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Jan Hus Being Burnt at the Stake

Jan Hus Being Burnt at the Stake


Jan Hus

Jan Hus was a Roman Catholic who questioned the church, thereby making him a forerunner to the Protestant Reformation, and defender of Bible translator John Wyclif. Jan hus was eventaully burned at the stake for his positions and protests.

At an early age he went to Prague where he supported himself by singing and serving in the churches. His conduct was exemplary and his devotion to study remarkable. In 1393 he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts from the University of Prague and in 1396 the master's degree. He was ordained a priest in 1400 and became rector of the university 1402-03. About the same time he was appointed preacher in the newly erected Bethlehem chapel. Hus was a strong partisan on the side of the Czechs, and hence of the Realists, and he was greatly influenced by the writings of Wyclif. Though forty five propositions of the latter were proscribed in 1403 by ecclesiastical authority, Hus translated Wyclif's "Trialogus" into Czech and helped to circulate it.

From the pulpit he inveighed against the morals of clergy, episcopate, and papacy, thus taking an active part in the movement for reform. Archbishop Zbynek (Sbinco), however was not only lenient with Hus, but favoured him with an appointment as preacher to the biennial synod. On the other hand Innocent VII directed the archbishop (24 June, 1405) to take measures against the heretical teachings of Wyclif, especially the doctrine of impanation in the Eucharist. The archbishop complied by issuing a synodal decree against these errors &mdash at the same time he forbade any further attacks on the clergy. In the following year (1406) a document bearing the seal of the University of Oxford and eulogizing Wyclif was brought by two Bohemian students to Prague Hus read it in triumph from the pulpit. In 1408 Sbinco received a letter from Gregory XII stating that the Holy See had been informed of the spread of the Wycliffite heresy and especially of King Wenceslaus's sympathy with the sectaries. This stirred up the king to measures of prosecution and aroused the university to clear itself of the suspicion of heresy.


Sunday Martyr Moment: John Huss, “The goose is cooked”

John Huss was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415. The following below is excerpted from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. John Huss was killed by the Roman Catholic Church for the ‘heresy’ of proclaiming that Christ is the Head of the church and that salvation is in Christ alone. The martyrs died proclaiming Jesus is the head of the church and so many foolish people today have wantonly substituted idols for Him instead.

The day will come in His millennium Kingdom when
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

The earth will be FULL of the knowledge of the Lord! Full…all will know and all will bow.

As he was taken to his death, Huss refused to recant and was heard to say, ‘You are now going to burn a goose, but in a century you will have a swan which you can neither roast nor boil.’ A hundred years later Martin Luther arose, challenged the church, and was known as The Swan.

When he was brought before the Council, the articles exhibited against him were read: they were upwards of forty in number, and chiefly extracted from his writings. John Huss’s answer was this:

“I did appeal unto the pope who being dead, and the cause of my matter remaining undetermined, I appealed likewise unto his successor John XXIII: before whom when, by the space of two years, I could not be admitted by my advocates to defend my cause, I appealed unto the high judge Christ.”

When John Huss had spoken these words, it was demanded of him whether he had received absolution of the pope or no? He answered, “No.” Then again, whether it was lawful for him to appeal unto Christ or no? Whereunto John Huss answered: “Verily I do affirm here before you all, that there is no more just or effectual appeal, than that appeal which is made unto Christ, forasmuch as the law doth determine, that to appeal is no other thing than in a cause of grief or wrong done by an inferior judge, to implore and require aid at a higher Judge’s hand. Who is then a higher Judge than Christ? Who, I say, can know or judge the matter more justly, or with more equity? when in Him there is found no deceit, neither can He be deceived or, who can better help the miserable and oppressed than He?” While John Huss, with a devout and sober countenance, was speaking and pronouncing those words, he was derided and mocked by all the whole Council.

“His vestments were removed from him, one by one, and each bishop present pronouncing a curse on him as part of the ceremony. They put a cap on his head on which were painted frightful pictures of demons, and on the front of it the words “Archheretic.” Jan Hus said, “Most joyfully will I wear this crown of shame for Thy sake, O Jesus, who for me didst wear a crown of thorns.” ‘ (source) .

These excellent sentences were esteemed as so many expressions of treason, and tended to inflame his adversaries. Accordingly, the bishops appointed by the Council stripped him of his priestly garments, degraded him, put a paper miter on his head, on which was painted devils, with this inscription, “A ringleader of heretics.” Which when he saw, he said: “My Lord Jesus Christ, for my sake, did wear a crown of thorns why should not I then, for His sake, again wear this light crown, be it ever so ignominious? Truly I will do it, and that willingly.” When it was set upon his head, the bishop said: “Now we commit thy soul unto the devil.” “But I,” said John Huss, lifting his eyes towards the heaven, “do commend into Thy hands, O Lord Jesus Christ! my spirit which Thou has redeemed.”

When the chain was put about him at the stake, he said, with a smiling countenance, “My Lord Jesus Christ was bound with a harder chain than this for my sake, and why then should I be ashamed of this rusty one?”

When the wood was piled up to his very neck, the duke of Bavaria was so officious as to desire him to abjure. “No, (said Huss) I never preached any doctrine of an evil tendency and what I taught with my lips I now seal with my blood.” He then said to the executioner, “You are now going to burn a goose, (Huss signifying goose in the Bohemian language:) but in a century you will have a swan which you can neither roast nor boil.” If he were prophetic, he must have meant Martin Luther, who shone about a hundred years after, and who had a swan for his arms.

Jan Hus burning.
Drawing after Ulrich von Richental’s illustrated
chronicle of the Council of Constance

The flames were now applied to the wood when our martyr sung a hymn with so loud and cheerful a voice that he was heard through all the cracklings of the combustibles, and the noise of the multitude. At length his voice was interrupted by the severity of the flames, which soon closed his existence.

Then, with great diligence, gathering the ashes together, they cast them into the river Rhine, that the least remnant of that man should not be left upon the earth, whose memory, notwithstanding, cannot be abolished out of the minds of the godly, neither by fire, neither by water, neither by any kind of torment.

John MacArthur has a tremendous sermon about John Huss and Martin Luther, and their resistance to the RCC’s popery. It’s called Undermining the Headship of Christ. It is well worth a listen.


Jan Hus

The fifteenth-century church reformer Jan Hus is known as much for his controversial execution at the Council of Constance in 1415 as he is for his teachings. His legacy for the Protestant Reformation remains that of a controversial late medieval pastor who sought the reform of the church in his lands. It was in fact the name of Jan Hus that was intoned against Luther during the later stages of the indulgence controversy. Luther soon found himself corresponding with Bohemian Hussites on matters of common agreement, leading him to write, “We are all Hussites.” Hus’s career as a reformer, however, owed as much to political tensions and revolution in Bohemia as it did to his theology.

Jan Hus came from a family of little means in the southern Bohemian town of Husinec, from which he takes his surname. Though his date of birth is still uncertain, by 1393 he had enrolled in the arts faculty at the university in Prague. He would earn his bachelor of arts there in 1393 and his master of arts in 1396, thereafter beginning to teach in the arts faculty. By 1400, he was ordained a priest and enrolled in the theology faculty at Prague, while continuing to teach in the arts. A year later, he was named dean of the arts faculty, and then in 1402 was chosen by the Czech masters of Charles College to be preacher of Bethlehem Chapel. This role included supervision of two residential student colleges in connection with the chapel, where he served for the next decade. He progressed through the baccalaureate stages in theology, but the ongoing controversy over reform forced him to cease his studies.

