The Hussites comprised an early Protestant Christian movement, followers of Jan Hus. This predominantly religious movement was also propelled by social issues and coincided to some extend with the first stages of the Czech national self-awareness.
Effect in Bohemia of the Death of Hus
The arrest of Hus had excited considerable resentment in Bohemia and Moravia. In both countries the estates appealed repeatedly and urgently to Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor to deliver Hus.
On the arrival of the news of his death at the Council of Constance in 1415, disturbances broke out which were directed at first against the clergy, especially against the monks. Even the archbishop saved himself with difficulty from the rage of the populace. In the country conditions were not much better.
Everywhere the treatment of Hus was felt as a disgrace inflicted upon the whole country, and his death was looked upon as a criminal act. King Wenceslaus, prompted by his grudge against Sigismund, at first gave free vent to his indignation at the course of events in Constance; and his wife openly favored the friends of Hus. Pronounced Hussites stood at the head of the government. A league was formed by certain lords who pledged themselves to protect the free preaching of the Gospel upon all their possessions and estates, and to obey the power of the bishops only in case their orders accorded with the injunctions of the Bible.
In disputed points the decision of the university should be resorted to. The entire Hussite nobility joined the league, and if the king had entered it, its resolutions would have received the sanction of the law; but he refused, and approached the Roman Catholic League of lords, which was now formed, the members pledging themselves to cling to the king, the Roman Church, and the Council. Signs of the outbreak of a civil war began to show themselves. Pope Martin V, who, while still Cardinal Otto of Colonna, had attacked Hus with relentless severity, energetically resumed the battle against Hus's teaching after the enactments of the Council of Constance. He intended to eradicate completely the doctrine of Hus. For this purpose the co-operation of King Wenceslaus had to be obtained. In 1418 Sigismund succeeded in winning his brother over to the standpoint of the council by pointing out the inevitability of a religious war if the heretics in Bohemia found further protection. Hussite statesmen and army leaders had to leave the country, and Roman priests were reinstituted. These measures caused a general commotion which hastened the death of Wenceslaus by a paralytic stroke in 1419. His heir was Sigismund.
Two Parties in Bohemia
Hussism had organized itself during the years 1415-1419. From the beginning two parties were found: the closer adherents of Hus clung to his standpoint, leaving the whole hierarchical and liturgical order of the Church untouched; the radical party identified itself more boldly with the doctrines of John Wyclif, shared his passionate hatred of the monastic clergy, and, like him, attempted to lead the Church back to its supposed condition during the time of the apostles, which necessitated the removal of the existing hierarchy and the secularization of ecclesiastical possessions. The radicals among the Hussites sought to translate their theories into reality; they preached the sufcientia legis Christi-- only the divine law (i.e., the Bible) is the rule and canon for man, and that not only in ecclesiastical matters, but also in political and civil matters. They rejected therefore, as early as 1416, everything that had no basis in the Bible, such as the adoration of saints and images, fasts, superfluous holidays, the oath, intercession for the dead, auricular confession, indulgences, the sacraments of confirmation and extreme unction, admitted laymen and women to the preacher's office, chose their own priests. But before everything they clung to Wyclif's doctrine of the Lord's Supper, denying transubstantiation, and this is the principal point by which they are distinguished from the moderate party.
The Four Articles of Prague
The program of the more conservative Hussites is contained in the four articles of Prague, which were agreed upon in July, 1420, and promulgated in the Latin, Czech, and German languages:
- Freedom to preach the Word of God.
- Celebration of the Lord's Supper in both kinds (bread and wine to priests and laity alike).
- No profane power for the clergy.
- The same law for laity and priests.
(Please note that this is only a widely accepted abbreviation - the full text of the four articles is about two pages long.)
Calixtines or Utraquists, and Taborites
The views of the moderate Hussites were represented at the university and among the citizens of Prague; therefore they were called the Prague party; they were also called Calixtines or Utraquist s, because they emphasized the second article, and the chalice became their emblem. The radicals had their gathering-place in the small town of Usti, on the river Luznice, south of Prague. But as the place was not defensible, they founded a city upon a neighboring hill, which they called Tabor; hence they were called Taborites. They comprised the essential force of Hussism. Their aim was to destroy the enemies of the law of God, and to extend his kingdom by the sword. For the former purpose they waged bloody wars, for the second purpose they established a strict jurisdiction, inflicting the severest punishment not only upon heinous crimes like murder and adultery, but also upon faults like perjury and usury, and tried to apply the conditions required in the law of God to the social relations of the world.
