April 20, 2008

WHAT'S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE:

John Huss: Pre-Reformation Reformer (Christian History, 4/19/08)

Huss was born to peasant parents in "Goosetown," that is, Husinec, in the south of today's Czech Republic. (In his twenties, he shortened his name to Huss—"goose," and he and his friends delighted in making puns on his name; it was a tradition that continued, especially with Luther, who reminded his followers of the "goose" who had been "cooked" for defying the pope).

To escape poverty, Huss trained for the priesthood: "I had thought to become a priest quickly in order to secure a good livelihood and dress and to be held in esteem by men." He earned a bachelor's, master's, and then finally a doctorate. Along the way he was ordained (in 1401) and became the preacher at Prague's Bethlehem Chapel (which held 3,000), the most popular church in one of the largest of Europe's cities, a center of reform in Bohemia (for example, sermons were preached in Czech, not Latin).

During these years, Huss underwent a change. Though he spent some time with what he called a "foolish sect," he finally discovered the Bible: "When the Lord gave me knowledge of Scriptures, I discharged that kind of stupidity from my foolish mind."

The writings of John Wycliffe had stirred his interest in the Bible, and these same writings were causing a stir in Bohemia (technically the northeastern portion of today's Czech Republic, but a general term for the area where the Czech language and culture prevailed). The University of Prague was already split between Czechs and Germans, and Wycliffe's teachings only divided them more. Early debates hinged on fine points of philosophy (the Czechs, with Wycliffe, were realists; the Germans nominalists). But the Czechs, with Huss, also warmed up to Wycliffe's reforming ideas; though they had no intention of altering traditional doctrines, they wanted to place more emphasis on the Bible, expand the authority of church councils (and lessen that of the pope), and promote the moral reform of clergy. Thus Huss began increasingly to trust the Scriptures, "desiring to hold, believe, and assert whatever is contained in them as long as I have breath in me."

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 20, 2008 9:11 AM
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