John Huss, the early reformers, and how the Church of Rome sees them, Part 1

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Wood cut from the Nuremberg Chronicle (Latin copy in Sao Paulo) - Jerome Heretic, 1493, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Because of my respect for John Huss (John of Husinec), an early Czech Reformer, I read an article which The Antipas Chronicles had reblogged – thank you Meg! Written by Shaun Willcock of Bible Based Ministries, UK, 600 Years Later: Rome’s Revisionist Re-Working of John Huss’ Martyrdom shows that Rome seized the opportunity afforded by the commemoration of this anniversary to make a play for Christian unity, one of Pope Francis’ constant themes. 

Huss was a Catholic priest who lived in the late 14th / early 15th century in that part of the Czech Republic once known as the Kingdom of Bohemia. Czechs and Germans resided there, and after his martyrdom the kingdom exploded in strife along ethnic and religious lines in the wars known as the Hussite Wars. It’s worthy of note that some of our Christian brethren chose to suffer rather than go to war. (The Pilgrim Church, page 143-145)

Huss was Rector of the University of Prague and Preacher at Bethlehem Chapel in that city. He was admired as a preacher and from all I can gather was well-loved. He got into trouble with Rome when he became a student of God’s Word in order to better fulfill his preaching responsibilities, and also came under the influence of the early English reformer, John Wycliffe.

Huss’s fellow priest, Jerome of Prague, had studied under Wycliffe at Oxford, and when Jerome returned to Bohemia he brought back some of Wycliffe’s works. Huss read them and agreed with some things, but believed that Wycliffe had gone too far in his desire for reform. However he was still influenced by Wycliffe for good, and by his growing understanding of the Bible and salvation by grace, towards reform. In The Pilgrim Church, E.H. Broadbent wrote about these things in this way:

One of the foreign students who listened to Wycliff in Oxford was Jerome of Prague. He returned to his own city full of zeal for the truths he had learned in England, and taught boldly that the Roman Church had fallen away from the doctrine of Christ and that every one who sought salvation must come back to the teachings of the gospel. Among many on whose hearts such words fell with power was Jan Hus (John Huss), theological doctor and preacher in Prague, and confessor to the Queen of Bohemia. His sincere faith and striking abilities, with his eloquence and charm of manner, worked mightily among people already prepared by the labors of the Waldenses who had been before him. (p. 143)

Recently I reread what another author had to say about Huss that is helpful in getting a better sense of his character and life. To introduce this, we need to realize that Bohemia was already divided into factions – pro-reform and establishment – before Huss’s death. Here’s what S. Harrison Thomson said about him in Czechoslovakia in European History:

Anything which either side to the dispute might do only aggravated the bitterness until, in late October 1412, Hus acceded to the king’s [King of Bohemia’s] suggestion that, in order to save Prague from the effects of an interdict, he should leave the city. Some of his most important works, Latin and Czech, were composed or completed while he was in exile from the capital at Kozi Hradek in southern Bohemia, notably the work on simony in Czech, and the Latin De ecclesia [The Church], his most systematic and impressive work. During his exile he preached generally in the native tongue, and a long-held conviction that the vernacular was an effective tool in the spread of the Gospel was further strengthened by the results of this ministry. It was during this time that he gave especial attention to the orthography of the Czech language, to bring order out of the disparate and confused practices then dominant. At the same time, like Luther a century later, he modeled his speech after the expressions of the common people, thus consolidating the vigor of a natural idiom with the loftier content of religious fervor. His Orthographic bohemica, written between 1406 and 1412, may be regarded as the foundation of modern Czech and Slovak, orthography. (p. 81)

But Huss’s greatest accomplishment wasn’t won by study, or even by all the ways in which the Lord Jesus Christ prepared him, but by the grace of God working in him to help him stand for the Lord – for truth against error – and to be given a crown of life.

Revelation 2:10

Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.

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GALLERY

~ click to enlarge ~

John Huss before the Council of Constance, by Václav Brožík, 1883, Wikimedia, Public Domain.

Čeština - Zástupce koncilu u Mistra Jeronýma Pražského, 1873, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Wyclif Giving The Poor Priests His Translation of the Bible by William Frederick Yeames

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FURTHER READING

Rumblings of Reformation: Jan Hus and the Hussite Rebellion

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The Waldensians – their antiquity and faith through time immemorial

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With this post I’m returning to The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent. Here is a passage from his chapter on the “WALDENSES & ALBIGENSES.”

