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Christian History Home > 2000 > Issue 68 > Jan Hus: A Gallery of Foes in High Places

Jan Hus: A Gallery of Foes in High Places
As reformation divided Bohemia, it turned some of Hus's most influential allies against him.
Maartje M. Abbenhuis | posted 10/01/2000 12:00AM

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Zbynek Zajíc of Hazmburk

(c. 1378—1411)
Archbishop and archenemy

Zbynek had exactly one qualification for the highest ecclesiastical office in Bohemia: money. He purchased the archbishopric in 1402 for 2,800 gulden, plus 1,480 gulden to cover the debts left by his two predecessors.

Merely 25 years old, he lacked the education, theological training, or maturity to handle the demands of his new job. Despite his inexperience, however, this ex-soldier had faith, enthusiasm, and an earnest desire to do God's work.

At first, Zbynek and Hus got along extremely well. Zbynek joined Hus's efforts to curb immorality among Prague's clergy, and he asked Hus to alert him personally or by letter to any offenses he had missed. He also invited Hus to preach at two important church synods held in Prague in 1405 and 1407.

Their friendship did not last very long, for anti- reformers soon converted the naive archbishop to their cause. In 1408 they convinced Zbynek that local reformers held heretical beliefs, and Zbynek determined to end the movement.

The archbishop issued a decree forbidding anyone to teach Wyclif's errors or even mention the words "bread" and "wine" during the Eucharist. Hus disobeyed both orders and went on to write a treatise examining, among other things, the uses of the word "bread" in the New Testament (Jesus used it 11 times in John 6 alone). The relationship between archbishop and pastor never recovered.

Zbynek used every ecclesiastical weapon in his arsenal against Hus. He asked the pope to forbid Hus from preaching at the Bethlehem Chapel. Hus disobeyed, saying, "Am I bound to obey the archbishop in his command contrary to the command of God? Be it far from me!" So Zbynek excommunicated him. The archbishop also repeatedly forced Hus to defend himself against heresy charges.

In the process of harassing and prosecuting Hus and other Czech reformers, Zbynek brought Hus's case to the pope's attention. The pope ordered an investigation into Hus's theology, which eventually led to the preacher's appearance at the Council of Constance on charges of heresy.

Zbynek did not live to see his adversary's condemnation. He died suddenly in 1411 while fleeing Prague, having lost the support of its pro-reform populace. According to the Old Czech annals, he was poisoned by his cook.

Stanislav of Znojmo

(died 1414)

Štepán of Pálec

(c. 1365—1422)

Repentant reformers

As a student of theology at Charles University in Prague, Hus became friends with a fellow student, Štepán of Pálec. Both Pálec and Hus studied closely with one of their revered teachers, Stanislav of Znojmo.

The threesome became so interested in the Czech reform movement and the works of English reformer John Wyclif that the anti-reform German masters at the university formulated a mock genealogy of Wyclifite heresy: "Stanislav begat Peter [of Znojmo, another Wyclifite], Peter begat Pálec, and Pálec begat Hus."

Stanislav and Pálec, far more than Hus, were attracted to Wyclif's more extreme ideas, such as remanence—the idea that the bread and wine remain unchanged after consecration. (Catholic teaching insists that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ.)

Under an old system designed to attract foreign scholars, the German masters at Charles University got three votes to the Czech masters' one. In 1403, this voting bloc maneuvered to declare Wyclif's works heretical and ban them.

Stanislav, Pálec, and Hus all defended Wyclif, and Pálec even proclaimed: "Let anyone who wishes rise and impugn one word of it, and I will defend it!"

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