During this period, Hus became known for his passionate, orthodox sermons in support of reform, though he did provoke occasional controversy by attacking popular religious practices, such as pilgrimages to see bleeding hosts in Germany, and church teaching, such as the prohibition against unlicensed preaching. What both made Hus’s theology attractive and evoked opposition to it, however, was its similarity to the teachings of the notorious fourteenth-century English reformer, John Wycliffe (d. 1384). Wycliffe’s philosophical and theological writings had made their way to Prague during the 1390s, when Hus was a student. Hus himself had even copied some of Wycliffe’s manuscripts in 1398. Wycliffite theology spread throughout Bohemia, which itself had a long tradition of reform efforts and made it fertile ground for many of Wycliffe’s ideas, including his rejection of transubstantiation and the claims of the papacy, his belief that there was a true church composed of the predestined standing independent of the Roman church, and his support for secular lordship over territorial churches free from papal control.

Hus did not agree with all of Wycliffite theology, in particular the rejection of transubstantiation, but he supported much of it and used it in support of moral, ecclesiastical, and theological reform. In 1403, forty-five articles were extracted from Wycliffe’s writings and condemned by the Germany faculty at Prague. This reflected a broader splintering of the Bohemian nation. Czech Bohemians had been at odds with the German Bohemians—represented by Bavarians, Saxons, and Poles—and sought their independence. With Wycliffe’s teachings continuing to gain ground, the archbishop of Prague compelled the Czech university masters to condemn the forty-five articles again in 1408 and thus suppress its influence amongst the Czech nationalists.

The archbishop’s plan backfired, however, and resulted in further momentum for a Wycliffite reform of the Bohemian church with Hus as its most influential representative. This had immediate political and ecclesiastical consequences. In 1409, Hus and other Czech nationalist reformers persuaded the Bohemian king, Wenceslas IV, to support them against the German nations present on the Prague faculty. The Kuttenberg Decree of 1409 enabled the Czechs to take control of the faculty, forcing the Germans to leave for other universities. The faculty chose Hus as rector at Prague that same year, signifying his elevation to the head of its reform movement. The political and ecclesiological basis for their reforms was a Wycliffite view of sovereign territorial churches under the headship of a secular ruler, not the papacy in Rome.

This not unexpectedly caused massive political turmoil and brought a stern reaction from the local archbishop and the Roman curia. In 1409, Archbishop Zbyněk appealed to Pope Alexander V, recently elected at Pisa to end the ongoing papal schism, regarding Wycliffite theology and secular encroachment on the church’s authority in Bohemia. Alexander responded with a 1409 bull that condemned Wycliffite theology and the list of forty-five articles already proscribed by the Prague faculty, and even prohibited preaching in Hus’s Bethlehem chapel. A year later, the archbishop burned all of Wycliffe’s works. Hus continued to defend Wycliffe and to preach from the Bethlehem pulpit, however, and soon appealed to the new pope, John XXIII, regarding the earlier bull of Alexander. As a result, Hus was excommunicated by his archbishop, thus beginning the ecclesiastical proceedings against him that would end in Constance.

After his local excommunication, Hus was referred to Rome for his Wycliffite teaching and disobedience to ecclesiastical superiors in August 1410. He refused to stand trial in Rome and was excommunicated by the Roman court in February 1411. Popular support for him in Bohemia only grew as a result, forcing the archbishop of Prague to flee. Hus soon took on the status of both icon and pariah. Anti-papal polemicists flocked to his side as he continued to support the Wycliffite teaching of the reformers. His opponents congregated in Rome, including supporters of his exiled archbishop, German theologians who were forced off the faculty at Prague, and Czechs who opposed Wycliffe’s theology.

The situation in Prague grew more unstable as a result of Hus’s opposition to the preaching of papal indulgences, authorized by John XXIII in 1412. King Wenceslas IV approved the indulgences because the profits were to be split between him and the pope, as did the anti-Wycliffite theologians at the university. Public demonstrations ensued, with Hus’s supporters declaring opposition to the pope, whom they proclaimed “Antichrist.” As a result three protestors were executed by Prague magistrates in July 1412. Shortly thereafter, Hus’s excommunication by Rome was declared in Prague, forcing him to withdraw from the city for two years. During this sabbatical, Hus wrote his more famous treatises, including his Wycliffite ecclesiology (the Latin De ecclesia) and his proposal for clerical reform (the Czech On Simony). In 1413, King Wenceslas hoped to overcome the religious controversy by establishing a royal commission to bring about peace, but it only dissolved over continued theological and political differences.

The stage was then set for Hus’s fateful trip to Constance. The Council of Constance had convened in 1414 to bring end to yet another recent papal schism, as well as address the need for ongoing reform of the church and the problem of heresy—which included both Wycliffite teaching and Jan Hus’s support of it. Hus decided to attend believing that there was little hope for amicable agreement in Bohemia. The Holy Roman emperor, Sigismund, offered him a passage of safe conduct in spring 1414, but Hus proceeded without it. He arrived in fall 1414, then was imprisoned in November due to the presence of his enemies at Constance. Hus’s supporters, including Wenceslas, were finally able to convince the council to hold a public hearing for him in June 1415. Hus expected a theological debate, but he was simply approached with a list of thirty teachings ascribed to him. Even though he did not teach or hold all of them as charged, he nonetheless refused to recant, and in a purportedly hostile rant denounced the council. On July 6, 1415, the council condemned him as a heretic, stripped him of his ecclesiastical vesture, and handed him over to secular authorities, who burned him alive.

Hus’s significance for the Reformation largely exists in the image of a martyred reformer who opposed the papacy and the Roman institutional church. At the Leipzig Debate of 1519, Johann Eck accused Luther of being a Hussite for rejecting the exclusive authority of the Roman church. Luther responded that he found nothing wrong in Hus’s claim that the Greek church was on equal footing with the Roman church and that the Council of Constance had erred in condemning and executing Hus. This led Luther to first exclaim that councils, like popes and theologians, could err and were thus subordinate to Scripture. It was only after Leipzig that in 1520 Luther finally read Hus’s De ecclesia, which led him to state that he, his prior Johannes von Staupitz, St. Augustine, and even St. Paul were “all Hussites.”


John Huss

Early in his monastic career, Martin Luther, rummaging through the stacks of a library, happened upon a volume of sermons by John Huss, the Bohemian who had been condemned as a heretic. "I was overwhelmed with astonishment," Luther later wrote. "I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill."

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Huss would become a hero to Luther and many other Reformers, for Huss preached key Reformation themes (like hostility to indulgences) a century before Luther drew up his 95 Theses. But the Reformers also looked to Huss's life, in particular, his steadfast commitment in the face of the church's cunning brutality.

From foolishness to faith

Huss was born to peasant parents in "Goosetown," that is, Husinec, in the south of today's Czech Republic. (In his twenties, he shortened his name to Huss&mdash"goose," and he and his friends delighted in making puns on his name it was a tradition that continued, especially with Luther, who reminded his followers of the "goose" who had been "cooked" for defying the pope).

