(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In 1412, Jan Hus, Jerome of Prague, and other prominent members of the Czech reform movement mounted a vigorous campaign against the sale of indulgences under Antipope John XXIII. As a result of this and other signal acts of disobedience, Hus was placed under major excommunication on October 18 of that year and quickly left Prague so that the city would not fall under a papal interdict. He completed The Church in May of 1413 and then returned to Prague to offer a public reading of its contents at the city Bethlehem chapel.

Hus divided the work into twenty-three chapters. The first ten chapters were most likely completed by February, 1413, and deal mainly with the constitution of the church, its headship, and its divisions. The remaining thirteen chapters, in which Hus defends his stance on controversial issues and refutes charges levied against him by his opponents, are more polemical in nature and appear to have been written for the most part after February, 1413.

Hus defines the holy, catholic, and universal church as a community of all individuals predestined for salvation throughout time. He calls these individuals the predestinate (predestinatos) and distinguishes them from those who cannot become true members of the universal church because they lack grace. He calls this latter group the reprobate (reprobatos) or the foreknown (prescitos). Just as spittle, phlegm, ordure, and urine are not parts of the body, so, too, the foreknown are not members of the universal church. Even if they are temporarily in the church, he says, they are not of it. Membership in the church is determined not by human election or office but by divine grace.

On the basis of that definition of the church, Hus takes issue with Pope Boniface VIII’s bull Unam Sanctam (promulgated November 18, 1302; English translation, 1927), which advocates of the Roman papacy frequently cited in Hus’s time in support of Rome’s claim to spiritual supremacy. The bull proclaimed the unity of the church and identified the pope as the legitimate head of the church and the cardinals as its body. It asserted that...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Fudge, Thomas A. Magnificent Ride. The First Reformation in Hussite Bohemia. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998. An in-depth study of the Hussite reform movement in Czech society from about 1410 to 1437; places Hus in a larger historical context.

Herold, Vil. “Jan Hus Heretic, a Saint, or a Reformer?” Communio Viatorum 45 (2003): 5-23. Examines the nature and extent of Wyclif’s influence on Hus.

Shelley, Marshall, and Elesha Coffman, eds. Christian History 68 (2000): Jan Hus. The Incendiary Preacher of Prague. A richly illustrated issue devoted to Hus and his contemporaries, with brief articles by eight Church historians; intended for the general reader.

Spinka, Matthew. John Hus: A Biography. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968. An authoritative study of the events that shaped Hus’s life; discusses Hus’s major writings in Czech, his opposition to the sale of indulgences, and events at Constance.

Spinka, Matthew. John Hus’ Concept of the Church. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966. A survey of the Czech reformer’s life and his major works, with special emphasis on The Church; recommended reading.