Controversial Cartoons and the Conversion of Europe – Part 2

The ‘trial’ of Jan Huss of Prague

S.M. Houghton writes:
‘Kneeling down in the presence of all, Huss prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, pardon all my enemies for the sake of Your great mercy! You know that they have falsley accused me, brought forward false witnesses, and concocted false charges against me. Pardon them for the sake of Your infinite mercy.’

The Archbishop of Milan and six other bishops were appointed to perform the ceremony of taking from Huss the office of priest. This done, the words rang out, ‘We commit thy soul to the devil’. ‘And I commit it to the Lord Jesus Christ’ cried the prisoner.

As they hurried him to the place of burning ‘a crown of blasphemy’ was put on his head, bearing the words, ‘This is an arch heretic’, and depicting devils tearing his soul.

Falling to his knees Huss uttered repeatedly, ‘Into Your hands I commend my spirit’, for Christ strengthened him marvellously. ‘I am willing’, he said, ‘patiently and publicly to endure this dreadful, shameful and cruel death for the sake of Your gospel and the preaching of Your Word.’ (Houghton, Sketches from Church History, Banner of Truth p.70 language modernised)

Huss was a further voice proclaiming that the Bible, and not popes or priests, was the infallible guide for faith and life, and that the church should be compared to and seek to live up to its New Testament original.

Although a popular and influential preacher and writer, Huss somehow sensed that he was one ‘making straight paths’ for others to follow.

D’Aubugne writes that ‘prophetic words issued from the depths of the dungeon. He foresaw that a real reformation of the Church was at hand. When driven out of Prague and compelled to wander through the fields of Bohemia, where an immense crowd followed his steps and hung upon his words, he had cried out,

‘The wicked have begun by preparing a treacherous snare for the goose’ [which when pronounced sounded like ‘Huss’] ‘which is only a domestic bird…whose flight is not very high in the air [but] other birds, soaring more boldly towards the sky, will break through…with still greater force. Instead of a feeble goose, the truth will send forth eagles!’ (J.H. Merle d’Aubigne, History of the Reformation, Religious Tract Society 1846, p.30)

It was almost exactly 100 years later that Luther ‘broke through’, hammering 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church door.

© 2008 Lex Loizides


Controversial Cartoons and the Conversion of Europe – Part 1

Jan Huss of Prague (1373-1415)

One of those powerfully influenced by the teachings and writings of Wycliffe was Jan Huss of Prague, Bohemia.  Huss was a student ‘of peasant stock’ (says Houghton in Church Sketches, BOT) and then later became Rector of the University of Prague. He was not only impacted by Wycliffe’s books but also by two cartoons which he saw.

One showed the Lord Jesus wearing a crown of thorns and the pope beside Him wearing a crown of gold.  The other showed the Lord Jesus saying to a poor woman, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee’ and then the pope selling indulgences to the poor.

These satirical and comical visual images motivated him and he began preaching, teaching and writing after the style of Wycliffe.  The church authorities denounced him as a heretic and burnt both his and Wycliffe’s books.

He was excommunicated by the pope in 1410 and later arrested and summoned before a tribunal.  The trial was a terrible sham in which Huss was hardly allowed to speak.  He was accused of proclaiming himself the fourth person of the Trinity.  And he was then duly condemned as a heretic.

Apart from the outrage of the accusations, there is an irony here in that one of the aspects of reform that Huss had taught was that the church should not be permitted to execute someone on the basis of heresy. He, of course, didn’t imagine that he would be tried as one. (Tudor Jones, The Great Reformation, IVP, p.18)

To be continued…

© 2008 Lex Loizides

A Yorkshireman Delivers a Blow to Rome and a Bible to England – Part 2

Wycliffe's Bible

Having rebuked the religious corruptions, and preached the gospel amongst the ordinary folk of England, John Wycliffe’s most significant attainment was the translation of the whole Bible into the English language so that all could freely read it.  He translated from the Latin version, the only text available to him.

Despite the obvious limitations of his translation, for the first time people could read the Scriptures for themselves.  At long last the Bible was out!

Although his relationship with Oxford University ended unhappily, he was forced to leave in 1381, surely John Wycliffe is that University’s greatest bestowal to the modern world.

He died peacefully after a stroke in 1384

Alas! The story doesn’t quite end there. Dr. Donald Roberts, writing for Christian History Magazine, tells us, ‘In 1415 the Council of Constance burned John Hus at the stake, and also condemned John Wycliffe on 260 different counts.

The Council ordered that his writings be burned and directed that his bones be exhumed and cast out of consecrated ground. Finally, in 1428, at papal command, the remains of Wycliffe were dug up, burned, and scattered into the little river Swift.’ (Donald Roberts, John Wycliffe and the Dawn of the Reformation, CH Mag Issue.3)

But it was too late – the Bible, the Living Word of God was out. The Bible was confidently declared to be the only infallible guide for faith and practice. Wycliffe and his Lollards declared the Bible to be above church, popes and priests and what a change was about to break over Europe!

© 2008 Lex Loizides

A Yorkshireman Delivers a Blow to Rome and a Bible to England – Part 1

John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe
(born approx.1320’s – 1384)

Born near Old Richmond, Yorkshire, educated and established as a leading theologian and educator at Oxford University in the fourteenth century, Wycliffe has been called the ‘morning star’ of the Reformation.

He won the favour of the English King by publishing a pamphlet arguing that the Pope had no right to levy a tax against England to be sent to Rome. An argument that the King liked!

However, he was unpopular with pretty much the whole church because of his criticism of their idolatry (worship of images and relics), the mass and the sale of indulgences (expensive certificates issued by Rome and said to ensure the release of a dead person’s soul from purgatory).  He was particularly concerned about the arrogance of the pope: ‘The Gospel is the only source of religion. The Roman Pontiff is a mere cut-purse and far from having the right to reprimand the whole world, he may be lawfully reproved by his inferiors, and even by ‘lay-men’!’ (Quoted in d’Aubigne, The Reformation in England, Banner of Truth, Vol 1, p.82)

He was incredibly popular with the common people but when he attacked the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation both University and the King began to withdraw support from him.

The idea behind transubstatiation was that during the Mass service, the bread and wine are transformed by the priest into the literal body and blood of Jesus. The English phrase ‘hocus pocus’ comes from the Latin phrases the priests uttered in order to make this so-called transformation take place and is a fine early example of dry, derisive English humour.

But Wycliffe, like later Reformation heroes, had public proclamations issued against him from Rome. A formal declaration issued by the Pope at that time was known as a papal Bull. Not one, but five Bulls were issued against him. He was finally called by one of the two then existing popes to appear at Rome. (Houghton cannot resist telling us that both Popes declared the other to be ‘the Antichrist’, a dilemma if one believes in the infallibility of papal statements. (Houghton, Sketches From Church History, Banner of Truth, p.67)

Wycliffe stayed home, studied the Scriptures and trained preachers.  He equipped and sent out large numbers who successfully reached a great proportion of England (they were mockingly called ‘Lollards’).  At one point it was said that ‘every second person is a Lollard!’

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You can purchase ‘Sketches from Church History’ and ‘The Reformation in England’ here

© 2008 Lex Loizides