REFORMATION 500 WEEK 2: JOHN HUSS (1369-1415)
The views of John Wycliffe quickly traveled beyond England, crisscrossing
Europe. Around 1400 his ideas began to take root in Bohemia (a region now known
as the Czech Republic), where Wycliffe was called the fifth evangelist.
Roman Catholic bishops in Bohemia banned Wycliffe’s writings. But John Huss
(Jan Hus), a brilliant Bohemian professor and priest, had already embraced
Wycliffe’s ideas and was regarded as their chief defender. Through his preaching,
Huss won almost the whole of Bohemia to his views.
Huss taught many ideas which later became the main teachings of the
Reformers. He taught that the Holy Catholic (Universal) Church is the total number
of the predestined; and Christ alone is the Head of the universal Church. He taught
that one could be in the visible Church and yet not be a real member of it. Huss
denied the sacerdotal power of the priesthood to open and shut the kingdom of
heaven. The Church can exist without cardinals and a pope, and in fact for hundreds
of years there were no cardinals; and before emperor Constantine, there was no
pope. Through ignorance and the love of money the pope may err, and has erred.
Therefore, the people should obey the church only when the church agreed with
This was the time of the Great Schism, when there were two popes, John XXIII in
Avignon, and Gregory XII in Rome. Pope John promised indulgences to all who
would come to his aid against the king of Naples who was the protector of Pope
Gregory. When Huss condemned the selling of indulgences, Pope John
excommunicated him. Huss declared his excommunication null and void.
In 1415, an imperial herald asked Huss to defend himself at a church council
(hoping to end the Schism) in the German city of Constance. The Holy Roman
Emperor (Sigismund) promised to protect Huss on the way to and from the council.
Huss accepted his offer, but a few weeks later he was put into prison by Pope John,
who applied canon law that heretics have no rights; so, it is okay to deceive them.
Huss was left to languish in prison for more than eight months. Still, he refused
to retract his teachings, saying, “I appeal to Jesus Christ, since He will not base His
judgment on false witnesses and erring councils but on truth and justice.”
Then, without being given an opportunity to defend himself, he was brought
from the dungeon to the cathedral in Constance. There, on July 6, 1415, his
birthday, in the presence of the bishops and the emperor he was stripped of every
article of priestly attire with curses. The cardinals drew demons on a paper hat and
jammed it on Huss’ head. Huss was led forth from the cathedral to a place before
one of the city’s gates. As soldiers tied him to a pole and prepared to burn him
alive, Huss prayed: “Lord Jesus, please, have mercy on my enemies.” He died
In addition to burning Huss, the Council ordered that the writings of Wycliffe
should be burned and that his body should be dug up and burned. A crusade was
organized against the followers of Huss, and for many years Bohemia was ravaged
by war. But the spirit of reform lived on, and when the Reformation began in
Germany, opposition to the Roman Church was still strong.
Based on how the book of Romans is divided, the Heidelberg Catechism is divided
into three major sections: (1) SIN (Questions 3-11); SALVATION (Questions 12-
85), and SERVICE (Questions 86-129). Today we begin the first main section.
Question 3: From where do you know your misery?
From the law of God.
The Bible defines sin as “the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). Therefore, the
law of God (summarized in the Ten Commandments) reveals to us the knowledge
that we are sinners: “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). “I would
not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known
covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7). “The Law
speaks first to our hearts, and demands purity of love and obedience there; for
without a pure heart that seeks only God’s glory, neither our words nor our actions
will be pure” (Jones, Study Helps).
Question 4: What does the law of God require of us?
Christ teaches us in sum, Matthew 22: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all
your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Question 4 quotes from Matthew 22:37-40, where Jesus Himself quotes from the Old
Testament. The command to love the Lord with all your heart is taken from
Deuteronomy 6:5; and the command to love your neighbor is taken from Leviticus
19:8. The phrase law and prophets is another way of referring to the entire OT. The
entire OT hangs on these two commands: love God and love your neighbor.
Everything God commands has to do with either loving Him or loving our neighbor.
Question 5: Can you keep all this perfectly?
No, for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.
The law demands whole-hearted love to God and to our neighbor, but we are prone –
we have a natural tendency – to hate God and our neighbor; “the fleshly mind is
enmity [hostile] against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can
be” (Romans 8:7). We show our hatred of God by disobeying or disregarding His
law – which is also written in our conscience (Romans 2:14-15), leaving us no
excuse for our disobedience. We do not love our neighbor as our self. We naturally
hate our neighbor. Prior to salvation, we live “in malice and envy, hateful and hating
one another” (Titus 3:3). Our hatred does not always openly show itself, but it is still
there. “The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart”
(Psalm 55:21). We lie to ourselves, thinking we are not a bad person. But the Bible
tells us the truth: we cannot keep God’s law perfectly because by nature we are prone
to hate God and our neighbor. This truth is designed to make us see our disease and
our need for the Great Physician, who came to call sinners to repentance (Mark