To escape poverty, Huss trained for the priesthood: "I had thought to become a priest quickly in order to secure a good livelihood and dress and to be held in esteem by men." He earned a bachelor's, master's, and then finally a doctorate. Along the way he was ordained (in 1401) and became the preacher at Prague's Bethlehem Chapel (which held 3,000), the most popular church in one of the largest of Europe's cities, a center of reform in Bohemia (for example, sermons were preached in Czech, not Latin).

During these years, Huss underwent a change. Though he spent some time with what he called a "foolish sect," he finally discovered the Bible: "When the Lord gave me knowledge of Scriptures, I discharged that kind of stupidity from my foolish mind."

The writings of John Wycliffe had stirred his interest in the Bible, and these same writings were causing a stir in Bohemia (technically the northeastern portion of today's Czech Republic, but a general term for the area where the Czech language and culture prevailed). The University of Prague was already split between Czechs and Germans, and Wycliffe's teachings only divided them more. Early debates hinged on fine points of philosophy (the Czechs, with Wycliffe, were realists the Germans nominalists). But the Czechs, with Huss, also warmed up to Wycliffe's reforming ideas though they had no intention of altering traditional doctrines, they wanted to place more emphasis on the Bible, expand the authority of church councils (and lessen that of the pope), and promote the moral reform of clergy. Thus Huss began increasingly to trust the Scriptures, "desiring to hold, believe, and assert whatever is contained in them as long as I have breath in me."

A political struggle ensued, with the Germans labeling Wycliffe and his followers heretics. With the support of the king of Bohemia, the Czechs gained the upper hand, and the Germans were forced to flee to other universities.

The situation was complicated by European politics, which watched as two popes vied to rule all of Christendom. A church council was called at Pisa in 1409 to settle the matter. It deposed both popes and elected Alexander V as the legitimate pontiff (though the other popes, repudiating this election, continued to rule their factions). Alexander was soon "persuaded"&mdashthat is, bribed&mdashto side with Bohemian church authorities against Huss, who continued to criticize them. Huss was forbidden to preach and excommunicated, but only on paper: with local Bohemians backing him, Huss continued to preach and minister at Bethlehem Chapel.

When Alexander V's successor, the antipope John XXIII (not to be confused with the modern pope by the same name), authorized the selling of indulgences to raise funds for his crusade against one of his rivals, Huss was scandalized and further radicalized. The pope was acting in mere self-interest, and Huss could no longer justify the pope's moral authority. He leaned even more heavily on the Bible, which he proclaimed the final authority for the church. Huss further argued that the Czech people were being exploited by the pope's indulgences, which was a not-so-veiled attack on the Bohemian king, who earned a cut of the indulgence proceeds.

Scripture rebel

With that Huss lost the support of his king. His excommunication, which had been tacitly dropped, was now revived, and an interdict was put upon the city of Prague: no citizen could receive Communion or be buried on church grounds as long as Huss continued his ministry. To spare the city, Huss withdrew to the countryside toward the end of 1412. He spent the next two years in feverish literary activity, composing a number of treatises. The most important was The Church, which he sent to Prague to be read publicly. In it he argued that Christ alone is head of the church, that a pope "through ignorance and love of money" can make many mistakes, and that to rebel against an erring pope is to obey Christ.

In November 1414, the Council of Constance assembled, and Huss was urged by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to come and give an account of his doctrine. Because he was promised safe conduct, and because of the importance of the council (which promised significant church reforms), Huss went. When he arrived, however, he was immediately arrested, and he remained imprisoned for months. Instead of a hearing, Huss was eventually hauled before authorities in chains and asked merely to recant his views.

When he saw he wasn't to be given a forum for explaining his ideas, let alone a fair hearing, he finally said, "I appeal to Jesus Christ, the only judge who is almighty and completely just. In his hands I plead my cause, not on the basis of false witnesses and erring councils, but on truth and justice." He was taken to his cell, where many pleaded with him to recant. On July 6, 1415, he was taken to the cathedral, dressed in his priestly garments, then stripped of them one by one. He refused one last chance to recant at the stake, where he prayed, "Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray thee to have mercy on my enemies." He was heard reciting the Psalms as the flames engulfed him.

His executioners scooped up his ashes and tossed them into a lake so that nothing would remain of the "heretic," but some Czechs collected bits of soil from the ground where Huss had died and took them back to Bohemia as a memorial.

Bohemians were furious with the execution and repudiated the council over the next several years, a coalition of Hussites, radical Taborites, and others refused to submit to the authority of the Holy Roman emperor or the church and fended off three military assaults. Bohemia eventually reconciled with the rest of western Christendom&mdashthough on its own terms (for example, it was one of the few Catholic regions that offered Communion of both bread and wine the rest of Christendom simply received the bread). Those who repudiated this last compromise formed the Unitas Fratrum ("Union of Brethren"), which became the foundation for the Moravian Brethren (Moravia is a region in the Czech Republic), who would play an influential role in the conversion of the Wesley brothers, among others.


JOHN HUS, BURNED AT THE STAKE

Painting of Jan Hus at the Council of Constance by Václav Brožík (1883).

By: Frank Tunstall

Richard II of England married Anne of Bohemia [modern Czechcloslavokia] in 1382, and the marriage opened the door for Bohemian students to study in Oxford in England. These students took the teaching of John Wycliffe back to Prague, where Wycliffe’s writing greatly influenced John Hus, the rector (lead priest) of the University of Prague.

Hus wanted to reform the Catholic Church in the same general categories that Wycliffe taught at Oxford. For just one example, the Bible, according to Hus, is the final tribunal, greater than the pope or any council of the universal church. Hus wrote:

“Every Christian is expected to believe explicitly and implicitly all the truth the Holy Spirit has put in Scripture, and this way a man is not bound to believe the sayings of the saints which are apart from scripture, nor should [they] believe papal bulls [decrees], except in so far as they speak out of scripture, or in so far as what they say is founded in scripture simply.”

The Roman Catholic Church, in contrast, claimed the absolute power of the keys to heaven, with the sole authority to bind and loose. This meant the church actually claimed the power to excommunicate and condemn people to hell hence, Hus’ teaching was as unwelcome in Prague as was Wycliffe’s teaching in England. Catholic theology held the pope must be recognized as the sole arbiter of all truth hence, whoever refused to obey the pope should die. Only the church [the pope and the cardinals] had the power to decide doctrine as well as the criteria for salvation.

Hus was adamant that Jesus Christ alone is the head of the church. The body of Christ, therefore, consists of all who worship Jesus. Hence, every sincere bishop or priest is a successor of the apostles, and the pope was not, nor could ever be, the head of the church.

Hus stood firm on the history of the church saying popes at times have contradicted themselves and have erred time and again, and have been corrected by later popes. To Hus, if the pope was living in grace he could be a vicar (priest) of Jesus Christ, but he could not be the head of the church. Only Jesus held that high position.

Hus’ understanding led to the idea that popes and cardinals who live ungodly lives are not worthy of obedience. Hus also preached it is the responsibility of the state, and not Rome, to enforce morality and decency among priests and laymen alike.

Hus, like Wycliffe, believed Rome should not own a third and more of the property in Bohemia and be free of taxes. Rome, however, held tightly to the land and expected the Bohemian churches to keep a steady stream of income flowing into the papal treasury.

Hus preached a person can have a personal relationship with God, without the need for any intermediary and outside the authority of the Church of Rome.

Hus rejected transubstantiation, saying no priest in a prayer of consecration can create the body and blood of Jesus.