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ANTIQUITY of the WALDENSES

Duomo Torino [Italy], Public Domain, via Wikimedia, uploaded by "moi-même"… A Prior of St. Roch at Turin [Italy], Marco Aurelio Rorenco, was ordered in 1630 to write an account of the history and opinions of the Waldenses. He wrote that the Waldenses are so ancient as to afford no absolute certainty in regard to the precise time of their origin, but that, at all events, in the ninth and tenth centuries they were even then not a new sect. And he adds that in the ninth century so far from being a new sect, they were rather to be deemed a race of fomenters and encouragers of opinions which had preceded them. Further, he wrote that Claudius [Bishop] of Turin was to be reckoned among these fomenters and encouragers, inasmuch as he was person who denied the reverence due to the holy cross, who rejected the veneration and invocation of saints, and who was a principal destroyer of images. In his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, Claudius plainly teaches justification by faith, and points out the error of the Church in departing from that truth.

The brethren in the valleys never lost the knowledge and consciousness of their origin and unbroken history there. When from the fourteenth century onward the valleys were invaded and the people had to negotiate with surrounding rulers, they always emphasized this. To the Princes of Savoy, who had had the longest dealings with them, they could always assert without fear of contradiction the uniformity of their faith, from father to son, through time immemorial, even from the very age of the apostles.

To Francis I of France they said, in 1544: “This Confession is that which we have received from our ancestors, even from hand to hand, according as their predecessors in all time and in every age have taught and delivered.” A few years later, to the Prince of Savoy they said: “Let your Highness consider, that this religion in which we live is not merely our religion of the present day, or a religion discovered for the first time only a few years ago, as our enemies falsely pretend, but it is the religion of our fathers and of our grandfathers, yea, of our forefathers and of our predecessors still more remote. It is the religion of the Saints and of the Martyrs, of the Confessors and of the Apostles.”

When they came into contact with the Reformers in the sixteenth century, they said: “Our ancestors have often recounted to us that we have existed from the time of the Apostles. In all matters  nevertheless we agree with you, and thinking as you think, from the very days of the Apostles themselves, we have ever been consistent respecting the faith.” On the return of the Vaudois to their valleys, their leader, Henri Arnold [Arnaud], in 1689 said, “That their religion is as primitive as their name is venerable is attested even by their adversaries,” and then quotes Reinarius the inquisitor who, in a report made by him to the pope on the subject of their faith, admits, “they have existed from time immemorial.” “It would not,” Arnold continues, “be difficult to prove that this poor band of the faithful were in the valleys of Piedmont more than four centuries before the appearance of those extraordinary personages, Luther and Calvin and the subsequent lights of the Reformation. Neither has their Church ever been reformed, when arises its title of Evangelic. The Vaudois are in fact descended from those refugees from Italy, who, after St. Paul had there preached the gospel, abandoned their beautiful country and fled, like the woman mentioned in the Apocalypse, to these wild mountains, where they have to this day handed down the gospel, from father to son, in the same purity and simplicity as it was preached by St. Paul.”

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Waldensian Alps 8TEACHING of the WALDENSES

The doctrines and practices of these brethren, known as Waldenses, and also by other names, were of such a character that it is evident they were not the fruits of an effort to reform the Roman and Greek churches and bring them back to more scriptural ways. Bearing no traces of the influence of those churches, they indicate, on the contrary, the continuance of an old tradition, handed down from quite another source – the teaching of Scripture and the practice of the primitive Church. Their existence proves that there had always been men of faith, men of spiritual power and understanding, who had maintained in the churches a tradition close to that of apostolic days, and far removed from that which the dominant Churches had developed.

Apart from the Holy Scriptures they had no special confession of faith or religion, nor any rules; and no authority of any man, however eminent, was allowed to set aside the authority of Scripture. Yet, throughout the centuries, and in all countries, they confessed the same truths and had the same practices. They valued Christ’s own words in the Gospels as being the highest revelation, and if ever they were unable to reconcile any of His words with other portions of Scripture, while they accepted all, they acted on what seemed to them the plain meaning of the Gospels. Following Christ was their chief theme and aim, keeping His words, imitating His example. The Spirit of Christ, they said, is effective in any man in the measure in which he obeys the words of Christ and is His true follower. It is only Christ who can give the ability to understand His words. If anyone love Him, he will keep His words. A few great truths were looked upon as essential to fellowship, but otherwise, in matters open to doubt or to difference of view, large liberty was allowed. They maintained that the inner testimony of the indwelling Spirit of Christ is of great importance, since the highest truths come from the heart to the mind; not that new revelation is given, but a clearer understanding of the Word. 

The portion of Scripture most dwelt upon was the Sermon on the Mount, this being looked upon as the rule of life for the children of God. The brethren were opposed to the shedding of blood, even to capital punishment, to any use of force in matters of faith and to taking any proceedings against such as harmed them. Yet most of them allowed self-defense, even with weapons; so the inhabitants of the valleys defended themselves and their families when attacked. They would take no oaths nor use the name of God or of divine things lightly, though on certain occasions they might allow themselves to be put on oath. They did not admit the claim of the great professing Church to open or close the way of salvation, nor did they believe that salvation was through any sacraments or by anything but faith in Christ, which showed itself in the activities of love. They held the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in election, together with that of man’s free will.

