Hus was a theologian and an academic who rose to the position of Rector of the University in Prague. Already when he was a student, Hus had admired the writings of John Wycliffe, an Oxford scholar and theologian who had translated the Bible into English for the first time. Wycliffe’s translation and his writings were much criticized. His critics did not want the Bible in the language of the man on the street, preferring to keep it in Latin only. English, they thought, was not a holy enough language for a translation of the Bible and the ordinary man could not be trusted to interpret it. Wycliffe and Hus believed that the Bible should be the ultimate authority for belief and teaching. He trusted the common man to interpret it better than the theologians of his day.
Wycliffe’s writings came into prominence in Bohemia, where Hus lived, when the sister of the King of Bohemia, Wenceslaus, married King Richard II. of England in 1382. Due to her influence, the writings of John Wycliffe were widely circulated in Bohemia . Hus renewed the attachment to them he had developed as a student. He began promoting them in his sermons and writings.
Eventually, the order was given that all of Wycliffe’s writings be destroyed and all of his followers required to recant. Hus refused even after numerous attempts to persuade him, saying that he would only be persuaded to change his beliefs if they could be shown incorrect according to the Bible. When he was burned at the stake in on 6 July 1415, Wycliffe’s translation and writings were used as kindling for the fire. His last words were: “In 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.” In fact, 100 years later, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses of Contention on to the church door at Wittenberg.” Then Luther went on to translate the Bible into German.
So, if you read the Bible in your own language, if you believe that people should be able to express their beliefs freely, or that you should be able to decide for yourself what you believe by reading the Bible for yourself, you owe a debt to the likes of Jan Hus who died for those ideas.
Today, July 6, is an excellent day to remember that. Besides, it’s my wedding anniversary.