For these and other views that were deemed heretical, the pope ordered Hus to come to the Council of Constance in Germany that met from 1414-1418 to defend his views. The Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Sigismund, granted Hus a writ of safe passage. But after Hus arrived at Constance, the emperor betrayed Hus and did not enforce it.

The Council charged and convicted Hus for heresy, and proceeded to charge and convict Wycliffe too, even though Wycliffe had been dead thirty-one years.

Hus was denounced as an incorrigible heretic and deprived of his priestly office. As part of the ceremony of defrocking Hus, a paper crown with three devils painted on it (fighting for Hus’ soul) was placed on Hus’ head. Then the Council committed Hus’ soul to the devil.

Hus was tied to a stake with ropes and a rusty chain, and bundles of wood mixed with straw were stacked to his chin.

Hus died singing and his ashes were thrown into the Rhine River. Wycliffe’s bones were exhumed and burned, giving his bones the punishment of a heretic that Wycliffe had escaped in life. His ashes were thrown into the Rhine too.

The teaching of Wycliffe and of his follower, John Hus, did not die out instead, Wycliffe and Hus became popular martyrs. They both had a direct influence on Martin Luther. Wycliffe came to be recognized as the morning star of the Reformation.

A miniature picture in an old Moravian hymnal preserved in the University library at Prague makes the point. It shows Wycliffe seizing a torch, Hus lighting it, and Luther holding it aloft. “In my opinion, wrote Luther, “John Hus bought with his own blood the gospel which we now possess.”

The followers of Wycliffe were named Lollards, and they preached Wycliffe’s teachings to the common people all over England.

The followers of Hus were known as Taborites. The Taborites formed a group in the mid-1400s that in time became the Moravian Church, one of the earliest Protestant denominations.

Some of these Moravians living at Herrnhut, Germany, had a powerful visitation of the Holy Spirit in 1727, akin to the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. That outpouring of the Spirit launched one of the greatest missionary movements in the history of the Lord’s church Moravians grew into one of the strongest missionary-sending denominations in the history of Christianity. In time, Moravians touched the whole world.

A young man named John Wesley was in a Moravian meeting in London on May 24, 1738. As he listened to the reading of Luther’s Preface to his Commentary on Romans, Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed.” Right there he said he trusted Jesus Christ alone for his salvation.

John Wesley, the father of Methodism in the 1700s, had a powerful influence on the birth of IPHC in the early 1900s, and several other holiness denominations as well.

I can imagine John Wycliffe and John Hus looking down from the glory world, feeling very happy and saying, “Thank you Jesus for enabling us to follow in your footsteps at Golgotha the price you blessed us to pay was worth it.”

Based on my Masters Degree thesis, John Wycliffe and His Influence, 1370 – 1415 at the University of Tulsa, and on Christianity Through the Centuries, by Earl Cairns, Grand Rapids, MIchigan: Zondervan Pulishing House, 1954, pp. 275-277.


From the eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, the term “lynching” did not have any racial implications. Targets included Tories, horse thieves, gamblers, and abolitionists. But starting in the 1880s, mob violence was increasingly directed at African Americans. Between 1882 and 1964, nearly five thousand people died from lynching, the majority African-American. The 1890s witnessed the worst period of lynching in U.S. history. The grim statistical record almost certainly understates the story. Many lynchings were not recorded outside their immediate locality, and pure numbers do not convey the brutality of lynching. In early 1893, a white reporter, writing in the New York Sun, offered a grisly account of the burning at the stake in Paris, Texas, of a black man accused of molesting a white girl.As press accounts like this make clear, to witness a lynching—or even just glimpse its aftermath—could be a searing experience for those who were the most likely victims of the lynch mob—young African-American males. That, indeed, was the intention—the threat of lynching was a powerful mechanism for keeping black Southerners in line. In response to the rising tide of lynchings of African-Americans across the South during the 1890s, Memphis, Tennessee, newspaper editor Ida Wells-Barnett launched a national anti-lynching crusade.

Paris, Texas, Feb. 1, 1893.—Henry Smith, the negro ravisher of 4-year-old Myrtle Vance, has expiated in part his awful crime by death at the stake. Ever since the perpetration of his awful crime this city and the entire surrounding country has been in a wild frenzy of excitement. When the news came last night that he had been captured at Hope, Ark., that he had been identified by B. B. Sturgeon, James T. Hicks, and many other of the Paris searching party, the city was wild with joy over the apprehension of the brute. Hundreds of people poured into the city from the adjoining country and the word passed from lip to lip that the punishment of the fiend should fit the crime—that death by fire was the penalty Smith should pay for the most atrocious murder and terrible outrage in Texas history. Curious and sympathizing alike, they came on train and wagons, on horse, and on foot to see if the frail mind of a man could think of a way to sufficiently punish the perpetrator of so terrible a crime. Whisky shops were closed, unruly mobs were dispersed, schools were dismissed by a proclamation from the mayor, and everything was done in a business-like manner.

About 2 o’clock Friday a mass meeting was called at the courthouse and captains appointed to search for the child. She was found mangled beyond recognition, covered with leaves and brush as above mentioned. As soon as it was learned upon the recovery of the body that the crime was so atrocious the whole town turned out in the chase. The railroads put up bulletins offering free transportation to all who would join in the search. Posses went in every direction, and not a stone was left unturned. Smith was tracked to Detroit on foot, where he jumped on a freight train and left for his old home in Hempstead County, Arkansas. To this county he was tracked and yesterday captured at Clow, a flag station on the Arkansas & Louisiana railway about twenty miles north of Hope. Upon being questioned the fiend denied everything, but upon being stripped for examination his undergarments were seen to be spattered with blood and a part of his shirt was torn off. He was kept under heavy guard at Hope last night, and later on confessed the crime.

This morning he was brought through Texarkana, where 5,000 people awaited the train. . . . At that place speeches were made by prominent Paris citizens, who asked that the prisoner be not molested by Texarkana people, but that the guard be allowed to deliver him up to the outraged and indignant citizens of Paris. Along the road the train gathered strength from the various towns, the people crowded upon the platforms and tops of coaches anxious to see the lynching and the negro who was soon to be delivered to an infuriated mob.

Arriving here at 12 o’clock the train was met by a surging mass of humanity 10,000 strong. The negro was placed upon a carnival float in mockery of a king upon his throne, and, followed by an immense crowd, was escorted through the city so that all might see the most inhuman monster known in current history. The line of march was up Main street to the square, around the square down Clarksville street to Church street, thence to the open prairies about 300 yards from the Texas & Pacific depot. Here Smith was placed upon a scaffold, six feet square and ten feet high, securely bound, within the view of all beholders. Here the victim was tortured for fifty minutes by red-hot iron brands thrust against his quivering body. Commencing at the feet the brands were placed against him inch by inch until they were thrust against the face. Then, being apparently dead, kerosene was poured upon him, cottonseed hulls placed beneath him and set on fire. In less time than it takes to relate it, the tortured man was wafted beyond the grave to another fire, hotter and more terrible than the one just experienced.

Curiosity seekers have carried away already all that was left of the memorable event, even to pieces of charcoal. The cause of the crime was that Henry Vance when a deputy policeman, in the course of his duty was called to arrest Henry Smith for being drunk and disorderly. The Negro was unruly, and Vance was forced to use his club. The Negro swore vengeance, and several times assaulted Vance. In his greed for revenge, last Thursday, he grabbed up the little girl and committed the crime. The father is prostrated with grief and the mother now lies at death’s door, but she has lived to see the slayer of her innocent babe suffer the most horrible death that could be conceived.