They considered that in all times and in all forms of churches there were enlightened men of God. They therefore made use of the writings of Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Bernard of Clairvaux and others, not accepting, however, all they wrote, but only that which corresponded with the older, purer teaching of Scripture. The love of theological disputation and pamphlet war was not developed among them, as among so many others; yet they were ready to die for the truth, laid great stress on the value of practical piety, and desired in quietness to serve God and to do good.

NOTE

*Henri Arnaud is among the later Waldensians who had joined the Protestant Reformation in Geneva (Wikipedia).

FURTHER STUDY

Waldensian Confession of Faith published at Old Waldensian Paths

The Pilgrim Church, Broadbent’s understanding of Augustine

 

As I continue to read E. H. Broadbent’s The Pilgrim Church, I’m finding more that is helpful. 

Recently I took part in an online discussion about John Calvin and Martin Luther, in which they were criticized for continuing the practice of infant baptism after leaving the Catholic Church; and because of their practice of infant baptism, the genuineness of their faith was called into question. The blame for this ultimately landed at Augustine’s feet – these Reformers had refused to set aside his views. This saddened and frustrated me because I know that believers differ about infant vs. believer’s baptism, and that not all who practice infant baptism consider it regeneration.

So, these men were merely men – they sometimes erred. Their views on nonessentials shouldn’t be a test of the genuineness of their faith and eternal destiny. 

1 Corinthians 4:5

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

I just finished reading Broadbent’s analysis of Augustine. He points out issues that are more troubling than infant baptism. One of these is that Augustine held the view that coercion was justified when heretics refused correction. So yes, we respect these men whom the Lord gave to the Church as teachers, but we cannot refuse to critique their views. That is wrong – just as being hypercritical is wrong.

2 Timothy 2:24-25

24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;

The following excerpt is taken from the chapter entitled “Christianity in Christendom”, from the hardback edition of the book, published by GOSPEL FOLIO PRESS, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1999. (Emphasis added.)

“Augustine was baptized by Ambrose in Milan (AD 387) and became later Bishop of Hippo (later named Bona) in North Africa (AD 395). His busy life was one of constant controversy. He lived at the time when the Western Roman Empire was breaking up; indeed a barbarian army was besieging his city of Hippo when he passed away. It was the fall of the Western Empire that led him to write his famous book, The City of God. Its full title explains its aim: ‘Though the greatest city of the world has fallen, the City of God abideth for ever.’

His view, however, of what the City of God is led him into teachings that have given rise to unspeakable misery, the very greatness of his name accentuating the harmful effects of the error he taught. He, beyond others, formulated the doctrine of salvation by the Church only, by means of her sacraments. To take salvation out of the hands of the Saviour and put it into the hands of men, to interpose a system of man’s devising between the Saviour and the sinner, is the very opposite of the Gospel revelation. Christ says: ‘Come unto Me’ and no priest or church has authority to intervene.

Augustine, in his zeal for the unity of the Church and his genuine abhorrence of all divergence in doctrine and difference in form, lost sight of the spiritual, living, and indestructible unity of the Church and Body of Christ, uniting all who are sharers by the new birth in the life of God. Consequently he did not see the practical possibility of the existence of churches of God in various places and in all times, each retaining its immediate relation with the Lord and with the Spirit, yet having fellowship with the others, and that in spite of human weaknesses, of varying degrees of knowledge, of divergent apprehensions of Scripture and differences of practice.

His outward view of the Church as an earthly organization naturally led him to seek outward, material means for preserving, and even compelling, visible unity. In controversy with the Donatists, he wrote:

‘It is indeed better…that men should be led to worship God by teaching, than that they should be driven to it by fear of punishment or pain; but it does not follow that because the former course produces the better men, therefore those who do not yield to it should be neglected. For many have found advantage (as we have proved and are daily proving by actual experiment) in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching, or might follow out in act what they had already learned in word…While those are better who are guided aright by love, those are certainly more numerous who are corrected by fear. For who can possibly love us more than Christ, who laid down His life for the sheep? And yet, after calling Peter and the other Apostles by His words alone, when He came to summon Paul…He not only constrained him with His voice, but even dashed him to the earth with His power; and that He might forcibly bring one who was raging amid the darkness of infidelity, to desire the light of the heart, He first struck him with physical blindness of the eyes. Why therefore should not the Church use force in compelling her lost sons to return?…The Lord Himself said, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in”…Wherefore is the power which the Church has received by divine appointment in its due season, through the religious character and faith of kings, be the instrument by which those who are found in the highways and hedges – that is, in heresies and schisms – are compelled to come in, then let them not find fault with being compelled.’

Such teaching, from such an authority, incited and justified those methods of persecution by which papal Rome equalled the cruelties of pagan Rome. So a man of strong affections and quick and tender sympathies, departing from the principles of Scripture, though with good intentions, became implicated in a vast and ruthless system of persecution.

As I read through The Pilgrim Church, I hope to post more excerpts from it.

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