As they enjoy a day off work every year on July 6, few Czechs give much thought to the man behind the holiday. In the Czech calendar this date marks the feast of the early 15th century religious reformer, Jan Hus. In fact, it is a rather grim anniversary that we are remembering. On July 6 1415, Jan Hus (or John Huss, as he is sometimes known in English) was burned at the stake as a heretic in the southern German city of Constance. It was a time of deep schisms within the Roman Catholic Church, and from the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague Hus had preached the ideal of a poor church, built on the authority of the Bible itself rather than the church hierarchy. His execution as a heretic was followed by the rapid spread of what came to be known as the Hussite movement, sowing many of the seeds for the reformation in Central Europe.
Jan Hus is traditionally also seen as a Czech national hero. Again and again he has been hailed as a symbol of the struggle for Czech self determination. But his legacy is a complex one. In the course of the Hussite wars following his death in the 15th century, acts of great cruelty were committed in his name, in more recent years – in the 1950s – Hus even came to be hailed as the first Czech communist. And then there is the paradox of Jan Hus, the good Catholic, who came to be seen as a symbol of the European reformation.
To talk about his fascinating and continuing legacy, I am joined by three Hus scholars. Two are originally from Canada: David Holeton, who teaches at the Theological Faculty here in Prague, and Thomas Fudge, whose book “Jan Hus: Religious Reform and Social Revolution in Bohemia” has just been published. And my third guest also teaches at Prague’s Theological Faculty. He is Peter Moree, originally from the Netherlands, but settled in Prague for over two decades.
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