Words to describe the awful torture inflicted upon Smith cannot be found. The Negro, for a long time after starting on the journey to Paris, did not realize his plight. At last when he was told that he must die by slow torture he begged for protection. His agony was awful. He pleaded and writhed in bodily and mental pain. Scarcely had the train reached Paris than this torture commenced. His clothes were torn off piecemeal and scattered in the crowd, people catching the shreds and putting them away as mementos. The child’s father, her brother, and two uncles then gathered about the Negro as he lay fastened to the torture platform and thrust hot irons into his quivering flesh. It was horrible—the man dying by slow torture in the midst of smoke from his own burning flesh. Every groan from the fiend, every contortion of his body was cheered by the thickly packed crowd of 10,000 persons. The mass of beings 600 yards in diameter, the scaffold being the center. After burning the feet and legs, the hot irons—plenty of fresh ones being at hand—were rolled up and down Smith’s stomach, back, and arms. Then the eyes were burned out and irons were thrust down his throat.

The men of the Vance family have wreaked vengeance, the crowd piled all kinds of combustible stuff around the scaffold, poured oil on it and set it afire. The Negro rolled and tossed out of the mass, only to be pushed back by the people nearest him. He tossed out again, and was roped and pulled back. Hundreds of people turned away, but the vast crowd still looked calmly on. People were here from every part of this section. They came from Dallas, Fort Worth, Sherman, Denison, Bonham, Texarkana, Fort Smith, Ark., and a party of fifteen came from Hempstead County, Arkansas, where he was captured. Every train that came in was loaded to its utmost capacity, and there were demands at many points for special trains to bring the people here to see the unparalleled punishment for an unparalleled crime. When the news of the burning went over the country like wildfire, at every country town anvils boomed forth the announcement.

Source: New York Sun, 2 February 1893. Reprinted in Gilbert Osofsky, The Burden of Race: A Documentary History of Negro-White Relations in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), 181�.


#302: John Hus, Reformer of Bohemia

Wyclif never took his teachings beyond England, but by a strange twist of fate they proved even more influential in far Bohemia than at home. The English King married a Bohemian princess, and consequently many Czech students came to Oxford, picked up Wyclif&rsquos ideas and took them home. Jan Hus, who became Rector of the University of Prague, read these works and accepted and taught many of their ideas. His teachings gained a huge following, including Bohemian rulers, such as Lord Wencelas of Dubá and Lord Jan of Chlum. This is because the controversial doctrines soon got mixed in with the fight for equality with the Catholic powers of the Holy Roman Empire.

Like Wyclif, Hus was driven in his thinking by his disillusionment with the state of the church, particularly his horror at the spectacle of two, and then three rival popes at once. In 1414 the Council of Constance, an ecumenical council of Catholic church leaders summoned him to come and answer a charge of heresy, promising him safe conduct. Hus went to explain himself, the churchmen found guilty and, when he refused to submit, burned him at the stake.

He died with unflinching courage, singing as he burned. His teachings lived on until the Reformation when the Hussites largely accepted Protestantism. The writings below are two letters that he wrote during his last month in prison under sentence of death and expecting to be executed any day. He was killed on July 6 1415.

To Lord Wenceslas of Dubá and Lord Jan of Chlum [June 26 1415]

Most gracious lords and most faithful lovers of truth and my comforters in the truth, appointed by God for me like angels. I cannot truly describe my gratitude for your constancy and the kindly benefits which you have shown me, a sinner, although in hope a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. I desire that He, Jesus Christ, our most kind Creator, Redeemer, and Savior, may reward you in the present time, giving you Himself as the best reward for the future. Hence I exhort you by his mercy that you direct yourselves by His law, and particularly by his most holy commandments.

You, noble Wencelas, marry a wife and, abandoning the worldly vanities, live holily in matrimony. And you, Lord Jan, leave already the service of mortal kings and stay at home with your wife and boys in the service of God. For you see how the wheel of worldly vanity spins, now lifting one, then plunging down another, granting very brief pleasure to the man it lifts up, after which follows eternal torment in fire and darkness.

You already know now the behavior of the spirituals, who call themselves the true manifest vicars of Christ and His apostles, and proclaim themselves the holy Church and the most sacred Council that cannot err. It nonetheless did err: first by adoring [Pope] John XXIII on bended knees, kissing his feet, and calling him the most holy, although they knew that he was a base murderer, a sodomite, a simoniac, and a heretic, as they declared later in their condemnation of him. They have already cut off the head of the Church, have torn out the heart of the Church, have exhausted the never&mdashdrying fountain of the Church, and have made utterly deficient the all&mdashsufficient and unfailing refuge of the Church to which every Christian should flee for refuge. Now faithful Christendom exists without a pope, a mere man, having Christ Jesus for its head, who directs it the best for its heart, which vivifies it, granting the life of grace for the fountain which irrigates it by the seven graces of the Holy Spirit for the channel in which flow all the streams of graces for the all&mdashsufficient and unfailing refuge to which I, a wretch, run, firmly hoping that it will not fail me in directing, vivifying, and aiding me but will liberate me from the sins of the present miserable life, and reward me with infinite joy.

The Council has also erred three or more times by wrongly abstracting the articles form my books, rejecting some of them by corrupting and confusing [their meaning] and even in the latest copy of the articles by abbreviating some, as will be evident to those who compare the books with those articles. From this I have plainly learned, along with you, that not everything the council does, says, or defines is approved by the most true judge, Christ Jesus. Blessed are those therefore, who, observing the law of Christ, recognize, abandon, and repudiate the pomp, avarice, hypocrisy, and deceit of Antichrist and of his ministers, while they patiently await the advent of the most just Judge. I beseech you in the bowels of Jesus Christ that you flee evil priests but love the good according to their works and as much as in you lies, along with other faithful barons and lords, that you do not suffer them to be oppressed. For on that account God has placed you over others.

I think that there will be a great persecution in the Kingdom of Bohemia of those who serve God faithfully, unless the Lord oppose his hand through the secular lords, whom he has enlightened in His law more than the spirituals. O, how great madness it is to condemn as error the Gospel of Christ and the Epistle of St Paul, which he received, as he says, not from men, but from Christ and to condemn as error the act of Christ along with the acts of His apostles and other saints &mdash namely, about the communion of the sacrament of the Lord, instituted for all adult believers! Alas! they call it an error that believing laity should be allowed to drink of the cup of the Lord, and if a priest should give them thus to drink, that he be then regarded as in error, and unless he desist, be condemned as a heretic! O Saint Paul! You say to all the faithful: &ldquoAs often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord&rsquos death until he comes&rdquo that is, until the Day of Judgment, when he shall come. And lo! it is even now said that the custom of the Roman Church is in opposition to it!

To his Friends in Bohemia [June 27 1415]

God be with you! Having had many reasons for the strong supposition, I wrote you as if I were to die tomorrow. But since I again learned of the postponement of my death, I am writing you once more, gracious and faithful friends in God, to show my gratitude as long as I can, ever taking pleasure in being able to converse with you by letter. I say to you that the Lord God knows why He postpones my death as well as that of my dear brother, Master Jerome, of whom I have hopes that he will die holily, without guilt., and that he will conduct himself and suffer more bravely than I, a fainthearted sinner. The Lord God has granted us a long time that we may better recollect our sins and forthrightly regret them. He has granted us time so that the long&mdashdrawn&mdashout and great testing may divest us of our sins and bring us consolation. He has granted us time to remember our King, the merciful Lord God Jesus&rsquo terrible disgrace, and to meditate on his cruel death and, for that reason, to suffer more gladly.