The news of the death of King Wenceslaus produced the greatest commotion among the people of Prague. A revolution swept over the country; churches and monasteries were destroyed, and the ecclesiastical possessions were seized by the Hussite nobility. Sigismund could get possession of his kingdom only by force of arms. Pope Martin V called upon all Christians of the Occident to take up arms against the Hussites, and there followed twelve years of warfare. The Hussites initially campaigned defensively, but after 1427 they assumed the offensive. Apart from their religious aims, they fought for the national interests of the Czechs. The moderate and radical parties were united and they not only repelled the attacks of the army of crusaders, but entered the neighboring countries.
In 1430, Joan of Arc dictated a letter on March 23rd http://archive.joan-of-arc.org/joanofarc_letter_march_23_1430.html threatening to lead a crusading army against the Hussites unless they returned to, quote, "the Catholic Faith and the original Light"; but her capture by English and Burgundian troops two months later would keep her from carrying out this threat.
The Council of Basel and Compacta of Prague
Eventually the opponents of the Hussites found themselves forced to consider an amicable settlement. They invited a Bohemian embassy to appear at the Council of Basel. The discussions began on January 10, 1432, centering chiefly in the four articles of Prague. No agreement emerged. After repeated negotiations between the Basel Council and Bohemia, a Bohemian-Moravian state assembly in Prague accepted the Compacta of Prague on November 30, 1433. The agreement granted communion in both kinds to all who desired it, but with the understanding that Christ was entirely present in each kind. Free preaching was granted conditionally: the Church hierarchy had to approve and place priests, and the power of the bishop must be considered. The article which prohibited the secular power of the clergy was almost reversed.
The Taborites refused to conform, and the Calixtines united with the Roman Catholics and destroyed the Taborites in a battle near Lipany (May 30, 1434). From that time the Taborites lost their importance. The state assembly of Iglau in 1436 confirmed the Compactata and gave them the sanction of law. This accomplished the reconciliation of Bohemia with Rome and the Western Church, and now Sigismund first obtained possession of the Bohemian crown. His reactionary measures caused a ferment in the whole country, but he died in 1437. The state assembly in Prague rejected Wyclif's doctrine of the Lord's Supper, which was obnoxious to the Utraquists , as heresy in 1444. Most of the Taborites now went over to the party of the Utraquists; the rest joined the "Brothers of the Law of Christ" (see Unity of the Brethren; also Bohemian Brethren and Moravians).
Final Disappearance of the Hussites
The Utraquists had retained hardly anything of the doctrines of Hus except communion in both kinds. In 1462 Pope Pius II declared the Compactata null and void, prohibited communion in both kinds, and acknowledged George of Podebrady as king under the condition that he would promise an unconditional harmony with the Roman Church. This he refused, but his successor, King Vladislaus II , favored the Roman Catholics and proceeded against some zealous clergymen of the Calixtines. The troubles of the Utraquists increased from year to year. In 1485, at the diet of Kuttenberg , an agreement between the Roman Catholics and Utraquists was obtained which lasted for thirty-one years. But it was considerably later, at the diet of 1512, that the equal rights of both religions were permanently established. Luther's appearance was hailed by the Utraquist clergy, and Martin Luther himself was astonished to find so many points of agreement between the doctrines of Hus and his own. But not all Utraquists approved of the German Reformation ; a schism arose among them, and many returned to the Roman doctrine, while other elements had long before joined the Unitas Fratrum. Under Maximilian II, the Bohemian state assembly established the Confessio Bohemica, upon which Lutherans, Reformed, and Bohemian Brethren agreed. From that time Hussism began to die out; but it was completely eradicated only after the battle of the White Mountain (November 8, 1620) and the Roman Catholic reaction which fundamentally changed the ecclesiastical conditions of Bohemia and Moravia.
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