In Bohemia in the early 15th century a new breakaway Christian movement began around the person of Jan (or John) Huss (or Hus). He stood for an egalitarian communistic sort of Christianity that was guaranteed to annoy the Catholic church which liked to think of itself as the only show in town. As part of his campaign to reform both the church and society, Huss proclaimed the “Four Articles of Prague “ in 1420. They called for
- (1)abolition of the church’s powers, both ecclesiastical and secular
- (2)freedom for anyone to preach
- (3) there was to be neither hierarchy nor privileges but equality for all: rich and poor, male and female, cleric and lay, the righteous and reformed prostitutes, old and young (including infants); so all believers were equal before the sacrament of bread and wine whatever their social standing
- (4) punishment of serious sins.
The Hussites followed what they (and the breakaway Táborites) called the “Law of God”. This was the teachings of the church fathers plus the Sermon on the Mount. Their symbol was the chalice (the cup used for wine in the Mass or Holy Communion service).
They were out to reform the Catholic church and they used armed force to do it . In particular they raged against the simony, social injustice, and immorality associated with that church.
“Communism – the abolition of slavery, debts and secular authority structures – became a hallmark of the new faith, even material possessions were surrendered in order fully to realize the ‘Law of God’.” (i)
When John Huss was burnt as a heretic at the Council of Constance in ?1415, his Czech supporters rose against the Roman church. In retaliation, Pope Martin V and Pope Eugene IV preached a crusade against the Hussites and the result was one blood-bath after another. Each side gave visible evidence of its orthodoxy to the other by having crosses cut into the foreheads of the Catholics and chalices cut into the foreheads of the Hussites. Whole towns and villages were butchered, and the scorched- earth policy practised during these cruel wars. (ii)
The ideas of the Hussites nevertheless persisted and spread out from Bohemia to influence both Luther and Calvin.
(i) Fudge, T.A. in Bagchi, D. & Steinmetz, D. “Cambridge Companion to Reformation Theology” CUP (2004) p.26
(ii) Kahl, Joachim “The Misery of Christianity” Penguin (1968)