Also that we may remember that we are not to pass from the feasts of this world to the feasts of the other world, that we may remember that the saints entered the heavenly kingdom through many sufferings for some were cut up piece by piece, others impaled, others boiled, others roasted, others flayed alive, buried alive, stoned, crucified, crushed between millstones, dragged, drowned, burned, hanged, torn in pieces, having been first vilified, imprisoned, beaten and chained. Who can describe all the tortures by which the saints of the New and the Old testament suffered for God&rsquos truth, particularly those who rebuked the priestly wickedness and preached against it! It would be a strange thing if now one would not suffer on account of a brave stand against wickedness, especially that of the priests, which does not allow itself to be touched! I am glad that they were obliged to read my small books, which openly reveal their wickedness. I now believe that they have read them more diligently than the Scriptures, desiring to find errors in them.

Bible Verses:

Study Questions

How would you describe Hus&rsquo attitude to the lords of Bohemia he writes to?

How does he instruct these men? What can you tell about their characters from these instructions? Are they the kind of instructions you would expect a man in his position to give?

What lesson does Hus draw from the Council of Constance&rsquos deposing of Pope John XXIII? What does he want the papacy to be replaced with?

What lessons does he draw from the Council&rsquos condemnation of articles from his writings?

Why do you think Hus fears &ldquothe oppression of the good&rdquo? How does he hope it might be avoided?

What Hussite practice does the council condemn according to the last paragraph of this letter? How does Hus argue in favor of it?

In the second letter, what reasons does Hus give for the delay to his execution?


Further Reading

de Bonnechose, Emile. The Reformers Before the Reformation. Harper and Brothers, 1844.

Estep, William R. Renaissance & Reformation. Eerdmans, 1986.

Foxe, John. Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Whitaker House, 1981.

Kaminsky, Howard. "John (Jan) Hus," in Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Vol. VI. Scribners, 1985.

Lutzow, Count. The Life & Times of Master John Hus. J. M. Dent, 1909.

Palmer, R. R., and Joel Colton. A History of the Modern World. 6th ed. Knopf, 1984.

Spinka, Matthew. "Jan Hus," in The New Encyclopedia Britannica. Vol. IX. 15th ed. 1973.

Bartok, Josef Paul. John Hus at Constance. Cokesbury Press, 1935.

Loserth, Johann. Wiclif and Hus. Hodder & Stoughton, 1884.

Previte-Orton, C. W. and Z. N. Brooke, eds. The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. VIII: The Close of the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 1964.

Roubiczek, Paul, and Joseph Kalmer. Warrior of God. Nicholson and Watson, 1947.

Schwarze, William Nathaniel. John Hus: The Martyr of Bohemia. Revell, 1915.

Spinka, Matthew. John Hus: A Biography. 1968. □

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Top 10 Shameful Moments in Catholic History

This list is not a denunciation of Roman Catholicism, which dates back to Christ Himself. The Church today is a very honorable institution. But there are a few moments in its history when it did not live up to its own high moral standards. This list constitutes an honest, unflinching look at some black moments in Roman Catholic history.

In a nutshell, John Wycliffe presaged Martin Luther as a Protestant reformer. Wycliffe lived from c. 1328 to 31 December 1384, about a hundred years before Luther, and Wycliffe saw very much the same problems in the Roman Catholic Church. Catholicism itself was fine with him, but the Church was largely corrupt by his day. A lot of its practices will make entries farther down.

Wycliffe wanted people to worship God and Jesus according to the Bible, not according to the popes and their bishops and priests. He saw that people are corruptible, while the Bible is not, and thus, there was no good sense in taking one&rsquos troubles to a priest, so the priest could make one feel better. Communication directly with God, via prayer, was not impossible, but required an understanding of the Bible, and the next entry outlines a specific grievance Wycliffe had with the Church on this subject.

Wycliffe preached in England, and on the Continent, that priests should do nothing more than oversee church services and help the laypeople interpret the Bible for themselves. He argued based on various Bible passages that secular kings and queens had a divine right, direct from God Almighty, to be kings and queens. Thus, their rule should not be opposed by anyone, anymore than God&rsquos rule should be opposed. The popes, however, routinely told Europe&rsquos monarchs what was what in every field of activity.

It didn&rsquot take long for Wycliffe to irritate a few Catholics, especially Pope Gregory XI. Their animosity toward each other may be without rival in the history of the Catholic Church. Gregory issued no less than five Papal Bulls attempting to shut Wycliffe up, but he would not be silent. Wycliffe went so far as to argue that the pope and the Antichrist were practically equivalent, and denounced the papal throne as the throne of Satan on Earth. He may have been the first to declare this now-popular idea (popular among Protestants).

He was the first to translate the complete Bible into English, which did not endear him to the Catholic hierarchy. The Church did not attempt to catch and kill Wycliffe, ostensibly because it could not find him (he traveled extensively in England, France, and the Netherlands), or because it did not like the risk of invading England to get him. He died three days after suffering a stroke during Mass. 30 years later, the Council of Constance ended &ldquothe three popes&rsquo reign&rdquo and elected Alexander V, who immediately denounced Wycliffe as a heretic, had as many of his books burned as could be found on the Continent and in England, excommunicated and consigned to everlasting flames from the moment of his death. In 1428, Pope Martin V had him dug up and burned at the stake.

Pope Damasus I commissioned Saint Jerome, in 382, to revise the Vetus Latina, which was the compendium of all biblical texts, translated into Latin. Jerome&rsquos product became known as &ldquoversio vulgata,&rdquo or &ldquocommon version.&rdquo It was the translation used most often from then on throughout Western Europe, and from 400 to about 1530, the Latin Vulgate was the one and only Bible most Western Europeans ever encountered. It is, in fact, still the only official Bible of the Catholic Church.

Nothing is wrong with any of this, because Jerome&rsquos translation is perfectly accurate and at its time of publication Latin was spoken throughout most of Europe. It is, more or less, the King James Version in Latin, since the King James translators used it as one of their primary guides. But the problem arose when the commoners throughout Europe told their priests, who told their bishops, who told the popes, that the commoners did not understand the first thing about Latin. It was not spoken except in church ceremonies, and thus, in order to learn it, the commoners had to get their priests to teach them. But the priests would not bother teaching them. Why?

Because knowledge is power, and the Catholic Church had all of both. For about 1,000 years, the Bible remained well known only to the church officials, clergy of all orders, and an elect few well educated scholars. It was never counter to any Papal Bull for any person to translate the Bible into another language. However, anyone who intended to do so was strongly admonished by the Pope himself, with every archbishop, bishop and priest of the continent told not to translate the Bible into any language besides Biblical Hebrew, Ancient Greek or Latin. These three languages were almost dead at the time, meaning no one spoke them commonly.

Indulgences are various degrees of the remission of punishments from sins that have already been forgiven. Indulgences are given, not sold, to anyone who performs a Christian act, especially doing a good deed for someone else, or for saying a prayer. This practice really isn&rsquot that un-biblical, in itself, but the problem is that people immediately see it as a &ldquoGet Out of Jail Free&rdquo card. Sin all you want, then say a Hail Mary, and you&rsquore good to go. It has never worked that way according to the Bible and official Catholic doctrine, and anyone who reads the Pauline Epistles will realize this.

