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The Hussite Era

Jan Hus had been greatly influenced by the writings of John Wycliffe, and he began conducting his sermons at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague in Czech rather than in Latin, so that the common man could understand them. He also advocated the giving of communion in both species, and was critical of the church for its excessive policies - of amassing wealth, selling indulgences, and allowing the rich to tithe their way out of even mortal sins.

Even as these ideas were gaining popularity in the Czech lands, they were becoming most wildly unpopular in other areas of the Holy Roman Empire (especially the Vatican.) This led to the burning of Master Jan Hus at the stake at the Council at Constance on July 6, 1415 when he refused to recant his words and despite that he had letter of safe conduct from Wenceslas IV's brother, Sigismund).

The brutal killing of Jan Hus only served to incense and unite his followers, who came to be known as the Hussites. The Hussites were highly critical of the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, and, in the Four Articles of Prague, they demanded that 1) all believers be permitted to receive Communion in both species; 2) all mortal and public sins be punished equally, regardless of the sinner's status 3) the Word of God be freely preached; and 4) the clergy give up their worldly wealth.

This situation culminated in 1419 with the First Defenestration of Prague, in which Hussites threw 7 members of the Czech Town Council out of Prague's New Town Hall window -- and to their deaths on the points of Hussite-weilded pikes below. To make the situation more interesting, King Wenceslas IV had an apopleptic fit and died of a heart attack upon learning of the defenestration.

But even after the death of his brother, Wenceslas IV, King Sigismund of Luxembourg, who also inherited the title of Holy Roman Emperor never really got to be king of Bohemia. The situation with the Hussites had gone too far, and he spent the rest of his life fighting them in the hopes of taking control of the throne he'd inherited from his brother. When his initial attempts to do this met with failure, he beseeched the Pope to send help.

The mighty Hussites, led by the one-eyed military genius, Jan Zizka, defeated five waves of crusaders in a row: in 1420, 1421, 1422, 1427, and in 1437. Actually, the fifth army of crusaders sent to battle the Hussites turned tail and fled before even catching sight of the famed warriors - because they were so terrified at hearing the refrain of the terrible Hussite battle song, "Ye Warriors of God." It was either that, or maybe just that the warriors didn't sing very well.

Well, in addition to fear-inspiring songs and the other tricks the Hussites had up their sleeves, they also had the thing that matters most - conviction that their cause was the Just one. Their symbol was the chalice and their motto, "Truth Prevails." (this motto was later used by the first President of Czechoslovakia, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, as well as by a later President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel - during the Velvet Revolution).

Well, despite this and despite their brilliant military successes, all was not well within the Hussite movement itself. From the very start, the Hussite movement had been divided into factions - the most prominent division was along economic lines.

A number of peasant Hussites were nothing more than hooligans at best - terrorists at worst - who joined the cause only so that they could have a good excuse to go around robbing churches and setting them aflame with Catholics inside. These practices were considered to be rather in poor taste by the aristocratic Hussites. Over time, the movement splintered even more - even spawning an early nudist sect, the Adamites. The history books usually divide the Hussites into radical "Taborites" - named for the town of Tabor, a city the Hussites founded for the occasion of the Second Coming, which many considered imminent - and the moderate "Utraquists" - derived from the Latin "sub utraque specie" for their belief that communion should be given "in both kinds" - made up mostly of the nobility. In reality, though, the situation on the ground just was not that simple.

This infighting came to a head at the Battle of Lipany on May 30, 1434, at which the Czech Hussite factions fought among themselves. This battle is considered by some to be the single most tragic event in all of Czech history.

Well, the victory at the Battle of Lipany went to the moderates, and this paved the way for an agreement to be reached between the "Utraquist Hussites" of Bohemia and the Roman Catholic Church.

The Basel Compact, ceremoniously announced in 1436, permitted the "Utraquist Hussites" to take Communion in both kinds, to have their church services conducted in the Czech language, and absolved them of having to pay dues to Rome. The Pope later refused to recognize the agreement, but not before it had served to bring an end to the costly Hussite wars.

The extremist "Taborite Hussites" were not a party to this agreement, and refused to accept it. While the moderates stayed in the Catholic Church, the extremists went underground, forming their own church, ordaining their own bishops, pioneering public education, sending out missionaries (even to the 13 original American colonies) and secretly printing Czech-language copies of the "Kralice Bible" - named for the town of Kralice in which it was printed. This translation is still in use in the Czech lands today, despite that it is often hard for modern speakers of the language to understand.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:53:25 ZULU