Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Many of the ideas and Scripture-based arguments contained in The Church, especially in the early chapters, were directly inspired by writings of the fourteenth century English theologian John Wyclif. It has been estimated that Hus “borrowed” about 23 percent of his material for The Church, much of it verbatim or near verbatim, from fourteen of the Englishman’s treatises. In 1403 and 1412, theologians at the University of Prague critically examined Wyclif’s writings and derived from them a list of forty-five articles that they considered to be heretical. Hus strongly disagreed with their assessment, and in the final pages of The Church he insisted that the university’s theologians had failed to prove that a single one of the forty-five articles was in fact erroneous.

Church historians are quick to note that Wyclif was only one of several influences on Hus’s thought and that the Czech reformer was a discriminating reader. Placed on trial at the Council of Constance in 1415, Hus refused to condemn Wyclif’s teachings en bloc, but he did expressly reject the Englishman’s views on absolute necessity and remnance in the Eucharist. Although he reserved the right to disobey church officials whose commands were contrary to the lessons of Holy Scripture, he did not seek to abolish the institutional church. It would be naïve to think that Hus had intended for the borrowed passages to escape the notice of his curial opponents in Prague, especially as most of them were already intimately acquainted with the original texts. It seems far more likely that the Czech reformer’s insightful presentation of Wyclifian views was part of an intertextual strategy, a provocative barb of sorts, intended to deflate the theologians’ case against Wyclif and Wyclif’s admirers within the Czech reform movement.

Whatever his strategy may have been, history shows that Hus—not only in The Church but also in some of his other works—willfully linked his fate to that of his English predecessor. The Council of Constance reached this conclusion when it condemned Hus to burn at the stake by declaring him a heretic and a disciple of Wyclif.