Jan Hus has always been difficult to place precisely in the history of Christian thought. Does he belong to the Middle Ages or to early modern times? Is he a representative of medieval heretical dissent or a precursor of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the sixteenth-century Reformation? Was he merely a local leader of a Czech movement or a figure of wider European significance?

Recent scholars have protested the earlier tendency to depict Hus as a mere echo of English reformer John Wyclif (whose writings he knew and quoted) or a simple forerunner of Luther. These cautions are well taken.

Furthermore, unlike many other reformers, Hus retained much of Catholic theology. He did not teach the doctrine of justification by faith alone, a fact Luther noted when he observed that, unlike himself, Hus had attacked only the life, not the doctrine, of late medieval Catholicism.

All the same, Luther was not entirely without reason when he applied to himself the prophecy attributed to Hus as he faced the martyrs' pyre: "Today you will roast a lean goose, but a hundred years from now you will hear a swan sing, whom you will leave unroasted and no trap or net will catch him for you." Luther posted his theses 102 years later; soon after, he read Hus's work and realized, "We are all Hussites without knowing it."

Local roots

Hus's work was deeply rooted in the Czech reform movement that was already well under way when Hus was born in 1372. The religious awakening in Bohemia was related to the emergence of the Czech language and the revival of national identity led by Charles IV, king and emperor, who ruled in Bohemia from 1333 to 1378.

Charles wanted his capital, Prague, to be a great political and cultural center, and in 1348 he established ...

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