huge memorial to Hus and his followers, installed in 1915 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his martyrdom.
BWA participants were reminded of Hus’ heritage following morning worship on Wednesday, and formal papers on Hus’ life and work were presented in the Academic and Theological Education workgroup during the week.
Hus’ martyrdom, some say, gave rise to the saying “his goose was cooked.” If the church found my deeply felt beliefs to be heresy and wanted to cook my goose on a public spit, would I have the courage of Hus to stand firm for that faith? Would you? It’s a question worth pondering from time to time.
This could be one of those times.