But certain Bishops of the Catholic Church saw indulgences as a very good way to get rich, and it worked magnificently. Threaten an ignorant person with eternal burning, and he&rsquoll give you some money to feel safe again. It got ridiculously out of hand from about 500 until Martin Luther spoke against it in his 95 Theses, in 1517. One of the most notorious abusers of the practice was a man named Johann Tetzel, to whom is attributed this infamous couplet, &ldquoAs soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.&rdquo

These Bishops extorted people for years by horrifying them that they&rsquore departed loved ones were currently frying in Purgatory, and would remain there for a very long time, unless their surviving loved ones paid the Church money. This money would atone for the dead persons&rsquo sins, and they would then enter Heaven. Indulgences are not supposed to be sold. If they were, people with lots of money would be holier than thou art.

Indulgences are still given in the Catholic Church &ndash some which remit part of the punishment owed for sin, and some which remit all. The most recent indulgences were granted in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI, for people who took part in pilgrimages to Lourdes.

The origin of the superstition of Friday the 13th began on Friday the 13th of October, 1307. King Phillip IV of Spain had borrowed a very large amount of money and personnel from the Templars, in order to wage war against the English, and when Pope Clement V sent him word that there were suspicions about the Christian nature of the Templar brotherhood, Phillip seized the opportunity, sending his men out to round up, arrest and imprison all the Templars in Spain.

Phillip accused them of the most atrocious sins imaginable for that time, including apostasy (which means renouncing Christ), heresy, idolatry and even sodomy. Any one of these &ldquocrimes&rdquo warranted death back then, and the Templars were guilty of precisely none. But Phillip saw an extraordinary chance to eradicate the Templar order from his entire country and seize its incalculable wealth for himself. He bullied Clement V with political embargoes, and Clement acquiesced with an Inquisition convened to investigate these accusations.

The &ldquoinvestigation&rdquo involved torturing the Templars via very perverted, horrifying methods, with the single proviso that no blood be spilled. If they died from the torture, it was deemed &ldquorighteous punishment.&rdquo But none of them did, according to the records we have. Most were put on the rack and stretched until their shoulders dislocated. Some had their testicles crushed in vises, which caused them to bleed profusely, of course, but internally. No blood was spilled. Some were shackled to the dungeon floors and had their feet roasted to the bone in furnaces.

They, understandably, confessed to all sorts of horrible offenses to the Church, including the above mentioned, along with spitting on the cross. As soon as their tortures were over, the recanted their confessions. They may have been in possession of the Shroud of Turin at this time, which constituted idolatry. Clement issued a Papal Bull on 22 November, ordering that Templars be arrested and tortured all over Europe, and they were.

Phillip IV is the most directly to blame, but the Catholic Church was officially and directly responsible in torturing and executing the Templar knights, knowing full well that they were innocent of all charges. Most of the Templars across Europe actually escaped or were acquitted, but those convicted, including the Grandmaster Jacques de Molay, were, to a man, burned at the stake, most after gruesome tortures. He is said to have screamed out of the flames that Phillip and Clement would both meet him before God, &ldquoand that right soon.&rdquo They both died within a year Phillip had a stroke and fell off his horse while hunting Clement died of natural causes, and a rumor persists that his body lay in state during a thunderstorm, when lightning struck the building and burned it to the ground.

The trial of Galileo Galilei is one of the most infamous and embarrassing moments in Catholic history. It still hasn&rsquot gone away. Galileo seems to have been always at odds with the Catholic Church&rsquos hegemony on all education, even though he was good friends with Pope Urban VIII, and dedicated some of his works to him. But he discovered, via his own pet design for the refracting telescope, that Jupiter has moons, and Jupiter&rsquos moons orbit Jupiter, NOT Earth. Know what that means? Orbits are based on gravity, not mankind&rsquos arrogance. This idea is called heliocentrism, which is, Mr. Sun is at the center of the solar system, and Earth, like everything else nearby, orbits Mr. Sun.

Galileo was of the opinion that Nicholas Copernicus was right. The Earth is not the center. The Church didn&rsquot want to hear that. Galileo went to Rome to persuade the Church not to ban Copernicus&rsquos works, and instead of convincing them, the Church officials turned on Galileo and demanded that he desist with his ideas of Heliocentrism. He refused, but did back off for a few years. Urban VIII tried what he dared to help him, but the facts themselves were deemed vehemently heretical, and Galileo was finally brought before an Inquisition (more on those later), and forced under threat of excommunication and torture to &ldquoabjure, curse, and detest&rdquo heliocentrism.

The legend goes that, seated in a chair in a bare room before the table of Inquisitors, Galileo sighed, put his hands behind his back, crossed his fingers and said something to the effect of, &ldquoFine. The Earth does not move around the Sun.&rdquo Then, under his breath, he muttered, &ldquoE pur si muove,&rdquo which is, &ldquoAnd yet it moves.&rdquo How much of this is true cannot be ascertained for certain, but at one point he did let his Italian temper get the better of him (after several years of aggravation), when he stood and bellowed, &ldquoThe Bible tells you how to go to Heaven! It does NOT tell you how the heavens go!&rdquo

The Catholic Church did not lift its ban on heliocentrical thought until 1758. It was not until 1992, 350 years after his death, that a pope, John Paul II, formally apologized for the Church placing Galileo under house arrest for the last 9 years of his life, and denouncing his discoveries which, ironically, were also incorrect as Galileo taught that the Sun was the center of the universe &ndash not just our solar system. John Paul II&rsquos successor, Benedict XVI, is on record as stating that the Catholic Church&rsquos &ldquoverdict against Galileo was rational and just and the revision of this verdict can be justified only on the grounds of what is politically opportune.&rdquo Politically, mind you not factually.

Joan of Arc believed that God had called her to lead the French in kicking the English out of France once and for all. She instigated an uprising in 1429, and led a successful relief force to the besieged city of Orleans, where she aided Gilles de Rais (who, you may recall from another list, was also a savage serial killer), as well as Jean de Dunois and Jean de Brosse, in lifting the siege and routing the English oppressors.

Long story short, Joan roused the political irritation of quite a few Catholic honchos in the area. But when they set about opening up a trial against her, they could find no legitimate evidence. But they opened the trial anyway, and also refused to allow her any legal counsel. This was patently against their own rules. During this farce, the inquisitors (French Bishops who favored the rule of the English), especially Jean LeMaitre, tried to trap Joan with her own words, just like the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with his own words. And Jesus is probably quite proud of how Joan handled herself, because she calmly and carefully turned all their traps back against them. She left them no ground at all on which to base her execution, so of course, they killed her anyway. They hated her and wanted to kill her. In the end, they had to lie.

Joan of Arc was executed for heresy, not because she claimed to hear the voice of God, not because she defied and killed the English, but because she was said to have worn a man&rsquos clothing while in prison. This was also forbidden, and thus punishable by being burned at the stake. She requested that her last meal be Holy Communion. The Church officials refused, in essence trying everything they could to consign her to Hell. It was even discovered after her death that she had never worn a man&rsquos clothing. Her case was successfully appealed 25 years later, and she was exonerated by the Pope at the behest of St Joan&rsquos mother. Nevertheless, the Church did not canonize her until 16 May, 1920, five hundred years after she was killed.

