Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: On John Huss

On about the same time period as Sir John Oldcastle and his brave martyrdom, was John Huss—about 1415. They were both faithful disciples of John Wickliffe, a brilliant professor at the University of Oxford in London. His bible commentaries are still popular to this day—and very reliable.

There is much more writing on John Huss than Oldcastle or even Wickliffe. I think it is because he seemed to argue more with the Pope and cardinals in presenting his innocence and the truth of his writing about the errors of the Catholic church. And the church, evil as it was in that day, was persistent against Huss and called him an “obstinate heretic.”

And Huss had procurators who fought for him and ended up being cast into prison and punished. Likewise, the Bohemians (where Huss was from) also fought for him and daily complained against the Pope in stopping the word of God from being preached.

But, as it happened, Pope John began to give “full remission of sins to all those who would war on his side to defend the church”—and in response, John Huss raged back and called the Pope Antichrist! So, there was a holy war, some on the side of the church and some on the side of Huss and his followers. Also, during this time Huss continued to write articles against the false doctrine of the Pope. These arguments were the same as were proclaimed by John Wickliffe and John Oldcastle.

Well, as it happened, two jolly fellows (“mad men”) who knew they would be rewarded by the Pope, gathered certain article against Huss and brought them to the Pope. Huss was therefore asked to come and defend himself; and surprisingly, he decided to come willingly to answer their charges. Well, from that time on he was shut up in the prison of the abbey. And the conditions were so bad that he became sick. It was written that during the day he had “fetters on his legs,”  and at night, “he was fastened up to a rack against the wall hard by his bed.”

And still, being sick he presented his arguments about the popish church, and also wrote a few books. And, as it was written, when he tried to present his case many mad men “spitefully mocked him,” and they overwhelmed his speech with “rude and barbarous noises” until Huss finally decided to be silent. Then they said, “Now he is dumb, now he is dumb: this is a sign that he doth agree with his errors.”

So, his judgment was delayed until the next day. And he, “accompanied with a great number of armed men,” was brought before a council to be judged (this reminds me of when Jesus was judged). Well, there were so many things that were done before they burned him; I won’t list everything, but just try to hit some of them.

  • It was ordered that all of Wickliffe’s books were to be taken and burned.
  • At one point Huss appealed unto the high judge Christ (he fought to the end!).
  • Huss all the while was derided and mocked by the council.
  • Huss said, “he wished his soul to be in the same place where John Wickliffe’s soul was.”
  • The council presented eleven articles from the books of John Huss and he was directed to give answers to them. And in every case, he gave them his answers, and he did not back down in the least. My comment: unlike Jesus who was silent, Huss was very vocal and wanted them to hear his case. In this respect he was much like Paul.
  • It was determined that with the answers Huss gave, he was branded a heretic and worthy to be punished. But they said that if he would recant and submit to them, they would lighten his punishment. But if he was determined to defend his articles, he would suffer “great hurt, detriment and peril.” Well, as expected, Huss did not give into them.
  • After the trial, in which they gave Huss every chance to answer what he had written and a chance to recant, they wrote out a lengthy condemnation. My comment: It is interesting that just as they were condemning John Huss by their lengthy trial, they  were condemning themselves before God. They were putting into history how they condemned a good man and how they were evil before God. They gave themselves no excuse for their own evil.
  • His trial was very similar to the trial of Jesus Christ. They made him put on priestly garments and then mocked him. They gave him a crown, not of thorns but of paper, which was written on it, “Now we commit thy soul unto the devil.”
  • Before his death he kneeled down, and lifted up his eyes to heaven and prayed, and also quoted certain Psalms.

The way of his death was like this:

  • They stripped him of his garments
  • They put his hands behind his back and tied them with wet ropes to a stake.
  • With a chain they tied his neck to the stake.
  • Under his feet they put straw, and from his feet to his neck he was enclosed with wood.
  • Before the fire was lit, he was given a chance to speak and renounce his errors. But it was written that he said, “with a cheerful mind and courage, I am ready to suffer death.”
  • When the fire was kindled, John Huss began singing loudly.
  • When his body was partly burned and all the wood was burned up, they made a new fire. They were determined to burn him up completely.
  • At the end, it was written that “with great diligence they gathered the ashes together and they cast them into the river Rhine.” They did not want any part of him to be left upon the earth.

But they were not able to abolish the story of John Huss out of the minds of the godly.

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