Along with the next entry, this is one of the two most appalling incidents of criminal cowardice in the history of the Catholic Church. Jan Hus (c. 1369 &ndash 6 July 1415) was a Czech priest and Catholic reformer who could not stand what he saw as various corruptions rife throughout the Roman Catholic Church. It would take too long to explain every detail of his arguments with the Church, but they can all be simplified to his view that the priests, bishops, archbishops and popes were immoral and given to sin, just as any other human. Thus, any rule the Church established was corrupt, because 100% of the rules necessary for Christian living and salvation had already been written by God in the Bible.

He made no secret of his disdain and outright antagonism for the Church in his Prague pulpit. He was strongly influenced by #10, and when #10 died a peaceful death, Hus carried on in his place. He especially wanted the papal schism to end. There were two popes at the time, Gregory XII and Benedict XIII. In 1409, Alexander V was elected to appease both sides, but this backfired. Hus saw it was one more proof that the Church was a human institution, and no longer divine.

In 1411, indulgences received a sudden surge of popularity following the death of Prague&rsquos Archbishop, Zbynek Zajic, when Antipope John XXIII advocated indulgences to insure that all those under his bishopric would be cleaned of the sin of following Hus. Hus sternly preached against indulgences. So, in 1415, the Church convened the Council of Constance to put an end to the papal schism, but also to put an end to Hus. They tricked him into coming to the Council under a letter of indemnity, which meant they promised to do no harm at all to him. All they wanted was to talk.

While he was there, the Church started the rumor that he was trying to escape the city of Constance (Konstanz). He was not trying to escape, because he wrote his will before leaving Prague. He knew they might try to kill him, and they did, arresting, trying and imprisoning him for heresy. He was held in an underground dungeon, fed very little, contracting the flu and possibly pneumonia. He was ordered to recant his teachings, and he refused, stating that he stood firmly and solely on the Bible, that for the Church to demand his recantation of the Bible was the same as demanding God&rsquos genuflection to the Roman Catholic Church. This infuriated the Church officials, who promptly sentenced him to death. They refused him the Last Rites and burned him at the stake.

Tyndale dedicated his life to translating the Bible into vernacular English, so the laypeople of England could read it for themselves. This was not expressly against the rules, as mentioned in entry #9, but Tyndale could not get anyone in the Catholic Church to help him with room and board. Everyone was uncomfortable with the Bible being readily accessible to the commoners, because how could the Church then keep power?

Not to be deterred, Tyndale went into hiding in Belgium and Germany, evading capture while he translated the New Testament, finishing it in 1525. It was printed en masse and smuggled all over Europe, especially into England, where the Catholics in charge burned a number of them in public. Tyndale also wrote fearlessly against the divorce of Henry VIII, calling it anti-Scriptural, and infuriating the king. Tyndale finished translating the Old Testament in 1530.

He was finally caught after some help from a backstabbing friend named Henry Phillips, charged with heresy for no other reason than translating the Bible into English, and strangled, then burned at the stake, on 6 October 1536, in Vilvoorde, outside Brussels. The Catholic Church has never apologized. All subsequent English Bibles, including the King James have borrowed extensively from Tyndale&rsquos Bible.

Because they spanned the entire latter half of the Middle Ages, lasting into the 1800s, the Inquisitions themselves deserve their own entry. Their typically accepted dates are from the 1100s to 1808. The Inquisition still exists today, but torture and execution are no longer allowed. The word itself simply denotes an investigation into possible heresy.

For those seven centuries or so, anyone who roused the anger or suspicion of the Roman Catholic Church was in very real danger of the arrival of Inquisitors, whose job was &ldquoto root out and purge the Christian civilized world of heresy and crimes against God.&rdquo Torture was not only defended as a means to gain a confession the Church encouraged it.

Aside from the specific cases mentioned in other entries, it must not be forgotten that the Catholic Church routinely arrested and tortured Jews, Muslims, Waldensianism (Christian), Hussitism (Christian) and numerous other religions and religious sects. These people were given prior warning to vacate the given area (a pogrom), after which anyone found in the area was arrested and given an ultimatum: convert to Christianity or be executed. Anyone who foolishly refused was tortured until he or she did convert, and the Inquisition allowed no exemptions for anyone, men, women, children, the elderly or the disabled.

These tortures were lurid beyond belief, including branding, the rack, hanging by the toes or thumbs, toe crushing, bone breaking, simple beatings, foot roasting, and blinding by red-hot pokers. After such tortures, the condemned was almost always strangled, then burned at the stake. For seven centuries, the Catholic Church was all powerful, even terrifying monarchs, and the Inquisition held absolute sway by the most brutal methods imaginable.

Interestingly the office of the Inquisition still exists today under the name &ldquoCongregation for the Doctrine of the Faith&rdquo.

This travesty gets its own entry for several reasons. The so-called &ldquowitches&rdquo were rounded up and slaughtered for centuries throughout Europe. Casualty numbers vary drastically because records were not well kept, but the average total is anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 dead, just in the period of c. 1480 to c. 1750.

The hunts had been perpetrated for centuries before, and they were carried out for one or both of two reasons: fear and personal animosity. If a particular person irritated someone, the latter could accuse the former of witchcraft, and the Catholic Church showed up like a bloodhound. Or a nation or local government could suddenly become afraid of the influence of the Antichrist and take care of the matter with the Church&rsquos blessing.

It was established doctrine that witches were not witches by their own volition, but by Satan&rsquos, and so burning them at the stake would purify them by pain so they could enter Heaven. The Church actually believed, and led the populace to believe, that it was doing witches a favor by torturing them and burning them to death. The methods by which to prove a witch were ludicrous, to state the obvious: a mole or birthmark was deemed proof of trafficking with the Devil uttering blasphemy (and back then it was nearly impossible to open your mouth without offending the Church) denouncement by another witch (and since denouncing another passed the blame, the accused could save himself this way) to be afraid during interrogation and the most infamous of all, anyone who could swim was most assuredly a witch, since only the Devil could teach someone to conquer water.

Tortures were not always overseen by the Church itself, and thus, the rule of not shedding blood was ignored in these instances. So the tortures became much, much worse: flogging, skinning alive, castration by red-hot pincers, disemboweling, drawing and quartering, head crushing, tooth extraction, de-nailing. Death, if not by torture, was always via burning at the stake.

Another very serious mistake the Church made in pursuing and slaughtering people because of the slightest hint of heresy is that in so doing, it also ordered that all witches&rsquo &ldquofamiliars&rdquo be hunted down, killed and burned. These familiars were pets that witches were believed to keep, whether frogs, or owls, or rats or especially cats. From the 1100s until the late 1300s, cats were slaughtered wholesale all over Europe. When the fleas bearing bubonic plague rode on the backs of rats from the Black Sea area and Western Asia into Italy and Western Europe, there were no cats to check the rats&rsquo spread. The Black Death of c. 1340 to c. 1355 spread so well, in large part, because the rats multiplied out of control. The Plague finally dwindled away because the people were too busy dying to kill cats, and the cats repopulated Europe and brought the rats back down.

It should be noted that witch hunts were not unique to the Catholic Church, as all of the protestant nations in Europe also partook of this cruel abuse. Alas, no one was immune from guilt.


Watch the video: John Hus 1977. Full Movie. Rod Colbin. Regis Cordic (January 2022).